I’m the Co-Founder of Maker Faire Sherri Huss, and This Is How I Work

Maker Faires around the world attract over a million visitors annually. When head producer Sherri Huss co-founded the first Maker Faire in 2005, she had been organizing technical and media events for nine years. She now leads Maker Faires for 12 years, managing an international team while simultaneously carrying out several side projects. She told us in detail about her work habits, management methods, and the process of starting and running each fair.

Location: Occidental, California (Western Sonoma County). Current workplace: Independent research (exploring everything, going out and talking to the public, while on hiatus from being the main manufacturer and co-creator of the Maker Faire) Current mobile device: iPhone 7 plus Current computer: MacBook Pro 15 “and Apple 27” Thunderbolt Display One word that best describes how you work: Focus

First of all, tell us a little about your past and how you got where you are now.

It’s an interesting journey that I would never have imagined, but I would never change it.

I grew up in North Ohio (Elyria, Ohio, west of Cleveland) and attended college at Ohio State University. I graduated with a degree in Marketing and International Business. After graduating from high school, I moved to the West Coast and ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area. My first job was with Addison Wesley / Benjamin-Cummings as a college textbook salesman.

I fell in love with technology and went down the path of publishing software and then eventually electronic publishing. In the mid-nineties, I was promoted to Director of Electronic Publishing at the Ziff-Davis Consumer Media Group (Computer Life, FamilyPC and Computer Gaming World magazines), building digital communities. It was at the height of the multimedia boom in San Francisco when Wired magazine and more were coming out of the Multimedia Gulch. I spent a lot of time building and developing online communities, but the platforms were so simple (Prodigy, AOL, Compuserve) and we continued to face CD-ROM delivery issues (Mac vs PC).

I jumped at the opportunity to become a member of the event division of ZD Events. My first event was the launch of JavaOne back in 1996 (write once, launch anywhere – promise to solve the PC or Mac delivery problem). Finally, I was able to use everything I learned about communities in real time, in an event format. I loved the instant feedback, real-time timing, and the ability to fix things next time. I was so passionate about live events that for the next 20+ years I continued to improve and take more risks with concepts and execution.

Following the success of JavaOne, other tech companies wanted to host the same industry event (with all the features we added: live music, entertainment, the best food, and a vibe for developers to chat), and before I knew about it, I headed up a leading global agency. events for developers, ZD Studios. My event agency team has created and hosted developer events for all of the major companies in the industry: Intel, Sun, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, Netscape, and RealNetworks. We were on fire and continued to host these events around the world until things changed after September 11, 2001. Traveling was not easy and things just got more complicated.

My next activity, which was a little outside the realm of development, was Web 2.0. I met Dale Dougherty while working at developer conferences. Dale, co-founder of O’Reilly Media, had a vision for the next generation of the Internet and an event called Web 2.0. We worked together and formed a joint venture around the brand and launched the first Web 2.0 in October 2004. (Fun fact, Web 2.0 is the millionth word in the English language, attributed to Dale Dougherty.)

In 2005, I worked on the launch of two new events: Maker Faire and Dwell on Design. I made the decision to stay with Maker Faire as I loved the energy and the ability to build and grow it into a global brand, and really loved the concept of open source (with shared audience and attention). The rest is history. Thirteen years later, the global brand is thriving, and through a network of global manufacturers, there are more than 250 Maker Faires around the world in 45 countries. Since the show opened in 2006, 7.5 million people have attended the Maker Faire, up from 1.6 million in 2017.

One of my friends recently told me, “Your influence is in the language everywhere,” referring to the proliferation of Makerspaces and the use of the term “manufacturer” in many industries these days.

Tell us about a recent work day.

No two workdays are exactly the same, and workdays tend to get more intense depending on how close we get to Maker Faire. After 20 weeks, things start to shift, and by 12 weeks they begin to throb. My role is to make sure my team has the tools they need to get the job done. This includes many technical tools ( Asana , Slack , Google Apps, Eventbrite, Hootsuite , Lucidchart , Freshdesk , Shiftboard , Zoho, Dropbox, internal tools and databases).

We all stay in touch, which often happens through Facebook and Facebook Messenger. Facebook Messenger is being used as a way to get rid of the clutter of email and text messages. When you travel overseas, Facebook Messenger is a reliable tool that works almost everywhere (except China) and also a good plan for passing urgent information between team members.

The days consist of meetings with all of my team leaders:

  • Marketing: are we on the right track? Do we have our messages? Are ticket sales tracked? Are our partners identified and informed? Are our messages relevant and resonant with the media?
  • Operations: working through all the details that change daily, if not hourly: everything from permits, to layouts, to tents, parking lots, to food suppliers, to manufacturers’ acceptance, etc.
  • Content and Creator Relationship: Have Apps Diverged? How much space do we have? How are app reviews going? What are the obstacles and who are we missing? Overall, are we on the right track?
  • Partnerships: Calls and suggestions to potential partners telling them about the Maker Faire, suggestions on how best they can achieve their shared Maker Faire goals, and more.
  • Corporate: Do we have a budget? What you need to share with other business units and other corporate priorities

I try to approach each day with my three main goals and stay focused on achieving them. As soon as one item is removed from the list, another is added.

The event business is all about constant problem solving, managing an insane amount of detail, and being able to do well on tight deadlines and in adverse conditions. I like a rapidly changing environment and am always in problem solving mode. Decisions need to be made, and teams need this information to do their jobs. I also need to stay ahead of my team and make sure they are cared for and can handle the pace.

Managing it all takes a little art, science, intuition, and a little luck. All of this is necessary to keep the engine running and in good condition. And I consider “caring and feeding” my team my priority. I want them to be supported and in turn produce exceptional results. My role in this process is very important, and I constantly listen, observe, observe, direct the team and lead it to results. It’s hard work, but we have fun and satisfaction when we deliver.

What logistics issues do you need to address at the Maker Faire?

In the beginning, the biggest challenge was raising awareness of the event and creating building blocks for a real community. We started Maker Faire as a celebration of creators, an annual festival where communities come together and then they stay together and connected throughout the year. With the help of Facebook Events, the number of attendees quickly increased from 20,000 to 80,000, and now the number of events has increased by 250 in 45 countries with 1.6 million visitors.

When you have so many people involved at different levels, the logistics can get quite complex and of course we have many audiences that we are trying to serve: manufacturers, exhibitors, media, sponsors, partners, city and local officials and sellers. Each of these groups needs to be communicated with (from basic logistics to their on-site setup or responsibilities and messages that they can share with their audience) and guided. My team has become an expert on how to treat each of these groups. The biggest problems were related to parking, transport and movement of people.

One area of ​​logistics that we have taken over and continue to do our best is sustainability. We want to be as environmentally friendly as possible. This includes recycling, reuse and alternative transportation to the event. We feel it is our responsibility to set a good example, and because we are a family and community event, we need to take the lead in setting standards. To this end, we support the Green Travelers team, which brings in zero waste experts to educate young people on how to conserve our ecological resources and remind everyone to think before they quit by teaching people to identify compostable / recyclable / non-recyclable items in waste stations located around the whole fair. We use our Maker Faire Facebook page to actively engage and showcase our efforts here.

What are your favorite Maker Faire tools and devices?

My favorites on Maker Faire are the producers themselves. They bring their passion and unique perspective that is intoxicating, and in the right setting (which we provide) they shine, attract and recruit others to get on board. And that includes all manufacturers (young and old) who make food, robots or rockets, or perform, represent or demonstrate what they do, whether it’s a fire-breathing dragon sculpture or a seven-foot-high Tesla music coil.

To acknowledge all creators and encourage my team to chat with the creators on Maker Faire and learn more about their projects, I came up with a blue Merit Creator ribbon to give away. Each team member receives ribbons to share with creators who have created something that moves, inspires, or delights. It was one of the most interesting programs for the creators and my team. However, here are a few of my favorites. Each of them is the owner of the Blue Ribbon “Creator of Merit”:

Pancake Bot (Computer Controlled Pancake Maker ): Designed by Miguel Valenzuela, an American manufacturer living in Norway, for his two young daughters, Lily and Maya. Pancake Bot is a LEGO Pancake CNC that lets you make pancakes in any shape. It is made with 99% LEGO and 1% ketchup bottle. Pancake Bot was introduced at the White House Maker Faire in 2014 and is now available for sale in a commercial version. Guaranteed to grab your attention and your taste!

Samson (drummer in a suitcase)

Designed by Joe Swax, producer and guitarist (and my husband), as a portable drummer to accompany him live. Samson is an Arduino driven percussion ensemble in a suitcase, controlled via Bluetooth MIDI from an iPad.

SCRIFE Sand Writer (Standalone Sand Writer)

Designed by Guijs Van Bon of Eindoven, The Netherlands, SKRYF leaves a flood of gritty letters in public places. An almost inconsequential pile of sand creates the magic of the word. People and time are responsible for the decay of the word, sometimes quickly and sometimes very slowly.

What apps, gadgets or tools can’t you live without?

I need a phone, Notepad Maker, stickers, and a favorite pen to get through the whole day! I am constantly on the phone, checking my email and social media accounts, especially Facebook, which has become a great tool for bringing the global Maker community together. I love waking up and seeing messages from friends and creators from all over the world. Our partners in Italy (the Maker Faire Rome team and the Future Food Institute team) are constantly in touch with me via Facebook, and this also gives me the opportunity to keep abreast of all their programs and publications. Without Facebook, I would be lost.

How is your workplace arranged?

My office workspace is fairly traditional: large monitor, mouse, keyboard, desk lamp, stacks and stacks of materials (I still need paper for visualizing event layouts, marketing designs, etc.), Pens, stickers, notebooks, scotch tape , scissors, rulers, staplers, etc. I love office supplies, and you can see it! I love items and I tend to collect stickers and other items that the manufacturers give me.

I use plastic folders (with resealable ties) to group all the paperwork and materials around the event, and can pretty much pull whatever I need out of my stacks when I need it. I love pens (especially fountain pens, which are not very suitable for my day-to-day work since I lose them). My favorite pens are the Varsity Pilot disposable fountain pen with purple ink and Stablio pointVisco pens in all colors.

And of course laptops! My favorite notebook is the Maker Notebook with paper grid and back pocket. I go through a lot of these notebooks. Each of them contains all my connections, thoughts, information about people and much more, and I save each of them. They are usually decorated with stickers from people I meet in the life of each notebook.

During the day or in the middle of a project, I will have a lot of papers on my desk, but at night (unless we are fully in production) I clear my desk so I can start over. the next day.

On the road, I work in my carry-on (now a Waxed Canvas Strawfoot tote ) and has everything I need, including a bag with cords and an extra power supply.

What’s your best shortcut or life hack?

Whenever I need to get creative, I grab a deck of Oblique Strategies cards and pull out one of them. It takes me away from where I am, makes me smile and focus. These are trifles! There is also Oblique Strategies app, and I used it as a last resort when I travel and on the road, but I prefer a physical deck of cards.

Tell us about an interesting or unusual process you have at work.

I run a weekly update meeting that starts 12 weeks after each Maker Faire. I used to ask everyone to send me their updates and I integrated them into the main agenda. (I really believe in the agenda and documented meeting outcomes. There should be no meeting without an agenda.) Of course, team members always sent me their agenda items at the last minute, and I had to manage integrating and distributing them before the meeting.

I now have a process using Google Docs. We created a web page and section for meeting agendas where team members can update their own status reports. This is part of the overall production website. I just need to share the link with the team and everyone else is responsible for updating their area. It saved me hours and gave me ownership of every member of the team – and of course they can make changes in real time, so everything is up to date.

Who are the people who help you achieve results, and how do you rely on them?

My core team members are the people who make this happen. They dream with me, they tolerate my big ideas, and we work together to bring them to life. A lot of creative thinking and unique approaches come into play, supported by a deep circle of people (friends, creators, and professionals) to do great things.

Two of my close people are Louise Glasgow, executive producer ( Chispa Productions ) and Bridget Vanderlaan, head of marketing and PR. The three of us have worked together for 20 years and are ready for any challenge. Our first big show was the Oracle World Tour in 1999 and 2000. We hosted the Oracle iDevelop Developers Conference worldwide (in 2000, we hosted 24 two-day developer conferences around the world in eight months). After that, we worked on Dwell on Design and Maker Faire. The rest is history!

How to recharge or relax?

I energize myself by being at home and hosting dinner parties and other events with friends. Cooking and eating are important in my life, as is spending time with friends. We have created a Cookbook Club that meets every month and we use Facebook groups to organize and coordinate our meetings. Living in Sonoma County, we have access to the best food and drink (fresh vegetables, meat, seafood, wine, beer, bushes, cider, and more) and whenever there is a simple one, I make it my priority to gather friends and socialize. together. food. Many, many good ideas come from these cooking sessions.

What’s your favorite side project?

Right now, I’m helping my friend Gerard Nebeski of Gerard’s Paella open a flagship restaurant in Santa Rosa, California. Gerard has been with me since the beginning and has been making paella for Maker Dinners at Maker Faires since 2007. We take him with us on the road, and he is in many ways part of our team. He figured out how to feed 3,000 growers in 90 minutes with hearty paella with an affordable diet (works for non-gluten, vegans and vegetarians) and I’m thrilled to help him with his new venture.

In addition, we are working on creating a paella and wine festival / food festival (although it could be expanded to paella and tarts, or paella and a pot, or paella and beer – we continue to get a lot of feedback from our friends in Sonoma County) so that the spirit cooking and cooking for our local community.

What are you reading now or what do you recommend?

I just picked up Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Goker and Ryan Holiday ‘s Anatomy of an Intrigue . It’s page turning, annoying fun, and strategic insight if you read carefully.

Who else would you like to see to answer these questions?

AnnMarie Thomas and Julie Wainwright . Two other strong and inspiring midwestern women I have worked with. They don’t know it, but they inspire me every day.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Take control of your morning. You can always determine the time when you start your day, but in the world of events, it is difficult to control when your day ends. This is great advice, and I live it!

What problem are you still trying to solve?

Who I want to be when I grow up! There are so many great things to do and projects to work on. As I get older, trying to define what matters to me and working with creative people who complement my skill set become a precedent. Right now I’m trying to focus locally using all my Maker connections. The Sonoma County fires hit our area hard last year and I want to see how I can make a difference right here in Sonoma County.

I love working with people and there are so many things to learn, see and do … it’s just that there isn’t enough time in this life to do it all. I think that’s why I’m so passionate about what I do. If you’re going to do something, do it well, with everything you have!


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