Venture

Boston Startups Prioritize Inclusivity Over Drinks

It’s an all-too-familiar ambiance in the startup and tech world: wine bottles and kegs interspersed between startup demos and conversations about open job opportunities. Pay no mind to the catered food spilled onto business cards.

For Appcues, a Boston startup which works to simplify software and web experiences, that environment made up the foundation of one of their annual events: Drunk User Testing.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek event that gives companies rapid user-testing feedback in a low-stress setting. Simply show up and mix drinks with startups looking for a little extra feedback on their new products. Last year, Hopper, a flight service app, asked for advice on what to name one of their new services. Wistia, a video conferencing company, tested out one of their newer products on (sometimes tipsy) people to gauge usability. Nift, a reward system that promotes neighborhood businesses, gave out free gift cards to all attendees.

“It’s a very easy to market name,” said Laura Powell, the host of the event. “But we took a step back and thought: do we want to be easy to market? Or do we want to be marketable to right people?”

However, Appcues has rethought the value of putting the word “drunk” in the title of their annual event. This year, the event will be renamed to “User Test Fest.” It will be hosted in Boston on December 20, and while there will still be alcohol, Powell said there will also be Polar Seltzer and water. The change also turns the event away from industry stereotypes.

“Tech bro culture is rampant, and it’s rampant in Boston,” said Powell. “We don’t even want to contribute to the perception that we’re associated with tech bro culture.”

Kristen Bryant, the brand marketing & partnerships manager for Soapbox at Wistia, said the change more accurately speaks to the spirit of the event. Bryant says Wistia’s culture has always been “super laidback” and that previous drunk user testing events were never an issue.

But Bryant said they’re committed to growing differently, and events like these, that have intentional mindfulness embedded within them, follows their mantra to “take the path less travelled in the tech industry.”

Notarize, a company that helps thousands of people sign and notarize documents, will also be at the event this year. Part of the appeal comes from the informality, says Teodora Kaltcheva, the company’s product manager.

“User testing can sometimes seem like such a formal process that it’s intimidating to the testers and can skew their reactions so having it in a fun, social environment can help with that,” she said.

However, when Kaltcheva heard about “Drunk User Testing” she was “a little uncertain of what to expect.” And while that did not impact her enjoyment of the event, Kaltcheva noted that “we’re living in a time where everyone needs to be more conscious of how others might experience things.”

Powell also added that the name change has been toiled over for the past few years, but it was the Kavanaugh trials that expedited the process.

“I just realized we can’t do this anymore,” Powell said. “[The Kavanaugh trials] were totally unrelated to startups—but something went off in my mind.”

So this year, at the event, you’ll get a different vibe. And Laura will be near the Capri Sun.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash
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