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1 Million Cups Blueprint – How to Caffeinate Your Community

Caffeinate Your Community

A vibrant community needs a “town square,” the place where ideas are shared and serendipity is welcomed.

In many communities, 1 Million Cups is now that town square. In my hometown of Brookings, SD, population 25,000, we have hosted 1 Million Cups (1MC) for 60 straight weeks. My friend and learning partner Greg Tehven from Fargo, ND, population 115,000, has done the same for 80 weeks.

After hosting 1 Million Cups for well over a year, Greg and I have learned a few secrets at what makes it work and how to decide if it is right for your community. We wanted to share these secrets with you. First, we'll tell you about 1MC and how to start and then give you tips on how to host an event that truly improves your community.

If you want this guide as a pdf, just click here.

1 Million Cups – What is it?

1 Million Cups (1MC) is a free, weekly gathering at 9 a.m. in over 70 communities around the United States. Started and supported by the Kaufmann Foundation, 1MC asks: what would happen if 1 million people around the country shared coffee and ideas about business and community?

Each week an entrepreneur or community member shares their big idea. The audience provides feedback on how to improve and finish their project.

Who is it For?

1MC is perfect for communities that need a low-cost, easy-to-organize gathering place for entrepreneurs. The flexible format of 1MC allows communities to focus on the types of businesses and organizations that are found in their city.

What Do You Need?

1MC only requires a place to meet (at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays), a speaker for 6-8 minutes each week and an audience to ask questions. With over 70 communities, neighboring 1MC events are a great source of potential speakers.

In addition, many events share announcements, events or job openings, making 1MC the best way to stay connected with what is happening in the community.

How to Start?

Visit 1millioncups.com and contact the Kaufmann Foundation to start the event in your own community. Also, feel free click on the 9 Clouds contact page and submit any questions.

5 Strategies for a?Successful 1 Million Cups Event


In Fargo, we try to experiment with the concept of Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. Often times at our events, we will introduce an element that is unplanned and sometimes out of context. In the past, this has included a yoyo performance, a giveaway, or the revealing of a special announcement heard first at the gathering. We hope to continue to drive attendance by creating experiences that people do not want to miss out on.


Our team focuses on creating environments that foster energy and excitement.?We host our coffee gathering before we open the doors to our main venue. This encourages conversations and begins to build up the energy for the experience. We then open the door to fast paced music every week five minutes before the show starts. We ask our hosts to bring energy and excitement into the process as well as leave room for spontaneity.

Community Engagement

1 Million Cups host Ben Hanten, in Yankton, SD, describes engagement as passing the microphone. We do the same in Brookings.

We provide time for community members to share announcements from the stage. We also allow folks in our question and answer portion of?the event to ask questions directly or by tweeting them in to us with our local hash tag.

By distributing the microphone and allowing more voices to be heard, people feel a sense of ownership and excitement. We even have two volunteers every week in charge of bringing the microphones into the crowd and helping us drive energy.

The last question we ask our speakers each week is: what can the community do to support your efforts? The question engages the audience in feeling part of the entrepreneur’s journey and allows them to celebrate their wins and losses.

Front Door to the Community

1MC is built in a way that we hope will increase relationships of folks attending. The weekly occurrence allows for a rhythm and sense of belonging for guests. We use it as a way to introduce people to new guests, create awareness for activities in the community, and increase participation. We hope the event represents our community and helps folks feel part of something special.

Feed the Leaders

1MC is a chance to shine a spotlight on future leaders. If someone in ?the community is interested in getting involved or has talents that our community should know about, we invite them to share announcements, ask questions or introduce the speakers. This builds their confidence and status as a leader in the community. 1MC is a powerful way to groom the leadership core in your city.

5 Lessons from 1 Million Cups For Your Next Event

Freemium Attendance

“Freemium” is a business model often used online. Instead of charging for an event or service, it is free to try. There is only a charge when a user wants additional features.
The goal of many entrepreneurial events, such as 1 Million Cups, is not to raise money from attendees or members, but rather to gather users and grow a movement. This engaged audience can then invest in businesses and the community.

A cost to attend or join an event is often enough of a barrier to scare away new members and provides an easy excuse for someone to decide not to attend. Learn from 1 Million Cups and use Freemium.

Purposeful Open Door Policy

At our local events, we have people whose only job is to welcome new attendees. At 1 Million Cups, we publicly welcome and introduce new members of the community to everyone else. Additionally, we build time into events for facilitated networking and conversation.

To truly have an open door policy to new attendees and members, it cannot simply be stated that guests are welcome. Instead, a conscious effort must be made to personally ask new people to attend and then introduce them to others who should meet them.

Even in Brookings, a town of 25,000 people, I am amazed at how many people do not know their neighbors. A gathering like 1 Million Cups should be the place new community members can meet friends and future colleagues.

Handcrafted Experience

Too often, events are hosted in the same conference rooms with predictable food and uninspiring experiences.

More creativity is possible. If the purpose of an event is to build a community, this mindset should be extended to the details of the event itself. Local and healthy food, unique meeting spaces that encourage learning, local musicians and artists and easy transportation to and from the event are all handcrafted pieces that contribute to a memorable event.

It’s easy to pay someone to cater and host an event for you. This is uninspiring and fails to showcase and support local businesses and artists. 1 Million Cups is your opportunity to test new ideas every week to make event unique.

Action-Oriented Clubs

Service clubs and entrepreneurial events offer content such as speakers, business pitches or TEDx presentations.

Action-oriented content works best. Speakers asking for feedback challenge audience members. It also creates connections and partnerships with the attendees that continue after the event.

As Carla Hummel, co-organizer of 1 Million Cups Yankton, noted: “1 Million Cups gets people talking and not just about the weather.”

An Accountability Stage

The goal of most events and service clubs is to make a difference in the community. The event should create the platform for change and ensure that action is taken.

The event should focus on creating a stage. That platform is not for the organization to promote itself but rather to promote the community members with an idea to share. By gathering an engaged audience, a speaker can stand up and share their big idea with the community.

At 1 Million Cups, someone with a business idea stands up on the stage and announces what they are working on. This creates immediate accountability. The community will ask them after the event how they are progressing, and they have publicly shared what they hope to achieve.

As Hummel stated: “There is no reason to talk about what needs to happen or what needs to be done if we don’t follow through on it.”

Get Started – Bottoms Up

1MC has been the key, consistent event that sustains entrepreneurial momentum in our communities of Fargo and Brookings. The ability to always know where and when it is happening makes it easy to quickly invite new people to join the movement.

Interestingly, we’ve seen 1MC have a great impact in smaller communities. In places like Fargo, Brookings or Yankton, 1MC is the marquee event of the week. It is also the place you see your neighbors, friends and colleagues stand up and share their big ideas.

Use 1MC as the springboard for sustained community action. The event will inevitably take on the feel of your city and reflect what’s best about your community back to those in attendance. The energy and pride that develops will be a key ingredient in building the community you want to be a part of.

The best time to start is always yesterday. Visit 1millioncups.com or contact Greg or Scott to learn more.