Today is my first day back after attending the Business of Software Conference in London. It was my first time attending the conference and here are my (honest) thoughts and feelings.
Overall, attending BoS was an amazing experience and I can see why so many of the attendees return year after year. It truly is a place to learn new things, make new friends, and generate ideas via osmosis by surrounding yourself with and talking to successful, intelligent software professionals.
The adage about attendees being software professionals and therefore typically introverted, with this being one of the few times in the year where they can spend some time outside of the office and get to be an extravert for a few days is definitely very true. Yes, the conference is non-stop for two days and it is emotionally draining talking with so many people, but everyone is in the same boat and the experience is very rewarding regardless of this.
— Leon Atherton (@AthertonLeon) June 6, 2017
This year, the conference took place over two days – Monday to Tuesday, with Sunday evening also having some drinks and bowling for those staying nearby. The day starts at 7:30am when you can arrive for breakfast, and the talks start at 9am. Talks are 1 hour long, and the day is split up with a 30 minute networking break in the morning and the afternoon, plus lunch which was 1 hour 15 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes respectively. On Monday evening there was more networking along with drinks and food in the bar at the end of the day. On Tuesday, the second to last talking slot was allocated for lightning talks (fast paced, 7.5 minute talks with 30 seconds per slide that automatically advance). This is definitely one of the highlights of the conference.
The attendees (which include the speakers) are the thing that really makes this conference. Regardless of who the person is there is always at least one thing you are able to bond over – whether that be sales, marketing, or hiring strategies, software pricing, dealing with clients, managing people, writing code, raising funding, selling a company, working from home, profitability, product management, the struggles and intricacies of working with the PDF file format (I’m legitimately surprised to have found someone outside of our office to discuss this with), or even your shared love for YouTube videos about wood-working…
I would estimate that I had a one-on-one conversation lasting at least 20 minutes with over 15 attendees. For someone who can’t think of many things worse than networking with a bunch of people I’ve never met before, I think this is quite impressive. Only one of the people that I spoke to made me feel like I was not worth their time.
I would estimate that of the people I spoke to, approximately 70% had been to either the USA or EU conference before. Approximately 15% were a company of one, 5% a company of two, 20% between two and 10 employees, 25% between 10 and 30 employees, 20% between 30 and 100 employees, and 15% over 100 employees. About 75% were the company founder. 70% were self-funding, 15% were seeking investment, 15% had investors. These are (vague) estimates based on recollections of conversations that I had – your results may vary.
— Ian Clifford (@ian_cli) June 5, 2017
There’s a quote on the BoS website from Joel Spolsky that I think is very true – every speaker would be a headline keynote at most other conferences. The variety is huge – there are speakers who have sold companies for hundreds of millions, speakers who have taken on VC, speakers who haven’t, speakers who employ hundreds, speakers who employ a few, speakers who help others run a company, speakers who run a company of one, speakers who are sales oriented, speakers who are product oriented, speakers who are marketing oriented. The organisers clearly try very hard to make sure that the speaker line up is diverse and represents everyone. The only thing the speakers do have in common is that there is something new you can learn from every single one.
My favourite has to be learning from Tim Dobson about applying lean and agile principles to selling all of your belongings and living out of a van you have designed and built, closely followed by learning how to pitch like a Jedi master from Jon Torrens – both lightning talks!
— Tim Dobson (@tdobson) June 5, 2017
— Beth Mackenzie (@bethmackenzie) June 6, 2017
This year, the venue for the conference was the Courthouse Hotel in Shoreditch, London. The Courthouse is a Grade-II listed building and was originally a Police Station and Magistrates Court where the infamous Kray twins once stood trial. In fact, some of the cells which may have once held the brothers still exist for you to explore within the hotel bar.
The parts of the hotel that were used for the conference were the bowling alley(!) (located a couple of floors below ground) which was used for the Sunday evening pre-conference get together, the main hall (located on the lower-ground floor towards the back of the hotel) which was used for breakfast, lunch and networking between talks, the cinema room (located four floors down) which was used for the conference talks, and the hotel bar (ground floor) which was used for food/drinks and networking on Monday evening. I also stayed at the hotel for the duration of the conference (Sunday evening to Tuesday).
Overall, the venue itself was lovely and was perfectly functional, though my personal recommendation would be to look for somewhere new to host next year’s Europe conference. It was not until the Tuesday that I realised I had not actually been outside or really seen daylight for two days. The conference itself is quite draining with non-stop watching the talks and networking with attendees, and I feel like the lack of daylight and fresh air excacerbated this somewhat.
One of the organisers made a very reasonable point when we spoke during lunch – it is challenging to find a venue that is a) suitable, b) affordable, c) easy to travel to, and d) does not have attendees staying in student accomodation on a university campus. They are actively looking for appropriate venues, so let them know if you know somewhere suitable!
— Ian Clifford (@ian_cli) June 6, 2017
I can only think of positive things to say about Mark and the BoS team. I think it is very telling that so many of the attendees continue to come back year after year. They are friendly, well organised, and foster a productive, welcoming environment. Thank you for running such a fantastic conference.
— Mark Littlewood (@MarkLittlewood) June 6, 2017
This year the swag included a t-shirt, a small notebook, a pen, plus some nifty cordless battery powered bluetooth headphones that can also do FM radio and play MP3 files from a micro-sd card. I will admit that the notepad was a little too small to use for notes, the pen would have been nicer if it was made from metal rather than plastic (I do love a nice pen!), and whilst they are very nifty, the headphones are unlikely to see any use due to already owning a nice pair. What kind of person complains about free swag?! I did say this would be my honest thoughts…
Surprisingly, my favourite piece of swag is actually a promotional marketing booklet. Not because of what the booklet is marketing, but because it’s a perfect example of a buyers guide that I think is really well presented and put together. This is something we have been considering creating for a long time but putting off because we’re not really sure how to do it, and this is a great example we can use for inspiration.
It really is true that ideas can come from everywhere.
— IDR Solutions (@JavaPDF) June 7, 2017
I do want to add that all the pieces of (I assume sponsored) marketing materials included in the swag are things that would be relevant for all attendees, and that they are from businesses that actually attended and spoke at the event.
So there are my thoughts on the BoS conference. If you want to learn more you can visit the BoS website here.