As event organisers, most of the year we are bogged down with all the intricacies it takes to market and make an event happen. But as time goes by you cannot just keep rinsing and repeating. You have to innovate and bring new experiences.

For some ideas and inspiration, we decided to go to a few events. Maybe the first week of November is particularly busy in the event world but as we counted, between the team, we attended six events, all quite different from each other.

Here is what we picked up, wearing as versatile hats as event organisers, content creators, agenda builders and lovers of SaaS.

On the future of tech and powerful inspirational stories: Web Summit

Our sales team headed to Lisbon for Web Summit. Here are some thoughts from Nick, Gabriel, Oscar, Felicia and Christine.

The heart of any conference is its content

What makes us come back to conferences, again and again, is not necessarily to learn a whole new piece of theory or adopt a hot new framework. It is rather to reinforce the learnings we already have and the practices we are aiming to establish by hearing how they worked in someone else’s story. Understanding what other people have gone through, and what their thinking was as they managed to solve a big problem can be truly eye-opening.

Seeing Cal Henderson from Slack speak (he spoke at SaaStock too but let’s face it, none of us had time to see him) is always insightful. There are always new things to learn from the experience the company went through as they set out to understand how and why workplaces needed to be more collaborative and on the way built and grew the most successful software startup on the planet. If the games they were making had in fact picked up, maybe we would never have had…

Some of the other presentations we enjoyed were Zander Lurie of SurveyMonkey, Paul Rosado of OutSystems, and Adrian Cockcroft of AWS.  

An amazing place to meet people

Regardless of whether it’s at an exhibitor’s booth or when in line for morning coffee, the interesting people you can stumble upon at Web Summit never fails to amaze. In our experience, we were fortunate to meet people such as Rob Frohwein of Kabbage, Aleksey Danchenko of eSputnik, Fraser Davidson of Cyclr Systems, and Jessica Martinez of Segment. However, the most fascinating encounter was with Sophia and Han, the robots from Hanson Robotics and SingularityNET. It was like looking into the future and observing how two robots may be “having a conversation.”

Unwind and have fun

Running and growing a SaaS company, or any tech company for that matter, is difficult any day of the year. We often hear the advice to have fun. And in theory, we agree, but in reality, it’s much more difficult to step away from the grind when you are in the office every day. Conferences are some of the best opportunities to put a break to that and actually have fun.

From having a quick meditation break at the Headspace stand through to getting on a treehouse all the way to taking a selfie at the EDP stand, there were many quirky things that happened to us over the course of the three days. The theme at Sunset Summit was one of the best ways to leave a great impression about Portugal as we walked into various grounds that represent parts of the country. These moments are essential to getting the headspace needed to think about where we want to take SaaStock in 2019, both in terms of geography but also in terms of experience, matched to our business objectives.

Even deep in tech, there is an abundance of humanity

No matter how exciting new technology is, one of the most touching points is seeing living breathing humans acting nicely to each other. One of the most special moments happened when Kirsty Emery-Laws, Co-Founder of Unmade, was pitching. During the pitch, the pressure got the best of her and she froze, standing in front of a huge crowd. As soon as she did, everyone got up and started clapping and cheering her on until she literally talked herself out of that panic and continued with her pitch.

Making the SaaS business model successful: Pulse

Back in London, Emma, our Head of Event Content, attended Pulse, the Customer Success Conference run by Gainsight. Here is what she had to say about it.

The event’s theme was ‘Elements’: from Copper to Helium to the Zinc plenary, the event was designed to propel your customer success initiatives into the stratosphere! And if that wasn’t enough the QR code hunt had the delegates solving riddles and clues to uncover the QR coded stashed around the venue.

Arguably, customer success is in the heart of the success of SaaS as a business model as it’s the initiatives within it that get people to come back and pay month after month. One of the sticking points for the customer success community was in the keynote from J.B Wood, President & CEO, TSIA who discussed “The new math” and what this means for SaaS business models. We know incumbents have to pivot their business models to succeed, with many struggling with legacy systems and being slow to market to adopt cloud software and agile frameworks for service delivery.

Traditional companies have shareholders, and also have to deliver quarterly profits – the issue of legacy meaning you have to deliver on historically acceptable profits after pivoting your model. But the SaaS business model has to turn a profit, too, especially after IPO. The question of meeting stakeholder expectations whilst balancing profitability with growth and success seemingly doesn’t have a unified answer – but there are certainly SaaS leaders who are tackling the problem with ingenuity.

Other lessons that stuck out:

  • Buying software is never the solution, it’s how you execute it that matters.
  • Voice adoption is the next frontier for B2B SaaS.
  • Curating a community is the key factor in securing the success of your product or service; after all, it takes a village to create customer success.
Fun is part of the success

Pulse didn’t disappoint on the fun frontier, which included a robot catwalk. No, that’s not a typo. The Pulse welcome party at Pergola was a glittering array of hula hoopers, mad scientists, and a build-your-own-robot-costume-station. Delegates – with the aid of tinfoil, cardboard boxes, pipe cleaners and a healthy dose of creativity – were transformed into mechanical marvels and strutted their stuff through the venue! Watching customer success experts don their makeshift robot costumes and compete for applause was certainly my highlight.

Creating outstanding event experiences: Event Tech Live

In another part of London, our Ops team Harriet, Alex Lane, Alex Balding, as well as Yasmin, one of our marketing managers, went to Event Tech Live.

SaaStock18 had been called The Disneyland for SaaS by some of our attendees. Event Tech Live was something of the Disneyland for events people. There was so much to see in terms of solutions and offerings that we hardly had any time to attend sessions.

We loved Brella, the app they were using for matchmaking built in Finland. We had a great chat with Jani Lehtimäki, VP of Product and Sales from their team and have a better understanding of making matchmaking work through an app.

 With a list of other software solutions we were on the lookout for, it was a great opportunity for us to speak to people in the know. Not only did it cut down on time spent on calls for tech demos, but it was refreshing to be able to meet some of our current suppliers in person and put email addresses to faces!

We booked some meetings in advance (we really are eating our dog food), which led us to some very useful and successful suppliers that we intend on using next year. One of the best conversations we had was with Pylon One, a company of developers who build custom solutions for events. They have particularly interesting ideas about footfall analytics. We loved how smart they are and how non-sellsy their approach was.

What did we learn?

Focusing on originality, adding value and the importance of personalisation, the sessions at Event Tech Live placed emphasis on creating impactful and rewarding experiences for your customers. The underlying sentiment throughout the event was that people would rather pay for an experience, than a product. That’s the business we are in so point definitely taken. Miguel Neves, who is a Social Media trainer gave excellent insights on how to be more immersive, connected and disruptive in today’s marketing world. Sam Chance, Portfolio Marketing Manager gave excellent strategies focused solely on growth.

SaaS in Brazil: Brazil SaaS Forum and RD Summit

While this was happening, Alex Theuma crossed the Atlantic Ocean and the Equator to attend Brazil SaaS Forum and RD Summit. So how did he get on?

At Brazil SaaS Forum I met a lot of old friends like Diego Gomes, CEO of Rock Content and Eric Santos, CEO of RD Station. I also made some new ones like Diego Wagner CEO of Meetime and Eduard Muller CEO of b2b Stack. As you may have guessed the Brazil SaaS Forum was largely attended by CEOs and the quality of the 150 attendees was impressively high.

The speaker roster was a mix of local stars like Diego Gomes and some International SaaS legends and friends to SaaStock Bill Macaitis who spoke about unicorn marketing strategies and Mark Organ who gave a talk on organisational restructure.

The reason I flew 10k kilometres was to be there for the announcement that SaaStock has taken over the Brazil SaaS Forum and as of 2019, it will become SaaStock LatAm. We will back in April 23-24th. Read more about that here.

I stuck around for an extra day to attend RD Summit. It was my second time at it as I was a speaker last year. As always the production was incredible, the level of detail was exceptional, with the digital signage of each booth really standing out. My favourite by far was the tattoo parlour.

Inspiring ideas were flying front, right and centre with my favourite definitely being Chris Yeh’s talk in which he made the important point that “if there isn’t tension in the company, you are not growing.”

In the end, it was also another fantastic opportunity for connection with many old and new friends. I’ve been wowed twice by RD Summit and would gladly be wowed a third time. Congrats to Eric Santos and team on a world-class event.

Getting better at podcasting: RAIN Summit

To top this roundup, here are some thoughts from immersing in the world of podcasting at the RAIN Summit, which I did.

In the last year, we have been thinking a lot how we can make more and different podcasts. That thinking has brought about a couple of topical Radio Hours and a newly launched subseries we call the Struggle.

And while we will keep delivering on those, I was keen to find out what else should we know from the world of podcasting? And how can we understand better how these episodes are performing?

Metrics, data, currency and the like were all words mentioned on many occasions throughout the conference. But it felt like more of a reiteration of the problem and preaching to the converted than offering actual solutions.

There were interesting pockets of data throughout the day like the fact that younger generations are far more interested in streaming audio than listening to the radio but are far more concerned about privacy. There was also this piece of interesting State of Audio in America overview:

Is publishing transcripts a must?

There was talk about classifying podcasts correctly. While this was coming more from an advertising point of view, talking about new technology being developed, which extracts transcription data, it is something important to think about when it comes to SEO and search engine discoverability.

Most times when podcasters do not offer a transcription, it is so people are made to listen to the episode to get the full content. It made me think whether, maybe, it’s time to think if that is too constraining. In an industry where we constantly debate over whether to gate or not to gate content, perhaps requiring someone to listen can sometimes be too big of an ask. Giving the freedom to people to search through a Command F functionality by offering them a  text version of the interview, may be the next best thing to do after producing good audio. If we are producing good audio well then they will prefer to listen anyway.

On the Content of podcasts

As the agenda moved away from data, metrics and ads and more into actual content, a few important points came up. Raw conversations are still very popular and listeners like them. We simply cannot get enough of other people’s vulnerable stories. It’s one thing we are certainly aiming to achieve with The Struggle.

However, everyone seemed to agree that the exciting future for podcasts lays in fictional drama podcasts. Many seem to be playing around with them but no one has quite cracked it. Is there room for a B2B drama? Or a reality format where we follow the progress of a company? Maybe.

The point is that with podcasts there are no limits and people are very open to new formats. While the medium is linked to listens and downloads, there is still a lot of room for experimenting to bring delight. That said you can no longer just create a podcast without a plan: “Now you have to analyse any project and ask yourself how it’s going to make money.

Weaving in CTAs

For podcasters like us who do not rely on external sponsorship or advertisers but rather getting our message across and inciting action, how that is weaved in the script is quite important. Ruth Fitzsimons from audioBoom shared the proof that non-intrusive messages are perceived better. When integrated in context, with the host reading the ads, users skip them in less than 5% of the cases. How can we improve the copy even more, not just avoiding skips but getting action, I wonder? It is something to be treated carefully because as people said many times throughout the day: Audio is one of the most intimate spaces to connect with audiences… abuse that though, and we’re in a terribly murky place.

Just as with writing, the best piece of advice is to keep listening to more podcasts and understanding what they do right. But not necessarily replicating. When someone asked a question from the audience about making B2B podcasts, the advice that came back was – maybe don’t get two white guys to talk to each other. Point taken.

And that sums up the events we attended. While we won’t have weeks where we attend 5 events, we will be out and about in the next while. You can meet me at SAAS-E[quality] pop up unconference in Toronto, Alex and Christine will be at SaaS North in Ottawa and Felicia and Gabriel will be at Slush in Helsinki. Come say hi.