Sponsorship and running my events

Sponsorship and running my events

Posted by mike grabham (Seattle) on Mar 7 2013

Last month I was lucky enough to have Derek in town to attend the Seattle event (he actually did the interview) so it was nice to be able to be a spectator at your own event. Derek asked me to write a post about how I run/started my events up here in sunny Seattle. 

I have had 7 events so far, each month since August. I charge $17 for entry and $20 for walk-ins. I use square to process credits cards and my pocket to process to cash. My paid attendance has grown ever month little by little last month we had 49 paid attendees. I say "paid" as I also giveaway tickets to friends and people I just want to come. We had 59 people in the room last month. I have never had less than 35 people and not more than 70 people so far but it will reach a 100 by may or june is my guess. 

The part that Derek really wanted me to talk about is how I run and have set up my events. Before I had my first event I had a sponsor. I did this by asking around to my network who would like to be in front of 50 people starting a company each month. I was referred to a law firm that does Intellectual Property law. I didn't know them but i talked with them via the phone about Startup Grind and what type of person will be attending. They signed on as a sponsor for a 3 month commitment for $1500 total. $500 each month. With that sponsor I knew I could at least break event with my first events costs. I talked to several more potential sponsors and got 2 of them to show up to my first event to learn more about it. I hired a caterer to bring in some decent food (not pizza) and I got good quality wine, beer and water. After my first event I understood how it all worked (kind of) and what things were missing. I was still looking for a great venue to hold my events. I had my first event at a place where many tech events are held but it is not a place where I thought was good for the atmosphere we want to create for Startup Grind. And I wanted better food. I found a great caterer that costs about $8-10/head. Here is the trick for this... the caterer will ask you how many do you expect if you say 50 they will make food for 50. But honestly you don't need food for 50 you need food for everyone to have some tastes. Order platters of food if possible don't order items where they actually count the number of items you are getting, then you tell your caterer you need food for 35-40 and you should be fine even though you have 50-55 people in attendance. You don't want to have any food leftover anyway and no one can complain especially when you are serving smoked salmon (sometimes) and thai chicken skewers(always).

I choose to serve very good food and good wine/beer because I like it personally and rarely do you find good food at an event for start ups, normally it is pizza or costco food.

Now the most important part - sponsors. I had never done an event like this before but I knew I wanted two things, great food and a good venue that is warm and inviting. My belief is if I can have these each month then sooner or later it will pay for itself. Most of us are not independently wealthy (except Chris Joannou from AUS) :) so we have to be able to pay for all this stuff. The answer to find sponsors is, call people and tell them "you have a group of 50-75 people that meet each month that want to start or have started a company". If you talk to accountants, lawyers, marketing, PR, hosting and business consultants in your area you will find a few that want to help build a vibrant place to meet. Let them know your plans of growing and what type of people you want to attract. Everyone now has an advantage since we now have a ton of great press we can point to at startupgrind.com so they will understand you have a real plan to deliver a quality event. You are looking for a partner to help grow your group. Sell the vision of Startup Grind and sell your local vision of what you want to do with your group. 

You only need a couple of people to say yes. I was lucky enough to find a law firm that also had a great venue to hold my events (I still charge them a discounted amount since they are providing the venue). I spent some time cold calling and cold emailing people that I thought would want to be in front of my audience. BTW, they recently paid for 6 months of sponsorship so that allows me to focus more on promotion of the events instead cutting corners to be able to have my events break-even. Also, I got them by cold emailing one of the partners and just saying I was looking for one more sponsor. In my opinion everyone should get a sponsor asap as it allows you to focus on what is really important of growing your attendance and putting on great events each month.

My last events now take very little prep as I simply email my caterer a good guess of attendance, have an college kid help me at the door and have a friend of mine do the video (who I pay). All of this is paid by my sponsors in advance and I have been approached by others about sponsoring my events but now I just tell them that it is $750/month and I am full until May. If they are serious we can sit down and show them docs that Denise created (thank you). We have all the tools "now" to get sponsors to help us grow our chapters and in my opinion we should all have two local sponsors to help us pay for the value we bring to each of our communities.

Have an Amazing Day,

Michael from sunny Seattle