Category Archives: conferences

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.

Is it worth recording videos at Conferences and Meetups?

We’re at the most busy point of organising WebCamp Ljubljana 2016. One of the questions we had to ask ourselves is – should we record the talks? It seemed that in previous years, did it because Kiberpipa and everyone else too. As organizers, we want to question decisions made in previous years. This is why we decided to investigate our decision to record the conference.

The effort required

We have 3 concurrent tracks. That means we need 3 semi-professional cameras with tripods, external mics and all the electricity. To get all of this together, somebody has to prepare and source the equipment. The on the conference day, 3 people are recording and you usually need 1 person extra as a support. Then after everything is over, it has to be edited and published. A few more days of work.

How did we do in previous years?

I looked through the stats for the videos. I didn’t know what to expect, but our most viewed video had 650+ views and the second one over 500. Then it’s slowly dropping off but a number of videos with 50+ or 100+ is still not too bad.

The real impact

One of the questions was – isn’t all this already taught through blogs, books and other conference recordings? And I believe that this just isn’t true. We’re still recording only a small amount of tech content. In addition to that, some speakers resonate well with us, while others we just can’t stand. Numbers show that people are watching and sharing the videos and that we help speakers have longer lasting impact.

So that made it really easy to decide to invest the effort on recording this years WebCamp again.

flickr photo shared by Thomas Hawk under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

3 things I learned at  Creative Corner in London

Last week I gave a talk at Creative Corner in London. Most event attendees were in the creative industries: design and music.
Listening to talks of Simon and Patrick, I learned that our experiences are not so different.

1. Coding process is not much different from creating Music or Designing a book

They all need their own time and focus. We are all distracted by external stimuli. That’s why it’s important that carve out that piece of the day, when create our most important work. Paraphrasing Patrick: “If you’re creating music, that’s your work. Don’t spend all your time, creating marketing content on social media.”

2. We all want to push the boundaries of our work

Simon shared promising designs, that got rejected by his clients. They ended up delivering much more bland and safe options. This is something I see often, when I explain the potential of web sites to my clients. Sometimes it works, but most often they don’t feel like innovating.

3. Our own work matters the most

At the end of the day, we’re most proud of our own work. The one where we could decided that safe, is not an option. It’s also often the case, that this is one of our best work that we end up showing for years to come. But the only way we can do it, is if we ruthlessly make time for it.

I really enjoyed the event and discussions afterwards. Make sure you attend next month!

Reflections on MicroConf Europe 2015

I go to conferences. That’s one of my quirks. I think there’s an evolution of a conference goers. You start with big, flashy conferences. Everything is exciting, new city, people, big brands, technology. But then you start noticing the cracks. Talks are just marketing hype for new technology – not too useful in everyday engineering. Big parties and participants that just want more free beer and to party. The stress of it all.

At some point, you start going to smaller events. Targeted, single track, speakers mingle with attendees. These are either a hit of miss. MicrConf was a hit.

MicrConf is a conference that’s targeted towards bootstrapped entrepreneurs. Because the focus it’s not on how to get VC funding, it significantly changes the discussions. 

Christoph already made good notes from the talks, so I won’t publish mine. What follows are more high level ideas that I got at the event.

Being inspired by success of others

It’s possible, the dream is real. People can actually make money by producing content that others want. While I have friends that have done it, it still doesn’t feel real. But talking to 10+ people, that make good money from WordPress plugins made it real for me. You can still make money by selling shareware!

I got a lot of nudges from people, to put all the online advice into practice. Just publishing that first WP plugin and making a paid upgrade is enough. You won’t get rich, but you’ll learn enough to improve on it.

That was an overwhelming theme of a lot of talks. Explaining how they were looking for a product/market fit, how they recognised it and what kind of challenges they faced.

Asking the right questions

At technical conferences, people don’t usually talk about their feelings. It’s easy to be unhappy about customers when you work for somebody else. When you are self employed, you can decide. Did you pick your customers because you want to work with them, or just because they had money?

The other way of thinking about this problem is – what is the natural size of company, that is solving this problem. A small plugin can be done by a single person, while more feature complete software as a service app, requires a team. The decision becomes – do you want to lead your own team, or would you be happier alone.

Forming good habits

It’s easy to dismiss business books as “nice story, but not for me”. Then you hear the stories from people, that actually followed their advice. Going to a retreat, where they rethought their strategy. Started writing down operating procedures. Hired people that actually wanted to do important things, that they were avoiding or were too stressful for them. Understanding your own shortcomings and working around them.

A new world

I think I burned out on startups. All that pressure to raise funding, get insane growth numbers and prove that you can get more funding, isn’t for me. But in this community, the focus is on every single user. Why did they join, what made them select this service and how does our service help them. There is still pressure to deliver, but you don’t the extra stress of unrealistic expectations. 

Talking to attendees of MicroConf, showed me that it’s possible to be an entrepreneur, without having to raise funding. Now to see what I can build in the next 12 months.