My Response to The Metropreneur

  • March 10, 2020
  • nickfrancis

Let's Talk About The Summit.

In the first few weeks of 2019, I started getting a little restless. I couldn’t have been happier with our team at the marketing agency and the clients we were working with, but something was missing. With my background in the Haunted Attraction Industry, I knew I needed to find something that would combine my love of both marketing a live events. I started brainstorming different ways I could bring this idea to life, starting with a small, intimate evening where people could have some good food and learn some cool stuff about marketing.

After following through with this idea, I knew I wanted to go bigger. I had gotten such a positive response from the dinner, and I wanted to do more. I figured I could hold a class, maybe once or twice a month, and anyone who wanted to learn something new to expand their business could come and gain some knowledge. I would go into the office and proceed with business as usual during the day, then come home and work on my live event at night. The more I worked on it, the more excited I got. And because I am who I am, I just knew I could go bigger than not just a dinner, but these classes I was working on as well. Thus, SkySprout Summit was born.

My wife and I were in the midst of planning our wedding, but I didn’t want to waste time. Because she’s so awesome, she didn’t just agree to make it work, but believed wholeheartedly that we could do it all. I brought this idea to my team mid-February. From there, we found a venue in the heart of Columbus and announced the conference on March 8, 2019. We would be kicking off our first day just five months later on July 15. I’ll be the first to admit it…I didn’t know what the end result would be when we first announced. I had an idea in my head, of course, but we all know that things don’t always go the way we envision them. I didn’t have my full lineup of speakers or any personal experience of throwing a conference. All I had under my belt at the time was running the Haunted House and speaking at events that were put on by other people. I also had the confidence in my team and myself that we could pull this off. We had the support of our family and friends to back us up, and that made all the difference as we poured ourselves into making this happen.

We were met with such a positive response when we announced the summit, but we were also met with a lot of negativity. Now, I’m no stranger to this kind of response. Running a business in the past that saw so many people, there’s always bound to be those who don’t love or even like what they experienced. I’m used to it. But seeing people commenting on our announcement calling us a scam and, my personal favorite, Fyre Festival part II…it did get to me a little. I was already in a new territory with the best intentions to just put on a conference that would leave attendees feeling like they left with more than they came with, not to scam people who were just trying to bring value to their lives.

Although I did have my moments of doubt, I had a whole team of people behind me who ultimately lifted me up and allowed me to proceed with making this dream a reality. The next few months were a whirlwind in the best way. I got to connect with some of the most influential people in the industry as well as some of my personal heroes, and somehow got them to agree on taking a chance on our conference. We worked with lighting and sound technicians to give the environment some life to keep people engaged and excited to learn. I built a foam eye from scratch in my office using power tools while our office neighbors dropped by to see what was going on. The closer we got to the conference, the less we saw of our lives outside of the office. Our team, our friends, and our families volunteered their time to put boxes together or organize name badges. Almost all our time and energy was put into this event to make sure it was the best it could possibly be.

Thankfully, it was well worth everyone’s efforts. The SkySprout team pulled off an event I never even dreamed would be possible for a first year conference. We had attendees from thirty-five states and five different countries. We had speakers with all kinds of knowledge under one roof sharing their stories instead of selling themselves. Did everything go exactly as I had imagined it? Absolutely not. But at the end of the day, we were able to pull off our ultimate goal of sending people off with new tools under their belts that would allow them to grow their businesses.

As for the negative comments from outside observers, I decided to handle them differently than I have in the past. Normally, I would delete a comment and write it off a negativity that I didn’t want to see. This time, I found the personal profiles of each of our doubters, and personally reached out to them. I spent time getting to know them through Facebook, texts, and even phone calls. I was able to talk to them and give them a clearer understanding on what we were doing and why. I explained the intention behind it and the goal I had in mind. Some people apologized, and some even attended the conference to see it for themselves. I’m also happy to say that I’m friends with a lot of them now, even to this day! Overall, it was an amazing response, and I am so happy I chose to face them head-on instead of ignoring or deleting them. However, there’s still one response to the event that remains unresolved, and I plan to set that record straight today.

The Metropreneur Article

Back in 2010, when I was just a freshman in college, the Metropreneur wrote an article encouraging young entrepreneurs to attend a conference…

Imagine my surprise when an article popped up questioning my character, integrity, and intentions when hosting my first, very own conference years later.

On March 20, 2019, less than two weeks after we went public with our event, The Metropreneur posted an article titled “Questionable Facebook Tactics at Work to Promote Upcoming Summit”. The tone of this piece was overall extremely accusatory and negative towards the Summit brand. I wanted to give the author some time before addressing it, because I assumed that she would make the same effort she used to write the article without actually knowing anything about it to address it fairly once we were able to follow through. It’s been almost eight months since the SkySprout Summit, and the original article is still published to their site. I would like to take the time now to address it line by line, so that we can clear things up once and for all. 

The Breakdown

“It appears a new business summit is deploying some of the very techniques it hopes to teach to reach the masses about its inaugural event.” – The Metropreneur

This initial statement is not backed by evidence or reason. It was never stated or implied that we were teaching any techniques we used to promote the conference at the conference. This may appear counterintuitive at first, but it just doesn’t benefit a room full of entrepreneurs, startups, and local business owners how to market a large scale B2B (Business to Business) Conference. 

Nobody on our team was ever asked how we were promoting the conference, or more importantly, what we were even teaching. Because an initial agenda and breakdown of the events were being posted on the website at the time of this article being published, this statement is not backed by a basic understanding of the actual techniques used to market the conference. The curriculum was available to anyone who wanted to see it. Had their research been properly conducted, they would have seen the notice that a list of additional speakers and a full agenda were coming soon.

“The ads have been abundant on Facebook and through GoogleAds for the Sky Sprout Summit, a two-day digital marketing conference hosted in Columbus July 16-17, 2019.” – The Metropreneur

This is correct! We used a lot of marketing efforts to promote our conference…regarding marketing. Moving on.

“The website and video have the look of an established event that is coming to Columbus: 1,000+ attendees, 20+ sessions, 2 days – not one that is being hosted for the first time.” – The Metropreneur

This is a completely subjective statement. This very well could just be a polite compliment that our branding looked polished. I’ve been building websites for ten years and am confident my team and I can handle a five page website and teaser video. If that’s the case, I appreciate the compliment, because we did put as much time and effort into the announcement as we did the actual event.

On the other hand, it could be taken as suggestion that we should have made it feel more like a first year event. Given the fact that most of our messaging included “announcing” and “our first annual”, I believe it was made overly clear this was a first year event. People want to experience new and exciting events in the market, so our tactic was to run with that. We wanted to make sure it was known that, even though this is the first year for this conference, it was still going to follow through with what it actually offered. I think it is safe to assume potential guests would seriously question a marketing conference that was an “established event” right in their hometown that they had never heard of before. 

Lastly, I’d like to address the three metrics posted on the home page. 

20+ Sessions and 2 days are simply factors about the agenda for the conference. We ended up doing quite a few more sessions than 20 and even extended into a third day for a kickoff networking event. That way, everyone was given the chance to get to know each other before the sessions started. 

In regards to the 1,000+ attendees…it’s been made abundantly clear that this was our first year, so this number was, of course, an educated estimate. We made sure to do our research before deriving this number. Other conference producers around the country and even our speakers were able to help us estimate the draw for the Columbus market.

Although this was my first stab at this particular live event, I’m definitely not a stranger to producing live events. I got my start as an entrepreneur when I opened my first haunted house in Toledo, Ohio at fifteen years old. By 2015, my business partner and I had moved the business to Cleveland where were continued to grow, eventually seeing over 30,000 attendees in the month of October alone. This gave me the experience I needed in order to bring live events to our marketing agency. We continue to work with live events all over the world, collectively selling over a million tickets for them every year. With all of this being said, 1,000+ attendees made complete logical sense based on the data we were looking at.

“The Sky Sprout Summit is hosted and financed through entrepreneur Nick Francis’ digital marketing agency, Sky Sprout. It’s the first business conference for Francis and his company and a departure from the kinds of live event clients they typically work with. Previous event experience has been in the entertainment industry, including haunted house company 13th Floor Entertainment Group, Great Room Escape, Dahlia Nightclub, Seven Nightclub and Rare Magic.” – The Metropreneur

This is simply a factual statement.  As I just stated above, it was our first time running a conference and I was extremely excited to take what I had learned in our marketing agency and pair it with my background in entertainment event production and marketing. 

“Tickets for the inaugural event went on sale Friday, March 15, but thus far, concrete details about major facets of the event have been limited.” – The Metropreneur

This is right in line with most conferences and tradeshows. We had multiple statements on the website explaining that additional info would be released consistently as it got closer to the event. Tickets were released at a very discounted rate when we first announced the summit because we were very aware that it would most likely be friends, family, and current/past clients that would be buying tickets first, and we wanted to give a discount to anyone willing to support the event before we announced any big name speakers. I explained this in detail to the author in my emails.

No, we didn’t have a full agenda or speaker lineup five days after we announced the concept of our event. This is accurate and explained fully on our website, emails, social posts, and in my interview with the author of this article.

“A ‘Sponsors’ tab on the website directs visitors to fill out a form about being a sponsor for the Sky Sprout Summit. No additional sponsors are listed. Francis says sponsor info, like speakers, will be announced over the coming weeks.” – The Metropreneur

I’m unsure why the author chose to point out that an event that was announced not even two weeks prior didn’t have any sponsors listed yet. We did end up with some awesome sponsors as we got closer to the event, and we can’t thank them enough for their support and trust in us!

“Only five speakers have been confirmed for the event, which according to an online agenda, includes five keynote presentations and various other panels and discussions on Facebook ads, event marketing, ad buying and more. Current speakers include:

Nick Francis – Sky Sprout Marketing & Sky Sprout Summit Organizer
Drew Murray – Drew Murray Magic
Zachary Traxler – Traxler Printing
Alexander Rogers – Facebook Community Leadership Circle Team Lead
Emily Smith – Pelotonia” – The Metropreneur

Once again, this statement was made with the full understanding we would be releasing speakers and agenda updates on a weekly basis and this was never portrayed to be the full lineup. This was stated on the website as well as multiple times in my email interview with the author of the article. 

Our keynote speakers ended up being announced a few weeks later after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees alone to bring the best talent we could get, including Gary Vaynerchuk, Daymond John (ABC’s Shark Tank), Braxton Miller (Former OSU Buckeye), Amy Landino, David Meltzer, Nellie Corriveau (NC4K Founder), Marisa Sergi (Redhead Wine), Kadi McDonald (Harmony Project),  Alexis Nelson (Bark), and Benton Crane (CEO of Harmon Brothers).

It is disappointing that this article was never updated with an accurate and complete list of speakers, especially with names this big.

“Francis says they are keeping the tickets at a very discounted rate until speakers are announced. As of Wednesday, March 20, a two-day Summit Pass is $499, a discount from the original $999, and VIP passes are $699, discounted from $1199.” – The Metropreneur

Like I stated earlier, we wanted to offer discounted tickets to those willing to trust us and support our new event.

It is worth noting that our VIP tickets sold out after they transitioned to $1199 and were actually more popular than our general admission tickets. GA ticket prices were eventually reduced in price and anyone who purchased at the higher rate was refunded for the difference.

“ The Metropreneur first learned of the Sky Sprout Summit through a Facebook ad on March 7. Further investigation found ads and posts for the summit linked to a number of pages. Event ads for the Sky Sprout Summit are running through two pages, Columbus Buzz and Sky Sprout, with posts heavily featured on two others, Business Buzz and a verified page for Nick Francis, organizer of the event. “ – The Metropreneur

Everything listed here is factual, but I can’t help but poke fun at the attempt of sounding like a detective journalist here. Implying that “further investigation” was required to find ads is seriously comical to me. We didn’t spend large amounts of money on these Facebook ads to hide them, but to ensure that everyone within the entire metropolitan area saw what we were brining to their city.

“Taking a closer look at the followings and posts of these pages raises questions about their legitimacy.” – The Metropreneur

This is just a completely subjective statement.  Let’s dive into this fully in the next few lines.

“Columbus Buzz and Business Buzz are listed under the category of ‘Media/News Company’ pages, but neither link to external media/news websites.” – The Metropreneur

Nowhere is it required or even implied that you have to have an accompanying website to a social media profile. In fact, given that we almost exclusively post videos natively on the platform, spending the time to create and manage a blog website doesn’t seem like a good use of resources to me. Additionally, the vast majority of the largest social media influencers and profiles in the world don’t have websites. 

This statement also contains no context around why it is important or necessary for a page to be linked to a website. Facebook requires you select a category from a limited list of available options . “Media/News Company” was the most accurate category we could find for a social profile that posts content about a specific market and industry.

“Columbus Buzz has nearly 4,500 ‘Likes’ with the oldest post on the page appearing to be from March 8, 2018. Business Buzz has just over 5,300 ‘Likes’ with a slightly longer history – the oldest post dates to February 24, 2017. Comparatively, The Metropreneur’s Facebook page was launched in 2010 and has nearly 4,300 ‘Likes’ and 5,000 plus ‘Followers.” – The Metropreneur

I know this statement is trying to call me out for “buying” followers, but a few thousand likes in a year or two is actually pretty reasonable when you know what you’re doing. You’re trying to argue that the legitimacy of our social media accounts, which are run by social media experts, seems sketchy, yet your account is ten years old and has not broken 5,000 likes. Since posting this article a year ago, you’ve accumulated less than one-hundred more “likes”. Perhaps if you posted content that got people excited and involved, that number would increase. If you’d like help, feel free to give me a call!

“When asked, Francis confirmed that Sky Sprout owns and manages the pages.” – The Metropreneur

Of course we do! Again, our goal is to market goods and services to as many people as we can. We run many pages for our own brands as well as our clients.

“Francis’ verified page has over 103,000 ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ and comparatively low engagement – most posts teasing out the Summit have a handful of likes. A similar discrepancy exists on Sky Sprout’s page with exactly 94,439 ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ each at the time of writing. (The number of ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ on a page are rarely the same.)” – The Metropreneur

I worked directly with my contacts at Facebook to get my personal fan page verified in an organic fashion, and I’m proud of it.  Right now, I’d like to take a moment to educate you on how some of these things work. 

By default, Facebook has your account “Follow” pages when you “Like” them. You have the option to manually go and unfollow these pages. By doing this, it allows you to continue to “Like” the brand without getting their content in your news feed. So the statement that our Likes and Followers is very close means we have not had very many unfollows. 

On the other hand, pointing out that The Metropreneur page has a larger discrepancy simply means that roughly 25% of their audience has unfollowed seeing the actual content posted by the page. I’ll just let the irony of this speak for itself and remind you that I am taking on new clients.

For comparison, currently reality TV star Nina West’s Facebook Page is in the 8,000s. Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni’s fame is in the 7,000s, and local author, vlogger and public speaker Amy Landino has amassed over 31,000 ‘Likes’ and 32,000 ‘Followers.’

Nina West’s Page has grown to over 27,000 likes in the past year since this was posted as she was on the wildly popular reality show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. I am not sure the point that was trying to be made here, but you are again proving my point that people “Like” what gets them and keeps them excited. Congrats, Nina, on representing Columbus so well and growing almost 20,000 “Likes” in a year! It’s the recognition you truly deserve.

The page referenced for Jeni Britton Bauer has not had an update on it since mid 2018, so this number doesn’t provide us any context. Jeni’s company page is setup with a location structure, making it difficult to see just how many total fans it has but the main page has over 130,000. So again, I’m not quite sure why the author is comparing our small local and market specific pages to this nationally famous ice cream empire.

As for Amy Landino, this brings up a great point! Amy clearly knows what she is doing in the world of Youtube and social media. In fact, I believed this so much that we hired her to come speak at our conference! She was one of the crowd’s favorite speakers and was amazing to work with!

“When asked about the discrepancy, Francis said, “We also ran these campaigns to prove how ineffective focusing on the number of page likes is. Since Facebook decreased the organic reach of posts I encourage all of our clients to focus on bottom line KPI’s and not worry about vanity metrics like page or post likes.” – The Metropreneur

We worked directly with Facebook to run advertising campaigns in order to increase the exposure of our pages with the hopes of gaining more “Likes” and Followers.  We’ve run countless Facebook Ads over the years with the objective of “Page Like” to see if increasing page likes leads to long term business. We wanted to spend our money to test this theory rather than wasting our client’s money and ruining their trust in us.

Once we finished running these campaigns, we ran a statistical analysis on the audience and found that their was almost zero correlation between people “liking”our pages and then purchasing products. It was cheaper for us to directly run engaging, high quality ads directly to our core demographic. We could tell them about the products or services we had to offer in an attempt to get them to follow our page, instead of the other way around.

Facebook decreased the organic reach of posts from pages several years ago, which means that running a paid campaign with Facebook to increase our page likes is just not as important. I simply won’t spend money on a metric that is for nothing more than vanity. I always explain the ineffectiveness of this tactic to our clients when they want us to focus on increasing their organic followers, and I explained it at the conference. It isn’t entirely useless, but we firmly believe there are much better ways to spend their advertising budget. 

I’m so passionate about this is because I didn’t just read about it somewhere in an article. My team and I actually tried it, spending our money, in order to understand first hand how it works and whether or not it’s worth it. We found that it’s much more beneficial to have one-hundred loyal fans as opposed to one-hundred thousand people who “Like” your page from an ad any day. 

Our pages have a good mix of both now, but if I could do it again knowing what I know now, I would not have spent the money. 

“It may be one thing to not worry about vanity metrics, but Facebook pages that appear to have inflated numbers can lead to questions of legitimacy – the opposite of what any business would want for their Facebook page. While Facebook certainly has declined the organic reach of page posts, high likes with low engagement is a red flag for either purchasing ‘Likes’ or having a large number of fake followers.

When asked if purchasing followers was one of the tactics used, Francis responded ‘No.’ ” – The Metropreneur 

I feel like I’ve already given a clear statement, but I will point out that when a fellow small business gives a clear answer in a press interview, it’s disappointing to see what appears to be the inability to accept what I stated as fact…especially when I have the receipts from Facebook of the paid advertising campaigns.

In Conclusion...

When all is said and done, I’m proud that I’m able to look back on our first year of the SkySprout Summit and mark it down as a success. I could not be happier with the overwhelming turnout and support we received from the community overall. This conference restored my passion and refreshed my energy for producing live events, and I am so excited to grow this brand in the very near future.

Entrepreneurs have a tendency to always put on a happy face and make it look so easy, but the truth is that we put it all on the line when starting a business or running with a new idea. It’s stressful enough without the local media hurting the potential success of it before it even takes place. What this author saw was a new event that, for whatever reason, she wasn’t on board with. She, like many people, didn’t stay awake with me until the early hours of the morning to make sure every detail was perfect. I didn’t turn to her for the millionth time asking her to watch our launch video because I wanted to make sure every second was perfect. There wasn’t time lost with friends or family because she had to deal with a technical issue or read an article calling her character into question. She didn’t experience the stress of putting on a massive event while also planning a wedding or the strain and tests it put on our relationship. 

But she didn’t experience the absolute joy I felt knowing that everything leading up to the closing statement had made all of that worth it. I’m entering 2020 with a successful event, a beautiful and supportive wife, and the crazy idea to do it all again.

I’ll leave you with this. Check out the new restaurant in town, attend local event, support your local artists and musicians. Everyone trying to make it deserves nothing but respect and support from their friends, family and local community. Not everyone is going to be a fan of everything, but that doesn’t entitle us to go after someone simply for taking a risk. We would all be much better off if we supported each other instead of trying to tear each other down. I hope that by responding to this article today, I’m inspiring someone to stick up for themselves and continue to pursue their dream, despite strangers and bullies who know nothing about you trying to get in your way.