Producer Xander Castro has been working on MicroConf since 2014 and is a long-time listener of the show, but this is his first time on the podcast.
On this episode, we take an inside look at MicroConf Remote from a few weeks ago and discuss what worked well, what we’ll do differently next time and the difficulties of translating events from in-person to remote.
The topics we cover
[03:26] Turning to virtual events
[07:38] Stats & production technicalities for MicroConf Remote
[17:12] What worked well: pricing, timezones, and programming
[30:27] Things we learned from our first MicroConf Remote
Links from the show
- MicroConf Remote
- Xander Castro | Twitter
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Rob: Welcome to this week’s episode of Startups For the Rest of Us. I’m your host Rob Walling. In this week’s episode, we take an inside look at MicroConf Remote which was the event that we threw two weeks ago, and I bring producer Xander on to the show for the first time ever. He’s a longtime listener of the show, of course, and he’s been working on MicroConf since 2014, but he’s been working full-time on it for about the last year.
Xander has a background in event production. He’s been on the venue side. He’s been involved in events for like a decade. It’s a pretty extensive experience he’s had running events, and he does some pretty amazing things for us. If you’ve ever been to a MicroConf, we often get the question, how big is your staff for running this event?
He’s always like, oh, it’s just me and the founders, and people are like, whoa, because most events when we used to do starter and growth back to back and they’re 450 people there over the course of 4 ½, 5 days. You just have a whole event staff doing things and we really haven’t.
We really are that scrappy. Still continue to be that scrappy bootstrapped MicroConf ethos event and producer Xander is a big part of why we’re able to pull that off. We have a great conversation about MicroConf Remote. There’s a lot of inside baseballs, so if you don’t care about it, that’s fine, too.
We’ll be back next Tuesday morning at the normal time, but we talked about the event, why we wanted to do it, some of the challenges and things we considered. We talked about what worked really well and some things that we would do differently next time. With that, let’s dive into my conversation with producer Xander Castro. Xander Castro, thank you so much for joining me on the show.
Xander: Hey, thanks for having me the first time.
Rob: Indeed, so if you go to startupsfortherestofus.com and you search for the phrase Xander, I believe you’ve been mentioned. You just keep scrolling and scrolling, and there’s the next page. Producer Xander has been mentioned many times on the show, but you have yet to be in a conversation here.
For folks who don’t know, they would have heard a little from your intro button. You’ve been working with us on MicroConf since 2014 if I recall so quite a few events, and then you came on full-time just over a year ago, congratulations. Happy anniversary.
Xander: Well, thank you. It was a fun anniversary, wasn’t it?
Rob: Yeah. You’ve been working with us full-time on MicroConf on the big expansion in 2020. On your one year anniversary, we put on MicroConf Remote, which is what we came to talk about today. I did want to take a step back, though, and comment like 2020, we planned for seven in-person events. We were going from three up to seven, and then we were going to go from zero remote events or virtual events to two, and really, we haven’t done any in-person events.
Xander: No, no. 2020 has really dealt us the hand, everybody has been dealt, pretty much anybody that is producing live events right now is seeing a pretty rough year. There’s a lot going on right now and there’s much more that isn’t going on right now as a result of social distancing, quarantine, and whatnot with COVID-19.
Rob: Yeah. It feels like such an absolute dumpster fire in terms of trying to get people together. I don’t know about you, I want a do over.
Xander: Tell me about it. The live events industry is one that brings in like $6 billion a year annually just in the US. You just imagine all of those different staff members that are not working right now, and it’s just pretty devastating. It’s a rough industry to be in, that’s for sure at this point.
Rob: Yeah. A lot of folks have turned to virtual events, and that’s one thing that I wanted to say right off the bat is like we planned over a year ago to do two virtual events this year. At least two because we did the State of Independent SaaS Livestream back in January, and then we had decided we named it MicroConf Remote. Remember, we’re trying to figure out a name MicroConf, virtual MicroConf digital, MicroConf online, and we just loved Remote because of the idea of remote work.
We announced all of this last December but literally just about a year ago had said we’re going to do this thing. The fact that COVID happened really didn’t change those plans.
Xander: No. Not for MicroConf Remote, that’s for sure. I think we had always had this idea in mind about there was time to create a virtual implementation of what is MicroConf to really create a more accessible event that anybody around the planet would be able to access as they were interested and there weren’t those barriers to entry such as travel, setting aside over three-day plan to get out to a destination to attend a live event.
I think we always knew that creating something that was definitely more accessible to a mass audience was the route that we wanted to take with the remote version of MicroConf, for sure.
Rob: Yeah. We had been talking. You, Mike, and I believe talked about it four or five years ago about trying to do it.
Xander: Like in Barcelona.
Rob: Yeah. It’s been on our mind, but I know that it wasn’t like the highest priority because if you can do in-person events, I mean, personally, I think they’re just, I don’t know, better. I like in-person events because you have to travel. They’re more expensive, there are all these things, but there’s just a value there I think that is pretty much impossible to replicate online, so we had never prioritized it.
With this expansion, we did want to dip our toe in the water and get a little better at it, and so really, as I said, decided to do it last fall. I think we had talked for a while about not making it a replacement for MicroConf because an in-person MicroConf is so unique, and there’s so much about the setup in the hallway track and this and that, that we weren’t trying to replicate it.
We’re trying to do something a little different, and I think that’s a challenge and I think honestly if it hadn’t been for COVID, I think MicroConf Remote would have been even more unique than it was because there wouldn’t have been a bunch of other virtual events around it. We were in essence competing with these other Zoom events, but a lot of other online events, so we had to stand out that much more.
Xander: Definitely. As we were going through the research phase of what it would look like to implement MicroConf Remote back in November or December of 2019, we had done a bunch of customer interviews that focused around what it meant to attend MicroConf and what were the things that were drawing you to our live events. That person to person interaction was one of the high and above elements that people were seeking out when it came to attending MicroConf.
Even as we were in the midst of planning MicroConf Remote, we spent a little bit of time talking about how it wasn’t going to be a live version of MicroConf. I joked around saying that we should just brand it as not MicroConf because it was a unique way to look at what our attendees are constantly seeking, which is that person to person connection.
It’s an industry that few people that are innocent bystanders on the side looking inward don’t really understand the mechanics of starting your own business, doing the daily grind at home, not really being able to get out. A lot of people are starting to understand that more of these days.
I think that one of the things that we consistently try to achieve at our live events is the connection that’s formed in the hallway track. Trying to replicate that in the digital setting, as we’ll talk about a little bit later, is a challenge. It’s not the same type of experience you would see in a live experience when you’re shaking hands with someone which we should talk about. This is probably not going to be something that we’re going to encourage during live events, even when we’re able to get back together, but I think that trying to replicate that was something that took a lot of consideration and something that we were hoping we could emulate for sure.
Rob: We weren’t trying to replicate, we were trying to translate from in-person to online.
Xander: Yeah, absolutely.
Rob: Just to give an overview. We sold just about almost 700 tickets, and so quite a few listeners will probably have bought tickets and may have attended or seen the video. In essence, we decided to do a 5-hour livestream. Parts and parts of it were pre-recorded. We had some people pipe in with quick fixes that were two, three, five minutes.
Sherry and I did founders and cars, not getting coffee, a segment that had to be pre-recorded because we couldn’t do live streaming from a car. But most of it was truly live and whether it was, I interviewed a few people. We had for keynote talks, a lot of Q&A, and live interaction, which again, is one of the benefits of live streaming.
You went all out. You flew into Minneapolis and rented a studio where we had (if I recall) three cameras on me at all times, which was fun, but also like, geez, I can’t even scratch my nose without it having six angles of it.
Xander: You’re going to be caught at every angle.
Rob: Every angle, and then were there like seven people working on it, six- or seven-person crew?
Xander: Four behind the scenes and then we had three that were upfront helping with the filming, lighting, teleprompt, and things like that plus me.
Rob: That’s eight people in just the technical production of it. Of course, I’m up on stage, and then Tracy was doing a bunch of live customer support because when you have that many people attending, at our peak, I believe we had 570 attending the event. That’s just a lot of people doing stuff, so it was a real baller setup.
We kept saying, hey, this is going to be a different event. This is not just a host sitting in his bedroom in front of you. I’m in my bedroom office right now for example, but we didn’t just want that to be people in front of webcams. It gives that live feel to it because I was on different sets.
I was between two different sets, and I was on a talk show. We had like a talk show format, and we had a bunch of different creative elements to try. We knew the content would be startup focused. It’s similar to the content we would have in MicroConf or on this podcast, but with more live interactivity, but you really double down on the creativity of the visual elements to make the experience different for people.
Xander: Yeah. The goal was to really create something that would be considered bingeable. Something that carries you from segment one to segment two, or to keynote speaker, to the Q&A elements. We really wanted to keep things pretty tight in terms of the timeline of presenters, nobody had more than 20 minutes to deliver their own individual element or talk.
We wanted to create that sense of forward momentum, that idea that you’re going to sit down and you’re going to take in five hours of essentially TV. How can we make it so that each element leads into the next but is entertaining enough to really feel like it’s worth spending that much time? When it comes to digital events, even with the 700 some tickets that we sold, seeing that we had 575-ish folks that were on at peak, that’s a pretty significant number of people that are not engaging.
The idea is that you see anywhere from 50%-60% fall off when people purchase tickets to when they actually attend the event when it comes to digital experiences. We wanted to give everyone who chose to tune in a reason to stay versus just presenting the content the way that we had set it up and then distributed.
We wanted to make sure that there were these engaging touchpoints. I will say we recorded almost everything in advance of the event as well, just in case there were catastrophic failures across some of the technology, so we had those backup elements so that we could auto throw to it so nobody would miss anything.
There were some issues with that we’ll talk about in a bit, but there was a lot of thought that went into creating a through-line and the streamline story from the opening of the shows through to the closing Q&A with Jason Fried. I think that there was a lot of thought that went into how to create that line, but we wanted to make sure that it was being presented in a way that copies of people’s attention in-between each of the keynote sessions per se, and that kept it moving forward.
Rob: There’s a point. I think translating an in-person event to an online event, we didn’t just want to put on a MicroConf and have a camera there live streaming it, because we could have done that. We could have either flown speakers in or we could have sent a camera crew to every speakers’ place and just have them sit on a stage and we just don’t think that’s going to work the way that it should. It’s not the optimal translation. As I said earlier, we’re not replicating, we’re translating. We’re trying to adjust it.
Xander: Exactly. As you think about like transcription. These services that are talking about hey, can we get up to 95% accuracy? The translation between a live event and a digital event is not 1:1. There is going to be a fall off in terms of the experience the guests are having.
In theory, the keynotes and the content should be pretty much lined up with the expectations that they have going into the event. But when you go to a live event, you have that interconnectedness to the crowd. You have that sense of energy and that moment where a speaker says one individual thing and everyone’s ears perk up, or there’s a laugh that comes across the crowd. That’s an intangible experience that you really cannot create in a remote or digital setting.
There are some challenges in putting forward content that in a live event, it would originally be meant to be experienced and mass. When you’re presenting into a webcam in front of essentially 1 person, you’re speaking to 1 person, despite the fact that there are 700 some people that have purchased tickets to attend, you really are only speaking to that one individual at any given moment. It is pretty difficult to translate from in-person to live, given that you’re missing that energizing element.
Rob: Yeah. Personally, I’ve had to really work on learning to talk to a camera because obviously I’ve talked to MicroConf for more than a decade now, and I’ve talked on stage to an audience for more than a decade now, and each of those things were terrifying at the start, and I learned to do them and now I feel fine doing them. I feel like I definitely got better over the years at it.
Talking to a camera with no audience or just with the camera people around is way different, and it is hard to bring the energy. It’s hard to not be self-conscious. It’s hard not to stumble. You’re so distracted staring into this lens. You don’t feel like people are there, and it has literally taken me a year.
I think the first decent video we recorded for MicroConf was last October or November and was rough. It took me a bunch of takes and it wasn’t very good, and each one I went back and watched a few of them the other day and it made me feel good. It was like, oh, I am actually better than I used to be.
You’ll feel like your own worst critic. Even when I watch footage of Remote, I’m like, oh, I shouldn’t have done that or I should have said that better. When I go back to 11 months, I’m like, oof, now, I’m doing okay. That’s it. It’s a learned skill and I think it’s tough for presenters if you don’t have a lot of experience with it. It just takes time to get better at that.
Xander: The difference between scripted and prerecorded elements versus the live conversational elements is acting. When you’re in front of a camera and you have a script and there are peaks and valleys in the direction that that script is taking, you have to provide that level of acting and impart a little bit of emotion to it that you normally wouldn’t experience if you’re just having a regular conversation.
The example that I pulled from this was, Rob, we had you recording on the green screen right at the day before the event, and I had asked you to do these like little Peppy, welcome to MicroConf. Let’s get the show started, and we ended up pulling each of those because it just didn’t feel perfect. It didn’t feel as natural as we would want it to. To do a scripted element like that without having it be just this solid piece of content that felt great, you get to edit those types of things out. That’s not to say your energy wasn’t awesome, Rob, but it just didn’t feel like it was that genuine emotional experience that we would be trying to convey. I just scrapped those pieces because it felt like it wasn’t needed in order to advance the show.
It is definitely different. There’s a lot of acting when it comes to presenting to a camera, especially in those pre recorded elements. You want to make sure that the tone that you’re bringing to the expression that you’re delivering is matching up with the words that you’re saying.
Rob: Yeah, it’s weird. You said you’re not saying my energy wasn’t good. I’m saying my energy wasn’t good. I remember being like, this sucks, and I’m trying to pump myself up but I am not to get myself pumped up type of person.
Xander: Welcome to MicroConf. That sounds awful. What’s being fun about that?
Rob: It’s so interesting because when I watch people… We got acquired by LeadPages, they had a full-time videographer and they just cranked out videos and that was it. I would see people be extremely natural in conversation much like you and I are being very natural in our conversation right now.
When we’d watch the video back, it wouldn’t be any good. Like it looked terrible, and then I would watch someone record and I’m like, this guy’s acting. He’s not even talking the way that we do when we normally are hanging around, having a cappuccino, and he’s sitting there. It felt weird in person but on the camera, it felt great, and that’s this weird translation thing until that clicked for me, like I hadn’t realized that that’s what you had to do. The camera just requires a different level of emotion or energy.
To move it along, some things that we considered in terms of remote, obviously, we had to translate it from an in-person event to an online event to figure out what was different. We thought a lot about time zones. We were going to do it at 9:00 AM Central and it wound up being 11:00 AM.
We moved it this way because of California and then we moved it that way because of Europe, and we realized that in Asia it was going to be 2:00 in the morning, Asia and Australia. At a certain point, you just can’t do it perfectly. We actually toyed around with the idea of trying to do 12 hours or trying to do like a 3:00, 3:00, and 3:00 at different times of the day for different things, and realistically, we’re like, look, it’s our first big event like this. Let’s bite off what we can chew and not get too crazy with it.
Xander: Totally, yeah. Choosing time zones as always is a challenge. We see this in MicroConf Connect all the time where we do have a majority of the members of Connect, and really the majority of our audience is US-based. There is an element of needing to cater to the primary source of your audience and produce content in program times that are going to be the most accessible to those folks.
We do want to recognize that our audience is pretty expansive, and so we try to do as much as we can to cater to those individual time zones as much as we possibly can. But when it came to the live implementation of this event, we knew that the core of the audience was going to be coming from the US, and that we could make the recordings of the events available afterward.
If nothing else, we were able to make MicroConf Remote available to anyone to consume at any time. It’s just a matter of when we work in choosing the timeframe for the actual live event, so we just had to keep in mind to who was going to be our largest source of audience, and then what could we do to make sure that they were getting the best out of their experience that we could possibly create.
Rob: Another thing was the ticket price. Five years ago, I remember we were really saying should a virtual MicroConf event, should it be premium, should it be $100 a pop, or should it be trying to get the most people into it, so make it like $5 or $10 a pop. We were back and forth, back and forth, and I was on the charge more camp if I recall.
Then I bounced and said, oh, it should be $10, and then when COVID started we’re like, do we just try to make it free? Well, we can’t really pay for that studio and all of that. There’s quite a bit of expense incurred with it, so then we went to $10, then we went to $99, and then went to $50.
What we wound up I think, it was a cool hybrid, and you basically made the call on this in the end and you were like, look $50, but easy opportunities to get discounts. There was like if you recorded a 60-second intro to you and your founder story, you can get half off. I think if you poked around on the website somewhere, you could get it for like $10. You get like 80% off, and that was a clever way of having options.
Xander: I will say this. I am a firm believer that remote events should not be charging the same ticket price as live events. I think that the experience is vastly different. I think that the expectations are so easily managed within a virtual event that you should be able to really hone back on some of the fluff that’s associated with your live events that can trim that ticket price down.
The ticket prices do margins on events in general, are so well, that it’s something that you really need to play around with what those ticket levels are going to be. The difference between a digital and a live event in terms of the expense and the overhead that’s connected to those events is so vastly different that there is almost a degree of disingenuousness when you’re choosing to charge the same amount for a digital event as you would for the live version.
It goes back to the idea that MicroConf Remote was never meant to be a replacement for MicroConf Growth, their starter, or one of our live events. It was always meant to be this standalone, lower cost, more easily accessible program. It’s why we didn’t just say, hey, we’re canceling MicroConf Growth Minneapolis and we’re going to turn it into a digital event.
Then a certain view we’re going to get the same value at a $999 ticket price as you are going to get from MicroConf Remote. It didn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like there is that connection to live and digital events that allow you to charge the same amount of money for that experience.
That was always the plan was to have it be a super low-cost event. We talked about those $10 ranges. We talked about that $50 price point, which is where we ultimately settled on our core pricing. A vast majority of the attendees paid between $10-$25 for their tickets, whether it be through their stories, submissions, or them poking around the website and finding one of those Easter egg discounts that were available.
Those were present throughout the ticket buying experience, and so we wanted to make sure that people could purchase at the level that they felt most comfortable at, while we were still able to make at least the margin that we needed in order to be able to afford to host the event.
Rob: We’re going to now talk about what worked and then things we would improve or do differently next time. We have quite a few of them, so we might need to zip through them pretty quick based on time.
I think the idea of ticket prices and selling tickets kicks us into this first one of what worked is I think we did a good job generating interest in marketing the event. We sold just under 700 tickets, and I was pretty happy with that. I think that tells us that the pricing was probably within the realm of where people expected it to be, and certainly, the biggest MicroConf event prior to this is essentially growth every year, which runs about $275, I believe. Obviously, digital is very different than in-person but still to sell that many tickets and have close to that many showing up in the stream. I consider it a win.
Xander: Yeah. You have that opportunity to sell tickets up until the day before the event. Your ticket sales runway is so different from a live experience where you have to not only buy your tickets, but you have to buy your flights, you have to buy your hotel rooms, all this added expense, and added time that’s needed in order to prepare for those logistics.
We were able to sell those 700 tickets in less than a month and so it felt like it was definitely an interesting prospect when you consider the 6-8 months that you want to have in terms of runway to sell tickets to a live event. This just feels like it’s an easier outlet to be able to increase your event capacity, to be able to welcome more people into the experience. I think that is one of the more unique elements of digital and remote events that worked well for us.
Rob: Something else I think worked is the programming itself, like just the talks, the segues that you had set up, the quick tips, the interviews, and just the actual each of those things. There were like one or two segments, I think they weren’t great. Mike and I are doing the analysis of the slides and stuff. Whose slide is it any way, where we have to do improv? Let’s be honest, Mike and I maybe not the best improv comedians. I mean, but that was like 12 minutes long, and it’s like, okay, we punted on it, but I think overall in general, like the programming itself felt solid to me and the transitions and stuff.
I also felt like we just experimented with formats quite a bit. You had the quick tip, we had keynotes, we had live Q&A, and we had interviews, AMA style. We had Nate Grahek was actually more of a teaching session, we asked him one or two questions and he taught. We had Sherry and I in the car, not getting coffee, like that was just a fun little thing that people commented on. I felt like the experimentation there and the programming itself was a hit.
Xander: Yeah, TV. It goes back to that concept of bingeable TV, like a sketch show, interdimensional cable, or something like the small bits that have nuggets of information that you can pull from them primarily inspirational. I think that that was one of the things we were leaning into with MicroConf Remote is that during COVID, things have just not been exciting, not been great, and there have been a lot of people that have been going through some pretty significant hardships.
We wanted to lean into the inspiration that comes with building SaaS and building these events, and they’re building these products and companies is that there is a light at the midway through the tunnel of building these products, and hopefully, people were able to latch on to some of the more inspirational elements coming from the events to carry them through the end of this year which is going to be just as interesting to see as the next three months to how the rest of 2020 pans out. Hopefully, this event was able to give that level of inspiration that we were trying to achieve.
Rob: Audience engagement, I think was another one. You had both with Q&A where some folks are willing to come on and actually do video questions, which is cool, but there were ample typed questions that I can then read and engage with.
As well as surveys that you had going on during the event, which I think was cool. If you’re watching something and you got bored, there was a way, go and take a survey and then that poll would then appear later in the event.
Xander: Yeah. I think that one of the pieces of feedback we got a lot of, which personally is a really nice piece of feedback in my perspective, is that people weren’t expecting this to be an active engagement event. They were expecting to sit down and just watch or listen to people speaking and the fact that there were a few layers of engagement that they were actually able to participate in. If they were aware of it, it was pretty cool.
I think that is the goal of these types of digital events is you want to recreate some of those elements. You want to do that translation of that in-person event into a live event, and there are only limited opportunities for you to do that, and so I think that people being surprised by some of those elements that we did leverage whether it was the Q&A, the surveying tools, the attempted recreation at the hallway track. I think some things that people could get excited about and could lean into that were different from just a generic digital event experience.
Rob: Another thing I feel like you did a really good job with is more than any other time you headed up finding speakers for this event. One of the goals we always have with MicroConf is to make them as diverse as possible, both racially and just gender-wise just underrepresented people.
Well more in the audience and we want what we can control which is having more of them on stage. I feel like as challenging as it was, I know that you sent a lot of emails and asked a lot of folks and got a lot of nos or no responses. You did a pretty good job of filling out the docket with a relatively balanced stable of speakers.
Xander: Yeah. I will say that the diversity of our speakers and lineups is one of the most important things that I have my radar on as we’re programming this content. It’s something that we’ve talked about since the day that I started working on MicroConf. I know it’s something that was on your radar and something you were planning for since the inception of the event.
I will say that it is one of the most difficult things to ensure as you’re putting together a lineup. You want to make sure that the messaging and the actual content is in line with the expectations of the audience in terms of indie funded bootstrapped founders that have built up products that are primarily SaaS that are reaching a market that is generating XYZ, MRR.
We can find a ton of people within that sphere, but in the process of searching for those folks, I put out 40 different asks that were either rejected, or we just weren’t inlined with the timing of the event, or the goals that that person had when it comes to presenting to an audience.
While the diversity of the lineup I am pretty proud of, it’s never really enough. It’s never enough to just say, hey, here’s what we’ve done and what we’re going to try and continue to do. It’s that active work that goes into finding people that are going to be a match for your values and your mission statement that you’re putting out as an organization, but are also representative of the world at large.
I think it’s so important to make sure that that stage is representative of who we want to be in our audience, and we know that it will never be enough, but if anybody has suggestions for female speakers, speakers of color. Just really anybody that can contribute to the diversity of ideas that are being presented from the MicroConf stage, please send them over to email@example.com.
I’m more than happy to fill those requests and have conversations with anybody that is looking to get into either speaking at events, or that has recommendations for speakers that fit within that sphere.
Rob: Yeah. It’s tough to be in technology because it is so imbalanced. Especially when you get into software, and then you get into SaaS specifically, and it’s something we’ve constantly been putting thought and time into. I love the progress we’ve made over the last decade of having zero underrepresented founders in the first year and then having one the second year and each year.
It’s just a little more and I think these are the types of things that change over the years or decades. Unfortunately, they don’t change overnight but it definitely, I appreciate all the work. I always appreciate all the work you put in. People don’t realize you do 40 asks in order to try to get the best and most diverse lineup and it takes a lot of hustle. It doesn’t just fall in your lap.
I think that rounds out what worked with the event. Obviously, there are more things, but just in the interest of time. We have a few things that I feel like we could improve in future events, given that this was our first time doing essentially, a big online remote event like this. I think the list is good. Like it’s a good amount of learning that we got from these events.
Xander: We learned a ton. That is so true.
Rob: That’s the thing. The first one is just Shindig, which is that the software platform used really didn’t live up to what we needed. It was both in the broadcasting of it. I think you were saying people were like not seeing audio, not seeing video, not seeing this part, and not seeing that part.
Then when people tried to connect in the hallway track where we were trying to connect individuals like that part weren’t necessarily functioning. Of course, you spent dozens of hours evaluating (I don’t know how many tools) six, eight tools across a wide range of technologies, a wide range of prices, and all that stuff.
Everybody promises the world and then you get in and the day off during a livestream, that thing doesn’t work. Someone suggested as well, we could try this on a more local event like try with only 100 people. If we had done that, it probably would have worked just fine, and then when we went to 570 at our peak, it wouldn’t work.
Having an in-between I don’t think actually helps. It fails at a certain point. It’s somewhere between 400 and 600, I think is where things started falling off the bus, and so unless we had that many people, I don’t think because it truly was a scale thing was my understanding.
Xander: I think that there was a bit of a balance there were the issues that we ran into seemed likely we were going to run into those same issues at 100 attendees. The platform itself, at one point, completely locked me out as an admin being able to run the show, being able to upload feeds, being able to manage changes to individual feeds as they were being streamed there.
I will say that the reason that we chose Shindig was the implementation of the networking element. It created this sentiment of being seated at a table with other guests that were in attendance. You can control the number of guests that were seated at each table. That was one of the parameters that we had set for them to only have 10 people per table there were seating up to 30 people at each individual table all the way without following the parameter that we set in the back end.
There were a lot of little bugs and glitches that were peppered throughout the back end of the software that didn’t follow the inputs that we had submitted. This is like any other SaaS product that has a robust back end that it could be adjusted to meet the expectations that you have as a user of that piece of software, but the glitches and the breaks that were happening were based around some of those particular inputs that you had.
There was really very little way to recreate that type of experience ahead of the event as an individual producer. These are things that I am sure that the technology has gotten feedback on prior to, that wasn’t the feedback that I have got when I had talked with them to really investigate whether the platform would be usable for us. It wasn’t in the end of the referral information that I had pulled from some of the industry folks that were using the tool.
The software itself, I can hope that it is moving in a direction that it’s going to solve the problems that it does have in place because if it does, then I think that the concept of the hallway tracker, the networking elements of the event experience would be amazing.
It said that it did the thing that we were looking for in a product. There are tons of them out there. We looked at some of the more enterprise-level like an expo. We looked at livestream. We were considering using just YouTube and Slack which is something we’ll get into a little bit later.
We had to explore to hop in… There were a number of tech products that were doing similar things to different varying degrees of success with their users themselves and Shindig was the platform that had ticked a number of the boxes that we were looking to maximize on, or it ticked a number of the boxes that we were seeking out in a platform. Ultimately, without having 500-700 test cases within an infrastructure, you’re only able to see what it can do under that mass of execution when you have that number of people in a space. It was daunting, I will say that.
Rob: Yeah. Another thing that I feel like we could improve is that we’ve commented on how this event was different or is different than an in-person MicroConf. I’m not sure how much that fully sunk in for me until we were doing it, but I was there. I was like, yeah, this is not a regular MicroConf. I don’t know that we communicated that in crystal clear terms to people.
We got, I believe it was like 70% first-timers who had never been to a MicroConf, which is great. I mean, that’s part of the beauty of remote, but the 30%, who had been to one may have expected this to be like a MicroConf event that was filmed in live stream and that isn’t what this was. We mixed it up. I think setting that expectation next time would probably be beneficial.
Xander: Yeah, I would tend to agree with that.
Rob: The last one you have your pivots, Slack and YouTube. What do you think in there?
Xander: Yeah. In the midst of the show, we ended up just leaning on some of the tools that we have been using for the last four months when some of the videos and audio feeds were going down for individual users. We were streaming our signal out including both the video and the audio streams, but there were points where the screen was blacking out for one of our presenters. There were elements where the audio would cut and it would just be the video.
What we ended up doing is taking the actual stream from that we were patching into Shindig, and we just sent it straight into YouTube. We had our MicroConf Connects channel that was running side by side with a YouTube stream for people that weren’t able to actually use Shindig as a platform.
To be able to make that pivot and to implement these alternative resources in the midst of an event, I think that’s something that you wouldn’t often see at a live event. Either you wouldn’t be able to make that quick switch and have a similar experience in a live event. If you have to change hotels, if you have to change rooms, meeting spaces, and things like that, you would find yourself in a bit of a struggle in order to execute that in a pretty quick turnaround sense. I think that that was something that was successful based on some of the challenges we ran into using Shindig.
Rob: Yeah. Kind of reminds me of a sprinkler going off and having to move for himself. Too soon.
Xander: Yeah. That stuff.
Rob: All right. Well, sir, thanks for coming on and reliving the victories and some of the struggles and things we would do differently next time. It was a heck of an event to mark your one year anniversary working full-time on MicroConf.
Xander: Yeah, it was a good time. It was a struggle. There were some significant pitfalls in that you have to get past those as a producer. Everything is moving so quickly, you’ve got to step past them and move on to the next thing as quickly as you can in order to keep the show running. As they say, the show must go on.
Rob: All right, sir, and if folks want to see what you’re working on, microconf.com, so much of what goes up there is you and if they email firstname.lastname@example.org, they can send feedback directly to you.
Rob: All right. Thanks again for coming on the show.
Xander: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure being on for my first time after all these years.
Rob: Awesome. I hope it was interesting for you to hear some of the inside baseballs around MicroConf Remote. Thanks again to producer Xander for joining me on the show. That’s it for this week. Although there will be another episode of TinySeed tales in your earbuds this Thursday morning. I hope you’re enjoying season two so far, so thank you as always for listening to Startups For the Rest of Us, and I will be in your earbuds again next Tuesday morning.