How an on-the-go org built an ever-evolving event planning system
Startup Grind isn't just an online community. The global collective of entrepreneurs has spread to over 600 chapters around the globe, and members meet regularly at local meetups.
Startup Grind also hosts two international conferences every year in London and California. These conferences bring together an impressive roster of leaders from around the world, to share personal stories, educate and inspire the wider community. “A lot goes into putting the events together,” Grace Lancaster, an Events Coordinator at Startup Grind, tells us.
Startup Grind conference in Redwood City is a two day event that hosts panels and talks across six stages.
“When we're in conference mode, it involves a lot of phone calls and emails with speakers and vendors, working as a team to check things off our to-do lists, and making sure people know what they're responsible for,” Lancaster explains. Responsibilities can range from conducting outreach to speakers to designing collateral to actually setting up the event.
Airtable has become central to the planning and execution of these events. To kick things off, an Airtable form is sent out to every speaker, with fields for headshots, bios and other details. Their responses are saved as records which automatically populate a table called "Speakers". Lancaster used linked record fields to connect the speaker table to the "Agenda" table, which allowed her to coordinate scheduling and move panels or speakers around, if necessary.
“Those two tables are kind of my bible,” Lancaster tells us.
The agenda table can simultaneously serve the needs three different types of stakeholders: event speakers, event attendees, and Startup Grind team members, through Airtable views. Internally, the team can create personal or collaborative filtered views aimed at presenting only the information needed to achieve specific mandates–for example, the team responsible for content could track development and status in their own view. Using embedded shared view links, the team is also able to share relevant content with external stakeholders, without compromising any internal data. Attendees, for example, could see the day's schedule through a view that presents panel information and times.
“We're able to push it live in various formats, so that our attendees and people on our team can see the schedule,” Lancaster says.
Having all the information in one place makes it easy for the team to coordinate next steps. Take collaborating with colleagues, for instance. “Our designer is able to independently go in, see what is needed for various projects or tasks, design the files, and attach it to correct field, and notify us when it's complete–all in Airtable."
Organizing volunteers and templating their tasks, is another example of this. "It cuts down on unnecessary conversations between teammates and provides a resource for my team to check back in on when they have questions–instead of trying to find me or ask me while I'm running around on event day."
Being able to use Airtable as a project management tool in this way makes a big difference to organizational efficiency compared to the team’s earlier efforts using spreadsheets and docs. “Doing all of this in docs and spreadsheets would have been nearly impossible, for me at least,” Lancaster says. “When you have multiple people on a team, it's really hard to assign tasks or to communicate within a spreadsheet.”
For her own needs, Lancaster finds it invaluable to be able to access any of the information she needs, wherever she happens to be in her day or her workflow. She’s responsible for knowing all of the 175 speakers at the conference, which keeps her on her toes.
“It’s so helpful to be able to expand a record, and view all of the fields of relevant data quickly, and then to be able to link that record to other pieces of information, so when I go into the agenda, and I type in that person's name, they pop up, and their information follows them everywhere.”
In fact, Airtable has become a stand in for various other programs. Although there’s a huge amount of data in the base, team members can still use views, filtering, and sorting to prevent information overload, making it as useful for micro tasks as it is for multi-stage projects. “With the global conference, we have multiple stages, content spread across two days, and there are so many details,” Lancaster says. “But I can go in there and hide all the things that I don't need to look at. Our designer can do the same. That’s awesome.”
Likewise, if a specific question comes up, Lancaster and her teammates can figure that out within the context of whatever task it relates to by using record commenting. “Me and my teammates use that constantly,” she says. "We'll comment to each other like, 'Have you done this for this person, or this slot?'" Airtable has become a core part of their workflow.
"A successful person working in events is organized, efficient, and a multi-tasking pro. Airtable helps me be all those things," Lancaster shared.