Community building is tough business — especially when that community is online, where there is countless competition for people’s attention. And it’s doubly hard when you’re trying to build a community of enterprise software executives, who are already pressed for time. But that didn’t stop Jason Lemkin, a serial entrepreneur eager to help SaaS founders succeed by sharing ideas and advice. The result was SaaStr, which started as a blog in 2012 and has quickly become the go-to resource for enterprise software executives.
Gretchen DeKnikker, COO at SaaStr, attributes part of that success to the company’s annual live event, which launched in 2014 to allow its growing community to network and learn from their peers face-to-face. Next year, the company expects the event to double in size from 5,00 attendees to more than 10,000 attendees and 200 speakers participating.
1. Success = Measurement
DeKnikker and the team who put on SaaStr’s annual conference live by the axiom, “What gets measured, gets done.” The team puts an almost maniacal focus on measuring every possible detail to ensure every aspect of the event hits the mark. Executives are busy people, DeKnikker says, and they won’t make the effort to attend if the conference falls short of their expectations. Even worse, they’d tell their friends. That’s anathema for an organization that simply wouldn’t exist without an engaged community.
2. Pick a Goal, Then Work Backward
One valuable lesson SaaStr has learned is that measurement for the sake of measurement does not suffice. The team puts their data to work by picking specific goals and then working backward. The goal might be attracting a certain number of attendees from the same company, and that will inform planning decisions across things like speaker invites to how many prospective attendees to target.
3. Deputize an Owner for Every Goal
Chances are, no metric-based goal or metric will get done unless there’s a single person that’s accountable. A key to SaaStr’s ability work backwards from goals is simple: put someone in charge of every goal. Take the event budget, for example. “We had more than two people working on the budget last year,” DeKnikker says. “Huge mistake!” To limit surprises this year, especially as the event date nears, the team realized it needed one owner to handle the budget.
4. The Devil’s In the Details
As any event manger will tell you, the details matter — a lot. The small details often separate the good events from the standouts that send attendees home raving, eager to register for next year. DeKnikker and her team pay close attention to whether attendees notice the details, too. Last year, for example, the team displayed bouquets of unicorns. It was a small touch, but the audience loved it. “That encapsulates the surprise and delight that I want ever attendee to feel,” DeKnikker says.
Pro tip: Don’t overlook speaker prep, DeKnikker says. It can make a big difference.
5. There’s Always Room for Improvement
No matter how fine-tuned the event lineup, how spot-on the presentations (or even how delicious the catering), no event is perfect. After every event, DeKnikker’s team regroups to evaluate what went well — and what they can improve on next year. That includes everything from monitoring attendees’ in-app session feedback, to evaluating event technology and conducting an honest speaker diversity assessment. DeKnikker points to diversity as one area where SaaStr is always trying to improve. “Every single person on your team has to be committed to [diversity],” she says. “You have to be explicit about it.”