Have you ever been to a conference and felt rather awkward about getting there, going in, waddling around, trying to get to talk to people and not just standing there in a corner? If you don’t visit events and if you’re not that comfortable with wild networking, people can feel anxious about all of this. If you’d like to conferences and events but don’t want to do it all on your own, you might like Conference Buddy, which is more than a solution to this problem. It’s a community of like-minded folks that help each other.
Conference Buddy is there to help you to – you guessed it – find a conference buddy to feel better at events together. This could be a veteran event-goer or a person who maybe also doesn’t attend conferences that often. Whether you are two or more conference buddies, it’s always cooler in a group of people. Don’t you think?
Conference Buddy founder Mirjam Bäuerlein was recently introducing her idea and the community at a Webmontag event in Frankfurt. After her session, I asked if she had time to do an interview with us and fortunately she agreed. Here’s what we could find out.
Tell us more about Conference Buddy
Christopher Isak: Hi Mirjam, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us about your project “Conference Buddy”. How did you come up with an idea like that and what problems are you trying to solve with it?
Mirjam Bäuerlein: Thanks for having me! The idea of Conference Buddy is based on my own needs. I wanted to visit tech conferences but didn’t feel comfortable going on my own. Going to a big event alone can be intimidating, at least for me, especially if I don’t know anybody there. And I am not alone with this feeling. With Conference Buddy, I want to offer a safe space where you can look for one or more people with whom you can attend a conference together.
CI: Would you say that Conference Buddy is just a project that you want to complete and offer to the world, or would you rather say that you founded it as a commercial startup with the vision to grow and become profitable at some point, leading it as a full-time CEO?
MB: I think it is none of those options. It’s a private project I work on in my spare time and it was never intended to become commercial, even if I may have to look into financial support at some point. At the same time, I don’t think it’s the kind of project you build, finish and that’s it. The way I develop Conference Buddy is inspired by modern product development frameworks like the Lean Startup or how Spotify builds products.
I plan little steps that I can easily handle on my own and see how it works out. With every lesson learned from that iteration, I can plan the next step. So, it’s more of an ongoing project that I want to grow further and that I am just already offering to the world. As of today, there are already people meeting on events thanks to Conference Buddy.
CI: I checked the Conference Buddy website and while it seems functional, it might lack a bit of user-base and community. What are your plans to generate more awareness of this network for networkers in training?
MB: Currently I’m trying to spread the word so that more people will know about it and join the community: I speak on meet-ups and I am active on social media. Also, I am really lucky, having a growing community of great supporters that are helping me with this. At the moment there are over 180 people registered in the Conference Buddy forum, which has gone live last September and the numbers are growing steadily. That’s a number I’m really happy about, considering it’s in a very special niche.
CI: Do you feel that Conference Buddy should be a platform to form Mentor-Mentee relationships or would you also think that a “friend” system like a social network could work out?
MB: I’m not sure about this yet. As I said, I’m trying to build it in little steps and don’t plan far ahead. Currently, I think it’s more of a friend or a networking platform. But often, a Conference Buddy will also be so kind to be a mentor to someone new and will, for instance, introduce you to other people. So I want to see where the community will take this, basically, without me dictating every aspect of it.
CI: Can you tell us a bit more about the technology behind Conference Buddy? What powers you and what are key elements to everything working together as a solution?
MB: In its current iteration, Conference Buddy is running on an open-source forum system with a very basic setup. Right now the priority is growing the community, so that’s where my time and energy is going. Of course, I’ve lots of ideas for really cool stuff that I could build for it but I try to be pragmatic and make rational use of my resources.
— Madeleine Neumann @ CSSConfEU && JSConfEU (@Maggysche) April 13, 2019
CI: Conference Buddy sounds to me like something that would really do well as a mobile app. Are there any plans like that? Are Android and iOS apps on the strategic roadmap?
MB: Let’s be honest, I’m a Software Developer and of course „I should make an app!“ was one of my first thoughts. And yes, an app is part of my long-term planning.
CI: I think that Conference Buddy has a good potential to be picked up by many who are shy, introverted, feel insecure or feel weird for other reasons to join an event. When scaling for success, how would the business model look like? Would you partner up with event managers and hosting companies?
MB: Thanks for that feedback! Right now the business model is an afterthought because Conference Buddy is first and foremost a private initiative. It already connects people on events and makes them feel more comfortable. It already helps people visiting events where they wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I am very happy about that. Of course, I’m glad if event organizers want to team up to grow the community and increase the awareness of the project. Some event organizers already did and the feedback was really good.
CI: What are currently your biggest challenges and how are you trying to solve them?
MB: Time! Or the lack thereof. Everyone working on a side-project knows that problem, I think. I try to manage my activities and responsibilities better and restrain myself from starting even more side-projects. Also, I’m at a point where I should invest a bit more money to promote Conference Buddy, so I should start looking into ways to get financial support. If I can make time, that is.
CI: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers? Any inspiring words to all the people with ideas? Any recommendations on how to start or what to do?
MB: Thanks again for having me and my project! I think the most important learning I can share is: Just do it. Don’t be afraid to tell people about your idea, they won’t steal it and they can give you feedback.
Don’t try building the perfect product, you won’t be able to anyway. Get to know your potential customers, build the smallest MVP you can think of and ship it. Get feedback from people using your product and then take your product further.
Make it a little bit bigger and get it out there again. It’s hard getting over the first impulses of „I have to make it perfect“ and „If it’s not perfect the first time someone will come and steal the idea now it’s out there“, but it’s worth it. You’ll build the product people want, not the product you think they should want. The interview ends.
If you are now interested in Conference Buddy because you want to use it, join the community, share it with a friend, or team up with them for your upcoming event, make sure to visit their homepage. Don’t skip those conferences anymore and have fun together!
If you’d like to hear more from Mirjam, you can also watch her speech from the DACHfest in 2018 below or follow her on Twitter to stay up to date with the project.
YouTube: DACHfest 2018 – Everybody Needs Somebody — Mirjam Bäuerlein
Photo credit: The feature image has been done by Jonny McLaren.
Editorial notice: The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.