Provide what you'll buy if you're on the receiving end. That's the Underdog Con ethos. Every event or product we've created comes down to that.
- Will we buy what we made?
- Will we sign up for the event?
- Is the price something we'll happily pay?
In today's post, I want to share the lessons we've learned running Underdog Founders' Con on 12th Dec 2023 - along with a revenue report from the event.
Let's get started.
First up. Revenue report here.
Profits were low this round.
We didn't lose money. But take into account staff and opportunity loss – and we've made a loss this round.
Some things to take a little seriously as we plan the next one.
- Get sponsors. Getting sponsors for an event is not begging if we can provide them with what they want.
- Getting exhibitors. Synonymous with our goal for the audience to discover, bringing in exhibitors (that we've vetted) with great & relevant products/services would be a plus point for the event.
- Deadlines. Always set deadlines. We tried having NO deadlines for ticketing. It bombed. More on this below.
Lesson #1: You cannot just rely on advertising
Our customer acquisition cost (CAC) was RM75 from ads on Facebook & Instagram.
The CAC from retargeting ads was higher, at RM149.99. Damn!
We saw these numbers from the start, but because we've allocated a budget towards ads – we continue running them. Sure, maybe Meta wasn't able to track some additional conversions.
That said, I had people telling me, "Hey, I saw your ad". And I swear I noticed some strangers staring at me in public places.
Anyway, the lesson here is that it's not sustainable to just rely on paid advertising for customer acquisition. It will provide you with good leverage, where the ads continue to run as we're not working - but you need to have multiple traffic sources.
Lesson #2: Always be building an audience
As a marketer, I'm always curious and looking for learning opportunities. So I would randomly ask registrants how they found out about the event.
One of the biggest sources was the newsletter.
While this isn't new news to me, it's a reminder for me to continue building a relationship with our audience. We do that by producing great newsletters and events.
Don't see every customer as a transaction. See them as a start to a long-term relationship.
Lesson #3: Set deadlines or it won't happen
Deadlines work both ways. Internally, for you and externally, for your customers.
It was the 3rd of November 2023.
I was contemplating if I should even run another event. Something inside me said, "screw it, let's do it". So I texted Liang, the owner of the venue to book the place.
You can see my text below:
We were just 39 days to the event. I remember thinking "oh shit, what I've done" after booking the place. We had no confirmed speakers, no tickets sold and the site wasn't even designed or updated yet.
Somehow, with a deadline and no choice - we got it done. We hit our goal and the event was a success, with 80 people attending.
That's the power of setting a non-negotiable deadline.
While setting a deadline worked for us internally, we made a mistake in the ticketing.
Every time I see something like a countdown timer on a website, I know that the marketer behind it is trying to induce urgency. Hah! We’re better than that. For Underdog Founders’ Con, we decided to do away with the cliche countdown timer. No deadlines. One price. Take it or leave it. We’re going to be trusting marketers!
It turned out to be a bad decision.
People need a reason to take action. Otherwise, they will sit around and wait. We procrastinate. That’s the reason why even if we had 2 weeks, we choose to complete our homework 2 hours before submission time.
During the previous event, Underdog Influence Con in November – we used a tactic where we increased the ticket price every 2 days, and it worked. We sold more tickets.
Here’s how I think about it. You do a service for your customers by inducing urgency. It helps them make a decision and move on, whether they choose to buy or skip your offer.
Lesson #4: A positive mindset is everything
2 speakers got COVID and were unable to join. What made it bad was the timing when we received the news. One speaker told us 4 days before the event, and another, less than 24 hours before the event.
We scrambled to get another speaker to fill the spot and worked hard to put together a live stream setup for the other speaker.
Because we were so tied up, I left the event setup entirely to Liang, the owner of the venue.
An hour before the event, I entered the venue and realized the layout wasn’t what I had in mind. We had an hour to figure things out, re-layout, set up, and welcome some guests who were there early – so I started to panic.
Liang, as an experienced host, kept his cool and told me to smile.
“Smile... it does 90% of the job. Focus on what you can control.”, he said.
So I stopped focusing on everything that went wrong and put all my focus on what I could control, putting on a big smile to greet guests who arrived at the venue early.
What I quickly found out is that people are forgiving. They're humans too. In fact, when you meet them with enthusiasm and energy, they'll respond to that equally. We received no complaints about the small disarray we had in the morning or anything about having a speaker dialing in on Zoom during the event.
Here's an ethos every marketer should embody:
It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. Great marketers focus on solutions.
Lesson #5: The real reason
Physical meet-ups beat online events anytime of the day.
People are more engaged at a physical event. Non-verbal cues start playing a role.
Having great speakers attracts people to join a conference. But we've learnt to never forget the real reason they're here. Most attendees want the chance to talk to the others.
That's why we added more networking time and strategically made breaks longer. People love it. They get to go up to the speakers, exchange namecards, take pictures and chat.
In short, what people were really buying when they join the conference was access.
Lesson #6: Don't be afraid of charging money
Do you feel bad for asking for money?
- "Oh, events are supposed to be free."
- "Why would they pay this much"
- "How can I charge someone? I just feel bad."
This is not a logical reaction. It's emotional. For years, I felt bad about charging people for money.
Over the years, I've learnt to reframe my thoughts. Here's two of them:
- I'm paid for the value I create.
- The more money I make, the more value I can create.
And by the way, you're not taking money from anyone. They're willingly giving it to you. You'll know that you've created some sort of value if people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash to buy what you are offering.
For example, I paid RM8,120 for the venue. This was expensive for an event of 80 people. But I was happy to pay the RM8,120 because the event went amazingly well and it provided something for my audience.
People will be happy to pay you if you have helped them achieve their goals.
Underdog Con is not free – and it will never be. In doing so, we made things better for everyone. People who attend the event are attentive, willing to invest in themselves and more engaged. Having people like that in the crowd made it better for everyone.
Lesson #7: Stay focused
One of the keys to succeed in anything, beyond business – is to stay focused.
The previous conference in October, Underdog Influence Con – did much better than the recent Underdog Founders' Con, because it was focused on a single key theme – influencer marketing.
The theme this round was around company founders, sharing stories from their marketing journey. However, this became a little off-focus with the founders each sharing differently.
Just like any product or service, running a successful conference means you'd have to focus on a single key topic for the day.
I share these reports and lessons in hopes that they'll be useful for you. It's part of our commitment to building Underdog Con in public – bringing you on the journey with us.
Everyone learns, so that's a big win.
Which one is your favorite lesson? Leave us a comment below.
And of course, recordings from Underdog Founders' Con are now up on the Circle. If you missed the conference, you can now buy an online access to catch up with all the recordings from the speakers, and fireside chats, and access additional content.