BoroughCon: Our new business, my new passion

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As you know, I’ve had a rough couple years, both personally and professionally. No need to go into detail about any of that because this isn’t a note about venting or sense-making or woe-is-me. This is a celebration of the event that has dug me out of the morass my life had become and has made me optimistic about the future.

It’s called BoroughCon.

At the beginning of the year, my friend Gary Port told me he had hired a couple law students to help him with his practice, and that these 20-somethings were just as geeky about pop culture as we are. In fact, they used to run an anime convention when they were students at University of Central Florida in Orlando. Now that they’re going to Hofstra Law, they’re exploring the idea of starting another one on Long Island. Gary wanted to be part of that, and thought I’d have something to bring as well. After all, I had a deep background in IT management, credentials as a project manager and a graduate degree in business — yet also long-term unemployed.

So I took a call from Matthew Goodison-Orr and we impressed each other with our knowledge of conrunning as well as general geekdom and agreed to meet. A week or so later, Matt and I sat down, along with his longtime friend and business partner Victor Lai, at The Greene Turtle Franklin Square where we shared a couple beers and appies and talked about “Suburbacon,” the code name for the new project which we all agreed was just an awful name for a convention.

The biggest problem with “Suburbacon” is that there was no place in suburban Long Island to hold it. Anywhere west of Route 110 would be too remote to draw from anywhere but Suffolk County, we reasoned, and I suggested the fate of I-Con supported that premise. And there was no venue in Nassau County or eastern Suffolk (or the rest of Suffolk for that matter) that had a big enough room for the vendors’ and artists’ booths and sufficient breakout rooms for panels, screenings, workshops, green rooms, con ops and so on. There’s a small annual event called EternalCon at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, but by all accounts that space is constraining and not optimally laid out for this purpose; unless and until EternalCon finds another venue, we believe it’s not likely to grow attendance significantly going forward. We didn’t want that for “Suburbacon”.

So we expanded our search to Brooklyn and Queens. Surely the Barclays Center has enough … no. It’s got all the booth space you could ever want, but no breakout rooms. How about the Brooklyn Marriott and all those other four-star hotels near the Bridge that … no again. They had ballrooms adequate — barely — for vendors and artists, but not nearly enough other meeting rooms.Then Matt and Victor had a brainstorm. They learned the craft on a college campus, so why not look for a campus instead of a hotel or convention facility? After a short search, they settled on St. Johns University Queens.

At this point Gary invited his law partner George S. Sava onto the leadership team. Unlike the rest of us, George isn’t a nerd. He’s a jock. He probably spent high school shoving guys like us into gym lockers. But George has more than proven his mettle. He’d eventually be our guy for lining up investors and high-end sponsors as well as our negotiator with outside stakeholders (including SJU), but his first contribution was to coin the name “BoroughCon” which we all agreed to on the spot. (Then we spent two weeks quibbling over capitalization, spelling and spacing.)

It forced our event into a defining personality. We weren’t “Suburbacon” anymore. It’s not going to be about Long Island. By the same token, it’s not going to be about “The City”. It’s about the Four Boroughs — the neighborhoods looked down upon by Islanders, Manhattanites and tourists alike. Have your sterile tract housing and chemically enhanced lawns. Keep the shiny object that is midtown Manhattan. Spend all the money you made in the last five years selling farm equipment and get your picture taken with that homeless guy in an Iron Man costume. We’re focused on where real New Yorkers live. And let’s be clear: Queens and Brooklyn have the populations of Houston and Chicago respectively.It turned out the only weekend St. John’s had available for us was Memorial Day. So not only were we forced to accept a four-day programming schedule when other first-year cons are confined to one or two, we just had to have it at one of the few spots on the calendar when so many people are heading out of town that there’s really nothing to do in New York for the rest of us. I’m pretty sure we can find, out of the millions of people still stuck in the boroughs over a long weekend, 20,000 people interested in stopping by BoroughCon.

This all started to gather steam around February and March. Ever since, I’ve been back to the kind of management consulting work I’ve been trained to do. I wrote a business plan to show BoroughCon’s potential investors. I crafted a project plan that decomposed the processes and illustrated progress along a Gantt chart. I developed a web and social media strategy and began executing it. I composed and curated web content ranging from reviews to blog posts to premium content of interest to other conrunners. Matthew Kressel, whose web development and genre credentials are both beyond reproach, agreed to craft our site. To see his outstanding work, please click http://boroughcon.com/.

This primed the pump for me professionally. I now had the confidence that I could get back to IT management consulting work, and have been growing my client list since.

I also took on the responsibility for BoroughCon publicity, which got me back into keyboard rhythm, and I’ve onboarded several new journalism clients concurrently.

Now, rather than being a victim of the gig economy, I’ve adapted to it and am now thriving.

So thank you, Gary, Matt(s), Victor, George and everyone else who has contributed to BoroughCon’s successful launch.I hope to see everyone reading this note at St. John’s in Jamaica, Queens, over Memorial Day weekend 2017. I’ll be the one with the biggest smile.

Thanks for letting me gush!

Bill Freedman

Web: http://boroughcon.com/

FB: BoroughCon

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope: @borough_con

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