Building a platform to simplify the job of conference organizers

When: 2014-2018
My role: Co-founder & Design Lead
The team: Our CTO and Product Lead

I had been to several conferences for school and work and felt that I was never able to make the most of my experience. I always left feeling that I didn’t meet someone I should have or didn’t go to a talk I would have enjoyed. With every passing conference, I decided to scratch my own itch. What started as a side project turned into me starting my own company. I’ve played all sorts of roles–from design to marketing and sales, and yes, even accounting and customer success.

Design sprints were central to all the work we did at SlidesUp, allowing us to perform rapid experiments and evaluate our ideas. We killed some weak ideas quickly and set our direction with successful ones a few months at a time.

Understanding Conference Organizers Through a Research Sprint

Our assumption was that any product we’d create would be paid for by conference organizers. Having had little experience running events myself, I set out to do a research sprint to better understand conference organizers. In all, I did six interviews:

Who I interviewed to better understand conference organizers

Through the interviews, I understood their mindset better, saw some of the work they did & tools they used, and what motivated them. Here’s a sample of what I heard:

Highlights from organizers I spoke to

How Might We Identify Their Most Nagging Problems

One technique used in design sprints is reframing problems you hear as “How Might We” questions. This forces you to look for opportunities without jumping to solution mode.

How-Might-We questions that could lead to opportunities for design

As a team, we were able to decide which opportunities would be worth exploring.

Pivoting to Organizer-Centric Features

Each time we set out to experiment with features targeting attendees, we felt confident something would stick. In our tests, attendees responded positively to a number of ideas.

Here were a few ideas we tested during design sprints:

In trying to find a few early customers, we found it difficult to get organizers excited. That’s when we realized there were plenty of problems organizers faced and that we might be able to focus on solving their problems first. That would build adoption around the SlidesUp platform, and we might be able to revisit attendee features later.

With our sprint around organizer tools to build an agenda and promote their speakers, we finally were able to sell the product (that hadn’t even been built yet!).

Organizer prototype to manage speakers

This prototype showed organizers that they could:

  • manage their speaker pipeline
  • have contextual information about each speaker depending on their stage in the pipeline
  • quickly get the information they need to publish their agenda

And publishing an agenda early meant they could sell tickets faster. That got our testers excited.

We found more universal problems organizers faced and used rapid prototyping to validate that they would pay for organizer-centric features (e.g. managing budgets, vendor contracts, and staff schedules).

With SlidesUp, I gained experience not only sharpening my design skills but also in listening and building for customers.

  • I used a new generation of prototyping tools to quickly evaluate our ideas and get customers excited about future features.
  • Getting feedback earlier on our product from paying customers was more valuable than hypothesizing and trying to perfect features for a launch.
  • Building a product is much like crafting the best Pixar movie. Finding a real problem that you can solve (i.e. the storyboard) first is critical before building and scaling the product (i.e. throwing the movie into production with hundreds of animators and artists).