The Secret Growth Formula Behind HubSpot’s #INBOUND14 Conference

Right after we hosted the first-ever HubSpot User Group Summit in 2010, our co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah put up a page on our internal wiki titled, “Thoughts on HUG 2010 (And Beyond),” where he listed the good, the bad, and the ugly from the event and shared ideas for the following year. My favorite line on the page is, “I liked that we had such a big turnout.” The Summit attracted 315 attendees that year. It’s funny to think about how dramatically our definition of “big” has changed since then.

Five years, one rebrand, and 7,000 attendees later, we’re now gearing up for the #INBOUND14 conference that kicks off next week. Here are four lessons I’ve learned about event planning and marketing over the course of INBOUND’s development that have fueled our growth and can be applied to any event, big or small.

1) Forget the Frills, Focus on Content

We’ve always said that inbound marketing is about the size of your brain, not the size of your wallet. Turns out, this rings true for event planning too. We had effectively no budget to work with for the 2010 HubSpot User Group Summit; every speaker was a HubSpot employee, there was no swag to be seen, and the venue was a local university. We didn’t have much, but we had what mattered: valuable content. Every session was designed to help our customers become better marketers.

Five years later, our approach hasn’t changed. We now have a budget to work with and we use it to bring remarkable content to the stage in the form of thought leaders, bestselling authors, and Grammy-nominated artists.

You don’t need glitz and glam to create a valuable experience for attendees, you need content that sticks. That’s what people come back for.

2) Stuck on Scaling? Phone a Friend

When it comes to events, we’re always trying to boost attendance, drive more ticket sales, and expand our content offering. We’ve found that getting bigger and better is hard. Really hard. For the second installment of our HubSpot User Group Summit in 2011, we wanted to extend our reach beyond HubSpot customers and really start building a community of inbound marketers. The problem was, our network was limited and we needed to quickly tap into new audiences. Cue partnerships. We joined forces with the Pulse Network to host our User Group and their Inbound Marketing Summit side-by-side, and we were able to scale the event faster as a result. Similarly, we’re teaming up with FutureM this year to make INBOUND14 better than ever.

Finding a partnership that makes sense for your business is a great way to tap into new audiences and grow your reach.

3) Use Your Event as a Company-Wide Goal

Most businesses think of events as a way to connect with their audience, deliver a memorable experience, and generate some heightened buzz. But we found that isn’t the whole story.

When INBOUND shed its skin as a user group and started to gain mainstream traction, we realized we finally had people’s attention. As a result, the conference became our platform to launch new products, introduce key employees, recognize our customers’ success, and share new thought leadership. Now, we use INBOUND as a deadline, goal, and point of reference for company-wide projects and initiatives.

Think about seizing buzz and your audience’s attention by using your next event as a platform to propel other things.

4) Stay Scrappy

In the early days, our marketers played the role of event planners, speakers, A/V technicians, videographers, musical guests, and even decorators. I remember one year we had a pretty bare-bones venue and budget to work with, so when we walked into our space the morning of the event and realized that we had zero branding, two employees ran out to grab all the orange paper they could find and quickly crafted over 120 faux floral centerpieces. I truly believe that being scrappy is a huge reason INBOUND has grown so rapidly.

Today we have a dedicated conference team, but when it gets down to crunch time everyone at HubSpot is going well beyond their job description to make the event a great experience for attendees.

Events require significant doses of time, energy, effort, marketing, and money, regardless of their size and scope. But in our experience, focusing on the content, leveraging partnerships, and remaining extremely scrappy allows you to deliver and scale exceptional events and deliver optimal experiences for your attendees.

What have you found to be your biggest hurdle in planning or scaling events? Tell us in the comments, and hope to see you at #INBOUND14!

Image by Michael Conway 


Mike is the CMO of Cybereason and a Member of the Board of Directors at Resply, Inc. Previously, he was the CMO of HubSpot.
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