360Conferences is starting to focus

One thing that we’ve heard often, and with good reason, is that 360|Conferences is confusing.  We’re told we’re a bunch of other stuff too: loads of fun, great value, community driven, etc.  The good stuff is fine and dandy, but it’s the “confusing” one that troubles us.  It’s one thing to be a huge corporation and confusing, but it’s another to be a 2 man shop and confusing.

John and I recently tackled this description.  We weren’t denying we were confusing.  If your customers tell you something, there’s no sense denying it.  You just have to face facts and either ignore them or change.  We’ve never been the ignoring type, so we set about trying to figure out a way to change this perception.  We did some deep searching (which I’ll document this week over on the Our Startup Story site, for those interested in those kinda details).  What we got out of it was a bit of clarity for us.  We saw why we were confusing and are now taking steps to be more clear.

Over the next few weeks/months, we’ll be making announcements that hopefully will bring clarity.  We’ll have to rethink some things, drop a few things and solidfy other offerings.   I think when it’s all said and done, you’ll find 360|Conferences to be more clear in purpose.  It will help you, our customers, to understand what it is we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  It will also provide an opportunity for you to voice your ideas/questions/concerns about different moves.

For a company that’s barely passed it’s 2 yr birthday, John and I have come a long way.  We appreciate all of you that have stuck with us over those two years.  We look forward to serving you for many more years.  Hopefully, this clarity of business will enable us to grow big enough to continue to serve you.  Unlike some businesses that treat their customers like a necessary evil, we realize that you’re the sole reason we exist.  Therefore, you deserve for us to be the best we can be.  Even if that means taking a hard look at ourselves and “trimming the fat” so to speak.  We are honored to have earned your money and trust.  And we look forward to continue earning it time and time again.

Conference wireless DOES suck

Doc was at Le Web recently and blogged about the crappy wireless. AMEN Doc, conference wireless DOES suck. Providers are terrible, giving no guarantee, delivering less than they promise, etc. Here’s LeWeb’s official take on the wireless, plus another review from the Guardian.

This is something Tom and I have struggled with since starting 360|Conferences.

We’ve had a wide range of experiences with conference wifi.

At eBay, we have no control over wifi. It’s there and that’s that. If it’s insufficient, there’s nothing to be done. It’s corporate IT, and they have no SLA and aren’t paid to provide wifi, end of discussion.

At the Red Lion in Seattle, we made it clear, “Whatever you think, you’re wrong. We’ll abuse your wifi.” As such, for what we paid, they really did their best. They brought in a tech from the vendor and had him stay the week to be on call. Guess what? Yup, he was called. In fact, he came down in the morning in his PJs to put more access points around the place. They definitely earned our money. Wifi wasn’t 100% spot on, a few people had troubles, but overall it seemed to work well.

In Milan, we had no wifi, the hotel used Swisscom, and wanted to charge us $20,000 which (from the paper work we saw) included upgrading the hotels internet infrastructure. We just couldn’t afford it, and were a bit offended to be paying to upgrade them, so we had to forego internet for our attendees, that sucked!

In Atlanta, we tried to get the point across that we’d have high demand and overall I think it didn’t suck too bad.

I think we have an ok track record as far as wifi. It ain’t perfect. I’ve never been to a large (I guess large is 400+) conference with perfect, 100% wifi. There’s always some one who can’t connect, always. I’ve been to one conference in the 200-300 range and have to admit wifi was nice. I did hear a few people complain, but overall it wasn’t totally sucky.

Doc gave me a good idea. It’s never occurred to me, but I think it’s totally fair to expect some level of SLA from wifi vendors. If they fail to deliver, you don’t pay. I think moving forward we’ll see if that can’t be included. For what internet costs, I think it’s fair to expect to actually get it, when we pay for it.

Sadly, rather than come clean and admit they messed up, Swisscom has claimed no foul and is acting like nothing is or was wrong, with the wireless at Le Web.

Tom and I will always strive to provide our attendees with a stable and reliable wireless network. We haven’t given up by any stretch! We will conquer conference wifi. Ok well, we probably won’t, but we won’t settle for crappy wifi either. If we can avoid it, we be sure to avoid doing business with Swisscom!

If you’re going to do something, make it meaningful

I was watching TV and USA Network was giving a bunch of celebs lip service for giving back and such. They showed a clip of Oprah saying (Paraphrased), “If you’re going to do something, make it meaningful.” That really struck home for me.

We’ve talked about our giving back, so I’m not gonna rehash, why we do it, and such, rather I’m going to talk about our next moves. We’re expanding our offering (finally!) to include the iPhone community.

This is a big step for us. Tom and I have had several conversations on where to go next? Should there be a next? Can we recreate the awesome community vibe that 360|Flex helped create in a different community?

We threw around ideas of the next community we’d like to be a part of in a meaningful way, and how to do that. Cell Processor developers (PS3 games), Silverlight, JavaFX, even events. None of those flew because:

1. Cell Processor – We’re not in that space. Tom tinkered a bit, but we’re not actively participating, which for us was of huge importance. We didn’t want to come in as if we’re some saving angels, “We’re here to help this god forsaken community to grow and prosper, as only we can.” We don’t feel that it’s genuine, or that we could actually know what a community we’re not any type of part of, wants or needs.

2. Silverlight and JavaFX – We’re not developers in those languages. We don’t have anything against either, but we’re not going to get serious or even tinker in either language as they don’t interest us. We may partner with some one who does, but on our own: no.

3. Events – This one was the front runner during a late night conversation in Indianapolis, where we were doing an onsite and an informal “corporate summit”. A lot of conferences suck; trade shows suck; The reason, we think, is the event planners and organizers. They see it as a cash cow ($2000 for a 10×10 booth carpet? Just the carpet! Not the booth, which costs even more) and so the experience reflects a love of money, not a love of the content. We found out that there are conferences on conferences, and thought, “This whole community, which we’re super into now, really needs a wake up call.”

Then we both started reading up and playing with iPhone development. My goal (lofty maybe, given my other obligations) is to have an iPhone schedule/program guide for 360|Flex Indy. I’m still hopeful, even though I haven’t picked up my iPhone dev book in about a month. We both looked at the iPhone developer community, growing as fast as it is and thought, it made sense. We both already love the devices, so we’ll definitely be participating. O’Reilly tried to offer an iPhone conference that failed for (to me) a few reasons. We saw this not as an indication of the community’s desire for a conference, but as O’Reilly missing the mark, which was good for us. And great (we hope) for iPhone developers.

Getting back to the meaningful part, we hope this gives you a little insight into our thought process. We don’t just pick a random topic and decide to 360-ize it. We look at ourselves and what we can do for the communities we’re a part of. If we can do it well and with the same passion we brought to 360|Flex, then we give it the thumbs up and move forward. That being said, we hope to see you all at 360|iPhoneiDev!

Richard Branson of Virgin on business, specifically our business

Okay, so Mr. Branson didn’t actually talk about our business.  However, on this American Express sponsored site, he spouts on about business. There’s a ton of good stuff there if you take the time to click and view each one.  The one complaint I have is there’s no “Play All”.

Here’s some of my favorite quotes and how I feel they pertain to us:

“You need to pick an area where you can differentiate and stand out.”

This we sorta picked by happenstance.  John and I never really talked about creating a conference company.  A how-to-run-your-business consultancy: yes.  A company to help the hospitality service: yes. Etc., you get the point.  One thing we did do was pick an industry where we could differentiate and stand out.  Hopefully, we’re succeeding.

“You’ve just got to strive to create the kind of product that you personally would want to go on, make sure it’s the best in its field and then I think it should succeed.”

This we nailed hands down.  When I first approached John about the idea for doing a conference, my exact words were, “You know, we need a Flex conference. MAX is good and all, but we need a conference dedicated just to Flex and nothing else.”  From that, John and I built the type of show we would want to attend.  Our only regret: We still don’t get to attend the conference, since we gotta man the reg desk.  Though, if hundreds of others can attend and have a good time, that makes it easier to swallow. :)

“If you run one business well, you can really run any business.”

I think that’s why John and I managed to do well. We’ve dabbled in business before.  John had a consulting company and I did some independent consulting back in the day.  Not to mention that I was a paperboy in my youth (seriously, I learned some good stuff during that job).  I’ve also approached every job as a learning experience for my future businesses.  Watching and learning from my employers mistakes while taking note of the good things to copy.  John and I are avid readers of business material as well, so we had some idea about how we wanted to run a business before starting the biz.  We don’t agree on everything, but I think we both know how to put the company first and work off our strenghts and push the other to do better.

Our goal is to now build on the 360|Flex momentum and turn this into a great company.

“The best way of protecting [an idea] is to create something that is better than your rivals.”

I have to agree whole heartedly here.  If we can put on a conference with no experience, then surely others with no experience could too.  Not to mention, professional conference planners could enter our space as well.  The thing is that we have to be better than our rivals.  I think we are, but we can’t rest on our laurels.  We have to keep innovating and making sure 360|Flex is the best bang for the conference goers buck.

“The bosses should never go to the back and shut the door…I will make sure that I’m out and about and experiencing…I’ll talk to the [customers] and get their thoughts down…I’ll shake the customers hands…”

Again, John and I agree with this.  We’re always visible at our shows.  We try to shake our customers’ hands as they walk in and again as they leave on the last day.  We take note of every comment (good or bad) that customers give us.  We fight with each other to make sure those comments get acted upon.

We’re here for one purpose and one purpose only: to serve our customers.  With them we’re nothing and we realize that.  It’s sad that other companies treat their customers as a necessary nuisance.

“It’s the little touches that keep people talking. For instance, Ice Cream and Popcorn on Virgin Atlantic flights keeps kids and parents talking and it’s not very expensive.”

I think every show has had something special.  We try to put a little something in each show to make it different.  Sometimes its food.  Sometimes its swag.  Sometimes it’s awards.  There’s always going to be something special for our attendees and I think they know that.

“As long as you can get the right people to run the businesses, you can stretch your brand pretty incredibly.”

This one will be interesting.  We’re a long way off from this since John and I aren’t even full time.  However, John and I would like to get to the level where we can have the right people helping us in our business.  We had Ryan Stewart until Adobe stole him.  We’ve just never been able to recover since his departure, so we’re still on the hiring freeze.  :)

“With a committed team, you’re going to be able to deal with setbacks and then enjoy the good moments together.”

For this, I have to give mad props to the other half of the team: John.  When I was most down about the biz and was on the verge of giving up, John pulled me (and thus the company) back from the brink of a huge setback.  He did his best at a pep talk and then went potty.  This give me a few minutes to digest his words and by the time he came back, I was back on track.  That show later turned out to be our first profitable show.

And it’s been great sharing the good moments with him as well.  Standing with him as we presented Second Harvest with $7K is a moment I’ll never forget.

Well, that’s enough quotes I think.  Watch the series for more Branson goodness.  Also, mad props to American Express for putting on the series.  Sign up for the card if you like the vids.  We have a plum card ourselves.  Even though our spending habits freak out AMEX, they’re still our preferred card to use.

When do you stop caring about your product and customers?

I know this may sound crazy, but I truly believe that many businesses stop caring about their products and/or their customers.  Which leads to the title of this post, “When do you stop caring about your product and customers?”

What do I mean by this?  Two things: Short-Sizing and Cutting Quality

With Short-Sizing, they’re flat out lying to their customers.  Instead of having this conversation with customers: “Hey loyal customers who give us your hard earned cash, we need to talk. To keep our profit margins, we’re gonna need to either cut back the amount we give you OR we’re gonna have to raise prices.  Which do you want?” They simply choose to lie and then go to great lengths to hide it.

With Cutting Quality, they’re saying: “Well, we know the product is good, but we’re going to start making modifications to increase our profits.  Sure, we’ll be making the product at slightly less quality, but hey, we gotta sell more.  Plus, the newer customers won’t know it was ever that good in the past.”

Granted both of those are food related, but let’s face it, we know it goes beyond just food.

Apple has cut giving out free remotes with new Macs and the high end iPods don’t come with all the free tricked out extras that my 60 gig iPod+Photo did.  I received a docking station, A/V cable to hook the iPod to my TV and a nice case to protect the iPod. Now an iPod comes with a USB cable, a small power brick and earbuds. iPhones comes with the same, no dock ($29.00).

How does this relate to conferences and/or the 360Conferences biz?  Simple.  I was thinking the other day that John and I try very hard to make each show better than the previous one.  We’re constantly tweaking, trying to add more value for your money.  We  added more sessions to San Jose to get you more bang for your buck.  In Indy, we’re adding a new track aimed at the business side of Flex to help out in these tough economic times.

Yes, we’ve raised prices and we’ve cut back on some things, but we talked to our customers.  We asked for feedback.  I assume we’re doing good because we keep selling more and more tickets.  Plus, people keep saying that each show is better than the previous ones.

That’s the way it should be. You should delight your customers by giving them more than they expected, not by short changing them in hopes that they don’t notice.  (Yes, we faultered a bit in Europe and underdelivered, but we definitely weren’t trying to pull a fast one there.  We just made some bad mistakes that we can hopefully make up for in the future.) We think it’s time business started overwhelming and impressing customers. Time and again it’s been shown that it works, loyalty increases, additional purchases increase, etc. Few companies can get away with underwhelming, and keeping their customers.

25 startup commandments.

Someone (i can’t recall whome) twittered this. As I read the list, many didn’t apply, Tom and I have no API. I suppose maybe we’re our API, does that analigy even make sense? I dunno. Some of them however made a ton of sense to me, and I found myself feeling better about some, and worse about others.

1. Your idea isn’t new. Pick an idea; at least 50 other people have thought of it. Get over your stunning brilliance and realize that execution matters more.

 Ain’t that the truth! Conferences and trade shows date back to Jesus. Granted we’re small and nimble and taking the big ones on, but still we’re the same too.

3. If you don’t have scaling problems, you’re not growing fast enough.

 This rings true to me a lot. Tom and I have odd problems of scale. We’re both employed full time, yet our model of events doesn’t bring in windfalls on a single event. We can’t scale up to more shows without doing more shows, you see where I’m going with this :)

13. If you don’t pay attention to your competition, they will turn out to be geniuses and will crush you. If you do pay attention to them, they will turn out to be idiots and you will have wasted your time. Which would you prefer?

 Tom and I spend a pretty good amount of time thinking about our competitors. There’s no direct but many, many indirect competitors that could decide to become direct competitors, and likely will. Most are in the Charge too much model, some are in the Community isn’t the important thing model. We all have our differences.

21. A startup will require your complete attention and devotion. Thought your first love in High School was clingy? You can’t take out a restraining order on your startup.

 This is a big one IMO, and one that Tom and I fight about a lot. 360Conferences is a two man show, done part time, our attention is stretched and often things don’t happen when it might make sense to or things don’t get done. It sucks, but for now is the nature of our business model. The upside is, most people don’t seem to notice, but I think I have an ulcer the size of Rhode Island, I know that’s still not very big, but come on!

25. Abject Terror. Overwhelming Joy. Monstrous Greed. Embrace and harness these emotions you must.

 Done. Tom and I thankfully aren’t greedy. We’re not very good capitalists in that sense, but it works for us. Sure we’re not our Startup’ing full time, though I’d like nothing less, we’re not raping our customers, and that’s what’s most important to us. We give a ton of money to charity, even though we don’t make enough to pay us salaries yet, because it’s important to us. Monstrous Greed, squashed. Now terror, that’s another story :)

I only took a few, go read them all. They’re incredibly salient no matter what your startup does, and may open your eyes to a few things.

And so it begins. Big over priced events are failing

Last week Adobe announced that it would not be participating in Macworld (they also laid off 600 people, wonder if it would have been less if MAX didn’t cost so much to produce?). Following that announcement was Seagate and Belkin.

Tom and I aren’t surprised. We’ve believed, and said that events of this magnitude are doomed for some time. The economy is speeding the process up, clearly.

“And while these by themselves aren’t necessarily dangerous to the show’s health, people familiar with situation also claim that attendee registration is down by 20 percent versus the same period last year, providing the main reason for IDG’s last-minute extension of the Early Bird discount for registration until December 8th.”

I can imagine registrations are down. Companies are laying off hundreds or thousands (AT&T announcing something like 12,000 jobs to be cut), sending a single person to an event that runs well over $1,000 just to get in the door, let alone, airfare, hotel, and incidentals, is likely out of the question for many businesses, let’s not even look at the cost of sending several people. No duh, they’re not gonna send them!

Looking at these events from the consumer stand point, I can also see why registration is down. If I’m an indie iPhone developer, looking to network, how successful am I likely to be at an event the size of Macworld? Is it worth spending my own coin to go be lost in a sea of people? Even more so, a sea of people who aren’t all in my sphere of interest. Do I care about the Pro tools people? No not really. I’m sure they’re nice, but our worlds don’t intersect much.

It makes much more sense to attend an event focused on my sphere of interest, with sponsors and speakers talking about iPhone Development. It also makes sense that this much smaller event will cost less (it should, and those that don’t are robbing people), and oh yeah at an event that’s focused on my interests, the community will be more than a huge ocean of people, it’ll be a smaller sea of all people I want to meet, and it’ll be easier to meet them.

Sure super huge mega shows will never go away, they’re marketing expenses usually and help clean up the books. But the conference and trade show space, is quickly making room for the smaller indie events, that serve a tighter (better IMHO) community, affordably, while still offering top notch sessions, speakers, and sponsors.

Oh yeah, this example also serves to make clear our intentions :) 360|iPhone is coming.

Youtube videos that really capture "US"

Tom sent me this video, It’s long, but worth every minute. It’s about youtube, but the community aspects really resonate with us, on a 360|Flex level.

This one, I came across and sent to Tom. It speaks (through Gary’s voice) to why we do it at all. My favorite quote, which really rang true in the tech conference space, was “Listening to your users, great, but giving a shit about them, that’s huge!” That’s not verbatum, but close. And I agree. Lots of conferences and conference organizers, claim to “be community” and say they “Listen” but in my experience, that’s totally bogus. They may ask questions, but don’t seem to act on the answers, and “being community” is more about having a lot of people in attendance, but not really caring that they enjoy themselves, or that they get something out of the event.

Tom and I run 360Conferences at night, because we have to. We didn’t look at the job and think, “Well we’ve got jobs, so we can’t start this business”. We just started it, in the time we have. Sure we don’t want to keep it as a side job, we hope to pay ourselves to do what we enjoy, if not love, but in the mean time, we do what we have to do, to serve our customers and community.

Take a look at these, when you have time, the Gary V. one is only a few minutes long, so watch it now :)

What do you think?

Community Truth vs Business Ideals

I was watching this video by Michael Wesch (Thanks Steve for the link)  It got me to thinking about business and community.  For John and I, the two are linked for two reasons:

  1. Our business is serving the community.  With no community, we have no business.
  2. We participate in the communities we serve.  We’re real people, not faceless business owners.

Michael makes the case for cultural inversion in his video:

The concept is people express one thing but really value another thing.  Here’s how I see those 3 inversions manifest themselves in the Flex community and our business.

Individualism vs Community

A majority of our attendees and nearly all our speakers blog.  It’s normally a personal blog, though a few are grouped (Adobe Blogs, InsideRIA).  This is where their individualism shines through.  These same people though also are the biggest advocates for our show.  They use their individual blog to invite their community (readers) to meet up with and hang out with them at our show.  Thus our community is actually comprised of many smaller communities agreeing to meet at one specific time and place.

The company (360Conferences) itself is two individuals: John Wilker and me (Tom Ortega).  We have no office.  John lives and works in Colorado, while I live and work in California.  We both have personal blogs aside from the business blog.  On our own blogs, we post on very different topics:  John’s are usually techy with hip and wit tossed in, while mine are mushy with tech thrown in.  Our styles are different: His are quick and stream-of-conscience, while mine are lenghty and (re)edited for days before posting.  Yet, he and I together help form and create the 360|Flex community.  A community that would exist in parts had we not created our biz, but a community that we proudly claim as our own.

Independence vs Relationships

Everyone screams of being independent: Doug McCune with his ‘hawk and frank speech, Jesse Warden on being your own boss, and every developer who wishes they could pick and choose which projects to work on.  Independence and relationships, however, live in a strange, self-feeding, yin-yang circle.

By being independent in our thoughts and in our actions, we attract like minded people.  This attraction leads to discussions, which in turn leads to relationships.  These relationships at times become business opportunities (consulting jobs on code, teaching, etc).  The money from those biz opps then turn right back around and allow the independence to continue and move to a higher level.

We’re independent from Adobe.  That is single handedly the hardest concept hotels and vendors have with us.  Here’s the typical conversation:

Them: “What’s the show about?”
Us:”A product from Adobe called Flex.”
Them: “Oh, you work for Adobe?”
Us: “No, we just put on a show about their product.”
Them: “Oh so they hire you to do this?”
 Us: “Well, they sponsor the show, but no they don’t hire us to do this.”
Them: “Oh, so you work for a big company that does trade shows?”
Us: “No, we are the entire company.  We’ll be negotiating the deal with you and signing the checks.”
Them: “Oh, okay.  I see.”

They really don’t see, but that’s okay.  John and I often think about our relationship with Adobe and  other big companies.  I always thought it would be dreamy to maybe cozy up with them more, but I recently read this.  I now see that to not lose focus on our customers, we’d have to stay independent.  (Let the record show, John was never so much on the partner kick as I was.  See, toldja he’s the smart one.)

Commercialization vs Authenticity

lonelygirl15, which Michael mentions, best illustrates this point.  She was a lonely teen that people fell in love with via her vlog on YouTube.  Then it came to light that lonelygirl was a fake and not so lonely.  There was a mad uproar as the community fought back for being duped. What’s odd is that businesses which serve customers (and thus by default, communities) are at times at odds with community.  I’m thinking of Paramount attacking Star Trek fansites in the early days.  Or Coke copyrighting their shade of red and banning it’s usage.  Or even more recently, the iPhone and the ban against discussing it’s SDK (The ban is now gone, I know but I’m making a point here).  There are many businesses that supposedly care about you, but make it so hard to let you show how much you care.

We want to grow the Flex community with 360|Flex.  Therefore, since that’s our goal, we need to try to do that as best we can.  The best way to do that is to do it cheaply and easily.  With 360|Flex, we try to keep the cost low.  We do have to charge for attending our show because the meeting space, food, speaker rooms, etc aren’t given to us for free. Thus, we’re commercial in our business because we have to be. But we generate a lot of content, over 40 sessions per show.  We have so many sessions that even as an attendee, you can’t see them all.  Surely, we could do something with them, right?  We needed to stick to that authenticity aspect of our goal.

We tried selling videos of the presenters.  That didn’t work out so hot though, even though we kept the price cheap.  Our distribution reach was way too small to make that successful.  Adobe came to us with an interesting offer before our last 360|Flex though.  “Let us record all your sessions and rebroadcast them for free.”  At first, the business side of me was hesitant.  “Don’t do it! Why will people pay to come to your show, when they can watch it for free later?”  I quickly came to my senses and said, “For the same reason they come now, to meet with and interact with the community.”  I think Ryan’s post best exemplifies what I mean by that.  People come to our shows not only to learn FROM one other, but to also learn OF one another and become a tighter community.

John and I try to be authentic as well in all our dealings with customers (we greet you all at the reg desk) to our vendors (we chat with them in the same manner as you).  One of the most interesting aspects for me is seeing how people react to our authenticity. Many hotel coordinators tell us the same thing, “We want you back.  Not because of your money, but because you guys are not like everyone else.”  Aside from wearing flip flops (me) and being funny (John), I guess we’re just not pretentious or distant like other conference planners are.  It’s odd to me to hear that, but nice to be that breath of fresh air for them.

It’s also funny to hear the shock in people’s voice when they call the “company number” and they get me.  “Like, Tom the guy running the show?”  LOL  If only my friends, wife and kids held me with that kind of awe.  Life would be much easier at times.

Business is an odd beast for sure.  Like I told John, the road seems long and lonely at times, but then we get to a show and life is grand.  There’s nothing like meeting a customer face to face and making that connection.  Yes, Michael’s post is about YouTube and connecting virtually while our “product” is about connecting physically.  However, I don’t doubt that soon enough, we’ll be seeing YouTube conferences popping up.  Hmmmm….now that’s an idea.  Who’s up for a YouTube conference?

"Why are you picking on CFUnited?" answer, CFU launches Stellr and another nugget on speaker costs.

In a previous post , an anonymous commenter recently asked John this question: “Why is this post specific to CFUnited when there are so many other conferences that charge the same, if not more (i.e. Max)?”

It was actually my post, not John’s. Therefore, I’ll answer the question as to why CFU since John covered the why not MAX part.

If you glance back at the post, you’ll see this as the opener: “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.”

This post was continuing the conversation on a topic chosen by Sean Corfield on his blog. I didn’t “single out” CFUnited (CFU), but rather picked up on a point presented by Sean. If you read the “Final Math” section of Sean’s post, you’ll see that Sean was simply stating that he didn’t see the value of CFU and felt that CF.Objective (CFO) was a better show for the money in 2008. That got me to thinking about how many CFO shows could be produced with roughly the same sales figures from CFU. So I asked Jared for his rough numbers, in chatting with him I gave him our rough numbers (though our numbers are wide open, I didn’t expect Jared to know them off the top of his head). At that point, we realized that all of our shows were covered by roughly the sales figure from the latest CFU. Like John says, we’re in the conference business so we can make a good guess based on numbers, costs, etc. Yes, we believe in transparency and believe everyone else in business should too. (I think not being transparent is sad, scary, and destructive i.e. look at the recent $700B bailout for financial businesses not being transparent and therefore, sadly, not honest.)

I am NOT insinuating that Liz and company are dishonest in any way by not being transparent. Liz sounds like a great person and Michael was a very nice guy last time I hung out with him at MAX. I can only assume their lack of openness is because they feel their numbers are an integral part of their business (a competitive edge) OR they’re afraid of how their customers would react to seeing the numbers without knowing the facts behind them. I’ll assume it’s the former since many businesses do hold that belief and thus I can’t blame them for holding such a belief. John and I don’t agree with that mode of thinking though, because to us the magic in a service oriented business is not in costs as those are primarily fixed. Sure, you might be able to pay $3 for a soda vs $3.25 but really, it’s still expensive as heck. Rather, to us, the secret sauce is customer service and attitudes towards what is important. I.e. Flash on the Beach (FOTB) thinks lunch is unnecessary and spends the money that would’ve gone on food to cover speaker costs. We think lunch is important as a network opp, which prevents us from getting some speakers who only speak if all costs are covered. Is FOTB right and us wrong? Or vice-versa? I can’t say, only customers can. However, because some speakers decline to speak at our show due to us not paying all expenses, that means we have to homegrow speakers and seek out newcomers to the “speaking circuit”. I think everyone benefits from this. The popular speakers travel less and more speakers move into the spotlight. These new speakers then become available to all shows (i.e. look at Doug McCune. I had to convince him to present at 360|Flex Seattle despite his “What would I present on?” attitude and last month he spoke at FOTB. I’m not saying I “made” Doug into the great programmer and speaker he is, but I did help nudge and bring him into the speaking scene.)

There are many topics (and shows) we talk about internally, but didn’t pertain to the topic that Sean brought up. If you read our blog, you’ll see we talk about many shows in their own respective posts. I was merely going to post a comment on Sean’s post, but instead it turned out much too wordy for a comment and thus I wrote the post. (Much like this was going to be a comment to the Anonymous comment, but again I got all wordy.) If you look at Sean’s comments, I’m second to last. The last one being Sean who was very interested in my insider’s perspective on an issue he brought up. An insider’s perspective that Liz could’ve commented on and cleared the air about at that time.

Fast forward to October 10th and you see the announcement from CFU about the formation of Stellr. Fast forward to the 15th and you see Sean being glad CFU listened and CFU being glad that Sean noticed they listened. Now, is the whole Stellr thing due in part to the discussion had by Sean and I? Or was Stellr in the works for years and it just coincidentally launched after a “poor” show in 2008? Is Stellr going to gear CFU to target some of CFOs attendees in an attempt to win back market share? Will Stellr borrow concepts from the lower cost shows in an attempt to win back the hearts of it’s detractors?

I don’t know, but I applaud their efforts. I’m eager to see what Stellr has to offer and, if need be, competing with them for customers. Any time a company begins to listen to it’s customers, only good things can follow. Competition, good competition, makes for a better product for customers. Is that something you agree with Anonymous? (Also, why comment anonymously? Really, do you think we’re gonna track you down and start spamming you with hate email or something? LOL)