After 2 gloomy posts and one year late… here is the budget for the Agile Spain Conference 2015, the CAS 2015. You can comment on the 9 (!) pages of the budget if you have any doubts not covered by this long (awaited?) blog post.
The big numbers are:
- 722 attendees
- 117.227€ earnings (141.005€ with the value added tax, VAT for short)
- 96.386€ spent (110.869€ VAT)
- 20.841€ in profits
First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, why a non-profit event ended with 20k euros in benefits, 14k something after taxes… the quick explanation is because we didn’t expect to turn a profit until 2 weeks before the event.
In fact, we were pretty sure the event was going to be a small disaster in attendance compared to previous events. In part because of this:
About 5 weeks before the event we had sold 276 tickets, way less than half of the final head count.
The place we had booked, although expensive, offered us the opportunity to cancel the main theater (for 450 people) one month and a half before the event and bring down the cost to almost a half (20.000€ instead 37.000€). In October we voted in favour of using the theater, even when it was a quite risky bet because we couldn’t pay for it at that moment.
Two weeks before the event it was clear that we could afford it and the budget was estimating a small profit of 2.000€. About that time we closed the ticket sale because we were almost full and near the theater max capacity.
On how we sold tickets we didn’t want to sell
And we received many furious emails (some nice ones too) demanding us to sell more tickets. Some were sponsors that forgot to buy all the tickets they needed, some even told us that they would retire their sponsorship (and the money) if we didn’t sell them the tickets they demanded. Other were emails of people with hotel bookings and travel already paid but slow company processes that hadn’t got around to buying the conference ticket yet. We answered No to a few and conceded in the majority.
That was a rookie mistake (among many) and the conference experience suffered a lot for it. We had long queues in the register, too many people in the lunch hall and we had to organize a last-minute (in fact prepared the previous day) streaming to another room to accommodate people that couldn’t enter the main theater.
I’m the main one to blame, I found really hard to say no even when I did lots of times. People calling personal phones demanding a ticket definitely didn’t help.
We ran of swagger because of the amount of people. We grossly under estimated how much time we would spent filling the merchandising bag. 7xx bags, close to 20 sponsors with gifts, just 5 people (the volunteers couldn’t come until the day of the conference) -> 1 full day filling bags. Trying to organize the register at 23:00 PM after 15 hours of moving stuff. And sleeping 2 hours because we had 100+ emails in the inbox with doubts and questions received that same day. All those things were affected by the sheer size of the conference.
When we were aware of the profit we didn’t have time to spend it. We were busy tying loose ends.
I can talk about the mistakes I made all day and also try to justify myself about the decisions I voted against and they ended happening anyway…
But let’s talk numbers… it is way more interesting :)
A table with our main sources of income. Basically tickets because transfers are special tickets discounted for companies buying in bulk and individuals who couldn’t pay with credit card.
This CAS was the one with more sponsors and really crazy amounts, the most expensive sponsorship was 10.000€ (!).
I still feel ashamed about how little value we gave back to the sponsors for such crazy amounts of money, specially to Deiser who, understandably felt a bit cheated about some conditions of the sponsorship (we had several discussions with the venue about it).
The rest of the money came from tickets, with a mean ticket of 165€ (136 without VAT).
I do understand that people felt that it was expensive. All my decisions tried to lower that amount, voting in favor of a free venue (more about it later), against the high price of the last minute tickets (although I’m in favour of them now, maybe I’ll explain it in another post, because they force people to buy the normal tickets earlier). Other past CAS had a mean ticket 10-15 euros lower.
So, basically the main costs, in the venue is included also what we spent on WiFi, 3k€ (huge disaster) and in the food section is included the sponsorship dinner (1.300€).
We also spent less than 1.000€ in things we didn’t budget for, another 600€ on recording and 3.000€ in returning back tickets (don’t allow it).
So let’s see the main costs:
We decided against using a university (we had one in backup if we didn’t find a place) because of the type of space but mainly because we wanted to organize a more serious event. I voted in favour of universities. Democracy is overrated :P
Finding a venue (or an affordable one) was, by far, the most stressful and difficult task we tackled. We spent 3 months visiting places and sending emails. I can share the excel with the list of places we queried, 29!.
We found that there are a lot of places (and free ones) for conferences of 300 people. There aren’t good, cheap places for 300+ people in Madrid. If you know one, please send it to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We didn’t have any kind of support from the local government and we contacted them several times. In the last contact they offered us a free local guide, a travel card and some discounts. But what we desperately needed was help renting IFEMA, Matadero or other local public places (either too expensive, small…). But we are small and one of the thousand conferences organized in Madrid every year, so I understand the disinterest.
I can’t stress enough how difficult was finding a place for 300+. In the end we queried several universities (I know some of you are thinking of the codemotion site) and all of them (apart from the backup for 300 we had) didn’t want to do it or could not.
In the final candidates (from 29 places!) we had one hotel, far from the city center, the COAM, great place but really expensive and another hotel close to the city center but that forced us to pick their expensive catering and it wasn’t even finished (that’s why it was cheap, because we were their first customers after the renovation).
Out of pure desperation I contacted again several venues that didn’t answer out first calls and emails and one of them was the “Círculo de Bellas Artes”, CBA.
We visited it several times and immediately found that the space wasn’t ideal (too many stairs!) but it was the cheaper one (YEAH, REALLY, 30.000€ for 2 days) and offered us a flexible rent option and it didn’t lock us to only one (usually really expensive) catering option as almost all the hotels.
If we didn’t have the money or the attendees we could rent only some rooms (20.000€) and discard the main theater. So we went for it, although we knew it wasn’t ideal.
We didn’t had many more, viable, options. Again if you know a place for 400+ people, let me know!
So the place ended costing (with a WiFi company apart from the venue network) 40% of the budget.
It’s too much, definitely too much. I prefer a cheaper place (but which one?) and spend more on experience, speakers and cheaper tickets.
On the plus side, choosing the CBA meant we could choose whatever catering company we wanted. We contacted several and found one that was really cheap.
I think we did well and, apart from space problems due to tickets (see On how we sold tickets we didn’t want to sell), the food was great, specially lunch.
I also can’t stress enough how cheap the catering was. Those 38.786€ are including the sponsors dinner and water for all the conference. 25€ euros per attendee/day it’s a steal for a catering in Madrid (or Valladolid for that matter). Those 25€ include 2 coffee times and lunch.
I’ve (badly) organized several events for 100+ people and usually one coffee time costs between 4 and 8 euros per attendee.
I’ve discussed this so many times I found the topic tiring. Yes, I know 1 coffee costs around 1 euro in your local cafeteria where they have a coffee machine close, and someone working in his normal work day. Hiring catering for an event means that someone has to come (€) to your place, outside their normal work hours (€) and bring all the equipment (€) and sugar, mugs and spoons (€) and serve you coffee. So 6 euros is reasonable for Madrid.
So 6+6, leaving 13??? euros for lunch. We’ve paid 9€ for a lunch consisting off sandwiches in a catering in Valladolid!!!.
So with the catering we managed to compensate some of the cost of the venue. A normal catering prize could have been 30-32 euros per person and day, so we saved 10.000 euros (and we spent them on the venue).
We didn’t had a lot of money for contacting international speakers and the names you know are more expensive than you think. It was also late (february-march for a conference in december) for contacting them anyway. Kent Beck or similar have their years planned the previous year.
So 15.000€ for a talk by Robert C. Martin (+travel+food…). Think about it :)
We spent only about 1.500€ euros in keynotes (!) and 2.000€ in gifts for all the speakers.
We were cheap and I would have spent more money here. Money we didn’t have until 2 weeks before the event :’(
The cost of the keynotes, travels, hotel and the 2.000€ in amazon gifts for the speakers amounted to just 4% of the total budget.
We spent 4.763€ in decoration. That includes all the stuff hanging of the ceiling in all rooms, in the front wall of the building… it’s a bit much for me, I prefer content over form.
It was 5% of the budget.
Swagger & equipment
And we spent 5.081€ in swagger, free gifts for the attendees, t-shirts, pens, agendas and also apple adapters (why did we budget it here?).
It wasn’t much, about 5-6 euros per attendee, including t-shirts that are usually around 2-3 euros. It was crazy negotiating with the companies and dealing with the mistrust. First they told us it was ok paying them after the event, then most of them set absurd deadlines before manufacturing the stuff…
The global equipment we bought formed the seed of some common inventory we know have available in Agile Spain for conferences and that we are sending every 6 months to the AOS and CAS conferences.
We were quite lucky choosing the place and the catering company because both allowed us to pay after the event. Usually ticketing companies pay the amount earned by the tickets sale after the event, to eliminate fraud or to avoid dealing with returns.
The event was organized under the umbrella of the spanish agile association, Agile Spain, and provided us of some accounting infrastructure, someone creating invoices (me, like 300 of them) and we had some money on the association bank account, 30.000€.
I advise against organizing an event with a budget of 110.000€ and only 30.000€ in the bank account. It’s completely crazy.
This time it went well but if we didn’t manage to sell those tickets, the organizers would had to pay all those debts, and at the same time we would have destroyed Agile Spain.
I let you think how can you sleep in august, with contracts amounting to 70.000€ and one hundred tickets sold. And being the person responsible for the budget. Not fun at all.
Document of usual doubts
At least, I learned a lot from organizing this event. To contribute something to the community, I’ve created a FAQ document with the common doubts when organizing an event under the Agile Spain umbrella… it covers how to do a reasonable budget, the social media accounts or the usual sponsors.
Should I make it public? (after stripping the passwords and other sensible information of course).
Things to talk future
Ok… long post. There are some things I haven’t covered that are related to the event but not the budget. Things like…
- Ticket sales. What are those weird spikes in sales? How does the price affect the sale?
- Support. I answered emails in 800 threads… what were the usual doubts? why did we have to spend so much time answering emails?
Right now, there are many things I would do differently, but, hey, I’ve learned something :D
Where did the money went?
So the organizers didn’t earn a dime, the profits went directly to the bank account of Agile Spain. Some went to taxes (because associations have to pay for the profits they turn each year) and a huge amount went to pay the yearly expenses and services of the association, among others:
- Accountant firm to help fill all those VAT forms (more than 5.000€ a year)
- Hosting and domains (about 600€)
- Bank account fees (about 300€)
The CAS is the only way Agile Spain can earn money to keep paying the bills and the accountant firm that serves all the events organized under the umbrella of Agile Spain. I have not checked what it remained on the bank account but I suppose it was around 8k€.
Please, comment on the budget