As I mentioned in the closing remarks, this year’s MidCamp was a roller coaster ride. And as I said to people in the halls: the actual camp is the easy part; it’s getting there that is the real challenge.
One would think that after five years of planning MidCamp, this would get easier. Sadly, this has not been the case. Our primary challenge year to year is organizer burnout. The core team keeps shrinking and inevitably someone takes on a significant burden to keep camp on course. This year, that was me, though I’m either too stubborn or too stupid to walk away from the project.
Some specific challenges we faced this year:
- We overreached with the site rebuild, giving us a late start to crucial things like selling sponsorships and opening the call for papers
- We were $15k below our revenue goals just four weeks before camp
- We succeeded in finally getting DePaul faculty to underwrite us as an internal event (which would have saved on both venue rental and catering fees) only to find out that we were too far in the process (and then later find out we will forever be an external event)
To stay afloat, we made adjustments:
- We increased training ticket costs to cover food and training day venue rental
- We canceled all but coffee and water for session days and the Sunday sprint
- We cut any rooms not used for sessions and we massaged our schedule and room reservations (DePaul is unique in letting us reserve by the hour versus whole or half day like many other venues)
- We cut all but limited snacks at the after parties
The extra hours picking up the slack, the repeated bad news, constant fretting over the budget, and all these cuts really made me start to wonder if MidCamp was worth the effort.
I’m at a dozen or more camps each year. The unsolicited MidCamp love I hear at these camps is what keeps me going. And it was also the reason I could not fathom why we were falling apart at the seams. The community seems to think this is a viable camp, but in all other ways, we were not hitting the mark. Which got me thinking this could very well have been the fifth and final MidCamp.
It was with this in mind that I reached out to Twitter with what I call my hat-in-hand tweet. And the community proved, in no uncertain terms, that this camp matters. We hit record numbers of individual sponsors and received over $1,000 in donations, which we’ve never taken before. And sponsors followed with a last-minute show of support.
We had money again, which meant it was time to reverse some of our cuts. Yet the changes we were forced to make had some unforeseen consequences, the most glaring of which was the cavernous emptiness of the main room. This is a model we lifted from DrupalCorn Camp early on and it worked well for a while. But this year it was a colossal fail as people, by and large, did not return to the main room to eat their lunch after grabbing it from the cafeteria, which meant almost no foot traffic for sponsor tables, and a $5,000-per-day room hosting only a few dozen people outside of the keynote, lightning talks, and camp closing.
So with attendee and sponsor feedback, plus diligent head counts of every room every hour (including the main room), we are now armed with actual data instead of anecdotal recollections:
- The multi-purpose sponsor/bof/keynote room was a bust
- There was a 33% drop in session attendance from Friday to Saturday (yikes!)
- And MidCamp—while amazing—was just another camp
It’s time for change. Here is what’s in store for 2019:
- Condensing all of camp to a single floor of the student center
- Allowing slightly longer time between sessions
- Shifting the schedule so that sessions are Thursday and Friday, to address attendance drop-off
- Adding summits to the training day before camp starts to draw more attendance
- Curating sprint initiatives and marketing them early, again to draw more attendance
- Leveraging MidCamp as the onramp to DrupalCon
And that, my friends, brings us to the amazing Druplichaun we revealed for O’MidCamp. To roll camp back a day, we need to push to the following week in 2019, March 20-23. So if you caught sight of the little fella, know that he got away this time, but we anticipate seeing him again in the future.
Feel free to come to Chicago early and watch the river turn green, escape the Chi-rish, and do some fun things with the local community while we ramp up for an all-new MidCamp.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading and consider getting involved! Join the Slack at https://midcamp-slack.herokuapp.com/
See you around,
MidCamp 2019 Fearless Leader (among other things)