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Ask HN: How to hand out free hacker tickets for the BoS conference?
22 points by neilgd on Aug 13, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments
I run the annual Business of Software conference (http://www.businessofsoftware.org). I figure that some of the folk here would (a) benefit enormously from going but (b) can't afford to go. I'm thinking about making a handful of free tickets available, but I'd like to make sure they go to people who'll appreciate it, actually turn up, can't afford to go otherwise and who'll get something from it. Any ideas? (I'll give a free ticket to whoever has the best one).

I already bought my ticket so I obviously don't qualify but I'll tell you how I turned from someone that couldn't afford it into a paying future attendee.

I decided that I'd have sponsors for a project that would get me there. I actually had a couple of people confirm sponsorship if I decided to go this route -- I won't mention who they were specifically but they were very helpful in thinking it through.

The concept was: a video project of behind-the-scenes footage of BoS and sideline interviews of many of the speakers. I'd put up a site and ask in places like answers.onstartups.com for people to suggest questions for me to ask the speakers and I would mention their startup while video recording the short interviews ("So and so from X startup asks...").

I'm a bootstrapper with a day job and a relatively young product; so while I'm cashflow positive, I'm carefully watching expenses and reinvesting it back into the business. This is why I was making plans for this project. Ultimately, after much back and forth (and discussing it with my wife), I decided that if it was that important for me to go I should just take some of my profit and reinvest it in myself by going (which is an investment in my business). If I took on the project, what I'd gain in money I'd lose in valuable time that I could spend working on my product.

So, basically my thought here is that people that win free tickets should earn them in some way that gives back value to the entrepreneurs that can't afford to make it.

I like this idea, but if you use this approach I would be worried about the value diminishing for the person who gets to go. They might get consumed trying to be a short-term reporter and miss out on getting the full experience of the conference. Also, a lot of bootstrappers may not necessarily be as articulate with words and handy with a video camera as you.

However, it would be a different story if the free tickets were going to people that are associated with some sort of media/publishing company (update: meant to say such as austintechgeeks.com). In that case you could get these individuals to do live coverage of the event in exchange for a ticket. Something like a "live blog" that Gizmodo does for big events. These individuals would have the skills needed to effectively cover the event and allow all of us at home to feel like we are a part of the live event. We wouldn't get the benefit of the networking experience, but at least we would maybe get a chance to participate real-time. Also, these individuals would hopefully be talking about it on their own publishing sites and broaden the reach of the conference - making it stronger for the years to come.

Agree with you 100%. I'll add video, photos and interviews to http://austintechgeeks.com if I have a chance to go to this event. Thanks for sharing!

Not a problem. It would've been a fun thing to do and something I may think about doing in the future, I just think it's a bit much for me to take on right now considering I have a day job, currently have a product to enhance, and will be launching a new product in a couple of weeks.

Same here... it is not an easy task to have a day job and work in what we believe and enjoy the most! what's the name of your startup?

Good going; taking action while working a day job is extremely hard, so nice job doing what most people only talk about.

My product: Bidsketch http://www.bidsketch.com

rubeng - this has inspired me to do something. E-mail me at neil.davidson@red-gate.com and I'll either refund your ticket so you can come free, or you can nominate somebody to get a free ticket.

Thanks Neil! Email has been sent.

Post a simple 4 question survey to be returned by email:

1) Are you currently in active development of a software product or service? If so, please provide a link to a dev site, screenshots, or informational material.

2) What do you hope to acquire from attending the conference that will help you in your new venture?

3) What current financial limitations prevent you from being a paying attendee?

4) If chosen, would you be willing to pay a $200 deposit that you will get back upon your arrival?


Question 1 will help you find the people that will be more likely to benefit from it, since they are past the napkin sketch and dream stage and have actually taken the initiative to start something - and will be more likely to take the initiative to apply what they've learned to their own venture. Not to say the dreamers won't get there - maybe they'll be ready for next year's conference.

Question 2 will make sure the potential attendee is educated on the talks being given/networking opportunity and has thought through how they could benefit their venture.

Question 3 helps you rule out a potential paying attendee by making them explain why it is they can't afford the conference on their own dime.

Question 4 will make sure the candidate has some skin in the game so they are less likely to be a no-show and waste a valuable ticket that another candidate would have loved to have.

This just came off the top of the head, but could obviously be refined to achieve what you're trying to accomplish.

Thanks for providing this opportunity!

Why don't you do 2 things:-

1. Run a lottery for free tickets - in order to enter you have to write a blog post saying why you think you should go and send you the link. Allocate x tickets. 2. You will also have y tickets which are yours personally to allocate to the people who you think make the best case.

Then people have 2 chances to get a ticket. They also get to publicise themselves and Bos2010

The "easiest" way would be a page/thread/whatever where people could apply for such a scholarship. So first of all if I wanted to be at the conference but I could not afford it, I'd had to think about why I really want to be there and how I'd benefit from it. Then I'd had to elaborate why I cannot afford this in my current situation. Of corse if you do this you'd have to run through a lot of applications. You could higher the entrance barrier a little by setting a minimum word count, so that only people apply who would really benefit from this.

A not to unrelated question: Do you also cover the "winners" travel, etc. costs?

Whoever gets the tickets will have to make their own way over there.

I have no problem with that, the event ticket is the biggest expense, thanks for doing this! I hope to see you at BoS 2010

"but I'd like to make sure they go to people who'll appreciate it, actually turn up, can't afford to go otherwise and who'll get something from it."

You are trying to accomplish something you can't measure, except for the "showing up" part. The ticket is only part of the costs - there's airfare, hotel, etc, too. Keep it simple and raffle off the tickets. If it looks like only half the winners will show up, do another raffle. Anyone who wins AND shows up will have met most, if not all, of your criteria anyway.

raffle off the tickets? no. Yes we are all aware of the other expenses... that is why a lot of us cannot afford it. I can afford the flight/hotel... but cannot pay $2K on top of that which is what the ticket costs. I agree that showing up is only half the battle... you need to take some immediate action on what you see and learn there as well as make any connections as possible that could help you down the road.

Here's my idea... I've been trying to get to this conference for a few years now, can't afford it. How about I get a ticket and then I'll pay it back and when I can, I also do a write up about http://www.businessofsoftware.org on my blog at http://austintechgeeks.com and finally I'll keep attending the conference and supporting it on any way possible.

best r.

How about ex-employees?? ;)

edit: As a more serious answer, it needs to be someone who can offer something back to people who paid to go. People interested\ practising new ideas such as Lean Startup, open source software etc could be valuable to the conference but likely be able to justify the cost.

Just get them to comment on this thread... most hackers are poor from their startups and would do anything to go to a free conference!

Or do some kind of cryptic competition. The amount of time needed to invest in to that and work out the answer would prove that the people really want to go.

You could make use of that new YC startup that makes you record video answers to online app questions (I forget the name). Better than a text application, less boring, fixed time to process.

edit: ah here it is: http://hirehive.com/

Show that you're working on some product. Post a link to a prototype or half-baked website here. Explain what it is. Entries with most upvotes would win.

As for (b) I believe honestly telling that you can't afford it would be enough.

The person must be in senior position (CEO, CTO, founder) in software company. The company should not have profits - jet.

This way someone who need it to save his company and who cannot afford it will get it.

How about giving one to Naval Sarda, a great guy who owns Epicomm in India? He surely would appreciate it and would show up, even if he lives half way across the globe.

Ask any winner to forward you their electronic plane ticket with in 48 hours, otherwise you might hand out free pass to people who would never turn out anyway ...

get people to comment here with links to a "ask hn: review my startup" of the applicants startup - this way (hopefully) users will upvote the most useful/interesting/relevant review posts here, and everyone gets value (eg: feedback) on what they're working on.

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