Is Marketing To People The Same As Robbing Them?

The guys discuss gorilla conference marketing and how they promoted Honeybadger back when they could barely afford to attend the conference, let alone a sponsorship. Also discussed is turning Honeybadger's unprofessionalism into a marketing strength, dealing with swag logistics, and why you should never wear a blazer to a dev conference.

The guys discuss gorilla conference marketing and how they promoted Honeybadger back when they could barely afford to attend the conference, let alone a sponsorship. Also discussed is turning Honeybadger's unprofessionalism into a marketing strength, dealing with swag logistics, and why you should never wear a blazer to a dev conference.

Full transcription:
Josh:               00:01          Tatum's favorite programming language right now is Haskell, but I suspect it's because there's a big blue elephant on the cover of the book and elephant is her favorite animal. Yeah. I'm guessing it's not the functional purity that she loves it for.

Announcer:          00:23          Hands off that dial. Business is about to get a whole lot nerdier. You're tuned into FounderQuest.

Starr:              00:31          Yeah. Ida's just been getting really into scientific visualization type stuff. She's doing R a lot lately. I don't really think it's a very good programming language just for general purpose stuff, but she does seem to like it.

Josh:               00:44          Nice.

Ben:                00:44          When the Honeybadger founders compete on their kid's language learning. My kid's just doing basic. They suck.

Josh:               00:52          Yeah.

Ben:                00:53          You should get Tatum a PHP book. She would love that.

Josh:               00:55          Or Postgres.

Ben:                00:56          That's true.

Josh:               00:58          Any elephant ... Why are there so many elephants in programming by the way?

Ben:                01:02          That's a good question.

Starr:              01:03          I don't know.

Starr:              01:05          Programming books-

Josh:               01:06          Is it because of the memory?

Ben:                01:08          For Postgres I think that's the case, yeah.

Josh:               01:10          They either have a long-

Starr:              01:11          Yeah. Like they're supposed to be smart or something.

Josh:               01:14          Yeah.

Starr:              01:15          I don't know I've never met an elephant that struck me as that smart.

Josh:               01:19          Like an elephant never forgets, right?

Starr:              01:21          Right.

Josh:               01:22          Maybe that means, I don't know.

Starr:              01:24          That doesn't mean they remember.

Ben:                01:25          As opposed to Mongo I guess their logo should be what?

Josh:               01:27          That's true.

Ben:                01:27          A fruit fly.

Starr:              01:28          Oh burn.

Ben:                01:29          Oh burn. Sick burn.

Starr:              01:30          Ouch. Yeah, because it dies after 12 hours.

Ben:                01:36          Exactly and forgets everything.

Josh:               01:39          Ben's on fire today.

Starr:              01:40          Oh man. Poor Mongo.

Ben:                01:41          I know.

Starr:              01:44          They've been around, it's been like a decade since-

Ben:                01:46          Wow.

Starr:              01:47          ... we've had bad experiences with Mongo.

Ben:                01:48          That's true.

Starr:              01:49          We still have to say bad things about them.

Josh:               01:54          Yeah.

Starr:              01:55          Okay. We should probably talk about marketing gentlemen.

Ben:                02:00          Sure.

Josh:               02:01          Yeah. That sounds good.

Ben:                02:02          Yeah. Love marketing.

Starr:              02:03          You love marketing?

Ben:                02:04          I do love marketing. How else-

Josh:               02:05          I do too.

Ben:                02:06          How else are you going to get people to know about who you are and give you money, right?

Josh:               02:11          I also hate marketing, but that's another podcast.

Starr:              02:14          You could commit a crime.

Ben:                02:17          Okay, but will that convince people to give you money?

Starr:              02:20          They give you money in the end.

Josh:               02:21          Yeah.

Ben:                02:22          Unless the crime is like a Ponzi scheme.

Starr:              02:23          You end up with money. Is it really that different?

Josh:               02:30          Yeah. You can convince people through crime. What do you think robbery is?

Starr:              02:38          It's an advance tactic of persuasion.

Starr:              02:41          We've had a lot of different marketing strategies. I don't even know strategies, approaches. We have lots of different marketing approaches over the years. Josh, you're the marketing guru now, you're the person who's been most into marketing lately.

Josh:               02:59          Oh gosh.

Starr:              03:00          What's our general approach?

Josh:               03:02          I think our approach has always been really centered around content. Content marketing has always been our big thing. Well, I guess content and word of mouth.

Starr:              03:11          I mean philosophically. Where do we stand on-

Josh:               03:15          Oh.

Starr:              03:15          What are the big picture things? What do we believe about marketing?

Josh:               03:20          We believe that our marketing should have as much personality as possible and we should try to be ourselves in our marketing as much as possible. Yeah. I don't know, that's the big thing for me. We do different tactics. We're Honeybadger, we can't be all like business professional.

Starr:              03:40          We're taking our weakness, which is our unprofessionalism and we're turning that into a feature.

Josh:               03:47          Exactly. I look at it like almost a competitive advantage. We've got these larger competitors with marketing teams and bosses and things and they can't get away with the things that we can just as scrappy little Honeybadger or whatever. I totally think we can use that to our advantage.

Starr:              04:07          Yeah. We could be the punk rock error attacker.

Josh:               04:10          Fighting the man.

Starr:              04:11          I know. I hate the man. We do content, we've always done content and stuff, but we've also done a lot of other things, right? We do the conferences, we've done a lot of cool giveaways and shirts and stuff, we do a lot of stuff on ... We do social media stuff. Let's talk about conferences. What was the first conference we went to? Was it that RailsConf?

Josh:               04:31          Ben and I, I forget when, but we were just talking about when I actually met you Starr.

Starr:              04:39          What? Oh.

Josh:               04:41          If you recall, we started a company together before we had actually met in person.

Starr:              04:45          That's right.

Josh:               04:45          We were legally contractually in business together and we had never met each other. I think I remembered though, that's why I'm bringing this up, is I think it was ... What was the Heroku conference in San Francisco Ben?

Ben:                04:59          Waza.

Josh:               04:59          Ben?

Starr:              04:59          Waza.

Josh:               05:03          Waza. Waza, I think that was when I first met both of you guys together.

Ben:                05:06          Yeah. I think that's right.

Josh:               05:07          Pretty sure.

Ben:                05:07          Yeah. Oh. I totally forgot about that one too.

Starr:              05:10          I had totally forgotten about that too.

Josh:               05:10          I did too. Yeah.

Ben:                05:13          That was the first, I remember now, that was the first meal that Honeybadger paid for.

Josh:               05:16          Yeah. It was surreal. I'd met Ben before in person once when he came down to Portland, but I just remember flying into San Francisco and we're going to this ... It was actually I hadn't been to that many conferences at that point, to be honest either.

Starr:              05:32          Me neither.

Josh:               05:33          It was one of my first, probably first, big conferences I went to and I'm meeting my business partners for the first time, yeah, that I'd met on the internet. We have our company credit cards finally.

Starr:              05:45          Oh yeah. It was so exciting.

Josh:               05:46          We can buy ourselves meals.

Ben:                05:47          Yep. That was awesome.

Starr:              05:49          Did we all stay in that weird anime Japanese-

Josh:               05:53          Uh huh.

Starr:              05:53          ... hotel?

Ben:                05:54          Yep. Yep. Right there in Japantown. It was awesome.

Josh:               05:57          That's a long way to answer your question is I think that was the first conference that we all went to.

Starr:              06:00          You know what, man? That conference still sticks out in my mind as the most fun conference I've ever been to.

Josh:               06:09          From this, what we're talking about right now, from the whole personality in marketing thing, Waza was like ... I feel like Heroku always did a great job with that aspect of marketing. That conference, we remember that conference because it was so unique, I think-

Starr:              06:24          Yeah. That's true.

Josh:               06:25          ... and because it was so different. To bring it back around, that's kind of what I'm talking about is, like yeah, whatever, six, seven, years later, we're still talking about it.

Starr:              06:34          Yeah. Heroku is an application hosting company, right? Now they're owned by Salesforce, but they used to be a start up and everything. They're called Heroku, they have this sort of Japanese ... I guess Heroku is a Japanese word?

Josh:               06:46          I think so, I don't know Japanese.

Starr:              06:47          It means something.

Josh:               06:47          I don't know what it means.

Starr:              06:48          It means something in Japanese maybe. Maybe it just sounds Japanese.

Josh:               06:52          Matts probably knows.

Starr:              06:54          Yeah. All their marketing was very different, right? It was very sort of like Zen, Japanese garden type, beautiful, minimalist feel to it. This conference also had a very unique feel to it. It felt like almost an art event as much-

Josh:               07:11          Yeah. It was all about crafting things if I remember correctly.

Starr:              07:17          Yeah. They had these people come out and do this weird ... It was some sort of dance where they were ceremonially sweeping the floor of the stage where the presenters were going to be. It wasn't like a normal conference venue where you're just in ... there's a hallway, there's a bunch of rooms, it's kind of like a hotel or whatever. It was this beautiful open space. The whole conference was in this giant open room and there were these little stations where you could go and you can make robots and things. Yeah. It was just super unique and I was sad that they stopped doing that because I really wanted to go back the following year, but it was over.

Josh:               07:53          Yeah.

Ben:                07:53          Yeah. It was just two years. We went that 2013. I think our earliest marketing efforts, like going to that conference, was having Honeybadger logo on our shirts, right, and just walking around and people be like, "Oh what's Honeybadger?" I picked that trick up from my RailsKits days when I would wear the RailsKits shirt to RailsConf and people like, "Oh yeah RailsKits."

Starr:              08:18          I didn't know that.

Ben:                08:18          Oh yeah.

Starr:              08:19          Nice.

Ben:                08:20          Works.

Starr:              08:20          Yeah. And we also-

Josh:               08:21          Actually I remember you telling us that story when we actually wore the shirts.

Ben:                08:25          Oh yeah?

Starr:              08:26          I wasn't listening.

Starr:              08:28          The other thing that we did ... Shortly after Waza we went to, I think we went to RailsConf and it was in Portland, only as a company we didn't have enough money to buy tickets to RailsConf-

Josh:               08:42          Yeah.

Starr:              08:42          ... because we weren't making any money whatsoever. Just getting us to Portland was a big enough expense for us. We basically just went to RailsConf and just sort of hung out in the hallway.

Josh:               08:53          Yeah we just crashed the lobby.

Starr:              08:55          Yeah. Did we have stickers printed up and stuff?

Josh:               08:57          Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Ben:                08:58          Yeah.

Starr:              08:58          We had stickers printed up, we were scattering them around like you do, leaving them in restrooms.

Josh:               09:04          Uh huh. It was very Portland of us in hindsight.

Starr:              09:08          GitHub did this after party. This was back when GitHub was actually doing sponsoring big things at conferences involving Ruby. They don't really do that anymore as far as I know. GitHub had this after party thing where they bought out Ground Kontrol. Ground Kontrol is this famous arcade with tons of pinball, tons of retro games and stuff in Portland. They're just like okay nerds, free play. I'm like, I don't have a conference badge or anything, but I want to get in on that. I just went in and slipped through.

Starr:              09:42          Did you guys go with me or did I go by myself?

Josh:               09:46          I don't think I went that time.

Starr:              09:47          Okay.

Josh:               09:48          Yeah. We've been to Ground Kontrol, but yeah, I don't think that I went to that one.

Starr:              09:52          Yeah. This was my own stealth mission. I snuck in amongst a pack of nerds and that's when I learned that I really like pinball. Previously whenever I'd try and play pinball, you put in a quarter and if you don't know how to play you just immediately lose. That's frustrating.

Josh:               10:10          Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Starr:              10:11          With free play you can play as much as you want, so I just played pinball for awhile. I actually got us a customer then too because there was a company called Sorcery. A whole pack of developers came in and I was like, "Hey what's up? What's Sorcery?" They told me it was sort of logistics thing. I told them about my deal and told them about Honeybadger. That was back when everybody was super excited to find any sort of error tracker that was an alternative to Airbrake.

Josh:               10:42          Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Starr:              10:43          Yeah. Later on they signed up.

Josh:               10:47          Nice. I don't think I knew this story.

Starr:              10:49          You didn't?

Ben:                10:50          Yeah.

Josh:               10:51          That's awesome.

Ben:                10:51          It's new to me.

Starr:              10:52          I think that maybe, that's definitely my first direct at getting people to sign up event.

Josh:               10:58          Yeah. This reminds me, we internally, kind of jokingly, but it's an actual term, is we refer to our marketing as guerrilla marketing. That is the pinnacle of guerrilla marketing to me is sneaking into a conference event that you didn't even pay for and then selling someone your product.

Starr:              11:20          Yeah. I guess you're right, I guess that is pretty bad ass, isn't it?

Josh:               11:23          Yeah. That's pretty bad ass.

Starr:              11:23          Or annoying, depending upon how you do it.

Josh:               11:31          We can talk about guerrilla marketing, but it should be done with tact, obviously.

Ben:                11:34          2014 we picked it up a notch, right? We went and spoke at like 5,000 different conferences. I remember Starr you put together like 20 proposals and you shot gunned every conference.

Starr:              11:48          I did. I submitted like, yeah-

Ben:                11:50          Yeah.

Starr:              11:50          ... like 10 or 15 proposals to every single Ruby conference and at the time there were like 15 Ruby conferences.

Ben:                11:56          Yeah.

Josh:               11:56          Yeah.

Ben:                11:57          We were all over the place that year.

Josh:               11:58          Remember you guys spent ... Yeah, that was all you were doing for a while it seemed.

Starr:              12:04          At the time, people just wanted to hear that there was an alternative to Airbrake. Going out and being amongst the people was totally a good thing.

Josh:               12:14          I'm trying to remember how many I actually attended that year. It was at least one a month probably. I know there were a few months were there were multiple conferences.

Starr:              12:24          Yeah.

Josh:               12:24          ... per month. Yeah. I would say like 10, 12 conferences probably.

Starr:              12:30          Oh man. If nothing else, I made a ton of people who actually turned out to be good friends now. A lot of my friend group in Seattle comes directly from just going to conferences, and not even conferences in Seattle. A lot of Seattle folks go to other towns and do conferences, especially when the whole Ruby conference circuit was on fire.

Josh:               12:53          You know Richard Bishop who lives in Seattle now and works for Amazon, I met him at, I think it was Ancient City Ruby in Florida. I want to say that was 2014, 2015. That was around our big conference travel time. Yeah. He didn't live in Seattle at the time.

Starr:              13:12          Yeah. I met my good friend Carrie who, I think I met her at maybe Philadelphia, or maybe Pittsburgh.

Josh:               13:20          Yeah.

Starr:              13:21          I don't know. I met my good friend Jeremy at Pittsburgh. He had just moved to Seattle and I ended up in a D&D game with both of them so I got to know them really well. This was all after the conference, a couple years. Man, it takes a toll on you, doesn't it?

Josh:               13:38          Oh gosh yeah. That was a rough year, yeah.

Starr:              13:41          Yeah.

Ben:                13:42          It built a lot of awareness right? A lot of people learned about who we were and that we existed, just because there was someone up on stage that had our logo in the slide deck, right? Also, made a lot of great connections with people, the friends like you're talking about, but also people who found out, hey this Honeybadger thing, there are actual people behind it, right? It's not some nameless company that just is off doing its thing. It's like these are real people who are kind of cool and I like them. I think that really helped make a connection with people and helped make a connection with people and helped build the brand individually.

Starr:              14:13          Oh totally. Just like you said Josh, our big thing is we're devs like you are.

Josh:               14:19          Yeah.

Starr:              14:19          We're building a product for you because we want to make your lives easier.

Ben:                14:23          That's something that if you're in a, like we were, if you're in a position where you're competing with someone who's already in the space or maybe has more backing than you do, that's something that they're not necessarily going to do, right? The IBMs of the world are not going to be sitting out there hanging out with people around the table at lunch at the developer conference. When you're a start up, you can do stuff like that.

Starr:              14:40          One thing I did that I probably should've done a little bit differently, but my whole outlook on how I should present myself when we first started going to conferences, I was like, well, I'm going to this professional thing, I need to look at least somewhat professional. I got to tell you guys, I've always had a love of blazers and I never get to wear them because I work at home. I'm not going to put on a nice shirt and a blazer to work at home.

Starr:              15:09          I was like, okay, conferences, this is going to be my time where I get to let my blazer game shine. You know, I'm not really sure it worked very well because I would go and sit down at the conference lunch and start talking to people. Everyone kept asking me, "So are you a recruiter?"

Josh:               15:25          Yeah.

Starr:              15:25          "What's going on with you?"

Josh:               15:27          Yeah. They probably thought you were sales or something.

Starr:              15:29          I know. I know. I'm like, dude come on. It's a blazer. You can put one on too.

Josh:               15:36          Your problem is you should've had some sort of pin or patch or something on the blazer to distinguish yourself as a developer, like a logo of a programming language or something.

Starr:              15:47          Maybe like a Haskell or something so then people will think I'm really smart.

Josh:               15:50          Yeah, or maybe just like the Lambda character.

Starr:              15:53          Oh that's a good one.

Ben:                15:55          We didn't maintain that forever right? After 2014 we did a few more, but we decided we weren't going to be out there hitting the road every year?

Josh:               16:03          Yeah.

Ben:                16:04          Also, the Ruby conferences diminished, a number of them diminished.

Starr:              16:10          Let's talk about that. There's still way more Ruby conferences than I think any other language that I've heard of, but the total number has gone down quite a bit. Also I noticed a lot of companies have stopped sponsoring conferences as much.

Starr:              16:27          GitHub used to do these crazy after parties. They used to do parties, they used to buy out Ground Kontrol, stopped doing that.

Josh:               16:32          I think, GitHub in particular has grown so ... They're a household ... They were a kind of household name back then, but now they were acquired by Microsoft, they're GitHub.

Starr:              16:44          Well, yeah, but-

Josh:               16:44          I feel like a lot of those companies, at least my impression has been that they're there really to get their name out and hire versus getting customers. At least that's kind of what I thought. There were some companies that were there as a product, but I think there's also a lot of companies there that are looking to hire.

Starr:              17:09          Okay. Think of our direct competitors.

Josh:               17:12          Yeah.

Starr:              17:13          Our direct competitors used to sponsor a lot of conferences and that's definitely cut back.

Josh:               17:19          Yeah.

Starr:              17:19          There used to be all of them almost at RailsConf and now ...

Josh:               17:22          Yeah. There were-

Starr:              17:22          I don't think I saw any at the last RailsConf I went.

Ben:                17:25          Yeah. Sentry does.

Josh:               17:27          Yeah.

Starr:              17:27          I didn't see any booths or anything.

Ben:                17:29          Oh.

Starr:              17:29          I didn't see a Sentry booth.

Josh:               17:30          Yeah. You're right.

Starr:              17:33          Maybe I missed it.

Josh:               17:34          Our competitors, I happen to know there was specific decisions made to cut back on the conference sponsorships just because I don't think that they were as effective as before. I don't know why. That's specifically to error trackers too, at least that's what I know, that's what my experience is in. Maybe it's because as the industry has matured, people already have their error tracker now. That's just a speculation.

Josh:               18:03          Yeah. I wonder maybe before when we were moving off of ... error tracking had been there was Airbrake and maybe a few others, but it was still kind of a newish thing and now it's so saturated that I don't know if it's as effective to go and get new customers.

Ben:                18:19          I think we experienced that ourselves and then we decided to trim back the number of sponsorships that we did because of that. Once you get enough awareness going, once that flywheel is spinning fast enough, you don't need to keep investing in that particular method anymore I think. I don't know.

Josh:               18:34          It was, I think for us, the real value to us was brand awareness. We go to conferences today and most people know who Honeybadger is.

Starr:              18:45          Yeah.

Josh:               18:46          ... at a Ruby conference.

Starr:              18:47          It makes conferences more fun.

Josh:               18:49          Yeah.

Starr:              18:49          Because you know people.

Josh:               18:50          It does.

Josh:               18:52          Yeah. If no one knows who you are, going to conferences is like, even today if I was building something new, I would hit the conference circuit again to get that brand out there and get in front of people. Once they already know who you are, then conferences might not be as effective.

Starr:              19:08          I imagine the people who are listening to this are trying to maybe apply this to their own situation. I wonder, I kind of think that maybe we got lucky just because we happen to be in a field, or we have a product for people who just fricking love to conference. I've never seen a group of people that gets together and does events like Ruby people do.

Josh:               19:31          Yeah. The Ruby circuit, it is interesting. When we spent a year basically going to all of them, you get to know all the circuit people too.

Starr:              19:41          Yeah.

Josh:               19:42          It's like this weird traveling tribe that you're-

Ben:                19:45          It's like carnies.

Josh:               19:46          ... a part of. Yeah. It's like carnies.

Starr:              19:51          That year when we were going to so many conferences, I would basically just stop going to the talks because I had literally heard the same talk several times at several-

Josh:               19:59          Yeah.

Starr:              20:00          ... conferences.

Ben:                20:01          We gave the same talk at several different conferences.

Starr:              20:04          Yeah, but ... I'm not blaming them. It takes a lot of time to make a talk. Here's a pro tip for future conference speakers. If you're trying to raise your profile, speak at more conferences, don't do what I did and make 15 different proposals. Let me tell you, when you make 15 different proposals, that means that if you get accepted by five conferences, great, you've got five speaking engagements, whatever, but you've got to make five completely separate slide decks. That takes a ton of time.

Josh:               20:35          Yeah. That sounds like so much work.

Starr:              20:37          It would take me a couple of weeks of more or less full time work to put together a presentation for some place like RailsConf. That's not even a perfect presentation, that's just what I had thought was an acceptable presentation.

Ben:                20:50          It worked.

Starr:              20:51          Yeah. That's true. That's also me, I tend to over-prepare for things.

Josh:               20:56          It seems like a good strategy though would be, since you put so much work into a talk, if you're going to put together five talks, why not just spend that time or even half that time putting together one really, really good talk and then giving it at a bunch of places around the country. It's not the same people going to those conferences, except for the circuit people.

Starr:              21:21          Totally.

Josh:               21:22          Everyone can benefit by it.

Starr:              21:24          The only gotcha is that it's really hard to tell which talks are going to take off. A lot of times the proposals that got accepted of mine were not the ones that I expected to get accepted. Sometimes they were just ones I was just like, well, I'm just going to throw this out here because I kind of know about it.

Josh:               21:40          Yeah.

Ben:                21:40          I think it's really a numbers game. I think the reason why you had so many opportunities to speak was because you did 10 or 15, right?

Starr:              21:46          Yeah.

Ben:                21:47          There was plenty of selection. Yeah, just the law of numbers worked in your favor.

Starr:              21:51          I guess there's no perfect approach.

Ben:                21:53          No. It's all an experiment.

Josh:               21:55          Our conference strategy now, we do some conferences, but it's changed a little bit. I thought maybe we could talk about that. We're not really going to conferences for the same reason these days. It's a chance to go and talk to new people and meet new people for sure, but it's also a chance to reconnect with the people that we've met and reconnect especially with our customers. It's really cool. I love going to conferences and meeting our customers, some of them who've been customers for years.

Starr:              22:22          Totally. Are we going to talk about food?

Josh:               22:24          I think we should talk about food.

Starr:              22:25          This is our main marketing secret. I'm going to just out us right now. Food.

Josh:               22:31          For me it's not necessarily food, it's more of experiences, but food is my favorite experience so it usually is a food event that we'll plan. I know Ben did one of these, the first of these, which is really creating a unique event for people at the conference to go to. A lot of people are looking for something to do and they might not know people. It's nice to have something interesting and unique to go to that doesn't feel like it's going to be some sort of cocktail hour or something where you're just standing around and not really knowing who to talk to and that sort of thing.

Josh:               23:11          What we've done is, I think Ben, was it in Kansas City that we did ... It was a barbecue tour?

Ben:                23:20          Yeah. That was fun.

Starr:              23:20          How did that work?

Ben:                23:21          When we were going to Kansas City there was a number of activities happening and we signed up to sponsor one of them basically. The one that we sponsored was the barbecue tour bus, which was just awesome. I had no idea, but people living in Kansas City know that barbecue's a thing there. We signed up to sponsor this tour bus, which loads up, I don't remember how many people it was, 30 or 40 people, load them up onto a bus and take them on a tour of Kansas City, some of the historical districts, and stop at a couple different barbecue places to have a couple of light meals.

Ben:                23:55          It was just a ton of fun. I just put out a thing ahead of time saying, hey the first 30 people who sign up get to come and hang out on the bus and have some barbecue with us. We got there, I think it was the first night before the conference actually started. Everyone who showed up and was on the list piled into the bus. We drove around and had some food and chatted. Josh, like you said, I had a couple people there who were like, "Yeah we've been customers for a long time."

Josh:               24:22          Yeah.

Ben:                24:22          It was pretty fun to meet them. Of course there were some people who didn't know who we were and they're just like, "Free food, I'm down for that."

Josh:               24:28          Yeah.

Ben:                24:28          It was great. Getting to meet a lot of people and not, like you said, not having this cocktail hour thing where you're having to yell at people to hear them, but you're just sitting down and talking with two or three people on the bus and across from someone at dinner, it was a lot of fun.

Josh:               24:42          Yeah, I think the key for me I think is that you're sharing an experience too. Everyone goes to, whatever, the conference after party, but not everyone can get on the bus and not everyone can go on this tour that is a shared experience of you're going somewhere.

Josh:               24:59          There's been other instances where conferences ... It's rare that they're this good. I think it was, again, Ancient City Ruby, their events were all like ... They didn't do so many parties, they had a number of tours and things that people could get together, sign up for basically, and then go do them. We did the Ripley's Believe It or Not, there's a ghost tour in Ancient City because it's the oldest city in America. Yeah. That was the one I went to. Creating a shared experience with other conference goers where it's not just all about networking, even though networking happens, but it's about doing something else. I think that takes a lot of the social pressure off of the situation.

Josh:               25:42          Since then, since the barbecue bus, I think we've kind of doubled down on that idea. If a conference is not offering that kind of event, that doesn't mean you can't just go and do it yourself, which is what we did in Phoenix. I did another bus and we took a group to In-N-Out Burger because In-N-Out Burger happens to have a location in Phoenix and it's not within walking distance of the conference.

Starr:              26:08          This was for RailsConf, right?

Josh:               26:09          Yeah. That was RailsConf I think in Phoenix.

Starr:              26:12          We were not sponsors of RailsConf.

Josh:               26:14          We were not sponsors of RailsConf, no, because RailsConf is crazy expensive.

Starr:              26:20          Yeah. It's like 15 to 30 grand or something.

Josh:               26:22          Yeah.

Starr:              26:23          Even though you don't sponsor conference, there's nothing saying that you can't, say, charter a bus and park it outside the convention center and say to people "hey if you want some-

Josh:               26:32          Exactly.

Starr:              26:32          ... if you want to go to In-N-Out, yeah, just get on board that little bus there. Don't worry about who's taking you."

Josh:               26:40          This is guerrilla marketing. Yeah. You can do whatever you want. Like I said, you have to have tact. I'm not parking the bus outside of the main event.

Ben:                26:51          You're not rushing the stage during the keynote and be like, hey.

Josh:               26:53          Yeah. You're taking a group of 50 friends out for dinner. What's wrong with that, right?

Starr:              27:00          Yeah. It sounds like you're a little bit defensive about it almost, but I don't think there's anything wrong with it. If I was a conference organizer, I would love it if people were just creating these more rich experiences happening after the conference.

Josh:               27:14          Yeah.

Starr:              27:14          That would be awesome. Conference organizers can't ensure that everybody has a great time all the time after the conference.

Josh:               27:23          Yeah. It makes the conference better, it totally does. This was a couple years ago at this point. People I meet or people that I catch up with that were on the bus, they still bring it up when I meet them at conferences now. It's something people are still talking about. Mike Perham has for years done a game night at every Ruby and RailsConf. That's another great example. It's marketing for his project Sidekiq.

Starr:              27:50          I'm sorry I just had a genius idea. If we ever do a bus again-

Josh:               27:54          Uh huh, which we are, so I need your ideas.

Starr:              27:57          Okay. You have some t-shirts printed up that say Were you on the bus? 2019.

Josh:               28:04          I love it. Yeah.

Josh:               28:05          That'd be great.

Starr:              28:06          Yeah.

Josh:               28:06          I don't know if I ever told you guys, on the actual bus that I chartered, I actually paid for everyone's dinner, which by the way is like $7.50 a person, so we spent like two or three hundred bucks on dinner for a bus of people, which is just, it doesn't get cheaper than that for a conference sponsorship.

Starr:              28:24          How much did the bus cost too? What was the total?

Josh:               28:26          The bus was like two or three hundred bucks I think, maybe it was four, but we were well under like probably $700 for the whole thing.

Starr:              28:34          Oh my goodness.

Josh:               28:37          It makes a lot of sense in a lot of different ways. Yeah. I had brought shirts. I put a nicely folded shirt on each sheet, I had a little envelope. In-N-Out is just walk up to the line and order, so I didn't know how to pay for everyone, so I just went to a bank and got a bunch of $10 bills, took out a bunch of $10 bills. I bought some envelopes at like a CVS or something.

Starr:              29:06          That's genius.

Josh:               29:08          I put a sticker and a $10 in each envelope, put it on top of the shirt. You walk onto the bus, you find a seat, your seat has your stuff on it. Yeah, then it was just drive to In-N-Out and had a good time.

Ben:                29:21          Those kind of events are fantastic. I enjoy them. Your comment about putting things on the seat reminded me of the untactful things that you can do for sponsoring conferences when you're not really sponsoring. I've seen people try to sneak in the main hall and put their stickers on chairs right before the keynote.

Josh:               29:39          Yeah. That's not cool.

Ben:                29:40          That's not cool, right?

Josh:               29:41          Don't do that.

Ben:                29:42          The sponsors, the real sponsors, are actually paying for that privilege, right?

Josh:               29:46          Yeah.

Ben:                29:46          They do pay quite a bit of money to have the right to put something in those drop bags or on those chairs. Most conferences, that we go to anyway, have a sticker sharing station where you're expected to just dump off a load of stickers if you want to share them and people come by and pick them up. That's totally cool.

Josh:               30:03          Yeah.

Ben:                30:04          Do respect that the conference organizers have bills to pay and the sponsorships pay those bills and those sponsorships come with those privileges.

Josh:               30:14          For me, I think the line is if people are obligated to be there as a result of attending the conference, then if you're not a sponsor then don't interfere with them. You have to go to the conference hall in order to go and see the talk, so don't go put stuff on their seats because the sponsors are there for that. If you invite them to something off, whatever, off duty and they respond and they just want to be there, then it's totally fine.

Starr:              30:41          For every conference there's this group of people that they're together at the conference, but they're also together on Twitter, they're also together in whatever conference communication system there is, like MicroConf had a conference Slack. We did something similar just by launching this podcast during MicroConf. We didn't go to MicroConf and sponsor it, we didn't set up a booth in the hallway of MicroConf, but we were like, "Hey MicroConf people, we're here at MicroConf and we're launching our podcast, please check it out."

Josh:               31:13          Yeah.

Starr:              31:13          Which I think that's a respectful way to do things.

Ben:                31:16          Sure.

Josh:               31:16          Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Ben:                31:17          Especially when the conference is a bunch of entrepreneurs here.

Starr:              31:19          Oh yeah.

Ben:                31:22          Yeah.

Starr:              31:22          People would be way more pushy than we are. That's the problem with being a developer is that your conscience prevents you from doing the really aggressive marketing stuff.

Josh:               31:31          We've talked about the Honeybadger suit. We have our marketing director, Ben Findley has graciously volunteered to wear a honey badger suit.

Starr:              31:41          Is there a honey badger suit? Do we have one?

Josh:               31:43          It doesn't exist yet.

Starr:              31:44          Okay.

Josh:               31:45          I doubt it actually exists in the world because honey badgers are really ugly so I don't know who would want to wear one besides us. Yeah. Ben has volunteered to wear one if we make one.

Starr:              31:58          Talking about honey badgers, one thing that I think has been really cool for us has been our amazing swag. I feel like we do swag marketing way better than any of our competitors, better than most companies. That's just because our namesake honey badger, we don't give a F. Can I say F? I think this is a family podcast.

Josh:               32:16          You can say-

Ben:                32:17          You can say whatever you want.

Starr:              32:17          I don't want to get the explicit label on iTunes.

Josh:               32:21          Okay.

Ben:                32:21          That's true.

Josh:               32:23          That's a good reason. You say whatever you want, but yeah-

Ben:                32:27          Honey badger don't care.

Starr:              32:30          When did we start doing this, like four or five years ago? We got a great-

Josh:               32:33          The shirts? Yeah.

Starr:              32:34          Yeah.

Josh:               32:34          We got Kyle Shold, my friend Kyle Shold, who's a local artist here in the Pacific Northwest who's great, he designed our shirts. Yeah, they're kind of like comic book, graphic novel style, bad ass honey badgers-

Starr:              32:50          Yeah he's the same guy who did the podcast artwork.

Josh:               32:53          ... destroying things. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He did our podcast artwork. It's kind of nice, yeah.

Starr:              32:58          I like how every couple of years we get a new set done and it's always a new little story. For a while we had these shirts where the honey badger was fighting a giant bug, had one a bug was destroying a train or something because it's Rails.

Josh:               33:15          Yeah it was like a Ruby train on rails. It had a whole thing, it probably went a little too deep for a 3X3 sticker. I learned a lesson there.

Starr:              33:27          The most recent one, which I art directed, had the honey badger on top of a building like King Kong.

Josh:               33:35          Yeah. That's our current shirt.

Starr:              33:37          Yeah. That's the current one.

Josh:               33:38          Yeah.

Starr:              33:38          We could probably go back and reprint some of those though because people's old ones are probably wearing out by now.

Josh:               33:43          Totally, yeah.

Ben:                33:44          The limited edition, though, it's a thing. People love to collect them all, right?

Josh:               33:49          What I'd like to do is eventually I'd like to try doing it like a swag store where we could put some of our older shirts up for sale or put all of our shirts up for sale. They're good shirts, yeah. We give them out right now as ... since we're not taking boxes of them to conferences anymore, we have people who ask us for them. I don't know.

Starr:              34:07          We use a company called Printfection to do this.

Josh:               34:11          Yeah.

Starr:              34:15          We're not sponsored by Printfection, I'm just going to say their name a lot. Before we had that, we would basically go to a local screen printer, have a giant box of shirts made up, go to a sticker maker have a giant box of stickers made up. Josh and I at various points had these in our closets or garages or whatever and whenever we needed a shirt we would pack it up and mail it out.

Josh:               34:35          Or if we're sponsoring a conference, I don't know about you, but I remember lugging boxes of like 75 shirts across the country.

Starr:              34:45          I know. Yeah and check them.

Josh:               34:46          One time in Pittsburgh I actually forgot the box at check ... I don't check a bag normally. The Pittsburgh, where the conference was is like 30 minutes from the airport-

Starr:              34:58          Oh my goodness.

Josh:               34:59          ... with traffic. I got to the hotel and realized I hadn't remembered my box.

Starr:              35:04          Oh my goodness, I had no idea.

Josh:               35:07          Yeah.

Starr:              35:07          No idea about that.

Josh:               35:08          I'm a big fan of Printfection.

Starr:              35:10          Yeah. What Printfection does is they print up your shirts and they keep them in their warehouse and when somebody wants a shirt, you give them a link to a form and they fill out the form with their size info and with their address and it gets mailed to them. You as the business owner don't have to do any of that BS.

Starr:              35:29          Let me tell you, most screen printing companies don't even fold the shirts for you. How do you create a nicely folded t-shirt presentation that's your swag, I don't know. At times we sponsor a conference and I've had just a pile of unfolded t-shirts out because what else can I do in the moment?

Josh:               35:49          Yeah. Actually my wife Kaylin graciously helped me fold the shirts on a number of occasions before going to a conference because I would've had a pile of shirts on a table.

Starr:              36:00          I know.

Josh:               36:00          I don't know how to fold.

Starr:              36:03          I folded a lot of them, I actually bought a shirt folder-

Josh:               36:05          Yeah. I

Starr:              36:06          ... to do it.

Josh:               36:08          I should've been that smart. Yeah. I can fold shirts, but you should see what they look like.

Starr:              36:13          Yeah. They don't look nice. To fold a shirt in a presentable, professional way is really more difficult than you might think.

Josh:               36:21          Yeah. Kaylin, she had some retail jobs in her earlier days so she knows how to fold a shirt properly. I was thankful.

Starr:              36:32          Yeah. We've outsourced a fair amount, a lot of labor to them, and it's worth whatever we pay for them. It's a bit spendy, but worth it I think.

Ben:                36:41          Yeah. They also do a great thing where if you are sponsoring a conference and you do want a box of shirts, you can just have them do all the folding, box it up, and send it to the hotel where you're going to be staying so you don't have to lug it to the airport and then you just bring it to the conference. It's awesome.

Starr:              36:56          Yeah. Even that though is difficult sometimes. Let me tell you, a box is 70 shirts is heavier than you might think and is also big. It's not the sort of thing that's easy for one man to carry around.

Josh:               37:10          If you don't give them all away, you have to do something with them too, which is one of the problems I ran into. Yeah. Actually a couple times at, I think it was a RubyConfs ... Mike Perham, who I mentioned before that does the game night for Sidekiq, was in the same boat. He's lugging shirts to conferences too and we would sometimes both have shirts left over at the conference. We started actually at the very end when people would be leaving or when sponsors would be packing up early and stuff, we had a thing where we would hijack a table, an empty table and then just put out a tweet, like a whatever, a Tweetstorm or something. Come to this table at this location at this time and take a shirt because they all have to go.

Starr:              38:05          That's amazing.

Ben:                38:06          Maybe conference organizers should partner with local charities like Goodwill and tell them, hey our conference is going to end at this place at this time and there will be shirts that you can just come and take.

Starr:              38:17          Marketing, I'm glad we were able to cover the entirety of the subject.

Josh:               38:22          Yeah, I think we did. We could maybe break this up into two podcasts.

Ben:                38:29          Yeah maybe. Maybe next time we can talk about specific acquisition activities that we did in the early, early days. Even before the conferences, what did we do to get those first customers?

Starr:              38:39          Oh yeah.

Josh:               38:41          There's so much.

Ben:                38:42          There's a lot.

Josh:               38:43          We could go deep on some of these marketing issues because there's so much to cover. Personally, we code a lot, but I think marketing is our number one activity that we all do on an ongoing basis and spend a lot of time on it.

Ben:                38:58          Oh totally.

Josh:               39:00          Yeah. It's not "marketing" at least for me, it's really just about connecting with people and showing our personality to the world and all of that. That's the part I like about it anyway.

Ben:                39:18          Of course it does help to have a really killer product.

Josh:               39:20          It does, yeah. You kind of have to write a little code for that.

Starr:              39:23          All right. Yeah. We can definitely do some more podcasts on this big topic of marketing. It was great talking to you guys.

Ben:                39:30          Likewise.

Josh:               39:31          Yeah, you too.

Starr:              39:32          Always.

Starr:              39:33          Catch you on the flip side.

Ben:                39:35          Bye.

Josh:               39:36          Later.

Starr:              39:36          I'm working on a phrase.

Josh:               39:38          Catch you on the flip side.

Ben:                39:40          Got to nail your catchphrase there.

Starr:              39:42          Yeah.

Josh:               39:43          Yeah. Cool.

Starr:              39:44          Okay bye.

Josh:               39:45          Later.

Announcer:          39:47          FounderQuest is a weekly podcast by the founders of Honeybadger. Zero instrumentation, 360 degree coverage of errors, outages, and service degradation for your web apps. If you have a web app, you need it. Available at

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