Blog: Zach Lipson

Leave it to an entrepreneur to know the importance of good relationships. Zach Lipson is the founder of the of relationship advice website (LEssons For The Opposite Sex) and co-organizer of TechNow 09, a widely attended conference for technology start-ups. Zach will be writing about the how and why behind TechNow.

Zach Lipson - Post 1: The Genesis of TechNow09

Six  months ago, I was nothing more than your typical internet entrepreneur pushing towards the launch of his startup. I was focused; I had goals, objectives, and a clear route. Last month, I introduced (Lessons For The Opposite Sex), a website designed to allow men and women to anonymously discuss issues and ask questions related to being single, dating, sex, relationships, marriage and divorce. In other words, Leftos is a place where you can better understand the opposite sex.

The story of the past six months is anything but typical, and it begins with an office. An office in downtown Royal Oak, where myself and two friends who also had technology businesses came to begin planning what was eventually to become TechNow09. As we sat around a table, verbally brainstorming ideas, one thing was clear: We knew that there were great things happening in the field of technology here in Michigan. The problem was that it seemed like no one else did. When Michigan is mentioned, people think automotive. And right now, that isn't exactly the immediate association we want.

We decided that we wanted to create an event that would, maybe for a just a moment, take the spotlight off the negativity surrounding the current economic landscape and the automotive sector. We wanted to get behind that spotlight, swivel it over, and shine its light on people who are building innovative and exciting technology startups right here. A one-night event to support the transition of Michigan into a knowledge-based economy, complete with presentations from five creative new tech startups, and a discussion panel with five current business leaders. We also decided that we would not try to profit from this event and would instead donate all of the proceeds to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

We felt we had a great idea and a noble cause that people and businesses in Michigan would quickly stand behind to support. So we dove head first into the world of event planning. It was a place that none of us had any experience but our ambitions outweighed our sense of realism—a feeling most entrepreneurs can relate to.  That sense of realism began to quickly gain weight as we fronted the money for our chosen venue, The Royal Oak Music Theatre, and started off this event being thousands of dollars in the hole.

Pitching TechNow

Over the next five months we pitched our event to nearly every organization and business in the Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor area—at least the ones that we were able to get in touch with. We hit what seemed like a thousand different roadblocks and met with a number of individuals who simply didn’t "get" what we were trying to do. But every so often we would find someone who did "get it" and it was these people and organizations that kept us going (and would eventually become our sponsors).  Selling sponsorships was a difficult road to travel, especially with the state of the economy and the fact that we were a first time event, but we made it through and actually raised a somewhat significant amount.

We quickly realized that sponsorships were only the beginning. Over the next ten weeks we focused our sights on marketing the event and actually planning it. We spent countless hours, nights, and weekends working on spreading our message about TechNow09 to the people here in Michigan, all the while taking much needed time away from our own businesses. But the hard work began to pay off. We started creating a small buzz around town and the press caught wind.

What started with a small piece in Detroit Make It Here was followed by articles in the Great Lakes IT Report, Crains Detroit Business, The Detroit Free Press, The Jewish News (a cover story), The Oakland Press, and a segment with Bill Spencer on the Channel 7 News.

Needless to say, marketing was going well and we were selling tickets quickly. By the time we closed online ticket sales the day before the event, we had already sold close to 800 tickets (our expected attendance and floor plan was for 600 people).  Some might think of this as a problem, but to us this was a good problem to have.

Event night kicked off with a strong opening presentation by Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, followed by five interactive presentations by Michigan based startups. Our theme: TechNow09 was "Not Your Ordinary Business Event" and the presentations certainly portrayed this. Interactive trivia games, 3-D video demonstrations, and a story walking the audience through the various stages of a relationship (including sex), helped make the event a night to remember.

The five business leaders on the panel engaged the audience immediately by adding their expertise and wisdom. The sponsors and the attendees reaped the networking benefits, and business cards were exchanged left and right. I spoke to a few attendees who had managed to secure job interviews at the event.

The event was a huge success. We looked out onto the large crowd of people and we knew that we had created something special.  What we built was more than an event – it was a grassroots campaign that almost 800 people attended, but that reached thousands more.  In total, we were able to raise over $25,000, which easily covered our event costs and allowed us to make a sizeable donation to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Furthermore, we were instilled with a sense of accomplishment knowing that we may have changed a few minds; that we may have shown even just a few people that Michigan still has some life left in it. That despite all the darkness, there are those out there who are working towards a brighter future.


With the event behind us, myself and the two other organizers (Jordan Wolfe -the founder of, an online media company, and Mason Levey- the founder of bablur, a Detroit-based mobile marketing firm), can now turn our own spotlights back on our companies.

My personal experience was a bit different from that of Jordan and Mason’s. While I was organizing TechNow09 (selling sponsorships, designing materials, and marketing) I was also attempting to launch my company,, at the event. Needless to say, this made my days a bit chaotic and stressful but somehow it all managed to work its way out. On April 23rd, 2009, at TechNow09, I officially launched

We’ve been in the trenches and we've seen firsthand how these troubling times are affecting the businesses in Michigan. Truth be told, some of our experiences were disheartening, to say the least.  But one lesson that we’ve learned is that to give up in the face of hardship only makes you a part of the problem. Instead, be the solution. With a little ambition and drive, you can make a difference.

I can't help but be reminded of a quote that's probably been beaten to death over and over, but I’m gonna use it anyways. "Be the change you wish to see in the world". Maybe it’s just me, but I think that Gandhi fella was onto something.