I plan large-scale events for Y Combinator like Demo Day – Domonique Fines, Director of Events at Y CombinatorFeatured
Hi Elphas, I’m Domonique Fines Director of Events at Y Combinator where I oversee all of our offline experiences including Female Founders Conference and Demo Day. Prior to this role I worked at frog Design where I was responsible for office management and involved in events like SXSW and hackathons. I’m a native of Oakland and received my bachelor's degree from Clark Atlanta University. I had a great time chatting to @cadran about my career journey so far for the Y Combinator podcast which you can listen to here: https://blog.ycombinator.com/ycs-director-of-events-domonique-fines-with-elpha-ceo-cadran-cowansage/I’m passionate about technology, community, startups, operations, creating meaningful experiences, culture and inclusion.Ask me anything about my career: breaking into tech without a traditional tech background, Y Combinator, startups, outreach, events or anything else!
What's the best event you have been to and why?
I'm a huge fan of everything Cirque Du Soleil does. The production is unmatched and every single detail down to the scent is curated. I'm all about detail and I love how they don't let a moment pass to entertain.
The scent is curated? Wow. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
I attended a Female Founders conference last year in Seattle which was excellent. Will YC being organizing any for 2019? Thanks in advance.
I want to apply for the Y Combinator programme but I have a few concerns, perhaps you know something that could help push me in the right direction...My questions are below: 1) I have concerns about my idea(s) being adopted or stolen without me knowing. Is there much truth in this concern or am I being paranoid?2) Is it worth applying if you're a non technical sole founder? I've been reading up on a lot of case studies and most seem to have a CTO or coding experience themselves. I'm more of a people and business orientated individual so I regularly wonder whether I'm wasting my time knocking on these particular types of doors if there are these (hidden) requirements. 3) Are there Y Combinator events in the UK and if so, where can we learn about them?
1) I have concerns about my idea(s) being adopted or stolen without me knowing. Is there much truth in this concern or am I being paranoid?YC definitely doesn't steal ideas and is in the habit of helping you make your idea come to life!2) Is it worth applying if you're a non technical sole founder? I've been reading up on a lot of case studies and most seem to have a CTO or coding experience themselves. I'm more of a people and business orientated individual so I regularly wonder whether I'm wasting my time knocking on these particular types of doors if there are these (hidden) requirements.It is suggested that you are technical or have a technical cofounder. However, I think you should still apply. You're not wasting your time. Applying can never hurt but it does have the potential to help. 3) Are there Y Combinator events in the UK and if so, where can we learn about them?We haven't gone this year but we've definitely made the trek during our Outreach Tours twice a year. Stay tuned on our blog for dates!
I loved the podcast conversation between you and Cadran, awesome to see your vision for working at the best tech company come to life!I plan events for the community I am building over at www.forworkingladies.com I have a few questions:1. When do you know it's the right time for you to do a large scale event? Should you be led by the need or how big your current community is?2. When launching a large scale event what are the most important roles needed? 3. What project management tools/productivity tools do you use to help manage your event planning? 4. As a small org, how does one go about securing brand partnerships for events, what are the benefits you normally sell to a brand? Would love to connect with you as I am planning some large scale events in the future and would love some tips. Thanks :)
1. When do you know it's the right time for you to do a large scale event? Should you be led by the need or how big your current community is?- Start small and when you start running out of space, you'll be forced to grow :). That way you're not planning an event based off of future growth. Plan for now.2. When launching a large scale event what are the most important roles needed?- This one kind of depends on what type of event you're planning. Happy to discuss more once we connect. 3. What project management tools/productivity tools do you use to help manage your event planning?- I honestly only live by Google docs, forms & sheets. Everything else lives in my head and in my notebook. For me personally I find it to be adding another step using an app that I'll have to update with progress. 4. As a small org, how does one go about securing brand partnerships for events, what are the benefits you normally sell to a brand?-Both YC & frog actually doesn't partner with any orgs/companies for events so I haven't had to get partnerships just yet. Would love to connect post Demo Days & after my me time :). Let's chat in April!
Really enjoyed the discussion between you and Cadran, lovely afternoon pick-me up! Thank you. Awesome standouts:* Be comfortable with saying "I don't know"* Approach everything with "what problem are you trying to fix?"* Don't follow a pre-defined path, carve your own* You can't be successful if you're burnt out * Just start, wherever that is for youA few questions:* How do you judge the success of an event?* Event planning strikes me as a career that requires a high level of extraversion. Is this the case? Where do you fit on the introversion/extraversion scale?* What's your opinion on virtual events? Do you have any plans to plan any for YC?
Thanks for listening! I appreciate it!1. How do you judge the success of an event?It varies depending on the type of event. Feedback is super important. Mass feedback is great but I tend to talk to our guests directly and ask what they liked/didn't like + host small groups to chat post event. People tend to be very honest with more details in person than what you can capture in a survey. Also, regardless of the size of the event, if the founders are happy and I can help at least 1 person, I'm happy. 2.* Event planning strikes me as a career that requires a high level of extraversion. Is this the case? Where do you fit on the introversion/extraversion scale?I fall smack dead in the middle. I am super personable/outgoing and can definitely speak to any and everyone but there are days where I talk to nobody and just stay inside to watch Netflix. A healthy balance is always good. It works for me.3.* What's your opinion on virtual events? Do you have any plans to plan any for YC?Honestly, I kind of feel like the only person who pulled off a flawless virtual event was Beyonce at Coachella (BEYChella). I'm a fan of being able to gauge the audience in person. As of right now I don't have any plans to do virtual events but it's definitely not cancelled out and I'm always up for a challenge.
Hi Dom! Thanks for being here, we're excited for YC S19. What's your advice for founders presenting at FFC and Demo Day? Any tips or tales of caution? Thank you!
My advice is to speak as slowly + clearly as you can without sounding robotic. Also pick a spot in the audience to focus on. When I know I have to speak, I ask one of my friends to sit in the crowd and smile. I only look at them the entire time. Also if you're on stage and a technical glitch happens in your presentation, don't announce it + try to remain calm/keep going. If you don't announce your mistakes, people may not catch it. Sometimes if founders are super super nervous, I offer to sit up front while they present so they can just look at me + try to cancel everyone else out.
In the podcast you mentioned that you wanted to spread the message of, “you can be in tech and not be an engineer and not have a tech background.”I couldn’t agree more — this is a such a common misconception! What do you think are the best avenues to spread this message? What have you found to be the most effective ways of communicating the wide range of roles available in the tech industry? How do you inspire confidence in people to apply to tech companies, even when they didn’t previously imagine that for their future?
I think word of mouth and social media are the best ways to get this message across. I love the "Each One Teach One" method. If everybody just tells one person, we'd be set! Me doing the podcast was my way of trying to get the word out. I honestly have stage fright and have been avoiding doing the podcast for the past 3 years I've been at YC but I realized I have a duty to get the word out. I did it for the folks who are afraid and need that extra push. A good way to communicate the range of roles is to go to a company that you use often and understand how it works, like Airbnb. Check out there open roles. Each company has a list of open roles and they don't all apply to engineering. The confidence part is hard and they have to believe in themselves more than I do. Also they must be comfortable with chasing fears. I'm not a fan of limits so I try to remove that from any of my future goals and am open to change. There is no right path. It's whatever path you choose, if you believe it.
I'd love to hear some big last minute challenges that have come up, event-wise, and how you solved them!
Great question! All day at an event is a last minute change thanks to Murphy's Law. LOL. There is one case I'll never forget though.A presenting founder who was about to go on stage had a panic attack backstage and I had to swiftly switch the order with AV, Sound, etc. as well as give a partner additional stage script announcements to stall while I stayed in the back helping the founder. FYI, the founder went on and killed it! A great presentation to say the least!
Thanks for your time today! I've been organizing small conferences in the Bay Area and wonder if you have any thoughts about scaling up events or how organizing events changes when they are larger.
When scaling up, remember to always handle high level things 1st and work in reverse. You need a team of your own preferred vendors that you can go to for anything and knows your working style. Even though I don't have an events team at YC, I do get day of help from those who have done events with me in the past and also knows how to run/manage events. These people for me are my cousins with whom we've managed our family restaurant + clubs. When events get larger and larger you'll start to cut back on the "nice to haves" and focus more on the "need to haves". You'll also begin to think about things that can potentially be an issue. For an example, I now think more and more about safety plans, exit routes, keeping the nearest hospital + police on standby when I have large events.
I read this article and thought of your background in Atlanta: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/03/10/bye-silicon-valley-black-entrepreneurs-part-new-migration-atlanta/2982120002/ How do you see YCombinator moving forward in more diverse communities?Thanks!
I actually just came back from ATL doing our Outreach Tour mainly in diverse tech communities (TechSquare Labs, The Gathering Spot, Digital Undivided, etc.). I did 6 stops in 24 hours. Whew!I also currently work with Code2040, HBCU tech groups, the AUC, and many other organizations. It's always been super important to me to make sure we are making more of an impact in diverse communities. I'm starting a Black Engineer Dinner series as well. I'm open to hearing suggestions on ways we can do more!
It's great to meet you here on Elpha. You have a fun career and background it seems. I'm curious; 1) what is your favorite event to put on, and 2) what was your journey to Y Combinator?
I love Camp YC (reunion for alumni) + Female Founders Conferences. I applied for hundreds of event roles, got denied, finally got an interview, turned their offer down, YC was looking, I had never heard of them, a recruiter reached out, and here I am 3 years later!More Info:https://blog.ycombinator.com/ycs-director-of-events-domonique-fines-with-elpha-ceo-cadran-cowansage/
I always felt event management is such a hard job that is dependent on so many external factors. I would love to hear what are your tactics for avoiding or dealing with last minute changes or cancellations/mess-ups when dealing with building the events? What self-imposed tools or processes do you use to stay calm, steady and on your goal despite obstacles. Would love to hear any tips that could be used in other stress situations as well.
It is truly a hard job & definitely not for everyone. You have to LOVE it. It's a role where my past lawyer brain + current creative brain meet in the middle and dance. I deal with last minute changes quietly and swiftly if it makes sense. There will be changes, ALWAYS but I do push back if needed. Proper planning is also a must. I go over every single detail and even run through events in my mind as if I were an attendee.I take self care very seriously. Post event I always schedule a Spa day as well as go offline for a week or so to recharge & not talk. I've stayed in Treehouses, Yurts, unique Airbnbs etc. During events I schedule 20-30 minutes for myself to just breathe. Sometimes I have a table set up in the back of the house with a table cloth over it for me just to hide under it and take a quick nap or me time. It gets real and you have to have energy! I try not to let anything stress me to the point of being unhealthy or stressed though. We can always fix things with events & I absolutely love my job but I come 1st.
How do you approach community building via the events you help with the and communities you work with? How do you encourage and grow connections between events?
Every event poses a different goal but for Female Founders Conferences we plan tons of smaller events around the actual conference for people to engage + build relationships before the actual conference kicks off. We invite people to invite their friends who are also building something. There are startups who have found/met their cofounder at Female Founder events that YC has hosted.
Hi Domonique! Just saw your post and wondering if I can talk to you about an event I'm looking to put together this year. Would love to get your feedback. What would be the best way to reach out to you?
One of my favorite types of work is designing for large-scale events (conferences, etc). Would you ever be interested in connecting and chatting about Events in particular? I'm currently refinding my process to help streamline the decisions around event design for those planning a large event, and I'd love to have your feedback on it.
I'm an event consultant based in NYC but I produce events frequently in the Bay Area.The clients I have worked with include Quartz, Fast Company, Becton, Dickinson & Company and Aspire Public Schools.If you ever need any external production support for Y Combinator let me know, I'd love to chat.
Hi! Thanks for reaching out! I'll totally add you to my vendor sheet. I do events in NY as well. Can you send me an email ([email protected]) with a bit more info on what your role was from start to finish along with visuals?
Dom - thanks so much for joining us for an AMA this week!Elphas, this week we have a special AMA inspired by the latest episode of the Y Combinator podcast where @cadran interviews @Dom. Please check it out and comment below with your questions.Dom will be answering them questions this week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so we'll be sorting questions by popularity based on most emojis 😊.