Though FoxyCart works well with any programming language, we’re primarily a PHP shop ourselves, and we’ve sponsored a lot of local and regional PHP events over the past few years. We don’t do a ton of marketing, but the sponsorship and travel costs typically aren’t insane, and it’s nice to get out into the community.
We try to have fun at these events, but the extent of our presence has generally been a tall banner behind us and some fliers and stickers on a small table. Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll bust out the SNES USB controllers and fire up an emulator. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of our target market enjoys playing Contra and Street Fighter II. When we decided to get a booth at ZendCon 2014, however, we quickly realized that a “real” conference with official 10’x10′ booths could be very different. ZendCon was a fantastic experience, and we wanted to share some of our thoughts.
Prepping for the conference
We went into prepping for ZendCon knowing it’d be a learning experience, and that we’d evaluate the ROI afterwards. That said, we’re still a self-funded company, so (unlike some of our awesome booth neighbors), we needed to maintain a realistic budget for the whole thing. After the initial surprise of learning that our 10’x10′ booth space didn’t even come with carpet or electricity, paired with the sticker shock of seeing what conference booth displays cost, we realized we needed to think a little differently.
Since we’ll likely continue to sponsor smaller events more frequently than larger events, we opted for 3 retractable banners that could be combined to cover more ground. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars to rent more furniture, we opted to get a hard case that converts into a counter. All 3 banners (and more) fit inside, and though it’s technically oversized for airline checked baggage, it’s not so huge that it attracts attention.
We also had the opportunity to rent a badge scanner, but we got some great advice to forego that expense and instead purchase something for a giveaway. The point is to get the contact information of attendees, and to win the giveaway the visitor needs to drop their business card into the fishbowl (or signup in a Google Form), so it works out well. We brought a pair of the new Bose QC25 noise-canceling headphones as well as the world’s smallest quadcopter, but the quadcopter was way too much fun to give away. (That, and Luke got it stuck inside of Zend’s booth setup, so we were quadcopter-less for the second day and couldn’t have a battle with Code Climate.)
Working the booth
Though we brought our SNES controllers, we had zero time to use them. Luke and I each set up our notebooks to show booth visitors quick demos of FoxyCart, and Winston made an amazing short video that we put on a loop when we weren’t doing demos. We brought about 100 of newly printed shirts with our unofficial mascot (the rainbow pooping unicorn), which went quickly, and also some brand new fliers (which went nearly untouched, even though they’re kind of beautiful with our shark-with-lasers) and unicorn stickers.
We were kind of shocked to see some other booths brought 4, 5, or even more people to work them. At first I thought that was nuts, but after two full days at the booth, Luke and I were too exhausted to even socialize with the rest of the attendees at the hotel bar. Having more people would have been helpful, though I think Luke and I would still have left the event exhausted.
Final thoughts and takeaways
We learned a lot from our first “big” conference, and though it cost significantly more when it was all said and done, we believe it was worth it. A few of the more memorable things we took away:
- Our booth setup worked extremely well. Three retractable banners (~$100 each) and the convertible counter/case ($415) combined to an easy, elegant, and affordable booth.
- The giveaway idea was great. It seemed like that’s the approach most other booths took, and it makes sense. When the option’s to rent a scanner for $300 or buy something awesome for $300, we’ll take the awesome.
- We met Fabien Potencier of SensioLabs. He’s amazing.
- The foot traffic at the vendor booth area was impressive. It probably had to do with the number of freebies and swag being given away, but we gave more demos than we ever have, and it seemed to be more effective than smaller conferences (where there’s not as much incentive to check out the sponsors).
If we continue with events and sponsorships as a marketing strategy, we’d do this again. We might take another team member, though, because it was truly exhausting for just the two of us.
And we’ll be announcing the winner of the headphones soon!