<tl;dr>Would I do it this way again? No. Also: the conference IS GOING AHEAD regardless of hitting Kickstarter total or not.</tl;dr>
As most of you reading this know, Team Prime put a conference up on Kickstarter (PrimeConf) to see if we could use crowdfunding to raise enough money to put it on. As a micro business it seemed a good way to go about holding a conference – my thinking was if there’s enough buy in we do it, if there isn’t we don’t. What I discovered is that’s a bit too black and white, and what’s happened is we’ve ended up in a grey area. There’s lots of interest and we’ve raised just shy of £30,000 by Kickstarter and from other funding bodies who can’t use Kickstarter to pledge. So, we’re going ahead, but it will likely be once the Kickstarter campaign has “failed”. This post is about what happened during my (Thayer) personal experience of using Kickstarter to fund a conference, in the hope that it may be useful to others considering using the platform for putting on events.
Things that went wrong
The biggest problem was unavoidable: sadly, during the second week of the Kickstarter campaign, my father’s wife died (she was only 64), and without going into too much personal detail – there’s only me who could be with my father and sort out the paperwork and the funeral. That was a huge blow personally, but also to the campaign. It meant from April 21st until the end of this current week (when the campaign will have ended) I had/have extremely small amounts of time to invest in anything that wasn’t keeping him, my family and my business ticking over. Completely unavoidable, but also massively impactful. Hopefully nothing you’ll ever have to worry about if you run a campaign, but “life events” something to consider all the same.
Another thing that with hindsight I would do differently is NOT run the Kickstarter campaign over a bunch of holidays. Rookie error that over people have since pointed out to me. I launched it during Easter full term holidays, and there were three other bank holiday days in that period too. Doh. This affects uptake of ticket buying as since demonstrated to me by a friend who runs jQuery Conf who’s been kind enough to share ticket sale data to prove the impact of holidays on take up.
Running the Kickstarter for 30 days to end 5 weeks before the event was purposeful on my part – I wanted a quick “is this happening” decision from the community, but also Kickstarter takes 4 weeks to give you the money once it takes payments from you all at the end. What I didn’t take account of was slow ticket sales. I brazenly assumed ticket sales wouldn’t be a problem and sponsors would. It’s been the other way round – sponsors have all come forward relatively easily, but ticket sales have been steady but slow. There is no option to extend the campaign to allow for more time and sales, so when the campaign ends we’ll use a partner (probably Eventbrite) to sell tickets in a more conventional way and allow us to tap into the run up and last minute buyers.
Things that went right
The community spirit around this has blown me away from the start. Trying something in a completely new format is always daunting, but you guys have been incredible with your encouragement and kind words. Thank you, truly. Watching everyone take part in spreading the word and asking how they can help has been a beautiful heart-warming show of how amazing our industry is at wanting to help and make a difference. There isn’t another industry out there where the majority actively seek to make positive change that I know of, and that’s why I love it.
The amount that has been raised despite setbacks is enough to run it either slightly stripped down, or if we get more ticket sales as I hope, then in the way we meant to. So it worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
People who deserve huge thanks
The speakers have been amazing from the outset. Everyone that was asked said yes – they were our first dibs line up, and we were humbled and thrilled when every single one said yes. Thank you – this conference is a celebration of all things digital tech and you are the embodiment of that. Also, I’m aware this has been a risky conference to attach your name to due to the new way we’ve gone about putting it on. Your belief in this as a conference has kept us going.
We have 2 confirmed sponsors – Lyst who came on ON DAY ONE, and Money Advice Service who joined us last week. Both rock so hard for their support, we’re so chuffed to have the chance to have them onboard. We have 2 sponsors I’m about to announce later this week, adding another £15k to the pot. Just fantastic.
Everyone who’s tweeted or emailed with feedback. Thank you so much. Without that we wouldn’t have seen where we were going wrong, and been able to adjust things. Keep being open with your thoughts and helping people improve with fab constructive criticism, you lot rock.
The amazing people that are Team Prime: Jake, Lisa & Neil. They’ve been doing so much hard work in the background, and without them it simply wouldn’t be happening.
Would I do it this way again? No. Too many things about doing it this way conspired against ticket sales, which overall are the thing that matters. Without attendees, there is no conference.