ProductCamp Austin – Looking for a few good men and women

ProductCamp Austin 10 was held on Saturday February 16, 2013 at the AT&T Conference Center. We almost broke the record of 620 registrations set by PCA5 in 2010. I was actually pretty happy that we got close but didn’t break the record, because Paul Young shaved his head when we set the record last time. Tension was pretty high as I looked in the mirror on Friday night, wondering if people would show up with clippers on Saturday morning.

Our tenth event turned out to be one of the best. Over the past several years, we have considered, debated, deliberated, and discussed the objectives for our organization. Should we be the biggest, the best, the broadest, or the most focused? Should we expand our corporate connections, or should we serve the start-ups better? Should we aspire to fill the Austin Convention Center one day, or stay comfortable in our home at the AT&T Conference Center? One thing is for sure, we are consistently delivering inspiring and energizing events for product managers and product marketers. The buzz and energy level on Saturday was high all of the way through to the end of happy hour.

Here’s a summary of the ProductCamp Austin 10 experience as seen through Twitter (Thanks to Cindy Soloman and AIPMM):

Mission, Vision, and Values

In February 2011, our newly formed board of directors went through the process of identifying our mission, vision, and values. Much of this was established for us in the first ProductCamp Austin (PCA) event in 2008. For example, the values of the un-conference are set in our DNA and irreversible. Our values are rooted in the no-pitching, egalitarian, free, volunteer-driven, participation rich, and open culture that we have established in the events that have been organized. The Austin culture is a big contributor to our casual, open, and collaborative culture.

Our first order of business was agreeing on our mission. This turned out to be a pretty easy exercise. We saw the ProductCamp Austin organization to be an established, stable, structured, professional organization with a solid foundation in place for future growth. We thought that PCA was ready to move forward to the next phase, from an event-based organization to a community driven one.

Our Mission:  Creating a community for product management and marketing professionals to teach, learn, and network in Austin.

Our vision is also quite simple. One of the exercises that we used to create our vision was to imagine an Austin American Statesman or Austin Business Journal front page article about how PCA had helped the Austin product community to grow in some way. We discussed the growing challenge for local companies to find good product management talent. As the tech industry grows in Austin, we are going to need more people with professional product management skills and talent. Our vision is to help grow the product management profession, foster networking in our profession, and provide a means to connect hiring companies with talented people in Austin.

Watch this video from the Austin Technology Council featuring Texas State Senator, Kirk Watson to better understand the challenges facing the Austin technology industry.

For the PCA organization, our board of directors has outlined three phases of growth:

  • Phase 1 – Initial offering
  • Phase 2 – Repeatability / Sustainability / Innovation
  • Phase 3 – Evolution

Our initial offering has been fine tuned into a repeatable formula for organizing successful events. Formalizing the PCA organization into a 501(c)6 non-profit organization with a board of directors was a major milestone in Phase 2 of our growth. We now have a functioning board of directors with a focus on leadership and succession planning to ensure that we can endure the changes in people that will happen through the years to come. We also discuss areas for innovation to keep things fresh and creative for everyone who is volunteering and participating to keep things interesting for everyone involved.

Building a community

Phase 3 for the growth of ProductCamp Austin is an evolution from an event-based to a community-driven organization. We aren’t looking to grow our event-based participation beyond the current levels. Rather than growing our event attendance, we want to grow our community. This includes a connection with community members between PCA events. Our vision here isn’t complete. It has taken us quite a while to figure out exactly what it means to have a community, and how to measure such a thing once it exists.

Our first attempt at measurement was to ask people if they considered themselves to be part of our community when they register for events. It turned out that self-identification as a community member is very high. This measurement has helped us to get through some of our circular conversations about whether we actually have a community or not.

Another metric that we have recently figured out how to measure is repeat attendance. At past events, we have always asked people to raise their hands if they were attending their first PCA event. We were always astonished by how many people would raise their hands. At PCA10, we took the registration database for the past ten events and measured how many new vs. experienced people have attended. Here is the community curve from the PCA10 welcome slide deck:

Looking at the community curve, we see a trend of increasing repeat participation from event to event. Our new-to-experienced ratio seems to have stabilized at about 50%. This puzzles us when we meet to discuss each event and to find ways to grow going forward. Survey results and feedback after the event are consistently positive. We ask people if they will return to future events and the results here are usually quite high.

Questions that we are asking ourselves:

  • Why are previous attendees not returning?
  • How can we get these people to come back and re-connect with us?
  • What can we do to grow our community between events?

For this reason, we have added a Community Manager position to our organization and we’re looking for someone who can help us to answer these questions an provide some leadership in growing the ProductCamp Austin community. This role will sit somewhere between marketing and sustainability, providing a steady drumbeat throughout the year and remaining outside of our ramp up and down behavior around the two big events we host each year.

We are also adding an Alliance Manager position to help us connect our community to other organizations in Austin that might share some of our mission, vision, and values. This includes other professional organizations, local businesses who are looking to grow the product management profession, other groups in Austin, and other ProductCamp organizations around the world.

Both of these positions will likely grow into team leadership roles, so we are also looking for volunteers to help out even if you aren’t able to commit to lead a new program.

We are looking for a few good men and women. Any takers?