Episode 46 | MicroConf 2011

Show Notes


Mike Taber:  [0:01] This is Startups for the Rest of Us. Episode 46. [music]

Mike:  [0:12] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, a podcast that helps developers be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

Rob Walling:  [0:20] And I’m Rob.

Mike:  [0:21] We’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes that Rob’s made. What’s going on this week?

Rob:  [0:26] Nice. Well, sir. As you know, last week was MicroConf, and I have seriously been in recovery since then. Seven days ago, the second day of MicroConf was, and on Wednesday morning, you were on a plane to the Bahamas. [0:45] I felt emotionally just ravaged. I was walking around Vegas. I went to the Wynn, and I sat in front of the waterfall for two hours, and I drank Pepsi or Coke. For two hours. I don’t drink much caffeine. It was this bizarre, surreal landscape, and I was completely unable to talk to people, I was so out of it, dude. I don’t know. It was like coming out of a war zone, or something. I felt like I had PTSD. I was just shocked and like all out of it.

[1:10] Then I flew home, and I went to sleep early. I slept until noon on Thursday. I didn’t open my laptop. I don’t know if I had started getting sick, or what the deal was. I didn’t check email at all that day. When Friday came, that’s just when I started feeling normal again. It was three days later. I’m just now getting back out from under the email. I had 200 some emails that I hadn’t answered.

[1:34] It was good. Obviously, today the whole show is about MicroConf, so we’ll get into more details about that. I’m sure people want to hear what you did. You flew out Tuesday night for Vegas, for MicroConf. What adventures did you embark on?

Mike:  [1:46] Well, I caught a cab back to the airport with Andrew Warner because he had to fly out as well, and Andrew and I stopped at one of the places inside of the airport, just to get a drink, and there’s a little disappointed. I found out the U.S. Airways airport club had shut down the previous year, or two years ago or something like that in the Vegas airport. They don’t have an airport club anymore, which sort of sucks. [2:10] It wasn’t really that big a deal because there was a little bar there and we just hung out there for an hour or so. Funny enough, there was another entrepreneur who had flown in from the Boston area, and he was actually on the same flight that I was, with his wife. He sat down with us and was just talking a little bit about MicroConf and giving us some feedback, and stuff like that. It was cool, though.

Rob:  [2:33] That is cool.

Mike:  [2:34] I got the red‑eye back, and I got upgraded to first class, which was very nice. And Reuben’s still, I think, a little upset at me over that.

Rob:  [2:43] Yeah. You got upgraded both ways. Well, I’m a little upset at you about that, man. That was great.

Mike:  [2:48] It gets better, because, as you know, I took a flight down to the Bahamas the very next day. On Thursday morning, I had to get on a flight at 7:00 am with my wife ‑ my schedule just kind of worked out that way ‑ and of the three out of the four flights that I had to get down to the Bahamas and back, both my wife and I got upgraded.

Rob:  [3:07] Congratulations. Well, that’s cool. At least you’re traveling in style.

Mike:  [3:09] I know.

Rob:  [3:11] I know that MicroConf must have taken something out of you, so it was nice to be able to chill on the plane, I imagine.

Mike:  [3:16] The flight back kind of sucked. To be perfectly honest, it’s not like you can really lay down in first class, either. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly better than flying in coach and on the red‑eye, but you still just don’t get any sleep. Down to the Bahamas ‑ that was going there for a vacation. Kind of needed that, I hadn’t really taken a good vacation in probably a good year and a half or so.

Rob:  [3:39] Yeah. You’re not a big vacationer.

Mike:  [3:41] No. But I think that’s going to change.

Rob:  [3:42] Cool. That’s good.

Mike:  [3:44] Met up with some friends of mine who flew in from Switzerland while we were down at the Bahamas. There were five couples who went, and one was in from Switzerland. One of them reminded me that I can use my Marriott rewards points down in the Cayman Islands. I checked it out, and I have plenty enough points to stay there for a full week for free. That is awesome. I’d have to pay for the flight down, but that’s no big deal.

Rob:  [4:08] I look forward to Micropreneur Academy retreat, where you take me down there on your points. That’ll be fantastic.

Mike:  [4:14] Sure. You can sleep at the foot of the bed. Keep my toes warm. [music]

Rob:  [4:21] So, dude, let’s talk about MicroConf. This could be like a two hour podcast, so we to somehow limit it, but where do we start with this to try to give people an idea. I guess there’s going to be two audiences, right? There’s going to be people who listen to this who were at MicroConf, and some who were not. So we can cover things that are interesting to both of them.

Mike:  [4:38] I just don’t even know where to start. I mean, as you said, it was emotionally and mentally draining. It was just nonstop the whole time. We started it at…

Rob:  [4:49] It was Sunday afternoon at like 5:00 pm. To give the listeners an idea, Mike and I met a bunch of speakers down in the lobby of the hotel, and then we took them to a speaker’s dinner at the Wynn. At a nice Italian restaurant, there called Stratta, which was cool. [5:06] It was Andrew Warner from Mixergy., it was myself and Mike, and then Sean Ellis, and Marcus McConnell, Noah Kagan, Ramit Sethi, and Justin Vincent from TechZing, and then Todd Garland from BuySellAds, Patrick McKenzie, most people know from Bingo Card Creator, and Hiten Shah. There were actually two others, because Justin brought Jason. Reuben ‑ we invited Reuben because he had helped a lot with some of the conference organization stuff.

[5:36] That was nice. It was like 13 of us, and I thought that was pretty fun. I really enjoyed it, but it was stressful, right, because it was the first time I met almost all these people in person. We’ve had been emailing with them and organizing things, and it was just like, wow, to see Andrew Warner sitting on the left, and Noah Kagan sitting on the left. There were a lot of big names and they’re intense. These are super successful entrepreneurs and they just have intense personalities, and they don’t make small talk is what I realized.

Mike:  [6:05] Yeah. They asked some very blunt questions, especially Andrew. I mean, some of the questions he asked of Justin Vincent were just dead on. I mean he didn’t beat around the bush at all when he was asking him about his podcast and what he does, and this and that. It was just very straight, to the point. They just don’t mess around. I felt like such an amateur sitting next to him, to be honest.

Rob:  [6:27] Me, too. Yeah. Ramit and Hiten know each other really well, and so they were going back and forth about conversion rates. Then Noah would jump in and they’d talk about whose site converts better. Then someone would mention a technique, and the other people would note it, and they’re like, “Oh, I’m totally going to do that next week.” [6:43] I was bleeding all this stuff. Someone’s like, “Yeah. This increased my conversion rate like 10 percent, to do this thing.” We’re all like, “Totally!” Then everyone gets their phones out and starts typing stuff. What a mastermind group. That’d be insane, to be in that group.

Mike:  [6:58] I don’t know. Honestly, it was a little difficult keeping up. I was in a similar position that you were where I had never met most of these people. At least you had talked to them on the phone, or conversed through email. For me, it was just kind of, “Hey, this is Mike Taber.” I don’t know whether they were looking and saying, “OK. Who is Mike Taber?”

Rob:  [7:17] Right. So that was an experience. I had to rush back. I left early, actually. You picked up the tab. Thank you, Mike. I headed back to the welcome reception Sunday night. I think we had around 100 people there, it was almost ‑ no, it wasn’t 100, was it? It was somewhere in the 70s, 70 or 80 people in this small pub in the hotel. [7:39] I thought that was awesome. That was such a great way to kick it off, right? Everyone just coming in with their badges so you start learning people’s names. I was shocked at how many people’s names I recognized, whether it’s from people who have commented on the podcasts, sent in comments, my blog comments, the Academy, about my book. Just somewhere, at some point, I had somehow touched so many of these people. It was really cool to meet everybody. Or course, there’s always the comment, “Oh, you’re taller than I thought you’d be.” I got that a lot because I’m tall and skinny.

Mike:  [8:11] Right. I was talking about guys who we’d gotten to run the registration area. I went down there ‑ and I forget whether it was the next morning, or that night ‑ but I checked to see the number of people who had actually registered, and it was probably about 80 people had registered.

Rob:  [8:30] OK. So we assume most of them had come. We could have fit more people in the pub, but we packed it up pretty good that night. It was really loud and stuff.

Mike:  [8:40] Yeah. Definitely we contributed to the pub’s bottom line that night. And the next.

Rob:  [8:43] Seriously. I was really happy that there were so many groups of people just getting into it. Entrepreneurs who had shown up for this thing, that didn’t know each other, they would just sit down at tables and start chatting, and you come back 10 minutes later and they’re talking hard core business. [8:58] One guy’s like, “Well, I’m thinking about launching this. What do you guys think?” And getting feedback from people. It was awesome. I was totally impressed with the level of comfort that people achieved so quickly.

Mike:  [9:08] Yeah, I was, too. I think one of the reasons for that ‑ I was listening to the texting podcasts a couple of days ago, how they had been talking about this new idea that they have for a website, that kind of puts people who are programmers together with people who need programmers. They apparently have been talking about this idea they’ve had for a couple of years now, and nobody has stolen it. [9:32] One of the things that they put out there was, if you already have an idea and you’re capable of doing it, then chances are you’re not going to steal somebody else’s ideas, not because other people don’t have good ideas, or you think that your ideas are better, it’s just that you’re not as invested in them.

[9:50] I think the same thing held true ‑ maybe it’s more of a subconscious thing when you get into an environment like that, because everyone was more than happy to talk about their own ideas and what they’re working on because everybody was working on something, everybody had an idea for something. I mean, it was just crazy, the amount of mental energy that was there.

Rob:  [10:09] Yeah. That’s how I felt. We stayed out until 1:00 am Sunday night, and then the conference started early the next morning. I think you and I were down there by 7:00. I was concerned there would be logistical issues, right? With so many moving parts, that was my biggest fear going into it, is that we had forgotten something, something would break down, there would be no food. You know, just some lame thing like that that would be a catastrophe. [10:35] There wasn’t one single major issue, I thought. There wasn’t a single thing that failed that I would call catastrophic. In fact, I can’t even think of any minor… Can you think of any minor failures?

Mike:  [10:48] The speaker dropping out at the last minute, but that was it.

Rob:  [10:49] Oh, yeah. That was a bummer. David Hauser had to fly back. He had an emergency. He apologized. It was a bummer, but that was actually fortuitous if you think about it.

Mike:  [10:59] In a way, yeah.

Rob:  [11:00] That was one of the things that I would change if we decided to do it next year, which we haven’t decided yet. [laughter]

Rob:  [11:08] Maybe you’ve decided, but I definitely have not. I think that’s one thing I would change next year, is to not have… We had 12 speakers scheduled, so it was six per day, one hour talks each, and that’s just too damn much talking. It’s just too long to sit and listen to people. [11:28] I have a notebook where I keep ideas, and I have ideas for next year ‑ what I would change. I think I would only have eight to 10 speakers. Fly in fewer. And do more of those, what Ramit called tear downs, but basically they’re just… You bring up your website, and then the speakers critique it. They offer you advice, and they offer you suggestions. Things that they think are wrong with it. So we did that in place of David Hauser’s talk and it worked out very well. It was one of the better parts of the conference, I thought.

Mike:  [12:00] Yeah. Definitely. It was really cool to see that stuff on the fly. None of it was scripted, and not that most of the conference was scripted anyway, but people have their talks and they know what they’re going to say and generally talk about. But with those tear downs, people would just call out a URL, we’d type it in and bring it up. [12:17] And people would look at it for 10 or 15 seconds and then just start going on about things that people should think about or what they would do, or what they liked, what they didn’t like. And that was really, really cool to watch.

Rob:  [12:29] So Ramit did about 30 minutes and that was all planned in advance. But then Patrick McKinsey and Heaton Shaw volunteered to do it for another… I think they did about 30 to 40 minutes. And that was also really cool. Again, next year, if we decide to do it, I’d do fewer speakers and I’d break up the day. And think about doing two 30 minute teardown sessions, per day ‑ like mid‑morning and mid‑afternoon. It gets people engaged. People are yelling out the URLs. It really breaks up the monotony of speaking.

Mike:  [12:59] And I think that if you concentrate on the attendees’ websites, that certainly helps with engagement as well. Because then you’re seeing not only what other people are working on… Because you don’t get to talk to everybody. I feel like I probably talk to at least 95 percent of the people there. I didn’t talk to everybody. But it was pretty darn close. [13:19] I made a conscious effort to try and get around to talk to just about everybody. And there were like two or three guys that I literally met five minutes before I had to leave. So I’m sure there’s a few people that I missed, that I didn’t get a chance to talk to.

[13:34] But yeah, I think other people would probably have a hard time, because most other people that were there were involved in their little groups and talking about their ideas and listening to what other people’s ideas were. But they weren’t necessarily going around and hopping from group to group, to get in on all the different conversations, like you and I were.

Rob:  [13:55] That’s true. We were pretty deliberate about that. I think, hosting the conference, we really wanted to mingle.

Mike:  [14:01] Yeah. So I wasn’t necessarily there for as much of the conversations as I would have liked. But it is what it is. You’ve got to do your best to make sure that you’re talking to everybody as well.

Rob:  [14:15] Right. Then there were six speakers on Monday. Then we had, again, a reception at night, where we went back to the pub. I think I only stayed out to 11 or 12 that night. Just because I was starting to get tired. And then we had second day speakers and people started flying out Tuesday night. You flew out as well. Although, that night, people stayed out pretty… We stayed out until three that night.

Mike:  [14:43] I don’t doubt it.

Rob:  [14:44] Yeah. Because it was kind of the last day. And people were leaving early in the morning. Several people had to get up at five in the morning and they were out until three… with us. But it was really cool. Andrew Warner… We had been comped a couple of suites, based on booking enough rooms in the hotel, as a conference. [15:06] So they gave us five or six upgrades. So you and I were able to choose who got the upgrades. We gave Andrew Warner the… We got one penthouse suite that was on the top floor and was massive. That thing was like… I don’t even know. It was like 1000 square feet, 1500 square feet. It was this huge area, totally fit for a party. So he basically left me the key.

[15:26] We hung out and talked and had some drinks and stuff. That was cool. Actually, that’s one thing I’d do differently next year. I think you or I should take the penthouse suite, because I think it would be really cool to do that more than one night. I felt like just the private feel… The welcome reception in a room like that would be really cool.

Mike:  [15:48] Definitely. I totally agree with that.

Rob:  [15:50] I felt like it was more intimate. You made a comment late in the… It was right before you left, I think. You said, “If we do this again next year, we’re limiting the number of tickets. We’re going to keep this a small conference and not try to grow it.” I thought that was… The more people I talked to, the more people were like… “Don’t let it go above 125,” is what a couple people told me. [16:10] Because yours and my vision, I think early on, was like, “Let’s try to make it like Business and Software,” or another conference like that. And they’re like 225. They were 225 last year and they’re looking to go over 300 this year. So in my head we originally wanted… At least I wanted that many people. But it wound up being 105‑110. Which, for me, was like, “It’s not going to be big enough,” blah, blah, blah. But the feedback I got was like, “No, this is way better to do it this way.”

Mike:  [16:40] Yeah. I forget who it was. Somebody had been talking to me about that. And had said that there were some studies done that basically said that a good conference size… To make it smaller and more intimate, or make it feel that way… If you go above 150, I think the number was, or maybe it was 175… But the higher you go, the less personal it feels. [17:04] So people tend to spread out a little bit more. They don’t necessarily talk to one another as much. I didn’t see that at all at this conference. It was amazing how quickly people just got into it. It was, “Hi, I’m so and so.” Just immediately people were introducing themselves.

Rob:  [17:23] I agree. To me, after doing it this year, 175 sounds like way too many. I don’t know if my mind is just clouded because it was such a good feel. But 150 even sounds like too many. But I could be convinced otherwise. It feels like 125 might be… Because that would still have fit in that room that we had. We could have fit 125 there.

Mike:  [17:45] But that, honestly, kind of scares me a little bit. Because I made it a point afterwards to tell people, “Hey, I’m going to be sending out surveys. Please make sure you answer them, fill out all the comments. Comments are very important. Checkboxes are nice, but we’d like people to fill out actual comments.” One of the questions that I asked virtually everybody that I ran into on the second day was, “Would you pay to come back to MicroConf next year, if we decided to do it again?” [18:13] I specifically phrased it that way, because I didn’t necessarily want people to say, “Yes, I will come back, contingent on X,” or, “If I get a free ticket,” or, “If I get a reduced ticket.” I basically wanted to know, “Did you find this worthwhile enough that you would pay money to come again.” And without fail, every single person said yes.

[18:32] And some of them said, “I would pay any amount of money to come back.” Somebody actually said that. Like, “I would pay any amount of money. No matter what you charge. You could charge a couple thousand dollars and I would come back.”

Rob:  [18:44] Yeah, I got a couple of those. Someone said, “You should keep the price where it is or raise it, because I want to keep the quality of the attendees high.” Which I thought was interesting, because I wouldn’t think to do that. We got enough complaints about it being… I guess we only got a handful about it being too expensive. [18:58] But I would think that if we could, we’d lower it. But maybe not. Maybe that’s not a good thing.

Mike:  [19:04] Yeah. I wonder about that as well. Because if you raise the price, you’re essentially setting a quality bar that people are going to an emphasis on making sure that they get something out of it. And the people who are kind of on the fence aren’t really necessarily committed. We run into that with the academy. That’s part of why we charge. [19:25] Because if you’re going to invest your time and effort into pursuing an entrepreneurial business, we want to make sure that you’re actually going to invest the time and effort into it. As opposed to just joining this “club,” or this community, where there’s no real obligation. You don’t really have any skin in the game.

[19:48] And I think that by having a slightly higher price, that forces people to say, “Is this something I’m willing to commit to or is it not?” If the conference was only a couple hundred dollars or $200, that’s not too big a deal. There’s people who will blow that on a Friday night, going out drinking.

Rob:  [20:08] Right. I think we need to be careful not to… Our idea was to make it a solid conference that’s a lot cheaper than Business and Software. Or at least that was my thought, originally ‑ that there are people who can’t afford the two grand for it and let’s keep it reasonable. But at the $5‑600 price point, I feel like that’s at least reasonable for the attendees. [20:31] You know who attended this year. I don’t think going down to 100‑200 bucks would be a good idea. But if we could pull $100‑200 off the price we had this year, I would consider it. But I had a couple requests mentioning, “I would like to do it at a nicer hotel.” Because we did it at the Riviera in Las Vegas. Which it was doable. We were bootstrapping a conference.

[20:53] But it’s definitely not on the nicer end of hotels that we could have done it at. And that was purely a financial decision. You and I were on the hook for a lot of money to do this thing anyways and so we were just trying to hedge our bet there. So I would like to do it at a nicer hotel.

Mike:  [21:10] I heard the same thing from people. They said, “I would pay more if it was in a nicer hotel.”

Rob:  [21:13] Yeah. I heard that as well. So I didn’t hear any complaints about, “Oh, it’s a crappy hotel.” But it was kind of like, “It’d be nicer to upgrade.”

Mike:  [21:21] I heard several people moved their hotel rooms though.

Rob:  [21:25] Oh, really?

Mike:  [21:26] Yeah. It wasn’t very many. It was like two or three.

Rob:  [21:29] Interesting. But I wonder if they got the… See, the renovated rooms at the Riviera were nice.

Mike:  [21:33] They got the renovated rooms.

Rob:  [21:35] And they still moved them? Wow. Interesting.

Mike:  [21:36] I asked. [laughs] .

Rob:  [21:37] Because I thought they were quite nice, frankly. Yeah, I thought the rooms were well done.

Mike:  [21:43] I think one of them just ended up with bad neighbors.

Rob:  [21:47] Oh, I could see that.

Mike:  [21:49] And I forget what the other one was.

Rob:  [21:50] Oh, they just moved their rooms within their hotel?

Mike:  [21:52] Yes.

Rob:  [21:53] Oh, OK. They didn’t move to another hotel?

Mike:  [21:55] No.

Rob:  [21:56] Got it. OK. That makes sense. One other thing I would do… We didn’t have budget for a videographer, because it was like five grand to get someone to record it and edit it. I asked Rubin and I bought a table‑top tripod and he used my HD cam. That worked out OK. We got some video of the second day. The first day is kind of a wash, because of some technical issues. [22:19] But I would really like to do that next year, if it isn’t cost prohibitive, because I would love to have some really nice, produced footage of our talks, of all the talks. What was the other thing? It would have been cool… I know we didn’t want to do shirts. We didn’t want to do 100 shirts, because people throw them away and it creates waste.

[22:40] And we were trying to be green and such. It would have been cool though, to have like a dozen or two dozen, to give away for different things. Like some kinds of prizes for asking questions or something like that. Just to have something to take home. And I think only printing one or two dozen would actually make them even more valuable.

Mike:  [22:59] Yeah, I was thinking that as well. Because one of our sponsors, Plural Site. Was it Plural Site? Yeah, it was, Plural Site… Had sent us some t‑shirts. And I just handed a bunch of them out, as prizes. And there weren’t that many. I only had like eight or 10 of them, or something like that. Two people actually fought over who was going to get the large, versus the extra large, or whatever.

Rob:  [23:22] And Microsoft brought a bunch of t‑shirts, too, which was cool. That was neat. I got one of those.

Mike:  [23:26] Yeah, I did too.

Rob:  [23:28] So what else? What did you think about the talks? I guess, are there maybe a couple talks that really stood out to you, that might be interesting to the listeners?

Mike:  [23:38] Ramit’s, I would say, stood out to me, I think, the most.

Rob:  [23:41] Fantastic, Yeah, listeners, if you haven’t heard of Ramit Sethi, he’s at iwillteachyoutoberich.com. He works in… It’s basically like personal finance. He’s written a book. He has a New York Times best‑selling book. Very good speaker and he agreed to come speak at MicroConf. It was kind of a favor. We’re an upstart and he’s, frankly, a bigger name than I thought we could land. [24:05] But at the last minute he decided to do it, which was really cool. What did you like about his talk?

Mike:  [24:11] It was just the way he presented everything. He had all that stuff, where he was showing all these data behind the decisions, and the psychology behind the decisions that we make, it was just very, very interesting and eye‑opening. It wasn’t something that I guess I’d really… I guess it was kind of on the subconscious. I’d thought about it before, but not really thought about it.

Rob:  [24:40] Yeah, I liked that. It was really about behavioral change, right?

Mike:  [24:42] Yeah.

Rob:  [24:43] And it was like talking about humans, like don’t update your headline to don’t do microtesting. He was saying don’t use split testing. You really want to do, you really want to get in the psyche of kind of who you’re selling to, and look at what they really need, and figure out what they need. [24:58] And it’s not to trick them. It’s to actually figure out if they need your software then you’re really talking to that person in your marketing efforts. I thought that that was cool.

Mike:  [25:07] Yeah.

Rob:  [25:08] And then what was needed was of course several other speakers including myself, Sean Ellis, I think we all talked about split testing. You should split test, you should AB test. So it’s good to hear the different points of view.

Mike:  [25:21] Well, I don’t think that Ramit came out and said you shouldn’t ever do it. I think it was more of a don’t think that this split testing is the end all be all, because of course it’s going to show you that test A may be better than test B and vice versa, but the problem is that six months later those tests may be completely invalid. And there are a lot of others things that can contribute. [25:46] And I think that was kind of the point he was trying to make, not necessarily that AB testing is wrong. It’s just that is a different mechanism for doing things. And there are other things that could potentially have a higher impact or a higher reward.

Rob:  [26:00] Got it. Yeah. Now, that’s a good summary of it. Well, anyone else? Noah? You liked Noah’s talk?

Mike:  [laughs] [26:07] Noah’s talk?

Rob:  [26:08] Yeah, Noah Kagan from AppSumo.

Mike:  [26:11] Yeah, Noah’s talk was entertaining. Not least of which was because of the hot sauce was flying fast and furious.

Rob:  [26:17] Yeah.

Mike:  [26:19] For the listeners who weren’t there, Noah did a presentation. And what did he call it? It was, “I will blow your mind with hot sauce,” or something?

Rob:  [26:28] It was like, “How to blow up your business with hot sauce, or blow up your mind with hot sauce,” or something like that. It was just like about being more productive and more energized and stuff like that.

Mike:  [26:37] Right. What he did, throughout the course of his presentation, he wanted people to kind of get into in. So what he would do is he would reward people for laughing at his jokes, or being enthusiastic by taking hot sauce, and giving them a bottle of hot sauce. These weren’t small bottles of hot sauce either. What they were like? They had to be at least 16 ounces.

Rob:  [26:57] Yeah they were.

Mike:  [26:58] Maybe 24 or at least 32? I mean they were just huge bottles. And I just remember thinking, and I was sitting in the back row and Ramit was sitting at the far end, also in the back row. And I think Ramit had asked him a question. And so Noah just decided, “Hey, well you’re getting a bottle of hot sauce,” and he launched it all the way across. And I was sitting there thinking to myself, “Oh no.”

Rob:  [27:26] This cannot end up well I think.

Mike:  [laughs] [27:27] This cannot go well.

Rob:  [27:28] I felt the same way. Because… and the bottles roll jacked up. It’s like they’ve melted, so the caps were on sideways. And I remember thinking, “In mid air, this thing is going to blow up and like spray out hot sauce all over everybody.” But it didn’t. He caught it.

Mike:  [27:40] Well he sort of caught it. He caught it, and it ended up bouncing out of his hands and hit the floor anyway, and it did open up.

Rob:  [27:48] Oh did it? I didn’t know.

Mike:  [27:48] Yeah.

Rob:  [27:49] OK.

Mike:  [27:50] That went dead. And then there was another one that got tossed back towards the stage, and that one exploded as well. That one was bad.

Rob:  [27:58] Yeah, it went up on the stage and up on the wall, and the walls were canvas. And I was concerned that we were going to get charged for cleaning up. But as it turns out, hot sauce is water soluble, so they just kind of sprayed Windex on it and it came off. And it was nice [inaudible 0:28:12] there. [28:13] Yeah, that was one of the more exciting moments. I actually have some video footage of that. But you can’t see the explosion. You just see Noah’s reaction. And he’s like seen jumping, and he is like “What was that?” And then he said, “Are you mad at me?” because someone was just trying to throw it. They were kind of trying to throw it back up on the stage. They didn’t mean for it to explode.

[28:31] I think it was more of a joke or I don’t know. But it then [imitates smashing sound] hit something accidentally and exploded. So it was a funny scenario.

Mike:  [28:41] Yeah, that was just… It was entertaining.

Rob:  [28:43] Yeah. So you had mentioned before we started talking, you mentioned we got some compliments on the registration desk workers, because we had…

Mike:  [28:53] Oh yeah.

Rob:  [28:53] … That’s there. And now explain a little bit about how you pulled that off?

Mike:  [28:57] Oh, this was so last minute it wasn’t even funny. I was trying to find somebody or an organization in Las Vegas who was willing to come and man the registration desk. Because we weren’t real sure exactly what we needed, and we kind of thought about it and talked a little bit about it and said, “OK, well, we probably only need people to be there for the registration desk from maybe five to ten on Sunday and then maybe seven to noon on Tuesdays,” so for about 10 hours. [29:28] But we figured we needed at least two people. But we also needed to have these people help us out with the badges, and stuff the badges and the schedules into the badge holders, and then also to load all of the USB pens.

[29:43] And one of the things we did we basically went all digital for this conference. Instead of handing out flyers and pages and pages of marketing and collateral from all the different sponsors, basically what we did was we took everything and we said, “Hey, give it to us in a digital format, we’ll put it on the USB drives.”

[29:59] And somebody else I was talking to about that was really kind of amazed to that, because what doing that allowed us to do is that it allowed us to hand out videos and audio from the sponsors, and basically any sort of PDF, any Word documents, case‑studies, you name it. As long as is it in digital format, it can go on there. And let’s be honest, at this point, is not… in digital first that you then later print.

[30:29] So that worked out really well, but the issue was that a week before the conference we still didn’t have somebody to man the registration desk. I’m sitting there thinking to myself, “Well, great, we’re going to have to go to some local company. We’re going to have to pay them $60‑70 an hour for people to sit there.”

[30:49] We had budget for it, but I just didn’t really want to pay that much money for somebody to sit there at the registration desk. So what I did is I contacted ‑ I’m a Phi Delta Theta alumni ‑ so what I did is I contacted the Phi Delta Theta chapter at UNLV and asked them is there anybody there who’d be willing to work to the conference. And I talked to the vice president. He said, “I’ll hook you up. Don’t worry about it. I’ll find the best people I can find and I’ll make sure that they’re not screw ups.”

[31:18] So he hooked us up with three people to work at the registration desk. And they were absolutely top notch. I actually got compliments from people about how professional they were even though they didn’t necessarily know anything about what we were doing.

Rob:  [31:34] Yeah, I was impressed when they showed up. And they just seemed to know what they were doing. And we left our laptops with them, right, and they’re loading the USB pens. And obviously that’s not something I like doing with people I just met, but they just seemed to do everything right. There were a lot of steps involved, and it was cool. [31:49] So if anyone there is organizing a conference, college kids are great. I mean it worked out really well for us.

Mike:  [31:56] Yeah, I mean I don’t know about any college kids. I mean the fact is that I’m in the same fraternity as these guys. And I just happened to be an alumni from a different chapter. I’m from the Rochester Institute of Technology and they go to the UNLV. But it was nice to being able to just reach out to them and have things in common with them. And I think that that certainly helped.

Rob:  [32:22] Yeah definitely. And they were really handpicked, right?

Mike:  [32:26] Yeah.

Rob:  [32:26] Essentially the VP or whatever handpicked them for us. So I think that really helped.

Mike:  [32:31] Yep. Yep.

Rob:  [32:32] Because they were cool and they got the job done so. Yeah, the logistics man. We talked about it on the podcast before. I mean it was so much… There were so many little things that could have gone wrong and so much planning that went into place that I was really surprised. [32:46] All the food was fine. I mean it was good. It wasn’t like fantastic, but it was definitely, when I ate it I was like “Oh, this is good food.” And I just had no idea. I mean it’s not like we even visited the site before we booked this thing.

[32:58] So I was happy that the room was as nice as it was, and that I don’t know, I just think the logistics panned out well, because I could see things. You can imagine not seeing a space that things could have gone much worse than they did.

Mike:  [33:12] Yeah, somebody had asked me about that, if we had done a site visit, this and that. And I’m like “Nope.” It was all pretty well blind. I mean we relied on other people’s opinions to kind of get us what we needed and give us advice, and everyone came through I think.

Rob:  [33:30] Yeah, that was cool. I have a question for you, because I was just kind of thinking about this yesterday as I was making some notes. I would prefer, like all things being equal, I would prefer not to do it in Vegas. I would just prefer to do it in Portland or San Francisco or… Boston was like three times as expensive so I don’t think that’s an option. I bet San Francisco is three times as expensive too. [33:56] But when we were in Vegas I had a couple of people tell me that they were not going to go, and then when they found out it was in Vegas they decided to go, because they figured they could turn it into a vacation.

Mike:  [34:07] I heard that from a lot of people.

Rob:  [34:09] That was surprising to me, because I guess I’ve been to Vegas a ton of times. My granny used to live there. And so I don’t see it as this fun place to go anymore, but I guess…

Mike:  [34:18] That’s because you were going to visit your grandma. [laughs]

Rob:  [34:20] Yeah. No that’s well.

Mike:  [34:21] No offense but…

Rob:  [34:22] No we would gamble and do all that stuff, but it’s that I’ve been there so much that it just doesn’t have… I live an hour of plane flight from there, so I’ve probably been there 30 times in the last 20 years. So I’ve overdone it at this point. [34:34] But I heard from enough people that Vegas was a decent location. So it kind of made me take pause. I guess, you know what we should do, we should ask it in a survey. We’re going to send that email survey to the attendees, and we should ask if it was a good location or not.

Mike:  [34:49] Yeah. And I heard the same thing as you did. It was just kind of mind boggling how many people said, “If it hadn’t been in Vegas, I wouldn’t have come.”

Rob:  [34:59] Yeah.

Mike:  [35:01] And that really shocked me. It really, really did. I mean we actually had somebody who flew in from England to come. It was ‑ what was it ‑ 23 hours of travel time for him to come to this conference?

Rob:  [35:13] Yeah it was crazy.

Mike:  [35:14] That’s insane.

Rob:  [35:15] Yeah. But that shouldn’t have been that much. But he had a layover or something. That you should be able to be there on like 13 or something I guess with a direct flight.

Mike:  [35:25] Yeah, I don’t know how many direct flights there are from…

Rob:  [35:28] Where US to Vegas?

Mike:  [35:31] From Heathrow to Vegas. I have no idea. Yeah, I think the only other thing I would do differently is I would probably practice my speech well in advance instead of just practicing it Monday morning before I have to get up there.

Rob:  [35:48] Right. Because you were, we were so busy with logistics that it’s like you almost didn’t have time. Luckily I had already given my talk a couple of times at previous conferences, so I didn’t really need to, but this was your first time doing this talk.

Mike:  [35:59] Right.

Rob:  [35:59] So you actually needed more practice on it.

Mike:  [36:02] It wasn’t really that. It was just the fact that mine had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, not Monday. So I didn’t feel like I’d prepared it enough.

Rob:  [36:09] That’s right.

Mike:  [36:10] Because I took David Hauser’s slot when he had to drop out. And then we were like, “We’ll figure out what to do for my slot on Tuesday, tomorrow,” because we found out ‑ What was it? It was like Sunday night.

Rob:  [36:24] It was one in the morning. Yeah, until 30.

Mike:  [36:26] It was 12:30, one o’clock in the morning when we found out that David wouldn’t be able to make it.

Rob:  [36:29] He spoke at one o’clock the next day or something.

Mike:  [36:33] Yeah, I would probably practice in advance just in case that sort of thing came up again. But I don’t know, what did you think of my talk? Was it obvious I had not really practiced it very much?

Rob:  [36:45] No, it wasn’t. You only had 20 slides, which for an hour talk is not a ton. I felt like you had practiced it because you had to do a lot of talking, rather than having slides prompt you. You know what I’m saying? Because I think I had 80 slides for the same amount of time.

Mike:  [37:04] Did you really?

Rob:  [37:05] Yeah.

Mike:  [37:06] Wow.

Rob:  [37:07] It might have been 60. I have 125 in the deck, but I have a bunch of them hidden because it’s too long at that rate, and I swap them in and out as I change the talk. I don’t know exactly how many I actually did, but it was between 60 and 80, definitely. I had a lot, three or four times what you did. That helps prompt stuff and helps me keep it moving. So I figured you had practiced it if you didn’t need that many slides.

Mike:  [37:32] Well, I had practiced it on the plane because I had six hours to practice. So, I practiced it for probably, I’d say two‑and‑a‑half, three hours on the plane before I came out. And I’d practiced it a little bit when I was putting everything together, and then obviously, after David had to drop out, I practiced that morning while some of the other speakers were going.

Rob:  [37:55] Right.

Mike:  [37:57] It’s not like I was totally unprepared, I think it was more of just a mental thing. I felt like I wanted a little bit more time to look at my slides and I didn’t necessarily have it.

Rob:  [38:05] Sure. I felt like there were two breakout speakers who I think are lesser known in the startup world. I’d hoped both of them would come through and they did. Todd Garland, from BuySellAds, I thought his talk was fantastic.

Mike:  [38:21] It was.

Rob:  [38:22] Off the charts. It was just entertaining, it was like everything you’d want, right? It was engaging, it was entertaining, it was educational, it was a great story, so cheers to Todd. [38:31] And then the other person who I thought did really well, again not a big name in the startup world, but kind of an underdog, who early on I was thinking he’s really going to clutch it ‑ “I think he’s really going to nail it” was Justin Vincent from TechZing. He had a shorter talk, his was 40 minutes, but he nailed it. I really thought it was entertaining and the audience was quite engaged with it I thought.

Mike:  [38:56] Right. Yeah, I totally agree on both of those.

Rob:  [38:58] I think that’s something else I would do next year. I wouldn’t make all the talks an hour. I actually feel like an hour is…

Mike:  [39:03] Too long.

Rob:  [39:04] It is. It’s like 40 to 50 minutes, 45 minutes might be the ideal length for almost all the talks. I think there are a couple people, like Noah, definitely could have done an hour. Or me, no problem. But for most speakers, I think it’s better to have like a 40 to 45 minute talk.

Mike:  [39:23] Right.

Rob:  [39:23] It’s easier to fill the space. Including Q and A.

Mike:  [39:26] Yeah, yeah. Make the talk half‑an‑hour, then give 15 minutes for questions.

Rob:  [39:32] Yep.

Mike:  [39:33] Because that was the one thing I noticed that was, that people tended to, I wouldn’t say be long‑winded, but people tended to talk right up until shortly before their time was up, because everybody had an hour. And then once it got to that point there wasn’t really a lot of time left for questions. [39:52] It wasn’t as if, I think most speakers looked at it and said, “I’ve got an hour so I’ll fill close to an hour,” and they did, but I feel like there were probably a lot of questions that people probably wanted to ask that didn’t necessarily get a chance to ask in front of everybody. At the same time, it was really great to see in the after hours, evening events that we were doing, that all of the speakers mingled with all the attendees.

Rob:  [40:21] That was cool.

Mike:  [40:21] That was really cool.

Rob:  [40:23] Yep.

Mike:  [40:24] I got a number of compliments on that as well. They said it’s really great to see that the speakers are just hanging out with the attendees and asking questions and, you know, providing feedback and all this other stuff.

Rob:  [40:35] Yeah, a lot of people told me that. At least 10 or 12, and they said it was great that the speakers were so approachable and that since the conference was so small they didn’t have this mob around them at all times. Because it was like a 10 to one ratio, right?

Mike:  [40:50] Right.

Rob:  [40:50] It was like 12 speakers and 110 attendees, so it wasn’t outrageous to think that you could talk to every speaker, and a number of attendees said they had, that they had a conversation with every speaker which is really cool.

Mike:  [41:06] Yeah. And I think that kind of goes back to the ratio speakers to attendees more than anything else.

Rob:  [41:10] Yeah, yep.

Mike:  [41:12] So, if we cut back on the number of speakers we might need to cut back on the number of attendees.

Rob:  [41:18] Yeah, that’s interesting.

Mike:  [41:19] So, I don’t know…

Rob:  [41:21] Well, we’re getting long on time here, any other things we want to throw into this podcast?

Mike:  [41:30] I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.

Rob:  [41:34] Yeah, I really want to send a thanks out to everyone who attended. Had a great time and it was awesome to meet so many members the Micropreneur Academy. There were at least 12 I counted; there might have been 15. And then to meet so many people who listen to the podcast, which again is just awesome to meet people in person and be able to hear their feedback ‑ positive and negative ‑ as well as just engage and hear more about their ideas, and it helps us make the podcast better, frankly.

Mike:  [42:00] You know what, it’s funny, I distinctly remember one person who mentioned the podcast.

Rob:  [42:05] Oh really?

Mike:  [42:06] Yeah, but other than that I don’t remember too many people saying, “Hey, I listen to the podcast,” and then talking about it.

Rob:  [42:12] Yeah.

Mike:  [42:13] I really didn’t talk to too many people about it.

Rob:  [42:15] Yeah, I had several come up to me.

Mike:  [42:16] Oh.

Rob:  [42:17] I wonder if you’re scary, and I’m nice?

Mike:  [42:18] Maybe.

Rob:  [42:19] So people come up to me, hey, last question for you actually is, how did it feel to be somewhere where everyone, like 110 people all know you, and they come up to you and ask questions or mention things… You’re famous for two days. How did it feel?

Mike:  [42:41] It was ‑ bizarre isn’t quite the right word, and it’s not disconcerting either, it’s just unfamiliar territory, I’ll say. It was really cool, but it felt out of place. I felt out of place at times because people would come up to me and they’d say, “Oh, you know, you emailed me about this,” and I’m like, I’m trying to remember, because how many thousands of emails have I sent? [43:08] They said “Oh, you talked about this,” and go on, and sometimes I remembered and sometimes I didn’t. But it was really cool just getting up and talking in front of all those people. And I thought about it after the conference, it was funny because I got up on stage and I looked out at everybody and I said, “Wow, I’ve never actually talked to a room that was this large before.”

Rob:  [43:30] Yeah. I wished I had taken my camera out there and just taken one, either a pan on video or just a snapshot, just to have for the record, you know?

Mike:  [43:41] Right, right.

Rob:  [43:42] From the speaker’s point of view.

Mike:  [43:44] Yeah, but I think the most interesting thing to me was that when I got up there and I was talking to people I didn’t feel nervous.

Rob:  [43:51] Yeah.

Mike:  [43:52] Not one bit.

Rob:  [43:53] Yeah, it was like a very friendly room, you know?

Mike:  [43:58] Yeah, I guess so. But, most people ‑ their number one fear is public speaking and I don’t know anyone who’s ever died from getting up and speaking in public.

Rob:  [44:08] Right.

Mike:  [44:09] It’s just interesting that I didn’t fear nervous or scared or anything like that. I got up there… maybe part of it had to do with the fact that I was helping at the beginning with the conference and just talking to people. But I think also it might have had something to do with the fact that talking to everybody… it seemed more like a group of peers than you’re getting up in front of everybody as the expert on “X”.

Rob:  [44:39] Yeah, I can see that.

Mike:  [44:42] It was not like talking to a bunch of friends, but talking to a bunch of people that you were at least acquaintances with.

Rob:  [44:50] Right.

Mike:  [44:51] And I think part of that had to do with just the fact that on Sunday night we opened up with that social event and were talking to everybody.

Rob:  [44:58] Right.

Mike:  [45:00] But that was really cool. What did you think?

Rob:  [45:02] Oh, I enjoyed it. I think that I’m kind of an introvert. So when I go to conferences, if I’m not speaking I tend to sit in a corner. I’ll sit with one or two people and I don’t really go out and meet a lot of people, and so this, either being a speaker or running the conference, is an advantage for me because it means I instantly have people coming up to me to say things, and I like that. [45:30] It allows me to talk to more people, it forces me to talk to more people and it means I don’t have to initiate myself, you know what I’m saying? Because it’s not in my nature to go out and meet a bunch of people. So, I really enjoy it. I really enjoy speaking and being able to have a common ground to talk to people about. Makes it a lot easier.

Mike:  [45:51] Yeah, I made it a point in college when I was attending various social events and running for various student positions, either in student government or inside my fraternity, to make it a point to go out and talk to people and be social because I knew that would be a valuable skill later in life. Because I’m kind of naturally an introvert as well. I don’t necessarily go out and draw attention to myself, I’ll say. [music]

Rob:  [46:18] Well, I think we’re running very long on time here, so I just wanted to mention one last thing before we do our outro, and it’s about iTunes. We have 37 reviews now, which is cool, and we have one extra comment. I don’t know how many comments, does it say? No, we have two pages now. And we just got one on June 12th, so that was a couple days ago, and it’s by Carson. [46:39] It says, “I’d given up on podcasts, but had a long drive to vacation ahead of me, so I downloaded a few of these. I enjoyed them so much that I downloaded and listened to every one while on vacation. Really good podcast with solid tips and advice.”

[46:50] So, thank you Carson and we encourage all of our listeners to give us a review and/or a comment in iTunes, because it helps us show up higher in the rankings, which brings more listeners and motivates Mike and I to continue doing it. [music]

Mike:  [47:07] Thanks to all of our sponsors who either came to MicroConf or were able to support it from afar. We really appreciate it. I think that there’s a lot of things we wouldn’t have been able to do without the sponsors.

Rob:  [47:18] I agree. There were some pivotal things like I don’t know if the conference would have happened without sponsors. There were a few pivotal speakers that were kind of a tipping point to make it happen, so I tended to tell those people in person, thanking them saying, “It wouldn’t have happened without you.” But, yeah, it really, an effort like this cannot possibly be done by two guys alone so.

Mike:  [47:40] Mm‑hmm.

Rob:  [47:41] Really appreciate everyone coming together on this. So, if you have a question or a comment, you can call it in 888‑801‑9690, or email it to us at questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. [47:52] A full transcript is available for this podcast, by public demand, at startupsfortherestofus.com. You know how we asked if people wanted transcripts, there’s been a ton of comments. Well, I say a ton, there’s probably been three, four, five, in the last week since that episode came out.

Mike:  [48:06] Really?

Rob:  [48:06] Yeah, saying like, “No, keep the transcripts, keep the transcripts.”

Mike:  [48:09] Really?

Rob:  [48:10] Yeah, so I guess we’re going to keep them.

Mike:  [48:11] God, why don’t I get those emails? [laughs]

Rob:  [48:14] Oh, because I think there’s only one moderator email in WordPress, and so for some reason these things are being flagged for spam and I approve when they come through.

Mike:  [48:24] Oh.

Rob:  [48:25] So that’s the email I get.

Mike:  [48:26] That’s weird.

Rob:  [48:27] Yeah, it is. We’ve got to figure out a way not to flag those, because they shouldn’t be flagged. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by Moot, it’s used under Creative Commons. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

Transcription by CastingWords

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4 Responses to “Episode 46 | MicroConf 2011”

  1. Sido says:

    Hope to see a MicroConf 2012! It sounds like a great event. Hope you can keep the price down, so people who are just getting started or that live in Europe are also able to enjoy the conference.

    Like people giving feedback on websites/products. Would love to see pitches of people attending the conference between talks. Might be an idea to offer some ways to sponsor the event to keep costs down (dconstruct.org is a nice example).


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