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Previously, ThinkTank was by invitation only, and everything but your travel to the event was covered by ShareASale. This time around, they opened it up to everybody, charged a whopping $50 for the event, and you were on your own for mostly everything else.
Was it worth it? Most definitely.
I took the cheap route, traveling from Buffalo to Chicago via Amtrak. That adventure alone deserves its own writeup, which will come soon.
I was staying in Jason Rubacky‘s building, so upon arriving in Chicago, he picked me up and I dropped my bags off, then headed to Intelligentsia to meet with a ShareASale merchant, based out of Chicago, but who wasn’t going to ThinkTank.
Afterwards, we picked up Joe Zepernick, cleaned up, and headed to an Epic OPM event. The various OPMs had tables set up, talked a bit about their programs, handed out flyers, offered us hors d’ouvres, and stamped our ticket for a chance to win a trip to Hawaii. Unfortunately it was raining that night (a common theme during this trip) so we couldn’t spend much time on the rooftop, but this was a great event to find old friends and catch up with the OPMs.
Being the heavy partier that I am, I was back in my room by 10:30 that night.
The next morning, Jason, Joe and I headed to the Westin, where the conference was being held, and grabbed breakfast, then went to set-up for the first session, Deep Dish Datafeeds. 3 affiliates (including myself) and 3 merchants talked about datafeeds, with Jason keeping the conversation moving along. I find datafeeds rather difficult to talk about to a group, because of the varying experience the audience may have. Presenting to both affiliates and merchants made it twice as challenging, but I think it was a decent session.
Next up was a whiteboard session, where Josh Ziering, Jason and myself took questions from the audience. It was completely unscripted and wide-open, but much of the discussion was about SEO. I wish I had notes from this session… sorry, but I was too busy whiteboarding & being made fun of for my lack of talent in drawing & art.
After lunch, which included Chicago-dogs and ribs (hardly business-lunch foods, especially when the CEO sits down at your table) we were shown ShareASale’s new Affiliate interface, which features such improvements as baskets and a complete overhaul of the interface. I think they finally got down to 1 font, and drop-downs of merchants are not only alphabetical, but you can type the first few characters of a merchant’s name to jump to them in the list! ‘Bout time!!!
After a smoothie break (seriously, what other network gives you a smoothie break???), we then broke into 1:1 merchant meetings. At the first ThinkTank I attended, I made the mistake of not scheduling enough meetings. I made the same mistake this time, but filled in some gaps at the last minute, and was glad I did.
The 1:1 merchant meetings is a great chance to talk to the merchants face-to-face, understand what’s working for their affiliates, ask questions about average order size, commissions, top sellers and other trends. I met with A Christmas Story House (they probably think I’m nuts), Wyzant, Flirty Aprons, Sitter City, Subscription Agent and Affiliate Summit.
Wyzant was a merchant that I only met with because an OPM asked me to, and now am planning (and building) a huge datafeed site based on their feed – something I wouldn’t have done if we weren’t there! This is why both affiliates and merchants need to attend these types of events.
That night, Jason and I hosted a #GetSome Pizza and Whiteboarding get-together, although the whiteboarding lasted only about 30 seconds. We quickly took over the rooftop of his building and soon groups of 4-5 people formed and were talking strategy. There were some smart people there that night, with some good info to share. Again, back in my room before 11.
Friday morning we grabbed breakfast at the conference hotel, then partook in the
Things We Need to Fix session, where Brian Littleton takes questions, opinions & complaints from the audience on the conference, the company and the interface. He did a good job moving things along, because we had a baseball game to get to!
Double-decker tour buses took us to a private rooftop bar across the street from Wrigley Field, where we had a great view of the game, along with an endless supply of food & drink. It was an event I’ll never forget!
That night, I hopped on the train back to Buffalo, and made it home safely the next morning.
Some thoughts for future events:
- Record the sessions – I would have liked to sit in on the other sessions going on, but couldn’t be at two places at once. It doesn’t have to be anything professional – just a camera on a tripod, fixed on the front of the room.
- Leave it open to all and make us pay – don’t get me wrong, I loved being pampered in Half Moon Bay last year, but this ThinkTank was more productive for me. Maybe it was because this was my second, and I knew more of what to expect, but I enjoyed seeing both familiar and new faces.
- Keep it in the Mid-West – I know a few storms kept many people away, or severly delayed, but East coast to West coast, or West to East, is a full day of travel. Getting to the Mid-West (usually) isn’t that bad, especially Chicago.
Thanks, ShareASale, for a great event!