Inside FinCon 2017
Any financial blogger worth their IRA knows that there’s one conference to rule them all: FinCon.
Launched in 2011 by Phillip “PT” Taylor, it’s taken a mere 6 years to grow to the 1700+ attendees that converged on Dallas this past October.
It was the first year for Mediavine to sponsor this incredible event, and we were BLOWN AWAY by the energy, the effort and the spectacle of it all.
I grabbed a chance to sit down with 2 of the ringmasters of this financial circus, Founder and CEO PT Taylor and Conference Organizer Jessica Bufkin, to pick their brains on the past, present and future of the conference.
Interview with PT Taylor, Founder & CEO of FinCon
Hi PT. So what was new at this year’s FinCon?
PT: I try to keep things fresh with the event and this year was no exception. We had three new features this year. First, we had our new Money Conversations track – panels focused on cutting-edge personal finance topics. Second, we had two fully equipped video booths where YouTubers could create content on site. Over 25 shows/interviews were produced. Third, we invited our readers, followers, and fans to one afternoon of the event where they could meet us, learn from us, and experience a keynote with best-selling author David Bach.
How do you stay on the cutting edge and provide the content and education that your attendees crave?
PT: The community helps to keep it on the cutting edge. It’s an attendee-driven conference – meaning we create surveys and try to “listen” as much as possible to what the community wants throughout the year in our Facebook group, forum, and social channels. Also, our speaker selection process is very much open-sourced.
Our role is to curate what’s being submitted by the community vs. generating ideas. That said, I’m a member of the community too with my own blog and podcast. So I have my opinion on what’s cutting edge too – and I may occasionally try to convince someone from the community to share their success story or pluck someone from outside our core community to get to the event to teach something really advanced.
What questions are financial bloggers asking? How are they looking to diversify their revenue streams?
PT: We’ve found that our attendees tend to ask one of three major questions, depending on where they are in their journey: How can I create better content? How can I find/grow the audience for my content? How can I monetize my efforts to keep doing what I’m doing? Attendees are definitely interested in making money and they understand that with a mix of both passive and active income streams they can more easily scale their efforts and help more people.
You have many repeat attendees, some who’ve been here since the beginning. What is it about FinCon and the community that keeps them coming back year after year?
PT: It’s still very taboo to talk about your finances. My attendees love the topic, are looking to master it, and have found friends on the internet who they can talk with openly about it. There’s a special bond formed. And because they all see financial illiteracy as the big enemy they are trying to defeat, they can more easily work together and form real friendships and partnerships. Because of this, the conference has produced a countless number of successes, both professionally in the form of more excellent content for consumers, and personally, too. We’ve even produced one marriage.
PT, when describing FinCon, you say a lot of words like “collaborative”, “open source” and a “peer conference”. I’d love to hear more about your choice to emphasize these things when creating FinCon and how you work to keep them active in the FinCon of today.
PT: The community that became FinCon existed before I created the first event. At the time I was super passionate about the group but I wasn’t a major influencer. I was merely the first guy to raise his hand and say I’d run an event for us. So I felt from the outset that this wasn’t ‘my show.’ I needed buy-in from the existing community. The best way to get buy-in is to give them a sense of ownership – allow people to help you make decisions about the event and put as many people as possible into key roles within the event.
I also felt we’d all benefit more if we simply shared ideas from within vs bringing in outside experts, exclusively. So around 90% of the speakers at the first event were from community members. Big influences on me at the time were WordPress’s WordCamps, which are also community/peer driven events, and Adrian Segur, who wrote the book on peer conferences: Conferences That Work.
Keeping this spirit alive is definitely more of a challenge as the community grows – there’s only so many speakers we can feature and only so much room on the agenda. We still, however, allow anyone to submit a session idea and we try our best to work everyone in, whether in a breakout, panel, or roundtable. And we require that our speakers participate as a mentor in a one hour mentoring session at the end of the event, which we feel creates a real collaborative vibe. Not to mention, speakers don’t get a special badge – no hierarchy.
In terms of the schedule, we allow attendees to submit “community events” to the schedule and publish them on the app so that small groups can be formed organically. Finally, our community lives on each day in our active Facebook group – where I try to set the tone of collaboration.
Interview With Jessica Bufkin, FinCon Conference Organizer
Now over to Jessica. I bow down to your organizational prowess. When and how did you become involved?
Jessica: PT and I were friends in college, and when he decided to raise his hand to start this event for his personal finance peers, he brought me on to help him with it. I had minimal event organization experience, but we’ve figured it out over the years together, along with Justin, our Technical Director, and Libby, our Creative Director. Justin and I have been working with him since Day 1 and Libby came on board in our third year.
This is quite an undertaking–talk to me about logistics. How do you manage 2000+ people and speakers and food and drinks.
Jessica: Spreadsheets on spreadsheets on spreadsheets. That’s the very un-sexy answer! We have a core team of 4 — PT casts the vision, Justin works on our A/V and production, Libby handles our branding and creatives, and I oversee everything else. We also have a part-time VA and a social media manager. #FinCon17 was our seventh year and by now we have a pretty good timeline for each of our areas throughout the year.
With our 200+ speakers and our 100+ sponsors, I believe in over-communication but I’m always trying to find ways to give them all of the details they need in the most succinct ways possible. Like all of us, they are swamped with emails so I try to send as few as possible, but I also try to be strategic and send them at the right times—like when I know they’ll be preparing their presentations or their booths.
With food and beverage, we’re usually beholden to the hotels for any F&B served on site, so I work with them to make sure our budget and dietary needs are met.
It helps that, as a team, we are constantly reminding each other of the importance of managing expectations. There are so many moving parts that even my detail-oriented brain feels overwhelmed sometimes. However, in our meetings we can often be found going over how the various aspects of the event look or feel to a first-time attendee, an alumni attendee, or a sponsor. That helps us to find pain points and to make adjustments or communicate in an effort to not surprise people. We’re not always successful at thinking of every single logistic from every angle, but we certainly try.
What about 2018? Are you already planning?
Jessica: It’s funny–when I tell people what I do, they often ask me, “You work on it all year??” Yes, yes I do. I work about two years out, actually. We were doing site visits for 2018 in early 2017 and that was actually a little later than normal. We’re taking proposals now for 2019 and 2020.
When #FinCon17 ended, we had an exclusive ticket sale for #FinCon18. (General public tickets went on sale on Black Friday.) We also sent out a survey to get feedback and started selling #FinCon18 sponsorships right after as well. We’ve been working through the schedule for 2018, and after Thanksgiving, we’ll start building out the expo hall floor plan.
We’re also planning for FinCon Masters, a one-day advanced-level exclusive event that will take place in New York City in April. So we’re planning–we are definitely planning!
Thank you PT and Jessica for sharing all of the exciting things planned for the future.
#FinCon18 is September 26th-29th, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. Be there. I can’t guarantee you early retirement through your attendance, but I can guarantee you a dang good time!
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