Approximate reading time: 10 minutes. Nice weekend read

Background info on The Next Web Conference

Every year Boris comes up to me during or after the conference saying: “I’m so looking forward to next year, it is going to be soo much easier to organize all this” and every year we come to the conclusion that this is just not true. Sure, our network is getting bigger every year, sure the name The Next Web is becoming more and more well known in Europe and overseas, sure we’ve learned a lot on how to organize such an event over the past 3 years, BUT we don’t want to sit still and just organize the same conference each year. We’re entrepreneurs and we like to improve every time we get the chance. Just like with apps, you need to push the limit, you need to build a better product each day of the year.
Every year it is just as tough or more tough to organize The Next Web. I’d like to give you some insight in the organization, our thoughts and motivation and how we came to the point where we are right now.

How it all started:
20090412 ptnyr4qymwi51r62711wsbuqag From Amsterdam with loveIn April 2006 Boris and I we’re talking to an American startup about how to launch our soon to be ready startup. They recommended us to launch at a conference, because it is great for your PR, you get to know a lot of bloggers and journalists, traffic goes up and you can get a lot of feedback on your service. We liked the idea and just before we hung up the phone we asked a last question “How much does it cost to do all this?
They replied: “well you have to fly over, sponsor the conference, hire a PR firm, print some marketing material, book a hotel, rent a booth and spent money on food and drinks…. All together, count on 30k dollars -mas o menos-

That first email
We hung up the telephone and we knew we didn’t have that kind of money (we didn’t have any funding), but if we were going to spend that amount of money from our own pocket, why not organize a conference of our own? I mean how hard can it be? This way we can invite whoever we want and get to know the people in the industry better and we might earn some of the investment back on selling tickets.
Boris and I had both never been to a conference! What we’re we thinking… Well, we just started!

On April 4th 2006, after claiming thenextweb.org, we wrote an email to an upcoming blogger, Michael Arrington, we were big fans of his blog and he had 40k RSS readers in that time. I looked back in my mailbox, this is what I found:

On Apr 4, 2006, at 12:39 PM, Boris wrote:

Hello Michael,
We are organizing a one day conference on July 7, 2006 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Would you be interested in joining us as a speaker?

His reply:

From: “Michael Arrington”
Date: 4 april 2006 22:38:42 GMT+02:00
To: “Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten”
Cc: “Patrick de Laive”
Subject: Re: Invitation to The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam

Love to. Can you cover my expenses?


We have a conference, now what?

So that was it, we were throwing a conference! Everybody thought we were crazy, “You cannot organize an international conference in less then 3 months, you first pick a topic, second thing is finding sponsors and then you need 6 months for ticket sales“.
We didn’t care how it was done normally or by professional conference organizers. We thought that if we had great speakers the rest would flow by itself. BOY, were we wrong! One month before the conference, with a website and a great lineup, with 130k in cash out (to be paid) we sold 1 (one!) ticket. We were financially devastated!
Then we made a bold move, we called Kevin Kelly and asked him as a speaker. He wasn’t cheap, to say the least, but anyway we decided to do it. We must have thought; if you go down, go down big. But this move appeared to be the turning point. Nobody could ignore us anymore, we were serious about this conference. The media started to write about these guys who were doing a conference on the future of the Web…

Minus 14k dollars, is that all?
In the end we had 280 people at the conference (50% signed up in the last 5 days), all paid for tickets and some sponsors. It was a great conference, we didn’t launch our company there (people were paying to get in so we felt that it would be very inappropriate to push our own service on main stage), and we lost 14k euros. It was worth every dime.

Growing the event
20090412 qws5inaiwsa2kf2q3ufkp812h2 From Amsterdam with loveWe grew the conference from there, with the same passion and model. In 2007, Arjen joined the team, The Next Web grew to 500 people, in 2008 we started this blog, added an extra day to the conference and we had 750 guests. We introduced a business network for our attendees to be able to connect with other attendees and speakers up front, during and after the conference. The content and overall quality improved each year. Each year we have been pushing ourselves to build a better conference, to facilitate better networking opportunities, to improve the content and production, to connect more people in a personal way, to give more value for money (in 06 it was 550 euros for 1 day, now 750 for 3 days AND 3 nights party) to make The Next Web a conference people love to go to.

Proud
I think we have succeeded in many ways. We’re privileged to have met so many great and inspiring people. I’m grateful for all the awesome people that helps us in so many ways (partners, sponsors, next web readers, twitterati etc.) I’m really proud of the team (Nicolas, Boris and Arjen). We all work our asses off, we have to because it is a hell of a job for only 4 people (who have other companies as well). We might make some mistakes every now and then, but we love our work and do everything with a smile on our face and deal with all sh*t ourselves.

2009 edition is in 4 days
This year we build a new registration system, which is saving us a lot of time, a new business network, added a 3rd day and 2 extra party nights. We managed to get a super line up and we’re really looking forward to welcome the creme de la creme of the European Internet scene in the city that we love; Amsterdam.

This 4th edition is going to be the best so far. Let’s do it, let’s make it one big happening with many great talks, launching startups, engaging conversations, interactive and fierce discussions, good deals and a lot of fun and free beers!

See you in Amsterdam this week. Don’t forget to come fully energized and in super spirit to the conference. If you do that, you’ll have three unforgettable days, business wise and personally.

Happy Easter.

Patrick

PS I found great pictures, but I liked my kind of nerdy pose at the end of the 2006 conference.