Conference Time

I don’t get to travel to many conferences much these days. When I was helping run 360Conferences, we were always going to them because we were running them. 🙂 However, I find myself traveling less nowadays. April will be the exception though, I’ll be going to 3 conferences that I’m sure will be great!

First off, there is DevConnect, a conference dedicated to the future of the web: video and mobile. This one day show will take place on April 2 in NYC. I’m slowly becoming a pure mobile convert. Other than programming and blogging, everything I do on a computer I do on my iPhone. My iPhone is not only my primary internet connection, but it’s also my primary camera (for stills and videos). All of this points me to the fact that mobile is the future and desktop will be for the few heavy lifting tasks we rarely do. I’ll even go out on a limb and say someday, I’ll probably blog and program on my mobile device even.

Continue reading “Conference Time”

Finding Your Niche Via What Makes You Happy

I’m amazed by people who have a singular passion. In addition, I’m in awe with those that have many passions, but the will power to focus on just one to the point of major success.  I fit in neither of those two categories.

My curse is I work hard to be just “good enough” in one passion, then move on to another.  By “good enough”, I mean good enough for me.  I’ll take a rare indulgence here (take a picture, it’ll last longer) and say that my “good enough” is better than some people’s “best”.  I take this odd (for me) stance for a good reason, and it’s not just to stroke my ego.

Mankind has a strange habit of staying with something that is comfortable, regardless of passion or happiness.  I know people (myself included) who stayed at a job because it was easy and comfortable, long after the passion and happiness were gone.  These people are giving their “best” but without passion or happiness.  Therefore, when I enter the same space with passion and happiness, I can attain more in a shorter time merely because the passion will help push me further. Continue reading “Finding Your Niche Via What Makes You Happy”

Leaving the Valley, Geeks and Workday for the Desert, Family and my Startup

Yup, you read that right.  It’s been a wonderful 3+ years in Silicon Valley, but it’s time to head to the desert of Queen Creek, Arizona.  I jump started my career here.  It’s funny to say that because I moved here when I was 30!  But these past 3 years did more for my professional life than my previous 12 years of working in Southern California.

There are two reasons I’m moving.  One is sappy and is detailed on this post over on my spiritual blog.

The other is related to my day-to-day activities.  In these tough economic times, I feel lucky and sad at the same time.  Some out there do not have a job or are stuck in a deadend job.  I, on the other hand, have two great opportunities in my life.

The first is my employer for the past year and a half, Workday.  Many people come to the Valley in search of that great startup to join.  Workday definitely fits the bill.  The people are incredibly talented and the work is some of the most challenging out there.  My team is one of the best I’ve ever worked for.  (If you want to join the Workday UI team, drop me a note and your resume/cv at Continue reading “Leaving the Valley, Geeks and Workday for the Desert, Family and my Startup”

Birthday Thoughts: Resource Utilization

The phrase “Resource Utilization” has so many meanings in my life currently, that I have no idea where to start.

At Workday, I (relatively) recently got a new manager, Charlie Boyle.  One of his strengths is definitely resource utlization.  Every manager has their own style and no style is right or wrong.  However, Charlie has brought some great plans to the team.  He’s brought on some processes and tools that make our lives as developers more productive. I don’t think we as a team work any less harder, but we’re definitely working a lot smarter due to the resource management.

My Silicon Valley Flex User Group (silvafug) is sorting being revamped as I write this.  At our most recent meeting, several of us got together to discuss how to better the user group in a variety of ways.  After Wednesday’s meeting, we’ll likely be officially announcing the launch of Silvafug South (and by default, Silvafug North).  There are a lot of great people in the user group with great ideas on how to make it better for everyone.  I look forward to working with them. Continue reading “Birthday Thoughts: Resource Utilization”

Help me teach you Flex!

John posed a question to me the other day: What’s important to you?  I’ll leave out the obvious answers: wife, two kids, and church.  He was asking more in relation to business and in particular, our business: 360|Conferences.  So I was noodling on an answer for him.

Saturday morning, I finally caught up on a thread on an internal Flex list.  The list was about a fairly common problem we have in the Flex world.  There seems to be a nefarious void that people learning Flex tend to fall into.  One where they’re beyond “This is a file.  This a tag, made up of brackets and text in between them.” and below “I just rewrote the AdvancedDataGrid component to run 50% faster.”  I have feelings in regards to how to help folks cross that void, so I started noodling a response to the thread.

Then it dawned on me, my two noodles were of the same type: helping folks grow and learn. Continue reading “Help me teach you Flex!”

What kinda person is Tom Ortega?

I was chatting with Brendan the other day. He asked what kind of person am I to attempt to carry a full time job, put on conferences on the side, manage a successful user group, write articles for the Edge and Adobe Development Center, be a good husband, be a good father of two, and be a good cub scout den leader.

This got me to thinking. Most people only know the Northern California Tom Ortega. Prior to my move to the Silicon Valley, my list of activities were quite different. In Southern California, my plate consisted of holding a full time job, being a good hubbie, being a dad of one and a whole lot of commuting. I didn’t blog, didn’t really participate in any tech community and flitted from one business idea to the next with none taking shape or form. Continue reading “What kinda person is Tom Ortega?”

360Flex Atlanta Contest and Conference

360|Flex Atlanta is almost upon us. This will be the third installment of our little conference. John and I have been crazy busy, working to get things done. John has actually been carrying my slack this time around! (Thanks, partner, I owe you!)

One of the things that’s very exciting to us though is that we have an API Contest this time. eBay, Ribbit and Degrafa have all joined our API contest. Make a widget and win yourself a Wii, PlayStation 3 or XBox 360. This is in addition to the wonderful prizes that they will also be giving away in their own contests! Make 1 Flex app and win 2 possible prizes. If I wasn’t running the show, I’d be making an entry for all 3! 🙂

Sunday, February 24th, will see the kickoff of the conference. We will have an all day Flex 101 session to get new comers up to speed on Flex before the show begins. The guys from Digital Primates are teaching the class AND buying you lunch. If you do go, be sure to offer them a huge thank you for their generosity.

Monday, February 25th, will be the kickoff of the Conference. Matt Chotin will be delivering our keynote, talking about the soap opera, err, I mean development of Flex 3. 🙂 I’m looking forward to this, though I will likely miss it as I’ll still be welcoming attendees. Sorry, Matt, customers first!

I’d go over every session of the show, but it’s easier if you just check it out for yourself.

In case you’re wondering what’s in store for the conference, let me give you a quick rundown:

Hundreds of attendees

30+ Sessions/Speakers

4 Days of conference

3 Contest prizes to win

3 Parties

2 Keynotes

2 Caring hosts

1-gig Thumb drive

1 Free Hands-on Preconfernce Training

1 kickin’ conference

Plus, you’ll get some conference goodies, grub, drinks and even a few articles of clothing.

And you get all that for a mere $480. If you’re serious about Flex, then you need to come. See you there!

The concept of Tiny Business (i.e. smaller than Small Business)

Business is changing. We’ve been hearing this for quite sometime now. As a whole though, business really hasn’t changed much. You still have massive companies, with many different layers. Even Small Businesses tend not to be very “small”. I think I’d like to coin a new term, if I may be so bold: the Tiny Business.

By tiny, I’m referring to employee count vs company reach. My business partner John Wilker and I put on tech shows for 300 to 400 attendees under the tiny company known as 360Conferences. We’ve done two so far and two more are in the works. Running a tiny business is hard, very hard. I’m sure all tinies have it hard, but what adds pressure to ours are two things: Part-time and Industy Transformation.

First, I’ll talk about the Part Time aspect. John and I have full time jobs as developers. I work at Workday and really enjoy my job. Last week was an incredibly busy time for the UI team. It was so busy that not much time went to 360Conferences. As the dust settled on the Workday front, the work for the 360|Flex Atlanta show picked up steam. I mentioned to John, “I never realize how much we do for 360Conferences while we do it. When we’re in tune with work and family, things get done at an amazing pace. However, jumping back in after a week off, it seems overwhelming.”

At first, I thought I was being a bit over dramatic. My wife says I’m full of “drama” and she’s probably right. However, I was thinking there was some merit to my feelings and received some validation in Atlanta. Ang’elle, the gal helping us out at the OMNI Hotel, was about 3/4 of the way through our onsite visit before she asked the following: “Now, are you guys a 3rd party planning company? Someone’s hiring your company to do this show, right?” We told her no and explained that we put on 360|Flex for developers. We tell her it’s not an Adobe conference. “They support us, but it’s not an Adobe show per se.” She followed up with, “Well, how big is your company? How many in your department?” John and I laughed, then explained we were the entire company. “The buck stops here…literally.” She ended with, “You’re kidding, right? I was thinking there was a whole army back home helping you do this event. Wow.”

Now, if John and I were just repeating a familiar formula of planning high-priced conferences, things may be simpler for us. We’d be taking a known pattern, adjusting it to fit our topic (Flex) and then be calling it a day. However, John and I also felt the need to throw another challenge into the mix, “Rather than just do a better conference for Flex, what if we changed the way conferences were done as a whole?” This is where the Industry Transformation aspect comes in.

To be a memorable and honest business, you have to be ready to take on an industry and change the playing field. Being a tiny company also helps play a roll in that. With it being only John and I, we can turn on a dime. We can come up with, discuss, hash out, re-argue and refine a point over night. We can then implement that new aspect the very next day as a concerted business effort. The effects of that power cannot be understated.

We’re not the first to enter into this foray of low-cost, developer-centric conferences. We’ve never claimed to be the first, but we would like to think that we’re one of the better ones out there. That’s the thing about trying to be a truly disruptive company vs. one that just talks about being one. You have to listen to your heart/gut as you destroy the business norm, but you still have to make sure the customers are happy. If no one likes what your disruption brings, then your disruption is more to feed your ego than it is to provide a better environment in the particular marketplace you serve.

It’s also incredibly lonely being a market disrupter. The old guard doesn’t like you, rightfully so since you’re killing their business. Being a tiny business doesn’t help either. I have John and my wife to fall back on when I get discouraged; no department, no manager and no Big Boss. John, the poor guy, then has to not only support the workload we share, his full time job, but also my floundering spirits. My wife, the poor gal, then has to deal with not only two growing toddlers, but a husband who then needs a little TLC. Both of them are amazing though and I’m usually back to high spirits soon enough thanks to their efforts. There’s one more source I can go to for support as well, and more often than not, I forget about them because I don’t see them when I get home and they’re not IMing me all day. However, this source plays just as big a role in the grand picture as my wife and my business partner. That third source is my customers.

Yes, MY customers. I work hard for them. I literally give my blood, sweat and tears for them. Sure, you can say every company does that, but let’s face it, the heart, the love, the passion are usually not there. Like I tell John, I wake up with customers on my mind and go to bed with them in my heart. Heck, I even include my customers in my prayers, “Heavenly Father, help me find better ways to serve my customers.”

I am proud of every single one of my customers. Whenever one buys a ticket, Eventbrite sends John and I an email. I see their names long before I see their faces. They maybe faceless for a little while but not for long. John and I greet every one of our customers at our shows. If you can’t welcome your own customers to your show, you shouldn’t be putting on a conference. Sorry. We hand greet all 300 to 400 of our attendees and sponsors. Nothing makes me smile more than when I say, “Hi, <insert customer name>. I’m Tom, welcome to 360|Flex.” and they do a double take. They look back at John then me, saying “THE John and Tom who planned the show?” To which, we answer, “That’s us.” The person gets a smile and you can tell that you have made them feel special. We’re not super stars, but we can make our customers feel like they are the most important thing in the world to us. This is because, quite simply, they are.

We sent out a little note to past customers at 2am on Friday night/Saturday morning. We asked them to share the experience they had at our conference with others as we’re nearing the final 30 days of 360|Atlanta. By Saturday morning, we had a few email responses and blog posts. I have a feeling that we will continue to see the “love” be poured out by them over the next week or so.

I thank my wife and John all the time for their support. To my customers though, I wanted to send out a huge thanks. Not just for your monetary support, but for all the kind words (and constructive criticism) you send our way. I know John feels the same, but he’s just not as mushy as I am. I’m a softy though, and my customers help me feel the love.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of truly serving a customer of your own. You should definitely give it a try. Nothing beats the feeling, especially if you’re lucky enough (and humble enough, I’d say) to learn how to serve them correctly. That’s what business is about: Not money, but people. Sadly though, many businesses fail to remember that.

John and I aren’t perfect. Far from it. One thing you’ll notice at our shows is that we bicker like an old married couple. The reason for that is because while we cannot promise our customers perfection we can promise passion. We will do everything in our power to try to achieve the closest thing to perfection that you can get at a show. It’s not because of your money that we strive for perfection. It’s because you are a real person who deserves the best experience. Your money is merely a vehicle to help us achieve that goal. Too many businesses these days feel like their customers owe them something. I hope those businesses die off and let those who care take over. I have a feeling that the replacement companies will be Tiny Businesses: small in size, but big in reach.

Thoughts on Consolidation, Part 1: Adobe 3rd Party Tech conferences

As John can attest to, I see the world in business terms. One common past time of mine is looking at particular industries and seeing how close they are to saturation, whether it’s time for consolidation, and who will consolidate with whom. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on two industries: tech conferences and Flex (maybe RIA) consulting. This post tackles tech conferences. I’ll make a separate post for Flex consulting.

The tech conference market is way past saturation. I foresee a consolidation happening soon and let’s be honest, it’s long overdue. Particularly with these smaller, lower cost conferences winning rave reviews over bigger, more expensive ones. I’m not tooting my own horn, as we can take 360Conferences out of the picture and still see the same effect. For example, FOTB vs FlashForward plus the rise of BarCamp style events.

Post 360Flex San Jose, we were in talks with various companies about conferences. The thing that struck me as odd was a statement made by someone in the conference space. “Conferences are big money.” Price points aside, there’s a lot of money involved in conferences. Our last event in Seattle made more than a quarter of a million for the Red Lion Hotel alone and we’re a tiny show in the conference paradigm. The same individual noted to us that if your conferences get big enough, hotels will pay your company for each room booked at their facility, etc. We don’t plan to ever have a show that big, but it was an interesting point to know.

Once we smaller events start to take away enough customers from the Big Shows, they will react. Right now, we’re seen more as mosquitoes that are more pesky than anything. Eventually though, these individual sores will add up. When a substantial decrease in per show revenue starts to take shape, that’s when the Big Shows will strike.

Currently, they could hurt us by simply dropping their price point to match ours. This will take care of the biggest differentiator between us and put us in more heated competition. They wont’ do that just yet though for two reasons: profits and budgets.

Let’s tackle profit first. Let’s say we small guys give them a 10% hit in their numbers. 90% of their old numbers is still a lot of friggin’ money. You can just hear some middle manager somewhere saying, “Why are we going to walk away from a cash cow? No one really takes those small conferences seriously.” Silicon Graphics said the same thing about PCs running Windows NT and look what happened there. Money makes you comfortable and slow. It’s one of the curses of success that companies must constantly strive to avoid.

Next comes budgets. People are amazed that John and I alone put on the 360Flex conferences. Granted, we have some temps hand out surveys, but that’s it. Now, we don’t do all the work, of course. We have partners (web hosting, ticketing, etc.) and a creative agency (for fliers, signage, etc.). However, our conferences currently do not support any full time staff. Nobody gets paid to work on 360Flex for their day job. You look at these Big Shows and companies, they have dedicated event staff demanding full time salaries. Some even have event departments.

Yes, John and I wouldn’t mind being full time employees of 360Conferences. However, the employee count should stop there. We’re hoping to never need more than 2 employees, but I’m guessing we’ll likely bring on board 1 more person in the future. (If for nothing else, to be the tie-breaker.) We will never have an office that we pay rent on. Nor will we ever have middle management or even peons. No work is below us and if it takes too much time to do, then we’ll find a partner to do it for us. For these factors alone, we’ll be able to out budget a majority of these high priced conferences. We need less, so we can charge less.

Therefore, as you can see, the Big Shows won’t be able to compete on our terms anytime soon so that leaves: mergers and acquisitions.

I’ll be honest. I think a lot on merging. I scan the landscape of just Flex/CF conferences and imagine consolidation to make it easier on attendees, speakers and even sponsors. For goodness sakes, there are 4 events between February and June of 2008 that serve the Flex/CF technologies: 360Flex in February, cf.Objective() in early May, WebManiacs in late May and CFUnited in late June. The crazy thing about the last two are that they are a month apart in the same city, Washington DC!

I thought about merging with Jared. We could easily rename CF.Objective() to 360CF or something of the sorts. It would be a good fit because it would give us a mid-US presence and he’s a low cost small conference as well. However, he’s dabbling in Flex so it’s not a straight CF show anymore. Plus, he’s growing exponentially so there’s no need for him to merge with us.

I also chatted with John about approaching Fig Leaf to merge with what was at the time FlexManiacs. Let’s face it. Fig Leaf is probably more interested in the training business their show funnels their way then they are about the show itself. Therefore, they should just shut down their show and become the premiere sponsor of our 360Flex East Coast shows. This will save them the time and hassle of trying to do their own show, but still drive whatever training business they want their way. However, they became WebManiacs so now that deal doesn’t make much sense. Plus, going up against CFUnited on CFU’s hometurf is suicidal.

CFUnited is tough to get a bearing around. It makes no sense for us to merge with them, because their an old skool Big Show type conference. At twice the price of the other shows mentioned, they aren’t shooting to compete with us. They do have their CFUnited Expresses though that is their approach to low cost conferences. If you’ve been to one of those Expresses, drop a comment and let me know your thoughts on them.

The way I see it going down now is WebManiacs dying off and CFU winning the DC front. CF.O chipping away at CFU and 360Flex trumping CFU’s play for the Flex attendees. CFU will then have to react to us, but I just don’t see how yet. If you care to speculate, drop a comment.

That’s just the Feb to June timeframe stateside events. 360Flex and CFU are both headed oversees this year. One conference on the other side of the pond that John and I are going to attend is Flash on the Beach. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about this show and how it’s ran. Hopefully, while we’re there, we can chat it up with John Davey. The refreshing thing is that he started FOTB for the same reason we started 360Flex: to fill a void. He’s in it for the community as are we, so it’ll be great to see what we can learn from each other. Davey competes against FlashForward, another of the Big Shows. While FF has its following, a lot of folks have said that it’s been going down for the past few years. Lynda is still probably licking her wounds from the failed DX3 fiasco, but it’ll be interesting to see how they react to FOTB. Like I said though, FF is a Lynda Event production which means to me there’s a bunch of staff sucking up budget money.

Well, that’s my thoughts. Remember, they’re just that: thoughts. No merger talks ever took place. No consolidations are going down (that I know of). However, if you agree (or disagree) express yourself in the comments. I look forward to the dialog.

Changes are afoot at 360Flex

First off, if you’ve gone to a 360Flex event or plan to someday, go answer this three question survey:

The responses to that survey may fundamentally change the 360Flex Conference.

Business is so interesting. I didn’t graduate from Business School, so maybe they teach you a lot of this stuff there. However, I have read 200+ books on business in the 14+ years that I’ve been a part of the business community and very few books actually captured the essence of business life.

The beauty of business is it’s role. A business is there to serve it’s customers. Do a good job, you get to stick around. Do a bad job and you’re out. I think 360Conferences is doing a good job, but John and I are always looking for ways to improve. Over the past few days, some folks have made some remarks about the amount of money we spend on food at our conferences. They suggested that money would be better spent paying travel expenses for speakers rather than lining the hotel’s catering pocket.

John and I feel that food is a major part of the conference. We think it helps build the community. (You can find our full thoughts on our company blog.) Some of our customers have already stated they feel the same. If only there was a way to ask everyone else, to get a consensus. Well, guess what? There is. With the internet, a business can not only talk to all of its past and current customers, but also to all its future customers.

What John and I think is not important. We’re just facilitators for our customers: attendees, speakers and sponsors. If we’re wrong, then we must change. Just because we think something is cute or needed, doesn’t mean it is. Just because we think something is right, doesn’t mean it is. Our customers are the only ones that know what’s right. John and I are hear to make sure we do what’s right.

So far, we’ve had two conferences. With that, over $180,000 of our customers hard-earned cash has passed through our hands. 360 attendees came to eBay’s beautiful campus for 3 days. Another 360 spent 3 days with us in the Emerald City. Over 60 sessions have been given and countless knowledge has been shared. Many people have landed a “dream” Flex job or picked up some contracting work. Most importantly though, friendships have been made. Good times have been shared.

$180,000 may not seem like a lot of money to a big corporation. It’s a lot of money to me though. If it was $180, it would be a lot of money to me. Every dollar given in business is an honor that has to be earned. Each dollar comes with trust and deserves to be spent as wisely and efficiently as possible.

Now, if our customers decide to drop food for speaker fees, that’s fine. However, one person remarked after reading our cost breakdown post, “$80 per visitor per day for food? Wow, I must say I’m speechless. That must have been some orgy.” Now, I take great personal offense to that statement. To say that I would take our cutomers hard earned money and throw an “orgy” hurts. The reality is this: Each person was $59 dollars a day for breakfast, lunch and breaks. Plus, each water and or soda was an additional $5. Monday night BBQ was $25 per person. That is standard hotel pricing for food. “Why not use an outside caterer?” You can’t. “Why not order cheaper food?” That was darn near the cheapest. I wish hotels were cheaper, but they’re not. However, our customers said, “Move to one central location, like a hotel.” We did, and it was certainly not to have an “orgy”.

I stress over every dollar. John lets me handle the books. I let him handle me. I probably have the better deal. We are in debt from the last two shows. It’s only about $15K, but that’s $15K that we owe to the bank and we have to make good on it. This is why it’s important to us to get profitable. Unlike other conferences, we don’t have a corporate backing. No one writes off our losses as marketing for their training business, product business or consulting business. We’re just 2 developers looking to grow the community. Hopefully, we can continue to grow it for many years to come.

So once again, if you’ve gone to a 360Flex event or plan to someday, go answer this three question survey:

It’s only 3 questions to you, but it’s worth quiet a bit more to me.



P.S. The live results of the survey can be found here:


If you blog, please post the survey and/or the results link on your blog too.  We need as much feed back as necessary.