Local Edition: Want to get into events? Start small
It's our final week on events. Here's what we've learned so far: You have to have both an overall and a specific event strategy. We can do better than panels. And it's possible to create events with your community, not just for them. This week, we speak with a man who's making events for kids.
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How do you go from no experience with holding events to capturing the Guinness World Record for the largest convention for a single video game?
Like anything you build in Minecraft or Legos, you gotta start small.
In 2014, one dad took the success of the Lego YouTube Channel he created with his daughter and turned it into an event. About a year after the first Brick Fest Live, that dad, Chad Collins, reached out to his friend Gabe Young to work on a football event.
A month later, Young took his son to a local engineering night, “and I had this idea of creating a much bigger version of that, and that’s where the first Young Innovators Fair started.”
Both dads created those events, and later the Minecraft event Minefaire, thanks to inspiration from their kids.
“We look to them for the things that will not only interest them,” Young said of their kids, “but allow them to be better versions of themselves.”
I spoke with Young, based in Pennsylvania, about what it’s like to start an event from scratch, how to connect with the communities you want to get through the door, and what you should not do if you’re just getting started with events.
Our conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Your job looks really fun. But you didn’t start out in event planning. What was the learning curve like?
So Chad and I, we both learned the hard way. Neither of us came from an events background. We didn’t hire anyone from an events background. Everything was trial and error. We’re 100 percent okay with this. It may cost us a couple dollars early on, but at the end of the day, we’re learning lessons that are extremely valuable. We feel the pain when we make a mistake.
Even though we’ve produced close to 100 shows where we attract 10,000, 20,000 per weekend, we’re still learning every single time. And we’re making adjustments on the fly.
What have you learned since about holding successful events?
Right now we’re at the point where Chad and I work really well together. So we divide and conquer. We’re still growing as an organization. He spends most of his time making sure that we have the right attendees, finding the right people, the right families, the right kids dragging their parents along, so they can basically flip the script.
It’s the first CON where the kid is bringing the parent, not the other way around.
And then my team, we focus on making sure we have the right content, so when these people arrive, we are able to inspire them with all the coolest stuff, not only give them a really amazing day, but also give them enough so they can carry on this passion after they leave.
How do you think through things like logistics? Do you have a team for that?
Yep, we do. We have about 20 people on our team. And they basically have these really crazy and cool jobs where they produce these massive events. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in a few minutes, but if you can imagine how challenging it is to plan for a wedding to for 300 people, if you can imagine how hard it is to plan for an event for 3,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 and do it 20 times a year where they’re all overlapping, then you can imagine how crazy it is.
What advice do you have for people interested in creating community-centered events? What should you look for? If it’s not your own children, how do you get to know a community and what matters to them?
We try to embed ourselves into the community once we choose a vehicle that we want to use for a particular show. We take pride in producing these massive family events where these kids can look back and say "Hey that day, 10 years ago or five years ago, that changed my life."
So whether it’s Minecraft or Lego or some type of STEM event, the way we decide is embedding ourselves into the community with the players and the fans, and we also connect with the educators, we connect with the actual organization itself.
We have a good relationship with Lego. We are the official Minecraft Community event, and we’re the only ones doing it in North America. So it’s a matter of meeting as many people as possible, learning as much about whatever that niche is as possible and finding a way to really build this thing up so we can have a really diverse community, all of us inspiring these kids from different angles.
Let’s say another dad comes up to you and says “hey, you guys are so successful, I’m going to do something like this with this other topic,” what would you tell him not to do?
We don’t like to say no to people who have ideas, but there are some warning signs. The number one thing is to start small. A lot of people believe that if they build it, they will come, just like they see on “Field of Dreams.” And they don’t realize that it’s extremely challenging to get 10,000 people to show up on any given weekend. Especially if you’ve never done it before.
I can’t even tell you how difficult it was to create the first Young Innovator’s Fair. We basically started from scratch. Chad and I went to these fairs, and we met with companies like Google, and we said “Hey, we’re doing this event, and it’s like 10 months from now, and we don’t have a name for it yet. And we promise we’re going to have 20,000 people here. And it’s over a holiday weekend, so send your employees. And it costs this much money to participate. And we haven’t figured out the business part yet, but don’t worry. This is going to be real.”
We kissed so many frogs. Literally, thousands and thousands of people just to get 135 to show up at our first show. But we did get Pixar. We did get Google. And getting the 20,000 people to show up? We talked to schools and school districts. We placed so many ads. We talked to any humans who would talk to us. We did it in a very grass-roots way, and it was hard.
So how do you do this from scratch if you’re doing it by yourself? I would start very small.
You can’t just have a show by dropping content in and putting up a couple signs and hoping people walk in. It’s not going to happen.
Next week, we're going to start a new conversation. It's one I think about a lot in this gig. How do we keep journalists in local newsrooms?
In the meantime, support an editorial cartoonist. Paywalls are cool now. After big layoffs and cuts, an Omaha World-Herald journalist says "we're still fighting." Check out this project a journalist in Chicago created when she felt like her voice wasn't represented. And here's a free course from Poynter's News University on reporting on sexual violence.
See you next week!