TechPhx | The New PodcampAZ

When it comes to events focused on non-geek, beginner-type techies in the greater Phoenix area, no one event comes to mind more so than PodcampAZ. This year, in an effort to rejuvenate attendance, reach new people and to be able to explain exactly what the volunteer-led event is all about, they switched the name to TechPhx.

“It began as PodcampAZ, a national unconference focused on podcasting community,” Organizer Dani Cutler said. “Phoenix evolved it into video, blogging, web design, social media, etc.”

With that name change brought more focus on teaching and renewed interest in learning about how social media integrates with technology and business — along with a universal EventDay ticketing system that works on PC and Mac via any major browser.

While our service has worked great on any browser, the task of creating a universal printer app has been a project we’ve long been excited to unveil. Any laptop, along with a DYMO label printer and internet access, can be paired with a smartphone using our app to creating on-demand ticketing with all the usual check-in services we’ve always used.

“It was nice to have someone outside to scan QR codes to print out name tags,” Cutler said.

Our reports say TechPhx had 170 attendees over both days of their early November event, and each were scanned, badged at our registration table and registered in the database. We’re proud to be able to contribute to local, volunteer-run events like this, and know that they are important steps in creating a culture of discovering, making and doing.

Like Pressnomics over the same weekend, TechPhx was focused more on conversations than lectures.

“We all were very pleased with the speakers — 42 in the end, “Cutler said. “The speakers really liked the energy — more casual, more of a conversation…really happy with it.”

Looking forward to again helping out in 2013.

Pressnomics – Year One

WordPress has had its share of conference love. From WordCamp to prominent placement in beginner-focused conferences like TechPhx or heavy usage during Startup Weekends, the publishing software/CMS now powers at least 8,343,412 sites online, with over a million of those among the web’s most visited.

But until last weekend, there hadn’t existed many (if any) high-profile conferences focused on B2B companies that use WordPress to make money. Pressnomics, run by Pagely co-founders Josh and Sally Strebel, was created to give bigger, more serious (enterprise and other large-budget projects) businesspeople a chance to talk shop and exchange notes on how they use the still-free WordPress to provide customer solutions.

“After attending [and sponsoring] MANY WordCamps while evangelizing Pagely, they bored me as a business owner. The most valuable part was the conversations in the hallways, and I wanted an entire conference focused on those hallways conversations,” Josh said. “I wanted to learn more, interact more with people on my level.”

As with any new conference looking to get a bit of marketing buzz going, Josh seeded the industry with invites to specific companies with larger-than-average presences in the commercial WordPress community. After that, spots were first come, first serve.

Tony Perez of understood the approach.

“Invite process was interesting,” Tony said. “Exclusivity builds buzz, [it’s] good marketing.”

Tony especially liked being able to network with other companies just like his, instead of the typical beginners and solo shops prevalent at other events like WordCamp. And because Pressnomics wasn’t under the WordPress Foundation umbrella, the focus was more on sharing business stories, rather than typical developer or designer needs.

“It IS about money, it is about marketing,” Tony said. “[It was] an event tailored for the business ecosystem — looking to engage with other pros, extend your ideas or posture [about solutions]. If you’re looking to build a widget or design one, [it’s] not the event for you.”

Director of Engineering for sponsor New Relic Darin Swanson likened Pressnomics to an untapped market of movers and shakers of B2B of WordPress land. While Darin would have liked more questions to be asked during sessions, he though the quality of the presentations were, on average, above average.

“The information flow was awesome. One of the better ones,” Darin said. “Daily emails, Uber for airport pickups and the Twitter presence was great. Hotel was easy, too. It just worked.”

While the Strebels wouldn’t commit to another Pressnomics, feedback shows the event was useful and necessary, as having attendees from all six continents showed there wasn’t anything comparable around the world.

No official word on a sequel.

Microsoft Visual Studio Launch

It’s always fun working with Microsoft at their events. Their locations are always well located, decorations and other considerations are pleasantly arranged and the food for both staff and attendees is always off the charts. In this past year, we’ve coordinated our own AZ (Microsoft users) Group, traveled to San Francisco to help introduce the world to Windows Azure and most recently flew up to the Seattle pier to run the registration desk for the Visual Studio Launch on September 12.

But day-of tasks are not all we’ve done for each of these events. Before the event, we built registration microsites, worked with Microsoft staff on badge design and lanyards and acted as ‘I need to get this done but I don’t have the time to figure it out’ type of helpers that every good event has on hand.

While the Visual Studio Launch was easily the smallest of our most recent Microsoft events, it may have been the most important — it was for enterprise customers, high-ranking Microsoft employees and the press. Our tasks, once we arrived on site, were to check in 300ish people (giving them badges and lanyards, a gift bag and direct them to coat check) without using any sort of stanchions for line control and pre-printed badges.

While we typically prefer to print badges on site, this invite-only event prompted the event planners to order all the badges with names on them in hopes of eliminating possible bottlenecks. It worked. Our staff met attendees at the door, showed them to the proper badge pick-up line, distributed their materials and guided them where they needed to go with nary a delay.

The registration desk is usually the first thing any attendee sees when attending a conference, and the swanky-ness of this set up made it even more important that we establish a proper mood and tone for those walking through the door.

Did I mention the goodies? Have you ever had ahi tuna, shrimp and scallops mixed in a Mediterranean sauce and emptied into a martini glass? How about a real leather satchel bag — that’s cool and practical enough to be usable — as a giveaway item? Or plush seating surrounded by purple drape? Microsoft and their Visual Studio Launch attendees sure did.

See you next time!

Check out the EventDay Facebook page for our collection of pictures.

LoopLogic Public Launch With Stephane Legay

A few weeks back we helped host the 9th Annual AZGroups featuring Scott Guthrie and Windows Azure. We had fantastic local sponsors, great presentations by Guthrie, Scott Hanselman, and Brady Gaster, and Stephane Legay’s public unveiling of LoopLogic.

As Scott Cate explains in the video, EventDay is geared to provide pre-event assistance (micro-site, online registration, event help (fast check-in, real-time stats, digital signage) and post-event production (videos made with LoopLogic’s Magic Boxes).

While that certainly seems enough for sister companies, LoopLogic has a few features that we’re especially proud of. Here Legay shows the screen recorder for the first time onstage.

But that’s not the only news to come out of AZGroups last June 19. Check out the AZGroups LoopLogic page for videos from the rest of the event.

9th Annual AZ Groups Offers Intimate Look At Tech

If there’s one thing geeks can agree on, it’s that free events sponsored by tech companies are worth attending. Whether it’s for the networking, the client deals, or even the swag, showing up at AZ Groups means one thing: you’re ready to get some tech learnin’ on.

We certainly finished some testing, too. Both EventDay and LoopLogic were on hand to lend their specific services to the event, beginning with EventDay at the registration table. 720 guests checked in throughout the day, the majority of them during the 40 minutes before our 8am start.

But with five minute or less wait in line, we were pretty happy at the effectiveness of the EventDay software. Most attendees brought their QR codes either printed out or on their smartphones, which speeded registration up considerably.

The content didn’t disappoint. From Scott Guthrie to Brady Gaster and Scott Hanselman to LoopLogic’s Stephane Legay, the Scottsdale Center For Performing Arts stage was buzzing from 8am until lunch at Blue Moose at noon, then again all afternoon until 5pm.

We had an iPad giveaway (thanks Pluralsight!), free lunch, complimentary beer and wine after the show, and 10 fantastic sponsors offering business solutions to attendees.

Cate and company are looking forward to next year’s event. Any ideas on how to make a splash celebrating a decade of great tech gatherings?

Want more pictures? Check out the EventDay Facebook album.

Meet Windows Azure Event A Success

It can be tough to be a contractor or vendor at large company event run by many, many other contractors and vendors. While most professionals know what they’re doing, styles can clash, processes can grind on each other and personalities can plain not work together.

SOMA Party
Thankfully, our last event at Madrone Studios with Microsoft and a slew of other hard-working event professionals was not one of too-often-told nightmare scenarios. Sure, giveaways needed to be stuffed, tables had to be rearranged, layout changes were made more than once and there was even an improvised coat check, but save for a few hangnails and a box of red staff shirts that never made it, we’re happy to report Meet Windows Azure on June 6 a resounding success.

Invite Only
Tasked with designing an online registration system and event check-in service, co-founder Scott Cate worked closely with the Microsoft team to develop a solution that allowed them to invite specific guests and provide those guests with codes to share with their friends. The system Cate designed worked so well that we had nearly double capacity RSVPs before the doors opened, but thanks to some great planning by the Microsoft event team, we’d have had room even if they’d all shown up at once.

Urban Party
This Meet Windows Azure event was the biggest host Madrone Studios has produced so far. The small studio space in SOMA had its own quirks (one entrance, kitchen in the far back, scant parking) not unlike every other urban venue, but come event time, it didn’t matter much.

Block Party
Thanks to some proactive thinking, Microsoft had the street in front of Madrone Studios closed to accommodate overflow guests, lunch served from catering stations, food trucks during dinner time and a huge DJ stage headlined by Steve Aoki of crowd-surfing-in-an-inflatable-raft and sheet-cake-throwing fame. While we saw more than a few hard-core networkers last from doors opening at 11:30am until Aoki’s closing set at 9:30pm, we know there’s no way anyone walked away bored.

But before we go on and on (and on) about the parties, let’s talk about why everyone was there in the first place, Windows Azure.

“Windows Azure enables you to quickly build, deploy and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters. You can build applications using any operating system, language or tool.”

Azure is currently road tripping around the nation giving live-streamed chats about features, pricing, best practices, technology and a host of other community-minded topics, all in to showcase how powerful Azure really is. By the way, if you’ve watched the NFL or Olympics online, you’ve used Azure (it’s amazing).

We won’t go into the geeky details here, because Scott Guthrie and his group of Microsoft speakers can do a far better job.

We’re happy to have helped them introduce Windows Azure to the rest of the world. See you on the live streams!

The Weary Traveler

Weary Traveler, by *tinadelarosa

Weary Traveler, by *tinadelarosa

The alarm went off at 6am. What time was it back home? 4am? 9am? He could never remember what states were on what time, nor could he always remember where he woke up.

For the life of the seasoned business traveler, this happens a lot. Morning after morning in hotel rooms, day after day at conference centers, minutes upon hours waiting in line.

Waiting In Line(s)
Oh…the lines. They long, arduous minutes spent waiting to check in. The minutes tick by slowly as each person is methodically led to a check-in station, only to not have their ticket ready. Or not be on the list at all. Or not be in the right place.

But not our guy. Our guy had his ticket on his smartphone. He had registered appropriately, given all of his information and even checked his email when he woke up. He had his ticket, he was prepared.

So why did he have to wait in line? Surely he could be enjoying a quick breakfast or even sitting alone with a cup of coffee. Or maybe he could be making a new friend or be introduced to a potential client.

What Do You Do While Waiting?
He tried to make small talk in line, but everyone else was as frustrated as he was. They wanted out of their metaphorical cage. They wanted to be free of the stanchions marking their path. Some of them were also prepared. They had their tickets marked with QR codes. So why were they being punished with another long wait?

Then he heard a commotion a few people ahead of him. People were getting out of line. He saw a man in an EventDay hat scanning smartphones with his own, and then directing people to pick up their badges at the end of the counter.

These people had escaped the line. They were special, right?

The EventDay-hat-wearing man then appeared in front of our weary traveler.

“Good morning, sir! Might you have your ticket with QR code either printed out or on your smartphone?”

He did, and held out his phone with the QR code displayed. The man with the EventDay hat lined his own smartphone above the traveler’s and the traveler heard a beep.

“That’s it! Thanks for checking in. You can pick up your badge and event bag at the end of the counter. If you walk over there now, they will call your name when it’s ready.”

The traveler picked up his bag and walked to the counter. His name was called and he accepted his badge with lanyard. 30 seconds after being scanned by the man with the EventDay hat, our traveler was checked in.

Extra Time?
The conference didn’t start for another 45 minutes. What ever would he do with that spare time? Maybe he’d meet a friend, maybe he’d shake a client’s hand, or maybe he’d have another cup of coffee.

Maybe he’d sleep in next time.

What would you do with an extra 45 minutes?

(Featured image courtesy of Ben Beiske)

Microsoft BizSpark One Shares Praise

May The Fourth Be With You!

It’s great to be recognized by the boss, praised by family/friends and rewarded by clients. The feeling that we’re doing something worth their time fuels the fire to keep stretching ourselves and improving our service, regardless of the hours and late nights.

But when you’re complimented by people you consider your peers and colleagues, the praise feels a little different. No, you likely won’t get a raise from such, nor will the praise increase your bottom line, but there’s a feeling of accomplishment and validation that only someone on your level can give.

Thanks to Microsoft BizSpark One for sharing some love today. From the article:

“It’s really great to have smart people working on our behalf, and the BizSpark feedback is invaluable for building our company,” says EventDay co-founder Scott Cate. “Because EventDay has grown totally organically, using all our own money, we focus our decisions on a few key criteria: does it work? Is it efficient? And what’s the impact on our wallets? Our BizSpark advisors help to amplify our business and marketing efforts so we can continue building on our early success, and the Windows Azure technology base allows us to put our precious personal dollars toward software development rather than systems administration. These things are a really big deal to a startup like EventDay.”

As one of the 45,000+ BizSpark startups, we can’t thank them enough for the assistance they’ve provided. As Cate said, the combination of BizSpark advisors and Windows Azure technology has allowed us to focus on what matters most: how to solve customer problems.

The less time we have to seek out advice and/or system administration, the more resources we can allot to making EventDay a fantastic company for our employees, our clients and our industry.

While we may never be able to assemble a team of actual superheroes, it feels good to know we can be just as accomplished.

Overcoming Obstacles in Real Time — InfusionCon 2012 Retrospective

Business is easy when everything runs correctly. For us, that means attendees have been sent and brought their QR codes, our mobile app (iOS or Android) works quickly, and name badges appear almost as fast as we can tear them from the printer. When those three things are working in harmony, the check-in process takes about 20 seconds.

Yes, you heard that right, 20 seconds. For 95% of InfusionCon 2012 attendees, the system worked as designed. Lines went quick, badges and lanyards were procured, and attendees went on their merry way to see Gary Vaynerchuk or Chris Brogan or one of the many InfusionSoft employees that gave fantastic presentations.

But when things DON’T go correctly, say when there’s a software glitch, internet bandwidth isn’t sufficient, WiFi isn’t strong, registrations aren’t filled out correctly, reservations aren’t in the system or (insert your issue here) goes wonky, it’s up to the people on site to handle the issue. And no, it doesn’t always involve fixing a specific issue, because some things just can’t be fixed while in production. And whatever the cause may be, the bigger problem is this: attendees are standing in line longer than they’d like to.

Our main focus, regardless of scope or size of event, is to reduce the amount of time spent standing in line to check in. Once it’s beyond 20 seconds, it’s our problem, regardless of root cause. So when things get a little more hectic than you’d like, learn from what we did to help make the experience better for everyone.

Douglas Adams’s old advice still rings true. Unless panicking, and by panicking I mean glaring at attendees, sniping at your colleagues, pulling an Office Space on your malfunctioning equipment or berating your boss has an extremely high probability of solving your issue — we doubt it does — don’t do it. Just smile. It may be a fake smile at first, but try grinning like an idiot for more than a few seconds and see if it doesn’t help things.

Be Honest
I can’t say this enough. If something doesn’t work correctly, say that. There’s no reason to place blame or give specifics while checking each attendee in, but it’s helpful to share that there’s something off. Attendees will appreciate the honesty, and are likely to empathize if given the chance.

Send Them On Their Way
Once we realized our issues may cause attendees to miss part of the conference, we instructed them to head right in to the keynote. There was nothing to be gained by them standing in line, and certainly no loss in allowing them inside without a badge. We bet most of those people, even if they hadn’t already paid, would be willing to come back and get registered later. We were right.

Smile. A lot.
Tell jokes. Ask questions. Be upfront with those in line. Dance. Sing. There’s no reason why waiting in line has to be a negative experience, so take advantage of the time you have people captivated. Or you could bring them water. Or snacks. Or just smile. They’ll smile back.

Fix The Problem For Next Time
While we always take full responsibility for issues at registration, we know that it’s not always our fault. And if it IS our fault, we make sure to fix the problem as soon as possible. At InfusionCon, we realized that our wireless print server wasn’t behaving the way we designed (and tested) it to, so we bypassed it. Next time, we won’t be so reliant on its convenience.

InfusionCon 2012 was one heckuva event. Looking forward to InfusionCon 2013 at the Westin Kierland!

Microsoft Underground PDC event a hit

Microsoft asked us to handle online registration for their Underground PDC event at L.A. Live on November 9, 2010. We nailed it.

There’s a lot we do to make sure an event goes smoothly. From hiring capable staff to having backup badge printer(s) and troubleshooting software to having a strong wireless connection, it’s always the little things that make or break an event.

Photo of one of the on-stage presentations. Courtesy of user Verdiggo.

Name badge design is one of those little things. Scott was especially proud of the name badges at the Microsoft Underground PDC event on November 9 and for good reason: people called each other by their first name. Often.

Take a look at your last event badge. Is your first name the same size as your last? Is your company name also similar? Do short and long names automatically re-size to be readable? No? Ours featured the first names in large type that was auto-scaled before they were printed. No space issues, no fumbling with markers and certainly no errors.

The ability to quickly and easily print customized name badges that could easily be read was our biggest win of the evening. Sure, the queue was handled well, the software ran glitch-free, everyone showed up on time and changes were made to the invite list with ease, but man, we were and are still proud of those badges.

The view from the balcony. Photo courtesy Verdiggo.

We were also able to give Microsoft real-time updates on checked-in attendees, pick out VIPs without calling too much attention to them (VIPs received special raffle tickets and an extra wristband) and even served as bouncers when called upon to help clear out the upstairs to prepare for the VIP party.

While we had plenty of successes, there are a few things we learned from the event, including:

1. Make the first name BIG
Stick-on badges or badges in lanyards always make finding someone’s name awkward. No one likes to think someone is staring at their chest for too long and with the big first name there, this wasn’t a problem. Conversations were started quickly, people became closer a little quicker and it gave people one less thing to worry about when socializing with a roomful of people they didn’t know.

2. Always have a backup
One of our label printers went down during the event. We have no idea why, nor were we in a position to troubleshoot the issue. Having one extra printer allowed us to swap the defective unit out and keep the registration line moving.

3. Always have a free station
Most large conference check-in areas are packed with row after row of occupied stations. When a name is wrong, a guest’s name isn’t on the list or someone wants upgraded status, they get sent somewhere far away and feel like a problem. We left one station open and solved issues right away. Everyone left happy.

Many thanks to Microsoft for asking us be a part of a successful event. Can’t wait for the next one.