Jason Keath – Interview about Charlotte WordCamp 2008
So below is a brief interview I held with him on Monday, the first working day after the event…
1. Jason, when did the idea for holding a Charlotte WordCamp first come to you, and how did it all get started?
My first interest began around March. I commented on some blogs and approached some WP folks about Charlotte as a venue with little response. Which, in all honesty, is pretty fair considering the lack of these types of events in Charlotte in the past.
I shelved the idea until I saw the the WordCamp Central website some time in July. I contacted them and put some feelers out through Twitter. WordPress was very supportive. After I had 40 or so positive Twitter responses, I put up a quick WordPress.com blog. This was back in August. I locked down a keynote speaker with the help of WP pretty quickly. I knew this was very important as a first step. Content is king after all.
I had a great lunch one day with Steve Gunn of the Charlotte Observer in which I mentioned WordCamp as part of our discussion on blogging and that evolved into a venue and date for the event. It was all very organic and from that point on was just a steady buzz, greatly assisted by my existing contacts and the Twitter community.
There was never a large marketing effort for the event, just word of mouth and great supporters.
2. How did you find sponsors and presenters?
I approached around 30-40 companies to sponsor the event and only received firm support from 3 of them, including the Charlotte Observer as host sponsor. This was the hardest part of the planning process. Most of the people I approached were concerned that the event had no history or guaranteed attendance. I myself thought 40 attendees would be a big success, which can seem insignificant to a sponsor.
My only goal was to make sure the event did not lose money as that would have come out of my personal pockets. And even though our list of sponsors was light, so far it looks like we have crossed the break even mark. In the future I am very confident sponsors will come more easily, considering the success of the event. This should allow us to produce even more high quality programming next iteration.
Getting presenters was simple for the most part. The majority of the presenters are people I already knew through online or offline networking. A couple were from the Observer and 2 others were brought on by Justin Ruckman and his contacts. In all, we had 15 presenters and another 10 volunteers and organizers.
3. Were you surprised by how many attended? What about the atmosphere?
I was extremely surprised by the registration success and attendance. 120 people was three times the size I had planned for originally. I don’t take credit for that success though. I think the event was due. Charlotte was craving some type of Internet tech conference. It was a “build it and they will come” situation.
The atmosphere looked good to me, but I was running around most of the day and had very little time to just mingle and check in with people. Judging from the strong feedback though, everyone enjoyed the networking opportunities.
4. Who else contributed to the success of the event?
The Observer and Steve Gunn made the event a reality by giving us a free venue. With no budget this was a necessity. Beyond that, all the volunteers and presenters helped in many ways. It was a great community effort. A lot of the content and structure developed from open discussions with people online. It was democratic in many ways.
5. What did you learn from coordinating an event like this that surprised you?
The beginners drowned out the experts. Their questions and eagerness to learn made it a little uncomfortable for more advanced conversation to be raised. Having multiple tracks for different experience levels is key for next year’s WordCamp.
Also, Charlotte is more than ready to embrace these types of events on a larger scale. My hope was that WordCamp would be a platform for launching many more Internet and technology events in Charlotte. It is clear that the support is there for this.
6. This seemed to be the first event like this in Charlotte. What’s next?
There is talk of a PodCamp and BarCamp by some people. I will support those for sure. And some smaller WordPress events will definitely start popping up soon.
For me though, the real next steps are a larger new media conference for Charlotte. I want to start bringing bigger name speakers to the Queen City and I want to bring a big name event to the city. Whether it is a franchised event or we have to create our own, it will happen.
Charlotte, as a growing hub of young, creative talent, needs to begin to lead the way more and follow less.
7. Any other comments you’d like to make?
I want to thank everyone who helped make the event a success. It was great meeting so many creative and tech savvy Charlotte people. I ask that everyone who supported this event be ready to support whatever comes next and help make it even bigger and more successful.
Thank you, Jason. I think many of my readers will agree that we look forward to more events like this and appreciate those that put the effort into making them a success.