Captain's log, stardate d22.y39/AB
Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, we have been forced to move our offline Startup Grind events to the online world, and we've learnt a lot from it. Here's what we've found.
Right before lockdown was ordered by our national government, we decided to shut down our events to prevent a further spread of the pandemic. We host a monthly event, and we had never missed a single month between March 2014 and March 2020. Six years doing an event every month. But that doesn't mean anything when public health is at stake.
Since a lot of people were completely disoriented by this overnight global change and by not knowing how long would it last, we sensed a general feeling of despair in our community, as a lot of entrepreneurs live alone or their expats, and they were suddenly trapped in this uneasy circumstance.
How it all started
On the first Monday of the confinement, we organised one webinar about remote work for that same evening. In less than 10 hours, we got over 100 signups. More than 150 people saw the event between Zoom and YouTube, where we hosted Sergio Gago (EVP Technology at Naviga Global), where we discussed for an hour and a half everything related to remote work: tools, how to do it, how not to do it, security, management and how to do the transition. Check the YouTube video of our session with Sergio Gago.
As per usual, we hosted that event in English, but I knew that a lot of my friends would need this kind of content too, and some of them haven't got a good level of English and would require a Spanish version, so in the same week, we did an equivalent session with Jordi Vendrell, COO and Founder of MarsBased.
On March 20th, thus, we hosted the same session but in Spanish, where I conversed with Jordi, and we also covered what I had covered on Monday with Sergio, but this time from the point of view of a small and independent development agency like ours, and not a huge corporate like Naviga Global. Also, in some things, we had a different opinion, but for the most part, both companies are pretty aligned in how to do remote.
Here's the webinar with Jordi and me:
There's something there…
In our second event, with Jordi, we almost doubled attendance, and I soon knew there was something there.
We decided to host two events per week, once in English and one in Spanish, to keep our community entertained, to showcase how we can operate remotely, to give them free quality content and most of all to keep them company, because we're together in this.
Our events went so well, that Startup Grind selected our local chapter to spearhead the transition of all their 600 chapters to the online world, by integrating their corporate platform - Bevy - with Zoom. Barcelona, once more, took the lead, and we're happy to have been so helpful in this situation.
Since then, we have hosted two events per week for almost three months with well over 100 people in every webinar, and we've learnt a thing or two we want to share with you right here.
Lesson #1: Reduce friction to sign up
Most events and/or ticketing platforms require too many steps to join a webinar. Zoom is especially bad at this, requiring a double confirmation from the attendee if you don't set it up to behave otherwise. The fact that we combined Zoom with an offline events platform such as Bevy didn't help either.
After the second event, people figured out that is was easier to just join the YouTube livestream event and skip the Zoom registration. In some events, we had over 150 people on YouTube whilst only about 20-30 inside the Zoom chat. The purpose of keeping zoom was to have the Q&A and because Startup Grind had chosen it as the go-to platform.
In hindsight, I would've skipped Zoom this time around, if I had to do this again. Straight for YouTube streaming.
Lesson #2: It's about the topic, not the names
Whereas in our offline events, we need to bring always big names and/or well-known companies as speakers, because we host paid events, in free online events, we have found that hosting less-known people didn't make too much of a negative difference, and thus we could open up our spectrum of speakers a bit more.
Choosing a good title for the session ensured more participants than bringing a big name. Probably, because big names speak everywhere, and our community wanted to hear different stories.
Lesson #3: Don't make the same kind of event you did before
One good move we did was to avoid replicating the same event we did offline. Some parts we do in our offline events, like the networking part, or the open mic, didn't make much sense or were difficult to replicate.
We decided to just focus on the interview part and skip the rest. We even skipped the opening presentation introducing the community, thanking sponsors and whatnot, as the audience wanted to go straight to the content.
This has been applauded as one of the best moves overall.
Every second counts, in free online events. Leaving an online event is just one click away, so you need to take this into consideration and see things from the point of view of the attendee more than ever.
Lesson #4: Focus on content
Related to #3, people will start requesting additions to the event, as featured attendees, breakout rooms and whatnot. I took the unpopular decision of not working on these improvements until we nailed the content.
We nailed the content so much, that people didn't care about the rest anymore. Actually, other events sprung up with other dynamics, which complemented ours. So they kept ours for the content, and they went elsewhere to socialise virtually.
Things we improved to make the content better: a proper mic and better recording setup, timely notifications, video available 24-48h after the event, closer communication with the attendees and engaging with them on the chat and Q&A on Zoom as friendly as possible.
Lesson #5: Playing globally is a double-edged sword
Being a first-mover was definitely the right move. As weeks went by, however, we saw less attendance to our events due to the global outbreak of myriads of online webinars, so people were forced to spread thinner. Many a good event came up, and it was more challenging to compete in that space.
We have had many situations in which playing at a global scale definitely helped us. When we did events in Spanish in the afternoon, we saw dozens of folks from Latin America joining us, and the same happened with our events in English, so people from across the pond could join us too.
On the flip side, competition is bigger. I somewhere read this and related to it immediately: when you love museums, you go every week to your city's museums, and every now and then, you will travel to the Louvre or to some of the best museums in the world. Once all of them open for free and online, you will just go to the best.
The same happened with events. Once the best companies/hosts joined the trend of hosting online events, they literally crushed smaller events. Sometimes, that affected us, too, because someone in Silicon Valley was hosting an event with X speaker at the same time. Oh well!
Lesson #6: Hard to keep the pace
Most people joining the cool trend of online events quit after a few events only. Online events are still hard. They require persistence, good communication, pulling crowds, and generally spinning many plates at once.
This is something we had seen in the offline world, too, but here it was more evident.
In our case, as we have built a community of almost 7000 people and of really high-level speakers, it was relatively easy for us to schedule two speakers per week and host the online events. After a while, the novelty wore off, but people kept showing up because of our accumulated experience and reputation.
In fact, this inspired us to launch our Life on Mars podcast. Check it in the following links:
Lesson #7: Missed interacting with the audience
Related to the previous point, this is something you have to deal with if you're hosting events and/or a podcast: the interaction with the audience is not the same.
Whereas in physical events you get to greet and meet the people before, shake their hands (or first bump them), chat in the pre-networking, see their faces and whatnot, here's waaaaaay colder.
In fact, from the point of view of the conductor of the event, I missed mostly having the immediate feedback I get from the audience. Was a joke good? People laughed. Was a joke out of place? Muttering noises or deadly silence. Were they paying attention to the event or heads down buried into their smartphones? I could go on…
Lesson #8: Learn when to stop
Although we kept a good pace and hosted very good events, we saw the audience decline after a while, directly correlated to the loosening of the lockdowns and confinements. People are slowly back to normal, so we must not linger on until no one shows up at an online event anymore.
Thus, we decided to do two things here: first, we launched the MarsBased podcast to keep the good run on a different format and doing what we love best, and then going back to once-per-month Startup Grind events.
That's all from me now! If you're interested in learning more, check the videos of our sessions on the MarsBased YouTube channel and subscribe to our podcast!