We just announced Gaenovium. We’ve sent out a press release. We’ve taken the web site out of beta, with information on the speakers, presentations and venue. We’ve revealed our twitter account, FaceBook page, Google+ page, and this, our blog. It’s a major kilometre mark, signalling that a lot of the journey is now behind us.
how it started
This journey started years ago, when we got the impression that there are many more genealogy conferences in the USA than the whole of Europe, despite the fact that Europe has more than twice as many citizens, and Americans want to trace their genealogy back to Europe.
Every time we discussed this, we agreed on the idea that there should be more genealogy conferences in Europe. Another idea that kept coming up in these conversations was that all those conferences cater to users of genealogy technology, and that the creators of that technology should have their own conference.
About two months ago, we decided to stop talking and start acting upon these ideas. We decided to start organising Gaenovium, the genealogy technology conference – except that we did not call it Gaenovium yet.
We had no name or anything else yet. We only had the decision to start doing something, to organise a conference for genealogy technologists. We had no name, no logo, no location, no website, no speakers, no sponsors, nothing. Most crucially, we had no experience either. Sure, we had each managed some projects and organised some small events, but we had never organised a conference.
This inexperience was our most valuable asset, in that it enabled us to decide, with completely unfounded confidence, that we’d create and organise a brand new international conference from scratch, and do so within a few months. Right now, we are painfully aware that the time frame we gave ourselves was crazy short, but here we are. Slightly more than two months after we started, we’ve announced the conference, one that’s quite different from regular genealogy conferences, and here are some notes on how we got here.
dozens not thousands
We immediately realised that a conference for genealogy technology creators will draw a considerably smaller crowd than a conference for genealogy technology users, dozens not thousands.
Some might see that as a serious disadvantage, we saw advantages. Small is intimate. A small group allows more interaction between presenters and attendees, ample opportunity for Q&A, perhaps even some impromptu discussions. That it would be a fairly small group also meant we could pick from a larger number of smaller locations, and could even include a closing diner for the entire group.
We had to come up with a name. The problem is, all the good ones are taken, and when a good one isn’t taken, the twitter handle is…
We had serious trouble coming up with a good name. In fact, when we first approached a potential sponsor, we were still using the place-holder name GenCon, which is just an abbreviation for Genealogy Conference. We sent many emails back and forth in search of a name we both liked, and when we finally hit upon Gaenovium, we knew we had our name.
We like that it contains every vowel in the alphabet exactly once, we like that the twitter handle was still free, but what we like even more is that when we first googled it, our google search returned zero hits.
There were setbacks. A few quick calculations convinced us early on that it was going to be hard to put on a conference without a sponsor. The first time we asked for sponsorship we were confronted with a PR person who did not just fail to understand what we were doing but did not even try to understand, never bothered to give us a call to discuss things. That casual disinterest was more than a little disappointing, it was hurtful, but we did not give up because of one setback, and that one PR rep turned out to be the only person who did not care to know what we are doing.
Everyone else we spoke to was quite interested in and supportive of our initiative to create something new. Once we told our contacts what we were doing, most kept asking questions. Getting sponsors turned out to be easier than our first experience suggested.
The first two questions a potential speakers asks are when & where, the third question is how big. We had already decided a date and the town of Leiden, but to answer all three questions we needed to settle on a venue. Problem is, we had no way of knowing or even guessing how many people would want to come. Our conference is different in more than one way, but we would not even have known how many attendees to expect if our conference had been similar to other conference, simply because ours is in Europe.
Still, we had to pick a venue, so we did. The Leiden Archive was kind enough to offer us the use of their auditorium, but it is fairly small. We settled on something slightly bigger venue, within walking distance of the Central Station and several hotels. At times we’ve wondered whether we could ever interest enough people to fill it, at others times we wondered how many people we’ll have to disappoint.
We still have no idea how many people will sign up, but hope to disappoint many. Wait, that did not come out right…well, you what we mean.
Gaenovium 2014 features an international roster of speakers on a variety of genealogy technology subjects. Each of these speakers agreed to do their presentation for no more than a free conference pass. For most of them the travel cost is more than the cost of pass, and for some of them it’s way more, yet they still decided that joining our crazy project was worth the cost. Some agreed to upgrade an existing presentation, others agreed to create complete new ones. The level of enthusiasm we encountered for our initiative was truly encouraging.
We asked everyone we talked to keep things confidential until our announcement. We wanted to focus on getting things done, and simply weren’t ready to start giving answers before we had figured out the questions. We never asked anyone to sign a non-disclosure agreement, we just asked them to keep quiet, and we’re grateful to all of them for keeping mum while we were still busy creating things, for letting us create the conference in quiet and announce it ourselves.
We’re grateful for all the people who put their trust in us. It would be false modesty to suggest our names don’t count for anything – when your personal website gets a few million hits per year you know better than that. It is a fact that we’re well known genealogy technologists, but it is another and more important fact that we had no experience organising an international conference, that we were learning how to do it while doing it.
We have been upfront about our inexperience, yet sponsors and speakers still trusted us to bring everything together and make it work. Their trust, more than anything else, is what enabled us to go ahead; if those speakers and sponsors had not joined our adventure, we wouldn’t be announcing anything.
exciting and scary
So, here we are now. What started out as just some ideas thrown around in discussions has matured into an unique conference concept. A lot of work has been done; we have a name, a logo, a venue, speakers, sponsors, a website and a blog.
There’s a lot more work to be done, and we’re sure something will go wrong somewhere along the way, but we’re eager to tackle those problems and make i all work. It’s exciting and scary at the same, but we’re happy that we’re no longer just talking about it, but actually doing it.