You might read my official summary of our inaugural conference already on LinkedIn, here is the behind the scene look.
Those, who attended, know the story behind – how I went to my first community conference in Amsterdam (NPSP Day, thank you Ryan!), met a new people, continued with SurfForce, London’s Calling and more and more and more of them. Each of them helped me to meet people I knew only online and learn some real new things.
And the growing desire to bring such conference to Czech Republic to show people, that they really can learn something on a conference and that it might be a good idea to know other people in the community has been here.
Last year I decided – let’s do it, don’t worry about anything. And CzechDreamin has been born.
Get the basics
Organise conference is pretty simple – you need venue, speakers, attendees and sponsors. Because it doesn’t really matter how much costs the ticket, unless it is really expensive, you need sponsors to cover majority of the costs.
Dreamin style event should have 250+ attendees so we aim for a venue able to host up to around 400 people (as London’s Calling and French Touch Dreamin has such limit as well), with multiple rooms, ideally with all the equipment ready so we don’t have much to organise.
There are a few nice venues – old hotels in the city center (I wish to do it there one day, because the atmosphere is awesome, just the layout doesn’t really work), cinema multiplex on the border of Prague (the screen and seating is super awesome and it can host a ton of people) and finally ended up at Prague Congress Centre, which – once upon a time – was the biggest and most modern congress center in Europe.
We have the basics and can go for sponsors. I followed Jean-Michel’s advice „calculate the costs as you wish to have it, be ready to cut“ and our original budget was around 2 millions CZK (80 000€). Divided by number of sponsor slots we were able to offer it came to 4000/6000/10000€ per sponsor and the real struggle started.
- it is expensive, BaseCamp organised by Salesforce costs about the same, has way more attendees and is more business relevant. True, we cannot do much with it;
- we already used our budget – we were super late to the game, started contact sponsors in March;
- we don’t target that area – we are just too East for most sponsors, at the same time they didn’t realise that the big companies (read IBM, MSD/Merck, eBay, Edwards, Accenture and plenty of others) have delivery centers with technical people here.
Luckily OrgSteward signed right after we opened call for sponsors and helped us with downpayment for the venue. PwC jumped shortly after and then I realised (again) I’m not a sales guy, don’t have the skills and persistence to hunt down sponsors. Clouderia followed seeing my struggles and Keboola saved my ass at the end.
Somewhen in the middle I had a call with Kevin, who told me „don’t be crazy, there is nothing wrong to cancel it“ and I knew that I’m crazy, ready to pay up to 10 000€ out of my pocket just to let Czech people experience such event and hope to see them more on conferences abroad.
Our sponsor’s proposition probably wasn’t the strongest, especially as I decided not to allow them to have a session. That’s something quite normal – I suppose not just in Czech Republic – and I decided I hate it. And it is great to know that I’m not alone, that Jindrich Faborsky feel it is wrong as well, when sponsors pay for the privilege to present to people who pay for the privilege to listen to them.
At the end we cut all we could and from our original 80 000€ budget we made it for 22 000€. No recordings of sessions, no big marketing around the event (which wasn’t good), we cut the food as much as we could, we saved a lot on dinner for speakers (but they enjoyed it anyway I hope), no reserve, no fun activity like photo booth. But we saved money to support Czechitas in their mission, which I feel great about.
Just after the conference I had time to watch Francis Pindar’s talk about finding sponsors, which is really great and I agree 100 %.
Thank you, thank you, thank you speakers!
I’m so happy that this part went as I expected and as no one in Czech Republic expected. When I announced the conference the feedback was – will you want us to present some case study? And my answer was „I don’t care about case study, but some nice talk would be great, submit it and we might choose you“.
We got a lot of submissions and were lucky enough to be able to choose from them. Minimum of Czech speakers as they really aren’t used to this.
I anonymised all the abstracts and we ranked them. It was super hard to choose which one was better and it was hard to keep the diversity at the end (I already wrote about this). I still remember that one speaker, who contacted me about 2 weeks after we sent out the info, why we didn’t choose her, I checked the abstract and it was super awesome, so I checked the whole list and found out that she really was under the line. It just showed me how fierce the competition was.
It was hard to pick sessions because there was always more than one I wanted to attend. Thanks to Martin and team for great event.
I’m glad that we involved some first time speakers to experience it, I feel we had some experienced speakers as well to make a great mix for attendees to enjoy the day and for new-timers test whether it is something for them.
It was very useful for admins, developers. For me as a sales guy, a bit less, but even so, I found a lot of stuff I can use later 🙂
And I’m still surprised with the profesionality of all those speakers, who delivered all we needed on time, who enjoyed the speaker’s dinner the day before and knew when they have enough to deliver what they came to deliver. Who did it for free, mostly in their free time. I kind of expected it, but the team was really blown away by it.
If finding sponsors was hard, this was impossible. And we couldn’t do much about it.
Posting on Twitter, Trailhead community and other social networks was good, but with not much impact. We all felt how strong is our social network but nothing much came from it anyway.
We pushed Salesforce AEs to get in touch with customer, because they are the only one who really know who is their customer, to find out that it is hard to support 3rd party paid event. But they tried anyway, some customers asking for free tickets, which I refused as it meant I’ll pay for them and the price of ticket is about the same as one hour of consultant.
At the end we tried some traditional media and found we don’t have the money to pay for an article with invite to our conference, especially as we feel the impact will be minimal.
It’s all about the hospitality, which makes the difference between a nice event and an awesome experience. This was definitely the latter.
Rising the price of tickets helped quite a lot, with surge of sale before each rise. But then we were at our planned final price, two weeks before the event we had to confirm final capacity and we still didn’t have enough. We sold about 30 % of tickets in last week or two, which made it even more challenging but at the same time it was something others prepared me for.
At the end we had almost exactly 200 people who attended with around 5 – 10 % no-show rate and with just 3 tickets we gave away for free (I feel that speakers paid even more than attendees in the time they gave it).
The day before
The whole time I somehow struggled to find tasks to do. We have venue, which will take care about most things, we just need to prepare the badges, some flyers on site, organise sponsors and speakers. Done.
So we met the day before to prepare badges, check the venue, send final emails and have a dinner with speakers and sponsors.
It was easy, there must be a catch and something will fail hard.
Finally, after a year from my first tweet, the day D was here. I don’t remember much, all I know is that I asked Lukas to take care about workshop’s room and others to check on other rooms to start and end on time. We had our internal WhatsApp group which I checked maybe 2 times a day (yeah, a day).
That I told photographers what is the rough plan for the day and welcome session. And that I delivered the welcome word, which we hadn’t have much time with Kristyna to train for. That we completely forgot to take team photo (besides the one selfie on stage and one the day before).
I didn’t see a single session, I remember sitting in one room for about 5 minutes but I don’t remember which session it was. That I had a few chats but I don’t remember with whom and about what. How grateful I’m that Sercante overtook our Twitter, because originally I planned to do it but I didn’t have any second for it.
I feel that the day ended before it started and that it was great.
You probably feel it’s exaggerated but truth be told: You – as a team and you personally – delivered true excellence here. Friendly, helpful, structured, thoughtful, committed… there hasn’t been a single experience, not a single moment that has potential for improvements. I am extremely happy that I could be part of it. Martin, really – thanks a lot for the effort and your excellent leadership, and please pass it on to your team as well!
I hope that it showed people that they can learn something they can use in their life/org the very next day and that at least some of them already implemented something new they learnt. I hope that I’ll meet more Czech people on next conference I’ll attend anywhere in the world.
The event was great, food was great, speakers were great. My only complaint is I had a hard time to choose which sessions to attend, I wanted to see them all!
And if at least 50 % of attendees will attend next year, that would be awesome. We hope to see you on Thursday, May 28th 2020 at Prague again.
We have no recording, but we do have all those presentations. And we put them in a nice brochure together with some photos. Enjoy!
And we created group on Trailblazer community if you want to stay in touch.
Thanks a lot martin for sharing your organizing experience.
Very much appreciated!