Update (May 5, 2016): Thanks to everyone who’s offered to chip in and help !!Con out financially! There’s now an easy way to do so as an individual: bangbangcon.lfranchi.com (hosted by my fellow !!Con organizer Leo Franchi). Read the rest of this post to learn about our financial situation and why I’m asking for help.
Update (May 11, 2016): You people are amazing! At the last minute, !!Con got a sponsorship from Stride, plus over $1600 in contributions from individuals. With their help, we were able to serve bagels, fruit, and coffee on both days of the conference! Thank you so much!
Regular readers of this blog may know that I’m one of the organizers of !!Con (“bang bang con”), an eclectic and inclusive conference of ten-minute talks about the joy, excitement, and surprise of programming.
2016 marks the third year of !!Con, which is held annually in New York City. This year, our program features talks on the usual bewilderingly broad range of topics: lossy text compression, interplanetary spacecraft flight software, storing your data in kernel space, and more. I can’t wait!
I’ve written before about some of the things that I think make !!Con special, but there’s one thing that I’ve never mentioned on this blog that’s also one of the aspects of the conference that I’m most proud of: its affordability. In 2014, our first year, tickets were free. In 2015, we had pay-what-you-want tickets, with a suggested donation of $50 USD. We continued with the pay-what-you-want policy for 2016.1
In both 2014 and 2015, we had venues that were able to accommodate about 120 attendees, including speakers and organizers. Our 2014 venue was the Recurse Center, and NYU MAGNET hosted us in 2015. Both of those venues were amazing, and importantly, they cost us nothing. That was crucial to our ability to put on the conference.
As it turns out, though, a lot more than 120 people want to attend !!Con. The small number of tickets we were able to release in 2014 and 2015 went fast. For !!Con 2014, tickets were first-come, first-served, and they were all gone in under a minute. For 2015, we tried a different tack and established a lottery for tickets. Several hundred people signed up for the lottery, and again, we were only able to release tickets to a fraction of them. For 2016, we knew we needed to do something to address the demand.
So, this year, we decided to double the size of our conference to 240 attendees. This meant that we could no longer use the wonderful venues that had hosted us before, since we just couldn’t fit into them anymore. After a long and exhausting search, we finally found a fantastic venue in Brooklyn that can accommodate 240 people for this year’s event. Furthermore, this year we’ve hired a professional A/V company to handle live-streaming and video recording, so that everyone who can’t be there in person can still experience the conference in the best way possible. We’re thrilled!
But all of this costs money, and our pay-what-you-want tickets don’t come close to covering our expenses. That was the case previously, too — but in the past, since our venues were free, our biggest expense was food, and the support of our many generous sponsors made it possible for us to feed all our attendees well and still end up in the black.
This year, we again have a fabulous group of sponsors who are helping make !!Con possible. But the balance sheet looks very different this year. Unlike in 2014 and 2015, we now have significant venue and A/V rental costs, and that’s where most of our sponsor money is going. What all this means is that, as things stand right now, our ability to feed our attendees is pretty limited this time. In the past, we’ve been able to serve breakfast and lunch, both days of the conference, as well as some other coffee and snack breaks. This year, while we’ll be able to have something (again, thanks to our fabulous sponsors for stepping up!), it’s looking like what we’ll be able to offer is much more limited.
Since our budget is so tight, I’ve thought a lot about what our priorities should be, and I’ve concluded that some form of breakfast is an essential part of hospitality at !!Con. A lot of our speakers and attendees arrive on a late-night (or, worse, early-morning) flight and make their way across an unfamiliar city to be at our conference. Our speakers do a lot of free work while preparing their talks. If they’re willing to do that for us, I think the least we can do is offer them some coffee and bagels. It shows that we give a damn that they’re there.
So: I’m looking for a sponsor or sponsors to pitch in now for a total of $3000 so that our speakers and attendees can eat breakfast this year. When your company sponsors us, you’ll be thanked publicly on our Twitter account and our website, as well as at the conference itself, if we can get a commitment from you in time. (The conference starts on Saturday, May 7, so we need that commitment quickly.) More importantly, you’ll make me, and a lot of hungry, sleep-deprived programmers, very happy. Here’s our sponsorship page, where you can learn more about what sponsorship entails and get in touch with us. Feel free to email me personally, too.
To be clear, $3000 is not going to be enough to cover all our outstanding food-related expenses. (I’d love it if we could raise even more!) But, it’s about enough to cover a simple breakfast for two days, and that’s a start.
I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with !!Con. We’ve always had ~50% women speakers, chosen through a blind talk selection process, and since 2014 we’ve been at the forefront of the movement toward live captioning at tech conferences. And our attendees love us: past attendees and speakers have called us “by far the coolest conference I’ve been to”, “one of the finest events I’ve had the honor to be part of”, and “best conference ever filled completely with perfect people” (that last one sounds like I’m making it up, but I’m not!) So, today I’m asking for your help so we can continue to make !!Con great. Or at least continue to make !!Con a place that serves coffee. Sponsor us today!
Thanks for reading, and thanks for all your help!
Tickets have always been free for speakers, of course, and for the last two years we’ve offered travel funding for speakers who request it. I still don’t think this is good enough, though; I’d like to get to the point where we just offer funding to every speaker, as a matter of course. ↩