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As your SaaS or AI startup surpasses $5M in ARR, it’s time to consider hosting your first user conference. This can be a game-changer for your software company by allowing you to:

  • Engage deeply with your user base and develop personal relationships
  • Showcase your product’s latest features
  • Gather feedback on your product roadmap and pricing

1. Define the Purpose and Goals

Start by identifying the primary objectives of your conference. Clear goals will shape every aspect of the event, from content to logistics. For early user conferences, consider two main goals:

  • Ensure a high percentage of important clients attend, particularly decision-makers.
    • Keep the event within budget to avoid jeopardizing the company’s finances.

    Future conferences might focus on revenue-related goals, such as sign-ups for new features. However, for your first event, prioritize having the right people in the room and delivering great content affordably.

    2. Develop an Effective Plan for the user conference (and it’s your template for the future)

    Content: Curate sessions that address your audience’s interests and needs. Involve your customers by letting them vote on session topics. Highlight case studies showing your software’s success with your happiest customers. This not only showcases your product but also provides valuable material for future sales efforts. Record these sessions, transcribe the audio, and use the content for AI and marketing purposes.

    Surprise Guest: Invite a prominent figure connected to your board or CEO for a fireside chat or special appearance. This could be the CEO of a potential acquirer, a major industry figure, or a notable artist. These moments can significantly enhance your company’s culture and event impact.

    Engagement: Utilize AI tools to facilitate user interactions, answer questions, and manage communications. This can foster a sense of community and shared purpose among your users.

    3. Pick a Strategic Location

    Choose a venue that is easily accessible for most of your user base. Sometimes, an impressive yet affordable location, such as a major law firm’s headquarters or a bank’s conference suite, can make a significant impact. Think “eye-popping” but within budget.

    4. Build a Strong Team

    Your team will be crucial to executing a flawless event. Key roles to define include:

    Speaker Selection: Decide who has final authority and establish a clear process.
    Production Management: Handle technology, staging, and design.
    Attendee Coordination: Manage communication with attendees across various platforms.
    Sponsorship Management: Offer sponsorship options to ecosystem partners to offset costs.
    Pricing Strategy: Determine pricing, often allowing key decision-makers to attend for free while charging for additional tickets.

    5. Be authentic

    When planning your first user conference, don’t compare yourself to iconic events like Salesforce’s Dreamforce, HubSpot’s INBOUND, or Adobe MAX. While these events are renowned for engaging content and high-profile speakers, your focus should be on creating a unique, valuable experience for your users. Remember, people often prefer intimate, meaningful interactions over large, impersonal events. Be authentic, be different, and bring your customers along for the adventure. – Lisa Calhoun