We did it! Time and the odds were against us, but we managed to pull it off. We threw a JavaScript themed conference, and people showed up. Not only that, but by most peoples’ estimations, it was a successful conference at that. Though some of us have volunteered at or spoken at various conferences, not one of the board members has ever been part of organizing or running a conference before. We came together and created a brand new developer conference. And we did it in just 7 short months.

Thanks!

Before we get into a retrospective on our 1st Annual JavaScript and Friends Conference, it is imperative that we thank all those who came together to make the conference a success.

First, we want to thank our planning committee and volunteers: George, Greg, Kristi, Kim and Steve. Without all of your help and hard work both along the way and on the day of the conference, this never would have happened.

A special thanks goes out to Ryan Lanciaux for our website design and to Scott Baker for the design of our logo! Further thanks goes to Doug Mair for getting us connected with Improving Columbus for our workshops and to Dharmashree for helping us with marketing.

Next, we want to thank each of our speakers. Without their participation and their excellent talks and workshops, we wouldn’t have any reason for people to have shown up. The speaker response was outstanding and we are grateful for them. Over 200 speaker submissions were received. We even had speakers from India, Spain and Brazil. That’s virtually unheard of for a first year conference.

We also need to thank our sponsors. Putting on a conference is expensive. Without the generous donations of time, money, and products, we never would have been able to gather the financial resources to pull off this conference.

Next, we want to thank the Improving Columbus office and Leading Edje for providing facilities for us to host our workshop day and Vue Vixens events. And special thanks to Quest Conference Center and Polaris Grill for the facilities, food and all of their help on the main conference day.

Last, we need to thank our families. Without their moral and emotional support, and their willingness to pitch in and help along the way, this conference would not have been possible.

Without everyone coming together and helping us to make this event possible, we never would have gotten this conference off the ground. THANKS!!!!!

Origins

The idea for JavaScript & Friends first came from two local developers (Baskar and Calvin) who had, just a couple of months prior, formed a local MeetUp group around VueJS development. They noticed that while there were a number of developer-focused conferences around central Ohio, none of them were specifically targeted at JavaScript.

Just after the first of the year, they began reaching out over social media looking for people interested in serving on a board of directors or volunteering to help with this new conference idea they had. One by one the rest of us came on board.

Organizing

First things first, we needed a name. A number of different names were batted around. We wanted it to be clear that the focus was on JavaScript, but we also wanted to be inclusive of all the things that bordered around the periphery of the language, such as React, Vue, Angular, Node and so forth. Plus, we needed a name that wasn’t already taken by another conference and had an available domain for us to host a website.

In the end, it was local JavaScript legend Guy Royse who came up with the name “JavaScript and Friends.” Not only that, but it was the first idea that popped into his head. The man is a genius. It’s gotta be the beard.

Next up was the date. We didn’t want to be too close to other conferences or holidays. We threw around a number of dates, mostly targeting the summer season as a good middle ground between some of the more popular local conferences. In the end, we settled on Friday, August 2nd as our target. You can see that called out in our “lessons learned” later in this post.

Feedback

We’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback to the conference. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We are so very pleased that most of you had such a fantastic time with us. Here’s just a few samples of the feedback we’ve gotten.

“Loved it…”

“This was my favorite conference day that I’ve attended”

“You guys really nailed it”

“... nice to end on a positive and soft-skills thing…”

And our favorite comment of all:

“We need more Guy Royse in our lives”

We all do, we all do.

We’ve also gotten a great deal of positive, constructive feedback on ways that we can improve for next year. We are definitely reviewing each and every one of those responses and will use them to ensure that we only get better next year.

Statistics

Here’s a few quick statistics:

  • 218 total speaker submissions from 112 speakers, from which we selected 30 talks
  • 5 hands-on workshops
  • 35 speakers and panel members
  • 72 conference day attendees
  • 27 workshop attendees
  • 5 vendor sponsors with 14 representatives on site

All in all, the number of speakers, panelists and volunteers about equalled the number of attendees. That’s something that we’ll focus on for next year.

So let’s go ahead and get into some of those “lessons learned” for next year:

Lesson Learned #1: You Need Time (aka 7 months passes much faster than you think)

Time is ever marching forward. When we settled on our target date, it was about a week less than 7 months away. If we had realized all the things we’d have to pull off in that time, we never would have chosen the date that we did. Thankfully, most of us had ever put on a conference before and we didn’t know that it couldn’t be done. So we went ahead and did it.

That said, it took us a month or two to really ramp up and start pursuing vital elements, such as sponsorships. The problem is this: Most companies that sponsor various developer events set their sponsorship budgets early. By the end of January, many of them have already set out who they are going to sponsor and for how much. Because we didn’t start reaching out until mid-late February and March, most of the responses we were getting amounted to “it’s too late this year, try us again at the beginning of next year.”

But we didn’t give up. In the end, and we do mean right at the end, we managed to pull together enough sponsorship to end the conference just into the black.

Lesson Learned #2: Promotion

This is an area where we sort of ended up on both sides. We had tremendous response in our outreach to speakers. We ended up with far more submissions than we could accept. On the other hand, we didn’t reach our goal for attendees. We’re not entirely sure why there was such a discrepancy between the two sides. It’s something we’ll definitely be focusing on for next year.

One common refrain we heard from attendees who were there was that they had “just heard” about the conference. While we had reached them, we had to wonder just how many others out there never did hear about the conference. We tried every venue of communication we could think of short of paid advertising, which there was no budget for.

We tweeted, posted to LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, made announcements in user groups, reached out to companies in the area, contacted local dev boot camps, told everyone we knew. Clearly, though, the word did not get out as far as we had hoped.

We also struggled with self-promotion on conference day. We had established a hashtag, but no one knew what it was. We have a Twitter account, but we didn’t tell people about it. We had a Slack board attendees and speakers could use. But again, most people didn’t know that. So we struggled to promote ourselves effectively leading up to and on the day of the conference.

Lesson Learned #3: Picking the Right Date

Of those who did know about the conference, there were more than a few who wanted to attend, but had other commitments. Based on feedback, we found that most of this group of potential attendees fell into three main areas of scheduling conflicts.

First, GenCon. Many developers are nerds. As it is only a 3 hour drive from Columbus, many nerds attend GenCon each year. The corollary: many potential attendees were in Indianapolis on Aug 1 & 2, not Columbus.

Second, Pelotonia. Many developers are fitness buffs. Many dev fitness buffs like cycling. Many dev fitness buffs love supporting charities. The corollary? Another large group of potential attendees couldn’t attend because they were raising money for curing cancer.

Third, vacations. Many developers have families. Many kids are out of school in August. Many developers with families like to take their families on vacations while kids are out of school. The corollary? Yep, you guessed it. Another group of potential attendees were on vacation.

So while we had gone to great lengths to make sure our selected date didn’t conflict with other major nearby developer events, we perhaps didn’t take into account some of the one-step removed scheduling conflicts that might affect our attendance.

It’s definitely something that we’re already talking about for next year. Obviously, you can’t avoid all the conflicts out there. There’s always going to be something else going on. But we can, perhaps, do a little better job avoiding some of the major conflicts that we ran into this year.

Lesson Learned #4: Effective Communication

We’ll be the first ones to admit that not all of our communication was effective. We sometimes had some internal confusion regarding who was doing what and when. All groups have their struggles with this, and ours was no different.

But we also had some struggles with our external communication. There was communication about tickets in Eventbrite and about the workshops that wasn’t clear. And there were other miscommunications here and there. Communicating effectively and clearly with you, our attendees, is another thing we are already focused on improving for next year. We hope that the message is clear!

Other Lessons Learned

Those were the “big 4,” but there were also a number of miscellaneous lessons that we are taking from our first conference. Here’s just a few:

  • Double sided badges
  • Room proctors for all rooms, all sessions
  • Communicating about the projector tech with speakers ahead of time and having appropriate adapters ready to go
  • Making the vendors more visible to attendees
  • A longer break at lunch to allow time to visit vendors
  • Setting better expectations for the speakers during CFP
  • Fewer ticket options to reduce confusion
  • Promote more to students

We are continuing to gather feedback from our attendees, volunteers and vendors. Each of you should have received a link to a feedback form in your email. Please help us improve for next year by providing your feedback to us.

Final Thoughts

We did it. There were moments that some of us thought we were crazy for trying it. There were moments we thought it might not work. There were moments of tremendous stress. But the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received made it all worth it.

We’ve learned quite a lot about putting on a conference, and we intend to take what we’ve learned and make next year even better. Join us, won’t you? And tell your friends. They’re not gonna want to miss it!