Communities / Good Works / Social media / Startups

Meet the lawyer behind #dctech’s most prolific Twitter account

Ever wondered who runs @TheSiliconHill? Here's your answer.

Downtown D.C. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

The first time Robert Williams sent me an email I was just days into my DC reporting gig, but already very familiar with @TheSiliconHill. I didn’t know any of its backstory, though.

“I am the semi-anonymous acting manager of the Silicon Hill account on Twitter,” he wrote. “Please feel free to contact me any time.” I was intrigued.

It took us several months to get around to it, but we finally did meet on a hot summer afternoon at Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont. Williams struck me with his blond hair, well-tailored suit and somewhat quiet demeanor, though he was plenty forthcoming as I peppered him with questions. Who is this character behind #dctech’s most prolific Twitter account? I wondered. Through this meeting, and another months later, I teased out an answer.

Robert Williams. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Robert Williams. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Williams is, by profession, a lawyer. But by passion he’s a huge supporter of the #dctech scene — he prefers the word “community,” though. “It’s a bit like an extended family for me,” he said.

Williams took to reading stories about the tech innovation happening in our fair city back in 2015, so when some personal friends were looking to invest in east coast-based tech companies Williams knew what he wanted to do. He created a Twitter account to keep his investor friends abreast of the happenings within #dctech startups. That was April 2015 — the birth of @TheSiliconHill.

As the account grew, though, its focus shifted. Over time it became less about serving the investor friends and more about helping the community itself. “What can I do to serve?” Williams asked. After meeting with a variety of local founders, Williams identified that not many early stage startups have a significant marketing budget. So he resolved to help with marketing by using his account as a kind of megaphone to promote local companies, events and news.

These days, Williams describes @TheSiliconHill as “a social media-based news aggregator that’s focused on news and events in D.C. tech and the larger DMV tech ecosystem.”

In service of this, Williams and his team of about four volunteers (this is a labor of love — Williams says he has no intention to turn the account into a business) are serial retweeters. If you’re a regular tweeter of #dctech-related content then you know what I’m talking about. But how does the team decide what to curate?

Williams has set out some basic guidelines that his volunteers, he says, jokingly call “Robert’s Rules of Order.” Those rules?

  • Look for (and promote) diversity of all kinds — background, origin, thought, etc.
  • Avoid politics.
  • Retweet things that are about D.C. and about tech, though there’s some flexibility on the latter.
  • And finally, keep it interesting. Showcase personalities as much as ideas.

Why the semi-anonymity? For some of his volunteers, Williams told me, it is about protecting identities. But he himself isn’t trying to be shadowy, he claims, he just wants to make sure the focus is on the companies and personalities in the D.C. tech ecosystem and not on him.

At the end of the day, Williams is trying to make sure that the work being done in #dctech is seen and recognized by as many as possible. And with his 40.6K follower-strong account, he’s got that power. That said, Williams realizes that his chosen avenue for attention-getting might not always be the best one. “I’m perfectly happy if, at some point in time, the D.C. tech community outgrows the Silicon Hill,” he said.

But until that point in time Williams (and his volunteers) will be out there in the Twittersphere, holding a megaphone.

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