EP11: How 'Global Graph Day' Inspired events in 50+ Cities with Neo4j

Karin Wolok is an expert at activating her community, she has a deep knowledge of what they need and what makes them tick. Graphs. Yes, graphs. Neo4j is a graph databasing company that works with eager community members all around the world who want to be a part of the community Karin has helped build.

There is something that Karin did that we have seen with many other communities like Docker and Startup Grind that has worked very well to activate communities. When you are running events with local volunteers you will never have 100% of your cities hosting events every month (we’ve seen 75% as a high mark for Startup Grind). It’s also seasonal as there are vacations, busy times for different industries, etc. All that being said there is a very effective method for activating them in one month that Karin touches upon very creatively.

She realized that Leonhard Euler had a birthday in April and decided to build a campaign around it called Global Graph Celebration Day. She was able to activate 50+ cities to host events just by announcing it. She knows the Leonhard Euler is revered in her space and ignited her community into action!



[0:00:04.1] DA: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. I am your host, Derek Andersen. After holding my first event in 2010, I went on to create Startup Grind, a 400-chapter community based in over a 100 countries. Along the way, I discovered the greatest marketing tool of all time; your customers. Yet, I couldn’t find anyone sharing how to build a community where people could experience your brain in person, or at scale.

On this show, we talk with the brightest minds and companies on the planet about how to build customer to customer marketing strategies and create in-person experiences for your brand and customers before your competitor does.


[0:00:44.6] JF: Welcome to the C2C Podcast. This is John Frye from the Bevy Team. Today, we are interviewing Karin Wolok, who is a Program Manager of Community Development over at Neo4j. Now Neo4j is a graph databasing company and I know what you might be thinking, 'Is there a huge community of people who are passionate about graphs? Really graphs?' Yes graphs. There is a huge community behind Neo4j. In the episode, Karin talks about how she created the global graph celebration day, which already has over 50 events just for this one day. She talks about that and so much.

Without further ado, please enjoy the show.


[0:01:29.5] DA: Karin, what does Neo4j do?

[0:01:32.0] KW: Neo4j is a graph database. It’s basically a tool that’s used by pretty technical people, software developers, engineers, architects, some researchers and scientists that work on coding in some aspect when they’re working on different kind of research. It’s a technical product. It basically allows you to see how data is connected.

If you think about most databases are tables, they’re tabular. If you are not technical, it would probably be Excel. Versus if you are technical, it would be like most SQL databases, they’re all tables and they connect to each other; this is someone’s addresses, phone numbers, whatever. If you’re trying to see how things are connected, like if you’re building a family tree and you’re trying to store it all inside of tables, it is going to get very complex. It allows you to store your data in the shape of a graph mathematical definition, like networks. It’s pretty. It’s a perfect –

[0:02:25.0] DA: Do you have a big genealogy community using Neo4j?

[0:02:28.5] KW: Yeah, actually it’s interesting. There’s a lot of people who started doing – this is while back. I was reading some academic paper of people who were doing genealogy type research. I mean, it’s very graphy. The way I actually discovered Neo4j is a friend of mine from Philadelphia, his name is Daniel Himmelstein, he’s a postdoc at UPenn, he works out of the Green Lab and he does genetic research. He uses Neo4j to see the patterns in the genes and the different treatments in cancers and things like that. He’s amazing.

[0:02:56.5] DA: It’s really cool.

[0:02:56.7] KW: Yeah.

[0:02:57.6] DA: Yeah, talk to me about how you in the company view community. What does it mean to Neo4j?

[0:03:03.6] KW: It’s interesting, because right now I’m taking something on mind courses, on community strategy and things like that. Some of the things that a lot of other communities need to do is validate why their community is important. It’s great, because I don’t really need to do that. The company loves community stuff.

We are an open source software. There’s also an enterprise license, so we just have a huge community of users. It will be like students from even middle school, high school, you have university students, you have postdoc people, you have all kinds of – then you have people who are CTO levels and startup companies. It just widely varies.

It’s immensely important, because it helps us one with adoption of the product. People learn how to use it. They get the word out. Also even just building on it with different technology integrations and things that it works well with and feedback from the community and what they do, I mean it’s probably one of the most important things for the company, I think. I’m pretty sure that the CEO would agree.

[0:04:05.5] DA: Is this something that was really – sounds like core, started in early days of the company, which the company has been a startup has now raised a significant amount, tens and tens of millions of dollars in funding. It sounds like something that’s really been core part of integrated with the product through a founder initiative, or is that something that other people in the company were driving?

[0:04:29.1] KW: I think it was the vision for it altogether from the very beginning, when you’re like releasing. If you’re releasing something that’s open source software, you want to be able to get people involved and collaborators and have people learn how to use it. Yeah, I mean, I think it’s been the vision from the beginning. It’s pretty cool.

Because it’s such a new concept that’s taken this weird route on how it’s progressed in terms of adoption, because a lot of people don’t – sometimes they don’t really understand what it is and then they look into it and then they get addicted. Almost like an exponential growth, but it’s pretty cool.

[0:05:03.7] DA: How do you prove ROI? What moves the needle inside the company?

[0:05:08.6] KW: It’s hard to say, because our community of users – we have open source and then we have enterprise. The enterprise users are your big companies, like your Walmarts and Apples and PayPals. Those are the big companies that might be using enterprise version. You have a lot of people in the community that might necessarily never turn into revenue. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value for the company in general, right?

It’s not like, 'Oh, community user, like this is going to be this amount of money for us.' I think most of what we gauge success on is – I mean, there’s different things, different programs have different values of success. It depends on what it is. Usually if there is a certain amount of active machines, or how many people are downloading the official software, how many people are logging on to the sandbox to play around with the software, things like that. It’s pretty basic interactions. People are participating in the community site. We just launched a site, little community site that we built and are building more on. There’s a budget different areas on how we can gain success there.

[0:06:15.5] DA: You also have a super active C2C in-person community and this is the C2C Podcast, so appropriate to ask you about this. What was the catalyst that got that community started?

[0:06:28.7] KW: I can’t speak to super historical, because the company is much older than how long I’ve been with the company. I’ve only been with the company for two years. What I’ve seen is that there are a lot of people in our community that actually, they have this drive to one, it connects with other people that are like them and have similar interests to them in person, that face-to-face thing. It makes them feel there’s other people that are like them.

You started out in this technology and you’re super addicted to it and you love it and you want to talk to other people about it. I don’t want to hear it. You find somebody else who’s also addicted to graphs like you and you can just talk about it all day, you can collaborate on projects. Some really interesting things actually happen when you take it from a digital world and put it into a real-world environment. It’s actually cool. A lot of it I think is being able to just connect with other people. People have a want and a need to be with other people in real life.

[0:07:26.0] DA: yeah. I mean, I think we’re seeing this more and more this distrust for what’s happening online and almost just a bad taste in your mouth and so many negative online experiences that just getting back with other human beings, it turns out it wasn’t such a bad idea that people have been doing that for thousands of years. There’s some real benefits to getting together in person, right? Versus just talking online.

[0:07:49.4] KW: Yeah, I also think that one of the things – it’s not even that online is bad, because it definitely has its own advantages, but I think that – the ability for us to connect more socially online actually leaves us more disconnected in a lot of ways and this is actually – I mean, a run a women’s networking group also. I call it networking. I don’t like that word, because I think it’s misused and not properly used, but we host all in-person.

Yes, it lives online, but that’s not where it really thrives. That’s not where you see it blossom. I think that a lot of people start to actually feel more isolated when they’re digitally interacting with people. There is also other advantages to it too to having a digital platform. I think that if you just – one thing that complements the other, like you can have something – not everything is going to be right for the same need. It definitely does seem that people are working harder to disconnect a little bit more and be more present in real life, which is nice.

[0:08:46.1] DA: Totally. I know you have a program called Global Graph Celebration Day that you’re in initiative around this day, I should say. Tell us a little bit about how does Neo4j got tied into this and what’s happening with it and just talk – it just sparked this fire inside your community it looks like.

[0:09:05.3] KW: Oh, my God. It was crazy. The response was so much bigger than we expected. Basically, our product is built off of – it’s a graph, right? When I say graph, I don’t mean charts. I mean, like graph theory, mathematics definition of graph.

There is a Swiss mathematician. His name is Leonhard Euler. He’s a guy who invented graph theory. I was thinking about it as like, 'His birthday is coming up.' I’m like, 'We do something to celebrate him.' I mean, he’s such a – he impacted so much and literally a lot of our community, they love graphs. I was like, 'We should really just do our Leonhard Euler birthday party.'

Now the problem is that we have people in every crevice of the world, like every crevice and every corner of the world, the world is round, we don’t have any corner in the world, but you know what I mean. We have people all over the world. What I thought about is I was like, 'Okay, well what if we did something where we can all celebrate globally, but everyone can host their own little thing of whatever they want to do?'

I wrote a blog post and I was like, 'Hey, we’re going to celebrate Leonhard Euler’s birthday. He’s the guy who invented graph theory. Feel free to host your own events. You can host a game night, you can host a whiteboarding session, you can do a little hackathon, you can do a presentation, whatever.' Then people started volunteering and registering their events. On our event we’re like – we’re going to be publishing this connected graph of all these people and all the people that attended and how they’re connected to each other. Oh, it’s going to be amazing. We’re also sending everyone t-shirts, so all the registered events, they all can get that.

[0:10:36.2] DA: Yeah, you’re basically stoking the fire. You lit a match and then people are – then you’re just stoking that fire for them with all these different things.

[0:10:44.6] KW: Yeah. It’s usually an individual somewhere. In one place, we’ve got this guy named Arthur in Curacao, which is like Caribbean Island in the [inaudible 0:10:52.7]. I’m like, 'I want to go there for Global Graph Celebration Day.' Then I found out that Georgia Tech has a graph theory, like their Seven Bridges of Konigsberg, which is the graph theory self. They have a whole courtyard dedicated to this thing.

So many things start popping up and then we just start seeing people registering events. We have now in less than a month, we have 50 events in six continents. It’s crazy. In some places I’m just like, 'I don’t even know we had people over here.'

[0:11:25.6] DA: That’s amazing.

[0:11:26.6] KW: It’s pretty cool to see that.

[0:11:27.9] DA: With Startup Grind, we did similar things. We had a female entrepreneur month and we just wanted to get more women on our stages. It started out with 50 the first time we did it and then it went to a 100 and now it’s like 200 women. It’s something people plan for every year. It’s interesting, if you direct people’s energy in – I mean, it has to be something they want to do, right? It has to be something that fits in line with the community in what you’re all about, what’s this does?

It’s incredible if you just give them something and say like, 'Hey, you should do this and here’s how we’re going to help you do it.' Then people are like, 'Oh, you know what?' I’m going to grab that and run with it.' Then it’s like, look at these other people. It just starts to create so much energy and it’s just around this – probably wasn’t that much work, I can imagine for you to put all these together. Certainly not the work that what 50 events is going to create and all the impact that’s going to create. You just seeded it correctly and probably right at the right time with the right thing.

[0:12:26.0] KW: Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t – just in community in general, if you don’t tell them like, 'Hey, you can do this if you want, they won’t know to.' For example, we have a featured developer of the week, releasing out every week. You know I’m saying, we should have a nominate your future developer of the week thing, so people can – People chances are they will take advantage of that.

I think it’s one of the things with the events if you tell people like, 'Hey, you can host your own thing. You can host a luncheon in your office.' I shouldn’t have to tell them to do it, but sometimes if you do, they’ll do it. Because these 50 events wouldn’t have happened if we were just like, 'Here’s a blogpost. Let’s celebrate Leonhard Euler’s birthday.' Now it’s this movement. People are getting cakes with his face on it.

[0:13:07.5] DA: Well, we’ll tweet the pictures out. Karin, thank you so much. These are quick. We’re done. We nailed it.

[0:13:15.6] KW: Awesome.

[0:13:16.3] DA: We crushed it. We beat it.

[0:13:17.0] KW: Thank you guys so much.

[0:13:17.7] DA: Thank you.


[0:13:19.6] DA: Thank you so much for listening. If you like the show, please leave a review wherever you listen to this. If you like to see more about how to create your own event community, go to bevylabs.com/pod. Again, that's B-E-V-Y-L-A-B-S.com/pod.


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