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The value of conferences

This is a counter rant following today’s article on TNW – Why conference tickets cost money

Please don’t take this personally, these are consideration on the conference world in general.

There is no doubt that organising a conference requires a huge amount of resources: time, money, people. However, there are always to sides of the story where one doesn’t necessarily negate the other.

I recently (August 2012) relocated to San Francisco. Before then, I attended very few conferences because there weren’t any around me (I’m from Florence, Italy), a part from WWDC which I felt was worth the investment. Ever since getting here, I’ve attended all kinds of gatherings; from small meetups to big conferences. I’m actually one of those people you always run into if you’re in the techscene here in SF; by being out and about I managed to meet many amazing people in an incredibly short time including rockstar Hermione Way, knowledgeable Jason Calacanis and freestyle curser Dave McClure 🙂

The success of anything you do in life has in the most part to do with your attitude about it. However, when you have a “real” price to pay for something that is both intangible and unsure, you think about it twice.

I’m all about “organic” (not the food, I’m always down for a greasy pizza) meaning I hate to pay for stuff. This might come off as cheap but it’s more of an attitude towards life. I never paid for promotion of my apps and am proud of it. The same way, I’ve never attended a paid event since getting here (including HTML5DevConf, AppNation, AppsWorld, Launch2013 and others). Actually that’s false, I did shell out a full $2 for Jason’s This Week in Startups amazing live chat.

You go to events for three main reasons:

  1. content
  2. networking
  3. pass-time

The above is how I measure my attendance ROI and unfortunately things have been getting worse.

If you go to a conference for the content (ie knowledge) and you’re uptodate with the latest, odds are you will not hear anything new (my experience at HTML5 Dev Conf). If there is something cool you didn’t know about, you will hear all about on twitter, articles and eventually session recordings. Technology itself kind ruined it for organisers.

If you go to a conference for networking, you need to be realistic regarding who you might meet and keep expectations low. The ubercool people get swarmed by fans asking questions or trying to demo their project. The average cool person you meet is someone you could have interacted with already via Twitter. Technology, again, kinda ruined it for organisers.

If you go to a conference to have fun and pass time… I guess it’s personal but I can find much better ways of spending $500+ and have a good time.

The above applies to “good” conferences. then, you have the vast majority which are basically disguised sales pitches that leave a very bitter taste when you leave the room.


A few rebuttals from the quotes in the article:

  • True: nowadays there is no free lunch but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to shell out $200 for a sandwich.
  • True: people who paid for the ticket will be more invested but the vast majority of the paid tickets go to corporate employees.
  • True: you can be inspired, raise funding, meet cofounders, journalists… but it’s all about attitude. If you’re in the right mindset you can do so elsewhere… for free (and avoid the conference frenzy where no one will remember your face).
  • Making a point that you fly in speakers, give them good food and have them stay at the best hotels is not the best way of justifying the cost of the ticket. Selling is showing value, not costs.
  • Making a point that you’re slightly under the average price point doesn’t make you affordable.

After reading the article, that link to buy the tickets, gave me that bitter taste that it was all just another sales pitch.

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