John Wilker knows what it takes to create events that don’t suck.
He delivers awesome technical conferences for his independent startup 360|Conferences, brought the first Ignite event to Colorado and has helped organize Denver Startup Week practically since its inception.
Did I mention he’s also author of the Sci-Fi book series Space Rogues? See what happened when Pitch Lab caught up with John Wilker to talk all things Sci-Fi, why old electronics are good for his back and how he got the nickname Chicken Bone!
What’s your favorite Dad joke?
When the cashier at the grocery store asks me if I want my milk in a bag, I say, “No, just leave it in the carton.”
If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning a gold medal for?
Nacho eating. I’ll destroy you at that.
If you were a hoarder, what would you hoard?
I like that you used “were.”
Old electronics. It used to be books but, after a few moves, my back was like, “Hoarding, OVER!”
Do you have a nickname?
The one and only nickname I’ve ever had was because I answered when someone called their dog. The dog’s nickname, Chicken Bone, transferred to me.
In my defense, I wasn’t really answering to it; I didn’t hear what was said. Still, try to explain that to someone laughing so hard they double over while pointing and saying “Chicken Bone!”
What was your favorite TV show and movie growing up?
TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation.My folks and I always made sure to be home to watch it. Kids today are so lucky with DVRs and Hulu. I used to have to time my pee breaks to fit within three minutes of commercials!
Movie, so many. Goonies, Contact, Labyrinth (“you remind me of the babe”). Most of the early Star Trek, the original three Star Wars (don’t get me started) and of course Fifth Element! Also, Robot Joxis an old guilty pleasure. It’s so horrible.
How did you decide to transition from science-fiction fan to author? Was there a specific moment or catalyst that started your journey?
I’ve always been a writer to a degree. One of my last desk jobs, I used to write an email every week to let people know I’d brought in donuts. The emails were usually short stories, sorta mentioning donuts, but often not. I knew I was on to something when coworkers signed up to get the emails even when they didn’t want an actual donut.
Space Rogues came about because I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for years but never got very far. When 2016 rolled around, my November was light, so I started and just kept going. Before long, I was half-way through the month and then I was done. (For the record, I finished on the last day around noon, LOL.)
When I came back to the story a week later — it’s always good to let it sit after you’re done — I liked the story and thought it was worth sharing.
For those not familiar, what is Space Rogues?
Space Rogues is my first self-published novel. It’s your average — though to me, most awesome, ever — science-fiction adventure story. I’ve always loved Sci-Fi like Firefly, Guardians of the Galaxy and Farscape, so my writing is very much in that part of the genre: fun and dialogue heavy, lots of witty banter and action. It’s not even remotely hard Sci-Fi, so you’ll never know how FTL works, or how comms can span the galaxy.
What’s the one thing you want Sci-Fi fans to know about lead character, Wil Calder?
For one thing, he (and I) had friends in high school, despite what one mean reviewer said. 😱 Second, he’s my kind of hero. Altruistic to a fault, but honorable in his own way. Kind of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds rolled up with a little Inigo Montoya mixed in for honor.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
One is advice I’ve gotten, and one is my advice:
One: Don’t read reviews.
Two: Don’t be impatient. Self-publishing is so easy that it’s easy to make mistakes. I pushed Space Rogues out too early. I hadn’t invested in proper editing and proofreading, and I paid for it. I still do since I gave so many copies away people still randomly show up to write a review about a copy that’s not what’s available on the store now. It kinda sucks since I can’t really fix it, LOL. Make sure you go through the steps before sharing your work with the world.
For what it’s worth, I'm sure you made Seth Godin proud by publishing too quickly. He says folks sit on their work for too long, paralyzed by the goal of perfection. It takes courage to say “fuck it, ship it.”
You’re a busy guy with 360|Conferences PLUS your work supporting the Denver startup community, yet you still managed to get two Space Rogues books published with a third promised in 2019. How do you find time and stay motivated to write?
I’d say that I don’t sleep, but that’d be a lie. I love sleeping! Really, I try to keep busy, lest my natural lazy tendency overtake me. Plus, I really hope to improve everything I’m involved in — whether it’s Denver or the iOS or Android community, etc. So that keeps me going. Adding in writing has been a great outlet for me. I try to sneak in a page or two of writing when and wherever I can.
As far as staying motivated, it’s a struggle to be sure. It’s so easy to just stay indoors and do nothing, but I haven’t gotten to where I want to be in life yet, so I have to keep working on it!
What’s your origin story in regards to Denver Startup Week?
I was at the first meeting that kicked off the entire thing. Lunch at the Wynkoop Tavern. Heady times for sure. When I was approached after the first year — the original committee tried to do it all themselves — I eagerly accepted.
For one thing, I can’t help but try to give back and make Denver better. Of course I was hopeful that my efforts would lead to opportunities. (Hint, hint universe!)
I’m still involved in much the same way as I was at the start, and I still love it. I’m given a lot of latitude to plan things that I think can make the week better, which is awesome.
What’s your most unforgettable experience at Denver Startup Week?
Oh man, so many. From getting an email that literally just said “Drones!” to having one of my good friends, Eryc Eyl, DJ the opening party in his DJ Saviour Breath costume, and knowing how much “distress” it caused people.
Amongst all the speakers you’ve seen at Denver Startup Week over the years, what’s the common trait that makes them great?
I’d say a willingness to add value. As I go through the submissions for headline/spotlight events, that’s the first thing I look at. Is the speaker trying to add value to the community and the week, or are they simply looking for one more speaking engagement to add to their LinkedIn profile. If the latter, I don’t even give it a second thought. They get rejected.
“I want to work with people who put the Denver community before their personal fame and fortune.”
When RJ Owen at Pitch Lab first approached you with the idea to be part of Denver Startup Week, what was your initial reaction?
“I love this!” There are so many venture capital, money, funding and growth talks during the week that I like the headline/spotlight events to be more broad. I’m all about topics that help us be better humans.
Why do you think Pitch Lab was so well-received by the Denver startup community?
Beyond being awesome, I think Pitch Lab was a change of pace. There are always so many similar events, so something that turns pitching on its head is welcome and appreciated. I heard lots of great things about Pitch Lab!
Last year was your biggest attendance on record with 18,900 registered. How do you top that? What can the startup community expect from Denver Startup Week this year?
Well, we’re aiming for over 20K. (Gotta keep those numbers growing!) I know on the headline/spotlight side of things, I’m working on some content to be kind of “DSW 101” on Monday for folks who are new to the week. I feel like the sessions we’re announcing are across the board great and an awesome example of what Denver has to offer the world!
Big thanks to John for everything he does to support the Denver startup community!
Click here to learn more about John and his events that don't suck.
And we'll see you again this year at Denver Startup Week, September 24th - 28th!