Tom Ortega II

Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

The concept of Tiny Business (i.e. smaller than Small Business)

In 360Conferences, 360Flex, Business, Community on January 28, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Business is changing. We’ve been hearing this for quite sometime now. As a whole though, business really hasn’t changed much. You still have massive companies, with many different layers. Even Small Businesses tend not to be very “small”. I think I’d like to coin a new term, if I may be so bold: the Tiny Business.

By tiny, I’m referring to employee count vs company reach. My business partner John Wilker and I put on tech shows for 300 to 400 attendees under the tiny company known as 360Conferences. We’ve done two so far and two more are in the works. Running a tiny business is hard, very hard. I’m sure all tinies have it hard, but what adds pressure to ours are two things: Part-time and Industy Transformation.

First, I’ll talk about the Part Time aspect. John and I have full time jobs as developers. I work at Workday and really enjoy my job. Last week was an incredibly busy time for the UI team. It was so busy that not much time went to 360Conferences. As the dust settled on the Workday front, the work for the 360|Flex Atlanta show picked up steam. I mentioned to John, “I never realize how much we do for 360Conferences while we do it. When we’re in tune with work and family, things get done at an amazing pace. However, jumping back in after a week off, it seems overwhelming.”

At first, I thought I was being a bit over dramatic. My wife says I’m full of “drama” and she’s probably right. However, I was thinking there was some merit to my feelings and received some validation in Atlanta. Ang’elle, the gal helping us out at the OMNI Hotel, was about 3/4 of the way through our onsite visit before she asked the following: “Now, are you guys a 3rd party planning company? Someone’s hiring your company to do this show, right?” We told her no and explained that we put on 360|Flex for developers. We tell her it’s not an Adobe conference. “They support us, but it’s not an Adobe show per se.” She followed up with, “Well, how big is your company? How many in your department?” John and I laughed, then explained we were the entire company. “The buck stops here…literally.” She ended with, “You’re kidding, right? I was thinking there was a whole army back home helping you do this event. Wow.”

Now, if John and I were just repeating a familiar formula of planning high-priced conferences, things may be simpler for us. We’d be taking a known pattern, adjusting it to fit our topic (Flex) and then be calling it a day. However, John and I also felt the need to throw another challenge into the mix, “Rather than just do a better conference for Flex, what if we changed the way conferences were done as a whole?” This is where the Industry Transformation aspect comes in.

To be a memorable and honest business, you have to be ready to take on an industry and change the playing field. Being a tiny company also helps play a roll in that. With it being only John and I, we can turn on a dime. We can come up with, discuss, hash out, re-argue and refine a point over night. We can then implement that new aspect the very next day as a concerted business effort. The effects of that power cannot be understated.

We’re not the first to enter into this foray of low-cost, developer-centric conferences. We’ve never claimed to be the first, but we would like to think that we’re one of the better ones out there. That’s the thing about trying to be a truly disruptive company vs. one that just talks about being one. You have to listen to your heart/gut as you destroy the business norm, but you still have to make sure the customers are happy. If no one likes what your disruption brings, then your disruption is more to feed your ego than it is to provide a better environment in the particular marketplace you serve.

It’s also incredibly lonely being a market disrupter. The old guard doesn’t like you, rightfully so since you’re killing their business. Being a tiny business doesn’t help either. I have John and my wife to fall back on when I get discouraged; no department, no manager and no Big Boss. John, the poor guy, then has to not only support the workload we share, his full time job, but also my floundering spirits. My wife, the poor gal, then has to deal with not only two growing toddlers, but a husband who then needs a little TLC. Both of them are amazing though and I’m usually back to high spirits soon enough thanks to their efforts. There’s one more source I can go to for support as well, and more often than not, I forget about them because I don’t see them when I get home and they’re not IMing me all day. However, this source plays just as big a role in the grand picture as my wife and my business partner. That third source is my customers.

Yes, MY customers. I work hard for them. I literally give my blood, sweat and tears for them. Sure, you can say every company does that, but let’s face it, the heart, the love, the passion are usually not there. Like I tell John, I wake up with customers on my mind and go to bed with them in my heart. Heck, I even include my customers in my prayers, “Heavenly Father, help me find better ways to serve my customers.”

I am proud of every single one of my customers. Whenever one buys a ticket, Eventbrite sends John and I an email. I see their names long before I see their faces. They maybe faceless for a little while but not for long. John and I greet every one of our customers at our shows. If you can’t welcome your own customers to your show, you shouldn’t be putting on a conference. Sorry. We hand greet all 300 to 400 of our attendees and sponsors. Nothing makes me smile more than when I say, “Hi, <insert customer name>. I’m Tom, welcome to 360|Flex.” and they do a double take. They look back at John then me, saying “THE John and Tom who planned the show?” To which, we answer, “That’s us.” The person gets a smile and you can tell that you have made them feel special. We’re not super stars, but we can make our customers feel like they are the most important thing in the world to us. This is because, quite simply, they are.

We sent out a little note to past customers at 2am on Friday night/Saturday morning. We asked them to share the experience they had at our conference with others as we’re nearing the final 30 days of 360|Atlanta. By Saturday morning, we had a few email responses and blog posts. I have a feeling that we will continue to see the “love” be poured out by them over the next week or so.

I thank my wife and John all the time for their support. To my customers though, I wanted to send out a huge thanks. Not just for your monetary support, but for all the kind words (and constructive criticism) you send our way. I know John feels the same, but he’s just not as mushy as I am. I’m a softy though, and my customers help me feel the love.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of truly serving a customer of your own. You should definitely give it a try. Nothing beats the feeling, especially if you’re lucky enough (and humble enough, I’d say) to learn how to serve them correctly. That’s what business is about: Not money, but people. Sadly though, many businesses fail to remember that.

John and I aren’t perfect. Far from it. One thing you’ll notice at our shows is that we bicker like an old married couple. The reason for that is because while we cannot promise our customers perfection we can promise passion. We will do everything in our power to try to achieve the closest thing to perfection that you can get at a show. It’s not because of your money that we strive for perfection. It’s because you are a real person who deserves the best experience. Your money is merely a vehicle to help us achieve that goal. Too many businesses these days feel like their customers owe them something. I hope those businesses die off and let those who care take over. I have a feeling that the replacement companies will be Tiny Businesses: small in size, but big in reach.

Thoughts on Consolidation, Part 1: Adobe 3rd Party Tech conferences

In 360Conferences, 360Flex, Business, Community on December 7, 2007 at 8:56 am

As John can attest to, I see the world in business terms. One common past time of mine is looking at particular industries and seeing how close they are to saturation, whether it’s time for consolidation, and who will consolidate with whom. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on two industries: tech conferences and Flex (maybe RIA) consulting. This post tackles tech conferences. I’ll make a separate post for Flex consulting.

The tech conference market is way past saturation. I foresee a consolidation happening soon and let’s be honest, it’s long overdue. Particularly with these smaller, lower cost conferences winning rave reviews over bigger, more expensive ones. I’m not tooting my own horn, as we can take 360Conferences out of the picture and still see the same effect. For example, FOTB vs FlashForward plus the rise of BarCamp style events.

Post 360Flex San Jose, we were in talks with various companies about conferences. The thing that struck me as odd was a statement made by someone in the conference space. “Conferences are big money.” Price points aside, there’s a lot of money involved in conferences. Our last event in Seattle made more than a quarter of a million for the Red Lion Hotel alone and we’re a tiny show in the conference paradigm. The same individual noted to us that if your conferences get big enough, hotels will pay your company for each room booked at their facility, etc. We don’t plan to ever have a show that big, but it was an interesting point to know.

Once we smaller events start to take away enough customers from the Big Shows, they will react. Right now, we’re seen more as mosquitoes that are more pesky than anything. Eventually though, these individual sores will add up. When a substantial decrease in per show revenue starts to take shape, that’s when the Big Shows will strike.

Currently, they could hurt us by simply dropping their price point to match ours. This will take care of the biggest differentiator between us and put us in more heated competition. They wont’ do that just yet though for two reasons: profits and budgets.

Let’s tackle profit first. Let’s say we small guys give them a 10% hit in their numbers. 90% of their old numbers is still a lot of friggin’ money. You can just hear some middle manager somewhere saying, “Why are we going to walk away from a cash cow? No one really takes those small conferences seriously.” Silicon Graphics said the same thing about PCs running Windows NT and look what happened there. Money makes you comfortable and slow. It’s one of the curses of success that companies must constantly strive to avoid.

Next comes budgets. People are amazed that John and I alone put on the 360Flex conferences. Granted, we have some temps hand out surveys, but that’s it. Now, we don’t do all the work, of course. We have partners (web hosting, ticketing, etc.) and a creative agency (for fliers, signage, etc.). However, our conferences currently do not support any full time staff. Nobody gets paid to work on 360Flex for their day job. You look at these Big Shows and companies, they have dedicated event staff demanding full time salaries. Some even have event departments.

Yes, John and I wouldn’t mind being full time employees of 360Conferences. However, the employee count should stop there. We’re hoping to never need more than 2 employees, but I’m guessing we’ll likely bring on board 1 more person in the future. (If for nothing else, to be the tie-breaker.) We will never have an office that we pay rent on. Nor will we ever have middle management or even peons. No work is below us and if it takes too much time to do, then we’ll find a partner to do it for us. For these factors alone, we’ll be able to out budget a majority of these high priced conferences. We need less, so we can charge less.

Therefore, as you can see, the Big Shows won’t be able to compete on our terms anytime soon so that leaves: mergers and acquisitions.

I’ll be honest. I think a lot on merging. I scan the landscape of just Flex/CF conferences and imagine consolidation to make it easier on attendees, speakers and even sponsors. For goodness sakes, there are 4 events between February and June of 2008 that serve the Flex/CF technologies: 360Flex in February, cf.Objective() in early May, WebManiacs in late May and CFUnited in late June. The crazy thing about the last two are that they are a month apart in the same city, Washington DC!

I thought about merging with Jared. We could easily rename CF.Objective() to 360CF or something of the sorts. It would be a good fit because it would give us a mid-US presence and he’s a low cost small conference as well. However, he’s dabbling in Flex so it’s not a straight CF show anymore. Plus, he’s growing exponentially so there’s no need for him to merge with us.

I also chatted with John about approaching Fig Leaf to merge with what was at the time FlexManiacs. Let’s face it. Fig Leaf is probably more interested in the training business their show funnels their way then they are about the show itself. Therefore, they should just shut down their show and become the premiere sponsor of our 360Flex East Coast shows. This will save them the time and hassle of trying to do their own show, but still drive whatever training business they want their way. However, they became WebManiacs so now that deal doesn’t make much sense. Plus, going up against CFUnited on CFU’s hometurf is suicidal.

CFUnited is tough to get a bearing around. It makes no sense for us to merge with them, because their an old skool Big Show type conference. At twice the price of the other shows mentioned, they aren’t shooting to compete with us. They do have their CFUnited Expresses though that is their approach to low cost conferences. If you’ve been to one of those Expresses, drop a comment and let me know your thoughts on them.

The way I see it going down now is WebManiacs dying off and CFU winning the DC front. CF.O chipping away at CFU and 360Flex trumping CFU’s play for the Flex attendees. CFU will then have to react to us, but I just don’t see how yet. If you care to speculate, drop a comment.

That’s just the Feb to June timeframe stateside events. 360Flex and CFU are both headed oversees this year. One conference on the other side of the pond that John and I are going to attend is Flash on the Beach. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about this show and how it’s ran. Hopefully, while we’re there, we can chat it up with John Davey. The refreshing thing is that he started FOTB for the same reason we started 360Flex: to fill a void. He’s in it for the community as are we, so it’ll be great to see what we can learn from each other. Davey competes against FlashForward, another of the Big Shows. While FF has its following, a lot of folks have said that it’s been going down for the past few years. Lynda is still probably licking her wounds from the failed DX3 fiasco, but it’ll be interesting to see how they react to FOTB. Like I said though, FF is a Lynda Event production which means to me there’s a bunch of staff sucking up budget money.

Well, that’s my thoughts. Remember, they’re just that: thoughts. No merger talks ever took place. No consolidations are going down (that I know of). However, if you agree (or disagree) express yourself in the comments. I look forward to the dialog.

Building Community Virtually

In 360Conferences, Community, Technology and Software on October 30, 2007 at 8:05 am

Tonight I’ll be discussing ways with which to build community virtually. While I am a huge fan of face-to-face meetings, it simply is not always possible. I do a lot of administrative tasks for both Silvafug and 360Conferences virtually. Also, John and I strive hard to build the 360Flex community not only physically (when we have the conferences) but also virtually between conferences. I’ll be talking about how technologies such as blogs, IM, etc. help to accomplish that task.

You can see a more detailed write-up over at Daniel’s Blog. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention one minor detail. The event will take place inside Second Life. I’ll admit that I’m new to Second Life, but am exciting about some of the social opportunities that this new medium presents.

See you there!

Changes are afoot at 360Flex

In 360Conferences, 360Flex, Business, Community on October 19, 2007 at 7:04 am

First off, if you’ve gone to a 360Flex event or plan to someday, go answer this three question survey:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=yGMLUk_2f4IRYXqoobzijRuQ_3d_3d

The responses to that survey may fundamentally change the 360Flex Conference.

Business is so interesting. I didn’t graduate from Business School, so maybe they teach you a lot of this stuff there. However, I have read 200+ books on business in the 14+ years that I’ve been a part of the business community and very few books actually captured the essence of business life.

The beauty of business is it’s role. A business is there to serve it’s customers. Do a good job, you get to stick around. Do a bad job and you’re out. I think 360Conferences is doing a good job, but John and I are always looking for ways to improve. Over the past few days, some folks have made some remarks about the amount of money we spend on food at our conferences. They suggested that money would be better spent paying travel expenses for speakers rather than lining the hotel’s catering pocket.

John and I feel that food is a major part of the conference. We think it helps build the community. (You can find our full thoughts on our company blog.) Some of our customers have already stated they feel the same. If only there was a way to ask everyone else, to get a consensus. Well, guess what? There is. With the internet, a business can not only talk to all of its past and current customers, but also to all its future customers.

What John and I think is not important. We’re just facilitators for our customers: attendees, speakers and sponsors. If we’re wrong, then we must change. Just because we think something is cute or needed, doesn’t mean it is. Just because we think something is right, doesn’t mean it is. Our customers are the only ones that know what’s right. John and I are hear to make sure we do what’s right.

So far, we’ve had two conferences. With that, over $180,000 of our customers hard-earned cash has passed through our hands. 360 attendees came to eBay’s beautiful campus for 3 days. Another 360 spent 3 days with us in the Emerald City. Over 60 sessions have been given and countless knowledge has been shared. Many people have landed a “dream” Flex job or picked up some contracting work. Most importantly though, friendships have been made. Good times have been shared.

$180,000 may not seem like a lot of money to a big corporation. It’s a lot of money to me though. If it was $180, it would be a lot of money to me. Every dollar given in business is an honor that has to be earned. Each dollar comes with trust and deserves to be spent as wisely and efficiently as possible.

Now, if our customers decide to drop food for speaker fees, that’s fine. However, one person remarked after reading our cost breakdown post, “$80 per visitor per day for food? Wow, I must say I’m speechless. That must have been some orgy.” Now, I take great personal offense to that statement. To say that I would take our cutomers hard earned money and throw an “orgy” hurts. The reality is this: Each person was $59 dollars a day for breakfast, lunch and breaks. Plus, each water and or soda was an additional $5. Monday night BBQ was $25 per person. That is standard hotel pricing for food. “Why not use an outside caterer?” You can’t. “Why not order cheaper food?” That was darn near the cheapest. I wish hotels were cheaper, but they’re not. However, our customers said, “Move to one central location, like a hotel.” We did, and it was certainly not to have an “orgy”.

I stress over every dollar. John lets me handle the books. I let him handle me. I probably have the better deal. We are in debt from the last two shows. It’s only about $15K, but that’s $15K that we owe to the bank and we have to make good on it. This is why it’s important to us to get profitable. Unlike other conferences, we don’t have a corporate backing. No one writes off our losses as marketing for their training business, product business or consulting business. We’re just 2 developers looking to grow the community. Hopefully, we can continue to grow it for many years to come.

So once again, if you’ve gone to a 360Flex event or plan to someday, go answer this three question survey:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=yGMLUk_2f4IRYXqoobzijRuQ_3d_3d

It’s only 3 questions to you, but it’s worth quiet a bit more to me.

Thanks,

Tom

P.S. The live results of the survey can be found here:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/sr.aspx?sm=vYl0EBqFwQOrWCuur46_2bDfittExkiV1oYuHuVUgA6k8_3d

P.P.S

If you blog, please post the survey and/or the results link on your blog too.  We need as much feed back as necessary.

I’m at MAX

In 360Conferences, Business, Community, Workday on September 30, 2007 at 9:25 pm

If you’re at MAX, look for me. I’m wearing either a 360Flex or Workday shirt. John and I are walking around meeting all the 360Flex Alumni (speakers, attendees, sponsors) and looking for new future alumni. 🙂

I’m actually giving a session, “Intro to Flex”. It goes down Monday 4:30 to 5:30 and again on Wednesday 11 to 12. I’m really excited about my presentation. It should be a nice blend of Keynote (slides) and Flex Builder 2 (live coding). It’s the first time that I’m excited about my slides, as I usually think slides suck, but these slides are fun.

It’s awesome to represent two great companies at MAX: 360Conferences and Workday Inc. We’re both startups, both passionate about our customers and both looking to change the business that we’re in. With 360Conferences, I get to hang out with John Wilker, my business partner and, more importantly, my friend. With Workday, I work with a bunch of great people that I’m getting to know more and more each day. Do I feel lucky? I sure do. 🙂

If you haven’t said hi to me yet and you’re reading this post, then swing by one of my sessions. I’d love to hear any ideas you have about conferences. If you’re looking for Flex work, Workday is hiring and I can take your resume to hand back to HR.

See you at FlexCamp and 360Flex!

In 360Flex, Community, flex training, Silicon Valley Living, silvafug, Workday on July 27, 2007 at 8:25 am

Sorry for my long absence, but it’s been a busy past month.

We made the move from San Jose to Walnut Creek. The reason for the move was in an earlier post. I’m an employee at Workday, Inc. It’s a truly great company, doing some amazing stuff. The move and conference have prevented me from going hog wild on the code, but I’m rectifying that now by having some alone time with the code and trying to work on my bugs. If you’re heavy into Flex and want to do some amazing things that will change the ERP space, talk with us.

When and where can you meet us? At Adobe’s Flex Camp tonight. Me and some members of the Dev team will be there. I’ll be the loud laughing Mexican sporting a Workday t-shirt. Stop and say hi to me and the team. We may even demo what we’re working on if you ask nicely. =)

The other thing eating my time like nobody’s business is 360Flex Seattle. It’s going down August 13-15. John and I have been hard at work on this. Having a central hotel and proper conference space is bit more involved than just giving random hotel links and booking an internal corporate meeting space. =) That said though, this one is going to blow away the first 360Flex conference. We’ll have some cool oversized postcards promoting 360Flex to give out at Flex Camp, so look for them! Hint: They’ll be next to the cool green 360Flex t-shirt!

I love meeting and interacting with members of the Flex community, new and old. If you’re a newbie, check out my free trainings at the Silvafug site. Stop and ask me about any roadblocks your facing while starting up. If you’re a guru, stop and chat too. I’m always interested in meeting those folks that are taking Flex to the next level.

See ya soon!

Community: What does it mean and how can I help?

In 360Flex, Community, Silicon Valley Living, silvafug, Technology and Software on June 28, 2007 at 7:05 am

I like communities, but do you? When you hear the word “Community”, what comes to mind? Do you participate in communities? If so, why? If not, why?

With Silvafug and 360Flex, I’ve come to realize that I like to serve the community. It makes me feel good that I can help you all learn some new tech skills while providing a place for you all to network. I think it’s equally important for us as people to develop socially as it is for us as developers to grow mentally.

I have an idea on what to build next, but I thought I’d get some feedback from you all first. Is there a void in the community space that you think needs filling? Is there something I can do to better serve you all? Just hit up the comments or email me personally at tom.ortega@gmail.com and I’ll try to answer as best I can.

Otherwise, stay tuned for more info on my next community adventure. I hope you’ll find it as exciting as I do.