Of course it would be lovely just to be able to make a conference with all the bells and whistles without having to think about the costs – but back in the real world, one of the most important things was working out how to pay for everything.
As we were largely independent under the overall “BSides” banner, we could charge for tickets if we wanted to – and we thought long and hard over whether to do this or not. The advantages of charging would be a) we would have a decent pool of cash independent of the (possible) vagaries of sponsors b) having paid for a ticket people would be more likely to turn up and use it than if they got it for nothing – and we knew that there was a big dropout rate associated with free conferences. The disadvantage was obviously that as a new conference people might be distinctly unwilling to fork out for an unknown quantity which could impact our ticket sales. Also the other BSides conferences in UK were free (although many internationally do charge). I have say that I was over-ruled by my fellow committee members at this point – I wanted to charge but we voted to go free.
Having decided on this, we needed some sponsors. Luckily, we all had good contacts in the industry in Scotland (and wider UK), and this proved crucial in attracting good sponsors. The trouble with going in cold (particularly with larger companies) is that public email addresses tend to hit marketing departments which don’t have a good understanding of what we were offering, or what benefits a BSides conference could offer. Essentially, it is very, very difficult to get through to the right person by going in blind, and virtually all the sponsors we got were to some extent or other obtained through personal contacts at the companies concerned – particularly early on.
For the companies sponsoring, the benefits we stressed were a) exposure of brand name b) possibility of direct or indirect sales via contacts made on the day c) recruitment platform (I had not thought of this, but with testers in short supply, a room full of students and current testers is a tempting target).
Sponsorship was something that did prove to be easier to obtain than I had expected, and within a few weeks of starting our pitch, we had filled up our ticket of platinum sponsors, and actually had a few golds. We pitched at £3000 for platinum and £2000 for gold – with platinum getting more coverage in the brochure and a better stand on the day. We also had silver which was set at £750 and didn’t get a stall on the day – but had no takers for this – with a key takeaway for us being that the stall is very important.
Many (but not all) of our sponsors were testing companies, and most of these either had a presence in Scotland already, or were hoping to establish one.
With some money in the bank we were able to finalize the venue and pay their deposit, and start to flesh out some of the details of what the conference would look like.