Jul 6 2011

Our Startup Story: Introducing Uncubed (Denver Coworking)

John

This post won’t mean much to you if your’e not in Denver. Though if you ever find yourself passing through, know that there’s a desk waiting for you, no charge.

 

I haven’t gotten bored of 360|Conferences yet, in fact after a successful and profitable 360|Flex 2011 I’m very much excited for the future of 360|Conferences. That doesn’t mean I can’t explore new avenues.

Last week we signed a lease for a large warehouse. Large like 6000 sq/ft. It’s going to be called Uncubed, and it’s a coworking (among other things) space.

There’s no shortage of coworking spaces in Denver, I won’t lie, I can think of 4 off the top of my head and know of a few more opening. That said, there really is room for more, as the ones I’ve visited so far couldn’t be more dis-similar from each and for the matter from what we’re planning to do.

Most cater to some degree to creatives, as those communities are the ones most dialed into the coworking ‘thing’, but none are exclusive to those communities. Some have plastered fliers around Denver and no doubt have a really wide range of “butts in seats”.

While making money (at least not losing it) is a huge motivator for us (as it is with any business) our primary goal will be creating a space where the right people are hanging out. A place where we’re all in one room, with comfortable chairs, fast internet, great coffee, and most importantly, people we want to be around, and want to be around us.

To put is succinctly… Makers.

 

We’re just getting started, so stay tuned. But if you’re in Denver working from home or a coffee shop or (not to be too poachy) another coworking space. Check us out, we’re all about Denver Coworking. Right now the website is just a landing page (but feel free to sign up for the email blast that will let you know more) with all the regular social links, etc.


Jun 1 2011

Our Startup Story: No Money, No Problem

James Kim

You’ve got the idea and you know all about the business solutions that are available to help get your business off the ground. Trouble is, you don’t know where to get the money. To help get your dreams of starting a new small business on track, here are some of the most common ways to get funding:

 

Personal

Before looking anywhere else, you’ll want to figure out what your options are personally. You can go to a site like guidantfinancial.com to learn how to get money through loans against your 401K or IRA funds. In addition, you can just take the traditional approach and go to a bank and get debt financing, which is just paying a set interest rate at a scheduled set of repayments. The advantage of these options is that they don’t require you to give up any control in your business and keep your reliance on others to a minimum.

 

Friends and Family

Friends and family are an ideal source to get money from if you don’t need too much. You’ll be working with people you trust and you’re bound to get a better deal from them than you would from the nearest bank. However, the most important thing to remember when getting funding from people you know is that you should always write up a contract. It might seem silly, but you really don’t want to end up in a situation where there’s a disagreement later on that breaks up your relationship.

 

Angel Investors

An angel investor is just someone who will give you money for your business in exchange for either equity or convertible debt. If you trade for equity, you lose some control over your business, but you’ll also have a partner that might be able to help move things along. In order to find angel investors, you can go to directories at places like inc.com or keiretsuforum.com.

 

Business Accelerators

Business accelerators are just companies that will usually give you around “$25,000 for a 6 percent ownership stake” in your business. However, even though you’re giving away equity, you get a lot in return. A business accelerator will teach you how to start up your business and will be a true partner. Basically, they’re going to ensure to the best of their ability that their initial investment in you pays off.

 

These common methods of funding have hopefully struck a chord with you. If you’re able to secure the funding you need, you should be well on your way to successfully starting up your business.

 

James Kim is a writer for Choosewhat.com. ChooseWhat is a company that provides product reviews and test data for business services and products.  Their goal is to help small companies make informed buying decisions on business solutions that help their business.


Dec 3 2010

Our Startup Story – No plan is foolproof

John

If you looked at 360|Conferences now, and compared us to the early days after 360|Flex San Jose ’07, you’d see a lot of differences.

As 2011 approaches, and we’re working on our last event of 2010, it’s clear (as much as these things can be) that 2011 will be a big year for us.

Things that Tom and I started that were, according to us, at the fiber of our beings, are changing. 360|Flex, at least for 2011 will only happen one time. Ditto for 360|iDev. Going to 1 event a year, was something were were firmly against, but the realities of business and the community can’t be argued with indefinitely.

Having an event 2x a year, obviously means our expenses are doubled. Sure something can be bought in bulk for both to save, but mostly, things like hotel rooms, venues, food, AV, etc are just doubled. However having an event every six months makes it very easy for folks to “skip this one, I’ll come to your next one” because really they only have to wait 5-6 months. That’s all well and good, but for the business to work, we need folks coming to both. I mean it’s not like 1 is a repeat, both events are unique and offer a ton of stuff, but I can’t count how often we heard, “I’ll see you at the next one”

So as we wrapped up 360|Flex DC (Failure BTW) and 360|iDev Austin, Nicole and I decided that 1 a year, a bit larger in size to make up for the second one going away, made the most sense for us and the community. Looking at the other events in the space, most are annual conferences. Those that aren’t (from the outside) seem to be struggling to put butts in seats as well.

So yeah reflecting back on the start of this business, it’s clear, you can have one vision, but when you look back a few years later (assuming you’ve made it that far) you’ll see that the initial vision was a bit blurry and out of focus.

Here’s to 2011 being the year that 360|Conferences makes stable money, can grow, and do even more cool things for the communities we serve!


Jul 29 2010

10 Mistakes made in starting up.

John

I saw this post on quicksprout, and the first one pinged right off the bat. It’s a great post of 10 common mistakes.

When I saw that #1 was “Speed” i knew I had to post something there. Tom and I argued… ok fought about speed a lot. I’m a very now now now, let’s do it now vs. wait around and do it later person. Tom is the opposite.  So is Nicole for that matter, but she’s at least open to letting me convince her I’m right :)

#3 is a good one. Hard to make work, but a good one. It’s really hard to remove emotion from the equation. A sponsor being lame, or backing out, or people abusing press passes, it hurts. It’s an affront to you, and feels like a slap in the face, and it’s hard to not do the first thing that comes to mind. But I agree it’s often (I don’t know if I’d say always) best to let logic win out.

#7 Is interesting. 360|Conferences wouldn’t exist without Tom and I. Neither of us is likely to have done it on their own. I know it wasn’t on my mind, and pretty sure it wasn’t on Tom’s. But the two of us together bootstrapped the company into 4 anchor events a year, plus a few one-off trial events etc. And not to be all horn tooty, pretty sure we’re why several others have created events. A business partner is a huge asset, but as Tom and I learned, you need to be more than just friends. You need to be on the same page. Turns out Tom and I were rarely on the same page, and only sometimes reading the same book.

The rest of the list is great, and I agree with each item. I take vacations, sometimes a weekend off, etc. I plan for just enough of tomorrow to know what I want to do the next day, but if you were to ask me what 2012 or even 2011 looked like for us, the best I’d be able to say is 4 events, a possible location. That’s it.It’s grand to plan out to 2015, but it’s the stuff in between that’s FAR more important.


Jul 27 2010

10 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Marketing

John

i saw this and thought it was it an interesting list. With very little budget, beyond what I spend on Google adwords (Not a huge pay off, but does get a few registrations) and some moo cards from time to time, the marketing budget for 360|Conferences is very much bootstrapped.

The twitter rule is a big one. I manage about 7 twitter accounts. tweeting discount codes, RT’ing things I think the communities those accounts care about would be interested in, etc. It’s damn near a fulltime job on it’s own. but it does pay off over time. It’s not huge, or fast, but when looked at cumulatively, it’s a steady building wave. The more I tweet, the more people RT, the more widespread the message gets. For events, it’s especially important to leverage the network effect. the 360flex account has about 1500 followers, each of those has their own number, etc. so each person who helps spread the word, has near infinite reach.

#5 is something I need to do better at. I’ve got awesome friends, who introduce me to new people when we’re out. They do a great job of talking up the particular conference they’re tied to, but then it’s my turn and I nod, agree with their statements, and maybe add something boring. I’m working on that aspect. Not quite an elevator pitch, but a short burst of “Why you should be attending as well”

#6 is timely. We started video taping sessions this past spring. They’re very successful, each is $3.50 there’s currently a buy 5 get 1 free deal, and they’re selling pretty well. Not paying my phone bill, but covering hosting, etc and giving me lunch and beer money. Which is great since even if I’m at an even keel, that’s better than spending what little I have. We’re already planning to increase the video quality for the fall events, by buying some HD flip cams. Not everything this time will be HD, but we’re phasing out SD.

We’re also going to get more testimonial, man on the floor type video this fall, to produce some fun/cool videos to show people why they should be at 360|events.

#7 I think we came close to pioneering :) We reach out to our speakers to help get the word out. We don’t demand it, but we ask each one to help make noise, help raise awareness, etc. After all people pay more attention to the speakers, they’re big names in the communities, well connected, etc. When they speak people listen. It works really well. Leveraging their names, and fame to help increase attention on the event, is a big boost.

#10 is a tough one for me. As a developer and person who’s on lots of lists, every email campaign I create I have a mental block to get past of “is this too much?” For the most part, and this was awesome advice from Liz.. Go just past your comfort zone on sending emails. If you think you’re getting close to annoying, you can probly send one more email. Our own filters are naturally strong, so it’s tough to reach past them. But it’s true. My mailing lists for the most part grow weekly/monthly as I send out more and more interesting things.

What works for you? Leave a comment, share your thoughts.


May 21 2010

Shady business practices – Not required

John

I’m always amazed (sadly) when companies do things that are just plain shady. Not dishonest, but boarderline, more just icky, things most people would feel guilty about.

Case in point (I’m not naming names… at least not right now)

At the most recent 360|iDev conference I met 2 guys who run a small software developer newsletter/newspaper. They also do events. One of them paid for a regular attendee ticket, they other asked for and received a press pass.

They came and said hello when I was at the desk, and nicely let me know they were planning their own iPhone conference.

More the merrier, sure I’d love to be the only show, but I’ll settle for being the best. They expressed their desire to not overlap, or in any way interfere with 360|iDev, and presumable receive the same from me. Cool.

One thing that stuck with me was that they flat out said in the course of our conversation, “we like to think we’re the good guys in conferences”

I didn’t see them much the rest of the conference, turns out the “press” only came for 1 day and posted a nice post on his personal blog about the conference.

The other guy spent (to the best of my knowledge) the rest of the conference poaching speakers (and possibly/most likely sponsors)

Now, don’t get me wrong, poaching speakers and sponsors is par for the course. Recruiting speakers to your events, involves seeing them at other events. However I find it completely slimy that I basically helped finance the poaching by giving a press pass.

Sure passes are largely a soft cost, but there’s an expected quid pro quo in giving someone from the press a pass. IF they even come (a lot will ask for a pass, but then never show. I don’t get it, but whatever) they write about it. Heck even a “X event was nice” something to show that you appreciated the pass, and the courtesy extended for the press.

I finally wrote one of the offenders, expressing my feelings of being taken advantage of, and got back

“There wasn’t any hard news  (ie, product announcements) that were picked up but Alan did blog about the conference:”

No explanation or denial that I had indeed helped fund their fishing trip, no apology for an act that didn’t come across as the actions of a “Good guy”. Just the above and “If you want to come to our event, let me know” Not even a “here’s a discount code”

Off the top of my head there was the merger of two indie iphone dev companies, Fastmac had all kinds of cool new products they were announcing/showing, we had a round table discussion about Apple’s SDK agreement clause 3.3.1, we had a 12 year old who had several apps in the app store, and was working on iPad games in attendance, we had a 12 hour game jam going on over night,  and more. Other press had no trouble finding plenty to write about (see here)

It’s sad that there are businesses who find this type of behavior ok.

It’s sadder still that as a result, the “no longer allowed press credentials” list has an entry on it.


May 4 2010

When the formula works you’ll know it.

John

360|Flex San Jose made over 110k…. We of course were in huge debt coming out of 2009, so we cleared no where near that. but that’s the most a 360|Event has ever made.

Clearly we’re doing better at this than before :)

Not super terrific awesome, but better.

I think we’ve found pricing that works ($499 first 100, $599 the rest), and stays true to our “Not breaking the Indie bank” ethos. We’ve also found a rhythm in selling sponsorships. Turns out I’m actually pretty good at it. These two things combined, with really aggressive selling to the community, seem to be paying off.

Our sponsorship package has gotten more wide ranging, and I think truly offers our sponsors a great value. For 360|iDev, I actaully had to turn people away, we simply didn’t have anything left to make into a sponsorship, and I refuse to simply take people’s money without giving them the absolute more value for their spend.

As the transition from 2 man team to 1 man team (Actually my wife is a major part of the company now) finishes it’s 6 month progression, I find myself even more excited about 360|Conferences. There’s lots to do, and plenty of uncertainty, but that’s exciting. I’m working hard to get 360|Mobile locked in. I’ve already begun looking at locations for 360|Flex and 360|iDev Fall. I’ve even started the ball rolling for 360|iDev Spring 2011, if you can believe that!

Oh and Europe. We might actually make it to Europe in 2010. Still TBD.


Nov 20 2009

8 Secrets of Success

John

Some dude I’ve never heard of, has 8 words that are the secret of success. They’re below with my thoughts on them. I found them over on Small Biz Bee.

1. Passion – Duh. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, why are you doing it. I’ve found (although i never would have guessed it) that I’m passionate about bringing people together, helping people meet, creating an atmosphere were great things are born.

2. Work – Yeah it’s work. Doing what you love feels less like work, but it’s still work, it’s still hard. Possibly harder than a “job” since failure is on you, you don’t just punch a clock go home, and not care.


3. Focus – This is hard. Tom and I have struggled with this. We’ve been lured to Europe earlier than we probably should have (though we learned good lessons there). We’ve tried to expand into things without looking, etc. Focus is important it’s something I’m trying to get a better grasp on.


4. Persist – I can’t agree more. It’s hard, at least weekly I wonder if I should fold up. Do our last two events and try to find a job. It’s hard, we’re not making much right now, though I feel that’s on the verge of changing, i know it is, but i’m in the now financially, which is tough. I know though, if I persist and work hard and as Gary Vee would say, “Crush It” I’ll succeed.


5. Ideas - This is the fun part. I’m usually not short on ideas. Ditching paper surveys, USB Drives instead of CDs, an AIR app for surveys, etc. It’s fun to think of ways to 1. be a better company, and 2. innovate the completely whacked out, old school conference business. Some ideas are awesome, some, not so much. Tom and I are at our absolute best when we’re throwing ideas at each other, sharing the “Ah snap! That’s awesome!” moments.


6. Good – This is important. Tom is a bible thumper :) I’m not, but I do believe in Karma, and we both agreed, even before we had money to give that we’d make sure we gave 20% of each event’s profit to charity. Whether it’s a check, or service, or something else. We agreed, and as Tom moves on I intend to continue the tradition, that 10% goes to the community out event serves, and 10% will be to a charity making the world a better place. I firmly believe that any business not doing good for the world around it, isn’t doing enough. We haven’t always been in a position to write a check, and it makes us sad, but when we are, it’s the best feeling on Earth.


7. Push – This is tough. My wife pushes me. She pushes me because she wants to see me succeed, and she pushes me because she wants the company to make money so we can pay the bills. Both are incredibly important. I also push myself, for both of those reasons, but also I push myself (And I push Tom for a few more months) because I think we’re doing a good thing, and I want to continue to do that good thing.


8. Serve – Easy. Tom and I have never lost sight of who we serve. We serve two masters; sponsors, and attendees. Sponsors pay us to get in front of our attendees, to meet them, to introduce them to their product or service. Sometimes they sponsor just to help the community. But we owe it to them to make the event the best it can be, have the most attendees we can, etc. The attendees on the other hand, pay us to see and hear the speakers, to meet the rest of the community, and to learn. We owe it to them to make sure the event delivers all that and more. It’s not always easy, but we’ve never lost sight of why we do events. We do them to serve the community with something we believe it lacked. We’ll continue to serve them, until they tell us otherwise :)

I’m not sure these were necessarily secrets, but they’re truths for sure. At least in my opinion. What do you think? Are there more? Are there other ‘secrets’ you think valuable?

Watch the video it’s a good use of 3 minutes. My take away. Success is charging people $4000 to attend an event, that they they have to be invited to… ok it’s not, but damn talk about reinforcing “A fool and his money…”


Nov 5 2009

Philly Startup Leaders Interviews.

John

Jeff tweeted about this, and I had to write a post about it.

I had no idea this group/organization existed, but Philly Startup Leaders has a video  series (6 deep at the moment)

Screen shot 2009-11-04 at 9.22.21 AM

I just started watching the videos, which I plan to rip and put on my iPod (sorry youtube, but these are gonna be gold mines I’ll want offline), but what’s nice it’s not your typical tech startup schmoes talking about how great they are, how hard it is, how cash flow something to worry about tomorrow, etc.

These videos talk about real entrepreneurship (IMO), not just the sexy tech startup stuff.

Great find Jeff!


Nov 4 2009

Because you can, doesn’t mean you should

John

I read this interesting interview with the twitter Co-Founders during Startup School.

The very first sentence is what struck me. “Biz Stone: We should start with Odeo, our older podcasting service. We realized we weren’t passionate about it. We were building it but we weren’t using it.

Tom and I have had discussions about this concept a lot, especially when looking at areas we thought bringing a community focused conference to would make sense. Sometimes we’ve ruled a community/industry out because while there were no events like ours (In our opinions) there were several events already, or even one big one, that weren’t worth fighting with for mind share. But more often than not it came down to, “Are we interested in that technology or community”

Stone: I remember earlier on when we were in Odeo, Ev went home and brainstormed for a weekend and thought about how we could make a successful business out of Odeo. And I thought it was genius. We were going to be the kings of podcasting. And then I slept on it. I told him I thought his plan was genius — but I asked him: do we want to be the kings of podcasting?

A perfect example was Microsoft Silverlight. It’s a growing community, much like Flex was when we started 360|Flex. We gave some really serious thought to a 360|Silverlight. The two main reasons we didn’t. Adobe would freak out, and it wasn’t worth the drama, but more importantly did we have an interest in Silverlight? Neither of us had plans to become Silverlight developers, nor did we even plan to tinker. Silverlight was out. I do hope someone steps up and does a Silverlight event like a 360|Conference. MS Devs need that.

This quote is funny, doesn’t really have anything to do with Conferences, but makes so much sense. “Early on people said Twitter is fun. It’s not useful. And Ev retorted, ‘So is ice cream. Should we ban ice cream?’ We realized we were engaged with it. It was right up our alley.

Williams: One of our biggest lessons time after time is to focus. Almost every time I meet with a startup and I give them feedback — it’s do fewer things.

I imagine one of the most common things i’ll write about on this blog is this. I hope that as a one man shop, focus isn’t as big a problem. Tom and I tended to feed off each other when it came to tinkering. Tom’s by far more easily distracted, but I’m easily sold on new ideas :) So we’re perfect for each other in the wrong way. We love to try new things, and in a tech startup there’s less issue (but I agree, control it buddy!) but trying out a new event, that’s risky. There’s a ton of investment (money and time, and brain cycles) in creating a new event, and if it doesn’t pan out, that’s that, you’re potentially really screwed, or just out some money and time, and possibly other events suffered a lack of attention.

The entire interview is a good read, i was really impressed. Startup School as an event looks really interesting as well.