“Logistics always is the biggest challenge” – an interview with the organizer of the Mobile Trends Conference
When the Mobile Trends Conference was launched back in 2012, it was one of the first events of its kind in East Central Europe, and its organizers haven’t had much experience when it comes to such ventures. Within seven years, the conference has grown four-fold.
In 2018 it attracted over 500 participants interested in the state and the future of the mobile industry. We discussed the early stages of the Mobile Trends Conference and its biggest organizational challenges with Robert Rachwał, the originator and organizer of MTC.
Event: Mobile Trends Conference and Awards
A conference mainly devoted to trends and marketing in the mobile channel, aimed at businessmen, marketers, managers, and all the companies that wish to implement their solutions in the channel. The conference is accompanied by the Mobile Trends Awards gala.
Location: Cracow, Poland
The person in charge: Robert Rachwał
For over 7 years now, the owner at ClickMaster Polska – a company specializing in developing dedicated mobile sites, responsive sites, and web apps. He’s worked with entities such as Fibaro, Hasco-Lek, Grupa Vive, Budmat, West Pomeranian Voivodeship, and The City of Szczecin. He’s the initiator and the main driver behind the Mobile Trends Conference, the initiator and the head of the Mobile Trends Awards contest jury, the editor-in-chief at MobileTrends.pl. Robert has developed one of Poland’s first reports on the mobile Internet and authored numerous industry articles. He’s co-created the myvod.io startup and owns several online stores. He’s passionate about the latest technologies and trends in the mobile industry.
What was organizing the first conference like? What was the most difficult part of it?
We had no prior experience in organizing events whatsoever. It was a rather spontaneous decision to organize a conference devoted to mobile technologies. Many adventures ensued, of course, we had to research the market and were pretty surprised as far as the public’s interest went. We had to reschedule the date. At first, we planned it for December but gave ourselves too little time to prepare and due to huge interest had to push it to January. Looking back, I consider the whole challenge and the first conference to be a success. It was a great adventure which sparked the series of Mobile Trends conferences.
How much time has passed between the spontaneous decision and the first Mobile Trends Conference actually taking place?
If I remember correctly, it was about two months. We said, alright, let’s organize a conference. It was supposed to be a small event, however, the organizational challenges, preparing the venue, inviting speakers, finding sponsors, etc., have proved to be way more time-consuming than we thought and as a result, we had to reschedule for next month.
How has the conference evolved throughout the years?
Every edition is a little different because we try to introduce new ideas every time. The biggest change has been in terms of the scope of topics and the duration. We started with a single day divided into two topic branches – one aimed at businesses and the other at developers, covering technical aspects of developing apps. The following editions were stretched in time and both branches took up different days. There was a moment when Mobile Trends lasted 3 days – we added a day covering marketing and inspirational topics, not necessarily related to mobile. Currently, we went back to our earlier assumptions, canceled tech-oriented speeches, and focus solely on the business side of mobile, marketing, and issues related to UX design.
There were years you organized two conferences [Mobile Trends for Marketers and Mobile Trends for Business]. Were these two events the same size?
These were a little smaller, auxiliary events held in May. I can say on record that this year we’re going to organize a special edition of Mobile Trends dedicated to the e-commerce industry.
I thought you ditched the idea of organizing additional conferences but it seems that’s not the case.
We were able to organize that extra event due to various coinciding circumstances, or conscious decisions to not go ahead with one in the given year. An extra show like that has both advantages and disadvantages to us because we’re a business dealing with a number of other things as well. On a regular day, we work on IT projects and web apps for various clients. That said, this year a decision was made that we’re going to organize an additional Mobile Trends event. It won’t take place in May, though, but sometime early fall.
What’s the purpose behind organizing conferences for a company whose core business is developing custom apps? Are you guys doing it for pleasure?
ClickMaster Polska was one of the very few companies in Poland that were creating mobile sites still using WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). This has sparked our interest in the mobile sector. We wanted to expand our expertise but it wasn’t possible in Poland. This has fueled the urge to organize a conference devoted to this very topic. We wanted to create space for exchanging ideas and experiences, grow a community around the topic. Although the company has taken a different direction and our core today is web apps, the interest in the mobile sector has remained, and Mobile Trends is another facet of our operations which we’re happy to explore each year.
One conference was taking place in February, the other in May. That’s very little time in between. How did you manage all this?
Indeed, organizing another conference two, three months after the first one is tough, because getting all the logistics right and finding the right speakers takes time. It’s always been a major challenge for us and that’s why the May editions of Mobile Trends have been smaller. This, among other things, has made us push this year’s installment to September, to have more time and set up everything properly.
What was the biggest challenge in organizing the latest edition of MTC?
A major challenge for us is finding the right venue for the conference. We have a vision of the event, know how many people we’d like to see attend it, how many speakers we need, how things should work out in general, and it sometimes appears that it’s not so easy to find the right spot that meets our requirements. The conference is accompanied by the Mobile Trends Awards gala, so this year we decided to split these two events and hold them in two different places. This called for special logistics on our end and a significant involvement of the people responsible for the gala in order to make things run smoothly. Essentially, we held two distinct events in two different places almost simultaneously, and each of these required special involvement and preparations at different stages.
You mentioned Mobile Trends Awards – are they restricted to the mobile industry?
Not at all. We don’t want them to be considered that way either. For the most part, we award companies that have decided to implement the application and not the ones that developed it. We want to make these businesses feel appreciated due to the fact that they offer a quality, well-developed app. While doing so, we drive the market as well. Obviously, we award developers too, but they receive distinctions. The main prize goes to the company that implemented the mobile solution.
You hand out awards in multiple categories, and the winners are often large international companies. Your website states: “for 7 years, this has been the most prestigious award, equivalent to an Oscar in the Polish mobile industry”. That’s some big words. How have you managed to get where you are now?
There are many factors involved. Most of all, the awards we’ve been giving out really do go to the best apps out there. The contest jury, which assesses the candidates, is comprised of independent experts, who have extensive knowledge and experience in this matter. That’s why the Mobile Trends Awards are considered to be very objective and nonpartisan. Another thing is that, as previously mentioned, these aren’t industry-to-industry only awards, but there’s a whole spectrum of businesses involved that decided to introduce mobile solutions. Our position can also be attributed to the prize awarded by online voters.
How do the challenges you faced during the first edition of MTC in 2012 differ from those in 2018?
One of the biggest changes is the scale of the event since the conference has grown 3-4 times throughout these years. During the first edition, we saw around 150 people, the biggest one attracted 550+ participants. Another issue is our experience – the first edition was set up with no prior professional understanding of the matter at hand. After 7 installments under the belt, we have a completely different approach in terms of organization, knowing what to expect and what problems to anticipate. All this experience now makes it way easier to arrange everything, however, it doesn’t mean that every new edition of Mobile Trends isn’t bringing in more surprises.
How big is the team organizing MTC each year? How much has it grown throughout the years?
Basically, there’s a core of three people, the originators, involved in setting things up – Edyta, Rafał, and myself. We’ve had friends helping and supporting us from the first edition. On top of that, the ClickMaster team is helping us out in terms of graphic design, website administration, registration system, etc. For a couple of editions now, we’ve been trying to include dedicated individuals working year-round on organizing the conference. Currently, there are 6-7 people involved in preparations and around 12-15 of us during the event itself.
Where do subcontractors come into play?
Obviously, we have to rent the venue, there’s catering, a presenter, a photo/videographer, however, the rest is mostly handled by ourselves. This includes marketing, PR, securing media sponsors. At times, we bring in someone from outside to support our advertising and marketing efforts. Still, we do that only occasionally and to a certain extent. Tech services are usually provided by the venue. We pay particular attention to high-speed and reliable Internet considering the profile of the conference. A mobile-related event with a chippy connection wouldn’t sit well with anyone involved.
Many of the surveys run with event organizers point to a stable Wi-Fi as one of the most crucial aspects, while being one of the most problematic ones as well. How has this worked out for you so far?
This facet has changed greatly across the years and indeed, some 5-6 years ago, good Wi-Fi was an absolute must and if there was any problem with it, it negatively affected the way the conference was perceived. A problem like that was immediately reported and we had to react swiftly. Considering the ease of Internet access these days, and large data transfer plans available for smartphones, the number of participants using Wi-Fi is shrinking. Still, we treat the issue seriously because there are situations when, as it was the case this year, it appeared at the very last moment that a speaker from Dublin won’t be able to come, so we set up a video conference. This called for certain Internet connection specs since we couldn’t afford to have any breakdowns or audiovisual lags.
How do you pinpoint and select your speakers?
There are two scenarios. Some of the speakers are hand-picked. We keep tabs on what certain outstanding individuals have been doing, people working at companies offering interesting products at the time that they can discuss in front of the audience. Another selection method is a call for papers – an open form people interested in speaking at our conference can fill out and submit. We ask them to describe themselves and the topic they’d like to cover at Mobile Trends. Then, we go through the submissions and select the most appealing ones. Some of the speakers coming through this channel are being voted in online. In the upcoming editions, a program board comprised mostly of the individuals making up the Mobile Trends Awards jury will also be involved in this selection process.
How do you promote the conference?
We’re using pretty conventional methods of promotion, that is AdWords and Facebook campaigns. On top of that, we’re trying to choose the right media partners. Thanks to the exposure they provide, we’re reaching new people. Personally, I reckon that the best way to promote Mobile Trends is through testimonials and recommendations by the very participants. Most of the people who come to Mobile Trends state in the post-survey that they’ve heard about the conference from their friends and that’s why they decided to join. The power of recommendations is huge, although we utilize other forms of promotion as well.
Do you measure the level of participant satisfaction, and if so, how?
Yes, we always do. The conference app [Mobile Trends is our client – editorial note] offers a survey which the participants fill out during or after the event. They also have the option to grade particular speakers and their presentations in the app. This helps us understand which topics and which speakers have met their expectations and draw conclusions for the next editions of Mobile Trends. Importantly for us, the survey provides an assessment of particular elements of the event and not just the overall grade. We ask the participants how they gauge access to information, communication with other participants prior to the conference, the program, the venue, and the catering services. All these aspects count, since the conference isn’t just about the lectures, but also about what’s happening after, the place it’s held at, and networking opportunities.
Which facet of MTC are you the most happy about as the organizer?
I’m pleased with the whole of it and the fact we’ve been here for many years now, and the conference still enjoys significant interest despite a growing competition in this niche.
Do you go to other conferences?
Yes, I’m trying to frequent the biggest, most interesting events. Obviously, there’s plenty of marketing and IT-related conferences, but each year, I choose a couple of them and go. Not only for substantive reasons, but also to observe how they’re organized and meet new people.
So are you more of an actual participant, or a watchful observer?
There’s no distinction between the two in my case. I try to get the most out of the lectures, but my other eye is that of a conference organizer.
What in your view is the crucial element of every conference?
There are several such elements in my opinion. The topic range and staying substantive place at the top. Then there are people who come to the conference, networking, and the overall vibe at the event.
Networking – is it more efficient at the conference, or the after party?
Both, however, a lot will depend on how the conference is set up and what networking opportunities it creates. I’ve been to conferences where the coffee break was 10 minutes long and there was no way to be able to chat with someone in a meaningful way and not be late to the next presentation. When it comes to the after party, again, a lot will depend on how it’s organized. It may happen that music will play so loud as to prevent any effective networking. There are multiple factors that determine whether there are good conditions for talking business. With that in mind, you can’t really say which networking opportunity is better, or more efficient. I reckon it’s a good idea to approach people both, during the conference and at the after party.
What is the Mobile Trends Conference to you, as the organizer?
It’s something I feel really connected to. Organizing a conference devoted to the mobile sector was our original idea born 7 years ago, back when there were no other events of this kind. It’s something that provides us with a lot of satisfaction and joy. Especially when we keep hearing praise from participants or receive thank you emails from our speakers, or congratulations for excellent organization. This is very uplifting and makes us want to continue doing this.
Do you aspire to expand and become a European event?
We first thought of expanding outside of Cracow. It would’ve been easier for us to attract people in Warsaw because that’s where the majority of our target audience currently is. The participants wouldn’t have to travel to Cracow, book accommodation, pay for transportation. That said, Mobile Trends have been linked to Cracow from the get-go and we decided we’d like it to keep it that way. Notice how even our logo relates to the city.
I suppose it’s a little early to ask (the 2018 edition was in March), but what are your plans for MTC in 2019?
As we work to launch the fall edition of the conference, we’re also preparing the next year’s installment of Mobile Trends. We already have some preliminary dates, we’re looking for a venue, browsing some new spots cropping up in Cracow, and I think that more and more details will start to appear soon. After the recap of Mobile Trends 2018, we have a basic vision of the next year’s edition. This is a year-round project, so we’re thinking about it all the time.
Can you lift the veil on some of these plans?
I can’t say anything yet, as nothing has been fully confirmed at this point. If everything will go according to the plan, then the returning visitors will see a totally new, very interesting spot they’re not yet familiar with and where no prior edition of Mobile Trends Conference has taken place yet. We also hope to surprise the participants with great lectures covering the trends in the industry.