“How do you beat Bobby Fischer? You play him at any game but chess.”
April Dunford shared this quote in her brilliant book, Obviously Awesome. We’re all reading it in the office. Not because she’s coming to the UK and we’re hosting some talks with her in early July nor because she’s speaking at BoS USA this year, (both are true). It’s because it is a great book and has changed the way we think about what we do.
One thing the book has changed our thinking on is how we approach working with supporters. We are a relatively small event, deliberately so. Our goal is not to run the biggest, the fastest growing, or the most profitable software conference in the world – we’re interested in being a conference that attendees and supporters alike love to attend.
We want to offer the best conference experience possible.
We love our supporters, we could not exist without them.
Conferences, particularly in a place like Boston, are super expensive to put on. We have always welcomed the support of sponsors while remaining very conscious that we do not want to turn BoS into another trade show/sponsor pitch fest.
The lack of sales pitches from fellow attendees is one of the things that people consistently say makes them return.
BoS is a place to hang out with your peers. Of course, deals get done, partnerships are formed, but the focus is on building relationships with other software people.
It is a high value group.
Many of our sponsors and supporters add great value to the event – Balsamiq offer young companies the chance to be seen at the conference, Twilio get involved in actively helping people to solve problems and plenty more…
We also get a lot of inbound inquiries about sponsoring BoS. It’s clear to us that we cannot meet the expectations of some of these leads which fit a very standard model of event/conference/exhibition sponsorship.
There are three things about sponsorship that really suck in my opinion.
- It sucks when I sign up for a conference and get bombarded by marketing emails from sponsors and end up receiving endless newsletters I never signed up to that damage the brand of the companies that do it. I think you probably hate that too. We will never give your email address away.
- The expectation that a sponsor gets to speak: this seems to be such a common occurrence that some people cannot believe we don’t offer the option. The truth for us is, the vast majority of our income comes from ticket sales. We were once offered $50,000 by a global law firm as sponsorship and ‘all’ they wanted was an opportunity to run a panel on software patents – I would probably have lost more in ticket sales. I cannot afford the reputational risk – people tell us that we curate incredible content, we want to keep it that way and any speakers we have are picked on merit alone. We will never sell access to the stage.
- When potential sponsors inquire about booth traffic or ask us to set up meetings for their sales teams. This works for some events, but it is just not for us. People come to BoS for the content, they listen to the talks then spend time talking about them and helping each other out in the breaks. They pay good money to learn and network, they can take sales calls at another time. Some supporters totally get this, some just don’t. We will always keep focused on the reasons people love the community.
This got us thinking. Who are the people that would bring value to the conference and the event and also stand to gain something in return?
Then it struck us.
Why not ask the people we trust – our attendees?
We would like to know who our attendees like working with, who our attendees think would bring value to the conference. They’re a pretty sharp and discerning crowd and know what makes BoS different.
If someone who has attended several conferences thinks that their lawyer, their investor, their search firm, their payment processor, would be a great fit, (not an OK fit, a great fit), then we think that other people at the conference will be interested in speaking to them too.
They will bring value to the event and stand to gain through their support.
We’re asking some of our regulars who they’re passionate about working with, not just people that are alright, people that add real value and would fit in.
Trust is Key
- We want to partner with great companies that our community trusts.
- Imagine being at an event where all the supporters come recommended by the attendees.
- They’re not selling themselves, their customers are endorsing them.
Why is supporting BoS different?
- You get recommended to an engaged audience of decision makers
BoS is an amazing community of smart people with a very high concentration of senior people from companies at many stages of growth. Our audience is a smart, discerning and savvy group of people. They trust us to put valuable information in front of them, year after year. We want to keep it that way. Being a BoS Supporter is an endorsement and recommendation from our attendees.
Supporters are seen as experts in their field, and rightly so – we wouldn’t work with them if they weren’t.
- We’re small, and always will be
BoS Conferences are not trade shows. There are no halls filled with booths, no sponsor centrepieces to compete with, no giant mecha-Transformers statues (seriously, we’ve seen it). We have a select group of supporters whose expertise and services can provide real value to our attendees. All supporters get a personal on-stage thank you and are pointed out to the rest of the attendees – great for picking up conversations later.
- We help you build relationships, not collect business cards
We’re all about building relationships at BoS, and we think conversations are the way to do that.
That’s why we set aside so much time for networking. Attendees often talk about the ‘Hallway Track’ being the highlight of a BoS Conference, and it’s easy to understand why – time speaking with peers, sharing ideas, discussing talks, and recommending products and strategies is precious time.
Supporters get ample time to network with this pool of brilliant entrepreneurs, and branding in the networking area is a great conversation starter. The BoS team is always on hand to make an introduction for you too.
We think this could increase the value for everyone – attendees and supporters alike. We would love to hear your thoughts.
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