Ever since 2008, EntreFest has been an annual event I always look forward to. Meeting new people, hearing speakers that I get inspiration from, mini conferences to learn tools and tricks of the trade and the socialization of like-minded people.
The event has been held in Cedar Falls, Coralville, Des Moines, Dubuque and Ames. This year it was held in Cedar Rapids. The UNI Business Division (for lack of a better term) has been the backbone of the event, until this year, when they turned some of the event over to a 3rd party.
The event started out Wednesday Night with "Start Up Drinks" in the lounge area. This was hosted by a local Cedar Rapids group, from what I could determine. It was a nice mixer, with a lot of folks who hadn't signed up for the conference. At that point, I would have pushed for a sign up, but it wasn't my dog in the fight. Naturally, they gave everyone a free drink ticket. Being that the ticket was only for stuff I didn't like to drink, I gave mine away. I won't go into the issues I had with the hotel bar and restaurant staff, as they later made amends for that.
Thursday started out with 2 opening speakers, both fantastic. Christian Renaud whose theme of "Quit apologizing for being from Iowa" was heard loud and clear! People were still talking about it the next day. A great speaker. Mary Quass, owns the 7th largest radio network in the US and talked about dealing with people and banks. Also an interesting "interview style" discussion that was presented.
At this point in time, let me say the Kirkwood food was VERY good.
The breakout sessions were OK. My favorite was Social Media 101: Followers, Likes, Check-ins and Pins with Macy Koch. It was basic in nature, but she did cover a few things that had changed in Social Media and that was good to catch up on. Her company is hosting an event in Des Moines on April 11th and it will be good to go to get more information.
I also went to Tim McDougall's Innovating Inside A Big Company. Tim previously led the marketing divisions of PF Chang’s Restaurants, The New Orleans Hornets, The Houston Rockets and The Miller Brewing Company, and recently co-founded FusionFarm, a groundbreaking digital marketing start up...housed inside a 130-year old media company! I liked the stories of mistakes that big companies make and how to learn from them.
Kristen Monroe and I are old pals and usually sit at the same table when we are at events. If the name sounds familiar, she is my web designer. She has a million things going at once and it was good to hear here present Getting Things Done, Time Management In A 24/7 job. She had some technical issues with her computer and clicker. When you aren't used to a certain system, a glitch can really throw you off your game. I think Kristen was thrown off slightly, but the information she presented about dealing with your inbox made up for it.
Then we had a pre-supper mixer. Everyone had a free drink ticket, so I went up to the bar and ordered a mixed drink, then was told the only had beer or wine. UGH. I think we are 2 for 2 now on the drink situation. I think that this should be addressed next year. I gave my ticket to another person and went into supper.
The meal was fantastic and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds was introduced to emcee the pitch off contest where 10 businesses compete to win $10,000. I know that this is a big deal, but since I had been a contestant in one of these before and had a bad experience (that I won't go into) I ate and went back to my room to follow up with some phone calls I had missed. I later went back down to the event where people were just at tables talking about what they had learned and socializing.
On Friday we started out with the Biz Info Smorgasbord. Very valuable for people who have specific questions for various experts. I had one for an attorney who deals with Copyrights. These bastards who think my logo (that I own and paid for) is clip art is going to come to an end. So, we are going to go to work on sending out letters to the people who are using it illegally.
I had been doing videos during the conference in the absence of "The Brand Chef" as he was missed this year as well, so I had to go to my room to upload what I had done. I missed a bit of the round table discussion from Chuck Peters, Innovating Inside A Big Company #1: A CEO's Perspective. I guess I really wasn't in the mood or missed the inside jokes or just didn't care for his "challenges," so I was happy when the phone rang and I could excuse myself from the room.
Mike Draper of RAYGUN T-shirt company made the day a success. What a great speaker!! Humor, participation and a business lesson -- the keys to a good presenter.
I was pumped up after Mike's speech until I went to the next session. The next session I had really been looking forward to was Social Media 201 and the presenter would want me to mention his name..... This was to talk about monetising Facebook a bit and do some work with advertising. I had done some of this before, but Facebook had changed a few things, so I was looking forward to it. What a letdown. The presenter struggled, but thought he was all that and a bag of chips. He left slides off of his presentation, made constant excuses and let some lady in the back interrupt at least a dozen times. I wasn't kind on his review sheet and left the class early.
Here's a tip... If you are presenting to a crowd who PAID, then dammit, be prepared and get it together. This REALLY put a bad taste in my mouth, when I think that I could have been the one to present this topic and would have done a bang-up job.
When I went to the last event, I was still annoyed and found that the emcee just liked to hear his own voice, which was consistent throughout the two days. They had a mini pitch off for people who gave one minute speeches. Yeah, the winner was a gal who would provide a coat check for girls in Iowa City who wander around downtown in the winter not wearing coats so they wouldn't get beer spilled on them. Boy, I really feel sorry for a bunch of drunk girls who don't want that to happen...NOT.
There was no prize drawing for attendees and so I left.....a bit down from the last 2 hours of the conference. I had always left on a high note before thinking "GEE, I can't wait for next year." But, I didn't have that feeling this year. Sure, there were good speakers, but something is missing and I've yet to put my finger on it. I've been to worse conferences...but, I've been to BETTER EntreFest events. (Remember Dubuque!?)
Again, I love the event concept, I just wish it had gone a bit better for me, personally. I did think that a full day on Friday was good for people to get their money's worth. At $119, you can't go wrong. For beginning entrepreneurs, this is great, but as I walked around talking to people, there aren't a lot of repeat customers. I think most of the people I met were first timers, and a few second timers. I had been there six times and that's how much I believe in it.
Five tips I would give as solutions to fix attendance.
1. Change the date not to conflict with any high school state tournaments.
2. Give a discount to chamber directors and development directors -- they need to be here.
3. Require at least ONE PERSON in each pitch off team to be registered for the event.
4. Bring back someone like "The Brand Chef" who is doing interviews, live streams or something to promote the event as it is happening.
5. Take it back to Des Moines or Ames every other year. They will kill it if it goes to Council Bluffs, Sioux City or the Quad Cities.
Again, I will plan on EntreFest 2014...and I will promote it, but don't let me down.