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PASS Update #32 (Spring Event & May 2010 Minutes)

If you download the May 2010 minutes of the Board meeting (login required) you’ll see that we devoted an entire meeting to trying to figure out the format of the ‘spring event’. For those of you just joining in the background on that is that we were already lightly discussing doing a new event in the spring, and then following the survey about the Summit location we announced that we would definitely have an event on the East coast. As always these notes are my own thoughts, not the official position of the Board.

From my perspective there are two paths to choose from:

  • Have two annual Summits, call them Summit East/Spring and Summit West/Fall
  • Leave the Summit as “the” event and build a smaller but useful event format for Spring

Having two Summits might actually be a win from a revenue perspective. Initially attendance at each might be slightly lower, but the overall attendance would be higher. From a community perspective my concern is that it divides us even more, people will tend to go to whatever is closest (the whole reason for an East coast event). Running two full Summit size events a year would mean that we would always be in Summit mode, demanding for both HQ and the Board. That’s just a subset of the concerns!

Doing a smaller event also has concerns. It would draw traffic away from the Summit and make less money, but still represent sizable financial risk. It might not attract as many sponsors. It can still be a drain on HQ and the Board to manage.

Early on we decided – right or wrong – not to try the two full Summits, at least in 2011/2012. That left the task of building a model of what the Spring event should look like. The first one discussed was a very Summit like experience, shortened by a day and priced at $999. Several of us on the Board thought that the price was too high (or not high enough), and wanted something much cheaper. As I mentioned in earlier updates I took on the task of building one of those models, what you’ll see described in the minutes as a SuperSQLSaturday, which describes the intent if not the days involved!

I brought in Jack Corbett & Kendal Van Dyke to help me build a proposal for event in Orlando, picking Orlando because I live there of course, but practically it allowed me to leverage the knowledge of the area and the ability to easily visit very hotels without travel cost. What we ended up with is a 2 day, 4 track event planned for Thursday & Friday that will cost somewhere between $299 and $499 – and I’m fighting hard for $299, but we’re still deep in the costing process. We’re also planning a couple pre-cons on Wed. At that price point it’s what I call a ‘no frills’ event with an attendance goal/cap of 500.

There are a couple interesting ideas that go along with this. One is that it’s designed to heavily leverage local user groups and volunteers. Another is that we see it as a way to get people to go to a conference that wouldn’t otherwise go, lowering the price point to get them to see the value and then being able to say, if you think is this is good, go to the Summit! We’re also proposing that each year we accept applications from groups/cities to host the event and pick a new location each year (and obviously cities with successful SQLSaturdays are great candidates).

Lots of good notes in the minutes. At this point we’re investigating the costs of the concept above and I think it likely – but not guaranteed – that this is the model we’ll try in 2011. Lots of unknowns for us, so by starting with a smaller event and lower price point we can deliver great value to our members on the East coast and get some working knowledge and feedback, help us figure out:

  • Did we price it effectively/correctly?
  • Do our attendees get ‘no frills’, or find the lack of them frustrating?
  • Is it an effective venue for sponsors?
  • Is relying on volunteers effective/can we effectively split the workload between HQ and volunteers?
  • Is the community happy with the overall event/concept?

I like this concept (and am biased as I wrote it after all), and I think it fills a nice gap in the event hierarchy. Speakers start out at Chapters, work their work into SQLSaturday, and then they go to “new event”, finally move up to the big leagues, the Summit. Equally we can grow members along the same path, letting them learn the value we provide at our free events and then moving to spend their training budget for our larger and deeper events.

There is just a lot to this, and I can’t do it all justice here, but I hope you’ll get some sense of the options we’re looking at and why I’m in favor of the more or less $299 option. We’ll vote on this before or at the June Board meeting once we have all the costs finalized. We would definitely like to hear what you think, post here, or drop any of us on the Board an email, and we’ll also be monitoring #sqlpass on Twitter.

SQLAndy

I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.

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