Canceling eCommerce Summit, What We've Learned + Two Requests for Hero Conf
December 22, 2014
It’s best to just rip the Band-Aid off…
Unfortunately, I’m announcing that we’re canceling Hero Conf eCommerce Summit. We’ve already taken a number of steps towards this, one of them being that we’ve removed the eCommerce Summit pages from heroconf.com. Registration is closed, and our sponsors, speakers, and attendees know too. This public announcement is one of the last steps. There’s a confluence of reasons that led me to this decision, and I’ll go through those below.
(For those unfamiliar with eCommerce Summit, it’s a one-day conference focused on eCommerce for PPC. Our vision was that, if you’re a PPC manager in eCommerce, it would teach you everything you wanted and needed to know to get 2015 off to a great start. And, it was to take place in tropical, non-winter weather in Miami!)
This is one of the more transparent blog posts in terms of Hanapin’s overall business operations. I wrote a series of “Letters from the CEO” a few years ago about initiatives within Hanapin and how we were performing. This post goes into much more depth.
This is so partly because being self-critical is part of our DNA, it’s how we get better. And also partly because Hanapin / PPC Hero / Hero Conf enjoys a positive public reputation, and canceling a conference counters that reputation. A lot of folks were involved in eCommerce Summit, and this blog post gives them and you a “peek under the hood” so you understand what happened. Plus, writing about it is cathartic for me personally.
Reason #1 – Low registrations
First, the total attendee goal for eCommerce Summit was 100-150. In fact, when I first conceived of the Summits, I thought we could attract upwards of 200 attendees. Best case, we projected to attract 75 in Miami, so we were pacing below the low goal. Besides the figure being lower than planned, part of the conference’s value for attendees is interaction with other attendees. Fewer attendees means less value for both the attendees and speakers.
What we learned from Conversion Summit
For Conversion Summit (the first of our Summits), we learned that conversion is no single person’s job, meaning that for most companies, conversion is part of someone’s job and not their entire job. In other words, there’s less incentive for someone to attend the conference if it’s for only part of their job.
We also learned that Indianapolis isn’t a “destination” city. For those of you outside of Indiana, this is probably a Captain Obvious moment. For Hoosiers though, we know that Indianapolis is home to the men’s and women’s basketball NCAA tournament every 2-3 years, the Super Bowl two years ago, and the Indy 500- the greatest spectacle in sports- every year around Memorial Day. It’s home to the world’s largest children’s museum, a large and vibrant tech community, three high-profile (and one multi-billion dollar) SaaS acquisitions in the last five years (one, two, three), and Indianapolis produces more college graduates than any other major metro area in the US.
We thought that for eCommerce Summit, because Conversion Summit was profitable, because we hit our low attendee goal, because traffic was high for our eCommerce experts list, because eCommerce is someone’s job, and because Miami is a great city to visit in January, attendance would increase. It didn’t, and we’re still not 100% sure of the reason. It could be that our marketing wasn’t strong enough, that we stretched the “Hero Conf” brand too thin and/or too soon, that our programming didn’t create enough value, that the Holidays are a horrible time to promote, or it could be that there’s not a big enough market. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the exact reason, though I’d love to hear theories in the comments. Regardless, we simply didn’t have enough registrations to move forward.
Reason #2 – Workshops
Second, we have zero paid workshop registrations, which takes place the morning after the conference. For all of our conferences (Hero Conf 2012-4 and Conversion Summit), our workshops have been popular and where we cover a good chunk of our expenses. For Hero Conf 2014 and Conversion Summit, we actually sold out with very little promotion for either. Zero workshop registrations basically ensures that eCommerce Summit wouldn’t have been profitable. I’ve bootstrapped Hanapin for 11 years, starting with just $2000. We have no outside investors, only a line of credit through our bank, so being profitable is highly important.
Reason #3 – Focus on Hero Conf
Third, we want to make sure to focus on Hero Conf and canceling eCommerce Summit allows us to better market it, generate attention for it, and put the time and effort necessary towards coordinating a great event folks in the industry have come to expect. Hero Conf started in 2012 in Indianapolis with 100 attendees. In 2013, we doubled attendees in Austin, and in 2014, we doubled attendees in Austin again. We’re expecting 550-600 folks in Portland. (Yes, I’m publicly stating our goal.) We just hired another full-time Events person to make Hero Conf great, and in an unexpected but welcome way, canceling eCommerce Summit has energized the team. They have a much clearer path to know what to focus on.
A public misstep
Obviously, canceling eCommerce Summit is not the outcome I had intended when I first conceived of the idea. I thought there was a need for an in-depth look at specific PPC topics and that doing so would be a great compliment to our annual flagship event in April. They would generate more awareness for Hero Conf, and it would act as a “scouting trip” to find great, up and coming speakers.
While Nate, Audrey, and the rest of the team have been great about gathering all the necessary information for me to make this decision, I know they’re disappointed. Despite the lackluster results, it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve put a lot of hard work into the conference, one that will ultimately never see the light of day.
It’s public too, so that stings a bit for the entire company. Companies have missteps all the time, but most of them aren’t public. This, unfortunately, is one of the exceptions. We always need to stretch ourselves, however, because it creates growth and opportunities. This won’t be the last time we miss the mark on something, which I’m okay with because stretching is the only way to create that growth and capture those opportunities.
I know they’ve picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and are working full-time on Hero Conf diligently. I couldn’t be prouder of them.
We’ve spoken with Bing, as they’re the main sponsor of Hero Conf, and a big supporter of the agency overall. They agree that it makes sense to shift resources from eCommerce Summit (and another Summit we were planning in June in Brooklyn, which we hadn’t announced yet) to Hero Conf. While they’re not happy with the outcome either, they want the same thing we do, which is to create value for our attendees. Making this decision supports that. They’ve been a great partner the past two years and continue to be. Thank you!
Transfers, refunds, and credits
Late last week, we notified speakers and attendees. We’re allowing any paid attendee to transfer their registrations to Hero Conf at no additional cost. That means they get to attend a conference that has twice as many sessions for half the cost! Alternatively, we can refund their registration fee entirely. We’re also offering a credit up to $250 to anyone who needs to change or cancel his or her flight. We don’t want us canceling eCommerce Summit to hurt any of our attendees or speakers.
They won’t run into the same issues for the hotel, as Hanapin has guaranteed a specific number of room reservations, so we’ll eat that cost directly from the hotel if they can’t re-sell the rooms to other guests. It’s busy season in Miami, so we’re hoping they can. Worst-case scenario, we’ll have an additional loss of $12k for flight credits and our hotel room block. That’s on top of our current expenses of $10k. This doesn’t include salaries and benefits, which are amortized among all our events, based on revenue.
This is a fairly lengthy blog post, so if you’ve made it this far, thank you! I have two additional requests of you.
We want more in-house and female speakers
We’re making a big push for more in-house PPC managers and more female PPC managers. For each of the past two years, our goal has been 1/3 in-house, 1/3 females. We’ve made a lot of progress towards these goals, but despite reaching out to three times as many speakers as we had slots for, we haven’t hit the 1/3 mark. Both groups are notoriously under-represented on the speaker circuit, and I don’t want that be the case at Hero Conf. We called for more speakers about a month ago, and we’d love more. In fact, just this week, we secured an in-house speaker from the American Cancer Society!
Hero Conf is on like Donkey Kong + the early bird ends December 31
We’re making plans for Hero Conf to even bigger and better than last year. Portland is going to be a great event! We’ve started by re-inviting the highest rated speakers from 2014. In no particular order, they are:
- Brad Geddes
- Sam Owen
- David Barton
- Merry Morud
- Elizabeth Marsten
- Amy Hahn
- Oli Gardner
- Chris Goward
- Lance Loveday
- Frederick Vallaeys
- Matt Van Wagner
- Emma Welland
- Alexa Feckanin
The first early bird ends at the end of this month. It’s $1100 to attend the conference, and that’s the lowest price we’ll offer. That’s great value for 70 speakers, 4 keynotes, 11 networking events, and 50 sessions and they’re all focused on PPC.
Plus, no boxed lunches here! Last year, we had non-stop food starting both days with a Bloody Mary and Mimosa bars, buffets both days with Texas comfort food, lunch drinks with an old-time lemonade bar and old-fashioned soda fountain, snacks in the afternoon like popcorn and ice cream, and the big Bing party they threw that overlooked downtown Austin.
The price increases to $1200 on January 1, so if you’re planning to attend, now’s the time to save.
P.S. I still have a big announcement to make about Hero Conf, stay tuned for more!
Big decision made for Hero Conf 2015, can’t wait to make the announcement!
— Pat East (@pateast) December 9, 2014
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