Photo by Dave Rodenbaugh
Anytime you spend 3 months planning an event, whether it’s a wedding, a product launch, or a conference, you need a post-mortem. A time to reflect on things that went right and things that needed work.
This post is my post-mortem for MicroConf 2011, which took place last week in Las Vegas, NV.
Mike Taber (my conference co-host) and I had a 45 minute conversation about it that will be published next week as episode 46 of our podcast, but when we stopped recording I felt like we had just scratched the surface of discussion topics. There were so many interactions packed into 60 or so hours that I’ve had a hard time getting my head around them.
This post is an attempt to review the awesomeness that happened as well as the stuff that I’m hoping we can change if we wind up holding MicroConf in 2012. If you’re looking for specific information about the talks I don’t cover them here, but I’ve included a list of write-ups from attendees at the bottom of this post.
The fact that Andrew Warner, Hiten Shah, Ramit Sethi, Sean Ellis, Noah Kagan and Patrick McKenzie were in the same room sharing their deepest startup secrets blows my mind. One fear if we decide to hold MicroConf 2012 is how we’d replicate this kind of line-up again. It was so awesome it will be hard to follow.
I was also blown away by the quality of MicroConf attendees. I should have assumed that anyone who would pay $500-600 out of their own pocket, plus airfare and hotel, is serious about their business. And it showed…the level of interesting stories, informative conversations and instant connection was as high as any conference I’ve attended.
As one person said to me the first night: “The speakers are just an excuse for all of us to get together and connect.” Indeed.
Our original vision for MicroConf was to have 225 attendees. The final headcount was 105. I saw this as a bad thing heading into the conference, realizing the size might limit the value for speakers and attendees.
By the end of the first day I knew I was wrong. In fact, I began to receive feedback pretty quickly that if we have a MicroConf 2012 that we should cap the number of attendees at 125 or 150. The intimacy of a group of 105 vs. 225 is enormous. I spoke personally with almost every attendee, and nearly everyone I asked had been able to have conversations with several speakers.
Mission accomplished. This is one thing we won’t be changing.
The night before the conference we held a welcome reception in a pub where 75-80 of us hung out, had a few beers, and got acquainted. The momentum from this initial gathering carried into the event. We got this idea from the Business of Software conference, and would absolutely do it again.
On the final night Andrew Warner opened up his penthouse suite for an afterparty. I would guess we had 60-70 people funnel in throughout the night and it was the ideal private environment to recap, discuss, and process the previous two days.
Mike and I received a ton of feedback, both positive and negative, much of which is appearing in this blog post. That evening was one of the highlights of the conference for me.
Lack of Major Glitches
For a first year conference with two inexperienced hosts, I was happy there were no major glitches. The wifi had some issues for a few hours on the second day, and one of our speakers had to fly home before his talk to take care of an emergency…but we were able to deal with both issues with minimal stress or fall-out.
Before the conference I had visions of faulty audio equipment, collapsing stages, and a food shortage. But none of them came to pass.
I was iffy about Vegas. I’m not a big fan; I’ve been there too many times and I don’t enjoy the vibe now that I’m a bit older. But you know what? It’s a great place to have a conference. The energy level is high even at 1am on a Sunday night. There are sights to see, gambling and drinking to be had, and a slew of good restaurants.
There’s a reason so many conferences are held in Vegas…it’s inexpensive and the atmosphere is ideal.
What I’d Do Differently
11 speakers in 2 days was just a bit too much information. If we do it again I would look at reducing the number to 8 or 9 speakers.
An hour was the perfect length for some of the speakers, and just a bit too long for most (including me – the best talk I’ve ever given was 45 minutes long). Giving 2-3 headliners an hour each and keeping the rest to 45 minutes would allow for more breaks and more interactive segments (see my next point).
When David Hauser had to fly home we improvised by having Patrick McKenzie and Hiten Shah critique websites.
Ramit Sethi had just completed his review of 4 landing pages, and these two segments were highlights of the conference. They applied the principles we were learning, brought interactivity to the group (people were shouting out their URL and having them reviewed on the fly), and generally increased the energy level in the room.
Next year, I would plan for one or two 30-minute critique sessions per day, and perhaps throw in a Q&A panel for variety.
The Riviera hotel in Las Vegas is not the oldest hotel on the strip, but there are certainly more glamorous places to hold a conference. We chose the Riviera for financial reasons since Mike and I were bootstrapping the conference. But if we do it in 2012 I would aim to go just a bit more upscale.
This wouldn’t affect attendees, but Mike and I spent an inordinate amount of time putting this conference together. I wanted the experience of handing things ourselves at least once, but offloading a lot of the legwork is something I would do in the future.
We didn’t have funds for a professional videographer (cost was $5k due to union issues) so I brought my HD camera and asked Ruben from Bidsketch to run it for 2 days. Things turned out reasonably well, but nothing compared to what a professional videographer could achieve. If the budget allowed I would look harder at making this happen next year.
I’m not sure yet if we’re going to hold the conference in 2012, but if you’re interested in attending you can subscribe to our early notification list here.
You can bet you’ll have early access to discounted tickets if you’re on this list.
Here are several write-ups from attendees that include more detailed information about speakers and the vibe of the conference. Email me if you do a write up and I’ll add it to the list.
- (Video) Software Businesses in 5 Hours A Week: Patrick McKenzie’s MicroConf 2011 Presentation
- Ten Things I Learned At MicroConf 2011
- MicroConf 2011: 3 Surprises and Learnings from Best, Conference, Ever.
- MicroConf 2011 Write-up by Patrick Foley of Startup Success Podcast
- Bootstrapped Start-Up Lessons from Self-funded Entrepreneurs
- How a Software Conference Helps Countertop Shops
- Thoughts on MicroConf
- MicroConf: How it All Went Down
- How to Improve Customer Testimonials to Get More Sales
Special thanks to all of the speakers and attendees who took a chance on a first year conference, to Ruben Gamez for working the video camera, and Dave Rodenbaugh for taking photos.