As the founder of some of the most exclusive and highly-curated tech communities in the world, I have gained great experience ensuring their success. I am the founder of YC Alumni, a group of 3000+ of the top founders in the world with $300B in aggregate valuations. I also built the group of the Top American Latinx Tech Leaders with over $13B in exits and $120B to invest. In both communities, I have hosted the highest profile leaders in the world as special guests: founders of unicorns and decacorns (Marcelo Claure of Softbank, Michelle Zatlyn of Cloudflare, Jeff Lawson of Twilio, Jennifer Hyman of Rent The Runway, Isaac Saldana of SendGrid, etc.) and the top VCs in the world (Ben Horowitz, Michael Seibel, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban, etc.).
Many colleagues who are trying to get a high-profile special guest for one of their events, companies or communities have reached out to me asking:
“What do you write in your emails in order to get these amazing guests?”
The answer is short and simple. The reason why a high-profile guest will attend your event has more to do with the three steps preceding the email:
1. Don’t Wing It: Build Your Community as a Brand
2. You Represent Your Community: Build Your Own Brand
3. Don’t Shoot for Elon: Find Your Anchor Special Guest
Don’t Wing It: Build Your Community as a Brand
No special guest will take a risk to participate in an event that looks sloppy. A 1995 looking website with a free domain (free.myspace.com) is not going to cut it. An email invite that is only focused on why you want them to attend is not going to cut it.
Developing a strong community brand is the first step to showing your special guest they are in good hands. An example of a strong foundation for your brand is having a website/sitelet dedicated to the event that you are inviting them to. This website needs to facilitate three main points: 1) allow your special guests to see all the event information upfront and laid out in way that’s easy to find, 2) spell out why this event is beneficial for them to attend, and finally 3) your audience needs to impress, and it's your job to convey this message by creating a narrative that inspires.
Your website needs to quantify and qualify the event, have a clear definition of the group behind the event, give a straightforward profile of the attendees, have sample questions or conversation topics the guest can review, and share the rules and etiquette in place that will ensure the event a successful one.
Build Your Personal Brand
The first step a special guest or their Head of Communications will do once they receive your invite is find out who you are and whether you inspire trust. A bare profile on your LinkedIn with no reference to your success as a leader is not going to cut it. A personal website that was optimized for Netscape is not going to cut it.
Special guests need to know you are a professional: your personal profile (LinkedIn or personal website) has to be clear and straight to the point, highlighting that you are successful and you are a person they should meet. Show them you have done your research and are worth their time, ensure your communication is tailored to them, and make them understand that you and your community can add value to them.
Find Your Anchor Special Guest
In order to have a line up of amazing guests, you need to find an anchor special guest. Identify someone who has a big profile, and who has a strong affinity to your organization or group already. Don't shoot for Elon Musk as your first guest. Shoot as high as you can, while considering the fact that you haven't yet built a foundation nor refined your process. After 10+ events, with a strong list of special guests and a more refined process, is when you can shoot for the Elon’s of the world.
Wash, Rinse & Repeat
You are never done refining your process. You should be constantly reviewing feedback from events and finding ways to improve your emails, websites, communication and social media material.
Creating meaningful communities and effective events takes a large amount of time and effort. Make sure you have the necessary bandwidth and/or a team of people that can ensure each event is a success to allow your community to snowball into what you dreamed it could be.