MageUnconference 2018 from an organiser’s perspective

At each edition of MageUnconference, we try to get everything right, implementing what we have learned from the last year and what we experienced at other conferences.


What is MageUnconference?

MageUnconference is a yearly event for the Magento community. Magento is an e-commerce platform. Unconference means that we don’t have a pre-set agenda. Instead attendees suggest topics, vote on them and we as organisers create an agenda out of it. BarCamp style.

Also, the event promotes communication and collaboration by joint talks and plenty of long breaks between sessions.

Who are we?

When I write “we” here, I mean the team organising MageUnconference. We share a passion for Magento and its community.

Meet the team: Rico Neitzel, Tobias Klose, Fabian Blechschmidt, me (Sonja Riesterer), Carmen Bremen, Claudia Teubner and Pia Bodden

Keeping the spirit

While we aim to run the event professionally, we want to keep the unconference spirit. Self-determination and cooperation are what we want to promote.
We provide the frame but it’s up to the attendees to fill it with life. They are the ones who suggest the topics and vote on the agenda. Now the frame of the event gets some fine-tuning each year. Here is what we did this year and how it turned out:

A quiet place

Conferences can be overwhelming, noisy, draining your energy. The unconference can be the same, simply because there are quite a few people (~ 150), lots of information and impressions to process. So we wanted to create a space for people to recharge.

There was an area with comfy chairs and sofas we called “Lounge Situation”. It was a place for attendees to sit down, take a deep breath and to have a chat with less background noise.
Due to the footprint of the building, this wasn’t a separate room. People made good use of it, but that also meant that it was often still busy — too busy maybe to properly rest your brain for a minute? There were two or three sockets so maybe not enough to recharge your devices.

Properly labelled area for people to relax

Child care

I can’t really tell if this went well. We had a few more people sign up for child care than actually showed up and made use of it. But that is what we expected with little ones falling sick or simply not feeling up to being separated from their parents.

I am grateful for all parents who made use of this offer. It gave us a chance to test our assumptions — it is required / needed / welcome — and it’s also one important step towards a Magento ecosystem of the future where each event keeps the needs of parents in mind and offer child care.
And let’s be honest: we as organisers have spent money on less sensible stuff and services.

The ball pit for kids at MageUnconference

The problem I see is with parties: both out preparty on Friday and the after show party on Saturday didn’t offer child care.
Children were always welcome, however we couldn’t provide an ideal environment for them. It was a bit too loud, too crowded, and the food not aligned with a child’s taste buds.

So there is still some work to do. If you ever took up the offer of child care at a conference, maybe even at MageUC18, I’d love to hear your opinion on it. Did it work out for you and your little ones? What did you do when child care closed in the evening? Which options did you have and which options would you have liked to have?

Good coffee

Even I as someone who only drinks about 4 cappuccinos per year knows there is a difference between coffee and good coffee.
Good coffee is not only in the best interest of the attendees but also of the team. This year we hired a barista service to provide us with good coffee and smoothies. By the way, they also made great hot chocolate.

There was a bit of a line to get a coffee on both mornings. However, people spent the waiting time by talking to others in the queue — exactly what you want to see as an organiser.

Friendly atmosphere

Last year for MageUC17, we were at Startplatz, a coworking space in Cologne. Afterwards, it dawned on us that inviting people to a work environment on a weekend wasn’t the best idea. So this year’s venue is a multipurpose building.

The downside: less sunlight in the rooms. I’m anxious how the photos turn out (I know, not really important to the attendees, but important for marketing and potential future attendees).
The upside: The new location was a lot easier to reach with public transport as it was only a 5-minute walk from Cologne central station.

Ticket prices

Our aim is to have a low entry barrier for MageUnconference. We want a diverse audience, including newbies, freelancers, interns, apprentices, next to seniors and experts. We believe that we can all learn a lot from each other. A new take on things is just as valuable as an informed opinion backed with lots of experience.
In order to make it easier for the first group to attend, we keep our ticket prices low. We were sold out about two months before the event. The demand is high enough to justify higher prices.

In retrospect, the prices may have been a bit too low this year. Especially since many attendees get a discount on ticket prices through their FireGento membership.
But we could have found a better balance between affordable tickets and the needed budget for all that we wanted to create. We cancelled a few things we had planned to do. Those were non-essential details that would have been the icing on the cake.

Sustainability

It may seem odd to make people travel to an event with airplanes (high CO2 footprint) and then claim to work towards sustainability. We try to find the right balance between the inevitable (event itself, travel) and the right choices that we can afford.
Therefore, we opt for non-plastic tableware, paper straws, porcelain cups for coffee (with names on it so less dish washing is needed) and real glass instead of plastic cups for smoothies. The venue is powered with green electricity.

Real glasses and paper straws for handy vitames to go

There is still more work to do to have a more environmentally friendly event:
The water bottles during the days unfortunately were made of plastic, the evil plastic that is only used once. The paper straws were wrapped in plastic. We used plastic bowls for fruits and vegetables. And don’t get me started on plastic wrapped sweets. But that’s something we will probably stick to because the alternative would be a bit unhygienic and also more trouble when we have leftovers at the end of the second day.


Summary

Creating an event means you have to make thousands of decision. For MageUnconference 2018, I’m confident that we made a lot of right decisions. And for MageUnconference 2019, we plan to get even more things right.
If you would like to give feedback on this — did I miss anything or would you like to add your 2 cents to it? — even if you didn’t attend the event, please do provide feedback. Thank you!