Listen to Another DAM Podcast interview with NYC DAM Meetup Organizers on Digital Asset Management
Henrik de Gyor: [0:00] This is Another DAM podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Chad Beer and Michael Hollitscher about NYC DAM, the New York Digital Asset Managers Meetup group. The world’s largest Meetup group about Digital Asset Management.
[0:18] Chad, you’re the founder of this Meetup. Tell us how it all started.
Chad Beer: [0:23] I was working as a DAM manager in 2009. I was looking to move onto the next challenge, the next job. I needed to deepen my education about DAM. I needed to network and to get to know more people in DAM. I had gone to conferences and wasn’t finding the connections I wanted to find.
[0:47] I wasn’t connecting with people who were talking real nuts and bolts about their jobs and how they do it. I got connected to Meetup through a friend in an unrelated industry. I had gone to some other types of software Meetups and was amazed that there were no DAM Meetups.
[1:04] Out of frustration and out of wanting to get people to tell me about DAM, I thought, “I’m going to start a Meetup.” I saw Mike speak at a Henry Stewart conference. I liked his presentation. I liked how his thinking worked.
[1:18] I approached him after his talk and asked if I set up a Meetup about DAM, would he think that it’d be something that he would want to be involved in. He was very positive about the idea.
[1:27] That was the first piece of encouragement that I received that was outside of my own head. I just went online and started up the group.
[1:34] The first meeting we had was me, Mike, one other member, my boss and my boss’ boss. It was a tiny group. Mainly my bosses came because they wanted to see what the hell I was doing, using up a conference room in the evening, and also to wish me well.
[1:50] We started with a first meeting of five members. We talked about what the Meetup should be about. It was a very broad, kickoff Meetup.
[2:01] I love that Mike was there from the start, from before day one, really. Then, we just started winging it and setting up topics that we would find interesting. We were doing the presentations ourselves at first. It didn’t take long.
[2:15] As soon as we found somebody with some expertise and who was willing to talk, we started getting people who had shown up at the group to talk at the next one, and the next one, and the next one.
[2:23] It grew from there.
Michael Hollitscher: [2:26] It’s funny because thinking about it, there was space for us to fit into in the beginning. We joked that going to Digital Asset Management conferences were the one or two times a year that you didn’t feel totally alone.
[2:43] You could actually network with people, really interface and compare notes with the people who are doing this job, which five years ago was something more of an obscure trade to be involved in.
[2:59] Now I think it’s become something that’s becoming more and more ubiquitous every day in terms of how to manage digital content. We were able to fill a niche that a lot of people didn’t even know was needed.
[3:14] What Chad was talking about, in terms of how we just winged it, it was a Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland “Let’s put on a show” thing. We did it a little guerilla style, hosting it at places of work that we worked at.
[3:29] The people we were involved with, seemed like it was a perfectly fine thing to do. We slowly built up our membership, trying to think of interesting topics.
[3:39] In the end, the thing that’s driven us forward and gotten us to the point of our relative popularity now is that we really wanted to talk about the things that are necessary, that were really critical to us in our daily work days.
[3:58] We wanted to make sure that people who were showing up were fully engaged and really understood the key issues that we were dealing with at the time. It’s pretty amazing to think that it’s gone on for five years at this point, that so much has changed in the landscape from a point where DAM was, like I said, at that point, emerging from a backwater to a critical part of doing business every day.
Chad: [4:23] I had no global perspective when I started it, at all. I agree with Mike that we totally filled a niche that was not only ready to be filled, but there was an audience for it. We didn’t know this.
[4:35] I knew I was interested. I knew Mike was interested. I knew we had a common sensibility about metadata management. [laughs] So I knew we were aligned on a strategic level. That was it.
[4:46] We were very lucky, in a way. It was our timing and also our location. It’s possible for us to do this Meetup and have it as robust and ongoing as it is, because we’re in New York [City]. There’s a critical mass of not only people but professions that need DAM, so there’s a critical mass of DAM people in a small geographical area.
[5:09] We opened it up at what happened to be the right time in the practice’s maturity. If we had done it five years earlier, there wouldn’t have been enough people to talk about it or the issues wouldn’t have been codified enough to bring in an audience.
[5:25] I don’t think we would have known what the universal questions and problems were. There was a lot of luck and happenstance, timing and logistics, location.
Michael: [5:33] Yeah and really sticking with it. It came from the fact that Chad and I both wanted some answers, or at least to have a discussion amongst our peers to figure out “How are you doing it? How are you actually getting this work done?” or “What are the hacks you have to do, not only from a technological standpoint but from a human standpoint of getting this kind of work done?”
[6:01] I think that’s the big thing. The emergent thought that has come out of the Meetups ‑‑ and Henrik, I know you’re a big proponent of this, too ‑‑ we always focus on the technology, but the longer you do this, the technology is the least interesting part of it after a while.
[6:18] It’s really, “How do you engage the human beings who have to use this technology?”
[6:24] One of the real things that we’ve brought to the table in general DAM discussion in the world is that you really have to talk about the people. You have to talk about how you enable people. The uniqueness of your organization has to really work with your end‑users and your stakeholders.
Chad: [6:48] We did want to engage on those levels. In my mind at the time, the conferences weren’t very strong on those fronts.
[6:55] They’ve gotten a lot better. They’ve come down from preaching lofty best practices that aren’t really applicable to the day‑to‑day, and come down from vendor demos and things like that to more emphasis on use cases and more nitty‑gritty news you can use.
[7:10] That was not available much when we started this out, so we needed to talk to Mike’s point, not just about the human level of the work that we do and the hacks people do, but also nuts and bolts about how you get from point A to point B, how other professionals have done that.
[7:28] Also, not only did we want to facilitate presentations, we wanted to facilitate community and some interactions, some easy networking. The word “community” is really overused, but that’s what we were going for.
[7:43] Conferences only go so far with that, because they come at a pretty hefty cost. It costs a lot to go to a conference. We knew there were a bunch of people from small companies or independent contractors and certainly students or recent grads who were never going to go to conferences, that we’d never meet and interact with.
[8:03] The Meetup was a way to bring all those people together to missed people who also go to conferences. We felt that we were able to open doors up to a whole area of the DAM industry that couldn’t really get into the conferences, because they didn’t have the funding.
[8:18] That’s been a really valuable piece of it. Also, Mike brings up a really good point. This sticking with it was really critical. We’ve been doing it for five years.
[8:29] Mike and I have both been through job changes, and at some point or multiple points, we both hit a wall, where the demands of job or home life have been a lot to take on, and didn’t have the bandwidth to keep coming up with Meetup ideas.
[8:44] We were really glad that we had each other to bounce ideas off of and hand the baton back and forth to.
[8:49] This is where you come in, Henrik. When you joined us two years ago now, you added not only more bandwidth, but a new perspective, new contacts, a new perspective on the industry that not only helped us to keep going but helped enrich the content that we bring to the presentations every month.
[9:12] Can I ask you a question? Could you tell us about what it was like for you when you joined the Meetup, or how you decided you wanted to join the Meetup?
Henrik: [9:19] I also had a job transition. I had a lot of time to spend in New York, thankfully. I’m a Virginia resident, so I commute to New York [City]…
Henrik: [9:32] …on a regular basis. I was thrilled to be engaged with a very thriving, literally, a community of Digital Asset Management professionals like yourselves and all the members. I only wanted to see that grow.
[9:45] As a content producer for my blog and podcasts, I know that content is king and if you produce good content, especially in person, people will come, especially if there’s networking involved before and after. We do that with the Meetups too.
[9:59] I wanted to hone that, focus on things that we hadn’t focused on and look at all the different topics that are out there. There’s plenty and there’s only more to come.
[10:09] You started this on July 20th, 2009, and we’re coming up to a milestone. We’ll be announcing our fifth anniversary at a very special place.
[10:19] I was really excited to come up with topics as often as I could, and the speakers whenever I could with your help, to get the community engaged and different parts of the community as far as who’s using it and how they’re using it, not just the technology.
[10:35] Obviously, the people, that comes first, then also the processes and information that are involved to one degree or another.
Chad: [10:45] Probably the best thing I ever did after starting the Meetup was not trying to do it alone. I was never under the illusion that I could do it alone, or that that would be a good idea. This whole thing has been a real lesson to me in the value of collaboration. The more heads at the helm, the better.
[11:04] It helps, of course, that we are all like‑minded to a great degree. We all knew that about each other before we got involved. The Meetup is as strong as it is and still going because of everybody being involved ‑‑ not just us, all the members, too ‑‑ who also feed us some great ideas.
[11:21] Looking ahead, I would love it if there was more community involvement in at least getting ideas flowing and identifying people who could speak. I would love it to be a real soapbox for a lot of people in the DAM community.
Henrik: [11:34] Getting more people engaged, whether it’s the organizers of the events, such as us, or the people who are hosting these events, because we’re always looking for great locations that can host 50 plus people. That’s typically how many we have on a regular basis.
[11:49] At the time of this recording, we have 680 members plus. We’ve doubled it from over a year ago, which is pretty amazing.
Chad: [11:57] Speaking of locations, that brings up another economic issue. It’s the cost of locations. We’ve been challenged to find good locations because we have managed to keep our Meetup group vendor‑neutral.
[12:12] When we’ve been fortunate enough to get some sponsorship, mainly to fund video and the post video recording of some of the Meetups, the sponsors have been very hands‑off, just asking that we promote them with logos and credit, etc.
[12:27] Keeping some financial independence from any outside influence has been a limiting factor in that we have no budget for a lot of places that we could otherwise afford, but it’s also maintained a degree of integrity for our Meetup, and allowed us to steer our own ship.
[12:43] We can have whatever speakers we want, and we don’t have to worry about any conflict‑of‑interest from an economic perspective. I think that’s been huge.
Henrik: [12:52] I agree.
Chad: [12:53] I can’t believe it’s already five years.
Michael: [12:55] We were so young once.
Henrik: [12:58] I agree. [laughs]
Chad: [13:01] We’ve all gone through job changes since getting involved in the Meetup. It’s funny. The Meetup evolves. We’re evolving as DAM professionals, and the industry’s evolving out from under and all around us at the same time.
Michael: [13:12] It seemed like it was easier to do the first two years. I was in grad school. I was working a full time job, and also we were doing generally a Meetup a month at that point. I look back now, and I don’t know how I managed that.
Chad: [13:30] Same here.
Michael: [13:31] It’s a greater challenge now. I’m challenged more in my work now. There’s more topics that we could cover. There’s probably more things to think about, but it’s not just about DAM anymore. It is about the whole content lifecycle. That’s maybe the more exciting stuff.
[13:54] Maybe where topics will evolve is more towards where DAM is an aspect of what we’re talking about. It’s really about the creative process. It’s about the process on the Web, about content determination, content access and analytics, all these sort of things where it’s like DAM is sitting at the bottom and feeding out.
[14:15] It’s really a question of how it ties into a lot of much larger issues. That’s what I’m interested in talking about. It’s just a question of how we put it all together.
Henrik: [14:26] There’s going to be tons of that, as far as conversations and Meetups in the near future about that.
Michael: [14:31] That’s what we have to figure out. [laughs] For those of you listening in, that’s something that us three have to sit down and figure out. What are we going to talk about?
[14:42] As Chad mentioned, that also comes from our user group too and some of the great people that we have who are de facto advisors at this point, or thought leaders who help influence our thinking, as well.
Chad: [14:58] Not only has our work‑life situations become more complex, but the industry has gotten more complex. Our questions are more complex. When we started out, our questions about DAM were very simple.
[15:10] Now we’re thinking on a more complex level, fed by the work challenges that we’ve seen, but also the Meetups that we’ve seen other people present.
[15:23] I feel like the game’s gotten more complex. Reiterating Mike’s point, it’s no longer enough to just have one simple talk about metadata schemes, as one person did. That will be valuable, but man, there are so many more pressing issues now about file acceleration and system integrations. It’s a much more complicated world now. That makes the Meetups a little harder to plan, because you want to meet that raised bar.
Henrik: [15:51] We raise the bar ourselves within the group by being one of the groups that video record all our panel discussions. We got sponsorship for that as we mentioned earlier, and they’re available on YouTube for free. Just search on YouTube for NYC DAM, and you’ll find them.
[16:07] NYC DAM is based in Manhattan. We meet in Manhattan, specifically. You can find the Meetup on http://meetup.com/NYCdigitalassetmanagers. We invite you to join if you have interest in Digital Asset Management.
Chad: [16:22] Come and give us ideas. Share ideas, and share questions with us, because that’s where the next presentations come from.
Michael: [16:28] Also, thanks for all your support. Because if nobody shows up, we can’t do it.
Henrik: [16:33] It’s all about the numbers.
Chad: [16:34] Exactly. That’s the community. It’s not us. We just provide a soapbox, but if nobody’s there to listen to whoever’s on it, then there’s no point.
Henrik: [16:42] Thanks, guys.
Michael: [16:43] Thank you.
Chad: [16:44] Thank you.
Henrik: [16:44] For more on Digital Asset Management, log on to anotherdamblog.com. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again.