Lessons from #CLEypweek


Cleveland YP Week is over, and I need a nap.

But first, I want to share what I learned.

Do It Yourself.  On Monday evening, we heard from organizers of some of the biggest events in town. These events ranged from ethnic festivals to New Years’ Eve parties. The theme? They didn’t wait for permission.

Of course, they play nice the city. But the best events in town came about not from top-down planning, but from engaged citizens building from the bottom up.

If you’ve got an idea, don’t wait for permission. By the time you reach the gatekeepers, you will have built up so much momentum that they can’t help but go along with you.

Give firstThe Cleveland Flea started not as a for-profit venture. Instead, Stephanie Sheldon’s clients were having trouble paying her for graphic design work. She started the flea so they could make more money so they could afford it.

Stephanie pours tremendous energy into one of Cleveland’s favorite events. After months of success and thousands of monthly visitors, the flea still just barely breaks even. But she doesn’t mind too much. Because the basis of success is providing value first. Vendors at the flea have done so well that some have been able to build permanent locations and yes, pay Stephanie for her work.

Money chases ideas, not the other way around. In the digital age, it doesn’t take much to spread an idea. Social media is free. Blogs are cheap. If the idea provides enough value to enough people, the money will come. The importance is to provide that value first (see above point.)

Cleveland is getting a lot of investment now. The RNC is coming, and new housing is coming to the Flats. (I joked to a Cleveland newcomer that I am much more used to see buildings being torn down than going up.) This all only happened after ordinary Cleveland citizens, many of them young people, decided that this city wasn’t such a “mistake” after all. Now the investment is coming, but only after the idea of “Cleveland cool.”

Bright Lights, Mid-Size City.  Often overheard this week: “My friends from New York/Chicago/LA couldn’t believe I got to do X…”

You can start a festival, a business, a social network, and not get drowned out. You can join the YP group of a world-renowned orchestra for less than $20 a month. You can visit the world’s largest corporate art collection with the YP group of the art museum, another cultural treasure.

You can check out a new event every day like in a big city and run into friends there like in a small town. It’s the perfect balance.

Exeis Stoma.”   Okay, this is a Greek saying that I just had to use in honor of the opening of Santorini downtown. It means, “you have a mouth,” which implies, “use it!” Do you have questions or want to share something? Go for it.

The Closing Night party was my favorite event. What was the program? Nothing…just hanging out with other YPs. It was great to chat with people from all parts of town and in every industry. Everyone was engaged and happy to talk. (This isn’t high school anymore!)


It was exciting to meet other young people who see big things for our city and aren’t afraid to build them.

Thanks to Engage Cleveland and the event sponsors for this week. If I’m exhaused, I can’t imagine how the organizers are feeling!

Photo of Cleveland YP Week Closing Party courtesy of Greg Murray Photography.

Subscribe to my mailing list.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: