PayPal X Innovate 09: Tips on hosting a developer conference

On November 3rd and 4th, PayPal will be hosting their first dedicated developer conference – PayPal X Innovate 09 – to unveil their open platform. There will be hundreds of developers participating in more than 35 interactive technical sessions and Code & Build Labs. To find out more about the conference and what it takes to put on an event of this size and nature, we got the inside scoop from PayPal’s Naveed Anwar, senior director of the PayPal Developer Platform.

What is PayPal X Innovate 2009 and what was the genesis of this event?

It’s PayPal’s first developer conference. On July 23 we announced that we were opening up our platform, giving developers full access to PayPal’s features and giving them the tools to build applications that leverage the great infrastructure and payment platform that we’ve established. The purpose of the conference is to gather this information and give our developers the tools and resources that they need to be successful. The community has asked for this event for some time, so we are excited to bring it to life.

Are there particular highlights that you are excited about?

We have a fantastic speaker line-up including John Donahoe, eBay’s CEO, Scott Thompson, president of PayPal, and our guest Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media. We have tracks focused on mobile, devices and new technology moderated by industry leaders and VCs.

But what I’m really excited about is seeing developers showcase what they’ve done with the beta version of our API and giving attendees a chance to share with the world how they envision transactions changing the way people think about building applications that have clear monetization models.

Apart from these great sessions we are going to have close to 200 engineers available from the PayPal platform team who are responsible for the infrastructure and APIs – real people who have worked on the product available onsite to work with the attendees to help them with during the code and build sessions.

Check out a list of these highlights and more here.

What are some of the unique things that you have to think about given that this is specifically a developer conference?

I think with all conferences, as an organizer you really have to have great content and world-class speakers. As a developer conference, providing access to real people that know the code is essential to making the attendee experience as rich as possible. We put a lot of thought into the code and build sessions. Attendees come to learn in a hands-on environment where they can get instant feedback. We’ve gone as far as to let attendees sign out rooms to host impromptu sessions and we’ve worked to set up many opportunities for attendees to demo their apps and share their work with the community through a demo pit and kiosks. We’re also working on a few surprises to really enhance the conference, so check out x.com for more details closer to the event.

Who are the sponsors and how did you attract them?

We have more than 20 great sponsors like Playspan, Sun and Zuora. We started working with our existing strategic partners to understand how we could create an event that they wanted to be a part of. We started these conversations early, focused on compelling content, and worked to make them a core part of the program, integrating them into panels and workshops instead of just having them as a monetary donor.

How big a role does social media play in this event and how specifically are you using it?

We will be using social media to connect attendees and generate buzz. We’re doing all the basics like running a Twitter account and a Facebook event page. We also spoke to the major blog influencers and focused on creating enough great content for them for them to want to blog about. Social media is key to creating and fostering a viral effect which is important for reaching potential attendees. We’re using flip cam videos to capture announcements about the conference so that people have something to share and pass on and get excited about.

We’re using the Twitter Hashtag #ppxi09 to aggregate all the tweets about the event and help attendees connect before, during, and after the event. At the event we will stream the Twitter feed so that everyone can see the buzz and chatter in real-time.

Do you have any other best practices to share with other event planners who are throwing large events like this?

Here’s my top five best practices:

1. Know your audience.

2. Define parameters, goals and metrics upfront.

3. Focus on content and make sure that your event is unique.

4. Look carefully at timing. Time your event around a major announcement and leverage the momentum.

5. Be open with the community. Gain credibility with them. It’s the community that will take your event, and ultimately your product, to the next level.

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