Winning in DevRel Engagement (part 1):

5 things I learned from producing developer conferences, so far…

If you see me in the wild…this is my normal look

DevRelSummit hosted its inaugural event in its hometown, Seattle WA at Galvanize Pioneer Square this past week. Our attendees posted great write ups — check out @YiddishNinja’s post here and @AgeofArchitect’s post here.

This event was the idea incarnate from a coffee shop shoot-the-shit session where we talked about what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s seriously screwed up in the dev engagement industry. The chatter mostly revolved around the bloated commercial conferences asking attendees to cough up $1,000 for the privilege, and expecting companies to “donate” $10,000 minimum for a shot at saying hello world. Plus, the problem of the persistent half-life value of events, in general; two, three days of hype and then the enthusiasm and promises ebbs to “let me get back to you.”

Now, as a “producer” of anything, my belief is that this glorified title translates into the person who knows least about how to get it right, but can damn well find the right people to win. I have always recognized my strength as the Agent and not necessarily the Author in this world.

With two profitable women in tech careers conferences, one branded technical industry conference launched, plus leading numerous meetups and founding a startup as part of my track record, I believed producing DevRel Summit for 100 people would be a cake walk.

Turns out that each event, especially the first, will go through its own version of a painful learning curve.

That’s gotta hurt

Thankfully, my co-founder and my exceptional core team pulled everything back from the abyss into the glory that we enjoy today.

Here’s five lessons I learned (so far) that I would like to share with anyone who is insane enough to jump into producing a technical conference:

1) You need Do-ers: What does that mean? For me, it’s about recognizing people who are solutions driven. Not “smart” people, but those who can look at an empty room and envision an intimate conversation space. Anyone, especially those entrenched in the corporate cog, can point out the 24 ways something is broken. It takes a special soul to skip that part and head right into answers and possibilities to move out of the mud and back on track

2) Leverage everything: Lean on your relationships with friends, colleagues, networks, especially for a first time event. Call in favors. Expect to eat humble pie and do what it takes to bring in the sales and promote to everyone. The halo effect is real. Find well-established events to vouch for your new venture. And offer true value in return for the community. Which leads me to say…

3) Content is king/queen: Cut the fat. You don’t need throw pillows. Having a bar really isn’t a “must,” but a nice to have. Your food can be three-star level and still delicious. Keep focused on what will make your event special and valuable to you and the community your serving. Is it having your team members focus on curating audience questions instead of checking for utensils? Attendees are getting information they need? The rest can be gravy when revenue support rolls in (thanks to JSConfEU organizers for this knowledge share). Despite some critical changes to our organizational plans, we achieved our goal of gathering an audience engaged in learning best DevRel practices from each other, from companies, and from communities (check back to read this segment, next).

4) Early Bird is not a solution to sell: You’re a new brand. New conference. New everything. Why would ANYONE buy a ticket early on for an event with zero traction and history? Who’s going to attend? Will it be worthwhile? Instead, switch it up. Start with a special “supporter” ticket tier to get those who have budget and believe to come on board, first (a huge thanks to Flaki and the RustFestEU team for teaching me this). And for those who do jump in and buy these special tickets, a special thank you for your leap of faith!

5) Stock up on Pepto: This industry is not for the faint hearted. You gotta have the resolve to endure the crazy roller coaster ride during the production phase, as well as to believe firmly enough that you have built an amazing event and the people will show up. Don’t throw in the towel and give it away. Having a startup mindset is truly a gift. Instead, analyze your situation and do exceptional marketing. Don’t know how? Let’s address that in a future post.

Finally, I personally believe the conference model as we know it and attend it, is ultimately broken. The DevRelSummit Group is actively testing new platforms and engagement tactics (see what we’re doing for DevRelSummit 2016) and looking to connect with others who are also obsessed in finding a solution.