The economics of conferences are terrifying.
If you want to run a conference then you need a place to hold it. The places with the best locations, and the best meeting space, are the hotels. But hotels don't make their money from renting out their ballrooms. They make it from selling hotel rooms; from heads in beds. The more people stay in the hotel, the more $5 cans of coke, $10 videos and $20 cheeseburgers get sold.
So the hotel asks you to guarantee that people will stay in their hotel. And your conference delegates need a place to stay. That's why, for Business of Software 2009, I've had to promise the hotel that they'll sell some 600 hotel room nights. And if they don't, then I'll have to pay for them myself. And then there's the cost of feeding all those hungry conference delegates. With coffee at $10 a cup, and a bacon and egg muffin double that, it's not surprising that we spent $9,171.60 just on ice cream in one of the breaks last year.
Which is why, on Friday, I underwrote about $300,000 of costs. Which is terrifying.
But, as Theodore Roosevelt said about bear hunting, the thrill is in overcoming your own fear. So I did it anyway. With the economy nose-diving and the future opaque, it would have been sensible, understandable, not to run the conference in 2009. It's easy to be cautious, to cut back, to think twice, when things are uncertain. To lay people off, to cancel Christmas parties, to freeze and wait and see what everybody else does before you move. To kill your side projects, to abandon your mISV and to return to the cozy safety of your day job.
But if you do what everybody else does, what results do you get? You get the same results as everybody else. Which is great in a boom, but not in a bust. The only way to thrive in a bust, to beat the market, is to be different.
The second London Business of Software meet-up is under a month away. To join us, sign up online.
Last week's question of the week was 'What would you change about how you write software?' Jonathan Wax wins the $20 for the best answer of "stop making up requirements based on internal debate", a common problem in software development.
This week's QOTW is 'Who would you like to hear speak at Business of Software 2009, and why?'. I'll give $20 to the best answer.
Business of Software 2009 will be held in central San Francisco from November 9th to November 11th. It's a Joel on Software conference for the second year running. To stay up to date, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my blog's RSS feed.