When Rob Walling and I put together the first MicroConf in 2011, we knew what we wanted to do, but weren’t quite sure if we could pull it off. Start to finish, we put it together in about 10 weeks. The following year, we gave ourselves six months and it still seemed like everything came together at the last minute. This year, the same thing happened.
However, in speaking with the attendees, it feels like MicroConf 2013 was the best one yet. In some ways, it’s gratifying, while in others, it’s terrifying. When you set expectations at a certain level and each year, you raise the bar, it’s tough to keep going. Nothing can improve forever.
I came to the conclusion last year that it doesn’t need to improve. So long as you put on a quality event, that’s fine. New attendees told us multiple times that it was the best conference they’d ever been to. MicroConf alumni commented that it was a great conference and even some of those said it was the best MicroConf so far.
But it begs the question. What makes it so great? Why do they feel that way? I think I’ve figured it out and like most things in life, it’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of several things.
It’s Not About the Money
First is Rob and myself. The fact is that we care. We want to put on a great conference and while we do make some money from the conference, it’s not about the money. Interestingly enough, people tell us to charge more because they want us to make good money from the conference. And while I appreciate the sentiment, our goal is to put on a great conference that we would want to attend.
We’re not out to gouge people. But it’s nice to make judgement calls at the conference and say “We need to order another 15 gallons of coffee at $59/gallon to make sure people are happy.” Having money helps us to do that.
The Speakers Want to Be There
Virtually every speaker we had spoke with either Rob or myself and commented on what a phenomenal conference it was and what an honor it was to be invited. They genuinely wanted to be there, which is great to see. More importantly, several commented that they were looking forward to next year. When your speakers can’t wait to come back, then you’ve done something right.
At some conferences, the speakers show up, give their talks, and you never see them again. That doesn’t really happen at MicroConf. The speakers stick around and talk to the attendees, listening, offering advice, and generally interacting as much as they can with everyone who is interested in talking to them. This is awesome.
And speaking of speakers, being a speaker at MicroConf is a bit terrifying, even if you’re comfortable as a public speaker. There’s not a bad speaker in the lineup. There’s almost no chance that the speaker before you is going to bomb, which might make you look like a rockstar. That’s not to say that it will never happen. Just that it hasn’t happened yet. The bar is set very high to begin with and the speakers know that, so they prepare accordingly.
This year, we tried something new and had eight guest speakers. Every single one of them brought their “A” game. People commented on how most of the attendees could have given a 45-60 minute talk and it would have fit right into the conference. They were amazing and we can’t thank them enough for the effort they put into their talks.
The Attendees Are All “Like Me”
One of the most common things I heard from the attendees was something like “It’s so great to come to a conference where everybody here is just like me.”
This speaks in part to our tight message around self-funded and bootstrapped entrepreneurs. Those are the types of people who want to come to MicroConf and those are the people who show up. I even ran into people who ditched other conferences in preference to MicroConf. We got some of that the first year due to the timing of Apple’s WWDC, but this year it was a conscious choice for some of the attendees.
Outlook of the Attendees
When I walked around the conference, I couldn’t help but notice the sheer number of conversations that were going on where attendees were helping other attendees. There wasn’t any competition going on that I could see. In fact, just the opposite.
If someone couldn’t help you, then chances were good that they knew someone who could and were more than willing to make an introduction or point you in the right direction. Everyone helped everyone else. MicroConf is an intense learning environment and everyone treats it that way. It’s not a competition. Actually, it is, but it’s everyone there against the world.
Almost nobody there is out to get venture or angel funding. They want to succeed on their own and build a company that they want to work at. Similarly, when Rob and I set out to create MicroConf, we wanted to create a conference that we wanted to go to. I think we’ve done that.
Most people don’t know this, but I announce it every year just to make sure they know. Without our sponsors, MicroConf wouldn’t exist. More specifically, without Microsoft the first year, the second MicroConf might not have happened because we would have lost money.
It’s not possible to say enough great things about our sponsors, but I’m going to try anyway. So here’s my heart to heart talk.
MicroConf sponsors. You guys rock. Thank you so much. We couldn’t do it without you and we thank each and every one of you for your support. Here’s a list of the MicroConf 2013 sponsors:
- Red Gate Software
- Software Promotions
- Constant Contact
- Tealeaf Academy
- Less Films
- Eliza Brock Software
As you can see, it’s not just one thing that went right. In fact, it almost never is. The combination of all of these factors creates a great atmosphere and a great environment.
I could give a pretty in-depth review of all the things that went on at MicroConf, but Cristoph beat me to it. In fact, he beat pretty much everyone to it. As talks were finishing up, he was posting reviews and notes live to his blog. Check out a full review of MicroConf 2013 here.
If you haven’t heard yet, we also announced MicroConf Europe, which will be held October 5-6th, 2013 in Prague. If you’re interested, we’ve started a mailing list which you can sign up for. We don’t currently have a lot of details, but we will be limiting the total attendance to somewhere under 120 people. which includes speakers/spouses. As of now, we’re only making 100 tickets available. If you’re interested in going, make sure you sign up for the mailing list. MicroConf is popular enough that it could sell out before we start selling tickets to the public again.
As a reference point, this year we sold out in just 52 hours. In some ways that worries me. I want people to get the help they need. But at the same time I don’t want to charge more, nor do I want to add to the total number of attendees. Doing either of those things can radically change the dynamic of the conference.
Small tweaks are acceptable. Small risks are acceptable. But when you make fundamental changes, you have a pretty good idea of what the result is going to do. And the last thing we want to do is destroy what we’ve worked really hard to create. If you’re interested in attending next year, then join the Micropreneur Academy, or sign up for our mailing list. Getting tickets any other way is really hard.
For all of those who attended, thank you so much and we look forward to seeing you next year.