The annual BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas has expanded yet again this year – even more tracks and more topics helping people navigate the myriad ways in which they can leverage the social web and new technologies for their business. In some cases making the social web their business. This year’s conference sports another change – the largest ever track of food content. In fact, the food track at this year’s BlogWorld Expo is the largest of the conference – and that is thanks largely to this woman, Babette Pepaj. As the Founder & CEO of Bakespace, Babette also has launched a series of off-line gatherings called TechMunch. Generally produced as single-day, single-track gatherings to educate the food blogging community, the Vegas edition of TechMunch spans two days, several tracks and includes a demo kitchen on the show floor. In this interview, Babette talks about the inception of Bakespace and TechMunch, how they’ve grown and gracefully dodges what’s next.
You started this site, why?
That’s a loaded question, how am I doing to do that in a sound bite? (laughs).
I was directing & producing reality programming and the last job I had I had to tell one mother to tell another mother that she was the worst mother in the world. At that point, I had pretty much, career-wise I was at the top (of my game), personally I felt like I had just gone to the bottom. So I took some time off and took a cake decorating class to feed my soul and bring me back from the dark side. And I loved being around the people. They were home cooks, people who were into food, they were just a very warm group of people – the opposite of the environment from which I had just come.
In 2006 there really wasn’t a peer-to-peer sharing community. There were forums & blogs (but that was it). So I built something that I wanted to use, and that is how it started. I was pretty green so no one told me I couldn’t so I just did.
So Bakespace in that time has grown pretty quickly and you’ve also taken it off-line. It’s not just this rich, on-line community but you also have expanded it into a series of off-line events.
We understand how to build community and we started understanding the food space and (as we did) we began to realize that the information we were learning in technology and also just understanding how consumers digest content we thought that if we shared that information with the food bloggers that we knew, we would raise the overall caliber of the space – the whole “rising tide raises all boats” concept. It began when we were going to SXSW (2010) and we knew we were going to meet the tech people that we know and were going to be in that environment and I thought – “You know, if I’m going to Austin, I would rather meet the food community.” So that inspired the one-day (inaugural) conference called “TechMunch”. From there people emailed us and asked us to come to their cities. So we just have been following that road. At the last event in New York, someone traveled from Arizona just to meet us and to ask if we would bring TechMunch there.
Of all the things that are “community”, we talk (in social media) about technology bringing people together and the socialized web and social software and social networks, but at the end of the day we’re still human, we’re still people. And at the end of the day what are the things that generally bind most people together – it’s gathering over food and beverage. It’s gathering and telling stories around a campfire – while eating s’mores. So when you think about a grander vision of what TechMunch and what Bakespace as community pioneers could really foster, do you have any grand ambitions?
Uhhh … Yes. (Giggle), but I don’t know if I want to go into my future business plans. I could tell you, but then I’d have to bake you into a cake. (Giggle that turns into a full-on chortling.)
So barring discussion of future plans for world domination by cupcake, let’s talk about TechMunch a bit more. At SXSW you were kind of an ad hoc, one-day gathering that wasn’t officially programmed with the conference. At BlogWorld Expo, which is the other major social media/digital media event of the year, the food track is the largest track at the conference – and you are behind it!
Rick (Calvert, the producer of BlogWorld Expo) approached me at SXSW 2010. What I like about him (and his team) is that they do exactly what we do with TechMunch. You find the best people with the domain expertise to bring that information to your community and then you empower them to do it. They knew they wanted a food track at BlogWorld Expo and decided they didn’t want to build it on their own from scratch and would rather team up with someone who’s already in the space, partner with them and make them stronger.
And it’s been amazing. Working with (BlogWorld Expo) has grown TechMunch exponentially. It’s now two days instead of one day. We have access to other sessions and other speakers. We also teamed up with Jenn-Air and they built a full kitchen on the show floor so we could do cooking demos, tastings and even more!