How to create a developer event series tailored to your region

May 2017

Angular Oslo Meetup helps Norwegian web front-end developers of mobile and web applications share knowledge, experience, and best practices on using Angular. Maxim Salnikov and his fellow organizers decided to step it up a notch by bringing the whole Nordic community together for ngVikings, the first ever Angular conference in the Nordics to attract over 300 developers. He told us all about it and shared many tips for organizers who are thinking of creating a similar event.

NgVikings Group

Maxim Salnikov Maxim Salnikov
Maxim, how did you get involved with the Angular community in Oslo?

I attended a local meetup in Oslo in 2014 and started helping organize meetups. We have about 1,000 members in our community and I want to involve more developers as attendees and speakers, as well as expand our team of organizers. I later decided to join the GDE program and co-organized some larger events like Mobile Era (largest mobile conference in the Nordics), but I really wanted to do something serious about Angular in my region.

Why are you involved in the community around Angular?

The Angular community is very well organized and supportive. For example, about 100 Angular meetup organizers from all over the world meet regularly on Slack and at Angular conferences to share best practices and inspiration, and thus form an ngCommunity. Our knowledge about how to organize meetups and engage members grows, and we all benefit. It’s a lot of fun and brings me a lot of joy to be a part of all this.

How did the idea for an Angular conference in the Nordics start?

A few other organizers from Scandinavia and I met at AngularCamp in 2016 and got inspired by this community-driven event to organize our own conference. We wanted to do a regional event, which is why we picked the name “ngVikings.” Now we’re a core team of organizers from four countries: Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.

How did you all work together and how long did it take to get everything ready?

We mostly worked remotely – having weekly Sunday evening hangouts – keeping it as informal as possible. I was the meeting facilitator (an “MC” as I like to put it), being the only one with some actual conference organizing experience. I didn't meet some of the team members until the actual conference. It took us about six months to prepare everything from the original idea to execution. The last three months before the conference were quite intense. The team worked so well that we actually became friends, and some folks even miss our regular Sunday hangouts.

How many people were organizing the event?

Well, it’s hard to differentiate who is an organizer and who is a contributor, and it also kept changing as we progressed. But let's say that we were 11 people on the core team and many others supporting us including about 15 volunteers on the day of the event.

Tell us more about the actual event. How was it structured?

We went for the conference format on the first day and for workshops on the second day. The workshops were in parallel, and we covered seven different topics. We got so many great proposals for papers that we decided to have the presentations in two tracks instead of the initial minimalistic one-track approach, to be able to accommodate more than 30 selected speakers.

Selecting a good venue makes up a big part of the overall success of an event. It can also be an expensive choice. How was it in your case?

Our Danish team members had a very good connection to the IT University of Copenhagen. Thanks to the university's contribution to the developer community, we were able to get the space for free. We were extremely happy. It’s a modern building inside and out, equipped with top tech and a good internet connection. We used two large auditoriums for presentations, and smaller classrooms for workshops. Some student volunteers helped us with the event production.

How many people attended the event?

More than 300 people. We were sold out, which was a nice surprise. The conference was a weekend event, and I think it was a good decision. The venue was more flexible with fewer space restrictions (as there were no lectures), and it was easier for people that were commuting as well.

What tools and channels did you use for promotion?

Angular community is really active and well-connected, so we mostly used community-driven promotion. I asked my fellow GDEs to invite their contacts and all the team members used their networks as well. On top of that, we experimented with some paid Facebook ads, but this didn't prove to be a strong tool for us. For regular updates we used Twitter. I'm also discussing more about how to approach the promotion strategy of your event in this interview.

Even when you're planning a low-cost event, there are always some inevitable direct costs. How did you budget for this and engage sponsors?

We had a dedicated person on our team for finance, and the whole team was looking for sponsors. As you're saying, we wanted to go really low-cost. We had one rule: that we didn't accept paid talks that would just be a sales pitch. We had a selection committee for papers submitted. We coached speakers to deliver technical talks. Everyone associates the speaker with the company anyway and it works much better as promotion.

There were other ways for sponsors to support us. We got license contributors, and pitched to have our speakers’ travel expenses covered by their employers, which was a big help. We were able to invite 6-7 GDE speakers thanks to this approach. We were contacted by companies who heard about the event and wanted to support us.

Some serious cash was spent on catering, travel costs, banners, rollups, and swag (shirts for all and horn-shaped mugs for speakers :)

Was there anything that surprised you in the process of preparing the conference? Either in a positive or negative way.

There were many “wow” moments (laugh). We thought we lost the venue at one point as our initial agreement was just verbal, and we had already started planning everything. But it worked out.

Organizing all the travel was a major issue. One speaker didn't get his visa (I recommend planning this process well ahead), and a backup speaker had to be invited.

Of course, during the event you had the occasional mics not working and something not being ready on time. But we worked as a team and at the end we were like, “Wow, we did it!”

So the ngVikings conference was a success. Do you plan to continue?

Yes. We’re quite aware of the things we need to improve too. We were collecting participants’ feedback and got a lot of insights, mostly organizational as the technical content was well received. Things like how to organize food breaks to avoid lines, etc.

As for the future, we want to organize the conference in a different Nordic country and we finally settled on Finland for ngVikings 2018. We’re also working on gathering best practices on how to run a community to share with organizers that are starting a new chapter or are dealing with growth issues. The problems tend to repeat themselves, and we can all learn from each other. I invite anyone who is interested in getting in touch to tweet at us. You can use my personal handle as well.