It’s 1 PM Sunday and I just got back to Salt Lake City after 4 days at FinCon 2018 in Orlando, Florida. Like last year, it was a whirlwind of meeting people I’ve only talked to online, reconnecting with friends, and running into new (awesome) people. All while trying to soak it all in and learning new ways to improve Minafi and help more people learn to invest.
FinCon itself is a financial media conference. If you were as confused as I was when you hear that, here’s my description of it:
FinCon is a place for people who create, teach, inform, inspire, help or share their own stories about money.
While most of the people I talked to were bloggers and podcasters, there are also blog readers and those hoping to start their own site.
One thing that stands out to me about FinCon is that most of the people are paying their own way. That makes for a completely different atmosphere than most of the developer or professional conferences I’ve attended where an employer pays for a group of employees to go. Instead, there is a much greater focus on community and learning from each other as opposed to learning from the speakers (that’s part of it too for sure though).
In this post I’m going to break down a few things:
- Why you should go to FinCon
- Why shouldn’t you go to FinCon
- A day-by-day rundown of my FinCon 2018
- My personal takeaways from this year
Note: This is a little long. It’s also missing the usual degree of edits I do on a post because, well, it’s long and I wanted to publish it this week rather than next.
Why Go To FinCon?
That’s the who, but why? This one is more difficult to explain. The vast majority of people I talked to don’t do this financial media thing as their full-time gig (myself included). Minafi is an incredibly fun money-pit). Instead, the largest audience is mostly people who love to talk about finances, want to learn how to be better, and how to increase their reach to help more people.
Many people also go to learn from others on how to turn their side projects into full-time businesses. Even today, the Internet is a goldmine for people who can find a way to drive an audience. Whether you want to learn about SEO, Pinterest, content strategy, building a business/community/following or creating the best content – there are talks, panels or experts to help.
If someone were to ask me “should I go to FinCon?“, I’d say it depends.
- Do you have people in the community you want to meet in person?
- Do you have goals and ideas you want to get feedback on?
- Do you want to find others who can motivate, coach or help hold you accountable?
- Do you have questions for experts in the field?
- Do you like beer?
Ok, the last one is optional, but if you do like beer, you would enjoy our mini-fridge. We ended up across the street at Publix more than once carrying back everything you could. Why buy a $10 beer at the hotel, when you buy a 6-pack and give 5 away to new friends for the same price?
Somehow I Dream of Fire and my room ended up being the source of truth for beer one night. (By the way, whoever bought the Duvel, thank you! That’s one of my favorite beers. Who did it?!).
As for sessions, there were 8 tracks going at once. Each track had a subject: success stories, podcasting, video, advisor (financial), discussion panels, money conversations, peoples choice, and general. While having this many tracks may seem daunting, you can always go back and watch the videos of each presentation after the fact thanks to the virtual pass.
In the end, the main reasons to go to FinCon are simple: to meet people/businesses or to learn from others.
Why Shouldn’t You Go to FinCon?
FinCon isn’t for everyone. For one, it’s not cheap. You’ll need to buy a flight in, a conference pass, a place to stay and food to eat. Here’s a cost breakdown of how much it was for me:
- FinCon Pass: I bought my FinCon pass right away. $189.
- Air travel: Salt Lake City to Orlando on Delta points: free (saving ~$350).
- Transportation: A Taxi from the airport was about $30, an Uber/Lyft $20, a shuttle $10 and public bus around $2. Add in an off-hotel trip, and my total transportation was around: $40 (lot of splitting)
- Hotel: Stayed at Rosen Shingle Creek, the conference hotel, for 4 nights. $375 (or $750 if not sharing a room).
- Food: The food situation is different at each FinCon. This year I spent about $75 (this is a fluke due to the kindness of others).
- Drinks: I brought a TON of beer and gave away most of it: ~$100.
For a grand total of about $779 for a 4-day conference across the country. Not too shabby for that many nights in a resort. It may be hard to justify that much money for a side project that’s not your business. If this splurge on an experience goes against your personal frugality brand, you it may also not be the best cost (or you could go on alternate years?).
The Conference Hotel
I’m a huge proponent of staying in the conference hotel. I absolutely love being able to get away for 10 minutes and refresh myself throughout the day. It’s worth every penny of it for me. Many times throughout each day I’d head up and relax, wash my face, listen to a little music and drink some water (or coffee – we picked up a bunch of instant Bustello packets from Publix).
You can get cheaper places on Airbnb or by staying with friends/family. If you know how late you like to stay out, that could be the determining factor. If you’re usually out until midnight, staying in a conference hotel is going to save your sanity. On my last morning of FinCon this year I was in the lobby at 5 AM to make my flight and there were people JUST going to bed.
Alcohol and Beer
There is a lot of alcohol at most events at FinCon. For the most part, it was beer and drinks that were so expensive that it would be painful on your wallet to get drunk on. A number of people I met and talked to don’t drink. If being around alcohol is going to make you uncomfortable, then the night-scene of FinCon might not be for you. There are other things to do of course, but conference events do have a bar. During the day there I don’t think I spotted any alcohol.
In other words, don’t go if you don’t think you’ll get value out of it comparable to your estimated cost or don’t want to meet people in person. If you only want to hear the talks but not be there in person, you can also buy the virtual pass for $199 (or perhaps less). For this, you’ll get access to all of the videos of presentations online.
Day By Day Rundown
FinCon itself ran from Wednesday to Saturday – 4 days. The first day always consists of some community service project, first-timer orientation and some kind of welcome party.
From there starts the actual 3-days of panels. It seemed like this year had far fewer panels than 2017. Thursday especially was light on actionable things to do, and heavy on exploring the expo or networking. As someone who loves seeing presentations live, this was a bit of downer for me. I get a lot of inspiration and refreshment out of watching great talks. If you went to every single session at FinCon, you would have gone to 9 sessions (+a few main stage talks of differing length).
Think of this post as a virtual pass to what it’s like to be a guest at FinCon based on my experience. You can look back at last years FinCon post to see what it was like for a first-timer if you’re curious about that as well.
This may get a little link heavy with people I met. I’ll try to mention most everyone, but I’m suuuure I’ll forget people I didn’t get cards from, or from conversations that might have occurred after a few too many beers. If we chatted and you’re not listed here, please please let me know and I’ll add you (no really! It helps me remember who I’ve chatted with. Or if we met at a different mingling time feel free to let me know). Ok, here we go.
After arriving around 4:30 PM Wednesday we Lyfted over to the hotel, making it there around 5. After dropping off our stuff, we headed straight down and registered. Unfortunately, that meant we missed the opening keynote. With the conference being 4 days long, it’s much more of a marathon, so we were OK with the trade off.
Every FinCon, there are buttons to decorate your lanyard. This year I was excited to add the “2nd Year” pin to mine, as well as author (I have a draft of a book – that counts right?).
There was still some time before the opening party, so we headed over to Publix to grab some food, beer and necessities. If you’re wondering why my total food cost for 4 days was only $75 it’s partially because of this trip. I picked up a bunch of protein bars which would serve as breakfast meal replacements, along with instant Bustello coffee which helped save money on buying coffee at the hotel. Nick saved us with a ride there which let us not worry about the dreaded Florida heat. (thanks Nick!).
During the opening party, I was lucky to meet a bunch of amazing people including OthalaFehu, 5 AM Joel (who was awesome and crazy happy), Rich from Rich on Money, Frugally Wreckless, Emily from Wildland Trekking, The Give and Get (who has an incredibly upbeat personality), and Guy on Fire (who was WELL prepared with drink koozies). It was great to also put some faces to names including Jason from Winning Personal Finance and Accidental FIRE. As well as catching up with Erik from The Mastermind Within.
I met Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) for about 2.5 seconds, but he was in the middle of something. (Pete, if you’re reading this I’d love to chat about including a short interview with you alongside others including Jacob from ERE, PT Money, J$ and more in The Interactive Guide to Early Retirement and Financial Independence! Let me know if you’re down.)
Somehow I ended up chatting with PT and his wife just as he was getting an inside preview of the expo hall. It was fun getting a look behind the curtain to see what goes into getting a conference right.
One of the morning sessions I was most looking forward to was a run down by two long-time bloggers – J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly and Jim Wang from WalletHacks. The talk itself was a great look into what was good advice 10 years ago vs what’s good advice now.
After the talk I randomly ran into a bunch of people I’d never met anywhere but online – Susan from FI Ideas, Zach from Four Pillar Freedom, Lily from The Frugal Gene and Olivia from Birds of a FIRE (who is absolutely great at asking to-the-point questions). There’s nothing more fun than standing around seeing person after person you’ve only talked to online and everyone realizing “It’s really happening! We’re finally meeting!”.
A bunch of us gathered together to hang out in the lobby, chat, meet and catch up. This included a bunch of people, and I’ll surely miss some. Slowly Sipping Coffee, Amanda, Mr and Mrs. Waffles on Wednesday, Scott from I Dream of Fire, Steve and Courtney from A Streamin Life and Think Save Retire, Route to Retire and Kathryn from Making Your Money Matter.
For dinner, a group of us randomly connected for some sushi including Kathryn from Making Your Money Matter, Annie from Goodegg Investments and Jamie from Mr. Jamie Griffin. It was great catching up with Kathryn (who has actually helped me out with some YNAB videos!). Annie introduced me to the concept of real estate syndication – something I’ve never looked into before. Jamie has a calming presence, which I expect makes him an amazing middle school teacher. Thanks for being up for dinner!
Just a Small Beer Tasting
Mr. 1500 days put together a small beer tasting for people to hang out on Thursday night. By the time I got there there must have been over 100 people enjoying a wide variety of beer – different packs at every table. I loved it and tried a few new ones. I enjoyed chatting with Hélène from Free to Pursue and geeking out about our joint love for CrossFit (and the Cindy workout in particular).
It was a fun night chatting about Thomas from City for Millennials, SEO and site growth with Aaron from Personal Finance For Beginners, chatting with Financial Panther about the latest way to make money (Job Spotter), Matt from Optimize Your Life, and way too many others. (I’m awful with names – especially when meeting me the first time. I know I left out some awesome people I chatted with!).
Friday was an oddly light day as far as set events go. There were two sessions in the morning, then nothing set for the rest of the day – other than some quick talks in the main room and supplemental talks on the side stages.
This is one thing that irked me. I didn’t know what was available to go to this day other than walking around since I didn’t spot a schedule for the smaller rooms. In retrospect I should’ve spent some time relaxing at the pool.
Having lived in Florida for 35 years, there are a number of things that I always look forward to when I come to town. If I’m in St. Pete I’ll always hit up Williams Sub Shop. If I’m close to Jeremiah’s Italian Ice in Orlando I’ll grab a Red Raspberry Gelati without regrets. If I’m near a Publix then it’s Publix sub time. These have a cult following here in the southeast. If you’re ever around a Publix, do yourself a favor and try one. I had to pun it up on my personal Twitter account (which I use for anything non-investing/blog related).
Around lunch I had some well-timed chat with Michael from Life Insurance Blog about WP Engine (which I’ve been looking into). I currently have Minafi running there with the same setup as on Digital Ocean to test things out. Speed is 430ms compared to 630ms on Digital Ocean – a 31% reduction. That’s pretty crazy! I also love the dev tools available there. Jim Wang mentioned he also used to host there, but eventually switched to Linode for their SSD speed.
Throughout the day I also ran into Kitty and Piggy from Bitches Get Riches and promptly gushed about how awesome their writing is, Teri from Invest with Teri, Grant from Millennial Money, Damien Peters from Wealth Noir, had some delicious pizza thanks to Nomads with a Vision, lots of great discussion with Andrew from Shift Upwards and many others.
The Plutus Awards
To my surprise a few weeks ago, Minafi was nominated for a Plutus award in the Best Investing Blog or Podcast category. I seriously have to thank everyone who nominated Minafi for this. I remember being at work one afternoon and getting an email informing me Minafi had been selected as a finalist. I had butterflies in my stomach from the excitement!
The awards themselves are relatively quick. Unlike last year, almost every winner happened to be there (very few were called away for weddings). It was amazing seeing so many friends and sites I follow nominated – and so many won! Congrats to Amy from Life Zemplified, Cait Flanders, Fritz from The Retirement Manifesto, His and Her Money, Chief Mom Officer, She Picks of Pennies, Choose FI, The College Investor, Bitches Get Riches, and Our Next Life and of course The Mad Fientist! I still refer back to so much of his work whenever I need to help clarify some odd tax behavior associated with FI. This past year when we went to Scotland he was a wealth of information on things to do in Edinburgh. Thanks again, and congrats!
The party after the Plutus Awards went late. I spent most of my time hanging out in the Flamingo (yes, it’s a thing and not at all weird). That put in me in just the right place for Physician on Fire to ask: “Adam, can you take some pictures of me drinking from Liz’s Plutus Award?”. YES I CAN.
The official after party was… a little loud. Similar to the party the first day there was a little too much volume for me, so I mostly stayed at the fringes of the event. I ended up saying hi, chatting with a few people, congratulating a few Plutus winners and going deep about the merits of investing in Amazon vs Precious metals before heading to bed on the early side (I’m assuming 11:30 is early).
The last day of FinCon featured more talks than any other day. This started with a VooDoo donut thanks to Pete from Do You Even Blog and a talk by Felicity from Fetching Financial Freedom on creating interactive content – a subject I am obviously kind of interested in. She did a great job of presenting the why of interactive content, along with dissecting a few examples. I knew she was going to use my interactive guide as one – which she went in depth on. It’s awesome to hear people gasp or awe when seeing your work. 😀
The Choose FI talk was also a great one. It felt like they were doing a podcast episode live but on the topic of building community and authenticity. If you want a course on how to come across as authentic, just listen to these two talk.
This was epic. I was paired up with Jen from Saving with Spunk on the subject of self-publishing (which I know nothing about). In the span of an hour, I felt like I had gone from nearly no knowledge to having a full guidebook on how to launch a book. I can’t thank Jen enough for her time and just how many tips and how much knowledge she passed on. I’m excited to try putting into practice what we discussed.
In the small world department, there was an editor at the next table over – Jana Lynch who also reaches out to help with any questions I have. One more potential person to help complete the book I’m working on!
Around the closing keynote I finally got a chance to catch up with some of my favorite podcasters/writers including Tanja from Our Next Life / The Fairer Cents, J (Millennial Boss) and Gwen (Fiery Millennials) from the FIRE Drill Podcast. All of these women have the amount of hustle I aspire for – how many people blog and podcast while somehow doing both well?
The final keynote itself had a few great takeaways for me. I’ll compress that down to one from each speaker. From Emma Johnson:
Niche down as far as you can, then even further.
She niched down to a small one – wealthy single moms. That’s a very specific persona! I’ve been thinking about the audience of Minafi rather broadly, but this was interesting advice that could help.
Chris Hogan leaned away from facts and played at our heartstrings with his talk.
My takeaway from his talk was much more general but equally useful:
Allow yourself to be uncomfortable, especially when it will help others.
This one is far-reaching in many aspects of life. From speaking up for others without a voice to doing good even with it’s not in an area you’re familiar with. This could be its own entire topic, but I left rather inspired after his talk.
I mentioned how I love Publix Subs. I also love Ethiopian food. Luckily others were up for it too.
Little did I remember that Lily loves Ethiopian food even more than I do. Ethiopian meal prep for the week sounds like an amaaaazing idea that I want to try. A few others were also up for it, and we had a nice sized group for dinner including both Two Frugal Dudes (Kevin and Sean), Birds of a FIRE, Aaron from Personal Finance for Beginners, Michael from Financially Alert (who is absolutely the nicest guy – follow him if you’re not), Zach from Four Pillar Freedom and Janet from My Twenty Cents. (I completely forgot to ask for contact details on two guests that joined last minute. If you ate with us, could you let me know! I want to keep in touch).
In addition to a delicious dinner, we did an impromptu hot seat about what each person wanted to do next based on everything they’ve learned at FinCon. It was an exercise in prioritization – with feedback from the group.
I really liked the party this year. Last year it was in a relatively small space which meant going outside whenever you wanted to talk. This time the room was massive, and long enough I didn’t have to dance. The unlimited desert and free drink token were a nice touch too.
I ran into way too many people this evening, but I do remember a few: Military Dollar (we need to chat more!), Brian from Lazy Man and Money, Lane from Simple Passive Cashflow, Justine from Debt Free Millennials, Karl from Kinfo, Justin from Freedom 40 Plan, Joe Taxpayer, Ms. Fiology, Playing with Fire and Jilian from Montana Money Adventures (who has quite the dance moves!). It was fun to catch up with J Money and his wife – they are always too kind to the point I’m basically blushing.
(I know I’ve forgotten some names but I remember your faces. Did we chat?).
For some reason, I choose a flight that left at 7:30 AM. Don’t be like me. Next time I’ll make sure to not book a flight any earlier than noon.
After going to sleep close to 1 AM, I needed to wake up at 4:45 AM to make my flight. While I planned to split a ride with Sean from the Two Frugal Dudes Podcast and (recently launched) Mastermind Hunt, I quickly realized I scheduled it for 5 PM. Luckily Rich from Paychecks & Balances was gracious enough to offer us both a ride (thanks again – you’re a lifesaver!).
You’d think that having lived in Orlando for 17 years I’d be pretty familiar with the airport. I’ve traveled more through that airport than any other in the world. Somehow I went to the wrong side and even went through security. This meant I had to do a walk of shame past everyone waiting in line and walk over to the other side of the airport. Thanks to TSA pre it was still faster to go through security twice and walk across the airport than to go through it once without it. If you travel you should seriously look into getting Global Entry. I made it to my plane in plenty of time.
I usually don’t sleep on planes, but with 3 hours of sleep, I was out before we were over the Gulf of Mexico.
There is a huge difference between your first FinCon and your second. For the first one, everyone you meet is new (in person at least). This means spending a lot of time just chatting with people and getting over the basic introductions. The second year is more like a high school reunion coupled with meeting new people who have joined. Because of that this year felt MUCH more relaxed for me.
What to Say
If you like someone’s work, tell them. This sounds basic, but letting someone know you enjoy their work and why is an amazing skill that can brighten their day. A few people that praised my work filled me so much joy. If you like someone’s work, pass that joy along – and be as specific as possible about how it makes you feel.
What to Change
I came back from FinCon with a bunch of things I want to try or change – which is good! The first year I had an intimidatingly long list, but this year’s takeaways are much more manageable. Many of them are things I was thinking of doing already, but the feedback should help me execute on them more successfully (like for self-publishing for example).
Having a Close Friend is Great
For both FinCon’s I’ve been lucky enough to have awesome roommates – Russel & Derek last year and Scott this time around. Having close friends who are looking out for you and who you can look out for help make the conference more fun. If you don’t know anyone yet, you have an entire year to find someone (or check out the room share spreadsheet to find others looking for roommates like I did last year).
Bring Others In
If you’re at a conference there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t know each other. If you’re fortunate enough to know people, make connections, introduce people around, let them be part of the conversation. While we can’t all be Pete, you can make someones FinCon better by saying hi, or helping them meet new people and groups.
Show Your Logo
Most people online have an avatar and a logo. That’s what most people will know you by. If you want people to recognize you, try wearing something with your logo on it – a shirt, a sticker – anything. Slowly Sipping Coffee did this right by printing out a sticker for his lanyard. Susan from FI Ideas did a great job of this too, by printing out her logo and adding it to her backpack. Mr. WoW from Waffles on Wednesday was decked out in breakfast themed clothes. (Know of any other good examples? Let me know!).
What to Ignore
I started to realize things I don’t want to do (or at least not focus on any time soon). Pinterest and in-depth affiliate marketing for example. These are great ways to drive traffic and make money, but that’s not the primary focus for Minafi right now (or perhaps ever – we’ll see). Shifting this and letting a number of these tasks drop (and be OK with it) feels like a weight being lifted.
Since I consider myself a minimalist there isn’t much I wanted to get from here, but even still I ended up with more than I would have liked. Next time rather than taking papers from vendors, I’m planning to take pictures of their marketing material if I’m interested in researching later. It’s slightly less waste.
If a vendor has cookies or pancakes then I’m in trouble.
Where to Focus
I came back with clear areas I want to work on:
- I want to try self-publishing The Minimal Investor book.
- I want to continue writing about my story, and relationship with money.
- I want to narrow down Minafi’s target persona (I have an idea for this).
- I want to create more interactive content to help reach a larger audience that might not otherwise learn about investing.
All of this still goes towards Minafi’s mission & vision.
Mission: To inspire investment in a life you want.
Vision: Help 1 million people make their first informed investment.
These aren’t changing, but I felt like this conference helped me focus more on the who. Emmy Johnson gave a powerful closing talk on narrowing down your audience and writing every post as if it’s to them. I’ve heard this a bunch of times from Darren Rowse, and we use personas at work as well, but for some reason it really stuck this time. I’m thinking about tweaking my “who” a bit thanks to this:
Who: I help millennials invest to reach financial independence.
As an Elder Millennial myself (born in 1982, graduated high school in 2000), this is an exciting tweak in the audience. (Side note: if you haven’t watched Elder Millennial on Netflix go check it out. I can wait). Based on the demographics from Google Analytics and those who fill out the Interactive Guide to FIRE, millennials make up at least 66% of Minafi’s traffic – probably more. When I’m writing guide-style content today, I try to write for myself a decade ago. I write about what I wish I had known when I was that age. This fits in well with this tweak to how I think about writing.
Luckily this doesn’t mean the content is millennial-only. More that it’s a target demographic to focus attention on. If anything I think it’ll help focus my writing down a bit more. If you have feedback, thoughts or suggestions on this phrasing, I’d love to hear it! It needs a little more polish, but I like the direction.
I plan to be at FinCon again next year in Washington D.C! If we didn’t get a chance to meet, let’s chat online and then meet there. Even with all this talk with people there are a bunch of others I wanted to meet but didn’t. Next year I’ll make a list to help with that (I’ll meet those ChooseFI guys someday). For anyone who’s passing through Salt Lake City feel free to reach out. See you there next year!
One last request: I’m interested in joining a Mastermind group to learn from, and help with accountability. If you’ve been blogging long enough to be looking for some next steps and this sounds interesting contact me and let’s chat!