360|AnDev is the first time I run a conference. I was raised to be frugal, never spending money that I don't have, but putting on a conference requires exactly that. We have to book the venue, order badges, buy plane tickets for speakers etc, all without knowing if any one will actually buy tickets to the conference. It was nerve-racking.
50 Shades of No
Our first source of income is sponsorship. As a first year conference, we have no track record to show, and it has been difficult to attract sponsors.
We were so grateful that POSSIBLE Mobile and Tack mobile jumped in as sponsors the moment we announced. But after that, we had a long period of nothing. I was cold emailing a lot of companies, getting various versions of no.
- The classic: No reply.
- The cliff: Initial interest, but no follow up.
- The black hole: Ask me to submit to a ticketing system.
- The clash: "We are already sponsoring a conference in the same city in the same month."
- The budgeteer: "We have no more budget for this year / month."
- The freeloader: "We would rather get presence for free through the CFP." (Okay they didn't say that, but that's what happened)
Surprising Yes Stories
I was quite discouraged, to be honest. Fortunately my co-organizer John has put on many conferences before, and knows that everyone procrastinates until the last moment. So I should not give up hope.
And indeed, we got an influx of sponsors in the last month. Some of which are the same people that we have been pinging, and the reminder of "Hey, conference is really soon" kicked them into action.
One sponsor approached us out of nowhere, pretty late. When I talked to them at the conference, they told me that one of their employees saw me at Write/Speak/Code the month before, and the company decided that really want to be a part of our community-focused conference. Wow, I had no idea!
Another sponsor came from counter-solicitation. From time to time I get recruiter emails, and I have been replying with, "No, I don't need a job, but please sponsor my conference to reach out to other Android developers." Most of the time I get "Oh I am just a recruiter I can't make decisions like that", but one company actually followed through and became our sponsor!
I was genuinely surprised. This really reinforces my belief that you should always ask for what you want. You need to give people a chance to say yes!
Same as sponsors, attendees are major slackers. I had this exchange with so many of my friends:
Friend: I'm so excited about 360|AnDev!
Me: Yay! You bought your ticket already, right?
Friend: hmm... no.
John told me that they always procrastinate, no matter what you do. I was sitting at the edge of my seat until the day of the conference, not knowing if we were going to break even.
I was promoting the conference as hard as I could, but there was still a lot of people who did not hear about the conference, or did not know until it was too late to arrange travel. Perhaps I have been promoting it within my echo chamber? How can I reach out?
The conference has come and gone, and yes, we broke even. I went into this knowing that I am not running a conference for the money, but still, the uncertainty was no fun.
Will I run 360|AnDev again next year? Right now I am leaning towards yes. I was so happy to see so many people connecting with each other and lifting each other up. With a stellar first edition, I hope next year it will be easier to get sponsors and sell tickets.