Based on some info on this post by Sean Corfield, the ticket sales from the last CFUnited event equals the total cost of all 5 360|Flex shows and all 3 CF.Objective() shows. If you think 1 CFUnited is worth 8 other great conferences, please raise your hand. (I’ll even knock it down to 7 since our Euro show was a bit bumpy.)
Now, I’ll start off by saying that I’ve never been to a CFUnited show. John has though and we’ve talked about them at a conference level. I’ve heard in the past they were bigger and better. This year had a bunch of rough spots going for them and I get that. We had a bumpy time with 360|Flex Europe, but that bumpy show didn’t generate enough sales to run 8 other great shows.
Thing about business though is that you really can’t let emotions get involved when doing a cost comparison. There was an estimated 750 attendees at the latest CFUnited event. If we take the early bird price of $900, the grand total of intake just on ticket fees is roughly $675,000. Yes, I realize there were comped tickets, free passes, etc. However, that number is at early bird pricing, which I assume not everyone made it in time for. Therefore, the more expensive tickets should offset the comped/discounted ones. There is also the money made from sponsorships, which for my purposes I will ignore.
Adding up the total costs from the past 4 360|Flex shows, the upcoming 360|Flex San Jose show and (with Jared’s permission and input) all 3 past CF.Objective() shows, you come up with roughly the same amount of $675,000. To me, something simply does not add up.
I don’t know what Jared’s profit is on CF.Objective() and frankly that’s a topic better left for Jared to discuss. For 360|Flex, I know that we lost a bit of money on 3 of our shows. However, the shows themselves (again, with the exception of Europe) were a tremendous value for the attendees. John and I suffered profits but attendees were always first and foremost in our minds.
I’m sure CFUnited also has their customers in mind too, but they have a legacy of costs to pay for: employees, office space, etc. Does having legacy costs give them the right to charge more though? I don’t think so. John and I could survive on $50,000 profit per show with 4 shows a year. (We’re not there yet, but stay tuned to find out what steps we’re taking to progress to that goal) That would give us salaries of $100,000 each. We have no office space, no employees and no legacy costs. That may change over time, but not after much consideration on cost impact to our customers. An assistant isn’t worth raising the cost of our events.
John and I have tinkered with the cost of 360|Flex in the 1+ years of its existence. We went from $100 to $360 to $480 for an attendee ticket, with the purpose of trying to reach profitability. The one thing we did not do however was start at $900 and work our way down. Why not? It would’ve been justified as the market supported it. Why should CFUnited be knocked for merely operating at acceptable market rates?
There’s a saying, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” We could have modeled 360|Flex after CFUnited. In fact, I even spoke to Michael about CFUnited at the community dinner at MAX Vegas. I told him that I was thinking of starting a conference and if he had any pointers. I wish I could say he gave me some grand revelations that I cherish to this day, but he didn’t. I’m not trying to insult him as he is a very nice guy. Instead, I say that to point out that I found more inspiration from Mashup Camp and my own user group, Silvafug. Both are cheap (if not free) to attend, have strong community feels/ties and turn ordinary attendees/members into “speakers”. Had we started at the $900 dollar price point, a lot of the things I found inspirational about Mashup and Silvafug probably wouldn’t have made it into the 360|Flex show. Sure, John and I probably would be retired from our day jobs by now, but the 360|Flex vibe that attendees love would not be there. Starting lean and working with the community to become profitable is part of the 360|Flex magic. How lean is 360|Conferences? It’s me and John’s night job after our day job. Yeah, we ourselves are not even full time 360|Conferences employees.
Granted, our shows are smaller than CFUnited events, but this year’s number of 750 attendees is roughly the size of 2 of the 360Flex events. Taking 360|Flex Seattle and 360|Flex Atlanta, we helped people save on travel costs (speakers and attendees) by putting a show within driving distance of two US coasts, gave twice as many sessions and 3 times as many networking events. The biggest difference is that those two shows only cost roughly $270K(combined, not apiece) to produce. Yes, I realize that we cover Flex and CFUnited covers ColdFusion, but still. Jared covers ColdFusion and does it at drastically lower costs as well.
To their credit though, CFUnited is changing. I’ll even be bold enough to say that they are learning from shows like CF.Objective() and 360|Flex. This is good for the attendees. While they are mimicking a lot of things from the smaller shows, there’s one area where they are not: price. It’s all fine and well that they copy a lot of features from the smaller shows, but they need to in turn also lower their price. If they don’t, then they should not be surprised when speakers and attendees begin to leave in droves. Like Sean, attendees will ask “Why pay more for show if I don’t have too?”
The sad thing is though, can CFUnited lower their price? Probably not. Their costs are too high and their methods too ingrained. I do not envy their predicament. There are probably some tough conversations going on internally at the CFUnited camp. As one business to another, I tip my hat in their direction as they go through this rough time. My biggest advice for them would be to ask their customers what’s important and take action on what their customers say.