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.

 

Dear event planners, Volunteers are part of your team

If volunteering can change the world than I think it’s safe to say that volunteers can change your event. My colleagues and I saw many events were volunteers’ contribution was so important that I don’t really know if those events could have been possible without their help. And this is perfectly normal – large events (especially festivals, exhibitions, and conferences) mean large crowds so any extra help is greatly cherished. There are many reasons for which people volunteer at events and there are many reasons for event planners to reach out to volunteers. But for this to work you, the event planner, should:

picture of 4 volunteers holding fists together

Find out where you need help

Before you contact volunteers you must know what you actually need them for, meaning you will need to evaluate your needs for personnel. Find out which departments would need some extra help: marketing and communications, sales, technic department etc. so you know who to look for. People like volunteering but they also like to know what they are volunteering for and it wouldn’t do you any good to look for someone to help with registration when you actually lack a sound technician.

 

Ask early

My biggest problem when growing up was that I always waited until the last minute when I wanted/needed something. And, as life taught me (the hard way, how else?!), things tend to get rough when time isn’t on your side.

Spread the news that you are looking for volunteers early on otherwise you can you can find yourself in the unpleasant situation of not having enough personnel on site.

 

Define your expectations 

If you don’t know where you’re going how will you know when you get to the destination? Things aren’t very different if we speak of a new task or project: if you don’t know what you want to achieve how will you know if you did a good job? Things are even more unclear for volunteers, so you will need to explain to them what should be the end result of their work. It’s easier to evaluate your work when you have some clear goals.

P.s. this doesn’t mean that you must micromanage your volunteers, don’t get me wrong

 

Don’t “save” obnoxious tasks for volunteers 

You and your team should act like leaders and don’t use volunteers for the jobs that nobody wants, instead offer them the chance to do something meaningful. This way you can count on their help for your next events (and will be able to add some experienced people to your team).

 

Form groups and offer training 

After everybody has chosen a role it’s time for you to host a training for the whole team.

I saw that, generally, things work great when you create mixed workgroups (volunteers + team members) and offer the same “training” for all. Encourage socialization between your team and volunteers because, after all, you are all in the same boat, so you need to act like one big team.

Before your event starts “walk” everybody through the whole process at least once, so they all get the big picture. Seeing how a rather tiny role in the process actually helps things move forward will make everyone more enthusiastic about their role in the event.

 

Praise volunteers for their hard work

“How you feel is often more important than what you earn”. We tend to value words of appreciation more than we value financial rewards, studies reveal. But if you think that words of appreciation are so used so often that they start to lose their value…think again.Genuine words of appreciation are rare and hard to forget, so are able to make you really known and appreciated within the community of volunteers.

 

…and don’t forget that VOLUNTEERS ARE PART OF YOUR TEAM.

4 great reasons why people attend conferences

“That glorious vision of doing good is so often the sanguine mirage of so many good minds.” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

man on stage at a conference

What is the connection between attending conferences and one of the most appreciated novels ever written? Talking to a friend about Dickens’s novel I realized that I have my own personal story about two cities (better said about the people that live in those two cities). Two cities that, on the same day, will host two great events which Oveit proudly supports. On the 25th of October,  Gary Vaynerchuk and Steve Wozniak, 5500 miles apart, will help thousands of people find the courage to follow their dreams. And being involved in both events made me realize that, no matter the culture we belong to, when it comes to conferences we all have the same reasons for which attend them (and, more or less, the same expectations). In my personal experience, I noticed that people attend conferences for:

 

The chance of meeting their idols

As kids, most of us have athletes, movie stars or singers as idols. As we grow up and see the world from a different perspective we start to appreciate more the people who invested their time and energy to really make a difference. And some of the today’s leaders are entrepreneurs that influenced the world: Bill Gates, Gary Vaynerchuk, Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and many more. It’s reasonable to say that people will go the extra mile to meet their idols, so having a well-known leader on your speakers’ list will generate more interest for your event.

 

People attend conferences for networking

Conferences offer great networking opportunities, and many attend them just to find themselves surrounded by people with similar interests. A great way to encourage people to attend your conferences is to communicate the demographics of your past audiences (or if this is the first edition to make it clear to whom you address your conference). People hope to meet new customers, partners or even mentors at a conference, so let them know that this is possible.

Event badges will work as “icebreakers” within events, this is why we developed an app that allows #eventprofs print beautiful personalized badges – on the spot!

 

Hearing new ideas

If you think that the internet is full of new ideas…you’re right. But I can bet that every speaker has some great ideas that he keeps for special occasions, and speaking in front of hundreds (or even thousands) really sounds like special. Not to mention that the emotion of hearing it LIVE from your idol will make it very hard not to apply it; so conferences also work great in those moments when we lack not ideas but the motivation to apply them.

 

Investing in themselves

The only 100% secure investment is the one made in yourself. Today, more than ever, we live in a world where everything is possible and knowledge can break any barrier. Education offers us the chance of a better life (and the possibility to make the world a better place) and the Internet offers the opportunity of showing the world what we are capable of – with just a few clicks. People attend conferences because they see them as a great investment in themselves and self-investment is the key that will open any closed door. Create your event around powerful new information and your target audience will want to attend it.

 

These are some of the main reasons for which people attend conferences. But it’s important to remember that the overall experience will determine if people will come to your future events or not.

 

Apart from some cultural differences (that we all should accept and appreciate) we all want the same things when planning to attend a conference: to buy tickets with fewer clicks (remember that any extra step is a barrier that your possible attendee needs to overcome); to avoid queueing (cashless payments systems based on NFC really changed waiting times at big events; innovation (technology makes it easier for you to engage your attendees, making them feel important and appreciated – which they are); valuable information – the main reason for which people will attend your conference.

Use long tail keywords to promote your events

Did you know that almost half of the world’s population (and over 75% of the population from Europe and North America) has internet access? And that on a daily basis Google and Bing gather more than 5 billion online queries? If so many people use online searches for information (and to actually buy products/services) what can we do to get a slice of this big pie? The short answer would be Search Engine Marketing; SEM has different areas to focus on but today I would like to tell you more about long tail keywords and how they could lift up your business.

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What is Search Engine Marketing? 

 

SEM is the form of internet marketing that has the purpose of increasing a site’s visibility in search engines results pages.

The two main components of SEM are Search Engine Optimization  and Pay Per Click, both of which I’m sure you have heard of, so I’ll just mention how each work (as a short reminder):

 

Search Engine Optimization- the process of increasing your site’s visibility in the search engine machines by:

  • Selecting  good keywords and focusing on them
  • Creating good and unique content
  • Creating a good structure for your website
  • Building links (internal and external)
  • Including the selected keywords in your site’s title, pages, articles, Meta Tag Title, meta description etc
  • Providing best possible user experience (speed, cross-device compatibility etc.);
  • and more.

 

Pay Per Click: or cost-per-click (such as Google AdWords or Bing Ads), paid search advertising where you select the keywords for which you want to be listed (when someone searches for them) and pay when someone clicks your ad. For the search engine to determine which ad appears where the process includes an auction (you select how much you’re willing to pay for every click) and a quality score (how useful is your ad for the user: relevance, landing page etc.).

 

What are keywords? We use the term keywords for words or phrases that people search for online, through search engines. So what you type in the text box when you use Google, Bing or other search engines falls into this category.

 

The generic term keywords has 2  categories:

 

Head (or short tail) keywords:

Keywords that are most frequently searched for (usually the “head” has 1 or 2 words)

and

Long tail keywords:

more specific keyword phrases (usually the long tail phrase has more than 3 words)

 

But if head keywords have hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of searches each month why would anyone concentrate on anything else, right? Well, here are some advantages of using long-tail keywords, especially if you have a smaller event planning business.

 

 

75% of the search queries use long tail keywords 

 

This means that there are some keywords that can be found in hundreds of thousands of searches each month but most of the searches contain more specific long-tail keywords. So while the main focus is on one-quarter of the pie, there are still 3 quarters left for us to work with. There are tens of variations of a long tail keyword and each of them can bring you tens or hundreds of visitors that are further along in the buying cycle.

 

 

Search Engine Marketing is a very competitive field

 

SEM is a process that takes time and involves a lot of work if you want to make it in the “big league”. If you construct your keyword strategy based on a very popular head keyword you will be in direct competition with all the big event planners all over the world, even if they are not your direct business competitors.

SEO – bigger companies have more resources to invest in their websites and it is easier for them to generate more content (and search engines love sites that have more pages). 

PPC – an important part of PPC is the auction for keywords and a very popular one can become extremely expensive.

If I search for “event planner” there are 28,700,000 relevant results on Google…it is hard to compete with all of them.

Let’s say that you organize leadership conferences and work in the UK. And you want people to find more about what you do, when is your next event and other useful information. If you focus on “event planner” as keywords you will enter a ferocious competition with companies all over the world for a keyword that surely is more relevant for others than for you.

 

 

Long tail keywords have a better conversion rate 

 

Using the same example as above think that someone uses “event planner” for an online search. That person may look for information on how to become an event planner, or he/she may look for someone to plan a wedding in Japan, a business summit in India or an Indie concert in Kansas City.  It’s true, there are tons of searches for “event planner” each month, but this is because “event planner” can mean different things in online search terms. On the other hand, if someone uses  “leadership conference in England” or “leadership summit 2017 Merseyside” for a search he has a real interest in your type of event.

Using long-tail keywords you can focus on what really makes you stand out from the crowd. For example we, at Oveit, know that our feature that allows you to use cashless payments at your events represents our advantage; so we tend to use it more than the classic “online tickets”. Use your strengths when you communicate your message and you will have the perfect match for your customers.

How to improve attendee experience with a smooth registration process

It is known that in business the first impression can be a deal-breaker, especially if you are a small company trying to work your way up. But does this rule apply to the event management industry? Do you think that an attendee’s first impression about your conference can affect your business? Well, the answer is yes!

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And even though it’s fair to say that the very first impression may occur when a customer tries to buy a ticket, let’s talk about the greeting and the registration process (and how to make sure that your attendees feel welcome).

 

Here are some insights:

 

Use the right software

It is impossible to ensure a smooth process if you need 3 minutes to check in or register each attendee. Here are some things you might do to welcome your guests: search each guest by name, look for their printed badge, collect their data. All these things add up to the registration time. But if you use an effective app, you just need to scan a barcode or a qr code to identify and welcome your guest. Here’s what you might do afterwards: check in, collect data into your database and have the badge ready for print. Easy enough when you have the right tools.

 

Make sure everything is functional

As Kelsey Ogletree said, technology has a dark side and I think it’s safe to say that a registration system crashing in the morning of your event falls into the not-so-bright category  . This is why you should always triple check your registration systems prior to your big event (and all the switches/cable). And also make sure that everyone who is involved in the registration process is well trained in using the registration software.

 

Divide the check in process into tasks

If you want to save some time with the registration process (and who doesn’t?) you should encourage the registration team to work with predefined tasks. For example, here’s a way of splitting responsibilities among three team members:

  1. One staff member scanned the ticket and verified access credentials
  2. One staff member printed the badge
  3. One staff member assisted attendees with the wristbands

The result? It takes a lot less time to check in/register each guest.

 

 

And some more tips for a perfect start:

 

Keep your team informed

Make sure your staff members know the basic information an attendee could ask (where is the wardrobe, where are the restrooms, which stairs to use – if there are any etc). On the other hand it’s wise to have an info point with permanent assistance for more specific questions and/or complaints (although you might think everything is in place – and maybe it is – chances are your guests will be at times in need of assistance).

 

Check in has it’s peak point.  Adapt

Keep in mind  that technology cannot solve all issues, so for the registration peak point you should open some extra check in points (most of your attendees will arrive 30 minutes prior to the start, so make sure you have some extra registration points in the first part of the day). Afterwards you can close some of them and your team members can focus on different tasks.

 

Take care of your team

Let me just quote sir Richard Branson on this one: “The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers”. Make sure your team is fully prepared, motivated AND happy (yes, it is hard work, but you can still have fun doing it). Your attendees will be greeted with a big natural smile and that’s always the best way for them to start the day, and they are more likely to overlook any shortcomings that may occur later.

 

Not everyone will respect the schedule

Some of the participants may arrive earlier than expected: some traveled from out of town and came directly to the venue, some are just impatient and some misread the schedule… Don’t forget they are your guests, so treat them right. Ask them in, offer them a cup of coffee/water and explain that they will have to wait for registration. Keep in mind this is a very important part of your customer care process.

 

Water and coffee for everybody

Make sure you have plenty of water and coffee for all your attendees. It is best you let them accommodate with a welcome coffee; you will also need coffee breaks every 2 hours or so, otherwise your attendees will lose their focus.

If you host a full day event you be sure to include a lunch break in the schedule (if you don’t cater the lunch at least offer some information about restaurants nearby).

 

Don’t be afraid to get creative

Let’s admit it: we all love cool stuff. So do yourself a favor and use a cool badge (use a registration software that offers you this feature)  and nice colored wristbands. Trust me, your attendees will notice your attention for detail and will help you spread the word about your “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” event  by posting photos on social media.

 

There are many aspects that you must have in mind when planning an event, from the speakers  list to venue and suppliers. But don’t forget that the registration process is a an important part of your guest’s overall experience and keep in mind that a very good first impression works wonders.