Like I mentioned in the previous post, we needed a contract with a venue and dates before we could officially announce our event on devopsdays.org. Finding a venue and without having a baseline for attendance, or how popular it is going to be, poses a bit of a challenge. A domino effect comes into play as well: we can’t book a venue before we know which dates we want, we can’t book a venue without paying for a down payment, and we can’t apply a down payment until we have a sponsor (but our event isn’t official until we have dates and a venue).
There might be other data points, but these are the biggest ones we took into account when searching for, and right-sizing, a venue:
- Expected number of attendees
- Expected number or sponsors (and sponsorship levels)
- How much we can realistically charge for tickets
- Potential dates for the conference
- It shouldn’t be at a hotel
- It should be located in the city
- Can we afford the down payment?
I honestly can’t remember how we landed on the estimate for expected number of attendees, but we had agreed on 175-200. Picking dates for the conference was a little harder than I thought it would be. To maximize attendance, there were a few ground rules we wanted to follow when choosing dates:
- We can’t pick dates that overlap or are within less than a week of another DevOpsDays conference (especially if those conferences are within the same sales region)
- We can’t pick dates that conflict with other local technology conferences
- We can’t pick dates that conflict with bigger conferences, like DockerCon, DOES, ChefConf, etc.
- We can’t pick dates that are close to Holidays
At the time, the number of DevOpsDays conferences that had already been announced was fairly large. There were also quite a few conferences that were in the works just like ours, we were sort of working against a ticking clock. After a bit of back and forth, we landed on a handful of options and started scoping out venues.
In February, we toured the Sprint Accelerator. For those that aren’t familiar with it, the “Sprint Accelerator is a hub for corporate innovation & entrepreneurial engagement”. Part of it is a co-working space, the other part can be used for events. It’s located centrally downtown and is designed sort of like a loft in a renovated brick building. It’s a very cool space and was available during our potential dates. After touring it, we thought it could potentially work for DevOpsDays KC, but there were a few drawbacks:
- Limited areas for ‘open spaces’
- Limited bathrooms
- Limited parking
- The biggest: Price. This would be less if we were a non-profit, but we nixed that option earlier
- 2nd biggest: we would need to clean-up and take out the trash
Even with this list of drawbacks, the Sprint Accelerator was still on our list. During our next team meeting, we brainstormed about other potential venues. In addition to looking at conference venues, Dan Barker suggested we look at theaters. Musical Theater Heritage (MTH) is a theater in Crown Center with 1 main stage (240 capacity) and 2 additional cinemas. Before our next weekly meeting, at least two of the organizers looked at MTH and had positive feedback about the venue:
- They were available during our dates
- Plenty of areas for open spaces
- An area we could use for an
- An area we could use for the speakers to hang out
- Bigger bathrooms (than Sprint Accel)
- Included garage parking
- Plenty of creativity to do what we wanted
It did have a drawback that stood out above the others (especially for a technology conference): poor Wi-Fi. Although spotty Wi-Fi doesn’t leave the best impression, it was not a deal breaker for us. When you’re at a conference, you should be paying attention. We all know that doesn’t always happen (especially if you’re in ops), so we made sure to budget for switches and an AP to put into the
After weighing the pros/cons and reviewing our timeline, we decided as a group to go with MTH as the venue this year. It took about one month from first visit to having a signed contract for the event. As part of contract signing, we needed to provide a down payment to fully secure the reservation.
Luckily for us, while our venue search was underway, our friends at Pivotal let us know they were interested in sponsoring our event (), and wanted to see our prospectus! Being contacted by Pivotal this early in the game actually caught us off guard a bit, as we didn’t have the prospectus fully prepared (honestly, at the time, I had no idea what Pivotal was asking for ). Thankfully, I was able to find the prospectus other cities used and mold it for Kansas City. (BTW, a prospectus is basically the sponsorship levels, cost, and benefits presented in a nice format. It lets the sponsors gauge which level of sponsor they’d like to be.)
Even though we had examples, determining the sponsorship levels and price for those levels wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be- price it too high and you could risk losing a sponsor, price it too low and risk not having enough money for the event. After much deliberation, the pricing and benefits for our main sponsorship levels (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Social Event) closely matched the majority of what other cities our size used. We did add a few additional categories (Lanyard/Amenities), but we didn’t have anyone take us up on those. In the future, we will most likely drop them since the interest wasn’t there.
Once we had the sponsorship levels and pricing solidified, Laura was able to setup our payment links on PayPal. She created a link for every level we offered that automatically filled in the correct dollar amount based on the level. If PayPal was not an acceptable form of payment, Laura would work with the sponsors individually to get them what they needed.
At the beginning of April, we had:
- our dates and venue locked in
- our first sponsor
- completed sponsorship prospectus
- payment links to easily hand out to our sponsors