The Success That Was ABX
In the next few days, as I find myself back in the environment I call home, I'll be able to fill you in on my experiences at this year's SXSWi. (Although, I'm sure all of you have already had your fill of SXSW related posts.) But let's talk bowling for a little bit, shall we? To make a potentially long story short--this year's event was more than Jen and I could ever hoped for. In case you want the long version, keep reading.
As with all things that require planning, the real test is never the final product, but how one deals with the problems leading to the said product. There were a lot of things, both ones that I alluded to and otherwise that could have stopped the extravaganza right in its tracks. By no means would I call myself an event coordinator, hell, one could even say that the success of last year's event was a fluke--but problems are problems, and I wasn't going to let any of that stop me. Issues ranging from sponsors, to miscalculations over how many charter buses were needed, even the possibility of not finding available buses were all dangerously close to shutting us down. Up until the weekend of the event, I had done all the planning myself, while getting Jon's help with the player administration system and Kelsey and Erica's help for the majority of sponsorship contacts.
To grab an example, the charter bus company I had talked to earlier in the year said that my contact had quit and neglected to file any paperwork. This problem was partly my fault for neglecting to verify the reservation a few weeks before, but there was no time to point the finger at myself. Thankfully Jen jumped in and made the bus problem her own, calling company after company as we were fighting our way through Austin traffic. By that night, we had found a company to supply not one, but three charter buses for us to use and it was thanks to Chris from the Microsoft Expression team that we were able to pay for such a change in our costs.
Then judgment day came.
One of the many lessons learned throughout this process was to make Jen an active part of the event's planning. I can be very stubborn in that I want to oversee all aspects of a project myself, so just getting through that was a lesson learned. Within hours of the event starting, she helped devise our check-in system as well as a list of things for me to announce that night. This became more apparent as more hands extended to help out and as I assigned tasks to take different aspects off of my chest. For example, Jen took care of the buses while I headed out to manage the venue. Erica and Jacob took care of check-in, while I tried to find out why Blue Flavor's pizzas were coming out early. Jacob then switched jobs to take care of the scoring system. I have to say though, that The 300's staff took extra care of us; without that help, again, the event wouldn't have been what it turned out to be.
Before I start getting sappy, there are a few things that did go wrong this year. For example, the aforementioned pizza getting devoured as well as it getting put out an hour early. Getting equipment was horribly slow, and taught me that fitting people with bowling balls is a luxury that we didn't need. We weren't able to finish the tournament, a fact that I'm still quite irked about, but that was due to a number of factors including the time that people started arriving to the equipment station, to the fact that the staff wasn't properly briefed on the concept of a "preliminary round", making about an hour of the tournament useless.
With all that aside, it was a dream to run the tournament. While bowling, Jen and I watched the rest of a group for a few minutes and just took it all in. To see all those people who we either knew or knew of having the time of their lives was a rush unlike any other. Having countless people coming up before they left and even emailing me after the fact just validated the fact that we had accomplished our mission of throwing the event of this year's conference. It was that self-gratification alone that made the whole event worth throwing. Well, I won't neglect to mention the fact that all of the other events that night were rained out. ;P For comparison's sake, we had about 75 competitors last year. This year brought in 255 competitors on 43 teams with at least 50 more people coming in to spectate.
I have to thank everybody who came out and supported this event. I also have to thank all the people that sponsored us as well: Blue Flavor, Digital Web Magazine, n'clud, the Microsoft Expression team, The Business Maker's Podcast, Sitepoint, EllisLab (formerly pMachine), tendenci and the group from Schipul, Inc., Further Ahead and Spiceworks.
Jen, Erica, Jakob, Jon and Kelsey--I could have never done this without your help.
To close, last year was the test to see if it would work. This year was the test to see if it would scale. Next year will prove if the ABX will become a mainstay of SXSW.