CSSconf Argentina: How To Organize a World-class Conference
Preparing the Dream
It had been my dream to organize a Design event in Argentina, much like they have in the US. So, instead of reinventing the wheel, in January of 2016, I decided to contact Eva Ferreira, the initial visionary of CSSconf, to see how she was achieving her goal of organizing the grand event in Argentina, and to see how I could join her as a partner in this project. She and I saw eye to eye and had a similar vision, so the partnership was formed. At the time she had a team consisting of Lourdes Montano and Alejandro Gerbec, preparing to begin the process.
As Eva and I partnered up and started the preparation of the CSS conference, I was blown away at how intense yet exciting planning an international conference is. I learned so much about the fundamental stages of organizing not only a designer’s event but a developer’s event, as well.
Throughout this essay I will walk you through the process it takes as well as my experiences I had to put on such a magnificent event.
Choosing the venue
One of the first things we needed to achieve this goal was, of course, the venue. We wanted it to be a public place and to have relevance to youth education.In this, I proposed to my team my secondary school, the Escuela Superior de Carlos Pellegrini, where many Argentinean developers studied.
My team voted and agreed. It was then that we contacted the directors of the school, Principal Leandro Rodriguez and Vice Principal Eduardo Maury. to present our idea, to which they gladly accepted.
After we had secured our event space, we were then excited to invite our brilliant speakers to present.
Eva was tasked with contacting all the speakers which included but was not limited to, Harry Roberts, Ami Reynoso, Rachel Nabors, Ariel Wiznia, Una Kravets, Sergio Behrends, Aurelia Moser, Horia Dragomir and Werther Azevedo. Luckily, with this luxury lineup, we had an excellent debut for the first CSSconf in, not only Argentina, but in all Latin America.
We launched the conference website with the help of Mechi Bazan. The website was designed with a structure of editions that would evolve as the event grew closer.
The first edition was launched with the announcement of the date, location and workshops to be presented, the opening speaker, Una Kravets, the mission statement of the conference, as well as the sponsors who helped make the event possible.
As the event was nearing, we announced in a second edition all the rest of the speakers and a widget to buy the tickets.
Not long after the word got out, approximately 30 days later (!), a final edition was put in place to announce the tickets selling out!
Before we branched out in contacting international companies, we encouraged all the speakers to generate buzz, locally, about the conference.
We then began to write up the proposal we were to send to sponsors which included our mission statement and those who were going to present at the conference.
You can download our proposal here.
Raising funds, it turns out, was one of the greatest challenges of this conference, for there were many layers and avenues to choose from, which ended up in us learning a lot of life and business lessons. For, one of the mistakes we made at the beginning, was contacting small companies that had no history of investing in events of this type, whom, of course, declined. It was then that we quickly changed strategy and made a list of companies that had already invested in CSSconf or JSconf type of events.
We started contacting companies that had the need to expand and were engaged in recruiting engineers; Such engineers that would be attending the conference. Win-Win.
We preferred to make face-to-face contact with the pending sponsors, to propose the sponsorship packs instead of having the sponsor download the PDF from our site. Although this consumed more time, creating these personal relationships was beneficial to us to understand what the needs of the companies were and to be able to arrive at an appropriate price for them to invest in our conference.
Our first sponsor was Global Logic, a growing Argentine company with more than 500 employees in need of recruiting. Almost immediately after came, Auth0, Globant, RGA, Mozilla, Github, Digital Ocean, Acamica and Mercado Libre.
From the point of view of the companies, they sought to invest in something that was of quality and wanted to create relationships and contact with developers or designers in attendance. Therefore, we offered attractive options to these companies to take part in. An example of one of these options was our Office workshops (RGA). The first things the companies inquired about were the speakers in the event. For this we did in office workshops all week before the event to allow companies to reach the speakers and attendees of the event to form relationships. We also provided stands at the venue to promote corporate culture. The companies were not only impressed, but thankful to us for making it easy for them to create these contacts.
Once the investing companies had a better understanding of who the speakers and attendees were, they were put at further ease in knowing where and what their funding was going towards.
The following is a list of ways to improve one’s chances at securing Sponsors:
- A quick deal with a company is important, it generates trust in the team and company’s relationship, and allows to advance the project more quickly. It is important to add logos to the website, in order to generate confidence in the investing companies, to continue to raise money.
- Prioritize local and international companies that don’t have too much industrial influence. If a company is well known and is not recruiting people in your country, it is very likely that they will decide not to sponsor your event.
- Prioritize big companies over smaller companies, as they are more likely to have more funding to give.
- Make a spreadsheet that has exact itemization. If you present a plan to the company with exact numbers, they will better understand your goals and will be more willing to support the event as they will see what their funding is going towards.
- Once you have secured your main and big companies, Some small expenses that the event has can be presented to small companies. For Example: If you want to give a gift pack in the event and it costs less than any other of your plans, can make an exchange with a small company.
Sponsorships was fundamental in CSSconf Argentina. With the sponsorship we received, we were able to fund 80% of total costs! In this, we were able to keep the tickets reasonable and affordable for all who wanted to join this event.
We had a total of 160 tickets to sell and give. In this, 20 were for betas, 10 for an organization called X, which educates low-income youth in Buenos Aires, and 10 for students at the school where we held the event.
The rest of the tickets were sold, 30 tickets at a time, and increasing every time a new set of 30 was offered. In this, we were able to feel out the market gap and see how effective our pricing was.
This strategy was golden as all of the tickets sold out within one month!
Those who provide a service to a conference is one of the most important parts of successfully running a conference.
CSSconf required working with a company that would handle video and audio, food, photography, live translation and poster graphics.
We had the help of Martin Shibuya, who efficiently handled communication with all providers for the day of the event.
Communicating the vision of the conference to providers is a very specialized processes and we were so lucky to have someone with as clear of vision as Martin.
The objective of the event was to inspire and bring together the Argentine community.
Since the event was based around web design we wanted art to be present throughout the event. We gifted ceramics done by hand and a ceramic poster made by Mercedez Bazan and to close the event, an experimental music band performed, accompanied by visual art.
Aspirations for the Next CSSconf
- What must be stressed: organizing an event is not an easy task. It involves at minimum, 200 attendees and 10 very respectable speakers for a day’s work.
- There may be internal conflicts in the team: It is important to have a small team where, if different viewpoints arise, it can be quickly resolved.
- When organizing an event, one will most likely break even or not see a profit. When setting the budget of the event you have to be very precise and have a forecast of money for unexpected expenses that arise (in our case some seats of the amphitheater were broken that we had to repair the day before the event, with money from our budget). BUT, Once the event is over (and if it goes well) you will feel an incredible reward for having done it. The audience was very inspired by the speakers.
Organizing an event for the community is one of the most fruitful experiences I had in my career. It was the first time I did something that was not for money and worked on a non-technical project.
At the same time, I met new people, such as, the organizers and the people who work in the different companies that helped us to make CSSconf Argentina 2016 possible!
While our website has 4 people as organizers, having a conference for 200 people is not possible without the help of many other people behind the scenes!
I want to highlight the individuals who were fundamental to the organization of the CSSconf: Martin Shibuya, Mercedez Bazan, Barbara Cruzado, Leandro Rodriguez and all the speakrs.
Thank you for taking the time to read my insight on organizing a major conference!
If you have any questions or comments about this post let me know via Twitter.