I began planning BAM 2024 literally while I was sitting in the Denver airport waiting to return home from BAM 2023, researching possible venues. The post-conference survey showed a fair amount of interest in Chicago as a location, but it turns out there are no hotels outside the downtown area that can host a conference (and I could only find one non-hotel venue that I had to reject for other reasons). Downtown Chicago is dead after business hours and is expensive. Not the vibe I wanted. Evanston, a suburb on the north edge of Chicago, is really more of a self-contained small city, and it’s a known quantity—my first job out of college was there. It has a human-scale, walkable downtown, it’s integrated into Chicago’s public-transit system. The Orrington hotel is a grand old place, and I had been to an event there before. It felt right.
I wanted to keep the date around the same time as BAM 2023 because that’s a relatively quiet point in the burner calendar, but I moved it up a week to avoid stepping on the U.S. election.
The crowdfunding campaign is about limiting risk and improving predictability. It’s an experiment. I’ve opened the books on BAM 2023, and you can see that most of the tickets were bought in the last month, and in the end I did not break even. The fact that BAM 2023 did not break even is not very surprising—or even very disappointing—considering it’s a new conference, but it’s not sustainable. Also, my contract with the hotel meant that I was on the hook for a lot of money—an amount that I would have been able to cover, but that would have been a very hard hit. I did not know whether the conference would achieve critical mass or how much I would owe the hotel. I was very concerned, until almost the last minute, that so few people would register that I would need to cancel, refund the money, and owe the hotel all of the amount in the contract.
For 2024, I was able to negotiate a little scheduling dance with my contact at the hotel that allowed me to run the crowdfunding campaign before signing the contract, but after knowing what the contract amount would be. To give you some idea of how the costs break down, the conference has very little in fixed costs—mostly software to run the ticket sales. The rental on the function rooms is a “stepwise” costs—we’re renting four spaces for the conference, and if the number of participants crosses a certain threshold, I will rent an additional breakout room, which is $1000 for two days. The rest of the costs are all variable costs that scale directly with the number of participants, and the bulk of that is food and coffee (and the hotel’s service charges on those, and taxes on top of that).
As of this writing, the crowdfunding campaign is 9% funded. I expected a small rush at the beginning, and a bigger rush at the end. Fingers crossed.