Friday, August 31, 2012

The Other Side of the Booth

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending CoderFaire Nashville. I've been to a lot of great conferences, but this one was different for me on a few levels:
  1. My good friends Cal Evans and Jacques Woodcock organized the event which made me feel like an "insider." 
  2. I got to see my friends speak, and they were all really good! Tim Moses, Ben Ramsey, Jason Myers, Eli Tapolcsanyi (say that name 10 times fast!), Jim Siegienski ("Jimski"), Jon Shearer... loved them all. I missed Kevin Powell and other friends, but I heard they did great as well. 
  3. My business partner, Brett Florio, flew in from California so we got to enjoy the conference together.
  4. My company, FoxyCart, was a lab sponsor.
Let me start off by saying the conference was a huge success. The Nashville development community has been growing like crazy and desperately needed their own conference event. There's been a lot of back and forth on social media about BarCamp, PodCamp, and other conferences some argue have been "taken over" by marketing professionals. Regardless of that debate, there was no denying what CoderFaire was all about.

For a first year conference, I was amazed at the turnout, the quality, and the smoothness with which everything was done. The result was a testimony to Cal's many years of conference experience combined with Jacques, Kathy and the volunteer team's pursuit of excellence.

Well done!

But that's not really what this blog post is about. I wanted to highlight #4 above. I've been to a few conferences now (JavaOne, AdobeMax,, PHP Tek, BarCamp, PodCamp, etc), and I usually follow the unspoken rule when it comes to vendor tables: Get in, get your free swag, get out, and, no matter what, do not make eye contact!

No one likes to be poorly marketed to. It makes you feel like a roast pig on a spit.

For the first time ever, I was on the other side of the vendor booth. FoxyCart was a proud sponsor of CoderFaire. Look, we bought a banner and everything! We're a real company now! (after only 5 short years). The genius of the setup was we weren't allowed to "sell." We were lab partners, there to answer questions about our service and equip others to build awesome.

This is the way it should be done. Vendors should think of their conference presence as an opportunity to serve their community in person. To put a human face on the awesome support they already give, day in and day out.

I think we've all been trained by bad vendor booths. People hawking their products and services to anyone and everyone: bribing you with a t-shirt and shaming you for not signing up for the newsletter.

Cal and Jacques: Thank you.

Thank you for showing us all something different. It's hard being on the other side of the booth. It's hard to get past that unspoken rule and let coders know, "We're here to help. Really." But you made it possible.

We had some great conversations and hopefully sparked the beginnings of some new partnerships. The feedback I got at Tuesday night's NashCocktail and last night's CentreSource Interactive Mixer from CoderFaire attendees was incredible.

They loved that we, as a vendor, were there for them. We participated in the hackthon (more about that later... I'm going to turn that thing into a business). We attended sessions and asked questions. We, as developers, were part of the community, not a parasite feeding on it.

The next time you attend a conference, look for the vendors that genuinely want to serve you. Thank them for being there. Tell them you enjoy doing business with real people who care about their customers.

I know it will mean a lot to them because the feedback we've gotten has meant a lot to us.

(Note: All of these pictures were blatantly stolen from Cal and Jacques. They both know where I live, so they can come beat me up if they don't like me using them).

Did you attend CoderFaire? If so, what did you think?

Got an interesting conference story involving vendors? Please share it in the comments!


Tim Moses said...

I completely agree with the success of the conference. They did an amazing job and I ended up spending most of my time in the lab with the vendors rather than avoiding it. The talks I did see were great.

Cal Evans said...

Thanks so much for the awesome write up. Yes, that was what we were going for and you are exactly right. I think back to the conferences I've been involved in and we usually have to bribe the attendees to visit the expo hall with liquor or food. We didn't have to bribe the CFN12 attendees at all to visit the lounge. the format was part of that, the other part was our awesome lab partners. :)

Thanks so much for being part of what made CoderFaire Nashville so awesome! :)

Dave Delaney said...

Awesome Luke. I am so happy for Cal, Jacques, and everyone involved in CoderFaire. I knew it would be a success with those guys leading the show.

I agree with you on how to be a great sponsor and attendee. I often take the time to thank sponsors personally for supporting the things I love. It's important to remember how so many great high-quality, free (or close to it) things come to us.

Congrats on rocking FoxyCart too. I'm excited about your success.

Luke Stokes said...

"I ended up spending most of my time in the lab with the vendors rather than avoiding it." <-- THAT is success. Thanks Tim. I'm sure Cal and Jacques really appreciate hearing that.

Luke Stokes said...

Don't get me wrong, we certainly appreciate the liquor and food... but there is a better way to do things and I think you guys found it.

Now... if we had a lab with awesome technical support teams AND liquor and food... that might be magical. :) The snacks at CoderFaire we're great and much appreciated. :)

Luke Stokes said...

Great comment, Dave. It's easy to forget how the sponsors make it possible.

As for FoxyCart, we haven't taken over the entire world of ecommerce yet, so there's plenty more to do. :)

Dave Delaney said...

But you will. You will.

Matt McWilliams said...


"Eli Tapolcsanyi (say that name 10 times fast!)"
Dude, I can't say that one time. Slowly.
Second: Is that Phil Harvey in the bottom picture?
Third: Glad you got to see the dark side. It's the only side I've ever been on and I've never harassed anyone. I figure if they are able to see what we do, walk by, and not stop, I am not wasting 5 minutes trying to pitch them when 2 people are standing in line to talk with me.

Luke Stokes said...

Yeah, that's Phil. He joined our hackathon team along with Jon Wolski. I felt like I was back at Dave Ramsey again, pushing for some last minute marketing project. :)

Having people stand in line to talk to you is a good sign you're doing something right. :)

Joel Fortner said...

Great stuff Luke! This was fun to read.

Luke Stokes said...

Thanks Joel! We had a really great conference. Still making connections with people here in Nashville almost a week later because of it.

I love this town. :)

Joel Fortner said...

That's superb and what's it all about. Good on you guys.