Mark Littlewood: The first year was slightly… an experiment. I didn’t set BoS up. It was set up by a really good friend of mine, Neil Davidson. He looked around for conferences to go to but everything was about starting up or doing some kind of financial shenanigan to IPO and he wanted to build a long-term, profitable, sustainable business.
So he’s like, “Well, I better just do my own thing,” and so the first BoS was run as a, “I’m gonna get ahold of all the people I’d like to come and talk.” He got ahold of people like Geoffrey Moore, and said, “I’m gonna run this conference. Would you come along and talk?”
People said yes. I think there were 70 or 80 people, but high value, and then he realized quite sensibly that running conferences are a pain in the backside, so he got me involved.
Taylor McKnight: It’s very challenging, but I love that founding story. I think that’s why, even today, your conference stands out as something that’s so practical. You listen to these talks and it’s not just high-level stuff about being inspired. It’s literally, how do I hire better, make better hiring decisions, or how do I actually take advantage of new marketing channels. It’s very specific, and I think that comes out of his experience, right? He wanted something to actually use.
ML: It definitely comes out of his experience. And I think it’s how I try and curate the content now.
ROCK ‘N LOBSTER ROLL
TM: There’s so much personality in your brand. I know that’s an important part of the Business of Software brand. Can you tell me what that is?
ML: Last year’s event was completely an homage to Motorhead. We had our previous year's conferences on the back as the tour dates — because obviously, Lemmy is the greatest rock and roll god of all time, and Motorhead is the greatest band of all time.
In fact, I’m glad you asked about our branding, and I managed to segue into Motorhead straight away because, in fact, this has just turned up. Phil Campbell literally arrived this morning [picks up Old Lions Still Roar album], and Phil was the guitarist in Motorhead for 20 years. This is his first solo album, so I’m gonna go and sit in the car after this, and listen to it very, very loud.
TM: When I was designing my company’s shirts, my criteria was that it had to be cool enough, as a band shirt. So, it’s cool to hear rock and roll fueling events.
ML: We have our own logo, but we’ve always had a little device for each event. One year we had a prancing unicorn with its horn going through a bubble. We’ve kind of settled on lobsters for Boston because they’re very Boston. And in fact, eight-bit lobster space invaders for this year’s event.
ML: Some newsletter readers will take four or five years to come to an event. Quite often we’ll get an email saying, “Oh, I’ve been watching your things for years, and we’re really thinking about coming this year. How do we know if it’s gonna be right for me?” And we’re small enough to be personal about that kind of stuff.
The last thing I want to do is to have someone there that either shouldn’t be there, or is the wrong kind of person, or isn’t gonna get something out of it.
Not least because, and I think we’re probably unique in this, we have a no-quibble money-back guarantee to our attendees. If you come, pay for a ticket, and feel you don’t get value, we’ll refund your money.
TM: I don’t know many other events that would do that.
ML: It feels like the right thing to do.
TM: Have you had people take you up on that?
ML: No, we’re very, very open about it.
TM: I think that speaks to the thoughtfulness of your events, and also your clarity of message. Even our conversation now, you’re very clear about what you are and aren’t, who you’re trying to help, and so I think the right people are opting in.