Treating the community right

The great thing about our company is that it is community involved and community driven. Our 360|Flex show was developed through the support of the community. We give some of our money back to the community in a variety of ways: sponsor contests, help pay for shirts, etc.

Recently, I was able to attend the Adobe Community Summit (group shot at the top of the post, click it for higher res). It’s this once a year event where Adobe brings together all of its User Group Managers as well as Adobe Community Experts. It’s loads of fun and a great idea by Adobe. Hats off to Jonathan Wall and his crew for always putting on a great summit.

Adobe brings in their best and brightest to talk about their products. They also cover the cost of the hotel, food during the summit and a few evening activities (i.e. parties). Every company should look to that and do the same for their own community.

For whatever reason though, Wednesday night had nothing going on. After a quick chat with John and a business friend (Denver Dave), we made the announcement that 360|Conferences and RealEyes would be taking everyone out Amici’s for pizza and drinks (picture at the bottom. I’m horrible at estimating things: distances, time to drive, etc. Therefore, there’s no shocker I underestimated the size of the group coming. I said 20 and we had way more. LOL We were like 5 people away from shutting the place down and catering only to us.

We realeyes’d (bad pun, I’m sorry!) the awesome opportunity we had to give a little back to these great community leaders. While they seemed grateful for the food, it was our two companies who felt luckier helping all this great dialogue take place and letting those folks from all around the world hang out together.

When a company can help a community grow, it’s doing the right thing. After all, marketplaces were once just as much social centers as they were business centers. It’s time we try to bring back a bit of that back.

The new standard of conferences…we started it last year.

Yeah, that title is a bold statement. However, the great thing is that we’re not the one making the statement. Seth Godin is. We just happen to be the ones already executing what he thinks the new standard of conferences is going to be.

Brooks Andrus seems like a smart guy, but I think he’s got Seth’s post incorrect. Brooks says Seth’s post “smells of Singularity ” (an online conference). While it may “smell” of a future conference, I can honestly say we’ve been executing the new standard for over a year now. Four shows done with a fifth in the works. (Seth and Brooks, complimentary tickets on us if you want to experience the show first hand in August. Just email and we’ll hook you up.)

We’ll give Brooks a break as our conference business has only touched the Flex community (so far). We do want to offer our thoughts and attendee/speaker/sponsor quotes as evidence that we execute this new standard.

One thing Seth and Brooks don’t cover is price. While many shows hover around $1000 USD or higher, ours is $480 USD for 3 days (of 30+ sessions). We believe the lower price point enables independent developers to come and participate when it would otherwise cost too much. We think an overpriced show is bad, but an overpriced show that’s living the “old standard” should just die.

Now, we’d like to take on a few of Seth’s points directly to prove our case.

Seth says:

If you think a great conference is one where the presenters read a script while showing the audience bullet points, you’re wrong.

I specifically tell speakers, “If you had no powerpoint slides and just showed code and examples, I’d love you. Anyone can read a slide deck at home.” Our speakers also know that they can depend on conversation with the audience, so real time interaction is almost standard.

Here’s some quotes from attendees:

“Although I give huge props to the two [speakers], I really enjoyed the input from the crowd. I think this is where 360|Flex shines.” – Ryan Campbell

“At 360Flex, speakers are just ‘attendees with a little more responsibility.’ This is just one of those things that makes smaller conferences more special.” – Jeff Houser

Seth also says:

Or if you leave little time for attendees to engage with others, or worse, if you don’t provide the levers to make it more likely that others will engage with each other, you’re wrong as well.

When we started this business, we did it as two wallflowers. What we wanted was a show where the wallflowers were going to be converted to social butterflies.

I even call it out publicly and during the shows, I pull the flowers off the wall and teach them to fly socially. Strangely enough, they seem to be thankful instead of mad.

We try to have parties all 3 nights of the show (money permitting) and serve at least lunch (if not more). This way, attendees spend more time just hanging and chatting as a whole versus leaving to head offsite in little groups.

Here’s some quotes from attendees:

“As always the best part of a conference is what happens outside the sessions.” – Dan Florio

” I really appreciated there being lunch. Without it so much time would have been lost, as well as a lot of connectivity [to other attendees]. ” – Jason Epperson

One last quote from Seth:

And here’s what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.

We’ll just let the attendees comments speak for this one.

“As the Atlanta conference was ending, I was already getting excited hearing about when/where the next conference will happen.” – Ryan Campbell

“Now I’m no stranger to conferences…360|Flex was a totally different feel.” – Andy Powell

“360|Flex was a blast and it seems to get better at each conference.” – Juan Sanchez

“360|Flex is an absolute blast, it’s great company, full of intelligent people, and I couldn’t ask for more of a conference to go to.” – Axel Jensen

Regardless, I am ecstatic that I was able to attend and start to meet many of the friendly yet a bit eccentric members of the Flex community.” – Jim Boone

“Last week I had an exciting opportunity to attend the 360|Flex Atlanta conference…Exciting. Inspiring. Aspiring. Can you tell how I felt leaving the sessions?” – Bill Christian

“The conference was incredible.” – Blake Eaton

“I don’t know if they have a long term plan for world domination, or are just doing things right by instinct, but they’re doing just what I’d do if I had a five or ten year strategy to totally own the ‘small high-value technical conference’ brand.” – Dave Coletta

Are we perfect? No. Do we make mistakes? Yes. I hope it’s obvious though, that we’re executing that new standard now. There’s no need to wait for the future, it’s here.

Offsite Summits

Some companies try to find time and fundage to go for an offsite summit at least once a year. The reason for this is to get out of the traditional surroundings, find themselves in a new place that will hopefully stimulate new ideas. Many corporations swear by them and feel that their business will come to a standstill without them.

With regards to 360|Conferences, we find ourselves in a lucky predicament. One month before each show, we fly out to the location of our upcoming show for an onsite visit. Usually, it’s just a walk through with the staff. We finally get to meet them face to face and get familiar with the rooms that will house our conference.

The onsite visit only takes a couple of hours. After that, John and I find ourselves in a completely foreign place with nothing familiar but each other. We take this time to explore the city by day and then we do our strategic summits by night.

It’s just another example of how our little company can beat the big guys. Our offsites are a necessity, and so our customers benefit in more ways than one on these trips. We nail down the details for the show and figure out ways to better serve everyone.

Killin’ two birds with one stone, ya gotta love that, especially when we don’t have very many stones. :)

Adobe’s Community Summit – Bravo

I went to Adobe’s Community Summit Conference this week. It’s a sub-150 person conference and it is great. Small conferences have so much to offer that bigger conferences do not.

  1. We had a who’s who list of Adobe giving presos. Think of any big name folks, including the CTO and COO, and they were there. The room was just big enough to need a mic, but small enough that the speaker’s facial expressions were still visible from the back.
  2. Fun engaging events. With this small group, we were able to have two great events. One was in a small room at Adobe. The second was in a private room of a bowling alley. You’d think geeks and bowling might not work, but it worked great. I’ll post details on my personal blog.
  3. Communication. Not only did Adobe employees show up to chat during the conference, they also showed up to the events. At the Monday night event, I chatted it up with the about 10 Adobe employees. Tuesday night, Diverted (a.k.a. Flex Evangelist Ted Patrick) and FerociousT (a.k.a. Flex Product Manager Phil Costa) were bowling with us in our lane! Imagine being able to hang and chat with those 2 for 10 frames of bowling. It was great.

Ed Sullivan, who runs the Adobe User Group Program, put this conference together. He did a stellar job. Mad props to him. Ed has also been instrumental to getting our company, 360Conferences, off the ground. Whenever we had doubts, questions or needed someone to bounce an idea off of, Ed’s been there.

Thanks for the good times and all the help, Ed.

Alumni First: Community should become Family

I grew up going to the San Diego Comic Con back in the day. Back then though, it wasn’t the 110K+ attendees it is now. I remember hanging with my pops, walking around saying hi to all the friends he saw once a year, brushing into artists like Sergio Aragonés and Moebius and getting some drawings from them. Yes, brushing into…not waiting in line for who knows how long like you currently have to. It got to the point that even the vendors that I liked, that my dad didn’t such as movie poster/button/toy vendors, began to recognize me even though I was a growing tyke. The thing I remember fondly was that back then the community was more like an extended family.

We want to try to recreate that. There was two reasons why that family feel grew. One was that the event was small back then. We’ve covered that with the future 360 people size limit.

Another thing I seem to recall was early registration. That’s when most of the “family” would register. We’re going to do an interesting twist on that. For our conferences, we’ll help maintain relationships that can grow stronger each year. To do this, we’re implementing the Alumni first registration period. What this is going to be is a set time frame for Alumni to register before the general public has the chance to register. If all 360 reregister for the next version of a given conference, so be it. We want to get to the point where everyone knows everyone and networking time turns into bonding time.

We maybe crazy, but that’s okay. Crazy never hurt anyone. =)