Event Stories: Quality Conference Without Attendance Fee [Big Data Day LA]
Big Data Day LA or rather Data Con LA (as it has been rebranded recently) has been one of the biggest conferences of its kind in Southern California gathering over 1.5 thousand attendees. Speakers share their knowledge in various topics, mostly about Big Data, but the event evolves, broadening the main theme with newer technologies such as AI or Blockchain.
The conference came to life thanks to Subash D’Souza, Data Evangelist and organizer of Los Angeles Big Data Users Group and the Los Angeles Apache Spark Users Group. In his day job, Subash works for Warner Bros on their Data Intelligence team heading up the Big Data and DevSecOps platforms.
The idea: quality without a cost
The story behind the Big Data Day LA conference is quite unusual: the idea of organizing this event was to promote a conference of quality for all without the costs associated with it. – Most quality conferences cost several hundred to thousands of dollars. I believe that we could do the same for zero to a very low fee – says Subash. Over the last several years the organizers of Big Data Day held it completely free not even charging for the food or networking session. This year, there is added a small fee – according to Subash – to ensure that people who registered to the event will appear.
Subash D’Souza had no prior experience in organizing events of this scope, but he didn’t break the new ground. He had several meetups organized to his credit. It was a great advantage, as it established many valuable contacts, connections, and partnerships, but it was still a drop in the ocean. The first edition of Big Data Day was hosted in Subash’s workplace company (Shopzilla now known as Connexity) and brought only 250 attendees.
Big Data Day LA or Data Con LA?
The Big Data Day LA organizers have been keeping the trend of the topics over the years. But the change is a domain of development. That’s why the conference is focused on upcoming trends. – Big Data was the buzzword back then. Over the years, trends change and there is a lot of buzz behind newer technologies such as AI or Blockchain, that it made sense to evolve with the times – confirms Subash.
Although there has been built quite a movement around Big Data Day LA and brand of the event has made it so popular that people talk about it all the time, the organizers rebranded the Californian conference to Data Con LA (unveiled at the latest edition). They kept in mind that this way is much better than getting left behind by sticking strictly to one particular topic. The new name emphasizes the fact that the event is open to new trends and subjects and is going to evolve with the time. Yet the main theme – Big Data will still be a key component of the conference though. – We are still going to be data-centric just we won’t have Big Data as a title – adds Subash.
The crucial value: connections
The whole event goes alongside the great support and cooperation. Every year the conference is provided with the venue for free as a partnership. The venue is always the biggest cost, so it sounds like every event planner’s dream. Yet there are still matters that require financial contribution e. g. catering, which in case of Big Data Day LA is provided for years by the same caterer. The event has been held in different places so far. It always brings many unexpected issues, but every time there was a great hospitality and support, appreciated by Subash – This year’s host was no different in that regard. USC Marshall School of Business has been a fabulous partner and great event host for us – he claims.
As the Big Data Day LA has been free of charge since its beginning, the people play a really important part here. The whole work and effort put into organizing are based entirely on the help and support of volunteers. When asked what is he the most proud of, Subash replies – The camaraderie and the community support. Also, the coming together of all the volunteers to make this happen. This year over 250 volunteers contributed towards conference organization.
Every year there are awesome presentations of keynote speakers representing big brands such as Kaggle (a subsidiary of Google), Warner Bros or Netflix. Such great speaker line-up is possible thanks to wide network connections established by Subash.
In search of the challenges
Organizing the event of this scope is never a piece of cake. The biggest challenges Big Data Day LA conference faced were tied to its location varying with every next edition. According to Subash – there will always be unknowns that surprise organizers of events of this scale.
This year, the conference goes alongside a small fee to ensure peoples’ attendance. – One of the things I realized over the years was that we have a lot of people sign up but only about 50% showed up – says Subash. It seems like a path of least resistance to handle the logistics of the event. To maintain the original idea of the free of charge conference and take care of regular supporters, the organizers wanted to make sure they didn’t forget about them, so they offered free attendance to early-signers.
The conference is promoted by taking advantage of mailing lists as well as social media involved by a very dedicated team. All the reach is fully organic, as the conference organizers don’t use paid marketing. Subash D’Souza and his team measure attendees’ satisfaction in a few ways. There is a conference application employed during the event [full disclosure – Big Data LA is our client], which offers a survey to fill out during or after the show. There’s also a possibility to grade particular speakers and their presentations in the app. What’s more, the people in charge of Big Data Day LA attach big importance to word-of-mouth feedback to make the following edition the best possible.
Look into the future
Subash believes that by the change of name the conference is evolving to handle future changes in technology. Having started last year, the event is enriched with Startup Showcase. A part of the Big Data Day LA themed every year (this year towards the Media & Entertainment Industry) serves as a way for the community to rally around new and innovative ideas. – We had a great response last time so we decided to continue the idea – admits Subash.