I started ProductCamp London not because I thought I knew a lot about product management and wanted to spread the word, nor because I felt the need to kick off a large series of events. I simply just wanted to meet other product managers!
If you’re like me and work in a startup, you’re likely the only product manager in your team. This makes it difficult to share ideas, tips and advice with others who are in a similar function. Finding others in the same role is surprisingly difficult without a community to turn to.
Around this time last year, I’d poked around a little bit into what sort of product management communities there were. I got my hopes up when I saw that there were quite a handful of ProductCamps in operation, but was astounded to find out that there was nothing in London.
“We quipped about the bizarre chances that three product managers, possibly the only three in the party, managed to find each other.”
The fateful evening was at Twestival, where I bumped into and introduced myself to Simon Cast and Liz Rice, both of whom happened to be in product management as well. We quipped about the bizarre chances that three product managers, possibly the only three in the party, managed to find each other. Discussions were lively, and, after a few shared drinks, I proposed starting a ProductCamp in London. While met with enthusiasm at the time, I assumed that by the morning, the offers to help might be forgotten.
Equipped with a little more confidence in the idea, I dropped a line in the ProductCamp LinkedIn group. To my surprise and delight, I instantly got support from all angles – sponsors offering to chip in, volunteers for helping to organize, and a small group of attendees lined up. Realising that I was now pretty committed to getting this off the ground, I followed up with Simon and Liz who both stuck with their offers to help.
“Liz and Simon promptly reached out to everyone they knew that they thought could help, and piece by piece, the event started coming together.”
Realise that at this point in time, I was pretty new to London (I hail from Toronto, for those of you who don’t know), and my network was pretty limited. Liz and Simon promptly reached out to everyone they knew that they thought could help, and piece by piece, the event started coming together.
Being a product manager means that you’ve inherently got to be pretty organized. This gave the three of us a foot up in getting this planned. But don’t kid yourself, it’s not easy. Here’s some tips on getting your first ProductCamp off the ground:
Talk to other ProductCamp organizers
The LinkedIn group was our starting point. Instrumental in doling out the first bits of advice was Saeed Khan, a prolific product management professional, and Paul Young, who started ProductCamp Austin and who is a constant in the product management community.
At the same time, ProductCamp Berlin was getting off the ground and ramping up for their own first event. Talking to Heike Roettgers, the organizer, got us thinking about a number of items we might need to consider and sent over some presentations we could use as templates.
Get help from the venue
Find a venue in your city that’s done other camps or similar events. For the first ProductCamp London, we used the eBay/PayPal offices in Richmond. Besides being a fantastic venue for an ‘unconference’ style of event, it came with the help of Steve Green and Desigan Chinniah, who’d set up BarCamps and other events in that very same venue. These two guys made sure our checklist of supplies was complete, gave us a rundown of how a typical Camp day goes, and basically held our hand to ensure the entire thing went down smoothly.
For the next event, we chose the Guardian building, closer to central London (knowing that Richmond might be a bit of a hike for some attendees in February). Again, this building has housed a number of similar events, and came with the help of Alex Hazell, an Events Executive at the Guardian, who single-handedly organized the security, cleaning, catering, tech support and room booking necessary for the day.
Find others who can help
Early on in the planning of the first ProductCamp London, we realised that there was another group forming around the London product management scene. Martin Eriksson had started rallying support for ProductTank in the same month we kicked off ProductCamp. It was only natural that we joined forces, cross-marketing, and in the end, holding a ProductTank event as an evening follow up to ProductCamp.
“Don’t be afraid to turn to attendees and sponsors for help, as well.”
Don’t be afraid to turn to attendees and sponsors for help, as well. For both events, we had a number of people come forth and chip in, in a variety of ways. For the most recent ProductCamp, we got connected to sponsors through introductions made by attendees, had sponsors help publicise the event, and even put sponsors and attendees to work with stuffing goodie bags and minding the registration table! The ‘unconference’ style lends itself to an informal feeling, and it seems to encourage people to help get things running smoothly – so be sure to ask if you think there’s something that could use an extra hand.
Start planning early
This might seem obvious. But if you intend to hold a ProductCamp in June and you start planning in March… trust me, June will come very quickly. While we seem to be getting the hang of it after a couple of Camps, I would suggest leaving 2-3 months of time from kick-off to game day.
If you’re looking at starting a ProductCamp in your own city, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help point you in the right direction.