Tag Archives: 360Flex

An Open Letter to the Hospitality Industry

I’m writing this hugely annoyed, so my first draft was simply “You Suck”

You know an industry is bloated and corrupt when they’re first and only motivation is profit, even and especially at the expense of return business. That’s the Hospitality industry. They don’t care if your event sucks, another is dying to book the space next year.

It’s a lot like banks being too big to fail, hotels are too needed to fail, at least in the conference organizer world. It’s hard to do a conference without a hotel, even if you host the event elsewhere, you need hotels for your attendees, whether you make any special plans or not. It’s way worse when your event is at a hotel, then they have you. Continue reading

Startups, who’s in to be Apple?

Like most of Nerd America I started Reading the Steve Jobs Biography last night. I got in some good reading at the gym this morning and started thinking. I haven’t made it to the Apple years yet, but as I was reading it, thinking about Apple, about Jobs, startups and about death, a notion started forming.

Who’s going to step up and be Apple? Heck, where are our Hewlett and Packard? Our Michael Dell?  Bill Gates?

I work in a space with a fair amount of startups, and being so close to Boulder I hear about a lot more of them, and of course I’m in the Silicon Valley for events a fair bit too, and of course I follow my friend Eric Norlin. So I’m not uninformed when it comes to startups.

I know there’s awesome startups out there doing cool things (like Bloom). I work in the same building as one. But in looking at them and at most other startups, I wonder, who’s solving tomorrow’s problems? Who’s working on making the next big thing? NOT the next thing for AOL or Google to acquire. It seems that most startups are starting to be bought by someone, existing more than 5 years isn’t in the plans. That certainly is the exit that makes the most financial sense for their backers, and the founders even. I wonder sometimes if our VC and Angel worlds are so wrapped up in ‘quick bucks’ and early exits, that they’re encouraging young founders to not focus on building companies that can or will be around 20 or 30 years. Let alone build companies that are focused on tomorrow’s problems. Sure messy contacts, old school comic readers, and lack of robot balls are problems worth solving, that’s not my point. My point is there should be a balance, and I don’t see it.

Looking at Techstars and Ycombinator I see awesome companies making cool things like gMail plugins and robot balls with LEDs in them, and new takes on training sites, sites about treating musicians like stock, and such. But I wonder will any of them exist in 5-10 years? I suspect not. They’ll either have folded up and moved on, or been absorbed into some other larger thing. And that’s ok in it’s own right, but where does that leave us? The Country of Dell and HP and Apple and Microsoft? I feel like it leaves us with a sad lack of innovative long term tech companies. VCs are bitching about immigration policy not letting tech founders into the country in high enough numbers. I’d argue the gov’t should be looking at these VCs and asking where the companies that will lead innovation are and why they aren’t helping build them? I’d be thrilled to let the next Bill Gates in on a Startup Visa, but not if he plans to simply build something he can sell to Microsoft for a quick buck.

I know in startup circles and no doubt in VC circles getting acquired is a win. In my book it isn’t. I remember sitting around beers with some friends talking about a company in Boulder that was bought before it even left private beta. To me that was a fail. Sure they made out like bandits, everyone got paid. But they were barely a business, they had maybe a few customers, maybe a few hundred, but they were beta testers not paying customers. I suspect that’s why I’m drawn towards brick and mortar style businesses. Conferences, coworking, etc. Because those businesses are immune or less politely often excluded from the hub bub of tech investing. Therefore for the most part they require bootstrapping which it seems so many startups can’t or won’t do. I’ve seen ideas live and die based on acceptance to Techstars. While I have no doubt Brad Feld and co. know a winner or at least a good horse when they see it, I’m sure they’d agree they can’t see all the winners (or losers) all the time.

That kinda brings this all back around for me. I’ve never asked for money or (at least yet) taken out a bank loan for 360|Conferences or Uncubed. I live and die by what I can do on my own (or with partners as the case may be). In both cases i think to myself often, are these businesses that will be around in 10 years? Can they be a legacy, can I actually do something good with them? I think both can. I don’t know if either will, but I think both can, and I’m happy to try and find out. I think both started for the right reasons. Trying to change systems that exist, for the better of the communities they exist in,  which to me is the right reason to start a business. Will I get rich? be acquired by someone? Probably not on both counts, but that’s ok because that wasn’t and isn’t my motivator. I like money don’t get me wrong :) I want to live a comfortable life, but that’s the extent of it. I don’t need to make something someone else wants to buy so I can pay back investors and retire at 35.

I wonder if startup founders go to bed at night thinking about the future. Not the future where they get bought, where tech crunch writes them up and they secure yet another round of funding. A future where they employ thousands. A future where they and their product/service are shaping lives. A future where they make a difference for more than a year. Sure payroll next month is important, press is important I’m not discounting that, but if they’re not thinking about 10 years from now, I’d say they’re doing it at least a little wrong.

 

sometimes you want to quit

As is typical of life, I’ve had this blog post sitting in a Safari tab to be written about. I’m in a blogging mood today so I sat down to talk about this post, and turns out it’s a company who just signed on as a sponsor of 360|Flex. There’s no real correlation, but I like that my interests intersect those of the people I work with.

 

360|Conferences is a weird startup. Well not really, but in the circles I travel it is. People I know and interact with are starting the next foursquare, the next yelp, etc. I’m running a services business, organizing conferences. Something that very few do outside publishing companies… I am in a venture with two friends, that while not in stealth because that’s lame, there’s just not much to talk about yet except to say go here

I’ve wanted to quit several times. Back when my business partner was Tom, and even more recently when it was just Nicole and I. Whether it was the fickle nature of speakers and attendees or sponsors who I give my all to, to support them, and who in turn also sponsor events that treat them like just one more logo on the site.

 

I stole this from Jason’s post (which if you haven’t already, go read in it’s entirety!)

This graphic really sums up the experience for me, so far.

It’s a roller coaster and I wouldn’t trade, but like all things theres lots of lows, to slog thru if you want to succeed.

The post is a good read and I’ve had similar experiences where the value of my product (the conference, my email list, the attendees) has been under valued, and bargained for, and where I’ve had to choose the high road or the low. I’ll be honest I’ve chosen both, but am now more comfortable taking the high, and living the the nagging feeling i chose wrong (even when I know I didn’t)

Technology and Conferences, finally some good

Last week was Ignite Denver 7. You can read all about Ignite Denver on the blog, but among all the numerous new things we did to reboot Ignite Denver, we used technology.

It worked awesome!

There were two things we used, Eventbrite’s iPhone app and the Square reader and iPhone app.

First eventbrite’s app

The Upside

It worked really well. We loaded the Ignite Denver account onto Nicole and Shelly’s phones and as people came for Ignite, we were able to to check them off. It was great not needing printed lists, and sharpies to cross off names, etc.

It was great that one phone could see who the other had checked off.

The downside

I doesn’t show “will call” people. Or rather it shows them but doesn’t indicate that they still need to pay. The printed check in lists, put an orange highlight with a note about needing to pay at the door. The iPone app doesn’t do that so folks who don’t remember or choose not to remember that they need to pay, slide right in. Not a really big deal, since there’s ever only a few of those types of tickets at Ignite Denver, but I can see that being a problem for other events.

Square Reader

When I first got my Square at WWDC, I figured I’d have little to no use for it. Maybe we’d be the only garage sale around that took credit cards, but otherwise I couldn’t see many uses. Until we decided that to continue existing, Ignite Denver had to charge $5.

We used Eventbrite, to sell tickets, but always (unless we sell out) sell tickets at the door. Normally it’s cash (or check) only.

This time we could take credit cards, and it rocked!!  I actually wish we used the iPad app, which supports custom “items” but it was still easy to use the iPhone version.

I will say this, the android version. SUCKS. We tried to use it first and got nothing. No user feedback, etc. switched to the iPhone version and it was cake. “swipe faster, bad read” Etc. it was easy to get it figured out.

We didn’t sell a bunch of at the door tickets, but it was nice to just be able to accept credit cards and be done with it.

The app worked great, as did the service. We might have even convinced the theater to look into using Square vs. their existing, expensive POS system.

Over all I’m very very happy with our use of technology, and look forward to using these tools at our larger events. Especially Eventbrite’s app.

If it looks easy, it’s not

It’s weird (both flattering and a little insulting) when people look at what you do, and think, “well if he’s doing it, I can do it” vs. possible partnership, etc.

Sure there’s a part of all of us that wants to do things on our own, or own way. But in business especially I think that’s a kiss of death more often than not.

In particular I’m talking about conferences. I’m pretty good at it. I find interesting people, technical experts, etc and get all together under one roof. It’s a ton of fun, I wake up every day loving it. The actual days of the event, I’m moderately calm and collected, because I have my shit together. I obsess, and freak out up until the first day, after that I’m reasonably sure I’m good to go.

So yeah, the days that people actually see me, I’m happy, I’m talking to people, hanging out an joking. That doesn’t in any way shape or form, mean the 6 or so months leading up to that aren’t full of stress, craziness, and working my ass off.

Yet somehow it’s caused at least a few folks I know of to decide they want in on the action. Fair enough, after all, it’s business.

It’s business!

You don’t go into business without a plan. Heck, the first 360|Flex, wasn’t a business, it was a one off, a completely lark. After that Tom and I realized it was fun and we enjoyed it, and other people seemed to like the event. THEN it became a business. A not profitable business the first few events.

This ain’t the field of dreams!

You can’t just say, “Hey everyone! I just made up a new event, come on out” and expect to be a success. Well if you live in Boulder that seems to work ok, otherwise not really. You have to get people involved, wrangle speakers and sponsors, etc. I’ve seen one event almost implode costing the organizer a buttload of money because it seemed they thought, that just organizing the event was enough. That people would flock from near and far to attend. I’ve also seen a recent event (most likely, sadly I’m the only conference organizer that believes in transparency as far as I know) lose a ton of money because the organizer didn’t realize how much everything costs, didn’t realize how much to charge attendees, etc.

I’m no expert, I don’t intend to stop learning, but I did learn the hard way, what works and what doesn’t. I’m still learning that.

What really irks me about this “problem” is that not only does it impact my business in the short term, people choosing that event over mine (when they’re in the same space) but it hurts consumers/attendees, and even sponsors. They waste their money on what turns out to be a less than awesome event, with little chance of repeating, and are now jaded.

Thankfully I have a history of success now, but still, kinda bums me out.

Oh and if someone tries to tell you conferences are dead, just turn around and walk away. They’re either an online event snake oil peddler, or out of touch with the realities of business and events.

Just sayin.

Adobe needs to buy Palm.

And here’s why.

To screw Apple. It’s clear that no matter how much, begging, suing (this is a bad idea anyways), cajoling, “I’m with Adobe”ing, etc, takes place, Apple has given the one finger salute to Adobe. That’s that. It’s their phone, there’s lots of other handsets for Adobe to play with.

Frankly, as much as I’d love to have Flash on my iPad (not my iPhone though) it’s Apple’s call. I don’t agree, but since they don’t call me to ask my opinion, I assume they don’t care.

Palm is for sale. The Pre is a nice phone, it’s actually frakkin sexy, I dig it. WebOS, isn’t that bad either. If Palm had 1. not gone with Verizon, and 2. listenned to their developer community, and 3. not been retards about brand/marketing/and reach, the Pre would be a huge hit. Instead, Palm is for sale.

Picture this.

Adobe buys Palm. Retools WebOS (or goes android, but I think that’s a bad idea) to be more Flash focused. Basically create a “Flash Phone” Build out a marketplace, somewhere between Draconian Apple, and Hippy-free-for-all Google, for Flash devs to build and sell their apps. SELL. Adobe, you build the market, and back out. Don’t start building your own things and giving them away for free. That screws your community over, cut it out!

Flash Devs have been denied a reliable, useful marketplace… well pretty much forever. Companies like Litl are working on devices to show how awesome Flash apps (Channels) can be, and hopefully help developers make money too. Adobe could easily kill some of their soon-to-be-dead-but-no-one-knows-it-yet projects, and focus on a mobile SDK for Devs to build stand alone “apps” that the “Flash Phone” could run.

Apps that exist as good citizens, outside a browser, as a standalone executable/process. They kill when closed, and don’t burn through the CPU. This is totally possible!

I know I’d buy a Flash Phone (assuming it’s the Pre aka nice hardware) in a heartbeat. I’d want to support the community, but I also think it’s a huge untapped market. Look at the flash content out there on the web! So much could easily become apps.

Flash Devs need to stop giving everything away in the hope of attracting consulting business! Build things people will pay for, and sell them! You guys are your own worst enemy! You’re not helping the community!

So Adobe, if you’re reading this, I know hardware isn’t your thing, but hey, consumer electronics wasn’t Apple’s when they launched the iPod (hardware still was, I know, it’s an imperfect comparison), and they’ve pretty much crushed that market now. You need to give up on the iPhone, yeah I know it’s the pits, but rather than waste time suing, being snarky on stage at MAX, and building hacky work arounds in Flash Pro, move on. You’re bigger than this “Let me in! Let me in!” nonsense. I want Adobe to shine, and rock the house! I want Adobe to do what it does best! Innovate! Build tools that let developers do mind blowing things! Now… Provide hardware for those mind blowing things to live on!

Ok that’s it! What do you think?

360Flex San Jose – Recap

It’s been a while since our last 360|Flex. Almost a year in fact. Indianapolis in May.

Since getting back from 360|Flex, I’ve been full tilt forward on 360|iDev (rest? Decompress time, weak sauce!!), but wanted to take a few minutes to write down my thoughts on this latest 360|Flex.

For one thing it was a huge success. We made money. Not a metric buttload, and it would have been more if we hadn’t carried a ton of debt with us out of 2009. BUt still, we made money, and that’s a good sign for the event and the company.

We did a few things (as usual) differently.

  1. We had volunteers to help out. We had I think 8 folks, that got a free pass in exchange for helping out. w had them help assemble SWAG bags, work the reg desk (This was THE first 360|Event where the keynote wasn’t delayed, and where I was able to actually hop up on stage, vs have some one go start the keynote.) work our video cameras (more on that), and in general be around to do whatever we needed.
  2. We had Nicole on board officially. As Tom leaves, Nicole joins. It’s pretty cool to be working with my wife to make the events even better!
  3. Video. We’ve wanted to do video since Seattle ’07. In fact we had video in Seattle, but marketed them poorly. We had Video in San Jose ’09, but it was Adobe TV. This time we decided to go lo-fi to start and see how it works. We used 8 SD Flip Cams, and Camtasia Relay. Volunteers swapped cams out for each session, and set up Relay on speaker laptops. Now that hard part. I’ve got 40+ sessions to process into usable video. We’re not sure what to do yet as far as distribution. Attendees will get the video for free, but I’d love to try and sell access to the video (un-DRM’ed of course) files. I think there’s value in the videos, and think it’d be nice if we could support the company between events with video sales.
  4. Panels. Panels are another thing we toyed with for a while, thinking it’d be cool to do, but never really executing. We decided to pull the trigger. 360|Flex had 3 panels, and they all rocked! Panels are here to stay. We also put a panel as the last session on the last day, to bring everyone together at the end of the conference. The panels are a great way to have all attendees in the same place, and get great discussions started! I’m really excited about the Panels, and can’t wait to do more.
  5. Official hotel while using Ebay. Normally when we do the SJ event, we don’t have an official hotel, or if we do it’s just a room block at the Holiday Inn. This time we went downtown San Jose to the Marriott. Who offered a shuttle bus each day. That worked out awesome! Each day the bus brought everyone to Ebay and took them back to the hotel at night. After the evening receptions, folks bussed back to the Marriott, and partied at the bar, out in downtown, etc. it was awesome.

Over all I couldn’t be happier with 360|Flex San Jose. We had an almost sell out crowd, at about 365 registrations, not to mention the “I had to register?” Crowd that we printed badges for on the fly.

I learned on my flight out, that Frontier won’t be servicing SJC after mid-May, which means for the most part, my reasons to fly Frontier at all are drastically diminished. I’ll probably start flying Southwest to test the waters of that airline. Since I never watch the free DirectTV that I get with Ascent level status, I won’t miss that. Everything else I enjoy about my Ascent level status, I can pay for with Southwest.

Sorry frontier, poor service of late, terrible website, and now leaving SJC…

Now on to 360|iDev, San Jose! I can’t wait to see my Apple crew! We’ll all be fresh off iPad euphoria, and ready to talk iPad apps!