Clay interviews Shawn Collins about how he and Missy Ward grew Affiliate Summit to attract over 41,750 people to their live events. In this interview, Clay gets Shawn to reveal the year-by-year breakdown of how they grew their event so quickly.
Clay: Hello everyone, my name is Clay Collins, and on the other end, we have Shawn Collins. Unfortunately, there’s no relation that I know of, but Shawn is talking to us from Austin, Texas. He is the what? Co-founder, CEO – What’s your official title, Shawn?
Shawn: Yeah, co-founder of Affiliate Summit, and I guess like officially in the documents I’m CEO, but I don’t really – That’s sort of silly unless you’re CEO of Coke or something. I don’t really bother using that.
Clay: Totally, totally. Okay, so co-founder of Affiliate Summit with Missy Ward. Affiliate Summit is the largest affiliate marketing conference event whatever in the world.
Having been to Affiliate Summit, I would say it’s perhaps one of the top 5 largest marketing events in the world. It might be even vying for that number one spot.
Shawn: Yeah, I don’t really know what the numbers are for everybody else. It’s hard to say, but I mean our last show in Vegas this past January, we had over 5,000.
Shawn: So I guess it’s not the length of like a CES where they’re getting like 6 figures of attendees, but for us, we’re very happy with it because we started out with 200 people and now we’re on a 5,000 mark.
Clay: Sure, sure. And the CES is a Consumer Electronics thing, and you know, wouldn’t be competing with you for top marketing events.
Clay: So 5,000 tickets sold. Is that correct?
Shawn: Yeah. Well that’s including speakers and all the people that come with 5,000 people attending.
Clay: Wow. Are you allowed to reveal or – I mean I guess you’re allowed to do anything, but do you reveal revenue numbers at all for Affiliate Summit or is that something that you choose not to share?
Shawn: We don’t share because I don’t really see a benefit for us…
Shawn: …to share that sort of thing.
Clay: Okay. But I mean judging from 5,000 attendees at one event, and you do more than one event per year – there’s usually Affiliate Summit East and West – are there any other events that you do?
Shawn: Yeah, we actually – For years, we’ve been going East and West for the last several years. That’s been in New York City and Las Vegas. Then this past May, we did a smaller scale one in Austin. We have about 500 people, and man, that was limited in size because of the space we could find, the hotel, because we stay out of convention centers. We did it in a Hilton here, and that’s just the max so that we could fit in there, but so we want to try out the Austin area, maybe some other cities down the road.
Clay: Cool. So roughly 5,000 people at both events, sponsorships, you know, and a third event that you did this year. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you guys are doing at least 7 figures and I would see it as being pretty much impossible that you aren’t doing that. I mean we can say 7 figures, right, or is that not even something you’d be comfortable saying?
Shawn: We’re halfway to where it’s going.
Clay: Okay, okay. I’m just going to call this one guys. They’re doing at least 7 figures. So great. So I would like to hear – You know, I want to dig into what Affiliate Summit is because I’ve been there. I’m a huge fan of Affiliate Summit. I learned a great deal from being there and I gained a great deal from being a speaker on Affiliate Summit.
So I want to talk about Affiliate Summit itself, but I also want to talk about sort of the origin story behind Affiliate Summit and how you got started. I think that you guys have a big enough mote around yourselves right now that if anyone wanted to start an affiliate marketing event, they’re not going to like, you know, here’s some secret on this interview, and all of a sudden, they’re going to be able to like rival you. But what I would really like is for people who are interested in starting an event to be able to hear about your story and how you got started, and maybe use some of your tactics to start an event, you know, in their own niche or their own market.
So I would love if you could share a little bit with us about how you got started and how you grew from your first event with like a couple hundred people to the place where you’re getting, you know, two events per year in the thousands of a ten this range.
Shawn: Sure. So getting back to 2003, there was an event that went from 2000, 2003 called Affiliate Force, and it was really focused more on partying, and that really, it took place on a cruise ship, and that was really the main event in the industry, and it was only, say about 200 people at it, and I was just sort of I’d be a speaker there, and I was doing a lot of things with it, but I was frustrated because it was really a non-serious event and numb.
So at the time, sort of wanted two big events and other areas of marketing heads series events, and this was just sort of a boondoggle, and no big brands are going at it, and so, it was sort of frustrating for the industry because I want to see the industry grow. I’d been at it since ’97, and so in 2003, I was speaking to my now partner, Missy Ward. We both just had our frustrations where we had gone to the guy who’s running it and made some suggestions, and he really just essentially just blew us off and told us he knows how to run the show, and we can just stay in our place, and so, this was I guess in April of 2003, and a month later, I called Missy up, just had an informal chat, just asking her if she wanted to just team up with me and start the show, start our own show.
And so we went into this having zero experience at all ever planning any kind of event, and we just figured let’s just try this. Let’s just make something good for the industry, and…
Clay: Okay. So I really – Man, there’s a number of things I want to drill down on here. First, let me just say that you are the – Of the people I know who are seriously a big deal, you are among of those people the person who acts just in your day-to-day life at least like you’re trying to be or put on airs about being a big deal. You are probably one of the most humble sort of most just, you know, in your day-to-day actions like normal every man that I know, but yet, you’ve managed to create sort of the premier event in a rapidly growing space. And so that’s one thing that I always admired you for. And what I’m hearing here, and something that I think that a lot of people can learn from is kind of your story. You took an event, and I am somewhat familiar with sort of – with affiliate marketing and CPA marketing and performance marketing communities, and I know that it started out with a number of people who kind of learned some things and gained a lot of money very quickly, and it was kind of this underground community of people that were doing really well, and it sounds like the event – Perhaps if I can go out of limb and say that it was somewhat douchey, it was somewhat unorganized, the space hadn’t been professionalized, or at least the events in this space haven’t been professionalized, and it sounds like what you did is you came in and you said, “Look, this space is going very quickly. There isn’t an event that reflects the level of professionalism that I would like to see this space grow into, and we’re frustrated with this. We don’t want something that’s all, you know, drinking and parties. We want to create something that as an industry, we can be proud of,” and you created that event. Do I have that right?
Shawn: Yes, exactly. At the time, both Missy and I, we were working our full-time jobs. This was really sort of a side gig where we’re doing on evenings and weekends, and we didn’t really have any intention ever of making this our full time job. We just figured we just wanted to have some kind of alternative to just sort of boost the industry, and for ourselves, just to have a quality place to go network and learn, and so like you mentioned like the event that was going on like it was – not only was it just a totally informal and just a big party and that even market it that way on the site which drove me crazy. They would just have people at roulette table and people just drinking and stuff like there was…
Shawn: They didn’t show anything about like a keynote speaker or like people just looking professional, networking, and so I really want to move it towards that kind of scene, and also, that show was really sort of somewhat heavy on black hat stuff, and I really wanted to provide an alternative that big brands, and people that wanted to be white hat would go to and just learn how to just do quality affiliate marketing.
Clay: So like would you say the original crowd was kind of the crowd that you see on black hat forums? You know, they maybe had businesses that could go completely under if Google close the loophole in their system or if an affiliate network mildly changes their policies or cookie stuffing became illegal. Where they those kinds of businesses?
Shawn: Yeah, we’re somewhat heavy on casino people that were based in South Africa and Europe and different areas. Ad so the one the one positive thing I had there was like I got to learn a lot of ways that they were cheating the companies that they’re promoting because at the time I was an affiliate manager so I was able to look after this, and this was before many people in the sort of the mainstream affiliate marketing were really aware of what was even happening with cookie stuffing like you mentioned, and so I – Also, I started looking out for affiliate sites like iFrames, different things which I guess iFrames is sort of an antiquated thing now, but back in the early 2000s, that was the way the people were stuffing cookies and so I was learning. It was sort of a good exposure to hang out with these black hat guys because I could learn how they were cheating and so I could look out for that, but otherwise, it was sort of a shady kind of vibe there.
Clay: Interesting. So I want to just take a step back because not all my listeners and viewers are going to know exactly what we just talked about. So I just want to clarify a little bit.
So affiliate marketing – And you know, correct me if I get something wrong with this, but affiliate marketing is what happens when one company has a product like say Amazon has a series of products, and independent business owners or affiliates are allowed to promote offers that exist on say, Amazon.com. Amazon.com gives them a link, and when someone follows an affiliate’s link to purchase a product – I mean there are other ways of tracking it, but when someone promotes a product on Amazon.com in this example, then they would get a cut of the sale, the person who promoted it. So that’s affiliate marketing and it’s performance based.
And black hat versus white hat has to do with sort of how I guess ethical or straightforward the marketing practices are. So there are marketing practices that are deemed black hat that have to do with a lot of hacking and finding loopholes in systems, and some of them are illegal strictly, some of them are not strictly illegal, but they’re generally found upon, and often, they violate terms of services for affiliate programs. White hat tactics are crispy clean. They’re sort of by-the-book marketing practices, and so what we’re talking about is that the affiliate space back in the day kind of while all these parties were going on, Shawn was saying that a number of the people there were promoting offers for online casino. So they would get people to sign up for an online casino, and then, the affiliate who promotes the casino would get a cut of the losses, which is kind of interesting in and of itself because it means that the affiliate is hoping the people that signed up through their link are going to lose money, which is an interesting way to go.
So would you say that’s a fair summary of what we’ve talked about so far?
Shawn: Yeah, absolutely. And there was certainly plenty of ethical affiliate marketing going on outside with all the big brands, but that was – this one main conference was sort of towards that end, and I guess like sort of to give it more vivid like description for like the black hat versus the white hat like I’m assuming it stems back to like the old like cowboy days where the guy with the white hat was a good guy and the black hat was the bad guy.
Clay: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. We’re like, you know, spy versus spy with the black hat, the white hat.
Shawn: Yeah, totally.
Clay: Cool. So you came in and you said this space needs a professional event with keynotes, with, you know, larger brands being present, something that larger brands, you know, could buy into, you’ll form that event, and what happened after that?
Shawn: So the first one, we totally scrapped it together, and we got a free space from a college in New York City, Brook College, and so it fit 200 people, and the condition was that we give 10 free passes to the college I guess to the working students there.
Shawn: So we got totally free AV space and everything.
Shawn: We just have to pay for the coffee break and lunch, and so we – We started with I won’t even say bootstrap because we were below bootstrap. We had zero dollars to invest. The only thing we ever spent money on to get started was I guess a domain because we already had hosting for own accounts. And so the company was – Basically, the funding for it was $7 at GoDaddy.
Shawn: And then we started promoting. We had some reach because like I mentioned, I started in ’97, so this is 60 years later. I had a book out recently at the time on affiliate marketing so I had some reach and so did my partner, Missy, and so we started selling passes and then sponsorships before the event ever existed so we had money in the bank before we ever had to spend anything.
Shawn: So that was good because we didn’t have any money to spend on the event.
Clay: So literally, $7, you get the space donated, and you have to provide, you know, some snacks and coffee breaks and stuff, but you don’t have to pay for that until after the tickets are sold, so literally, $7 and the tickets are paying for all the money that you’re going to have to spend as the days approach for actual day of the conference. So you pre-sold the tickets like anyone sells an event, and the first event was completely paid for before the very first day.
Shawn: Yes, and back then, we charged a small amount just to break even with. It was $75 a head. It was limited to this 200 people, and so, basically, it was so scrapped together that we – It was all Paypal. We didn’t have money to get merchant account going or anything. So people are buying from my Paypal account, and there were literally the confirmation e-mail. We just did an auto apply for my Outlook…
Shawn: …and I was just manually running a spreadsheet just to keep track of who was going to be – who’s registering, and it was totally done by hand, and like these days, we outsource so much stuff like the stuffing of all our bags and everything for all the chasquis and the program. Back then, we did ourselves, just the two of us in a hotel room, just going around assembly line, stuffing all the bags, and we just did everything by hand. We hand printed all the name tags and everything. And so it was such on a lean budget. And I think in New York, even for a boxed lunch it’s pretty expensive. I think it’s probably, between the lunches and the coffee, it was like $50 a head. We charged $75. So there was really just a break even after the supplies.
But the reason why we went so cheap was that this guy that was running the conference Affiliate Force, he was still planning on doing one in 2004, and so we’re going to go head-to-head with him, so I wanted to rush out an event just to get our branding out there, and then we’re going to go the same month as him in 2004, so I want to make sure that we could just start luring some customer over in just getting the brand out.
Clay: Cool. So, you know, rather than wait and get everything perfect, you found out that there was another – Was it the same event or was it a third person now that was going to start an affiliate marketing event and you wanted to get your materials out before them?
Shawn: This is the same event so he was going to be the following spring doing another cruise like he’d been doing since 2000.
Shawn: And so we needed – We had one scheduled for June of 2004, so we really wanted to have some kind of advance notice and get people to see what we’re trying to do and differentiate ourselves.
Clay: Cool. Now, for this very first event, did you have sponsorships or anything like that, or was it all ticket sales, one flat fee, $75, no different tiers, no different levels, just that $75 and that’s it?
Shawn: Yeah, we had a handful of sponsorships now. It was much smaller than these days like we don’t have any space for booths or anything so we just – Some main like 3 main sponsors where we put their banners up and some people that put some things in our bags, but we gave a lot of comp sponsorship just to get them to – so we could use their names and just sort of get the ball rolling there.
Clay: How interesting.
Shawn: We went to get all the networks in the industry to buy in because they weren’t going to this other conference for the most part.
Clay: Sure. So for this very first one, were any of the sponsorships paid or were they all comp?
Shawn: It was a mixture. I can’t remember how much it was – We brought in very low cash from them so like I think literally, we had a net of about $5,000 between us after this conference.
Clay: So the giving away, you know, comping some of the sponsorships serve two purposes, maybe one was that they could – Maybe that they’d send a rep there and find out about it and maybe get some benefit from the comp sponsorships so that they could it the following year, and also so that you could tell everyone that this event was sponsored by this company, and that would sort of, you know, grant some legitimacy with the use of their logo and some other things to your event. Is that correct?
Shawn: Yeah, exactly, yeah, because it really – To us, we figured it was a big benefit. It wasn’t costing us anything, and we didn’t really have any kind of list to knock on to try to sell these sponsorships nor do we want to be salespeople. So we just figured this is the easiest way, and it’s going to be a benefit to us to be able to tell that we had so and so companies as our sponsors.
Clay: Oh that’s really, really smart. Cool. So this very first event happens. You have a net of about $5,000, and you know, what happens after that? Is the other event getting upset with you? Are you starting to get calls from affiliate networks? Are people asking when the next one is going to be? How did that first event go?
Shawn: Yes, so there was bad blood with the other event because both Missy and I were helping him a lot, and I was – He was going about towards people with his shows, and I was literally referring about a hundred of them…
Shawn: …because I had a list of affiliate managers who have opted in for my site because my book was on affiliate management. And so, he was very concerned that we were going to walk off with a lot of his attendees, and so that was going on. He was just trying to do some negative stuff. He bought – like we didn’t think to buy all this since we didn’t really have any money – all the alternate domains. So he went out to get Affiliate Summit.net, and he was trying to – He was redirecting it to his site, trying to confuse people, and just doing much nonsense like that, and he was…
Clay: Black hat stuff.
Shawn: But we started getting – We got a lot of buzz not only because we have a lot of big companies there, but also because we sold it out, and so we tied that all over the place. It was sort of like the Robert Cialdini, the whole thing with scarcity where just shouting off the rooftops like you better register all this in the next one because we sold out and you don’t want to miss out. And so for the next one, it was a slightly larger space floor as with the cruise ship so that was limited again too. We could fit about 230, but we were running the whole scarcity thing, and we started selling tickets pretty fast for that one too.
Clay: That’s awesome. So what did people think with the first event? Were you getting – Were people like yeah, this is interesting or were you getting a lot of people saying, “You know what? We have been wanting this too. We don’t really enjoy this other crowd that’s doing, you know, the casino offers and the payday loan offers, and like all this other things. We are looking for more legitimate space with sort of, you know, bigger brands, and you know, we personally respect what we do as affiliate marketers. We think it’s a legitimate trade, and we are looking for a space that kind of reflected that.” Did you hear a lot of like size of relief?
Shawn: Yeah, people really – They enjoy it and they really give us some great feedback because rather than just have like a day of just drinking at the pool and gambling, we have a big focus on like not only the traditional speakers and panels, but also we had a thing that we had started back then that we’ve been doing to this day called the Ask the Expert roundtables where we just have like 8 or 7 tables and topics going concurrently where a person is just talking about like PPC Marketing or Paper Click on search engines or just working with coupon sites as an affiliate program, just any kind of niche topics, and so people love that they can have these open discussions to network and to learn and ask questions of these experts. Now we also, for that show and then for several shows after that, we did speed networking which up to that point I’ve never seen happen. So we just sort of made it up, and within a year or so, we starting seeing a lot of other conferences doing that, but as far as I was aware like I just barred the concept from speed dating at the time and I was never aware of anybody else ever doing that so I take partial claim for innovating that because as far as I know, nobody else was doing it in 2003. So we just tried to get people to like 200 people in the room, we want them all to meet each other throughout the day, and so we did those various things and seem to – we got great feedback from it so we were very happy with it.
Clay: That’s awesome. That’s incredible. So tell me about the second one. Did you – So the first one had – what did you say – 200 spots? You sold all those out. You did the next one. Was it 6 months later, the cruise ship?
Shawn: Yeah, the next one, and as far as the 200 spots, one thing I mentioned that our barebones budget there is we didn’t have like this sales, we bring it in a huge staff for security and registrations thing. Back then, we couldn’t afford to pay people hourly, so we paid people in tickets, so we had about a half dozen people that came there and helped us out to register people and do different things, and they were working for tickets. So I guess – And I know we did that for our first few shows before we could really afford a staff, but…
So the next one, we were going head-to-head with this guy and his name is Herbie Oschefski. And so we were pretty nervous because the one thing that we learned after we booked the whole cruise ship conference was – because we probably didn’t really read the contract that closely. We were just excited to do it – is that we had to pay 100% of all the cabins and everything 60 days out…
Shawn: …and one thing that we learned later on running conferences is that most people register within like maybe from 15 to 60 days out. That’s where really the majority of them registered so we had to take some of our own money, which really made us sick to our stomachs because we really didn’t have that money to spend, and then we’ve sold some passes and some sponsorships, but we have to put that all capital without knowing if we’re going to sell all these spots. That was really making us very nervous, but it worked out, and we ended up selling it out, and the guy that we were competing with, we’re going to do it in June. He was doing it in April so we were worried that people were going to pick his and then just sort of forget about ours, but it turned out that we had – So many people have moved over with us because they liked our first show that he was really sort of . . . he wasn’t selling tickets, and so it came about 2 days before his April show, and all of a sudden, he sends this announcement out saying that somehow, Carnival Cruises had double booked the cruise ship and they wouldn’t be able to have the conference there, and it was a big mix up on their end.
So my guess is that since he never had any money coming and he never made that booking, and he just was hoping that it was going to magically happen at the last second, it just didn’t happen, and so he rescheduled for around the same time that ours was going to be and told these people all to hold on, and a lot of them were upset because they had shipped their things down to Miami to go there with people because he was going to have like a one day before like a thing with booths and things. And so that happened. He was stringing people along, and as it turned out, his show just never happened. He just didn’t get enough people, but he burned a lot bridges because a lot of people spent money registering and his sponsors and everything, and he just essentially disappeared.
Shawn: He was from South Africa and he just sort of returned there, and a lot of people are left hanging. So it made us happy not only do we knock off competitor, but a guy who we saw as sort of a negative in the space. So it was excited to us. It was unfortunate to a lot of people got ripped off by him in the end, but it was sort of an exciting validation of our concept to do a more professional show.
Clay: Wow. So with that second event, you essentially knocked off – I mean one might argue that he knocked himself off, but you eliminatred your only competitor with an affiliate type event. Is that correct?
Shawn: Yes, and I think to a degree, he knocked himself off by the way he did business, but if there was an alternative, I think everybody would just migrate back to his show.
Clay: Right, right, right. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. So what would you say you learned from the first show to the second show or the first event to the second event? Did you comp less sponsorships that time? What – How did you adapt because you guys weren’t like you don’t seem like someone who has been in the – who started out in the event business. You just kind of did this because you saw a need. You wanted it to be there for yourself and you did this because it just seemed like people wanted it. So you didn’t start out knowing a lot about events. Now, you guys are total pros and I’m sure you have full time people who work for you, who live and breathe the event business, but what did you learn after that first event that you rolled into the second event?
Shawn: We think we’re more organized with things, but we still were doing a lot of things ourselves so it was really sort of a very homemade kind of atmosphere. We’re still using Paypal and everything, but we just got our act together to a degree where we got some more volunteers to help out and so that was some money out of our pocket because we had to pay for their not only was it – At that point, it wasn’t just a free pass, but also a free cruise so we had to cover for them so that added on to the expenses for us, but we just – We learned to really start pumping things up earlier because we got so scared that we couldn’t sell the tickets and we’d get stuck for the cost there.
Shawn: But like you mentioned like at that point that was the end of having the free sponsorships. We moved to get people to do real sponsorships and it worked out well. And one thing that was really huge for us was that towards the end, we were making a profit, but it wasn’t that big, but then we got a call I think maybe 5 days before the show, and it was AOL had just acquired Advertising.com, and they want to make a splash with them…
Shawn: …so they – Actually, they paid us. They paid us a nice amount of money, just put a banner up on the cruise ship, and we just had like a lot of people to start coming out of the woodwork and just buying. Maybe it was like putting something in the bag or just having in our program, but we just started getting people. It was the beginning of – We’re sort of a self-service model for the different sponsorships and different opportunities. We never wanted to sell sponsorships and we still never have. We’ve never had a salesperson. It just all happened organically. We made it self-serve and we talk to people from competitors, and they marvel at that because they have a sales team, and many of them come to our conferences now, and they try to pluck away our sponsors and our exhibitors, but they just – They don’t understand how we possibly trained our audience to just go there and buy sponsorships without talking to us.
Clay: So a few things here. There’s 3 questions I want to ask about. I want to say them now because otherwise I’ll forget them. I should probably have a notepad or something like that. The first thing I want to ask about is when you knew it was going to be a big deal. The second thing I want to ask about is whether or not – because I know you don’t do cruises now – but whether or not you did that cruise just to see for yourself if, you know what, it’s the second one. We just want to go head-to-head, see who wins, and put it into this thing. That’s the second thing I wanted to ask about and the third thing maybe I’ll just ask this one now since we’re actually on it, but when you say self-service, do you mean that they actually have like a shopping cart like a sponsor could go to your website, find the sponsorship that they want, click on it, and sends you money, and that’s it. There’s no, you know, be to be, you know, inside sales process?
Shawn: Yeah, we try to like we certainly will pick up the phone or e-mails if they have a question, but we try to erase any questions, and one of the reason we did this was we found out from after we started selling sponsorships that some companies that were struggling and we told them they have like 30 days after the show to pay us, and some of them didn’t pay us, so we were very unhappy with that concept, which is pretty common with a lot of conferences. So we decided we’re going to make it so that they have to pay in advance or they’re not going to get it in there.
Shawn: And so – And that’s the way we still do it where if you want to book a booth you’re not picking the number for your booth until we’ve got the money in hand and we – At first, we were taking a lot of checks and that was a real hassle for me to manage with just stamping all these and going with stacks of checks to the bank. So it’s now strictly credit card or we let people pay Paypal too. We added that back a couple years ago, but – So people have to go and buy that booth on a credit card. So we have cash in hand before they even get to move at all.
Clay: Yeah, that really sucks to have fat stacks of checks to have to simply go to the bank with. No, I’m just teasing.
Clay: Okay, so you’ve made it self-service. So someone could go to your website and pick the sponsorship they want and just buy it, and that’s different than what everyone else was doing. Is that correct?
Shawn: And the . . . is different than what a lot of people are doing even these days, and for us, we’re just like it would make it easier for us because we are a skeleton staff. At that point, we’re just Missy and myself, and we just didn’t have time to deal with all this stuff. We are growing and we just didn’t want to be on the phone all day with people so we just figured let’s make it as easy as possible, and just even today, I was looking at a conference that’s taking place in 2 months. I was taking that being a sponsor, and I looked at it, and they were going to make me fill out a big form to give all my details, and they had no details at all for me about what was going to cost for anything or was even available, and to me, it just pissed me off and I walked away, and I probably won’t go back and fill out that form, but we – And I guess people are paranoid that if their price is out there that they’re giving away some kind of competitive edge, but we outsource out there, and people just have – They have full transparency what’s available, and they can just go and book it, and it’s just one example of many times that people told us we were doing things the wrong way, and that’s not the way that trade shows were done. And since we didn’t know how trade shows were done, we just sort of made it up, and a lot of our different things we did like that just they worked out great for us. We have still this barebones staff way smaller than a lot of companies that have smaller conferences than us, and it’s just it works out for us, and I’m boggled by why people make it difficult to spend money with them.
Clay: So you know, I can see a concern there with not posting your prices, you know, and having some rate card that you have to get from sales person who has to have a one-on-one conversation is that the concern might be that different people are getting different rates, that you know, if you bargain, maybe you could get a lower rate, and then you got to talk to someone else to find out what they paid, and with you guys, the price is the price. It’s listed on the website. You can buy it on the website and that’s it, right?
Shawn: Yeah, that’s one thing that it still confounds people to this day because we just – We’re very black and white about deadlines, about prices, and everything. They’re not negotiable and there are a lot of people, and I guess a lot of other shows apparently they are because people, some of them are furious with us that we won’t – They’re like we’ve been coming to 3 years in a row, and I can’t believe you’re not going to give us a break on that, and we just don’t, and part of it is just from our own sanity because it’s hard to keep track of who you’ve given a special deal to.
Shawn: So at first, even till these days, some people really get pissed off at us because we aren’t willing to cut them a break, and one thing that really sort of blows my mind is we get tons of e-mails from people that missed our early bird rates, and they ask us to, like a month, 2 months later, ask us to honor their early bird rates, and we kindly tell them we honor them during the early bird period, and it has nothing to do with us to honor anything because we will honor our current rates at the current time…
Shawn: …and we get a lot of people that are just – they’re saying like I’ll just never come to your show again if you’re not going to give me a deal, and so you’d say, “Sorry, we’ll miss you.”
Clay: That’s amazing. I love the way you do business. It’s kind of like – You know, when I’ve been to other parts of the world, I really don’t enjoy those, you know, these negotiation environments when you go to like an open-air marketing you’re looking to buy a garment. It’s like just pointing to the place where they’re flat prices, and you know, I know that there are some cultures that work that way, but I feel a lot more comfortable because I know that I’m getting the deal that everyone else is getting. I don’t have to poke around. It’s just a lot more clean and less complicated, so I really like that you’ve done this.
So going on to another question. When did you or did you do the next event because I know you’re not doing your current event on cruise ships, that you stopped doing that at some point. So did you do the cruise ship thing just so you could like just – You’re like, “Hey, we’re just going to kill this thing or we’re going to die, and let’s just cut, you know, head this thing off.” Was that your approach there with doing the cruise ship thing?
Shawn: We just figured that’s what people are used to.
Shawn: So we thought we’d do it that way because that’s what people are accustomed to, and if we’re going to lure them over, let’s make it as comfortable as possible for them.
Shawn: But one big change we did was that they were cruising out of Miami each time, and at the time, I was living in New Jersey, and I figured let’s cruise out in New York and go up to Nova Scotia. And there were two different reasons for that. One was it’s cheaper to go North in the summer than to be out in the nice weather, and two is that I figured it would be sort of misty and crappy as you get closer to Canada outside so people aren’t going to be out there swimming and sunbathing. They’re going to be all be in the sessions because I don’t want to have a half-empty room for them because I’m very big on just having like good pictures of the event and show them big filled rooms, and so that it was – I was very focused on having an atmosphere where people wanted to be in the conference. They didn’t really have an alternative like you’re not going to sit in your little tiny cabin and you can’t really hang out outside so you might as well go to the conference.
Clay: Cool. I like that motivation. That’s really cool. Okay, so what people used to – The first event, you didn’t have the money to pay for these rooms 60 days out. The second one, it just seemed like this is what everyone was used to. So that’s your second event. Your third event, did you do it on a cruise ship as well or did you go back to doing it in a room like in a land venue?
Shawn: No, we couldn’t get off the cruise ship fast enough and it was a fantastic atmosphere for networking because you’re with these people 24/7, but logistically, it was really difficult. There was no space for any kind of exhibit hall or anything, and they wouldn’t really – They told us we would have a secured private space, and we had a big room there, but they refused to make it totally private when we got on site, and also, the rules changed, and so they made us keep the doors open, and people are walking through there to go to other parts of the ship.
And so there are literally times when a speaker would be speaking there and people would walk in just like 2 people on the cruise ship. They’d figure we’re just another free class on Mac or Mayer or something, and so they would sit down. At one point, this older gentleman sat there right in front of one of the speakers, and he nodded off and started snoring loudly, so I had to go over and wake this guy up, sort of chase him out of there.
And there were other times where people would just walk in, and I don’t get like what kind of rules the society they have. They literally walked in and stood 5 feet in front of the speaker as you’re speaking in front of a whole crowd behind them, and I had to usher them off because like what are you doing, like this guy, he’s totally speaking a different language from them. He’s some nuts and ball stuff from affiliate marketing, and they just stand there right in his face as if he was speaking to them, and it was just bizarre. And then on top of that, at some, people still laugh, but this day, there are 2 guys from the Affiliate Network Link Share. They’re presenting and we’re right below the disco in this particular ship – and first of all, they promised us up and down that there would never be anything in the disco during our conference hours, but so…
I don’t know if you’ve been in a cruise ship before, but they have these kids programs, especially on carnival, and so they had probably about 80 young kids right above us right there, and there was like this big open circle that go up to that room so we could hear them if they did, and they were screaming in there, stomping, and shouting, and I don’t even know what kind of games they were playing, but at one point – This is back when Britney Spears was pretty popular – and they were doing this, I guess it was like a musical chair or something. They kept playing the song “Oops, I did it Again.” For about a half hour, they kept stopping and starting it, and these poor guys were trying to get their presentation, and all of a sudden, they just start blasting the song again. It would totally blast out of the room that nobody could hear them. And so I was just dying. I was so mortified and we’re running around screaming at the people from Carnival, and they’re like this is what we always do. I don’t know who promised that to you, but they are lying.
Shawn: And so we were like never again for the cruise ship.
Clay: Okay, so cruise ships are good for doucheying it up at the pool and doing some carnival-related thing or some gambling-related things, drinking, networking, but for throwing a legit serious, you know, event with presentations and key notes, and having exhibit halls with sponsorships, not the most ideal place, and so, Affiliate Summit number 3, you moved, you know, back into a conference center. Where was that one at?
Shawn: Yeah, and one thing I just want to mention about the cruise, I guess there are some lines that have like a movie theater that might make sense for a conference, but the ship that we are on, because it was the only ship available for this series of dates we wanted, so that one just didn’t work for us, but I’m sure there are some that are more like useful for some kind of get together like that.
Shawn: So for the next one, we are figuring that we’d – We’re looking at in between either Vegas or New Orleans, and I was landing towards New Orleans, and then Katrina hit right as we were speaking to some hotels there so it’s not a race going there, and so that made us so it’s going to be Vegas. And at the time, like we’d never really organized a whole hotel and getting all the space and everything so we went with this vendor that I guess – I don’t remember if they found us or we found them – but so they said we’ll take care of all the negotiations with the hotel and do all this and that, and it’s really too much for you guys, and so we just bought that, and they were going to get a big fee for doing this so they told us.
This was before I’d ever been to Las Vegas. They told us about this wonderful property called The Riviera, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it’s – At the time, I think it was its 50 anniversary, and they were saying how it’s classic Vegas. I’m not sure I’d been there. It’s this great place, and so we were like oh, that’s great. We got a good rate. I think it was like $69 a night for the rooms. And so we walked in there, and it was so broken down and horrible.
So I got off the plane. My first time in Vegas, we were seeing about all this great hotels there; Venetian and everything, and I walked into this place. It was such a dump and so – Now, it’s almost 10 years later. I can’t imagine what it looks like.
Shawn: So I go check in. I go to my room, and there was a sign above the toilet that said – It told people that they weren’t allowed to flush hypodermic needles in the toilet.
Clay: Wow, wow.
Shawn: I’m guessing they get a lot of diabetics there hopefully, but I’m not sure, but that was…
Shawn: Unfortunately, that was just before there was Facebook going on, so otherwise, half the attendees probably have taken a picture that they put it on Facebook would have PR nightmare for – So we – It was our first one. This was all suddenly more than doubled in size for this one because we were getting good buzz. So now we went from 230 in a cruise ship to 550 with this one.
Shawn: And so it’s the first time we had space to do an exhibit hall, and at the time, it was very small. These days, we have – Across 3 days, we have about 150 people I think we call the meat market and also our exhibit hall, the traditional along with booths. We have a hundred of something at that. So we’ve got hundreds of booths and tables these days, but back then, we had 12, so it was this tiny exhibit hall with nothing going on there, but we was the biggest show that we’ve had by far at that time, and also, it was the last time that we’ve ever doing our own bags. We started outsourcing after that because…
Also, we went from having a couple of hundreds to 550, and we got with a suite that we were able to get as part of our deal there, and so we just recruited about 10 friends and it took us a good 8 hours to stuff 550 bags because all the different pieces, and we’re just ridiculous, and to do that the day before the show, and there were things we’ve really rather attend to. It was just too much to deal with so we figured we don’t care what the cost is. We’ll raise ticket prices if we have to, but we’re never stuffing bags again because it’s just not efficient. It’s not a good use of our time.
Clay: Yup. So man, I want to – It’s so weird like I want to – I could spend 3 hours just going from event to event.
Clay: So what did you learn here? What changed? You know, what were the lessons? And you know, I realized that that could probably take a really long time, but I’m wondering if you could tell us just a little bit about what your operations look now. How many full-time people do you have, you know, when the event happens? Like what does it take now in terms of personnel and resources to run one of your events, and this is now – What? How many years after the first one?
Shawn: So now we’re going to turn 10 next year…
Clay: Ten years.
Shawn: …and I think I’m – Our upcoming one in New York is going to be if I had it right, our 21st event.
Clay: Wow, wow.
Shawn: So we figured some things out along the way, and like – but at this point though, we’ve really resisted staffing up just because we’re just like I’d say probably obsessed about just the details, and we’re not really comfortable letting go of a lot of things, but so we brought in our first full time person I guess about 4 so years ago.
Shawn: This woman’s name is Amy Rodriguez, and she’s actually – When I was – I guess until 4 years, and definitely some, I was still managing affiliate program full time. This was still a part-time gig for me as it was even though it was growing pretty quick, and she was actually working for me to help manage the affiliate programs. I just thought I’d just kill that business and focus solely on Affiliate Summit, and so I just asked her to come along, and she had no experience in the event space either, but she wanted the job, and we needed somebody so was our first higher, and then we just – I guess about 7 or some months ago, maybe a little bit more than that. We’ve brought in our second person.
So even still now we just have 2 employees, and everything else is outsourced. So we bring out an army of people who would go to a city. They’ll temp companies. They’ll do the staffing for all the registrations and everything, so we literally bring in dozens of people there. We hired a good dozen or so people to be security because typically, we keep selling out, and so people try to sneak into the conference, so we have to have a whole team of security to keep them out. Over time, we found all these different vendors for like the registration process so it didn’t have to be just some thrown-together site that I did, and so we have the company called RegOnline. It does that. We’ve been working with them for years, and…
Clay: They do the registrations or they’ve got the registration IT system for the badges and all that stuff?
Shawn: Yes, so basically, that’s the interface people go to to – We have two different URLs that could go to one, register as an attendee, and they can choose from four different types attend this type of registrations. Now we also have the – The other side is people want to book their sponsorship so they handle all that for us.
Shawn: And then also, we’re able to use our system generate of the badges and everything, and print that stuff out. So it’s really a one-stop shop to work with them, and then along the way, they referred us to a company called Executive Events that takes care of like a lot of the printing of the badges and all that sort of things, so it’s all done in advance, and then we just – If they’re ready to go, we get it on site.
Clay: Cool. So you’ve got outsource security, outsource like registration people. You’ve got a system called RegOnline that handles the registration and in the printing of the badges and things like that thorugh that system. What are your two – What do the two full-time people that you hired, what are their responsibilities and what are –what are your responsibilities and what are Missy’s responsibilities?
Shawn: Well for that, they really sort of do like all of the admin and customer service stuff, but then they just have such a long list of not really a job description because there’s so much stuff that goes on just with like obtaining the maps of when people book their sponsorships and booths and everything, and just dealing with vendors, you know.
Shawn: So they just sort of do everything that Missy and I don’t want to or can’t get to. So Missy, she’s sort of the person now that handles all the dealings of the hotels and the vendors like there’s a company called Freeman that does like all of the – They pipe jump and drape when they set off the booths in the hotels, the convention centers, like you know, like a 10 x 10 booth.
Shawn: It has like about a 3-foot wall and then it has a backdrop, and so that’s called pipe and drape. So she deals with them and like all the vendors for like internet and AV and all those sorts of folks. And then on the other side, I deal with running the site and doing the marketing, and so do all the social media and doing videos and just all the blog post of the site and all the – just the marking top to bottom. And…
Shawn: So it’s – And the fine thing is as I was talking to Missy about recently. We were talking about how neither one of us can ever leave because we don’t really know exactly what the other person does like we just – We all just do a ton of stuff and we’re happy with the set up, and I just – like the stuff that she does are stuff that I just don’t want to get involved with and she feels the same way.
Clay: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Okay. So security people, you know, temps that you hire through – isn’t it an event temp agency? Isn’t it an agency that just advice people in or it finds people in whatever part of the world your event is and has them there to facilitate that? Is that what happens?
Shawn: Yeah, so they’re just like conference temps so like since we, for the last several years, have been doing it in New York and Las Vegas or such big conference towns, but there are agencies that just specialize in conference staffs. They know how to use the different interfaces for registering people and checking them in and they just know how to answer the basic questions.
Clay: Okay. Cool. So your job is like marketing the event, selling the event, making sure it’s front in line, you know, with people. Missy’s job sounds like it’s more of, you know, logistics around the event and making sure everything happens smoothly. Is she also in-charge of like finding the temps and getting the security people and making sure that the badge is print out and just sort of overseeing like that whole, you know, schedules, all that stuff?
Shawn: Yes, she’s involved in some of that, and the woman Aimee Rodriguez that works for us, she’s really the sort of our commander on-site for dealing with making sure the badges are there and that the computers are in each room, and she trained – They had a training session with these temps each time so she teaches them like you have to check badges and ask these questions if people don’t have a badge, and when each time there’s a new session that’s going to start, you have to go in there and set up their new presentation. You have to introduce that speaker. And so she’s really the one that manages all these people.
Clay: Wow. What about filming? It sounds like there’s the whole – That’s like – I think about your conference and I think about just all the moving parts, and I’m just in awe that the machine works with 4 full-time people. I really am. But you film every single event. You put those online. It seems like you upload some of the sessions to YouTube. You index all of those. Who handles all the filming? Is that also outsourced as well?
Shawn: Yeah, there’s a company called RippleKey, and we’ve used a couple of different vendors. We’ve been using them for about 4 years now, and we decided back in 2006 because we were – like pretty much everything that we do to change the show, and we change shows constantly based on our feedback, and one thing that we’re hearing from people is that they’re saying that some of these sessions look great and I’d love to attend them. Also, I had this great meeting with this person I just never see. I had to choose, and so I had to choose this meeting over having to going to session, and we’re running 4 sessions at a time.
So you know, this great meeting, oftentimes, there’s 2 sessions you want to see or 3 or 4, so we figured let’s start filming these and making this video available for free to the attendees so they don’t have to make that choice, and we encourage them to go to the sessions because they get to network there and they get to learn, ask questions, and meet the speaker, it’s not mandatory for them anymore. All of a sudden, they have the option to blow that off and watch the video later on. And so we started doing that.
And several years – I guess this was 4 years ago – this team of people came out to do a new story on me because I had experience with Comcast cable company where I had a positive thing, and I blogged about them, and then, I originally – I contacted them on Twitter and I had a good experience blog about them and they want to do a new story, so these guys and the new story ended up appearing around the country…
Shawn: …but as we were just chatting on the way out the door when I was just seen the crew off, the guy that was interviewing me, he said, “Oh by the way, what do you do?” I was telling him about the conference. He was like, “Oh yeah, we do some filming and stuff,” and I was telling him how we film the sessions, and so long story short, this guy Peter Fitzgerald who was interviewing me for this new segment, he runs his company RippleKey at Brooklyn, New York, and he’s been the guy in video sessions for the last 4 years…
Shawn: …so just sort of this totally random meeting that has worked out great and he’s been a fantastic vendor with us, and he does not only all the sessions, but he got these commercials for us and just – I love the work that he does.
Shawn: So we have this like serendipitous meetings with people sometimes end up being great partners with us. It’s funny though because that’s one thing that a lot of other people that run conferences told us that we are insane, that we are cannon ballizing ourselves by giving away this content to people to the attendees because they were going to – There’s no way you can stop them from sharing it with their friends and everything, and so, we’ve got the little bug in there, the little logo one very one of the videos, so they’re going to know where it came from. So if somebody is stealing it and sharing it around, God bless them because we’re getting free publicity…
Shawn: …and like you mentioned, I can put them on YouTube so they’re exclusively for the attendees for a year or two, and then the older ones like right now, I’m putting up all the ones from summer of 2010…
Shawn: …and they’re all for free, totally for free. I’ve put up hundreds of hours of sessions on YouTube. And so to me, it’s just a commercial for us, and I think it’s great. The only other conference I’ve seen do it was TED, and that’s something that a lot of people can’t even access than any other. You can’t go there in person. They can go to TED X without the real Ted.
Shawn: And since we’ve started doing this, I’ve seen some of our competitors start making their videos available to attendees, but the time we started, people told us we were crazy to spend all these tens of thousands of dollars at each conference to record it just to give it away for free.
Shawn: And it’s funny because just today, before we got on Skype here, we got an e-mail from somebody saying that they didn’t have the money to attend the conference, but they’re wondering if they could pay just to access the videos, and we’d always been steadfast for this to be a perk for attendees, and we don’t want to get in the business of selling DVDs or video access. It’s just a distraction for us. It’s not really something that we think would really be worth the revenue for the aggravation it would cause us. We have to hire somebody to deal with it.
Clay: Yup, yup.
Shawn: And I’d rather keep the team lean and just make it a perk for our attendees.
Clay: So the way it goes is I think if I recall this correctly, if it’s – you’ve got 4 sessions going on full time for like 3 days. All of those are filmed. That is no easy feat, but attendees that get in at a certain level, I think, if I remember correctly, the recording isn’t available to everyone. You’ve got to buy a certain tier of ticket to get access to the video footage, but then 2 years later, all those sessions go online on YouTube, and I’m sure that you are big enough footprint with all – everyone looking for all this personal brands that that generates a lot of buzzes. Is that a correct description of how you use video?
Shawn: Yeah, absolutely, and I can mention we have 4 different types of passes and the lowest one we just caught a networking pass, and so basically, that just gives you access to the key notes speeches to go to the exhibit hall or meet market, and that’s one thing I’d – We start that up. We figured like from talking to people there in conferences, whenever they give free exhibit hall passes, it’s really hard to estimate who’s going to show up because it’s free, and people don’t have that commitment. So from the start, we start charging for those exhibit hall passes, and everybody told us, screaming, shouting you can’t charge for that. That’s something that people give for free. And we were like this is – It’s going to complicate our lives if we can’t estimate our numbers…
Shawn: …and so that simplified it for us. And so we are charging for them and we were still selling out even though we were charging for something that was to be for free in a lot of people’s minds, but so that passed. That doesn’t get video access, but the free above it do. That’s the one that’s called Networking Plus and it gets some – It’s basically the same as that one except it gets access to the sessions on Sunday so we do Sunday through Tuesday conference. So we have the Networking Plus and the VIP then all access pass, and all three of those get the videos. It takes about a month for us to get them all produced and they get so anywhere from like I guess 36 to 40 something videos, not counting the key notes, which we put up right away on YouTube for free.
Clay: Wow. And can you – I mean I’ll completely understand if you don’t want to share this number, but I want to make a point here about how someone like you guys who throw a truly amazing event, you’re doing something incredibly exceptional. You spend a great deal of money and time providing video and providing a service that you’re not even charging for. That is just a nice add-on for people, and that may be is going to be used for marketing or at least just free videos on YouTube down the road. Can you share maybe how much you spend on producing these videos per year or just even in the ballpark range?
Shawn: With a very typical conference like we just sign a contract and I believe it was $40,000 for the upcoming when we’re doing New York, and that’s for – I think we’re going to have 36 breakout sessions and 4 keynotes, not a commercial so I forget how – like the long items how it breaks up. It’s somewhere around $40,000 for all that.
Clay: So you’re spending $40,000 to provide something for free to your attendees, and you know, I think that’s amazing because that’s not an upsell. That’s not an add-on. You’re not patching those and selling those. You’re purely doing this for the convenience of the people that watch those sessions because if I understand this correctly, the level of badge someone has to get in order to watch the individual sessions, if they can get in and watch them then they’re going to get the video, right?
Shawn: Yes, absolutely. And the lowest badge to get those videos, it’s – they’re only broad price is $249. So for $249, you can – Like we’ve had some people that have just purchased that pass strictly for the videos, and they’ve told us that – because we contact people that don’t check into the conference to ask them why they had a problem or anything, and people have said they just got that just for the videos because they figured it’s worth $250 just to be able to see 40 hours of video.
Clay: Yeah, that’s amazing.
Shawn: And it’s funny though because a lot of people, that’s one of many things that you’re not supposed to do as a conference organizer I guess is to give away such information for free and it drives people crazy that by some mutual friends of ours that they think it’s insane I’m not upselling it.
Clay: Yeah, yeah. I think I have some ideas who you might be talking about. So – Okay, so let’s sort of wrap this up. I want to make a legit plug for Affiliate Summit I’ve been before I gained a tremendous amount of value excluding the sessions which I went to and presented that one, but let’s just talk for a minute because I think what most people are probably thinking of is who’s a good fit for Affiliate Summit because what I’m seeing or what I came to, my first Affiliate Summit was well, this will be interesting for me, but I’m not really an affiliate manager, but I do run an affiliate program kind of in my own business, but I’m not really an affiliate and what I came away with was a lot of really good information just about marketing – In fact, I remember some talks there that really didn’t maybe have to do exactly with affiliate marketing, but just really solid internet marketing talks. I also got to meet a number of super affiliates and learned what their life is like, so now I’m better at creating affiliate programs that appeal to super affiliates, and I got to just learn a little bit more about how the industry works. Could you just share a little bit about who’s a good candidate for this, and I’m sure it sort of breaks into different categories. There’s the companies that are looking for affiliates to promote for them. There’s affiliates that are trying to learn from other affiliates and find good offers, and then there’s probably a certain class of just general internet marketers that are there to hear like Gary Vaynerchuck speak. He spoke 1 year.
Clay: So what would you say those main categories are?
Shawn: Well, we got people to pre-select what kind of attendee they are when they’re registering so it breaks out into 4 different areas. There’s the affiliates themselves and the merchants advertisers that run the affiliate programs, the networks that – or the . . . between the affiliates and the merchants, and there’s just the plain vendors that offer various services whether it’s an SCO agency or an e-mail provider. And by far, I guess about a third maybe or so usually are the affiliates that have the biggest groups of attendees to come there.
But if you’re mentioning about the content, when we first started, it was solely about affiliate marketing, but then over time, we’ve broaden just because we just came to the realization that a lot of the – like pretty much anything you can do with internet marketing, affiliates are doing that so there’s no reason for us to just talk about things in the prism of affiliate marketing. We’re talking about SCO and social media and e-mail and mobile, and we just try to have coverage with experts at every given topic to make it as useful of an experience as possible instead of just going over affiliate marketing and just trying to do every little bit of my new show. We have probably 10%, 15% of the content as affiliate marketing, but then we cover everything else because affiliate marketers are covering everything else out there.
And so I’d say like the – like naturally, people, the affiliate marketing makes sense for them to come, but also, people that are trying to figure out how to monetize the blogger or any kind of web property or people that run a company that maybe they never even thought about having an affiliate program, but they want to come there and figure it out and see if it makes sense for them.
Clay: Cool, cool.
Shawn: And then just any kind of vendor that would serve this group like AWeber like Rackspace or just – like any company that affiliate marketers or internet marketers are using on a day-to-day basis, it makes sense for them to go there just because they have a huge customer base.
Clay: Man, I can only imagine like the value of a sponsorship to any company that has a serious affiliate network because probably, what they want more than anything else is for affiliates to promote for them because it doesn’t cost them anything. You know, with affiliate marketing, the company that has an affiliate program isn’t paying anything out unless an affiliate makes a sale for them, so this has to be a no-brainer for your sponsors because they get access to a whole bunch of affiliates that are looking for good offers to promote, and I imagine that that’s an amazing value proposition. So if I have this correctly now, you now have far more sponsors for affiliate summit than you had attendees at your very first event. Is that correct?
Shawn: Yeah, absolutely. And I think to the point there that I see some people and I’d get like an argument with them on the form or Facebook or whatever, they say like, “There’s nothing I can do at the conference that I can’t do for my desk,” and I think you can’t really underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings and getting business done and just so huge, and also not only the formal networking opportunities and the chance to meet a lot of leaders that you can do business with, but also just like what happens at like 11 or 12 o’clock in a hotel bar like the conversations you have there on the tips and the things you learn you can apply right away. It’s just priceless.
Clay: The most valuable that networking that has ever happen to me has never – you know, it’s always been, you know, 1 AM, 2 AM…
Clay: …at the bar at night. So my strategy at conferences is really to sleep in until 9 or 10 or 11 so that I can stay up until 2, 3, 4 at night, and I’ve never seen more of that than at affiliate. You guys have like sort of the attachment parties. It sounds like you let your sponsors host just these ridiculous parties. I remember when I went . . . was having this party that was like on the deck of this roof in New York, and it was like drinks were fully paid for, appetizers were fully paid for, and it was just – It was amazing network opportunity. Everyone was there and it was just a great time.
So I want to encourage my audience to go to Affiliate Summit. Shawn, you’ve done an amazing job. You’ve been very transparent sharing this stuff. I’ve got mad respect for what you’ve done and what you and Missy have done, and I’m just so grateful that you came on today to share this info with my audience. So thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Shawn: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me. One last thing I just wanted to add was that another thing that we sort of add along about 4 years ago was we have a magazine called Feet Front magazine…
Clay: Oh cool.
Shawn: …and back like years ago, we’re taking an ad out in one of the industry magazines, and I think for a full page it was about $10,000, and my background before like the dot com bubble and everything back in the late ‘90s, I was working in magazine publishing. I really just had this romanticism for the print magazine, and so just sort of life ball struck, I was like for paying $10,000 just for an ad like for not much more, we can just run our own magazine. And so we decided just like with the no-event experience with no real magazine experience, we decided to become the publishers and editors and the copywriters and everything for the magazine, and so now, we just put out our 19th issue of the magazine…
Shawn: …and so that cost some – It cost certainly more than $10,000 per issue, but we have a bunch of full-page ads and things now so it’s self-sustaining and it ends up being a big publicity piece for us, not to mention all the content and things in it.
Clay: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. I mean look – What I love is that I think what you guys do represents just how robust event marketing can be. You’ve got, you know, the Affiliate Summit blog, you’ve got your social media profiles, you have a podcast, and you have a magazine, and then you’ve got all these videos being piped out to YouTube and then share it on social media. So you’re not just advertising an event. You are, it seems like, doing as much as you can across the spectrum to support affiliates. So it doesn’t just stop and start with the event.
Shawn: Yeah, and also, yes, speaking of the podcast, I’ve got a podcast called the Affiliate Thing I’ve been doing for 5 or 6 years, but the place where it lives is a sight that we started up years ago called GeekCast.fm, and so in addition to my podcast, there are about a dozen or so other definitely marketing podcast there…
Shawn: I started that site as a place because I find that a lot of people in affiliate marketing or internet marketing in general, they wanted to have a podcast, but they couldn’t really figure out how to host it and what to do with it, so I said let me just create a place here where they can just have their podcast. And so we give people a free pass to Affiliate Summit if they’d regularly post a podcast. So they get a platform for free, and if they want to, they can put on their ads there. We don’t meddle at all with what they’re doing so they can have a profitable podcast and they get a free pass to Affiliate Summit.
Clay: Wow. So did you actually start an affiliate marketing podcast network?
Shawn: Yeah. Yes, we have about a dozen shows in there now, and they’re all – And so we own that niche, and it’s just for the cost of a monthly dedicated server. It’s really not that expensive, but it makes a lot of people happy and we get the word out there.
Clay: That’s amazing. Where else do you see yourself branching out because this is really interesting now because we’ve talked about – oh, we’ve talked about, you know, up until maybe like 5 minutes ago with this event, but now we’re talking about a blog. We’re talking about videos. We’re talking about a podcast network. We’re talking about an actual physical magazine. How do you see the evolution of your marketing changing and evolving over time? Can you let us in on any details about anything else that’s coming up in this, you know, as you kind of grow this empire that’s freaking dominating the affiliate marketing space?
Shawn: I guess we just always look for different places to penetrate, so about 1-1/2 years ago, we started up both myself and my partner, Missy – She’s in Orlando and I’m in Austin. We sort of meet up locally to make it sort of like a monthly free Affiliate Summit, just on a much smaller scale with a speaker and everything, and that started just really doing well. I think mine’s got over 300 people at this point, and about a third of those show up at any given meet up.
Shawn: And so we decided have always see if we have some – The people there like are raving fans around the country if they want to have their own meet up, so we got people thinking about it, a dozen more cities in the US, some in Canada that are doing monthly meet ups now, and so we send out our magazines to them to give out at the meet ups, and all the meet up organizers will give them a free pass and passes to give out to their attendees. So just sort of a grassroots way for us to reach out and to get people to sort of get a small free sample of Affiliate Summit that way, and then also, we point around with doing free webinars in different topics, and more recently, we’ve been trying to do some Twitter chats with different authorities on things to see if we can get some pick up there and people’s interest in that. Pretty much, we’re just trying to try any possible avenue for marketing to reach people, to reach them where they want to consume it instead of where we want to try to force them to consume it.
Clay: Wow. Wow. So now, you’ve got a network of meet ups across the country that are sponsored or somehow affiliated with Affiliate Summit. What about virtual events? What’s your thoughts on virtual events? Do you ever think you’ll do some of those?
Shawn: I guess – A lot of the things that have happened with Affiliate Summit have been based on feedback or else things that are frustrating to myself and Missy, and so we just try to do things that we enjoy, and they seem to translate into making a lot of other people enjoy their experience at the conference and neither one of us have really ever liked virtual events like there was one called E Comics that went on for a few years, and we’d go there and we’d be speakers, and we’d be sponsors and everything, but we are finding that like within 5 minutes of somebody speaking off, sometime we’d go and switch to our e-mail, and we just – It was too easy to lose interest, and we heard that from a lot of other people so we’ve strayed away from getting into that too much. We’ve done webinars so like I guess maybe like an hour-long sort of virtual event, but not really like a full-fledge like day or multi-day thing.
Clay: Sure, sure. Well, I was about to wrap up before this was suddenly a great little tangent, and often, it’s this like, you know, the Steve Job style, you know. What would he say he’d like turn back and be like oh, one more thing, you know…
Clay: …so this is a great, you know, oh one more thing. Anything else you’d like to share with us before you wrap up?
Shawn: Well I guess just . . . it wants to get into doing an event or whatever, just like really, the way that ours has grown and we’ve benefited from different changes is like we’ve asked people to give us feedback constantly, and we make changes based on that. And then also, we just – A lot of the things the foundation for the conference was things that we wish were at conferences, different types of sessions or different events and things. So it was born out of our frustration and boredom at other conferences, so we decided to make changes, and some of them were considered on . . . by people, and they thought it didn’t make sense to happen there, and I just want to roll a quick one. For example here is that like we have the traditional exhibit hall were you have a 10 x 10 booth, and that can be pretty expensive to buy a booth in that whole thing.
So back in 2006, I had decided let’ start up an alternate version of that on a Sunday because the exhibit hall is Monday and Tuesday, and Sunday, the booths are being built out, but there was no kind of meeting area like that. We just had sessions. So I said let’s try this thing, and I’ll call it the meet market and basically just make like a job fair. We have a bunch of like 6 x 2 tables, and that’s going to be something that’s more accessible for the smaller companies instead of spending 5, 6, 7, 10 grand on a booth space, and then their booth shipping and everything, and just a fortune, let’s have something where they can just come there with flyers and business cards and have a very modest investment and still have some kind of exposure there.
And so the first time we did it, it was a total flop. We gave all the tables for free to the exhibitors, but I was really – I felt like it was a good concept and we tried it the next time. It sold out.
Shawn: And that’s one of our most popular things now, and so every Sunday, people – Some people just come on Sunday for the meet market, 6 hours long, and just this room jam packed with people, and all these tables, and it start out intending to be for the smaller companies who couldn’t afford a booth, but now, pretty much every booth gets the table now because they don’t want to miss out on that exposure.
Clay: And there’s a pass that comes with just the meet market and the key notes, and just sort of in the exhibit halls, correct?
Shawn: Yes, that’s the networking pass.
Clay: Yeah, that’s the networking pass. That’s awesome that you’re charging for this. That’s great.
Shawn: Yeah, and on the Steve Job and one last thing there is that like in a lot of people I talked to is that you should never have more than 3 options for people, but I was trying to figure out a way to sell more of what used to be our platinum passes now, our VIP pass, and so I figured let’s add a pass on top of that to make the third one more attractive. And basically, we just charge I guess a thousand more for this higher pass. The only difference is you get DVDs of the sessions, not just streaming them, and so that it totally worked and we totally start selling more of what used to be our highest passes contrary to a lot of the experts just showing you 3 choices, and I never expected to sell the very top new pass, but now that sells too. So that first time that happened, we were thinking like oh crap, now we have to make DVDs. We figured now we would buy that one.
Clay: Yeah, like this is the decoy offer.
Clay: You’re not supposed to get this one. Oh, that’s really funny.
Shawn: And people get excited about the DVDs and will spend a thousand dollars for these DVDs because otherwise, you can’t buy them anywhere.
Clay: Yeah. So I guess the lesson there is that if you have 3 choices, it sounds like just sort of our human conditioning and human psychology says get the middle one. You know, the low one is too low. That’s just networking and some key notes in the exhibit hall, and the top one is, you know, I’m not the kind of person that flies first class so I’m not going to get this top one, I’m going to get the middle one. But by creating a fourth tier, you’ve then made the third tier more acceptable and people started buying that, and then, all the people that usually fly first class I guess are going to get the expensive one probably in some cases just for the badge and just for the recognition and just for, you know, some of the small perks that come with that, and then of course, the DVDs.
Shawn: Yeah, you’ll give them some little stuff like you get to have like priority check and you get to get your own line almost like a first class kind of experience.
Clay: Oh cool.
Shawn: It matters to some people to be seen in that line if they have that kind of vanity, but you also like – You’re saying like a lot of people like to pick that middle choice, and now the one that we really want to sell is the middle choice, and part inspiration for that was going through the process at Dell and buying computer where a lot of times, they’ll have a 3 or 4 choices of computers that are preconfigured, and there’s always one that’s highlighted.
And so I was talking to some folks at Dell, and they’re saying the one they highlight is always by far the hugest seller over the other 2 or 3, and so, I go in a lot of the blog post I do and talking about a podcast and Twitter and Facebook. I’ll talk about all the reasons why you always should get the VIP pass over the other passes and why it’s so much more worthwhile, and in between having the higher tier and also just trying to really push, even sell them on this being the best pass for them to get, best thing for the book and everything, it’s really made a big difference in sales for it.
Clay: That’s awesome. That is so cool. That’s a great little tidbit. Is there also for the VIP people, isn’t there like one just get together where all the VI – where it’s like 100% VIP only?
Shawn: We don’t have that, but they – Both the VIP and the all access people are the only ones that get meals.
Shawn: They get a breakfast and lunch on Monday and Tuesday, and then we have a snack break for a couple hours on the Sunday. And a lot of people, they don’t want to miss out in this networking so I’ll upgrade to that pass just for the networking…
Clay: Oh cool.
Shawn: …and also – So you’ll get all 3 days of sessions plus the food and that networking opportunity that people just don’t want to miss because they don’t want to sit in Starbucks and have a muffin when they’re missing out on the thousand people who are sitting in this dining room.
Clay: Sure, sure. And the thousand people in that dining room are going to be highly qualified because they bought either, you know, the third tier or the fourth tier pass. So they’re obviously players and have the money to expand on something like that. So yeah, that seems like that would make sense.
Shawn: Yeah. Like if you see an affiliate that’s in the dining room there, and they got that VIP pass like obviously, they’re making money. They’re going to spend on that pass, but…
Shawn: Yeah, and that’s actually to – One thing I just want to mention, one more thing is with those passes, we base on our feedback. I don’t know if you ever had the frustration, some conferences where they have a pass that’s fortunately the size of a business card, and you can’t read it unless you’re a foot away. So we got that where people were saying that they’re really annoyed because they had to get so close to somebody to see their pass on them, their badge, and so we started making it rather large so that the first name you can see it from like 30 feet away if you have a 20/20 vision, and then we start adding different dynamics to it. This most recent show in Austin, we added instead of like a lot of times, there’ll be a scanner that an exhibitor can run for instance – I forget what it cost, but it’s some money, hundreds, thousand dollars, whatever. So we started putting a QR code on there so people are just going to use their phone for free to scan people when they pass by, and that democratized, so any attendee can also scan a fellow attendees code instead of having to take their business card or write something down.
Shawn: But also, in addition to making them bigger and making their name bigger, we started color coding them. So for the 4 different types of attendees, so like an affiliate’s red, and the merchant is blue, and the network is green. So you can see across the room like that’s an affiliate. So if that’s the kind of attendee you’re trying to find so it just makes it easier to pre-qualify people from a distance.
Clay: Wow, that’s great. So you can see their name and classify them according to what category they fall into based on their name tag. So you’re really taking, you know, maybe classic user experience philosophy and stuff from the computer world and applying that towards things like name badges, which is really kind of cool.
Shawn: Yeah. All this stuff are just stuff that we encourage people to get feedback, and almost so many changes we make are based on that feedback, and a lot of people were so surprised when they – especially with the harsh criticism that Missy and I, we responded to this people in their feedback, and they can’t believe that I was like even reading it because I guess they just are accustomed to venting and then they never hear back from the companies so we it so seriously. It’s our baby here so we want to make the conference something they’re going to love so we want to change it…
Shawn: …especially if it’s something they hate, and people are – Sort of sadly, people are amazed to hear back from the owners of the company when they complain about it.
Clay: Have you ever had the experience of someone submitted a pretty harsh criticism, and you not only answered personally but in the next event, they see that you incorporated that feedback and it turns them from someone who’s upset to a raving fan?
Shawn: Yeah, absolutely. It happens time and time again, and we’ve won people back who’d had blog post or they had feedback directly to us that . . . miserable experience for that reason, and so addressed what their concern is and wooed them back, and all of a sudden, they become big cheerers for us.
Shawn: We’ve seen that happen over and over again because we’re just constantly trying to optimize it to make it a useful experience for them.
Clay: Wow. This has been a phenomenal interview Shawn. Thank you so much. I’m really grateful you’ve been very generous with your time. I’m honored that you accepted to do this interview. It’s an absolute privilege to have you here, and this content – I mean you’ve not only – You know, my experience in the past trying to interview people who run your type of event is, you know, constantly trying to market the event, and you’ve done none of that. All you’ve done is really share, but you know, that being said, I’d like to put a plug in for your event. I’ve gone it’s amazing. When’s the next one Shawn?
Shawn: So we’re going to be August 12th to the 14th in New York City.
Shawn: So it’s a flight for somebody east, and then, in January, I believe it’s – I don’t know. The date, I think, is January 13th to the 15th. We’ll be in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace there.
Shawn: And so that one registration I haven’t even opened yet, and they’re just about to close for New York. We’re going to close on that, so by the time people see this unfortunately, it might be sold out.
Clay: Okay. Cool. Well, I’m going to do my best to maybe get it posted very soon, next couple days here. So hopefully, it won’t be too late. If they want to go and check it out, see if spots are still available, where should they go?
Shawn: Please go to AffiliateSummit.com, and then we have a note there if it’s sold out or not, and then they can just check and see – We’ll just have details on it to check and see if – because there’s people, if they cancel – We encourage people to cancel at that point because we want to make sure we don’t have any no-shows when we put those passes back into the pot. And so, after we sell out, we send out a blast asking people to cancel if they’re definitely not going to make it, and the alternative there is sometimes, some passes do come back, sometimes they don’t, but otherwise, people starting back in our 2005 show, the first one in Vegas, we found that people started scalping them on E-bay, and so there’s a whole secondary market that we’re not involved with, and I’m just to service on the side back when I was in high school and college, I worked as ticket scalper to make end’s meet, so I sort of – I really enjoyed not only the buzz we get from that, but I encourage it. So I’m happy if people can make an extra buck on our passes. I’m all for it.
Clay: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Plus, you have the – You know, from a marketing angle, you have the bonus of saying hey, you know, this pass just went for $1500 on E-bay when it was original $200 or something like that, which is pretty great also.
Shawn: Yeah, people pay huge mark ups for it, and I’m happy to blog about that day and night to talk about how they’re getting scalped so I’m trying to train people the next time to buy earlier.
Clay: Cool, cool. I love it. This has been phenomenal content. Thank you so much Shawn.
Shawn: Thank you. Great to be here.
Clay: Great. It’s great to have you on. Take care.
Shawn: You too, bye.