Convention Planning: Partners & Co-Founders

Are you thinking of starting your own convention? That is amazing! From my experience, it is a fun and stressful labor of love that becomes more rewarding with each passing event. While I am always learning and growing, I can share what we have learned so far. Hopefully, this series of articles can help you create something people will be excited about!  This post is about the importance of partners.

I couldn’t imagine running more than a simple game day by myself, even then I think few people would show. Running our small local conventions takes a wide variety of skills. Some people out there might have all those skills but I do not. I am very lucky, having two amazing partners. The secret here is to have similar soft skills and complementary hard skills.

But it is not all rainbows and unicorns. There are good, bad, and ugly parts of our cohort.

The Good

Three of us deciding helps make those decisions stronger and more thought out. An idea goes through our hive mind to come out stronger than if only one of us had implemented it. We have many traits in common that promote a positive working relationship and we have complementing differences that help fill out the needs of running an event.

Common Traits

There are things we have in common that make it easy to work together. Probably the most important is that we are each respectful and empathetic. We listen to each other’s ideas and talk them through. Some live on and some die off, but we give each its time. Not only are we respectful and empathetic of each other but for the larger community we serve.

Which brings up the next point, we look at what we do as serving the community that believes in what we are doing. We started off intending to make our convention not only an open play board game format but open to anyone that may come. We want everyone to feel welcome, safe, and enjoy their time as much as possible.

This is part of our shared vision. We established early on what we wanted Granite Game Summit to be. There have been some bumps along this road and the vision has evolved, but we always respect each other’s input and come back to a collective agreement.

To be respectful, discuss our ideas, and share our vision, we need to communicate in a quick and effective manner. We are always communicating in as near real-time as we can (thank you Slack). This open dialog has helped us stay focused and quickly solve problems as they arise.

All of us follow through on what needs to get done. We respond to emails quickly. We try to stay ahead of our looming deadline. Procrastination causes stress and conflict which is best to avoid if possible.

If things get stressful, we are there for each other. We don’t look for blame; we look to help. We make mistakes, they happen, it is how we deal with those mistakes which shows.

Each of us knows what we are good at and what we are not. Being self-aware allows us to let others fill in the roles where we are weak. There are no arguments about who will do what. And if one of us wants to stretch themselves in an area that we don’t know, we are supportive of one another.

The outcome of all this respect and empathy is trust. We trust each other and hopefully that equates to our community trusting us to do the best we know how to. We are very lucky to have come together and appreciate that we have.

Complementing Differences

While the things we have in common are soft skills, what we don’t have in common are more tangible attributes. Starting with our social circles. How we came together was lucky but also important. We really didn’t know each other. For instance, Mike and I had never even had a conversation until that first Twitter thread. This meant that each of us had different social circles that really did not overlap. When we started the first Granite Game Summit, we could reach out to a large pool of gamers.

Our backgrounds also played an important role in our founding. Each one of us has a different background, not only in board games but also in life. While this is true of most everyone, ours really fits together like a nice jigsaw puzzle. Leading to a group of skills that covered just about everything we needed for the first event.

While we all worked on just about everything together, our skills complimented each other in a way to make things come together well. I had the business and web side covered. Kimberly had graphic design and social networking things down. Mike had the event planning and coordination experience that was key. There was an overlap of some skills, but this allows for an even better outcome when multiple can work together.

The Bad

Someone once told me that partnerships with three founding members are the ones most likely to fail. While I am not sure if this is true or not, I can see how it may be possible. In a three-person partnership, if two of the three partners agree on something, then the third can easily feel either left out or worse ganged up on.

With partners, there is always a compromise. I can’t just have everything I want the way I want it. Mostly this is a good thing, but it could bother some to not get their way. I have to let go of things I may care about to push things forward for the better. Let’s just say that if I was in complete charge of everything, the logo would be much cuter than our current. I love where our logo is now, but at the time I was a little disappointed, they ditched my cute logo.

The Ugly

While the hive mind works well, there are some gotchas we have learned to watch out for. The first place the hive mind can break down is an over analysis of everything which shows its ugly head as slow downs and indecision. This was an issue early on but as we learned to work with one another has mostly subsided.

The other trap of the hive mind is thinking ideas that come out of it are fairly sound. When we moved Granite Game Summit from a single day to a 3-day event, we made it one ticket for all three days, offering no single day passes. There was a big backlash from our attendees for that. While we corrected it, it showed how we still needed to be careful of our decisions, keeping in mind our conventioneers.

While we haven’t had to deal with the following, what happens when there are unresolvable disagreements or worse yet when a partner is obviously not in sync with the others. There needs to be an exit strategy established and agreed upon before you need it. An operating agreement could avoid difficult situations. If there is no signed operating agreement, unresolvable conflicts will default to the state’s laws, which will probably cause even more conflict.

Places to Look

If you are interested in finding partners that can help you build the best game convention possible, where can you look? I think the most important part was getting out of my comfort zone and into groups unfamiliar to me. Not only other conventions and meeting people there but also local groups. From there getting on different social media platforms was also a key for me.

Truthfully, trying to become a game publisher forced me out of my shell and allowed me to meet great new people, some of which I am now partners with and running the best conventions that we can. While publishing is no longer a dream of mine, it got me to where I am today and am happy to have made that journey.

Conclusions

While partners can have their drawbacks, finding the right ones can make the convention even better than one could ever imagine. The good far outweighs the bad and ugly. Take some simple steps to find great partners with common traits and complementing differences, then set your operating agreement so everyone is on the same page.