So long and thanks for all the fish. I'm sad to say that this will be the last UKLUG / ICON event I run.
I'm sad to say that this years' ICON in Brighton will be both the first and the last. I'd love to be able to say it's because I'm moving onto new things and don't have the time - but that wouldn't be true. It will be the last because of money.
Many of you might not know this, but ICON and UKLUG (and ILUG and BLUG and AusLUG and IAMLug etc....) are all run by private individuals. UKLUG Ltd, the company that handles UKLUG/ICON has two directors - myself and my wife, Kitty.
Some background. Each year, we hunt out a venue and agree a contract - about 9-12 months in advance of the event. At that point we have to agree numbers, sign a contract and pay a deposit (typically 25%). Then, it's time to find sponsors to fund the event to be able to honour that contract. That full contract usually costs £30-£50,000 and if I don't sign it, we don't get the venue. For those outside the UK, that's the price of a brand new Mercedes SLK.
Usually, we find enough sponsors to pay that contract and also to pay for your lanyards, bags, speedsponsoring beer etc etc. I'm also able to recognise the huge amount of work that the team put in for free (we pay for their hotel bills).
This year has been a bit different. We signed the contracts and launched the site but the sponsors were slow to come. Firstly, an ENORMOUS thankyou to those that did sponsor. You remember that £50,000 contract I signed? You guys help me sleep at night. Seriously. Sadly, though, the other sponsors have never materialised. I've put alot of thought into this, and can think of two reasons why;
Firstly, many partners don't need to, or want to sponsor. Perhaps they have moved their focus away from IBM, or have merged with another partner. Or they have a reseller at the event already. I can 100% agree with those reasons, I'd do the same myself.
The second reason is that we're expensive. It's true - ICON is more expensive to sponsor than BLUG for instance. But we don't have a choice. We're not making any profits and the UK is not a cheap place to put on events* . The real reason we're expensive though, is the lack of support from IBM UK. For the last two years, IBM UK have sponsored at Silver level. That's £1250 - or enough to support 12.5 people at the event (less than IBM actually have at the event!). Because we get so little money from IBM UK, the partner prices have had to remain high - there's nothing I can do about that.
We've done some long hard looking into the future. IBM UK show no signs of significantly investing in their UK community and the partner community is shrinking. A shrinking partner community would then need even more support from IBM UK and the circle would continue. So the current model won't work. We've thought about charging attendees, but we'd need to charge £100-£150 per person to cover the costs (more if numbers drop). We know that won't fly, or will be too complex for corporates to be able to process.
To be brutally honest, after 8 years of signing those huge contracts without knowing if I can actually pay for them, I'm done. My LEGO business is doing OK, and I'm still doing many other events and IT work. I would still happily help run a UK event because I love the community, the software and the work. I'm just not in a position to underwrite them. I also have to justify the days and days of work which are unpaid. It just doesn't make sense anymore.
So, what next? Well, ICON UK will happen in Brighton and I'm sure it will be as much of a success as the previous events. You might notice that we're re-using alot of UKLUG branded items, but it should be obvious why. Will there be any more UK IBM/Lotus events? I don't know. If a company is willing to underwrite them, I'd love to deliver them for you - but I have my sincere doubts that will happen.
ICON, though, will hopefully live on. Abigail, Kitty and I spent a huge amount of time developing that brand, so it will carry on. IAMLug have already announced they are renaming to ICON US, and if you run a local LUG, there will be opportunities for you there too - watch this space.
So, so long and thanks for all the fish. It's been great - really, really great and I'm going to miss it terribly. But it's just not economic to do anymore and I can't continue to subsidise it.
See you all in Brighton,
*incidentally, running ICON/UKLUG is actually cheaper than it really should be, as its' covered by my own liability insurance, accountancy fees, bankrolling, van provision, sub-hire of (quite honestly) one tonne of AV from my stock, doesn't pay for my time, etc etc. Through some heavy cost cutting, we've managed to not make a loss this year. Which is good, because one month ago I was loosing £6,000...