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Event spotlight: Mind the Product

Today we have the pleasure of interviewing James Mayes, CEO and co-founder at Mind the Product. You can follow James on Twitter to get insights on Product Management and how to build products that people love.

Mind the Product started in 2010 in London and now consists of more than 50 000 members and the event traveled the world, being hosted in more than 100 cities.

Let’s see what are the secret ingredients in building such a great community for Product Managers.

James Mayes - Mind the Product

How did Mind The Product start? What helped you decide on the topic and vision?

Three product managers at London startups were looking to meet others – to share war stories, learn more about approaches and generally get some therapy from other professionals facing similar challenges at work.  Nothing much was available, so two events emerged – ProductCamp London, from Simon Cast and Janna Bastow, and ProductTank from Martin Eriksson. The three teamed up, and Mind the Product was born. The vision then was very much as it is now – to further the craft of product management by bringing together product people of all stripes.

What makes the events and community so vibrant?

I think the accessibility goes a long way.  The free meetups under the ProductTank banner continue every month, now in 140 cities; videos from the larger meetups are posted on our media site (no paywall), and we have a slack community with north of 10,000 members around the globe.  When we talk about conferences and training, there are obviously budget and location constraints – but there’s so much we support that’s free and location-independent. The diversity that has attracted is certainly high impact.

 

What do visitors love most about the Mind The Product events?

We keep a strong line between commercial and content decisions.  Anyone on a stage of ours is there because they were invited on merit alone, we don’t sell stage time for marketing activity. So many conferences use that as a hook to fill out the budgets, but it’s almost always a substandard experience for the delegate. We also have a high number of Product Managers on the team here – we don’t just know our audience, we are our audience.  There’s a relentless focus on the delegate experience. Of course, things go awry occasionally, but the effort we put in does show through, and we hear a lot of appreciation for that.

 

How do digital communities (the website / Slack channel) improve the event experience?

There’s a definite sense of community in the Slack channel, and you can see excitement for the conferences building weeks or months ahead, as people start discussing speaker announcements, places to stay and so on.  It continues long after too, as we release the videos – people coming back together online to break down certain talks or messages.  Many conferences are a one or two day event, with a pile of marketing email before and nothing after.  We’re aiming for a wider experience.

 

What were the greatest challenges in scaling Mind The Product internationally?

Navigating timezones and international tax laws is always a challenge!  Aside from that, the problems faced by Product Managers are remarkably similar around the world.  That helps the content travel well, which builds our reputation ahead of us.  That said, much of our content has come from the main firms of Europe and the US so far, so I think our next challenge will be unearthing the stories behind some of the tech giants or rising stars in the East.

 

What are your plans for the future?

We want to keep a tight focus on the conferences and work more on that delegate experience, there’s plenty more we can do! We also launched a formal training business in 2017, expanding our operations into developing bespoke product management training for delivery to major corporate clients.  We closed out the year with some amazing feedback from clients around Europe and across the US, so I’ll be looking to ensure that has the support it needs to attack 2018 with vigor!

4 difficult clients every event professional will meet

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

What could be better than a job/career that makes you jump out of bed every morning? Finding meaning in what we do is what makes us one step closer to happiness. It is something that we all crave for. It’s the ideal of the modern era, one in which fulfillment is often more important than money.

people at a desk, taking notes

Event planners definitely are among those who find meaning in their careers. Bringing people together, helping them evolve and (why not?) making the world a better place makes us jump out of the bed each morning (ok, maybe not on rainy Mondays).  Although challenging, the event planning industry repays every drop of energy that we invest in.

How do you define a difficult client?

Event planners also have to deal with what most of us try to run away from: difficult clients. And when I say ‘difficult clients’ I don’t mean those who force you out of your comfort zone. Those bringing you projects so big that they keep you up at night. That want you to plan the perfect event for them. That inspire you to be better with each passing day. Those are the ones you will thank later.

No, I mean those clients that are never happy, no matter how good you deliver. But at the same time, they can never articulate their unhappiness. That, day in day out, make things more complicated than you have ever imagined they could be. Than never help, but often obstruct you. That want you to execute their ideas but at the same time never take responsibility for anything. That hope that you can read their minds (but would hate it if you could).

Difficult clients in the event management industry

There are many types of difficult clients because there are so many ways in which people can be difficult to interact with. But based on the discussions that I had with our #eventproffs friends, there are 4 types of clients that you will (probably) meet in your career

The always angry/hostile client

It is always ready to argue over anything. He/she likes to intimidate those around. Every discussion is different, but all have one thing in common: a raised voice.  

How to deal with a hostile customer?

It’s crucial to not take it personally because it really isn’t. It’s also very important to keep calm, another choleric person won’t do any good. Be polite yet firm, letting your client know that you are always in control. Show that you take him/her serious, but don’t let yourself impressed by the aggressive attitude.

There are situations when we really are responsible for our customers’ anger (but not the way they manage it), so try to see if there anything that you could do better.

The hesitating client

“In any situation, the best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt

There are people who just can’t make a decision. That think and overthink. That need hours to make up their minds (for any silly decision) and then just completely change it. That get cold feet in front of a decision. And, in our careers, we’ve all meet someone like this. When managing events, time is the one resource that’s always missing. And those who’ve seen how a venue looks just hours before an event know what I mean…

Listen to your client and see what makes the decision so difficult for him. Try looking from his point of view and let him know what your opinion is. Whenever you can help your client decide by providing relevant data/visual support.

The all-wise client

Have you ever met a person that knows everything there is to know? I am sure you have. The person that hires an expert and then tells him how to do his job. That doesn’t even need arguments to back-up his statements.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this is the client that’s most difficult to manage. First of all be sure that you are always well-prepared and that you have all the possible information. You will need a lot of statistics to support your ideas. You will also need a lot of tact in dealing with someone that “has all the right answers”. Don’t let your ego stand in your way, it will only make things worst.

 

The silent/apathetic client

It’s the client that shuts down communication, building a wall around him. He doesn’t like complicated situations (well, who really does?) and thinks that silence can make them go away. How to act?

First of all, “patience is a virtue”. To make your client talk you will need to ask the right questions and take the time to listen. Really listen. Encourage him to tell you what he thinks about the venue or caterer that you have selected. Praise every good idea that your client comes up with and ask for advice. Make him feel important and you will see a higher level of involvement from him. Communication is the only way to build a strong relationship with a ‘silent client’.

Difficult clients can be one’s worst nightmare, but they can also make us go the extra mile. Not every difficult client is, in fact, a difficult client. Because sometimes the problem is not with them, it’s with us.

Unfortunately, there will be times when you will just feel that things aren’t going to work for you and your client. If you ever feel that it would just be better to let your client go you should read this fabulous article first. 

Sporting events not to miss in 2018

…and a Happy New Year. My New Year’s resolution list (or revolution, as I like to call it) has “start doing sports” written all over it. But my new running shoes haven’t arrived yet, so I took some time to see how 2018 will look for professional sportsmen (and sportswomen, of course). Here are the main sports events you may want to take a look at (if you can find the time, of course) in 2018.

 

Australian Open 15.01-28.01 

First major sports event of the year is Australian Open, one of the four tennis Grand Slams.  113 years old, the tournament is Australia’s biggest sports event (since 1988) and almost 3/4 million people watch it live every year. Reasons to watch it live you ask me? There are 25 C in Melbourne this time of year and they call it The Happy Slam. Do I need to say more?

Rugby six-nation Championship 03.02-17.03 

Also known as the Northern Hemisphere Championship, Rugby Six Nation gathers the (yes, you guessed it!) six most important rugby nations north of the Equator. Originally started in 1883 as Home Nations Championship, a competition between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Starting 1910 France joined the competition and was known as The 5 Nations Championship until 1999 when Italy joined in.

 

Super Bowl LII 04.02

The 52nd edition of North America’s most watched sports event will take place at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.With a viewership of over 110 mil spectators (the 2015 edition was watched by over 114 million Americans), Superbowl is a leading attraction for advertisers. In 2017, 30 seconds of commercial advertising reached the stunning price of 5 million USD.

 

Winter Olympics 09.02-25.02

Held once every 4 years, Winter Olympics reunites the most important snow and ice sports. The 2018 edition, held in South Korea, will start with delegates from 90 countries that will compete in 15 disciplines. If you plan to watch this year’s edition you should know that South Korea is 9 hours ahead of London and 14 ahead of New York.

 

NBA All-Star Game 18.02

Probably the most famous basketball game in the world, NBA All-Game is the event where best the players from the Western Conference face the best form the Eastern one. The 67 edition will take place in Los Angeles, on the 18th of February. Is the West able to reduce the gap or the East will gain its 38th victory? 

two players before the start of the first ever NBA final

start of the first ever NBA All-Star Game source: nydailynews.com

Roland Garros 21.05-10.06

The French Open, the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, has a history of over 125 years. Named after the famous French aviator, Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay, making the matches extremely dramatic. It’s also the only Grand Slam where the main court has no retractable roof and where finals can still be interrupted by rain (reason for which it has been called “the toughest slam of all“). 

 

UEFA Champions League Final 26.05

The UEFA Champions League Final is one of the most watched sports events, with over 300 million viewers every year. The 2018 event will take place in Kiev, Ukraine, and approx. 70.000 people will enjoy the show live. Interesting fact about UCL? Although it’s considered the most important trophy in club level football no non-European coach has ever won the trophy.

 

Fifa World Cup 14.06-15.07

The next major sports event is still in football, and it also takes place in Eastern Europe. The FIFA World Cup, the most important trophy in football takes place in Russia. The competition starts on June 14 and the final will take place a month later, at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Germany is considered to be the main title contestant, but France and Brazil are also credited with good chances of winning the Trophy.

 

Wimbledon 02.07-15.07

Wimbledon is home to the most prestigious tennis tournament. Starting July the 2nd world’s best tennis players will compete on the British grass. Interesting fact: The oldest tennis tournament in the world hasn’t had a British winner of the Women’s Single competition in over 40 years (since 1977, when Virginia Wade won the title).

 

Tour de France 07.07-29.07

Do you need a full recharge? Try spending a few hours watching Tour de France. Beautiful landscapes, happy people, small towns where time seems to slow down. La Grande Boucle was first staged in 1903 and, through years, it has become the most important bicycle race. Sportsmen pedal over 2200 miles (3500 km) in this 3 weeks, and that’s almost like going from NYC to Ciudad de Mexico. On a bike.

Rugby Championship 18.08-06.10

Almost everybody has heard of the Tri-Nations Cup, the most important Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere. The Tournament started in 1996 and it faced New Zealand (All Blacks), Australia (Wallabies), and South Africa (Springboks) in some of the most clenched rugby matches ever played. Argentina joined the tournament in 2012 so the Tri-Nations Cup changed its name to Rugby Championship. All Blacks have won the tournament 15 times (10 times in the Tri-Nations format) and is the team with the most trophies.

 

The US Open 28.08-10.09

The American Open is the last of the 4 Grand Slam tournaments, taking place at the start of September. And what could be more beautiful than autumn New York? The tournament has a history of 137 years and it is the first important tennis tournament that has awarded equal prize money to the winners of the single’s championship (men and women), over 45 years ago.

With millions of attendees and hundreds of millions of viewers (even billions for the World Cup Final), these sporting events can teach us all one or two things about event planning. Even for those event planners that are not so much into sports, this list can be used as a starting point when looking for great “study cases” of great events.

Techsylvania: hotbed for tech innovation in Eastern Europe

As part of our Event spotlight series, we decided to interview the team behind one of Eastern Europe’s leading tech events: Techsylvania. The event started in Cluj, a city Techcrunch named “The Silicon Valley of Transilvania“.

Let’s see how the event started and what are the team’s plans for the future:

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you decide to start building tech events?

Vlad Ciurca: My background is a mix of economic studies, marketing, IT – product management and business development. In the five years working in IT I also got involved in organizing events. One of the first was Romanian Managers Cluj. The purpose was to create business networking events, something rather new at the time.

Then I met Philipp Kandal, one of the co-founders of Skobbler, currently Telenav and together we analyzed the start-up scene in Cluj-Napoca. We wanted to do something in this direction, so we developed Startup Weekend. Practically, this way at the end of each event some new projects were born. In the next four years five teams received funding from international accelerators and the event grew from 90 participants in the first year, to around 150-160 participants in the next years.

Techsylvania conference

How did Techsylvania start? What helped you decide on the topic and vision?

Vlad Ciurca: Organizing Startup Weekend, me and my co-founder, Oana Petrus, realized that there was clearly a lot of interest in this area of startups, technology and entrepreneurship. In the same time, we saw that all the IT conferences from that time were not really oriented in these directions. Also, they did not have international speakers. So, we can say we had our work cut for us.

In 2014 I started working with Oana on a new concept: Techsylvania. We built an international event where founders from all the world, investors, various experts and entrepreneurs meet in the same location, chat and discover the steps needed to create a technology company.

Techsylvania started in 2014 with 380 attendees and grew to more than 1500 attendees in 2017. Apart from this, the event features a connected devices hackathon where developers build creative projects, as well as a startup competition that featured early stage companies from 9 countries.

How did you manage to develop the wonderful community around Techsylvania?

Oana Petrus: From the first edition we wanted the conference to be an educational course for people who want to discover everything about how a technology company is being born. Our community was built step by step. More and more people joined because we provide a place where they can learn firsthand from the experience of successful entrepreneurs, tech leaders, investors and founders of startups listed to the stock exchange. Also, they can meet other people starting a new project and exchange information.

These are strong reasons for attendees to wish to come back and for others to join the community. In 2017 our conference grew to 1.500 attendees from 1.316 participants in 2016 and 830 in 2015. Our community is strong, and this is clearly shown by the fact that 96% of the 2017 participants expressed their wish to attend Techsylvania in 2018.

In its essence Techsylvania seeks to provide answers. The fifth edition, taking place June 9-12 in Cluj-Napoca, will once again gather key stakeholders, tech leaders and curious minds from all over the world to explore the technology opportunities across Eastern Europe.

What do visitors love most about the event?

Vlad Ciurca: The vibe of the conference, the people they meet, the knowledge they acquire and the speakers they listen and learn from.

Every year we bring international speakers, literally from all over the world and this makes people love our conference. The chance to see new experts and tech leaders every year, all with a vast experience.

Its a rare opportunity to see many of our speakers and guests in this part of the world and even more so to actually be able to interact directly with them. Don’t mind me saying but its an amazing networking event.

If you want to get a pulse of tech innovation, ecosystem, talents in Eastern Europe, Techsylvania is the gateway. Cluj is one of the most exciting places right now and the event draws the who is who from the erupt tech scene”, Joyce Shen (Thomson Reuters).

What were the greatest challenges starting and developing Techsylvania?

Oana Petrus: The first challenges we faced? We wanted to make the event a great one from the first edition, so a real challenge was the line-up. We knew that if we wanted true knowledge for our attendees we had to convince international speakers to join us as well as people from the Romanian ecosystem.  We succeeded I’d say because we had 19 speakers and among them were HP Jin, Co-Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer at Telenav, Andy Piper, Developer Advocate at Twitter, Johannes Reck, CEO at GetYourGuide and many more. And this was 2014.

Also, another challenge was organizing the hackathon. The focus was on new wearables and connected devices but many of them were not accessible at that time, as they weren’t sold on the market in Romania. Regardless, we have managed to get them to Romania by collaborating with the manufacturers and out them in the hands of the developers to see what creative projects they could develop.

What are your plans for the future?

Oana Petrus: What to expect in 2018? First off, an inspiring speaker’s lineup that will talk about some of the most recent technical developments, product related topics, as well as funding and entrepreneurship trends & best practices.

But the most interesting part of all is that we plan on expanding the Techsylvania platform in the following directions:

  • Satellite eventswe want to take advantage of the buzz surrounding Techsylvania during those 4 days and to create more opportunities for those who join us. Explore various fields of know-how, meet new people outside your circles of interest and join us for new experiences
  • Q&A sessions – a lot of you mentioned that you’d like to address specific questions to the speakers, but don’t have the opportunity. As timing is something we care about a great deal and the mainstage design does not allow it, we’re going to take some of our speakers on a dedicate stage, where you’ll be able to ask all the questions you want for 30 minutes
  • Roundtables for executives – we will host topic-oriented discussions for 10–12 executives, moderated by an industry expert. The goal is to stir collaborations and get insights that can help you drive your business forward.

 

Vlad is the Co-Founder of Techsylvania (leading technology event in Eastern Europe) and Codiax (Deep Tech Event).

Previously, he was VP of Business Development at Yopeso, Product Manager at Telenav (working on creating navigation solutions for mobile devices and auto manufacturers), as well as Operations Supervisor at UPS and Ceva Logistics (where he managed a 100-person team (starting from a 4 person team).

Vlad is passionate about building events and communities, having been a Startup Weekend Organizer and Facilitator and co-founding one of the biggest online and offline communities of managers and entrepreneurs in Transylvania, Romanian Managers CLUJ, with close to 900 members.

In 2011, Vlad was named a Technology and Entrepreneurship Expert in the “Young Romania Forum”, a project organized by the League of Romanian Students Abroad, with the aim of getting the younger generation involved in the future of Romania. In 2015, he was invited to speak about the ‘Born Global’ topic during the Romanian Business Leaders Summit, an exclusive event with over 200 top managers and entrepreneurs from Romania.

 

Oana Petrus is the Co-Founder of Techsylvania (leading technology event in Eastern Europe) and Codiax (Deep Tech Event).

Working now in Paddy Power Betfair Cluj as Office Manager, she brings her extensive knowledge of processes and administration, from being in charge of Processes and Quality at Sykes Cluj-Napoca to coordinating teams in Cluj, Cairo and Shanghai.

An experienced manager with over 12 years experience in retail, business development, telecommunications and event organizing, she put her vast know-how to work for brands such as Paddy Power Betfair, Sykes, Orsay, Motivi, s. Oliver, Startup Weekend Cluj and others.