Tom’s leaving after the next 360|Flex

As you may or may not know, I (Tom Ortega) will be leaving the 360|Conferences business after our next 360|Flex show in March of 2010.  You can read about my personal reasons for leaving here. You can try to replace me over at the 360|Flex blog.  :)

360|Conferences was one of those companies that just “happened”. There was no planning for it.  One day it wasn’t there and the next it was.  In the 3 years since it appeared, we’ve built an internationally recognized brand.  We’ve helped the low-cost conference revolution take place.  We’ve delivered strong value during one of the worst financial times in our lives.  In other words, we’ve done many things we’re proud of.

If you’re a follower of this blog, then you know how much we value transparency.  It’s one of the reasons why we feel the company is so successful.  Therefore, we’d like to tell you what the plan is after 360|Flex in March, but to be honest we’re not sure yet.  While 360|iDev is going down in Denver, John and I will be talking about what the next steps are.  I know I’m leaving, but John is not.  Whether that means selling my stake in the company to him, someone else or a company, I can’t say.

One thing we are sorta contemplating is stronger partnerships and possibly even a merger.  The conference space is tough, especially now.  The more value you can get under one company brand, the better off the shows will be. Shows that offer good value for the price, like 360|Flex and 360|iDev, will continue to grow.  Others will fall by the wayside and likely never return.

Another idea we’re tossing around is one that has me shedding conference planning duties.  Under that model, John takes over the biz’s time consuming duties: planning and setting up the events.  I spend most of my time working on my passions and become more of a spokesperson.  Mordy and Barry of MogoMedia seem to have a similar model, only I’m no Mordy.  I’d have to work quite a bit to build that type of reputation for myself.

I always tell people that by 2013, 360|Conferences is poised to be a hugely profitable company.  When the economy starts to pick up and ePublishing finally takes off, this company will be in a great position to reap the benefits of the years of hard work we put in.  Until then though, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort.  If I stuck around I’d be short-changing our customers, because my heart would be elsewhere.

360|Conferences is not the kind of company you can run while your heart is somewhere else.  It’s the kind of company that deserves love and devotion.  It’s the kind of company where you have to wake up in the morning knowing it’s your passion.

While it’s tough having to say goodbye to something that’s been a constant in my life for the past 3 years, I know it’s in good hands.  I’ll be around somewhat until March, so you’ll have to put up with a few more blog posts yet.  After John and I chat in Denver, we’ll post an update here letting you all know what we plan.  We’ll expect you to voice your feedback.  Like always, we’ll take it to heart and try to add that to our thought process.

Now, that being said, hurry up and go register for 360|Flex.  San Jose always sells out, and everyone loves a Farewell Tour!  LOL

The 4 W’s

I’m quickly becoming a fan of the small Biz Bee blog. This post was especially worth addressing here, since for many the answers might surprise or at least lead to “Ah, that makes sense”. So here are our 4 W’s.

1. Who are you?

Tom and John, for short. We (maybe more me, than Tom) went through a phase of trying to really make 360|Conferences its own identity, separated from its founders. We thought it made sense for the company itself to have an identity, but in the end, we were wrong. We couldn’t make people recognize the company, and we realized the “Tom and John” brand was firmly established, and strong. So to most people, and businesses, 360|Conferences is something that’s on checks, and letterhead, and the company is “John and Tom”.

[Tom here: The one thing I found interesting during that time was size perception of the company.  When we pushed 360Conferences as an entity/identity, people assumed that meant we had an army (or at least one or two helping hands) back at the office.  Which simply wasn’t true.  It was weird to see that when you push a brand name as a company, people assume that means it’s no longer just the founders.]

That’s only part of ‘who’ though. The rest is that as a company Tom and I strive to break a lot of existing models. We found the conference business to be broken, so we’ve set out to show that an event with high ROI doesn’t have to cost over $1,000 or more. We’re close to proving that not only is it possible to do, but it’s possible to do so and still be profitable enough to do it full time.

Our core values (to me) are building community, getting people together to talk and learn from one another. We love to shake each attendees hand when they pick up their badge, we love to say high and walk the room during lunch, and hold raffles. Our core values are community.

2. What do you do?

This one has confused many of our customers and rightly so I’m afraid. We’ve been confusing on the topic to ourselves, and if we’re not clear how can anyone else be.

We organize conferences. Conferences around communities that we are interested and/or involved in. Communities that are just getting big enough for an event to bring them all together.

More generally we bring people together. 360|Conferences bring them together in real time to meet face to face for a few days at a time. 360|Whisperings is brings them together in delayed time via inexpensive articles that satisfy a specific knowledge.

3. Why does it matter?

Our company and offerings help make a community stronger. We believe the strength of a community directly impacts the strength of the product or services that community exists around. By breaking down the walls that separate community, we increase the throughput on ideas and collaboration. Our events have been the launch pads for books, open source initiatives, jobs and business.

4. What makes you different?

This is a big one, obviously. Any company that can’t answer this well should probably start looking at new ventures. Here’s why we’re different. We care. Conferences aren’t a marketing expense for our company or product. We’re not trying to sell our services disguised as a conference. We don’t have “people”. We don’t hire temps to work registration. We don’t hide until it’s keynote time.  We don’t look at our customers as a necessary evil.

If you come to one of our events, the person handing you a badge is either Tom, his wife Alison, myself, my wife Nicole, or a close friend that volunteered to help us out. We eat our lunch with everyone else. We man the reg desk all day, every day of the event: directing attendees, answering questions, chatting with people and plain just getting to know our customers. If you don’t see us, we’re either putting out a fire or going to the bathroom (Hey nature calls sometimes, you should see the soda I put away at a conference).

Sure we like profit, sure our goal is to make 360|Conferences a paying gig for us, but the company started as a one off $100 event, to bring together the Flex developer community because the other event options all sucked (and still do).

So that’s the “360|Conferences, 4 W’s as interpreted by John Wilker”.

360|Conferences…what does it mean to you?

360|Conferences sorta got started by accident.  John and I didn’t walk around as young children saying, “When I grow up, I want to get 400 geeks together and host them for 4 days in a  random city.”  There may be some conference planners out there that did do that and more power to them.  We just weren’t two of them.

Therefore, now that we’re thinking of expanding to something beyond conferences, it’s a different ball game.  360|Conferences back then had no personality, no corporate identity.  It was just a name on a piece of paper with John’s signature and mine.  That’s no longer the case.  While 360|Conferences is still just me and John, 2 years have come and gone.  We’ve served over a few thousand customers with 360|Flex, 360|iDev, FlexCamps and one 360|MAX.  Customers that now have an expectation of our company.  When people hear the name 360|Conferences or the phrase “John and Tom”, something comes to mind.  Something that we should probably try to stay true to.

This is where you come in.  I have my own personal ideas of what I think the brand means to our customers and the world at large.  (The small part of the world that does actually care that is.  LOL)  However, I’d like to hear directly from you.

Why do we care?  Well, if we’re going to expand the business into new areas, we should do so upholding the ideals that people associate with us.  I.e. I think what we’re known for in the conference space can be applied to other businesses.  We just want to make sure we’re on the same page with you. :)

So spread the word, blog about this question, tweet the URL. Leave a comment or email us your thoughts (  We want to hear from as many people as possible (which should be no surprise since we ask questions of our customers all the time :D )

Be honest.

Drinking your own kool-aid is bad mmkay.

Anyone that knows 360|Conferences, corp knows that the “corp” is two people; Tom and me.

During one of our chats we came to the realization that we’ve been drinking our own kool-aid and it’s detrimental to our business.


Basically Tom and I realized that our desire to be the most affordable event around, has kept our prices very low relative to the other events in the space, but has restricted our ability to grow, which of course has larger impacts, such as 360|Conferences ceasing to exist, being the most severe.


It means we offer way more value than other events. So for the price of one of their hands on training sessions, we offer 4 full days, several hands on pre-conference training options, and more. Something doesn’t add up, what’re we doing wrong, we often ask each other.

Tom and I realized that by and large we offer more. 3 days of 80 minute sessions, pre-conference training included with registration, networking and social interaction for the entire conference, no special parties, no cliques, just everyone hanging out, talking and learning from one another. BoF’s with industry leaders, Rock Band!!, tons more.

So what’re we doing wrong? The short answer is charging too little. Plain and simple we’ve been so focused on being less expensive than the competition, that we overlooked the obvious “we offer more”. So not only are we doing more, but we’re doing more for far less. Great when it’s sustainable, but when it’s not it means you’re doomed to be a flash in the pan, which is obviously bad for business.

So what’re we doing to fix that? One huge downside of our current model is that the learning curve is long and wide. an event a quarter (you read right, there’s stuff in the works). We’re adding more shows to our roster which is good, and learning from past mistakes and starting them smaller, with more of an eye to profitability. We’re also taking our existing events and re engineering them to make more sense. Namely we realize that offering more for a lot less is awesome, and tough. offering more for less or the same, that’s still a good value proposition, and brings us closer to sustainability.

We’re announcing this week a change in pricing for 360|Flex, we’re also scaling our two new events back to 2 day events to test them out, let them scale up. We’ll see how that goes. We traditionally have launched anevent as the full 4 day affair, but have realized that it makes more sense to grow into that.

Wish us luck!

Transparency, not just a fad

There’s been times when Tom and I have wondered if transparency is really that great. Those times usually pass pretty quickly, we can’t see running a business any other way. I saw that, as of yesterday, the TSA is blogging. How freakin’ great is that!?

I’ll be the first to admit, I usually hate the TSA. They break things and take no responsibility, they’re more often than not rude, and the policies and thoroughness vary from airport to airport.

Opening themselves up to the public like this (as of now, the first post has almost 500 comments), letting us get a better idea of who the TSA is, and letting them get a better idea of who we, their customers are, that’s great! It doesn’t counter the treatment they impart, but hopefully that might change. Reading some of the stories, I realize I could have worse luck in my travels.

They’re breaking out topics such as shoes, liquids, and even inconsistencies in policy execution, into separate blog posts, asking, yeah you read that right, asking for comments. And from the number of comments so far, the public has no problem answering the call for engagement.

And it’s not just a one sided “post, response” scenario. TSA peeps are commenting, replying to specific people, acknowledging failings, etc. It’s a true two way dialog!

Seeing this, totally reinforces my resolve that business (or government) can, should, and needs to be transparent. Too many businesses as well as our own government have forgotten whom they serve, and have decided that, “it’s better if we don’t know”. We say Screw that! A conference soda costs $5.00! Wifi sucks ass! Hotels charge too much! Renting a projector for 3 days is almost twice the price of owning one!

Right on TSA!! You keep talking to us, I’ll keep trying to smile share a kind word as I pass through.