I start up Memeorandum/Tech and see that VC’ing is causing a lot of conversations to start, so is Jeff Jarvis’ comments about the inadequacies of the conference model.
Now, I used to be a conference schmuck. Er, planner. And I’m involved with Mix06‘s implementation and promotion.
First, about costs of conferences. Jeff has his economics way wrong. Turns out that if you wanna do a 40 person conference you can do it for free. I was at one yesterday (the Entrepreneurs 27 event was free for everyone — someone even donated a few snacks. Both presenters and attendance was free. Awesome, right?)
If you wanna do a 400 attendee conference you can do it pretty inexpensively. Gnomedex was done for about $100 a person for years. Many other 200 to 400 attendee conferences are low-cost.
But, wanna do a 1,000 attendee conference? Costs per attendee start going up exponentially.
Because there aren’t many places in the world that you can hold a 1,000 attendee conference. Even in San Francisco there are only a handful of places that can do that (I know, our VBITS conference started at the Marriott by the airport, moved to the Hyatt, then to the Marriott downtown, and now it’s being held at the Moscone Convention Center.
Now, do you have any clue how much we paid for a hotdog lunch? How about around $30 per attendee. How much for a Coke? $5. How much for an urn of coffee? $1,000.
These were not negotiable.
Oh, and you had to guarantee you’d sell a certain number of hotel rooms. Don’t sell those rooms out? You might be in the hole for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Everyone keys in on the successful 2,000 conference events. But you don’t remember the baths we took on conferences that we had to cancel.
Oh, and you can just rent a normal projector for a 200 person event. But remember at the PDC where we had thousands of attendees? We had 32 projectors, each of which cost more than $120,000 (Dylan has photo and info here on those). You don’t just rent these at your local Best Buy.
Not to mention about promotion. Even at Mix we’ve already spent quite a bit of money on that. Ads in Wired Magazine aren’t free. Getting an audience is tough work and doesn’t happen by accident.
If you make money at conferences it’s really rare. At Fawcette the conference business did make a bit of money over the years and when that happened it subsidized other things like magazine editorial (without a magazine Fawcette would probably have never sold out a conference in the first place).
Now, onto editorial.
Even at Mix we’re trying to put into play a lot of the things Dave Winer pioneered with the BloggerCons. But, holding a conversation with 200 people in a University setting is a whole lot different than holding a conversation with 2,000 people in a Las Vegas conference venue. It’s not going to be easy to get audience participation and that’s even if everyone brings a laptop and joins in the various chat rooms and blog networks that we put into play.
Regarding content, I don’t like panel discussions either. They always sound better when you’re planning a conference than they actually turn out. Why? Because it’s hard to pitch a real idea out to the audience and really chew on it for a while. I watched Gary Flake give a talk to search champs. He setup the idea, pitched the idea, then explained it in the course of an hour. It was wonderful.
But, if we had a panel on “live labs” it would have sucked. Why? Cause getting five people to work on an idea just wouldn’t have worked.
Panels can be entertaining, though, if you have something where people disagree about. Then you might be entertained and you might learn something. Might.
Anyway, back to the point. What we need to do is figure out how to keep event size at about 400 people. If we do that, then we’ll be able to keep the economics at a great level per person.
Back to VC’ing. Rick Segal wrote a followup to all the VC talk out there. I love Rick’s thinking and am glad he’s getting some focus on the funding part of the industry.
It’s interesting, some of the anti VC points (and anti blogging points) I’ve heard lately are “you guys have created another bubble.”
Listen, the event yesterday was with young entrepreneurs. They didn’t pay anything to be there. I didn’t pay anything to be there. There was no lockout, no exclusivity. That sure doesn’t seem like a bubble to me. The thing that’s changed is the word-of-mouth network is far more efficient. In the old days you’d never have heard about a meeting like this. Today everyone around the world was dragged into that room. I love this new world. I don’t have to attend conferences anymore to hear the best ideas or see the newest products. I do notice that eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, and Microsoft were there to build relationships with new businesses and see if there’s some talent there that’s hireable.
Where did the Rolling Stones come from? They didn’t just walk on stage and become popular. They started in small rooms. Er, bars. High school auditoriums. And such.
Another criticism I saw of my post yesterday? That ideas aren’t what’s needed. I hear this all the time “ideas are cheap, implementation is expensive.”
Oh, really? How many of you thought up RSS? How many of you thought up Flickr? If ideas are so cheap, where’s the new ideas? I don’t see that many being put out there. And, inside big companies I get to see idea generation at work. They simply aren’t there.
What IS cheap? People who tear down ideas. I see that all over the place. “That idea won’t work because…”
But I don’t meet many people who have consistently awesome ideas. They ARE valuable. Companies like Microsoft pay those guys big bucks for a reason. There aren’t enough of them.
Quick, tell me again how you’ll make a search engine better than Google’s. You got an idea? Write it down. If it really is a better idea it’s valuable. Yes, its value will only be exposed if that idea gets turned into an algorithm and put into a search engine. So, you do need implementation, I’m not arguing that, but Google started with an idea for a better algorithm. Let’s not forget that. People often do. To me, the idea is just as brilliant as the implementation.
Yeah, selling the idea is difficult. But, it’s not impossible. Just start a blog and explain why your idea is better than Microsoft’s or Google’s. If you can do that then let me know and we’ll figure out how to proceed.
Anyway, I’m off to travel back to Seattle today. Have a good one and keep the conversation going.