Photo above: The sold-out crowd at the premier Reboot Workshop Conference.
Jim sits down with business partner Nate Cooper to talk about how they created, planned, and got sponsorship for a successful conference in less than 60 days.
Below are the highlights from our conversation. Listen to the audio to get the entire lowdown.
In this podcast we answer the question:
What the heck were Jim and Nate thinking planning a huge conference with no experience?
We break down the steps as follows:
1. Choose the right business partner
Hear the back story of how Jim and Nate connected. Working with the right business partner can make all the difference in the world. We were connected through two different mutual friends, and found ourselves in a position to help each other out.
– Nate wanted to learn more about book publishing.
– I wanted to pick his brain about entrepreneurship.
– We both wanted to quickly get to work on something awesome that would help people and maybe make a little money.
While Nate had a background running events at Apple, and I’ve run large events at SXSW and well, everything from fraternity parties to impromptu roofdeck concerts in Manhattan, we just knew that we could pull it off.
Most business partners are like the odd couple: The sales guy and the tech geek. The CEO and CTO. The person that is good with numbers and the person that is good with people. However, I’d say that Nate and I share far more similarities than differences. While he brings a laid-back Brooklyn vibe and more technical street-cred and my more corporate background matches my Manhattan address, we both are geeks at heart, love to teach, and both brought a very large network of friends and business connections.
2. Come up with a good name
We talk about how we came up with the name Reboot. Like true geeks, we didn’t start with a concept, or something quirky… we started on the web. What is a name that we could come up with that represented the conference, but was also an available URL.
We went through a brainstorming session, throwing out words like bootcamp, career, kickstart, jumpstart, and so on. In the end we had our winner because we were able to secure RebootWorkshop.com (for our 1 day event), RebootWeekend.com (if we want to expand to two days), and RebootNation.com (for when we take over the country).
3. Decide on the format
I think the thing that really made the conference work was our unique format, which was culled together from various sources.
a. The main structure was based partially on the Startup Bus Accelerate “unconference,” which Nate had attended recently.
b. We wanted the day loosely structured, so that we could change things on the fly and adapt to what was working
c. We needed to introduce our 10 speakers and give an overview, but wanted to avoid death by Powerpoint. I suggested the twist of “Ignite-style” presentations, which forced presenters to get their message across in 5 minutes flat. Every speaker had 20 slides, which auto-advanced after 15 seconds. It was a little nerve-wracking to present, it was fun, and it worked.
d. Allow time to network. This was built in during lunch, in between sessions, and afterward.
4) Secure speakers through our personal network
Nate and I talk about how getting amazing speakers was actually the EASIEST thing for us. Both of us brought a strong network to the table and we quickly listed out a group of 15-20 people that might be interested. From there, we narrowed down dates, availability, and relevance to the topic. The list of speakers is available on the Reboot Workshop website.
We knew that we had a valuable audience, but would a sponsor step up to the plate for a brand new conference? We were going to find out.
Here are the steps we took:
a. Create a media kit talking about the audience and the speakers
b. Reach out to your network
c. Divide sponsorships into levels
d. Be willing to exchange sponsorship status in exchange for promotion
Saul Colt stepped up right away and said that Freshbooks would be a premier sponsor of the conference. Now, was this “cheating” since Freshbooks was already a sponsor of this podcast? I say no. We still had to have relationships in place, we needed to bring a targeted audience, and we needed to pull off a 6 hour event without a hitch.
We also named THIRTEEN contributing sponsors that helped us out in many different ways, from promoting the event to their audience, to donating supplies and prizes.
When it comes to location, let me tell you it is NOT inexpensive to rent out a large space in New York City. Thus, once again we worked connections, decided on a space and lined it up early. We went with the New Work City co-working space, which is where Nate was working from as a freelancer. Tony and Peter were amazing and gave us access to set up the night before, and the huge loft was great for our purposes. Plus, the key was that everything we were talking about in the conference — leaving your job to go out on your own — gelled with what New Work City did, which is support independent workers.
7. Create a web presence
With any modern business, you need a web presence. Nate and I talk about how we did so quickly in three steps:
a. Built on a low-cost premium WordPress theme
b. Hired a designer for a professional logo treatment
c. Build the site based on best practices from other conferences
8. Collecting money
OK, now that you have a product, how do you collect the money? Once again, we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We wanted to use an established site such for commerce that would easily integrate into WordPress, so we chose Eventbrite.com. One of the main advantages, was their ability to give custom, trackable discounts.
9. How do you market your conference?
What did we learn from marketing the conference? How do you get the word out? We touch on several topics:
a. Using each speaker’s extended network
b. Networking at meetup groups based on the conference topic
c. No magic bullet, you might have to go to an event of 200 people to make 2-3 key connections that will attend and tell friends
d. Hire a photographer and video person for future marketing
e. Partnering with key groups around the city and offering unique deals to spread the word
One somewhat controversial decision was pricing. We made it just $40 (including lunch) so that it would be accessible to all and make it a complete no-brainer to attend. Our goal as unknown entity for our first round was to keep a low barrier to entry and then blow people away with value. Still, others urged us to make the event free -or- charge upwards of $200 or more. Download the podcast to find out the one key move we made halfway through that encouraged earlier signups.
11. What didn’t go right?
Of course, we’d be lying if we said everything was PERFECT. In fact, I don’t think we even mentioned that I got violent food poisoning the night before, to the point where I lost my voice, barely made it through my speech, and at one point lost hearing in my right ear! We explain the one thing we’re definitely going to outsource for the next round.
12. The future of Reboot
With the success of our first conference, we’re excited to not only do more, but to make this a real business entity. We’re focusing on three things:
a. Reboot Newsletter sponsored by Emma email, to let people know about future events and speakers that support the Reboot brand (sign up here)
b. Reboot Happy Hours used for pure networking and fun, held regularly to build the brand and promote the conference. Find Reboot Happy Hours on Meetup.com
c. Quarterly Reboot Conferences, maybe even a summer getaway conference
Get more info at RebootWorkshop.com
Want to become a sponsor? Email nate [at] rebootnation.com