Organising a MODXpo takes a lot of time and effort, and money too. In this post I'm trying to shed some light on the finances of the 2022 MODXpo.
Why? Because you voted yes.
Now that there's an OpenCollective for MODX, I would also like to promote (financial) transparency and accountability in the community, and this seems like as good a place as any to start.
Some things to note before diving in:
- I organized this conference last minute, and on my own. Typical MODXpos start planning a year in advance and are a combined effort of a collective of agencies. As there was just 3 months from the first idea to the event itself, I decided to not seek that collaboration so I could make all decisions without first having to get others to sign-off or having to chase after people. Move fast, break things, yada yada.
- There was a lot of uncertainty from the start about the ticket sales. This is always uncertain, but with COVID, the summer holidays, and the short time frame are all factors that were impossible to predict. In my initial budget I anticipated 60-80 people in-person, we ended up with just 28 in-person including staff (34 without cancellations) which obviously has a big impact.
Also, it's worth emphasizing nowhere in this budget is "organizer fee". It took about 2-3 months of full time effort, so feel free to add whatever you believe is a fair monthly salary to the costs. ;)
To keep the numbers reasonably simple, all prices are inclusive of VAT. There are some tax implications I'll discuss at the end, but honestly it just gets too complex to mix in with the individual numbers as some costs may have been exempt or at different VAT rates.
- €655 - 5x Standard tickets (4x €129, 1x €139)
- €3,184 - 16x Agency Ticket (€199 each: €109 sponsor ticket + €90 sponsorship)
- €1,755 - 65x Online Tickets (€29/€35 each, some with discount, average €27 each)
- €35 - 1x Partner Ticket (€35)
- €3,933 direct sponsorship
Total revenue: € 9,562
"Direct sponsorship" means the actual money received on top of
tickets. Some sponsors had a combined "sponsor package" with one or more
tickets, which I've counted above as "Agency Tickets", and any
sponsoring exceeding that €90 sponsoring went into "direct sponsorship".
Some other sponsors only got an agency ticket, so those don't
contribute to the "direct sponsorship" while still paying in through
their tickets. It is a fairly arbitrary decision to calculate it like
this; if you prefer it the other way around: 16x€109 = €1,704 in sponsor
tickets, with sponsorship increasing by €1,440 to €5,373. Total doesn't
There were also 13 free tickets for speakers and staff.
I think it's nice the majority of tickets sold were agency tickets.
The concept seems to work: those that can afford a little more are
effectively subsidizing the tickets for others through sponsoring.
I would expect the split to be different at future events, just because
the vast majority of attendees were agency-based this year, while
normally there are also more independent MODXers or smaller agencies.
Finally, in-kind sponsorships (i.e. discounts on goods/services) are not included. Some accounting methods may prefer to include in-kind sponsorships in both the revenue and costs, but I just cross it off from both sides of the balance when no money changed hands.
Now I'm really going to throw a bunch of numbers at you.
First off, it's worth splitting costs into two categories. (1) Costs
that are specific to the conference, and (2) investments: you'll
definitely see me drag the 1,5m tall cardboard MODX logo to future
meetups or conferences, and the capture cards used for streaming will
certainly come in handy again, either at future MODXpos or for modmore
stuff. Whenever you see [i] for a listed item, I consider those
Secondly it's worth noting that some of venue costs were based on 35
people because the original booking was for 60 people, and when it
became apparent ticket sales were definitely lower than expected (end of
May), 35 was the lowest I could change it to. Last minute cancellations
also don't result in a discount from the venue.
Costs specific to in-person attendees:
- €1,225 - drinks and snacks during the day, plus lunch (35 x €35)
- €962.50 - walking dinner (35 x €27,50)
- €215 - snacks during the evening social
- €475 - bar tab during the evening social (incl. staff and tip)
- €647.50 - conference room rental w/ projector, second screen, lounge seats
Streaming/recording & online:
- €120 - SpatialChat virtual venue
- €143.11 - Slido Pro
- €173.08 - Vimeo Premium (partially pro-rated) for live streaming + captions
- €352.88 - Cam Link 4k (x2) for inputting camera + laptop screen to PC, Stream Deck to control streaming software [i]
- €1,046.65 - AV equipment rental (cameras, mixers, mics, speaker set etc), excl. staff
- €411.40 - 1.5m tall cardboard MODX logo [i]
- €203.35 - XL LED letters (rental)
- €432.77 - name badges, signage, lanyards
- €278.66 - lounge backdrop (cardboard folding screens, now in use as my video call backdrop) + wide sponsor banner below the screen (single-use cardboard)
- €211.75 - stage 7x3m rental
- €175 - decorative lighting rental
Total promotional/decor: €1,712.93
Speakers & staff:
- €1,635.08 - speaker fees & travel comp paid out (incl. speaker hotels charged to speakers by mistake)
- €557 - speaker hotels charged to me, incl. my own room
- €95 - room for cancelled speaker (1 night last minute cancellation fee)
- €2,550.90 - staff: Marc, Kjell, AV tech, and AV helpers setting up/tearing down equipment
Total speakers & staff: €4,837.98
- €226.99 - cables, adapters, hubs, etc [i]
- €203.28 - Best MODX Website Award
- €456.24 - award videos production
- €43.78 - miscellaneous supplies
- €370.82 - event insurance
- €131.98 - COVID self-tests and masks
- €224.76 - "thanks a choc-o-lot" chocolate bars for speaker gifts/random rewards during the day
- €5 - administrative fee for paying by invoice (wish this was a joke)
Total miscellaneous: €1,662.85
That gives a grand total of €13,574.59 in costs, of which €990.27 are investments that can be re-used in the future, leaving direct costs of €12,584.32.
There's probably a few things I'm forgetting, so while covering part of the investments I'd suggest rounding total costs to €12,750 for easier math.
€9,562 - €12,750 = -€3,188.
Normally I'll sponsor MODXpos for around €1000 to get the modmore logo stamped on all the things, so the net is definitely much higher than usual. (And there's also the 2-3 months of unpaid work, and some modmore-specific costs not included in the conference budget.)
However, it could've been worse. With a budget designed to break even around 60-80 attendees, only losing €3k when there's less than 30 people in the room on the day itself... oof. Sponsors really saved the day for a very large part, so thanks to those.
Because most of the revenue (tickets and most sponsors) came in the
2nd quarter, while the conference happened in the 3rd quarter and almost
all costs are billed afterwards based on actual usage, VAT got a bit
If you're not aware how VAT works: the system with rebates means you normally only pay the tax rate over the value you added.
Take the VAT on sales/revenue, deduct the VAT on the costs to produce those sales, and pay whatever is left. So if €100 worth of supplies (which at 21% includes €21 VAT) were sold as finished products at €150 (which includes €31,50 VAT), you end up paying taxes for the "added value" of €50 (21% of €50 = €10,50, or €31,50 - €21 = €10,50).
In the case of the conference: because the costs for supplies exceeded the revenue from the "product", the VAT discount/rebate is larger than the VAT charged to people buying tickets, so net I'll get VAT back from the tax office. Obviously not counting any other modmore revenue/costs here.
In the Q2 filings (completed two weeks ago), I'm paying the VAT on
the revenue from tickets/sponsors (~€2,000 going to the gov't), while in
three months at the end of Q3 I'll get a rebate for the VAT paid on the
expenses (~€2,700 coming back). As a small business, and on top of the
loss already incurred in the same month as the tax filing, that's a lot of money to "loan" to the tax office for three months.
In hindsight I should've asked the bookkeeper to file the conference
revenue separately so it could be properly balanced against the costs
in Q3, but sadly I didn't realize the VAT implications were this
significant until it was already filed. The company bank account isn't
looking too happy right now, but that's temporary.
(In the meantime, I did open up some availability for freelance work this and next month, if you need any MODX work done asap let me know! :P)
Some costs are worth discussing in a bit more detail:
- Staff comes in heavy at €2,550. When organizing a conference in a
collective, staff doesn't usually run as big. It's easier to find a
handful of people "volunteering" to take care of things throughout the
day, and you can do more yourself vs outsourcing.
- As sole organizer I absolutely needed a backup (Marc) who could run things in case I were to, for example, get COVID myself. Normally, not a concern.
- I am not great at the
host/moderator role and really wanted someone else (Kjell) to take
control of the stage instead. I do think it worked quite well and think
it's worthwhile considering professional moderators at future
conferences, but there have been plenty of great conferences with
volunteer moderators as well. I did originally try to source someone from the community but could not find someone to be available and willing.
I physically could not have done both the live stream, AV,
host/moderator, and organizer duties at the same time... in addition to
Marc and Kjell, having someone (Marco) sit at the AV all day turned out
to be crucial as well. For the most part, even with the rented
professional equipment, a properly instructed volunteer could've also
handled this at a more typical MODXpo.
- The bottom line is that the cost of organizing a conference like this alone is €2,550. ;)
- Speaker compensation/rooms at €2,190+ is also not insignificant.
However without speakers there's no content, so on principle I think
it's important to pay speakers fairly for their effort. There's a lot of
time that goes into preparing talks, and too many
conferences (even/especially big ones!) do not pay speakers at all.
Making this a part of the budget from the start is important.
- While I absolutely love this picture, with a €3k loss the €200 for the XL LED Letters feel a bit wasteful. Sadly, I had already made a non-refundable booking in May. Next time, confirming such decorations is probably best to do a bit later on in the process, but I do think the letters added a nice touch to the vibe.
- €370 event insurance is also a nice chunk of cash for something that went unused, but.. if someone would have tripped over a modmore logo, dive into a €4000 camera, and break their leg in the process, I'd be bankrupt. Worth every penny.
- I'm not 100% sure, but I don't think we used Pro-specific
features on Slido other than the branding options (i.e., uploading a
logo). Probably would've been fine with a cheaper plan.
- After reviewing the purchases, I've come to the conclusion that I buy a lot of spare cables and adapters when under stress. Most of it went unused (of course I couldn't have predicted which ones I would need!), but they're all neatly packed into a special adapter bag for future conferences, and I won't have to buy any adapters ever again.
- If you attended in-person, you probably noticed there were a lot of snacks all across the bar during the evening social. The snack plates were already reserved as part of the original reservation for 60-80 people, but I didn't realize I forgot to change the number of plates until I walked into the bar and saw the sheer quantity of them all across the bar. Hehe, whoops.
Obviously choosing a hotel as venue also has its implications on cost.
- If it had been a full-on conference center (like the venue for the 2014 MODX Weekend), they would've had a lot more (and better) AV equipment and tech available in-house. In my experience, in-house AV is more affordable than having to bring it all in yourself, so that might've been cheaper to achieve a similar setup and decor, though room rental rates tend to be a bit higher. There's a balance somewhere in the middle depending on AV needs.
- In terms of food & drinks, there's also no room to bring in your own caterer or buy drinks wholesale for much less. There's a restaurant with a certain menu, and not as much room to negotiate or make changes, especially with a smaller group.
- However, on
the whole this venue ended up being fairly affordable, probably for a
large part thanks to its location being outside of the city itself.
Sure, the restaurant and hotel rooms aren't cheap by any definition, but it's a recently renovated venue with a luxurious touch to it, and staff that knows what they're doing. I've seen much
worse at much higher costs, and can definitely see future events at the
same venue. I do hope they take my feedback seriously and invest in a
As for a summary of the feedback from the attendee survey, and discussing some of the things I'd do differently from an organizer perspective that isn't money related... that's the topic for a different post.
If you have any questions, of course feel free to post those below or send me a tweet.