HostingCon was a 3-day event. In the grand scheme of things that doesn’t sound like much. Having attended a number of conferences and conventions in my time I assumed that this would be a standard meet and greet, “Hello we work in the same industry”, “Yes I enjoyed the continental breakfast”, “That last speaker was rough”, “Want to split a cab to the airport?” type of ordeal. I thought it would be the same song and dance that I’ve done a hundred times in a hundred cities with hundreds of familiar faces.
I am pleasantly surprised to report that HostingCon, in all its ridiculous glory, was nothing like that. There’s something very special about this industry that a lot of other industries will never understand. The next big innovation is always approaching. The landscape is always changing. The weak ideas are always dying. New companies are always rising. The topics discussed at last year’s HostingCon were not discussed again this year. The topics discussed this year were new and fresh; you cannot read about them in books.
To try and truncate everything that I learned there into this post would be disastrous, so I’ll try to keep it brief. There was one presentation in particular that stayed with me for days afterward. Dave Koston of Fortuity LLC gave a heartfelt and genuine speech about how to deliver products that customers will pay for. The bottom line of his presentation? You find out what people want by listening to them in an organic way.
All too often we get in the habit of sending out a survey with leading questions (if Name.com offered a unicorn dance video generator, would you buy it?) and using the answers to these questions to make business decisions (no, you wouldn’t buy it, but it sounds cool enough to say that you would). A large investment is made, a big project is planned, a new product is deployed, and conversion rates are alarmingly low. It’s disappointing and frustrating for everyone involved, because you thought you were building something that your customers wanted. You even have survey results to back this point up!
Koston gave a list of example questions and advised everyone to “be in love with the problem, not your solution to the problem.” Phrasing questions like “What do you do for X?” or “Can you describe your experiences with Z?” will give you answers you can use to find a solution where people aren’t necessarily aware of a problem. Interesting stuff.
In addition to this little gem I also learned a fair amount about social media (the fastest-growing segment in a marketing budget), the effectiveness of email campaigns (91% of people unsubscribe), ecommerce solutions (they’re making a comeback), how to create an employee brand ambassador program (thanks to William Toll), our system administrator’s dance moves, and that I strongly dislike humidity in the heat of July.