The Web Performance Junto - Inspired by the Original Hacker/Networker Ben Franklin

March 04th, 2015

Jacob Smith

Jacob Smith

SVP, Revenue
I’ve always wanted to start a junto of my own.  Something social, classy, and fun but also focused on bringing the best and brightest together to help forge connections and keep on top of the news and trends.   With Packet, I now have the perfect vehicle.  Here's the story!  

I adopted Philadelphia as my hometown over ten years ago, but somewhere between finding the best cheesesteak in town (Sonny’s on Market Street) and having two kids with my beautiful wife Meghan, I discovered Ben Franklin.  

It sounds strange to be a latecomer to Ben Franklin, since his mark is stamped all around the city.  He created new institutions like hashtags, it seems: the University of Pennsylvania, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Franklin Institute, the American Philosophical Society, etc.   Maybe it was my left coast upbringing, but for some reason I just lumped him into the hopper of “old white guys who were a big deal in the 1700’s.”  (I have since taken a deep interest in a few of those figures, including Alexander Hamilton...but that is for another time).

It wasn’t until I heard about a little gathering called the Junto - held by Geoff Dimasi at his P’unk Ave web studio in South Philly and modeled after Ben Franklin’s original concept - that I became hooked by the character of this enterprising fellow.  

Not only was he the guy who discovered electricity with a kite in a thunderstorm but also a savvy technocrat, international networker, honest-to-goodness hacker, gossip, dedicated community builder, serial entrepreneur, and content marketer.   He was rather more like colonial Philadelphia’s Elon Musk than a stodgy Founding Father from my 7th grade history textbook.  Awesome!

Franklin’s Leather Apron Club
Ben Franklin’s “junto” met weekly for over 30 years.  The members set out to improve themselves as well as their businesses and general community by meeting to discuss the “topics of the day”.  Many credit the Junto (which he also referred to as the Leather Apron Club, due to the fact that it included tradesmen more so than wealthy aristocrats) as Franklin’s key to success.  

It was through this group that he gained valuable opportunities, connections, and appointments - including his first major gig printing the money of the Commonwealth and later on a contract to handle the mail (America’s original “last mile” monopoly).  Nice work if you can get it, evidently: by his mid-40’s Franklin was wealthy enough to hand off his business to a younger colleague in exchange for half the annual that he could hack on electricity full time.

The Web Performance Junto
Franklin’s junto started out as a secret club consisting of some 15 members - entrepreneurs, amateur scientists, writers, etc.  Essentially the smartest, coolest people Franklin could gather for a meal.  

Ever since I heard about Dimasi’s Junto (and others held around the country) I’ve always wanted to start a junto of my own.  Something social, classy, and fun but also focused on bringing the best and brightest together to help forge connections and keep on top of the news and trends.   

With Packet, I finally have the perfect vehicle and here’s why:

  1. We’re a brand new company, with no track record.  We need friends and advocates to vouch for us, our vision, and our product.  

  2. We have a leading-edge product that benefits massively from being reviewed and improved by other forward-looking hacker types.

  3. We are in a fast-moving space (internet infrastructure) in which the innovators and customers are all moving rapidly, so keeping pace with the “news of the day” is critical.

  4. Our target customers are not clicking on a lot of Adwords when searching for their vendors - they are asking friends, colleagues, peers.  

What better way to grow our company, improve our product, and in general get the word out than by convening the smartest people who care about web performance on a regular basis?  Thus was our version of the Junto born.

Location of our First Junto Meeting
We'll be hosting our first meeting at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn.

Beyond Self Interest, Why Do We Care?
Franklin was rejected from Harvard and lacked formal training in mathematics, philosophy, and the like.  However, he was insatiably curious and constantly looking for ways to apply his creative energy and mechanical skills to some productive use.  In short, he wanted to improve things - to make better what should be better.  

Franklin’s recipe of “make it better” ambition, combined with a lack of conventional thinking and willingness to chart his own path, was potent indeed.  In addition to all institutions he founded, this mentality also led to an astounding number of breakthroughs with immediate impact on the world around him: the lightning rod, the odometer, the matching grant, bifocals, and the flexible catheter (yes, can you imagine what it was like before this last one?).  

At Packet, we have similar founding values: we get up each day with the drive to build a better internet. We do that by finding creative solutions to big problems and getting things done the right way.

The Setup & The Guest List
Our first Web Performance Junto meeting is in a week, and we’ve got a great group of hand-picked innovators joining us in Brooklyn for a what looks to be a pretty stellar evening.    Here is the list:

  • Zachary Smith, Packet

  • Adam Rothschild, Packet

  • Kris Beevers, NSONE  

  • David Aranoff, Flybridge Partners

  • Scott Anderson, Control Group

  • Bill Luby, Seaport Capital

  • Raj Dutt, raintank

  • Dusty Davidson, Flywheel

  • Phil Shih, Structure Research

  • Dean Mann, DH Capital

  • Alexis LeQuoc,  DataDog

  • Stephen Orban, AWS

  • Colin Sims,

  • Matt Mahvi, Staminus

  • Raul Martynek, Net Access

  • James Marcus, Pulsepoint

In the true spirit of the Junto, this isn’t some sponsored networking event put on by Packet to pitch our product.  Each person is paying their own way (essentially the cost of a very nice meal and a few drinks), and our goal is that every attendee walks away with quality insights, relationships, and opportunities.  

Unlike Franklin’s Junto, we’ll be mixing up the invite list as we pop up in each city - with the goal of bringing together those that are leading (and demanding) innovation in web performance.  We’ll hold our first west coast event in May in San Francisco, and are actively scouting locations and dates for meetings in other key internet hubs: London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Chicago, and Berlin.

Want to get involved?  Email and let’s talk. 

p.s.  We have borrowed another strategy that Franklin honed to make his Junto meetings as productive as a possible: a list of questions for attendees to review on the morning before the meeting, to help stimulate conversation. Would love some feedback!

Still have questions? We're here to help!

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