Lean Startup Week Speaker Spotlight: General Assembly & Daybreaker Co-Founder Matt Brimer

General Assembly and Daybreaker co-founder Matt Brimer has had some solid hunches when it comes to voids in the market. With GA, he’s helped turn a hub for NYC’s startup scene into a center for practical career education and corporate training over the course of six years. Daybreaker similarly began with a New York focus, this time around the idea that the city was missing a feelgood party during the hours people usually spend waking up and working out. Three years later, Daybreaker hosts 10 events a month in 10 cities around the world for hundreds of people at a time.

Matt doesn’t just rely on his gut to tell him what’s going to be a big hit, though. He understands how to define and test a hypothesis, decide on the correct metrics to analyze, and attract an authentic community — which is why we’re very excited to feature him as one of our keynote speakers at Lean Startup Week Oct. 31-Nov. 6 in San Francisco. (If you’re considering attending, grab your ticket before May 31 to save 30%.)

As a warmup to hosting Matt this fall, we recently held a webcast with him. Below are the highlights of that conversation, focusing on the specific steps he followed as he built Daybreaker into a global phenomenon. To hear more about the growth of this idea, and about how General Assembly similarly flourished from a simple experiment, check out the full webcast.

Daybreaker started with a hypothesis, a void in the experiential spectrum, and $2,000

For those who haven’t joined the 6-9 a.m. sober yoga & dance party Daybreaker in one of its many pop-up locations, it’s a tightly-run and supremely fun event that often sells out. The organizers plan surprises —from live saxophone to choreographed dances — to wow crowds at 15 minutes intervals.

Inspired by the self-expression happening at Burning Man and bummed out by New York’s exclusive nightlife scene, Matt and his co-founder Radha Agrawal saw an opportunity for a new type of playtime. They realized that morning hours are a “typically untouched time” filled with boring routines. “We thought, what if we could create the most amazing possible morning experience to start off your day?” he said.

In December of 2013, they spent under $2,000 on the first event, which was hosted in the basement of a Union Square diner. When 180 people showed up and they broke even on cost, they realized they were on to something.

The founders defined Daybreaker’s guiding values very early

Matt says before even hosting their first party, he and Radha brainstormed the five core values that would define their venture, no matter what it grew into. Those values, inspired by the 10 principles of Burning Man, were camaraderie, self-expression, wellness, mindfulness, and mischief. They called them their “North Star.”

“No matter what this is, any new product we launch, any new event we run, any strategic decision we make, any of our marketing copy, any of the website we put out, whatever it is, everything needs to be pointing toward these values,” Matt said.

They also valued community over publicity in the beginning

Instead of seeking press right out of the gate for Daybreaker, Matt says he avoided any media for the first six months of its existence. “We really wanted to keep the community tight and build up a tight seed of an audience — friends, friends of friends, influencers — to make sure that we were building a core of true believers, true fanatics, if you will, and their friends.” (Focusing on that early community is something Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover gave a great talk about at last year’s Lean Startup Conference). Matt didn’t want Daybreaker to get flooded with tourists or transient attendees.

The founders focused on talking to the attendees, getting feedback from them about what was and wasn’t working through surveys and conversations. Each time, Matt said, they refined the model of what was being offered.

To measure success correctly, they established metrics that fit their offering

It may sound very Burning Man, but the early metrics Daybreaker’s founders used to measure success were audience smiles, attendee retention, and shift in attitude during the party. Matt said that while facial expressions may sound like a silly thing to track, there’s value in seeing how many people have a big grin on their face in a 10 second time frame. “If it’s low, then the party is not the right vibe,” he said. “It’s not Daybreaker enough. We’re doing something wrong. But if we see a lot of smiles per capita, that means okay, we’re creating positivity, we’re creating joy.” Daybreaker’s founders hope to see physical transformation in their guests, who may arrive groggy and nervous and then leave chatty and exuberant.

Numbers-wise, they study how many people are returning to their parties, looking at the new guests versus loyal attendees. “We try to keep it at about 50/50,” said Matt. “If you have too many people returning and [not enough] new, then you might not be growing your audience, and maybe you’ve hit your max potential. But then if it’s the other direction, it means that people are not returning. It wasn’t a great enough an experience.”

You’ve heard of UX? Welcome to Experience Design

The Daybreaker team has a “recap brunch” after every party with the crew, DJs, and core talent and performers, Matt said, and they share insights, epiphanies, and “little realizations” about every aspect of the event they just produced. This is to help insure they’re crafting the best possible gatherings for their guests, something Matt calls “experience design.”

“It’s about the lighting, it’s about the check-in flow, it’s about the coat check, it’s about the smiles on the dance floor, it’s about the music and the vibe and how people leave, and how many people received hugs on their way in, and how the run of show happens,” he said. “There’s this whole 360 experiential acts that we have to look at.”

Experience design is essential in his field, he says, because in the end they’re not selling a product. “We sell a feeling,” he said.

Want more? Come see Matt speak at Lean Startup Week in San Francisco Oct. 31-Nov. 6., and you can watch our full 40-minute webcast with him here. Our spring sale ends on May 31.

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