Last week we participated in the Atlassian Summit, Atlassian's first worldwide conference and Balsamiq's first foray in being a conference sponsor.
Below is an account on what happened and what we learned from the experience, in hope it will be useful to some of you!
When Atlassian approached me back in November asking me to sponsor for their first ever user conference I jumped at the opportunity. First of all, it was very affordable ($2,500 for a bronze-level sponsorship if I remember correctly). Second of all, it put something on the 2009 calendar so that we would have an opportunity to come back to San Francisco and see all of our friends, and third of all, it sounded like a great learning opportunity.
Oh, and it might be good for business as well. :)
To help me prepare for the conference I hired my good friend Megara, whose full time job used to be organizing the American Ophtomology Association's yearly conference (about 25,000 attendees) and is now a freelance event planner. The Atlassian summit had 320 attendees, so it was a walk in the park for her.
She helped me ask all the right questions to the Atlassian folks, who BTW did a splendid job at keeping sponsors informed of everything: their "Summit Sponsors" Confluence page was the one place to find all the info, and it was always updated, we got notified of every change...ah, the power of wikis. :)
A great idea on their part was to record the monthly webinars they hosted for sponsors and post the recordings in .m4v format so that we could listen to them on our iPhones. Brilliant! If this seems iPhone-snobbyish to you, know that I am not convinced that EVERYONE in the Bay Area has an iPhone, that's pretty much all you see walking around the city.
Megara thought we should have business cards to hand out. I had printed and cut out some lame ones in the past, so I asked her if she could come up with some prettier ones. Being the multi-talented woman she is, she drew some very pretty ones, and came up with a company logo to go with it as well:
We also created a flyer to hand out at the booth to talk about the product and our company. Atlassian mentioned that in order to use less paper they were going to print out the conference schedule on a single page and "accordion-fold it", which I thought was a cool idea - yay environment!
So I came up with the following mockup for our own accordion-folded flyer:
One thing to note is the "Balsamiq Restaurant Guide" in the back, which has an interesting genesis: after setting up the 6-columns mockup and starting to fill it in I thought "what the heck am I going to write in all these pages!?." :)
Given that question, I went back to my principle of trying to be useful to others in whatever I produce, so I thought: "the people I am going to give this to are likely from out of town and might stay in San Francisco for the whole week because of JavaOne, so what could be useful to them?" - but of course! A list of our favorite San Francisco restaurants and bars! ;) The added benefit is that because of the restaurant guide people were going to be more likely to hold on to the flyer and look at it more than once. Ha! Marketing! :)
Once the mockup was ready, I made the decision to go low-tech: if Megara or I tried to create a design-y brochure, it would have come out mediocre at best (we're not graphic designers, as this site or Mockups itself makes it very clear, and I didn't want to spend money hiring one). So I asked Megara to use her beautifully legible and fun handwriting instead!
I think the result is more personal, fun and definitely stands out from the other flyers that were given out at the conference. I am really happy with it.
For the booth setup, we continued with our "personal touch" and food theme: I smuggled imported 24 little bottles of 75-year-old balsamic vinegar with me on the plane, to give out as a "conference special" to anyone who bought Mockups while at the conference (this turned out to be wishful thinking, as people needed to go back and get permission to buy from their bosses, which makes sense). Still, the little bottles looked very nice on our desk right next to the looping video demos.
Megara had also prepared a big tray of little caprese tartines, which we drizzled with the vinegar. It sure beat the candy other people were handing out! :) She also brought a big basil plant, which smelled wonderful and looked great.
I had never sponsored a conference or "worked the booth" at one before, so I really didn't know what to expect. In fact, I didn't really have time to think about it until Megara and I started setting up the booth. I told her "I hope no-one comes and talks to us" - I like when other people say nice things about Mockups but I don't like to "pitch" or "sell" it myself, yuck.
So it took me a little while to get used to the thought of it, but Megara once again had the perfect advice: "don't sell it, just talk about why you built it and how it solves the problem for you". I can talk about that all day! :)
Manning the booth means doing a lot of talking...person after person comes up and asks you to describe your product to them, so you have to have a quick elevator-pitch ready to go and be able to repeat it over and over.
It was fun to meet current customers and potential new ones and to hear about their issues, I really recommend it.
The only issue I had was that I almost completely lost my voice on the first night, with 2 full days to go and two conference presentations to give. Sudafed, Emercen-C and Ricolas really saved me.
One last thing I wanted to share with you was my schedule while in San Francisco last week (click for a larger image):
I have to give huge props to Valerie and Marco who kept the company running while I was busy running around town - I only really was able to "work" (which means doing email these days) in little chunks of time in between things...all in all I made 3 visits to the bank, 3 visits to my accountants, spoke at two conference sessions, manned the booth 6 times and went to 8 social events with friends and former colleagues. I was happy to be able to squeeze in some quality father-son time with GJ in the end as well but MAN it was an exhausting week! I'm looking forward to my first vacation since Balsamiq started next week - we rented a big beach house near Charleston, SC with 17 of our best friends...lots of kids, beach...and relax! :)