Ten years ago, Rob Walling set out to create a forum for SaaS founders to meet in-person. With “micro” in its name, you may have guessed that the original event was small, but Walling has maintained the close-knit feel of the events and community even as it has grown. Today, MicroConf is the premier event host and community of non-venture track SaaS founders worldwide.
“When we started, it was a side project that we just hoped would break even so that we could be around other human beings who understood all our acronyms,” Walling said.
And that it is. Over the last decade, thousands of SaaS founders from around the world have gathered at MicroConf events – both in person and online – to network and grow. But the event that is now known across the world had much more humble beginnings.
According to Walling, the first MicroConf took place “at the cheapest meeting space in Vegas, at a hotel that has since been torn down, if that tells you anything.” He and his co-planners thought they could sell 225 tickets, but – never having run an event – soon realized it was harder than they anticipated.
“A few weeks before the event when we had only sold 70 tickets, we were panicking. But then two sponsors came through and we were able to sell about 30 more tickets, and we just broke even,” he said. However, the experience of organizing and then running an event was harrowing.
“When it was all over, we were like, ‘We are never doing this again,’” he said. Thankfully for SaaS founders everywhere, the year-one attendees were able to change his mind. The 100 attendees raved about the in-person event and opportunity to meet like-minded colleagues. They shared their excitement not just with Walling, but also with their peers. The second year, MicroConf sold out in two weeks. Word of the event continued to spread, and with very little effort, the year-three event sold out in 24 hours. The fourth year, it sold out in just six minutes.
Given this enthusiastic response from bootstrappers worldwide, Rob and his team decided to split the event and create two versions, MicroConf Starter (for early-stage developers) and MicroConf Growth (for those looking to scale). By creating separate conferences, MicroConf would retain the close-knit feel of the original event. But even that wasn’t enough to keep up with the event’s growth.
While the original idea was to pull people together for an in-person event, as MicroConf became more popular, Walling realized that they would need to expand into online events. He was ahead of the curve and saw the value of remote before the pandemic hit.
“We decided before COVID to expand to a lot of online experiences. Remote was a challenge because if you talk to our attendees, they love the in-person interaction. It is the Hallway Track that is second to none. Walking around and seeing other founders is so key to the conference experience, but with the Gather.Town platform we used for our online event this year, attendees can interact with one another from the comfort of their own homes. The feedback we received was positive.” Walling explained.
Going forward, MicroConf will continue to host both online and in-person events. Walling is expecting north of 2,500 attendees across both models, and – for the first time – MicroConf will also host MicroConf APAC, an event in the Asia/Pacific region, in winter 2022.
Microconf has come a long way. Almost a decade ago, a small group of founders gathered at a rundown hotel in Las Vegas to discuss their businesses, the challenges they faced and the opportunities ahead of them. Today, MicroConf is a community of like-minded founders who gather both in-person and remotely for top-notch events from around the world.
“MicroConf is where we find belonging with people who understand what we do. This is a thing now, it isn’t just a hobby.”