October 16, 2019

Hosted a user conference

Tyler King @tilikang

We just hosted our second user conference. About 50 people came to our hometown of St. Louis and spent 3 days learning pro tips for our product.

I know this isn't a representative sample of our customers but it was great getting face-to-face feedback. I learned a lot about what they need, and they all left with an even better opinion of our product/company. I also had a chance to preview a new design we're working on and it was a relief that people seemed to like it.

Having said all that, planning events (even a relatively small one like this) is hard and expensive. We ended up losing money on the whole thing and it took a ton of time. Based on this experience, I think the argument for doing a user conference for a business like ours is that it's inspiring/motivating for our employees. I don't think there's any way we ever make money off this even considering second-order effects.

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    Did you rent a venue and provide food?
    I'm looking into events and these are the biggest hurdles.

    Did you have sponsors to help offset the cost?

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      For our first user conference (which was last year) we didn't rent a venue. We hosted one day in a co-working space we used to be a member of (we have a good relationship with them so it was free for us). The second day was at our office, so it was free.

      There were a variety of problems with that. Moving stuff around each day was hard, and our office definitely isn't set up to host so many people. There was enough physical space, but barely, and we don't really have the other infrastructure like wifi that can support everyone, etc.

      For food, we got it all catered which honestly wasn't too bad. For ~$15/person/meal you can get really good catering if you're going directly to restaurants instead of going through the venue (that tends to cost more in my experience).

      For the second user conference (the one we just finished) we did the whole thing at a local hotel. They have a small conference area which was the perfect size for us. They way they handled billing was that there was no cost for the venue itself, but we needed to have a certain number of guests stay in the hotel, and we had a significant food and beverage minimum spend. So we ended up spending a decent amount of money, but technically it was all for the food and drinks (so the hotel handled all that, we didn't go to outside caters). It was significantly more expensive than the previous year, but it was also really nice having everything in one place.

      We didn't have any sponsors. I know that's common, but we thought it would hurt the experience for our guests, plus it would be an extra thing we'd have to do (selling sponsorships isn't easy I bet). So the only way we brought in revenue was through ticket sales. Unfortunately our guess about what people would be willing to pay was wrong and we had to lower ticket prices from what we originally planned. If we had been able to charge the original price and still get the same number of attendees, we would have been close to break-even.

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        Thanks for the writeup! Conferences can be pricey for attendees when you start to add up tickets, travel, time off and expected value.