300
8 min 54 sec

Program Manager Builds Conference Into 6-Figure Business

A Silicon Valley employee fed up with his company’s lack of emphasis on improving workplace culture starts a conference. Two years later, it’s his full-time job.
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What It's About

A summit dedicated to building stronger business culture.

Business Model
Service
Skills Required
Community Building & Communication
Complexity
Medium
Profit Potential
High

Words of Wisdom

Hung’s advice for anyone wanting to do a conference is to start with a small meetup event first and do a series of meetups to build a following. If you build up a series of small events, you get an initial group of ticket buyers.

Then, just as he did, make sure you’re finding the right people. If you can host one event well, it’s not that hard to do a repeat, and then another, all the while improving the experience and making more money.

Fun Fact

Culture Summit doesn’t just talk the talk—they also walk the walk. They received feedback that the audience wanted more female speakers, so moved from a 50/50 split in 2015 to 60/40 in 2016. They also partnered with SheWorx to tackle the biases and harassment that continue to pervade Silicon Valley culture, and they turned down partnerships and sponsor dollars from companies that were not supporting diversity.

Notes from Chris

Episode 300

Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that helps companies build strong company culture from the bottom up. But before he quit his corporate job to pursue his side hustle full-time, he was working as a program manager at Cisco. He worked on his side hustle for two years while he had a full-time job, and quit his job last summer once his side hustle became a six-figure business.

Hung spent 10+ years working various jobs in Silicon Valley and was always frustrated with the culture of the companies he worked at. He didn’t work in HR, but he assumed it was HR’s responsibility to fix the culture. That didn’t happen, and he got tired of waiting for change. In 2014, he began looking for events in the culture space so he could learn more. But the events he found all targeted HR leaders, and they were all very expensive. Because there wasn’t an event for everyday employees who weren’t executives and didn’t work in HR, he decided to make one.

Three months later Hung launched, but he couldn’t sell a ticket at first or get any big name speakers on the lineup.

Discouraged, Hung thought about quitting for a couple of weeks, but his wife encouraged him to push through. So he went back to the drawing board and interviewed ten founders. They told him that culture was important, but not as important as making payroll or keeping the lights on. That’s when the light bulb went off for Hung, and he realized he was targeting the wrong audience.

He began looking for people on LinkedIn who were Chief Culture Officers or VPs of Culture or had 'culture' in their title, and cold emailed them. He got a 25% response rate of people who bought 3-4 tickets for their team. He’d then call them to thank them and ask them where he could find people like them, and reach out to those little communities to ask for help in promoting the conference. They did, and it didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, the Culture Summit sold out in its first year—200 tickets at $250 each, for a total of $50,000.

In the second year, he raised the price and sold more tickets: a total of 300 for $150,000 in revenue, and this year, year 3, they sold 500 tickets ($325,000 in revenue), and Hung was able to leave his day job to manage Culture Summit full-time. In 2018, he is hoping to bring in $500,000 in revenue.


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Chris Guillebeau