No matter the type of business you run, it’s always a great idea to bring everything together by planning an amazing event.
The team at The Hustle knows what they’re talking about. Three years ago their conference was a TEDx style event, bringing in a small group of about 200 participants. Three years later, their event will bring in thousands of people, with a line up of speakers like Danae Rigelmann, Founder of Indiegogo, and Ramit Sethi of I will Teach You To Be Rich.
But it didn’t fall into their laps. As their name would explain, they definitely had to hustle for it. Kera Zacuto, their ridiculously busy, yet amazingly sweet Director of Operations and Events for The Hustle chatted with us on the logistics that go into planning an unforgettable event that your audience flocks to.
What is the aim of the Hustle Con conference?
The goal of Hustle Con is to a) teach people super specific tactics on how to start and grow a company, b) bring together an amazing community of startup lovers and ambitious entrepreneurs, and c) show people that a conference doesn’t have to just be a boring 8-hour event with stale donuts and fluorescent lighting.
What people usually show up to these?
Founders, startup nerds, investors, engineers, designers, recruiters, marketers, students. People eager to connect with others, and hungry to learn.
Were you overwhelmed, as one person, having to plan all of the conventions, plus do all of the communications for it?
In a word: yes. But I have a kick-ass team to help me make magic happen. The founders of Hustle Con, Sam Parr, and John Havel, are essential to the communications portion.
What are some of the learning experience from planning the first few Hustle Cons?
First, even if they pay a few hundred dollars for a ticket, some people don’t show up. That blows my mind. If I paid $250 for an event, there’s no way I’m flaking. Second, people without tickets will show up. That’s awesome. I admire that hustle. But for logistical purposes, it’s helpful if everyone is registered. Third, content is the most important thing. If the food is great and the venue rocks but the speakers aren’t interesting, the event won’t be a success. The content has to impress. And fourth, logistics matter. If the content is amazing but everything else goes to shit (like the registration process, for example), people will remember that, and they might not come back.
How much have you seen it grow over the years?
In the first year, we had 300 attendees. Year two we had 600. This year we’ll have somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 attendees.
What is the planning that goes into running a big scale event like this?
Around 8 months of planning. First, the venue. Second, the speakers. You have to get great speakers to sell tickets. And once you sell a bunch of tickets, that’s what will help you get sponsors.
Simultaneously, you’ve got to think about all the logistics of the day: where will people park? Can they take public transportation? What is the check-in process? Where will we serve breakfast? Does the venue have storage available? What about the internet? Can we serve alcohol? Where do we direct people for lunch? What if it rains? How do we set up Q&A in a multi-level theater?
It’s a lot. But there’s a lot of room for creativity, which I love.
How do you get guests, and sponsors to partner with you and the event?
To sell tickets we have to have great speakers. People email me all the time saying things like, “Wow, great lineup! Buying my ticket now”, or “Wait, you guys got Ramit Sethi? Here, take my money…” (that really happened).
We track our ticket sales manically so we can predict exactly how many tickets we’re gonna sell. That data is what helps us get sponsors for the event.
We do a lot of cold emailing and begging for introductions to meet these sponsors. Also, people who hear about the event end up emailing us to see if they can get involved.
What are some of your bits of advice for someone who wants to work in a fast-paced start-up and make a difference? I’m sure you feel like the Hustle is your own baby too!
Ya, I was the first employee to join the company (after the founders), so I feel like Hustle Con is part of my soul now. When I’m out with friends or meeting someone new in a social setting, I’m constantly thinking of how we can get them involved with Hustle Con, or if they’d be a good subject for an article on our media property, The Hustle. It never turns off.
For someone who wants to get into a fast-paced startup, I’d give them 3 pieces of advice:
1) Learn how to decompress. This kind of work is stressful, time-consuming, and not necessarily financially stable. Find something you love (ideally physical, like rock climbing, running, cycling, fixing motorcycles, painting, coloring, yoga, etc) and MAKE TIME FOR IT. No exceptions.
2) Get curious. Learn everything you can about how the business works. Ask questions.
3) Make yourself irreplaceable. Work harder and smarter than you ever have in your life.
Or take your time and make road maps for How to Be More Self-confident.
What is the future of the Hustle Con events?
We want to put on more events all over the country. There aren’t a lot of events out there for smart, ambitious, no-bullshit young entrepreneurs that are teaching them things they can’t find anywhere else. We want to fill that need.
Do you think anyone can start a large scale conference like this? or is it only for companies like The Hustle that already have a big following?
Absolutely. We started with a super small following, and we’ve grown it 30x in a matter of months. Anyone can build an audience and throw an awesome event. You just need a little faith… and a lot of hustle.
Kera Zacuto handles event planning and operations for The Hustle. To keep up with The Hustle find them at their website, twitter or on their constantly updated facebook page. Want to go to Hustle Con? (Same) You can grab tickets here before they’re all gone.