Frozen Perl has come and gone, and I think it was a great success. There were no major catastrophes, nor any minor ones, really, and the feedback we've gotten has been very positive. We're already talking about doing this again next year.
This writeup is intended to help remind us what we can do better next year, and also to give people thinking of organizing a similar event some advice on how to do it. First, check out the writeup I did for the yapc.org site on planning a workshop. That will tell you how TPF can help you out, and give you some ideas of the basics you need to plan for.
First Things First - Venue
The absolute most important thing to do, as early as possible, is to book your venue. This was a source of pain for us, though the venue we ended up at was great. If you're planning to do an event at a university, see if there's a student group who can help you book the venue. We worked with the Bioinformatics group at the University of Minnesota, and as a result saved nearly 50% on the venue. This had a huge impact on our budget, as it basically saved us about 17% of our income!
Of course, you need to double-check things like audio-visual for your venue, though nowadays any new venue should have all the AV equipment you'd want.
Second Things Second - Sponsorship
The other thing that you can't do early enough is start contacting sponsors. If you're planning to keep the event very cheap, then you should plan to pay for most things with sponsorship. For our event, approximately 2/3 of the total expenses were paid by sponsors. Some sponsors will be very quick to respond, and some will take some cajoling. Another thing to realize is that you'll ask many, many more places than will respond. We contacted 30+ companies, and got 8 sponsors total.
Most of those sponsors were very quick to say yes. My conclusion from this is that your time is best spent contacting as many different companies as possible, rather than focusing on repeated contacts with a few.
If you're in the US, sponsors will be able to treat their sponsorship as a tax-deductible donation, though most of our sponsors didn't seem too concerned about this. Keep in mind that sponsors are getting something of value for their sponsorship, such as free admission and advertising. That should be accounted for in any thank-you letters you write.
Other sponsors may want to treat the sponsorship as a marketing expense, and as such may want an invoice for the full amount which breaks down the items they're getting. You can probably put things in this invoice like "20 free admissions", even if the sponsor isn't going to use them. They just want to be able to break down the expense in some way. Don't be afraid to ask them exactly what they want.
One initial mistake I made was to forecast our income and expenses for 80 attendees, assuming all 80 were paying. Obviously, this isn't the case, because organizers and speakers don't pay. We ended up with approximately 95 attendees, of whom maybe 80 paid. This includes a few day of registrations (5 or so). We also had 6 or so people who paid but didn't show up, but this didn't really matter for the budget, since we had already ordered their meals and t-shirts. It did mean the day-of registrees got lunch though.
Also keep in mind that with very low ticket prices, each additional attendee ends up being a net loss. Our expenses per attendee were close to $60 each, but the highest ticket price was $40. This wasn't a problem, but if we'd had 150 attendees, it'd would've been a disaster. Keep this sort of dynamic in mind when doing your budget forecasts.
Here's the final budget breakdown for the curious:
Registration fees: $2,190 - a few folks opted to pay more than the ticket price, though that only added a $100 or so to this amount
Venue: $1,250 - this was really cheap for such a nice venue
Event catering: $3,290.04 - included a continental breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and an afternoon snack
Wireless access for the event: $0? - we may be getting this for free, otherwise it'll probably be around $200
Hackathon venue: $357.15 - included a $107.15 for internet, yeesh
Hackathon food: $245.15 - included a surpsising 20% service charge
T-shirts: $871.10 - these were 4-color silkscreens on black, American made (aka no sweatshop) shirts
Saturday dinner: $200 - I paid for everyone's appetizers and salads, knowing that we had a decent surplus
This leaves us with a net surplus of $976.57. We'll probably do some sort of targeted grant with this money.
One thing to keep in mind is that some expenses may not be 100% fixed until after the event. For example, we paid for some of the food at the event based on consumption. It's a good idea to make sure you expect to have at least a few hundred dollars in surplus after the event.
ACT's registration process is damn confusing, though hopefully this will be fixed in the future. Basically, what it calls "registration" is the act of making an account or indicating interest in the event using an existing account. It is not paying.
We forgot to tell sponsors that if they wanted to use their free admissions, they needed to have people register in advance. We were fortunate that we had enough no-shows on the day of the event that we had enough meals! I almost forgot to account for our keynote speaker too, which really would have been lame.
Make sure that all of these people have accounts in the system and are marked as attending so that you include them in meal counts.
We were awfully late to make our shirt design, which meant a scramble to get them printed, and it also meant that Stephen Perkins had to pay for them out of pocket and get reimbursed by TPF.
We may consider closing registration a bit earlier next year to ameliorate this problem. We also did a bad job of making sure people got a shirt of the size they requested, and ended up not having shirts for some folks.
The lightning talks slide dance is a bit of a time waster. This year Ken put most of the talks on his laptop, but some folks had trouble using it cause they're not familiar with Macs. A KVM might be a better solution.
I hope all this information is useful to anyone out there planning their own event.