How to Design a $5 Conference in Detroit! #5dollarconference on 5/17/17


There are a lot people who are doing events and I get asked a lot how do you put together a successful event.  So, I thought it would be interesting to pull back the curtain back and show you how to design a $5 Conference.  I have received a lot of interesting feedback about the Rebrand Cities x Automattic Pop-up Design + Innovation Salon.  The feedback has ranged from I absolutely love the event, to an email stating an organization can’t promote the event without descriptions of the talk to a text from a person I really respect that communicated that this is a Parachute Elitist approach.  I am not sure what a ‘Parachute Elitist’ is but sounds interesting.


Event Details

  • Rebrand Cites x Automattic Pop-up Design + Innovation Salon
  • Date/Time: May 17, 2017 3:00pm – 5:30pm
  • Location:  Detroit Center of Design + Technology 4219 Woodward Avenue Detroit, MI 48201
  • Tickets:

Speakers includes a former Creative Director of the Obama White House, VP/CMO/Engineers & Product Leads at Automattic, former design school president, founder of brand agencies, and Detroit business owners.

Seven Elements of Great Conference/Salon:

I thought this would be a great teachable moment.  Here is how it all came together.  John Maeda and I hopped on the phone for 20-minutes and talked about that five core elements that make a great events

  1. Speakers – (i.e.We used local and out-of-state talent)
  2. Environment – (State of the art venue (Detroit Center of Design + Technology) –
  3. Experience – (i.e.7-Inspiring 14 minute talks about design, tech and entrepreneurship)
  4. Call to Action – (i.e. Topics: ‘Designing the Future’ and ‘The Power of Stories’)
  5. Fuel – (i.e.Healthy lifestyle/organic refreshments –
  6. Diversity – (i.e.Women: 30%, Minority: 50%, Local/Detroit: 30%)
  7. Audience – We have reached out to a diverse community in Detroit)

Time Spent Launching Idea (10 hours)

The initial time spent to get the idea to market was 10 hours.  To make this work at the $5 price point we had to be as lean as possible.  There will be a considerable amount of time required in planning and logistics to make this work.

  • Conversation about Event – 1 hour
  • Confirming Speakers – 1 hour
  • Website Development: 2.5 hours.
  • Marketing – 3 hours
  • Event Graphic – 2.5 hours

Tools Used

No physical meetings everything was done remotely.  We didn’t have meetings to make people feel important.  We meet only to discuss critical issues.

Why This Event isn’t FREE


Everybody loves FREE stuff, the problem is that people don’t value FREE stuff.  No shows on free events can range from 20% – 45%.  So we put a small price on the event of $5 and are providing a $10 bottle of Drought cold pressed, raw, organic juice.  So essentially you are paying for a bottle of juice.  We aren’t going to make money on the event, but having a value to the event is important.  Price point for events is critical.

Cost of Other Conferences/Salons

There are a lot of great conferences, talk series and salons and I have listed a few as a point of reference.  To put together events like these require a huge time commitment,  resources and a passionate team.

I hope you found this post helpful.  If you are local we would love to connect with you at our Design Salon on May 17th.  Seats are going fast.  You can purchase your ticket at

Rebrand Cities x Automattic Pop-up Design + Innovation Salon is Coming to Detroit


Rebrand Cities x Automattic Pop-up Design + Innovation Salon is Coming to Detroit

The Rebrand Cities x Automattic Pop-Up Salon is happening on May 17th in Detroit at the Detroit Center of Design + Technology. It is a collaboration between Automattic and Brand Camp University about Design for the Detroit Innovation Community. The salon will be hosted by John Maeda and Hajj Flemings and is designed for citizens, leaders, creatives, entrepreneurs and professionals who are interested in how the web can activate change.


Chris Taylor: CMO at Automattic/Hajj Flemings: Founder of Rebrand Cities: Welcome

Designing the Future

  • Todd Wilkens: Head of WooCommerce at Automattic: The Way Design Works
  • Ashleigh Axios: Design Exponent at Automattic/Frmr Creative Director & Strategic Director at the Obama White House/ Design and Exclusion: Learnings
  • Beau Lebens: Product/Team Lead at Automattic: The Future of the Web

The Power of Stories

  • Catherine Stewart: VP & Business Wrangling at Automattic: The Craft of Business
  • Justin Dunn: Founder of Increase Branding: Coding a New Path to the Championship
  • Kay Willingham: Owner of Art in Motion: My Road to Becoming an Entrepreneur
  • Cesar Abeid: Happiness Engineer at Automattic: Content Marketing Fundamentals

John Maeda: Global Head of Design and Computation at Automattic/Hajj Flemings: Founder of Rebrand Cities: Closing


The cost is $5 which includes a 16oz. Bottle of Drought cold-pressed, raw juice (Green, Carrot or Beet).  FYI…There are limited seats.

Purchase your ticket at:

Hashtag: #RebrandCities

Brand Camp University, WordPress and TechTown Detroit partner to bring 100 Detroit businesses online

Hack Detroit Day 2 Tours-9343-01

The first nine businesses in the 100 Project to launch new websites went live today, March 9, 2017.

Nine Detroit small businesses have new websites created pro bono by developers from San Francisco-based Automattic (the for profit arm of WordPress), part of a citywide initiative to get 100 businesses online by 2nd quarter of this year. The new websites were created during a 48-hour Super Bowl Weekend blitz as part of the 100 Project, program of Detroit-based Brand Camp University in partnership with WordPress and TechTown Detroit.

Brand Camp University’s mission is to help businesses tell their story via brand strategy, workshops and mentoring. Brand Camp’s 100 Project seeks to eliminate the digital gap that exists in so many communities that the Super Bowl weekend pilot project aimed to establish a digital presence for neighborhood businesses increasing their accessibility and their bottom line. The genesis of this project was seeded by the Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge.

“Getting the privilege to partner and learn from Alicia* and Kay** and their Detroit-based businesses have made me rethink how the Web needs to work, for *their* work.”

John Maeda Global Head of Design at Automattic

A talented WordPress team of developers flew in from around the country help put a diverse group of Detroit neighborhood businesses on the grid. The selections not only represented a variety of industries (arts, eateries, apparel, etc.), but also represented diverse ethnicities and economic levels. The Rebrand Detroit team facilitated a tour using a colorful art bus from The Detroit Bus Company, giving a glimpse of some Detroit landmarks. The developers then had the opportunity to tour the businesses and meet the business owners behind the websites they would craft to introduce or reintroduce them to the digital world. The next forty-eight hours were used to create websites, connect, exchange ideas and create a dialogue focused on ideas on how to continue to improve the presentation and reach of their brand.

“More than 2.4 billion people use the internet every day, and some 90% of those have purchased something, or contacted a company, online in the last 12 months,” says Hajj Flemings, founder of Brand Camp.” There is a digital divide that inhibits businesses without websites to benefit from this e-commerce reality. Forty-six (46%) of small businesses in underserved neighborhoods are disconnected digitally. We aim to change that.”

Websites debuting on March 9, 2017: Art in Motion (, Brix Wine and Charcuterie Boutique ( ), La Posada ( ), Red Bag Detroit (, El Salpicon Detroit (, Royal Fresh Market (, Mama Coo’s Boutique (, The Garden Bug ( and Motor City Java ( Seven of the nine businesses are clients in TechTown’s SWOT City program, which provides customized, one-on-one consulting for small businesses in Detroit’s neighborhoods.

El Salpicon Detroit Website Homepage
Royal Fresh Market
Red Bag Boutique Website
Brix Detroit Website
Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 12.11.50 PM
Art in Motion Website

The 100 Project will be scaling with the assistance of community partners to help more businesses get on the grid. If you would like to partner with this great effort, contact Hajj Flemings at speak[at]

*footnote or link to Alicia’s business “Motor City Java House” — a neighborhood coffee shop

**footnote or link to Kay’s business “Art in Motion” — a community ceramics studio

Rebrand Detroit: The Garden Bug Detroit is now Digital

The seed for Tina’s new business sprouted fourteen years ago in her very own yard. Tina Castle had always loved the outdoors. She started to plant and cultivate her own garden and neighbors started to take notice. When her neighbors began to ask her to plant for them too she said yes.

Over the years Tina grew her landscaping company to about 30-40 customers. She’d handle the design, the planting, and the maintenance. Then, she decided it was time to graduate into a new business: The Garden Bug which is located at 19801 Grand River Avenue in the Historic Grandmont Rosedale community.

The Garden Bug is a seasonal garden center located in the Rosedale Park community. Specializing in indoor and outdoor gardening supplies, gardening education, and organic gardening options. The Garden Bug carries exclusives patio set, a variety of rare perennials, and one of kind pottery from the Pottery Patch.

Urban Neighborhood Businesses are off the Grid:

81% of people research a business online before making a purchase.  After working on the Rebrand Detroit: Innovating Detroit Neighborhood project for a year, I validated the structural challenges in neighborhoods that social impact programs can’t change like seven lane streets, lack of foot traffic, safety concerns and business owners working 10-12 hour days as the primary employee.  In every urban neighborhood in America we are all dealing with the same digital issues which prevent people from driving 20+ minutes to their neighborhood.  

46% of small businesses in underserved neighborhoods in Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami and other cities are off the grid.  These businesses are disconnected from the digital ecosystem and most of them can’t be found in Google Maps or in local search engines like Yelp. After running the Rebrand Detroit project for a year a key finding is getting businesses online is critical to driving revenue.

The 100 Project:

The Garden Bug is the 2nd website in the 100 project that we are launching as a part of the Rebrand Detroit project.  The vision for small businesses that are marginalized in the digital era, to establish new meaning through having websites.  I believe that they can become more prosperous by having a digital presence.

For more information go their website:



The 100 Project: Can Rebrand Detroit get 100 Detroit Neighborhood Business online?

What is the 100 Project? The 100 project is about the small business owners in Detroit neighborhoods who are working 10-12 hour days as the primary employee, with no foot traffic to the business, no marketing budget and no website. Welcome to the world of Alicia George who founded Motor City Java in the Old Redford District in Detroit Michigan in 2003.


One of the learning outcomes of my Rebrand Detroit project that was funded by the Knight Foundation as an inaugural Knight Cities Challenge winner is that we found there was a lack of digital strategy and presence for businesses in Detroit neighborhoods.  Small business is the engine that drives the U.S. economy.  Further research confirmed that 46% of the small businesses in America are off the grid meaning they are operating without a website.  The idea of 100 project is to transform small businesses in Detroit by getting 100 Detroit neighborhood businesses on the grid.  

On September 12, 2016 John Maeda – Global Head of Design and Inclusion at Automattic and I had a conversation at Selden Standard a Detroit restaurant in Midtown in Detroit during the Brand Camp Summit. During this conversation I mention my desire to test the theory of getting 100 Detroit neighborhood businesses online. A month later on Monday, October 10th John and I had a conversation of bootstrapping to kick the project off. In pure Design Thinking fashion three days later John was on a plane and landed in Detroit to help prototype the first website and define our MVP (Minimal Viable Product). The team consisted of three people: John Maeda, Justin Dunn web developer, and myself. Our goal was to establish a strong proof of concept that we could scale to the remaining 98-websites.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

  • 09:15 am – John Maeda lands in Detroit
  • 09:25 am – I talk with Alicia George founder of Motor City Java on the phone
  • 10:53 am – Basic content for Motor City Java was captured
  • 01:00 pm – Project team meeting at the Detroit Center for Design and Technology
  • 02:58 pm – Meet with Alicia and John George at Motor City Java
  • 03:15 pm – Captured photos and videos at Motor City Java and Artist Village
  • 04:58 pm – Started website development for Motor City Java
  • 09:32 pm – Dinner at Gold Cash Gold in Detroit

Friday, October 14, 2016

  • 01:23 am – The Motor City Java website is launched at
  • 09:25 am – The website is unveiled and presented to Alicia George

What can happen in 24-Hours?


Within 24-hours of talking with Alicia George of Motor City Java her new site was ‘Just Java House’ was online.  We are attacking a global issue that isn’t constrained to Detroit.  The impact to businesses in neighborhoods in urban cities is multiplied due to traffic constraints, parking safety concerns and being under capitalized that impact how sustainable small businesses are sustainable.  Websites are necessary for credibility and validation of existence.  The fact that 81% of people research a business online before making a purchase is sobering.  

Project Information