Today marks the three year anniversary of when we first kicked off our journey to build a community of inbound marketers here in Dublin. Over the past 36 months, we’ve had a lot of successes, faced multiple challenges, and went through a number of changes to become what we are today.
For me, it has been one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on, and definitely the most challenging as I’ve invested countless hours, made a number of sacrifices, and hit breaking point on multiple occasions which I’ve spoken about before. We’ve grown from a small event of 40 attendees in Dublin back in November 2013 to multiple evening events per year that attract 300+ attendees.
For most of this journey, I’ve been working in a full-time role to help subsidise the events on the occasions we haven’t turned a profit, but I’m still incredibly proud of how far we’ve come – and really excited about where we’ll be going next.
Before we kick-off our tenth event in a couple of weeks, I’d like to take you back to the very beginning to talk about how we started and what we’re working towards – and more importantly to thank everyone who has supported us over the years. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the marketing community, the speakers who have taken a chance on us, and the sponsors who have helped to drive awareness of the events and help cover the costs.
It was a cold and wet winter’s night in November 2013 (it’s Dublin – it’s always raining) when we held a small event in Harry’s On The Green which was organised within a matter of days as I randomly spotted a tweet from Mike King who said he’d be in Dublin for a couple of days. As Mike hadn’t been booked to speak at any marketing events here, and I was already a fan after watching him speak elsewhere, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to put something together.
The event was free to attend, hastily organised and lacked a lot of the essential ingredients that we’ve come to know of since, but Mike’s talk was great and it gave me an appetite for doing something new here in Dublin.
It was around this time that I got to know Siobhán who was making a name for herself in the digital scene. Following conversations over several months, we decided to rebrand from ‘Inbound Dublin’ to ‘Learn Inbound’ as we felt it was a better name for what we wanted to achieve through our events. At the time, we noticed a lot of common traits in digital marketing events in Ireland:
- Tickets were quite expensive
- Speaking slots were provided to sponsors as part of a sponsorship agreement
- Speaking panels lacked gender balance and little care was taken to address the issue
- Many talks were sales pitches or contained outdated content
- Event venues lacked any atmosphere which were not conducive to learning and networking with industry peers
While Ireland had some really great events, we wanted to create something a little bit different by getting back to the core reasons people attend marketing events in the first place. They want to learn actionable tips, tactics and strategies that can be put into practice the next day – and not listen to generic sales pitches or case studies whose results can’t be replicated.
And we wanted to create an environment where marketers felt comfortable chatting to each other by hosting our events in venues that were more conducive to social interactions – rather than stuffy conference centres where you felt obliged to dress a certain way (I’m a plaid shirt kind of guy). Digital marketing is a fun industry to be in, so we wanted to get back to the very roots which had led us both to become marketers.
It was after a couple of months of planning that we finally launched the first version of the Learn Inbound website. A lot of branding that existed then is still in place now, but like many small businesses when they start out, we tried to do a lot of things, but some things worked better than others. We were promoting local events, offering job listings, a community portal, a regularly updated blog and information about our own events.
We hosted our first event in the Digital Hub in January 2015 where Matthew Barby (HubSpot), Stephen Kenwright (Branded3) and Aleyda Solis (Orainti) presented to 120 marketers about SEO and Content Marketing for small businesses. Without their support, it’s unlikely we’d have had ever grown Learn Inbound into a regular series of marketing events, so big thanks to Matthew, Stephen and Aleyda for taking a chance on us. At the time we were still finding our feet about what it takes to run a marketing event, but we were also delighted to be supported by MOZ and SEMrush who offered some really cool swag on the night.
Following the positive feedback from attendees, we jumped straight into preparations for our second event by deciding to move to the Button Factory in Dublin as it offered more room to grow, and a slightly more laid-back atmosphere with a bar to offer free drinks. Let’s face it – who doesn’t want a free drink when learning and networking at a marketing event?
For the April 2015 event, we were joined by Bryan Adams (Ph. Creative), Kieran Flanagan (HubSpot) and Richard Baxter (Builtvisible) who talked about the value of storytelling, creating growth spurts and technical SEO wins for your website. I had been following these guys for a couple of years, so it was an honour to have them speak at Learn Inbound when we were a relatively unknown event.
We wrapped up 2015 by hosting one more evening event in the Button Factory with Ben Norman (Koozai), Stacey MacNaught (Tecmark) and Lisa Myers (Verve Search), before moving to a new venue – The Academy in Dublin. It was an honour to have Rand Fishkin (Moz), Wil Reynolds (Seer Interactive), Bas van den Beld (State of Digital) and Gianluca Fiorelli (ILoveSEO.net) join us for our first half-day event where we were joined by 320 marketers eager to learn from the best. Like any early stage event, we experienced a few tech issues which generally comes with moving venue three times in one year, but overall, the feedback was very positive from those who had attended our events throughout the year.
Keeping in mind my lack of AV and technical knowledge, we kicked off 2016 by bringing in a professional AV team, Wi-Fi supplier, catering company and more team members to help out. We were delighted to have Kirsty Hulse (ManyMinds), Paddy Moogan (Aira) and Lexi Mills (Pledge Music) speak at our first event of the year which again was a highlight for us as we had been following their work for a number of years. I’ve had the opportunity to hear them speak at large conferences such as BrightonSEO, MozCon and SearchLove, so to have them come to Dublin for one of our events, it was a real honour. Besides a weird issue with the lighting that made everything appear green on the night, the event went really well and for once, I was able to listen to the talks without being the techie guy overseeing microphones and presentations.
*Top Tip* If you’re thinking about running an event, I’d suggest you bring in a professional AV team if you have the budget. There’s nothing worse than clicker and AV issues at knocking the confidence of a speaker or annoying the audience while you attempt to fix whatever is broken.
We stayed with The Academy for our April 2016 event where Marcus Tandler (OnPage.org), Bridget Randolph (Distilled) and Oli Gardner (Unbounce) took to the Learn Inbound stage to talk about the future of search and how to build the perfect landing page. Besides the great presentations on the night (thanks, Marcus, Bridget and Oli!), we had started to find our feet with the technicalities of running an event and what speakers our attendees wanted to learn from.
Generally, twice per year we send out a survey to our audience about what speakers they want to see at Learn Inbound, and we’ve been quite fortunate that the majority of speakers we reach out to agree to present at our events. It’s the support from both speakers and attendees that keep us motivated as a team when working on multiple events per year.
For July’s event, and arguably the hottest day of 2016, we continued with our evening format by inviting Brian Dean (Backlinko), Joanna Lord (ClassPass) and Larry Kim (WordStream) to talk about content that converts, habits of a high growth company, and how RankBrain has impacted the future of search. Similar to past events, it was an honour to have three speakers we had been following for years make the trip to Dublin for our event.
It was at MozCon in Seattle in 2014 that I had the chance to meet Brian Dean for the first time who for anyone who has had the pleasure to meet him will agree that he’s one of the nicest guys in SEO. I had already been following talks Joanna and Larry had given at other events, so it was one of the highlights of last year to bring the three of them together for one of our best events to-date. We were also thankful that people opted to skip the warm and sunny weather outside in favour of a learning and networking with three amazing speakers and 300 super-smart attendees.
2016 ended with our first full-day conference which was a big challenge for a number of reasons. We hit a lot of brick walls regarding our initial choice of venue, one of the key members of our team went on extended sick leave, and I had to take unpaid leave from a full-time role I was in to get this event across the line. It was the most challenging event we had hosted and a steep learning curve for me in particular.
Regardless of organisational issues in the lead up to the day, the event itself was a success on as we had a room full of marketers eager to learn from amazing speakers such as Joanna Wiebe, Talia Wolf, Phil Nottingham and Barry Adams. As per previous events, we were incredibly fortunate to work with 10 speakers who delivered excellent presentations and were a pleasure to work with in the lead up to the event and throughout the day.
Following a much-needed break at the end of 2016 (we were exhausted!), we began our third year of events by inviting Stephen Kenwright of Branded3 back to Dublin, where he was joined by Dana DiTomaso of Kick Point and Samantha Noble of Koozai. I had been fortunate to have listened to Dana speak at MozCon a couple of years ago, and ever since then, I had been keen to invite her to Dublin to speak at one of our events.
Similar to Dana, I’ve listened to Samantha speak at BrightonSEO, The Inbounder and Turing Festival where she, in my opinion, was one of the strongest speakers at each of the events. To have all three speak at the same event was a real highlight for us as a team, and what a great way to kick off our third year of events.
Since the January event wrapped up, we’ve been busy working on our next stages of growth. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out updates to the Learn Inbound website to accommodate the repository of video content we’ve been creating since the very first event in 2015. Along with this, you can expect to see a number of new pages that will highlight our mission, who’s involved behind the scenes and what we want to achieve as a company. Our mission from the beginning has been to help you become a better marketer, and that’s something we will continue to focus our efforts on as we attempt to improve the quality of our events and our offering.
Over the past three years, we feel quite lucky that as a team we’ve had the opportunity to meet so many talented people who we can now call friends. With every evening or weekend we’ve given up to work on providing better learning experiences for marketers here in Ireland, it’s the support of attendees and speakers which have kept us driven. Learn Inbound wasn’t born out of a desire to capitalise on a commercial opportunity to run a series of marketing events in Ireland – but rather it was born out of a passion for marketing as it’s something we practice each and every day ourselves.
And with that in mind, thanks to all of our speakers, sponsors and attendees who have helped to shape what Learn Inbound is today – we couldn’t have done it without you. I look forward to meeting you all at our tenth event taking place on Wednesday 19th July at which we’ll be celebrating this milestone and listening to great talks from Cara Harshman, Angie Schottmuller and Kieran Flanagan. We will also be making a couple of announcements regarding our next full-day conference and other things we’ve been working on since we last saw you at our January event.
See you there!