Go Beyond Pixels
Hosting a design conference is one of my fondest memories and one of the most rewarding. To this day, I remember sitting in my living room when I had the initial idea to host a conference. At first, my expectations were not as ambitious as the conference would turn out to be. My goal was to book one industry leading speaker and have them give a talk to a small groups of peers. At the time, I was reading Aarron Walter’s book “Designing for Emotion” which I loved. So, I reached out to him explaining my plans for a mini conference. To my happy surprise, he wrote back and showed a lot interest. He saw the value in hosting a design conference in a remote part of the world, and he offered to make a few connections for me: one of them being Jeffrey Zeldman. Very quickly, in a span of a couple of weeks, I had 5 amazing speakers lined up for my conference. During those weeks, I worked on a brand, a marketing website, setting up ticket sales, contacting venues, and every detail in between.
I also looked for funding during this time, but received a “no” from everyone; at one point, I was even laughed out of a room because no one believed that anyone would ever pay for a ticket for such an event. I believed deeply in the conference, so I took out a line of credit to fund the event and never looked back.
With all the details sorted, I was ready to start my marketing plan which involved one simple tweet. I remember looking to my wife and saying: “wish me luck”. I hit “send tweet”, and within seconds, I was overwhelmed by messages. No one could believe that such a conference was coming to our hometown located on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I could barely believe it myself, but it was true: it was happening. What was even more unbelievable to me was that after launching the marketing website, I had incoming requests from Shopify, Microsoft, Mailchimp and others who wanted to sponsor the conference. Honestly, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have sponsors. That meant that I didn’t have Sponsor Packages or knew what they involved. But, thankfully for the internet, I quickly put a sponsor package PDF together and had signed sponsorship contracts within days. It still feels surreal to this day that all this happened and that so many wonderful people wanted to support me and the event.
As a team of only one, I managed everything for the conference, but what made it more special was that my wife, brother, parents, and in-laws were with me every step of the way and helped wherever they could. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without their help. On the day of the event, they helped with registration, coffee breaks, lunches, venue setup, and so much more. It was truly a family event, and that positive energy resonated throughout the conference.
I ran the conference for two years, and each year I sold out with over 200 attendees. There was no better feeling than selling that first ticket and seeing your hard work pay off.
I think the conference was a success because my primary reason for doing the conference was based on a genuine passion to share a high calibre design conference with the community. Living on an island, it can be quite expensive to travel to a conference which means that opportunities are limited. Furthermore, I didn't do it for the money; when I knew I could pay all the bills, I reinvested in the conference. That meant ordering better lunches and snacks, more swag, better giveaways, and anything that would make the experience better for everyone. The care and love given to the experience through branding, venue, speakers, and speaker topics was clearly evident. I made sure to personally pick up every speaker from the airport and bring them to their hotels. My brother drove the branded MINIs from our sponsor to pick up the speakers on the day of the event from their hotels, and drove them back at the end of the day. We also drove them back to the airport when it was all over. I really cared that everyone had the best experience possible. I wanted to create an experience that we would all want to share. And let's be honest, I wanted to spend as much time as possible with people I had looked up to for such a long time. They did help launch my career after all.
It was a lot of hard work, with its ups and downs, and it was all completely worth it.