This past summer, ColorStack hosted five in-person social events in four major U.S. cities. These mixers are significant not only because they allowed Black and Latinx students to build local friendships and industry contacts in a casual social setting, but also because they represent a distinct departure––or rather an addition––to ColorStack’s remote-first approach. Learnings from the organization’s first in-person student events are significant and will influence ColorStack’s strategy going into its third year as an organization.
But the beauty behind all of this is that none of it would have happened if not for one simple message in Slack: What is one thing you have to do before the summer ends?
The question was unassuming, a routine part of ColorStack’s weekly Slack announcement in which an administrator asks an ice breaker question. As students responded to the question, it became apparent that there were pockets of ColorStack members who were interning in tech hubs across the U.S.
Upon seeing this, ColorStack founder and CEO Jehron Petty took the natural next step. He tagged some students who were in San Francisco to see if they wanted to hang out. “It was a very small thing,” he says. “I was like okay.. pick a place, we’ll go. Five people. Let's meet.”
But much like a Rube Goldberg machine, where a tiny action––a small transfer of energy––triggers a much larger chain reaction (think cascading dominoes that cause a balanced book to fall on a Christmas tree light switch), this “very small thing” turned into a very large event. “Other students were hearing about it. We were talking about it in slack. Now ten students want to go, and I’m like maybe we’ll have to get a reservation at a certain place,” says Jehron. What resulted was ColorStack's first in-person student event, an opportunity for around 30 Black and Latinx students, many of whom were new to San Francisco, to make friends and solidify existing connections they had formed over slack.
Given the success of the event, Jehron took another step. “I then was like okay. What about Seattle? What about LA? What about New York?” He began reaching out to ColorStack partners in each location. In Seattle, Redfin hosted students for a game night. Back in San Francisco, Figma hosted a panel, networking, and karaoke night at its HQ. In New York, Squarespace hosted a social event, and in LA, Concrete Rose Community Foundation hosted a mixer.
Jehron points to this last event as a particular highlight. He says that this time, “We invited students… but I also just invited people in my network that I thought would be valuable for students to meet, and I also invited Riot Games.” According to Jehron, this event was especially valuable because students were able to build a more personal connection with recruiters and industry professionals than they typically would at more explicitly career oriented events.
As the summer draws to a close, Jehron and the ColorStack team are taking a moment to reflect on these events. They are baking these learnings into their strategy for the coming year. One key insight that Jehron emphasizes is that creating lasting friendships––building a community of people supporting people––is the highest leverage investment that ColorStack can make. “To me it's more meaningful for a student to meet someone on a personal level and build an actual relationship because then outside the ColorStack event you are more likely to be of help to each other in ways [ColorStack] will never be able to deliver one-off through our events,” he tells me. He hopes that students go forth from ColorStack Events as friends, and that they continue to help one another––sending jobs to each other, reviewing each others’ resumes, and mock interviewing each other––because that’s what friends do.
ColorStack remains committed to making the core community as accessible as possible. To this end, it will continue to host major events online, but Jehron sees in-person events as a supplement to this approach. Next summer, ColorStack will double down on in-person events, increasing the volume of community social events in popular intern destinations. The organization hopes to provide recurring social events in the same city throughout the summer, so students have the chance to create deeper friendships with repeat interactions. It also plans on revisiting its on-campus chapter initiative, which would be driven by student leaders at their respective colleges.
It started as a slack message. It ended as a new strategic horizon. At the end of a Rube Goldberg machine of serendipitous events, ColorStack promises exciting announcements ahead.