Everything in life requires a purpose. There must be a reason why you decided to buy that yellow shirt, even when you know that it’s a terrible color for you. There must’ve been a reason why you decided to go for a walk outside even when you knew a thunderstorm was coming your way.  

It doesn’t mean it was a good decision, but it’s a decision. I think sometimes we don’t take the time to reflect on our WHY when we make decisions and how our WHY affects future experiences. If we begin to reflect, it will help us understand what makes our minds work, why that decision may not have been the best, and how do we transform our experience in the future.   

Seems like a lot right… well, it is. But taking time to reflect on our decisions makes us better leaders. So how do we reflect and transform our experiences, and what tips, tricks and insights can we use to make a difference? 

For the sake of this learning, I want to share my WHY for starting Build IT LIVE, what I’ve learned over the last four years, and how we’re transforming our fifth year’s event. 

For the past 20 years, we’ve worked on building IT By Design. Honestly, it wasn’t easy. It’s been a lot of hard work, dedication, perseverance, and forgiveness. If that wasn’t enough work already, five years ago we launched Build IT LIVE.  Did we have a lot of extra time on our hands? No, we didn’t. But what we did have was a sense of purpose.  

The two years prior, I had been spending a lot of time doing breakout sessions for many peers in our industry. They were well received. I think one of the reasons was because I put myself in their shoes. I was tired of people coming in and just talking to me about what product I should buy. I loved it when someone came in and taught me something. I learned over those two years that adding value to people has added more value back to me. Ever watch the movie “Pay it Forward” with Kevin Spacey? It truly impacted my life and I was confident that an event based on “Paying it Forward” would work.  

So, the thought of Build IT LIVE was born with an idealistic mindset; that it will have a boomerang effect. If you help one person, they will then go and help three others and goodwill will multiply. The concept wasn’t new; many have heard of the boomerang effect where, if you help others in their life first, then good karma comes back around to you.  

For any of you who have ever attended networking groups, like BNI, or others, it’s the concept of givers gain — those who give will get. Eventually. It’s been an extremely successful model for us. In fact, in 2018, we won many industry awards for the event experience we had put together. Not that we needed the accolades, but let’s be honest, it was nice. It validated the concept of putting others first will help even in a sales-focused industry.   

The premise of Build IT LIVE was born. We would build an event where every breakout session would give away either a template, tool, or process that would help grow the MSP with no sales pitches. There would be a workbook where attendees could take notes and it would be like going back to school – IT WAS PERFECT! Now, we had to get our vendors on board. 🙂 

You see, when you go to any channel event, it’s really the vendors who pay the bills. It’s their contribution that helps pay for the event and the event ticket barely covers meals. So, now here I was, going to our vendor partners and asking them to sponsor our NEW event, which was in the summer. Oh, and they weren’t allowed to do a product pitch during breakouts, but instead had to create an educational tool that was relevant to the MSP that they could give away.  Piece of cake, right? 🙂 

I want to give a big shout-out to our friend, Rob Rae, who was the first to say yes and really validated our concept would work. Quick aside: our son Shaan, after attending his first Build IT LIVE last year, now refers to Rob as “our lord and savior”. LOL! (That one makes Rob blush). That first year we were able to get 23 vendors on board and those were truly the people who understood the value of giving back. Year two, we went virtual; year three and four we filled our pavilion with 43 vendors. The concept worked.  

We then created our content. That first year, we allowed vendors to pick their topics and simply asked that they fall into one of our nine categories. We looked at templates, but it wasn’t a deep dive. That all changed following year two. We hired Rita, our Chief Learning Officer, and uploaded all our content on an online repository we named Build IT University. This way attendees could access the content on-demand.  

While looking at the templates provided, we saw there was opportunity for growth. We started doing our own environmental scan each year. We looked at what topics were relevant to MSPs and asked for templates that would help them fix the problems they were facing. So now, we were asking all our vendors to pick from our list of topics.   

We then get to the event where every attendee is given two asks: because our vendors are not soliciting during their breakouts, attendees will visit them at the booth as a thank you and talk to them there or take a call when they return to the office. A little nudge from the mom in me to remind them to pay it forward. The second ask was that they attend the sessions and stay until the end of the event. Only then would we give them the editable copies of all the templates in digital form insert diabolical laugh here!).  

So, what have we learned: 

  1. The concept of Paying it Forward works, but you must do it with a true heart. The vendors who gave the best templates and added true value had the most booth traffic and often won many show awards. I remember once Danny Jenkins of Threatlocker gave away SOC II templates and it was a huge success.  
  2. MSPs are looking for unique and fresh content. They want help and sometimes building goodwill is bigger than ROI.  
  3. Never ever give away complimentary tickets. Lesson learned from COVID outbreaks. For some reason, people don’t value something if they don’t pay for it. Which really is a tough one for me, since I truly believe that education should be accessible to all. So, I caved a little, our tickets this year will be $399.  
  4. Make sure your venue can handle your demand. We learned that lesson last year when we sold out of our hotel and it was difficult for attendees to find reasonably priced rooms. So, we’re heading to Florida and the beautiful Waldorf facility from Connectwise days. Oh, what great memories we have from there!  
  5. Don’t change your DNA for others. We aren’t a party event, but we are fun, and create lasting experiences. Our third year we rented out the entire Statue of Liberty for a huge party. Last year we booked all of MetLife Stadium and had NY Giants’ quarterback, Eli Manning, join us. This year, we’re going to NASA. 
  6. Bring in the people who can make a difference in their organizations. Every year our numbers have improved; last year 72% of our attendees were C-Suite and 20% were managers. Make the content relevant for the people who can impact change.  
  7. People see the heart we put into Build IT LIVE. I remember, this past year, Jayme from Granite Solutions sent us a big bag full of Montana swag (that’s where he’s from) as he had just come back from his first Build IT LIVE. It had impacted him in such a profound way. The letter he wrote to us made me cry and validated all the hard work that goes into executing this event.  
  8. Loyalty should always be remembered and appreciated. Last year’s attendees got the lowest ticket price and first-access to Disney Institute training!
    Thank you! Not just to attendees but sponsors as well.  
  9. Bring industry experts  but also  new people to the stage who can add value. Be a beacon and put a spotlight on someone who can add value to the community.  
  10. Keep giving until they really can’t say no. This year, not only do we have Disney Institute providing a PRE-DAY session, we went one step further and are bringing in STRATEGIC COACH for our last day. If you haven’t heard of them, look them up. They’re  coaches for the top entrepreneurs in the world, including Gino Wickman of EOS, and our very own Sunny. Their sessions will be pre-registration only and are truly transformative.  

As we head into our fifth year, we’re just six months away and I’m so excited. We’ve spent the last year looking at what worked, what didn’t, and how do we transform this year. Learning to make each year better, using our experience transformers (shout-out to Strategic Coach) to ensure that what we do has purpose and, at the end of the day, accomplishes what we set out to do:  to Pay It Forward, one MSP at a time.  

We hope you will join us. Visit www.itbd.net/live to register. 

For more content like this, be sure to follow Build IT by ITBD on LinkedIn and YouTube, check out our on-demand learning platform, Build IT University, and be sure to Register for Build IT LIVE, our 3-day education focused conference, September 9-11 in Orlando, FL!