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How to Organize a Conference: How We Made Over $100,000

I got asked by friends how we were able to get CommunityNext to sell out each time and over $100k in profits. Since I hate doing events, I’ll just share this information to make it easy for everyone else to do them.

The founders of Threadless speaking at Community Next

  1. The most critical thing of a successful event is making it NOT suck. I know that sounds cliche but it’s about getting valuable speakers and providing a great forum for relevant people to connect. Work backwards from what you know works so you can guarantee your success. With CommunityNext we never even realized how much money we made until the event was over. Our priority was for everyone to LOVE what we put on. That’s why we got Threadless, PlentyOfFish, Fark, HotOrNot and other people to the valley that aren’t considered regulars. We also paid extra for open bars before this is now common. Lastly, we got the best food (Hawaiian!). People remember those details (and Kahlua cabbage is soo good)!
  2. Get to break-even ASAFUCKINGp. That’s it. Once I got there I was set. This means that people will start saying to each other “oh, you going.” “oh yea,” And ones who aren’t going will feel left out.
  3. Mailing lists are GOLD. We got on and some VC associate mailing lists which were giant. Try to attract people who can expense it, easier for them to make purchasing decision. Teacher conferences must be tough:)
  4. Partner with local offline groups. Meetup is a great way to find them. A great audience of potential attendees.
  5. DON’T SHIT your pants if you have only sold 15 tickets and there are 2 weeks left. If your event sucks well maybe you should. Otherwise 80% of sales come in the last 2 weeks of an event.
  6. Think of hitting up vc associates. They love this shit, have great expense accounts and can promote to the companies they have in portfolio.
  7. Going back to #1. Really need your core locked. That is around 20-40 people who either got free or discounted tickets.
  8. Hit up Dave McClure and other people who have events, Charles Hudson, Cassie Philips & sfbeta. They are the godfathers of events in the bay area, they can help you promote via their lists or provide suggestions.
  9. Post your event in the generic bitch places, you get 1-2 sales from them, ie. Craigslist posting, yahoo upcoming, plancast & facebook event.
  10. Enable tracking links in Eventbrite, so you can see where your sales are coming from.
  11. Leverage people who already bought. Give them 1/2 off for 1 friend. Always ask people how they hear about your event and why they are going?Conference
  12. Realize 99.99999999999999999999999999% of events are networking. This totally surprised me as I wanted to learn great things. The speakers and price just help filter the types of people who will come. It’s hard to encourage it but alcohol is an amazing social lubricant and try to do fun things with nametags. Ensure that every attendee gets connected with someone. A great tip is to email every attendee before the event to find out what would make the even invaluable for them.
  13. You should discount your early bird around enough that selling 10-15% of capacity will get you to break-even. With Community Next I preferred keeping prices low and raising over time when demand rices. Although, one strategy that worked in our later events is keep prices high so people think it’s high value but give out coupons to get to break-even in the beginning.
  14. Add SnapABug to your site, at a $300 price point for tickets either hiring someone at $15 / hour or doing it yourself is a very good ROI
  15. Consider a twitter RT free ticket thingy. Seed with 1-3 key people in your area or target market. Give them 1 ticket to give away for followers retweeting. Should help sell 10-20 tickets. Try to aim for people who have over 500 followers on Twitter with a 2/1 follower (>500) / following( <250) ratio.
  16. Ask questions. And learn how to ask good questions so you get better responses. We found some really good sales by asking on Linkedin Answers. Try on now too.
  17. Do a freebie. This one for business on software worked well. What worked well for CommunityNext was having 1 open slot during the day and letting users vote on it. Ie. User’s choice panel. We actually had someone cheat so watch out for that too.
  18. Buy Google & Facebook ads. Try reddit ones for geekier events. At our $300 price point we bought on the names of speakers / companies, surprised we sold tickets from this manner.
  19. Your SUCCESS METRIC of your event is NOT profit but retention for future events. Simple things to improve this: connect people during your events, spend more to have drinks for Free all day long and don’t have sponsors that don’t add value or do cool stuff at your event. A nice thing is also to prep your speakers over the phone to make sure what they are going to say won’t suck. It’s about the kind of relationship you have with your customers.
  20. Trade labor for promotion. You inevitably get a few freeloaders who want to help, let them.
  21. Enable your people to promote for you. We gave out badges, now you can give people things to tweet and post to Facebook / LinkedIn statuses. Ps. Try encouraging people to promote to LinkedIn groups, don’t think this has been done much.
  22. Surprise people. Do the unexpected, but be authentic and personal so the people who attend orgasm.

Ultimately when doing your event you need to think about why you personally want to go and attend. Get that figured out, setup a budget, lock a few speakers down, get your core group and you are good to go!

Click here to download my Excel template budget for conferences spreadsheet.

Click here to view the Google Sheets version. (Then click File > Make a Copy)

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18 responses to “How to Organize a Conference: How We Made Over $100,000”

June 14, 2018 at 10:28 pm

Thank you so much for including your spreadsheet, I’ve had no idea where to start. Boss threw me into a behemoth of an event and I’ve never done event planning on this scale. Your tips are hilarious but also short and to the point, I appreciate it.

Robin Switzer
April 18, 2018 at 5:59 pm

Awesome content, great suggestions!

Marilyn Bostick
June 19, 2016 at 7:04 am

this is amazing seriously it is like you are in my brain and holding my scared hand

August 29, 2014 at 1:36 am

Hi Noah – can’t open the spreadsheet. Is it broken or do I need some special software?


Jeff Fisher
June 4, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Noah! Thank you for the inspiration! After reading about your “Craft Cocktail Hour” event. I decided to try the same thing myself (read copied idea)..the thing is no one wanted it. So, I failed. Big deal. Yes, find out want people want and go with what you know! At the end of February I got the chance to have Gold Record winner Kevin James of K5 Music and DJ Trashy come to town for a CD release party. Thing is… I was the only one who could do it. And I had no money. But I pulled it off, somehow. I lost money on the deal (spring break weekend and poor weather effected the attendance), but it was just tuition for the “course”. I learned so much in process! Then I tried to set up another smaller event, two months later I still haven’t worked it out. I may scrap it if the numbers cant be tweaked. But that’s okay. I’m planning something bigger! You’re right brother! Keep going, keep learning, stay positive and you will make it. I know I will! Thanks again!

Sam Parr
February 5, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Yes. Land a whale. Once we landed Andrew Warner, everything else was easier. It’s all about credibility. I had zero creditability…so once we got Andrew everything else was easy. Also, gifts do amazing things. We send a handwritten letter to Andrew with a bottle of scotch and he said yes.

Sam Parr
February 5, 2014 at 10:38 am

This post inspired me to do my own event. Thanks Noah!

Noah Kagan
February 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Hell yea. Anything we can learn from YOUR event? 🙂

July 3, 2013 at 11:34 am

Thanks for the awesome tips, Noah! Were you able to generate any money via sponsorships?

Noah Kagan
July 3, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Yea. About 40% of revenue was via sponsorships.

Key thing is identifying what the sponsors metric of success is and hitting / exceeding that.

June 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Wow, awesome stuff. I like the simpleness of getting attendees engaged – having an open slot they vote on, and asking them what would make the event killer for them before they go.

December 1, 2012 at 11:47 am

Fantastic article thanks, will experiment all the suggestions

Jason Tugman
October 29, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Great article. I have run several conferences in DC and can attest to what was said here.
One conference in particular was in it’s second year the year I ran it. We tripled our attendees list that year.
People WANT to share. They WANT to get excited. Your attendees are just as invested – if not MORE invested in your event as you are.
#12 is bang on. Going to the lectures is the thing I do in between networking, chatting and random ‘water cooler’ chats.
#5 is also SO fucking true. I was a nervous wreck 2 weeks out. People just do not register until the last minute. FACT!

Devin Reams
September 16, 2010 at 7:52 am

This is all great advice. Without the experience of helping with CommunityNext, planning two WordCamps wouldn’t have been as easy. Nice work, stud.

September 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Wish I was there for the open bar and tech talk… too bad they don’t host these in Thailand.

josh liptzin
September 4, 2010 at 7:47 am

awesome info. not planning any events but when i do ill be sure to check back

September 2, 2010 at 7:28 am

great post here, dear. straight forward with juicy tips. i’ll keep this in mind when i plan an event.

PS- i like it when you use ‘bitch’ in your post 😉

Chris McCann
September 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Hey Noah, thanks for the StartupDigest shoutout! Can you update the link to though? That’s our main page 🙂

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