No, you can't!
This is the day after my first conference as organizer, App Builders Switzerland 2016 has been way beyond my expectations, the quality of the speakers has been amazing, the attendees were happy and the general feeling is of excitement for the next year edition.
I can’t be happier than this, we have some things to fix, but considering this was the very first edition, things went smoother than expected.
Yes, I am happy, now, but I wanted to share my personal experience about App Builders and how this conference was finally created.
The Very Beginning
I wanted to organize a conference in Switzerland since 2012 and, for this reason, I attended at some of them, including the Pragma Conference 2012, which was great. I met Marin Todorov in that occasion for the first time and we talked a lot about doing something in Switzerland. Marin is now a good friend, he helped me in many occasions to improve my talks and I am very thankful to him for that, we shared some amazing drink nights together and also some absurd stories in weird hotels, but back to the topic: I left that conference confident that I would have been able to start the organization soonish, but things went slightly different…
First Shot - Failed
I tried to organize this event 2 years ago, I opened a Meetup, started to organize drink nights to interact with locals and things started to roll. Adrian, which now is definitely a rockstar, was there and gave a great help on that. I still remember the first drink night, I arrived 1 hour later and Adrian basically backed me up, because an old lady felt in front of me in the middle of the street and I decided to help her, staying with her until the arrival of the ambulance. It was nothing serious, but I preferred to stay there.
Starting from that point, we had a lot of nice talks, beginning with Adrian, passing through Harry (which I recommend if you want a Growth Hacking talk in your conf) arriving to Lorica, which delivered an amazing talk about Android during the early days of material design.
Things seemed to be going well… also considering that John jumped into the process and added a lot of value with a lot of good places to host the meetups. At this point things started to fall apart. Contacting some companies for sponsorship leaded to no replies. No one seemed to be interested in a conference and as much as I tried direct channels with good material to pitch the idea, the answer has always been “No, this is not interesting to us”. I reserved the very same venue it has been used for the first edition, but failed to have the right momentum, with no sponsors a zero buzz, also considering I had a lot of family matters in sequence during that period, the first shot failed miserably.
No, You Can’t!
Upset about the first negative attempt, I told myself to focus on speaking, so I started to apply to as many as CfPs that were possible, getting into some of the most interesting conferences around Europe in Berlin, Minsk and Krakow (later also Amsterdam and Aveiro), plus some extra local events. Traveling connected me with a long list of awesome guys, that were also speakers in many other conferences, in this way I was able to be trusted by many of them, which translates into extremely positives responses when asking for being part of the event. I started the process of organizing the conference again, the last August.
Talking with people in the area was making me upset again, the only thing I was hearing was “No, You Can’t!”, mostly referring to the fact that Switzerland is a very small country and that I would not be able to have the right amount of people to run a conference. Everybody was telling me that, but this time, with 3 years of experience, one failure in the my personal bag and a lot of good connections, I decided to move and carry this on including 3 really nice, young guys: Dylan, Patrick and Luca. They were extremely excited about the idea and they were also aware of the difficulties we were about to face.
I said to myself one thing: “I am going to make this conference for these guys, they really deserve to have something like this”. When I was in their same age, I wish I would have an opportunity to attend a conference like the one that finished yesterday, but unfortunately this did not happen in Switzerland. Connecting young developers with established and famous developers from the worldwide community, is an inestimable value. Exchanging knowledge and opinions with people like Orta, Natasha, Cesar, Sergi, Scotty or Graham (sorry for not listing all the speakers of App Builders) is an experience that can’t be explained, the value is just too high to be quantified.
I also took a huge risk: I bet a lot on international speakers. Most first edition conferences are usually more conservative, giving the preference to local speakers, I decided that we needed to be top from the beginning, inviting a lot of well known, prepared and experienced speakers. Today flying is not so expensive like in the 90’s, so fly people from Europe is not an extreme cost anymore, but considering that this one was the very first edition, it has been a massive risk on the financial side, which apparently, paid-off. Having international only speakers would make a conference pretty much useless and would send the message that the local market has nothing to offer, so we all together searched for the best hidden gems like Nicolas, Lorica, Damian, Etienne (suggested by a good friend that told me he was just one of the best java devs in Switzerland), Chris from the legendary iA, plus Preben and Tal. The mix of international speakers from companies like Spotify or regions like the Silicon Valley, created a perfect cocktail which translated into great talks and people happy in listening to them.
Tip for first time organizers: sometimes very good speakers are still sending out CfP, so it can be a nice play to not invite them directly, but invite them to submit a CfP which will be probably be accepted. Maybe I shouldn’t share this, but hey, I am being honest.
We Made It!
Most of the previous paragraphs was full of “I”s, I did not create this amazing event alone, I have been helped and a lot. I have to admit I have been the shield of a lot of critiques and bad comments about the conference, avoiding them to arrive to the rest of the organizing team. I have been upset some nights reading emails from close people suggesting me to cancel the event or emails from other people not sure about “App Builders” being ready and good enough to take place.
I tried to connect with a lot of local organizations to get support, I would not mention which kind, it doesn’t matter, receiving a lot of “No thank you”, “Sorry, who are you?” or “This event is not interesting, sorry.”. I kept all these things for me, preserving the joy and positive attitude of the rest of the team, they are younger than me and the impact these things might have had over them, could have been tremendous in a very bad way, destroying motivation and preventing us to give our best in the last weeks.
All these things, all the emotions I proved while organizing this event are now part of the past, adding new experiences on my bag of successes, which is still smaller compared to the one of failures, but I won’t never complain about this.
The Crazy Part
This is just the beginning of a long journey, everything is planned in my mind and in the schedule, App Builders is going to travel around all the 3 linguistic regions, moving to Lausanne next year and probably Lugano on 2018.
In between, I decided to experiment highly on the event space, taking an even higher risk with The Swift Alps which will take place in the beautiful town of Crans-Montana in the middle of the alps. The concept is just amazing and will be cleared in the next weeks.
Sometimes life is amazing, sometimes it can be really hard to tackle, but the truth is, if somebody is telling you that “you can’t do something” or that “you can’t change thins” or “you won’t make it”, try to ignore them and move forward in your way, believing in what you are doing. Try to listen and understand YOUR feelings, not the words of the people around, sometimes even your closest friend doesn’t truly believe in you. Try to get the energy from who’s believing in you, talk with your family and siblings, share you emotion with people who loves you. Ask for suggestions and help to people with the right attitude and more experience, pretending to know everything doesn’t pay, never! I close this with this quote:
Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you. What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself. ― C. JoyBell C.