“If you build it, they will come”
Or will they?
NWS opened up in September 2016. Six months into the project, attendance and bookings were starting to dip. The organic interest we’d seen in the first push of opening had cooled as NYC was getting through the winter.
Sandy and I were putting up different in-house events on the calendar, seeing variable attendance depending on the topic and format. Our self-care faire in February had been a great success with 100+ people coming throughout the day.
The piece of programming that confounded me was a Monday night series called “WORK PARTY!” that I’d created to lend accountability and feedback for full-time professionals with side projects that were relegated to post-work hours. The first few Mondays had brought in a solid group of 10–15 people who ended up wanting to circle up with the featured mentor of the night and to exchange notes with everyone as a group. A couple Mondays came where only 1–2 people showed up. Then one week no one came.
Sigh. What had changed?
Were people less motivated to come because they knew it was every Monday? Had the novelty already worn off? Was it about the mentors we were bringing in? Was it the time of the year?
I have heard countless event hosts ask similar choruses of questions, trying to understand why their attendance was what it was — “What’s the best day of the week to do an event?” “What’s the best price point for a ticket?” “What’s the best way to share my event around?”
Sandy and I began NWS ascribing to the idea that events had too many variables to really know how to optimize, in a set checklist kind of way. We could intuit trends based on a feeling — i.e. events on weekdays shouldn’t start before 7pm, the biggest indicator of a successful event was the kind of following the event host had, the more collaborators the higher chance of good attendance, events in the $5–15 range worked best with our community.
It took being asked for numbers when applying for grants to get us into a data collection mindset. We began believing that we could actually spot trends across different event variables.
Sandy fell in love with AirTable and put together some great forms and charts to get more intel on who was actually coming to our events. We did our best to train volunteers to make sure event hosts and attendees were filling out the forms. The important next step would be to make sure we had meetings on the calendar on a regular basis to check out the numbers coming in and extrapolate meaning from the data.
Now, we have more intel about what kinds of events bring in what kind of attendance and income. Yet, there is a full years worth of data that was not captured because of our early perspective that there was too much complexity to warrant the effort of collection.
Distilled lesson: it’s prudent to begin collecting data from the beginning even if you’re not sure what the numbers will inform.