In April 2003, I attended an affiliate marketing event on a cruise ship out of Miami. This was the third year it took place on a ship after an inaugural version on land.
Over those years, I met Missy Ward at these events and became conference friends. While sitting at a bar on the ship in 2003, we realized we were both unhappy with the event’s direction.
We had provided much help to make it happen, and I was the top affiliate referring attendees. The last straw for me was when the organizer got up in front of the crowd and thanked me for telling him he wouldn’t have to pay me the many thousands of dollars I had earned through referrals because the numbers were tight for him to make the cruise happen.
I never had that discussion with him, and I was counting on the money as the sole provider for my expanding family (Kerri, baby #3, was due later that year).
I was furious, and he said he could do nothing about it because he didn’t have the money to pay me.
So anyway, Missy and I were chatting about it, and in the fog of many drinks, we decided we’d create a competing event that was bigger and better.
The one hitch was that we had neither the experience to start a conference nor any money to put into it, but we wanted to make it happen.
In May 2003, we chatted on the phone (one of fewer than a dozen we would have over the next couple of decades) and decided to make it happen.
On May 19, 2003, AffiliateSummit.com was registered. We didn’t have funds to incorporate, get a professionally designed site, etc. So, we did it all ourselves because we were ambitious and passed off.
Thinking back, it’s like the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in 2020, where Larry David has a run-in with a guy who operates a coffee shop, and he decides to open a competing coffee shop next door.
The original plan was to do a cruise conference in 2004 to compete head-on, but I suggested we do a smaller, cheaper event in 2003 to get the name out there and build some momentum.
Our site was ugly, and we didn’t have a payment processor (we used my PayPal account), couldn’t afford to incorporate, and had no money to rent a space. But we were stubborn, and it was going to happen.
As it turned out, a friend mentioned that the marketing department at Baruch College, a few blocks from my office then, allowed people to run events in their space for free in exchange for allowing some of their marketing students to attend for free.
I reached out and struck a deal with them that included free A/V and everything – we just had to pay to bring in lunch for the attendees.
We decided to set a low price ($75 for the whole day, including lunch) and then called in favors to get friends to staff it, and our industry friends stepped up as sponsors and speakers.
Our little venture was immediately profitable, and people liked what we did. We were sold out a month before the conference.
That first event was a big hit, and we rolled the success into the 2004 cruise. The people in the industry had shifted to our event, and the guy with the other event ended up canceling and screwing many other people out of money.
In the span of a year, he went from being the main event in the industry to going out of business. He topped out at around 200 attendees. At the end of our run, we were pushing about 8,000 in Las Vegas, and he is long gone from the industry.
There is a lesson in there for you… treat people with respect and honor your obligations, so you don’t get obliterated by a spite store.