WebCamp Ljubljana 2017: Lessons learned

This years WebCamp was massive. 500+ attendees, 38+ speakers, 36 sessions, 4 tracks, Internet of Things corner, VR room, sponsors booths, alternate reality games and kids corner. Core team of 10 and additional 30 people volunteered on the day of the event. Event itself was in planning since June 2016 with most of the work done in the last 6 months.

What follows are some of my general notes about running an event of such size and complexity. First “BarCamp” event we did in Slovenia was in 2009 and Eventbrite tells me that this was 8th WebCamp event.

On Size

Last year, we stopped at 300 attendees. This means that this year, we almost doubled in size. The amazing thing with having a faculty as a hosting institution is that it’s designed for such amount of people. The venue itself can probably take another 200 attendees.

Having said that, the feeling of event was different for me. Maybe we broke through the magical number of attendees, where event stops being an extended family and turns into a bigger conference.

From organisational perspective, there is not much difference between organising event for 300 people, vs. 500. It gets a bit riskier with a bigger budget and there’s a more communication required inside each sub-team. With current setup, it should be possible to scale this type of festival to 1000+ attendees.

But since we’re not an extended family anymore, communication with attendees matters a lot more. One of the things that we learned is that people don’t read newsletters/emails. They also ignore almost all of social media. So the things that used to be given, now need to be spelled very clearly on the page of event itself (we’ll probably learn in 2018 edition, that people also don’t read websites).

On having a Modern Event

I’m very spoiled by tech events I attend. The organisers always make sure that different voices from community are represented, are giving consideration to gender identity and make sure that everyone has a chance to fully participate in a healthy way. I always fail to appreciate what a massive undertaking that is.

It’s not hard to do something on a large scale. Lets say, order two vans of pizza boxes and sugar pastries. It becomes a problem when you decided that pizza is not enough and that you also want healthy options. So now instead of having to talk to two vendors, you’re talking to four. This has ripples through out the system – planning overhead, time for person doing logistics, two more invoices to pay, etc. This means that anything that we added to the system, compared to last year, increased complexity of whole operation.

But it turns out, that it matters to people. One example was kids corner that we added relatively late. We got 30 parents that indicated interest of bringing their kids and about 10 actually showed up with them in the morning. Kids had a blast and by the feedback from parents, grownups also had a good time.

Besides increasing complexity, it also has consequence for timelines. When I still had hopes that people will show up and do a “BarCamp”, we basically called people a week before the event and let them know that they should come and that they’ll be speaking. It worked mostly ok.

But above example with kids has effect on timelines.  Since we need to know how many kids to expect and what are their ages. There are different considerations, if there are 5 or 15. To have this number, we need attendees to have tickets, and then we need to survey them. It would be great to have 2 weeks to do this. So that pushes tickets 2 weeks back, and with it everything else (speaker selection, event promotion, etc.). The more we try to make it a friendly event, the bigger operation becomes and farther out we have to schedule things.

On Budget and Tickets

People actually laugh at me when I tell them we were doing WebCamps on about 2,500 EUR of complete budget. This year with all the improvements and bigger size it will be about 6,000 EUR of total cost. WebCamp itself is an volunteer operation.

But the change from recent years is that we actually raised a bit more money that we spent. This means that for the first time in recent WebCamps, I didn’t have to do creative accounting to budget with hidden funds coming from my personal money. A first step to making this potentially a sustainable separate organisation and that I won’t have to front all the money for 2018 edition.

I still have no idea what to do about tickets. I’m humbled that 50 people and organisations actually supported event with 60 EUR per ticket. It also introduced a lot of additional paper work and accounting. What we didn’t figure out yet – what’s the story behind supporter tickets. Do we need to give them anything extra in return, or is warm and fuzzy feeling enough?

We also have a problem that there is more demand than we can realistically fulfill. Web is growing and it would be great to have at least one more Web conference in Slovenia.

On Future

WebCamp has been bigger than myself for a few years now. There’s still too much of it that it’s stuck just in my head and in processes that are internal to my company that I lend so that we have an entity to do the event.

Given the fact that current team already excitedly talks about 2018 event, there will most probably be some kind of event. Of what size and focus, I don’t know. It’s not (just) up to me anymore and that’s a good thing.

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