5 Steps to Nail an Event in Silicon Valley Without Big Brand Backing
Organizing a tech event has never been easy, yet I believed I could do it due to hefty experience with large-scale events in Europe. A year since I relocated to Silicon Valley, I decided to bring together the gaming development community for My.com’s first ever event in the U.S. What I experienced was more than just a professional challenge. Back in Moscow, I had a team of supportive people -- here I had to do most things by myself. There I knew the market -- here I had to learn on the go. In Russia, Mail.Ru was a big fish in the pond. In the Valley, My.com is a small fish in the ocean.
Here are five steps for an entrepreneur with limited resources to organize a tech community event.
1. Bring up an idea.
A good idea can be a killer feature for a small-scale event. The event should cover a trending issue, be useful enough for people to come and pursue community building rather than branding goals. I decided to give game developers and publishers something that would stimulating their growth -- influencer marketing in gaming. Keeping it simple and straightforward, though promising a real value, this idea proved to be good for niche community event. Polish the idea until feeling like you would skip another event for this one.
2. Get the speakers.
Good speakers make up at least 50 percent of any professional event. For large companies, getting a big name -- or finding one inside the team -- is easy. Startups like My.com have to be creative. Shake up your professional network. An old phone book, contacts from previous workplaces, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts and followers on Twitter and Instagram can bring good names on the table. Ask team members to do the same and reach out business partners and friends.
It’s also a good time to plan panels. Even if the event is all about business, include some heavy-tech stuff too -- the audience in the Valley will appreciate that. Half way through the preparation, get confirmation from at least half of the speakers. Otherwise there is a risk of promising something you might never give -- hence an empty RSVP list for your next event.
3. Plan the budget.
- Venue: 30 percent. The earlier the place is booked, the better. Think of how many people to host, how they would get there, which facilities are needed. Utilize office space to bring down the costs.
- Catering: 10 percent. Nibbles and drinks are not just refreshments -- they help informal networking. Also consider goodie bags or brand memorabilia.
- Speakers: 20 percent. Apart from obvious rewards, think about extra costs -- for example, travel expenses.
- Employees: 20 percent. Put one full-time person in charge and allocate several others for support.
- Promotion: 20 percent. Without a big brand, be ready for hefty promotion costs.
4. Start the promotion.
In Silicon Valley, any event is competing with dozens of similar events -- that’s the price to pay for being in the “cradle of innovation”. So it's time to go wild when getting the word out.
- Use Eventbrite. It’s a chance to reach already engaged people. Using Meetup is trickier, as it requires maintaining a community much longer.
- Make it into community newsletters. Getting to know relevant communities might bring the event to the core audience.
- Use your own channels. Also ask employees to engage ex-colleagues and alumni groups.
- Social media is the king. Facebook and Twitter can get the event circulating, although it takes them longer than other channels.
- Engage your professional network. Invite friends from marketing / public relations and venture capital firms.
- Utilize your partners. Ensure the speakers and location are promoting the event on their feeds.
- Think bigger. Not all the people who are interested in coming can actually make it. I got many enquiries regarding the remote access -- a video helped to reach an additional audience in Europe.
The approximate ratio between registered and actual attendees in Silicon Valley is only 20 to 25 percent. So if the aim is to get 100 people, an RSVP list of 400 is needed.
Think about key performance indicators -- the number of people attending, social shares, media coverage and the satisfaction of those who came, which is directly tied to community retention.
Ksenia Chabanenko works in business development and comminications for My.com, the Silicon Valley subsidiary of LSE Mail.Ru Group. She is advisor in several startups and venture-capital funds and speaker at multiple tech conferences. Chabanenko is the author of the first book about Twitter, in which every sentence is no more than 140 characters.