10 lessons from a year of running SaaS meetups

What we’ve learned on the first anniversary of LDNSaaS

LDNSaaS - our fifth London SaaS Meetup

This week we held our fifth LDNSaaS event. It was the best event we’ve run yet, with more than 50 passionate attendees, 3 fantastic external speakers, and a large quantity of pancakes.

It’s been (almost to the day) one year since we ran our first LDNSaaS event. Each one has been better than the last, so we thought we’d share some of the things we’ve learned along the way.

Have a name and hashtag

When we first ran LDNSaaS it wasn’t called LDNSaaS.

We kicked off with the more descriptive “Stories from the front line of SaaS” to emphasise our focus on people who are working in the SaaS world, and to underscore the importance of storytelling, rather than dull sales pitches that are all too common at other events.

It was only shortly before the first event kicked off we realised we should nail down a hashtag to match up all the chatter on Twitter, Instagram, and other social channels. LDNSaaS seemed perfect, and has evolved to be the name of the event overall.

Without a hashtag, trying to trace down all the mentions and publicity around the event is incredibly difficult, and it’s hard to build momentum off the back of your community sharing the event.

Film the talks

Another decision we made very late before the first LDNSaaS was to record video of the talks.

We were so caught up in planning the event and ensuring we had speakers nailed down, and attendees coming, that we didn’t focus on the benefits of the event for those who couldn’t make it.

Deciding to film the talks caused some chaos, but we’re glad we did it. The number of people who have attended our subsequent events since watching the videos online is considerable, and the number of views on the videos we’ve filmed dramatically exceeds the number of attendees we get in person.

In addition, filming the talks and sharing them online gives our speakers a great piece of content they can share on their own sites and social media – giving both them and us extra exposure. Everyone wins!

Quality sound matters more than quality video

As part of our decision to record the event, we needed to nail down a last-minute setup for recording the talks. For the first event, we made the decision so late in the day that our setup was rather amateur – we begged, borrowed, and stole* to get our AV setup right.

The biggest realisation from our first event was that the audio needed to be better. People can often deal with low quality video, but bad audio is unforgivable. After our first event, we’ve invested in a better AV setup all-round, but especially on the audio side.

We now hire in microphones and mixing equipment, and record audio separately from the video so we have a clear, clean track for each speaker that can be mixed later.

Charge for the event

There’s a lot of advice out there on expected drop-offs for event attendance dependent on what you charge.

Our first event was free, and we had a huge number of registrations, but on the night, over half didn’t show up. We didn’t take it personally, but we were frustrated with the unpredictable nature of running an event like this – what if they did all show up? What if only 25% showed up? It would become impossible to plan high quality food and drinks, and to budget for the event overall.

We now charge a nominal fee – between £5 and £10 per ticket – to all attendees. This isn’t really about making money – running events isn’t part of our business model, and it’s not really a blip on our income statement. But we now have a much better handle on the number of people who will actually turn up – it’s up towards 80-90% of the people who buy a ticket.

Charging for your event will certainly reduce the number of registrations, but we’ve found it to be the best way to run and plan a high quality meetup like LDNSaaS.

Don’t host on a Thursday or Friday

Ensuring people turn up to events is always challenging.

So far we’ve found hosting on a Thursday or Friday in London to produce a lower turnout than earlier in the week – perhaps people would rather be at the pub later in the week… shocking.

Our best turnout has always been when we’ve held LDNSaaS on a Tuesday or Wednesday – and from what we can tell it’s simply because there’s fewer social calendar conflicts.

In addition, weather conditions can have a big impact on attendance rate – in the summer months, competing with a beautiful (and rare, for London) hot, sunny evening is challenging. Similarly, on a (much more common) rainy, cold evening, sometimes people just want to go home – even at the expense of missing great talks on SaaS. You can’t control the weather, but it’s worth bearing in mind how this might affect attendance rate.

Provide great food

At a lot of events, you’re offered cold pizza, or maybe a bowl of crisps.

We know that every interaction people have with GoSquared – whether it’s visiting our website, talking to one of our team on live chat, or attending one of our events – is a reflection on our brand. We don’t want to lower people’s impression of GoSquared by cheaping out unnecessarily.

We also love good food.

So we organise external caterers for each event to put on a selection of the best food possible. LDNSaaS 5 happened to land on Pancake Day, so we brought in a fantastic crêpe stand and served pancakes all evening. It was flippin’ great.

Set deadlines for speakers

We collaborate with our speakers as far in advance as possible.

We set a deadline for talks so we can ensure presentations are ready ahead of the evening. All the presentations are folded into one Keynote deck that we can run through smoothly on the night. The last thing we want is our speakers worrying about plugging in their laptops in front of the audience, and for our attendees to start yawning while we’re switching between talks.

Being clear with speakers ahead of time means we get talks in, we can review them, collaborate on any changes that need to be made, and run the show professionally on the night.

Ask for feedback

After every event we ask for feedback from our attendees.

Sometimes it’s brutal to hear. Sometimes it’s incredibly rewarding. But either way, it’s always valuable for us to ensure we make LDNSaaS better every time.

You can’t please all the people all the time, but you can keep iterating and always be improving.

Feedback from our previous attendees has helped us improve the format of the event, our approach to food, the topics we invite speakers to talk about, and a whole lot more.

Practically speaking, to gain feedback, we send our an email as soon as possible after the event to people who attended, and ask them to fill in a Typeform survey. It takes less than five minutes, and we thoroughly review every response we get.

Do a user test

We’re big proponents of user testing around here, but it doesn’t just apply to your product or app.

It’s easy to screw up the experience people receive when attending your event, but a great way to spot the problems is to run through the evening yourself – put yourself in the shoes of an attendee.

This one sounds simple, but it’s incredibly easy to not do.

Things to look out for:

  • Are there clear signs for the essentials like toilets, and where the event itself is?
  • Does every member of your team know the schedule for the evening, the speakers, and have all and answers to frequently asked questions?
  • Is there anywhere to drop coats and bags?
  • Do the people on the front desk know to look out for the speakers?
  • Do you have enough people on the front desk to deal with a large group turning up at once?

Simple things, that go a long way towards running a slick event.

Have a clear purpose

Perhaps an obvious thing to outline, but it’s been critical to the success of LDNSaaS so far – being clear about why your event exists, and who it’s for, can really help build a community.

We started LDNSaaS not because we wanted to just run an event, or because we wanted to gain exposure. We started LDNSaaS because we felt there was a fantastic array of talented people doing great work in the software world in London, and they weren’t getting together.

Compared to the focus San Francisco receives from the tech press, London has always been downplayed as a SaaS hub. We know hundreds of amazing people in SaaS in London, and our mission with LDNSaaS is to bring them together to share their honest stories, and help each other out.

Join us next time

If you’re building a software company, and you’re in London (or just visiting), we’d love to see you at the next LDNSaaS event.

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* We didn’t actually steal anything.

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