When Zoli Erdos first asked me if I’d be willing to write some guest posts on CloudAve around the topic of Glue Conference, I was actually a bit hesitant. After all, Zoli’s done such a great job of explaining why he likes the conferences I run, and what Gluecon is about, that I wasn’t sure I could add anything to the mix. At the end of the day, I figured a quick introduction to “how we got to Glue” and how I stumbled into the conference business might be useful.
My first exposure to the world of technology conferences happened way back in 1999. I had managed to worm my way into Chris Locke’s network, and (via Chris) landed a contract position working for Steve Larsen on the personalization.com website (and accompanying conferences). Steve and Chris introduced me to everyone they knew. Which, as it turned out, was everybody.
The dotcom bust brought the decline of 99% of all technology conferences (and the end of my contracting days at personalization.com). I had been exposed to a ton of great people, and was just stupid enough to think I could start and run a conference “no problem” (not realizing the logistical nightmares that can happen). So, when Andre Durand and Phil Becker asked if I’d like to join them in launching Digital ID World, I jumped at the chance. We started the Digital ID World conference in 2002, on the very day that Comdex announced bankruptcy.
By 2005, Digital ID World (“DIDW”) had grown to over 700 attendees and 70 sponsors (and I had become the VP of Marketing at Ping Identity in the meantime), and was one of the clear leaders in the identity management space. The irony, of course, was that back in 2002, every single person and their brother doubted that there was a “market” for an “identity conference” – especially since digital identity tools were still pretty nascent.
In the summer of 2005, we sold DIDW to IDG, and I left my VP position at Ping Identity. I began working as a contractor for IDG, and in that role, started SaaScon. My basic “theory” of conference-starting was getting pretty clear to me: look for really big, hairy trends (bringing identity online, or the transition to buying apps as a service) and get to work.
After a period of time as a contractor, I decided that I wanted to get the “control” of running a conference back. I was perusing Brad Feld’s blog. Brad was blogging about some broad ideas and investment themes he was exploring — one of which dealt with what he was calling “intelligence amplification.” I told Brad that I thought he might have a conference idea on his hands, and Defrag was born. Defrag is now heading into it’s third year, and the focus has now defined itself around the intersection of areas like enterprise 2.0, the semantic web, collaboration, etc. Defrag’s tagline – “accelerating the ‘aha’ moment” — actually pretty well captures what Defrag’s all about.
Once Defrag became successful, I basically turned to Brad and said, “okay – what other big ideas are you guys looking at?” Brad responded broadly by talking about the idea that there are things that are “gluing together web applications” that are going to get really interesting.
The “big idea” seemed clear: let’s skip past all of the “importance of the cloud” discussions, and just assume that the applications have moved to the web. Once we do that, the intersection of topics that need to be addressed comes into focus — interoperability, integration, federation, pervasive context, web oriented architecture, etc. The wide range of topics almost makes Gluecon seem unwieldy, but that’s the way a first year conference should be. You want the community that shows up to show you where to draw the “lines on the field.”
All of which leads me to the “kind” of events I try to run. First off, we’re a small, bootstrapped operation, just like a lot of our sponsors. Second, because of our size and lack of “process” (the conferences are run by myself and my wife), we have the freedom to be incredibly flexible and free in our decision-making. That means that we can focus on being nimble and making the right decision.
So, what is the “right decision?” Simple. The right decision, when it comes to running a conference (not an expo, a conference; expos are large, multi-thousand person events; conferences are more intimate networking set-ups), happens because the organizer realizes that their customer is the attendee. It can be confusing because the “sponsors” write you checks, but if you confuse the “sponsor” with the “customer” (attendee), you very quickly end up with a conference filled with vendor pitches. And we all know where that leads.
Once you get that simple metric down, organizing a conference is just about digging in and doing the hard work (focusing on the details).
Lastly: why should you come to Gluecon? Well, if the topic area isn’t of interest, you shouldn’t. If you’re really wanting to go to multiple parties and meet thousands of people in 10 second increments, you shouldn’t. If you want your content divided into nifty little “business” and “technology” tracks – that usually are just code words for “light on substance” – you shouldn’t.
If, on the other hand, you want to come to an event organized by folks that really believe in the topic’s importance (and not simply just “tapping a market”); if you want the personalized touch; if you want to find a group of people assembled that really want to “dive in” to the topics; if you want sessions that do more than just skim the surface, then you should come to Glue.
We started Gluecon because we think it’s one of the biggest topics in technology today. There are real problems to solve and real issues to address. I truly hope that you’ll choose to join us.
(Editor’s note: use discount code spkr09 to get $100 off when you register)