Episode 70: Cactusforce with Marisa Hambleton | Salesforce Developers Podcast

Marisa Hambleton is a Managing Partner at MH2X. In this episode, we are discussing the Cactusforce conference. We talk about its origins and the recent virtual version of it.

Marisa was introduced to Salesforce after both she and her husband lost their jobs at IBM. The instant delivery and cloud aspect drew her to the company. She now has a long history of being an entrepreneur in the Salesforce ecosystem. Tune in to hear all about that and Cactusforce. 

Show Highlights:

  • Why Marisa decided to run her own business.
  • The bigger purpose entrepreneurship provides for her.
  • Her greatest advice for those who want to strike out on their own.
  • When she first got involved in the Salesforce and Trailblazer community.
  • Her experience leading the Phoenix user group.
  • How leading that developer group led to the Cactusforce conference.
  • The kinds of advanced and holistic content they include in the conference.
  • The decision process that went into making Cactusforce virtual in 2021 and how it went.
  • How to access Cactusforce content now.

Links:

Episode Transcript

Marisa Hambleton:
So we were just out in the neighborhood walking around and saw a neighbor out and yelled over and said, “Hey, we’re both out of work. If you know anybody that needs anybody technical, let us know.” We yelled back, “Okay.” Kept walking. A couple of weeks passed by, got a phone call.

Josh Birk:
That is Marisa Hambleton, a managing partner at MH2X. I’m Josh Birk, your host of the Salesforce Developer Podcast. And here on the podcast you’ll hear stories and insights from developers for developers. Today on the podcast, we sit down with Marisa and talk about the origins of CactusForce, the recent virtual version of it, as well as her long history with being an entrepreneur in the Salesforce ecosystem. There you are hearing her reaction to her and her husband, a JAVA engineer, losing their jobs at IBM. And that phone call would lead to her introduction to Salesforce and the ease it has with delivering through the Cloud.

Marisa Hambleton:
I don’t want to call them my team but I was a project manager. Although my title, we talked about titles right before the call. My official title was a staff software engineer. But my responsibility was bringing in all of the different pieces of this JVM from all over the world. So I had teams in mainland China, Taiwan, in Korea, India, in Canada, here in the US, and I had to bring in all the different pieces of the JVM and then get them over to the release folks.

Josh Birk:
Wow.

Marisa Hambleton:
So that way, we could release out to our business partners. And so I was able to see like how all these different pieces fit together in order to make a delivery. And the thing that struck me with Salesforce is that it was cloud and it was an app and it was all together, and it’s like instant delivery. Again, and it really struck me that, “Hey, this is really powerful. I’ve got to learn more about this and get into it and see how can I build a business on it?” And I was going through my MSIM, our graduate school program. And that’s when I… Actually Peter Coffee was one of our guest lectures.

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
So total fan girl. That’s when I knew, it’s like, that was the sign I needed, that, “Okay. I am on the right path.”

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
I’ve got to find a way to do this.

Josh Birk:
So, I love how there’s people in our community who I just, like Peter Coffee, Liam Miguel and [inaudible 00:02:45], and Charlie Isaacs. It’s like so many people can credit some moment in their life… And Crystal Ortiz comes up an awful lot, I shall also say. And it’s just like, how are these people all over the world. Even in a virtual, I keep running into Charlie Isaacs. I think that’s wonderful. I do think it really speaks to the power of the early days where Salesforce is like, “No software. You just need your browser.” I mean, no software feels a little weirder now what we’ve got Heroku and stuff like that. But it was that easy delivery system. Now, tell me a little bit, because you have stayed in this world of entrepreneurship and running your own business, what was the incentive there to stay as your own business, as opposed to signing up with a big consulting or anything like that?

Marisa Hambleton:
Oh, gosh. Well, I love running my own business. I’m a big DA wire.

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
I love just the idea of doing things myself. I’m very curious. I love figuring things out. I like knowing how things work and I really loved the process of running a business and I do have a lot of entrepreneurial friends. Coincidentally, a lot of our IBM friends, the people that we worked with, that were also laid off at the same time. They also started their own businesses and we still get together and just talk about how like, “Man, I got to do the taxes,” and like, “I got to go find a bookkeeper.” And like, “Man, somebody’s got to get my website up.” Other little things about running a business, and they’re like, “I just want to code, or I just want to build things.”

Marisa Hambleton:
I really was fascinated by how to run a business. My husband, because he’s really the hardcore developer. He really just wanted a code all the time and he wanted to code wherever he wanted to code. When you work for a very large company, you get told what you code, and everything you develop and you create is there’s, the intellectual property part of it. It can be very constraining. And so that was one of the things that we both felt, and I felt that, “Okay, we can now create something for ourselves and share.” And he found for himself that he really liked that whole full-time employment, the regular steady part of it. I, on the other hand, oh my gosh, I thrive in the chaos. It’s like that whole up and down for like, I can get up in the morning and there’s something really great happening and I’m like, “Woohoo, yay!”

Marisa Hambleton:
And then it’s like something doesn’t go so well, you’re like, “I’m such a loser.” I’m like, “I can’t, what the hell am I thinking? I’m never going to get this right.” I mean, that’s part of it. And I that’s part of why I love it. It gave me the opportunity to also explore things that I had always wanted to explore throughout my professional career. And again, I have always been in technology and I started early in my career working for an energy company that was very traditional in work environment. There’s very few women. Actually, there’s still very few women. [crosstalk 00:06:03].

Marisa Hambleton:
It was even fewer women, and even fewer Latina women. It just going through all that, the evolution of my career, I never fit in. I never fit in. Like I just, I was loved for what I did. I was loving my work and working in IT, internally for companies. I worked for software companies, worked for IBM. I tried some startups and I just felt like, being the boss, I could do whatever I wanted. If I felt like there was a better way to do something than what I had been taught, I had the latitude and the liberty to just try it and see if it works, great; if it doesn’t work, while I guess I won’t be doing it that way again.

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
And I get to make the rules and I get to break the rules and I can bring other people along with me and it’s just fun. Right. It’s just fun. And I don’t want to say we all have to work, but most people are not independently wealthy, but even if they are, it’s like, it’s nice to have a bigger purpose of how you spend your day, how you spend your time and how you contribute, I think just to your industry and to humanity. And I feel like as an entrepreneur, I have the opportunity to do that. And it’s really enjoyable.

Josh Birk:
Nice. I feel like my arc was almost the complete inverse of that. I was a freelance consultant down in the wonderful city of Bloomington, Illinois, for about two years. And I was making a profit, mostly paying rent. And I knew I might be in trouble when one afternoon, I successfully designed my letterhead and realizing I have no letters to send to any clients. I was just like, that real big waste of four hours where I could have been calling people or going to businesses and things like that. And then I signed up with another company and we lost a bunch of money and I fled to the state farm into the arms of the corporate world. So I appreciate you having that passion and success for it. Do you have advice for anybody? Maybe not even just in terms of trying to do Salesforce consultancy and partnership, but like striking it out on their own and maybe wanting to have that self entrepreneur angle to it?

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. So I’m going to borrow slogan.

Josh Birk:
Okay.

Marisa Hambleton:
“It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” And it’s not a job though. It’s, you really have to have a passion for it. You have to be very gritty because it’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve had a lot of things go sideways. The first year I did this, I only made $10,000, but I was profitable. So financially, you have to be in the place where you can do something like this. And I know that there’s a lot of people out there that may be financially, can’t do it. And so I’m a big advocate of like side hustle. If you can successfully side hustle and grow that side hustle, then you know that it might work for you.

Marisa Hambleton:
I think that there’s a lot of people that are very entrepreneurial, but have difficulty making the leap from full-time employment to self-employment. One of the things that… Because I do take an interest in how the business runs, I do have a really deep understanding and I’m also really good friends with my accountant. The tax laws. And I’m super scrappy. As far as like how the cost of running the business, I want to make sure that I’m not filing a loss at the end of the year. And so, those are things that I think it’s nice to be your own boss, but it’s hard too. It’s hard because you also have to make the hard choices.

Marisa Hambleton:
I didn’t always feel this way, obviously because I’ve been doing this for about 10 years now. And I had a lot of doubt early on and I kept thinking like, “Gosh, I should just go get a real job,” or I’d have friends of mine, my old IBM buddies that would say like, “When are you going to get a real job?” And finally, I was, at some point, actually did do a little stint where I was lured into another, a larger consultancy that seemed like it would be awesome. And what I realized is that for myself, I do not have the right personality. I’m not enough of a conformist to work for anybody else. I am a-

Josh Birk:
Okay. That’s good to know. I feel like that’s good self-Realization right there.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. I am too much of a contrarian. I just, I really kind of… I marched the beat of my own drummer, and that does not always bode well in the workplace. There’s a certain level of conformity that’s required and rule following and the way things are done and that just like, that’s not who I am as a person. So again, I tell people that, “Hey, if you think you want to start it, just do it.” Right? The worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out and then you move on. You shut it down and you move on. And there’s no shame in that, whatsoever. I feel like, again, as a business owner, there’s times that things go really, really well, and it’s awesome. And sometimes they don’t, and when they don’t, you just have to tie it up, learn the lessons, and then move on.

Josh Birk:
Yeah. I have heard some other people who do self-consultancies or entrepreneurs, they almost describe it more like a lifestyle choice than a professional one.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. It can be. And sometimes, I’ve had people give me that like, “So it’s a lifestyle business.” And I’m like, “Hell yes.” It’s my lifestyle. I’m loving it, and I make money.

Josh Birk:
So, I want to circle back with that when we’re talking about CactusForce, but let’s start earlier than that. When did you first started getting really involved in the Salesforce and the Trailblazer Community itself?

Marisa Hambleton:
That started pretty immediately when I discovered Salesforce. So it was 2009 when I, again, first discovered Salesforce. And I started wondering like, “How did I not know about this? Are there other people that do this Salesforce thing?” And so the woman Jacqueline, good friend of mine now, that she brought me into this. She says, “Hey, by the way, I saw that there’s this group that they meet at the library up in Scottsdale, you should go check it out.” So that was that summer, right immediately I discovered it in the beginning of the year. And so I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to go check it out.” And yeah, sure enough, there was about, I think maybe there’s like 10 or 15 people in a library auditorium, sparsely spread out of the auditoriums for like, I don’t know, 120 people.

Marisa Hambleton:
And there’s like 15 of them to person one person per row. And I felt like, “These are my people, my new people.” And so of course I went and looked immediately for the other woman in the room and made friends with her. And then just, I was just always excited. They met quarterly. So it’s like, really, I had that on my calendar, like, “Okay, every quarter, I’ve got to like be there and just meet more of these people.” And it went along like that for a few years. And around the same time, I discovered that there was also a nonprofit group who coincidentally were the first ones that had a CactusForce event.

Josh Birk:
Really?

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. They were the ones that coined the term CactusForce.

Josh Birk:
I did not know this.

Marisa Hambleton:
They wanted to do a joint meeting of the nonprofit group and the for-profit group. It was in 2012. I had to look it up because I was like, I knew it was a while back, but I couldn’t remember the exact year. And it was at a little independent film bar in downtown Phoenix. And they’re like, “Yeah, we’re just going to, everybody get together and have cocktails and help each other out and talk about different apps that they’re using.” And they called it CactusForce. So ever since then, I was like, “We got to do more of this.” So in the meantime, we all try to stay in touch, the Phoenix user group, the Phoenix nonprofit group. Again, that was 2009 to 2012. And then around 2013, the leader of the group was getting ready to like, “Okay, I’ve been doing this for a really long time.” I think it’s like 2006 or something that they’d had a group. And so I was like, “I’ll do it. Me, me. Pick me, pick me.”

Josh Birk:
So, why did you want to jump in that role?

Marisa Hambleton:
Oh gosh, I just, I love parties and I love having fun. It’s just seem like a party. We’d get together and talk about Salesforce. Usually there’s like a partner that would give a presentation and then somewhere in between there, those one of the guys, Mike Norton, he was my co-leader for [inaudible 00:15:46]. He says, “Why don’t we have a happy hour?” And I’m like, “That’s a good question. We should have a happy hour.” So, after the meeting, I was like, “Okay, everybody follow me. Let’s go find a pub.” And I mean, it kind of evolved that way. There was a little while where I was bringing snacks and waters and little treats and stuff, because I was like, “I don’t know. There’s like people, I feel like there should be food and something.”

Marisa Hambleton:
Right. Yeah, it just, I don’t know, I felt like that was the thing to do, right. And everybody seemed to enjoy it and people wanted to chat and get together and talk. But we were always getting kicked out of the library because they had closing hours. So right when everybody was talking and getting to know each other, the librarian would come and like, “Okay, it’s time to get out,” like, “Okay, go.” And then we’d be outside the door talking and they’d be like, “You can’t loiter here.” We’re like, “Okay, great.” And of course then we’re like, “Okay, we’ll leave the meeting and then go have a happy hour.”

Josh Birk:
Oh my God.

Marisa Hambleton:
And so, yeah, that’s how it happened. I mean, slowly over time, it was a very diverse group of people because it was one group, other than the nonprofit users. But we had developers and just sales people and regular users and admins and like you name it, they were in there. It was everybody. And I didn’t realize that at the time, but today to this day, there are and I’d have to go, I think if you can go look at the CactusForce site, I list all the groups that we have in Arizona. There is a user group or admin group in Tucson, Prescott, Phoenix.

Marisa Hambleton:
We have a developer group, we have a nonprofit group. We have a women in tech group, we have a marketing group. Phoenix has a marketing group. And I think Tucson has a marketing group. I mean, it’s like, it’s crazy. It’s really exploded because there’s so many people now. And it’s just a huge, really vibrant community. And I feel like, “Hey, it all kind of started with this humble little group of 15 people in Phoenix.”

Josh Birk:
Who really just wanted a happy hour.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yeah. We just all wanted to hang out and have a party and chat about Salesforce here and there.

Josh Birk:
Okay. And I think I’m hearing possibly where this is going then, because like some of the other regional groups, they realized they have a lot of distinct user groups around the area. And then they’re like, “Why don’t we band forces once a year and get everybody in the same conference building basically?” So how did it evolve from happy hour proliferation of developer groups to, “We want to do an actual conference.”

Marisa Hambleton:
So it was quite the evolution. I like to tell people that CactusForce was a community long before it was a conference because it was. It’s all the local people here in Arizona. I’ve been keeping an eye on the community conferences ever since Midwest dreaming with Eric Dreshfield. And when Angela Mahoney started Forcelandia and I think Alex Sutherland started Philly Force, and it just like, the name really kind of stuck with me.

Josh Birk:
Got you.

Marisa Hambleton:
And I felt like these are really awesome. It’s like this community… Well, there’s Dreamforce, but then there’s like that local flavor that you get in these local community conferences. And I really loved that. And I felt like Phoenix, it’s a really large metropolitan, but there’s nothing else nearby. You’ve got LA to the West. And I think the next major, major, major city, if you go West is Austin and that’s a two day drive, or I think Salt Lake City just North of us, or Denver. And I felt like just for the local, that regional flavor, we didn’t really have anything. And we could get all the groups together, which we had.

Marisa Hambleton:
I don’t want to say that I did test runs, but they were kind of test runs where we did multi-group meetings and we’d get about 100 people. And it’s interesting because people are like, well… Like in Minneapolis, their regular user group will draw 250 people. And I feel like that’s the regional part of it, is that people will come together for different reasons in different I guess quantities, if you will. The thing that I think for Phoenix and in Arizona is that Arizona has a very vibrant tech community and Salesforce is not the only technology that people are interested in or that are involved in.

Marisa Hambleton:
I feel like my old story can attest to that, because I went 10 years at IBM, I’d never heard of Salesforce. So there’s a whole bunch of other technology, folks, .net developers, Java developers, Full Stack Web Developers, like any kind of, again, engineering software development that you can think of, that are in their own other communities. And so I feel like that’s where… With a Salesforce community, people are not just dedicated to one technology. I think that they have, again, that’s what I’ve seen just in the local population is that people are working on multiple platforms. And if you’re working in a company, especially because they’re very large companies, you’re going to be working with all these different tools and frameworks.

Marisa Hambleton:
And so, the draw to come to a specific Salesforce event, isn’t as big as you would think, because it’s not a direct correlation between the number of people that live in the area and the attendance. And so, that was one of the ideas that I had of bringing CactusForce here as a technology of it is to try to attract not only our local people that we usually attract, but also to attract your Java Developer, .net developer, and to make it more of a regular tech event, because there are other large technology events here in Phoenix, and I want CactusForce to be one of those.

Josh Birk:
So, tell me a little bit about the kind of content that you were then going to be trained to curate, because it sounds like the different regional conferences all have their own flair and Forcelandia tries to be, I feel like, more technical and definitely more to like the technical architecture. And it kind of sounds like you’re not only doing in that vein, but also trying to be like… What would content be that you would want to bring in the Java Developer, the C# Developer?

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. So that’s where again, Forcelandia was one of our inspiration conferences, is the content for CactusForce would target the experienced developer and the experienced architect. And that’s where, again, I’m going to say like technical is a loaded term because it’s people that are working in and around the Salesforce platform, they might be working on integrations. They might be, again, working with Java at the enterprise level.

Josh Birk:
Gotcha.

Marisa Hambleton:
If they’re a Salesforce developer, they’re not only a Salesforce developer. And I’m going to use my husband as an example, because I feel like he really does epitomize the average Salesforce developer in Arizona because he is a Salesforce developer, but he works, sometimes he’ll do .net. Sometimes he’ll do Java. So it’s all within the purview of his responsibilities at his job. And I wanted CactusForce to have that kind of content. And that’s where, again, just the team, the Cactus crew, and I say me because, it was my brain child, but by no means could I have ever done this alone. I mean, it’s just really such a big group effort. My co-organizer, Steve Simpson is a CTA. I’ve got Chuck Liddell, that is one of the primary content curators on the developer track. And then, I’ll pull in a couple of different people for the configuration because again, a developer also works with… right, it’s clicks before code.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yeah. So I wanted that whole, really a holistic set of content that would speak across a solution, right? The design and the development clicks and code. And so, we’ve had a couple of different people. We had Deepak Patel, Michael Coleman, the first year. And then this year, we had one of our local women in tech leaders, Gloria Gutierrez, that helped with the configurator track curation. But again, across all of those is… And this is more true for the first couple of years, and it was for this year, that content again, it’s a big enough presentation about the platform that there could be something, again, it goes into really advanced content that Java or .net developer can say, “Hey. Yeah, if it’s looking at integrating systems, I can learn something here.”

Josh Birk:
I definitely want to give a tip of the hat to Chuck Liddell, especially acknowledging the work that he’s done with the extracurricular, which brought deep technical architecture dialogue to Dreamforce, TDX, and also want to say a shout out to Chuck, because having gone through blood, sweat, and tears with him to help get that stuff on stage. And I swear one of those things might be literal. But you have to go to those advanced developers. I like to joke, I’m not really an enterprise developer anymore. I just play one on TV. And so, if you’re going to get those complicated, how do you solve these really nuanced problems? You have to get the advanced developers on stage in order to get that done.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. And Chuck was a big inspiration for what I was going for because it’s… And I don’t have any specific examples of CactusForce talks because the idea was to try to get a lot of different talks. And what my goa is if I had a couple of people tell me like, “This is way over my head, this is too complicated.” Then I feel like the goal was accomplished because it’s like, it’s these really hard problems. And again, just, I’m focused more on delivery, but I feel like one of the things that I’ve done as a community leader is try to be in touch with the constituency here to know and understand what kind of challenges do the local developers face in these companies? So, we have really like, what my husband works for state farm.

Marisa Hambleton:
My former co-leader Mike Norton, he worked at Amex. We have… Let’s see, I’m trying to think of some big companies here in town, Discount Tire, Honeywell, just to name a few, and I would listen to the problems that some of these developer teams were having. And I thought, “Well, how do you get on the other side of it?” Right? Because you have your internal team of developers or engineers or architects, you might be bringing in some consultants and people are discussing what kind of integration middleware are we going to use? Are you gonna go Boomi or MuleSoft?

Josh Birk:
Right. Which of course, go MuleSoft. [crosstalk 00:28:15]. Team MuleSoft, I think I’m paid to say that these days. Okay. So I want to talk about the recent iterations. You just did the virtual version of CactusForce, we’ll get into that. But let’s compare it just briefly, what was the size and the shape of CactusForce in 2019?

Marisa Hambleton:
So the size-

Josh Birk:
Or 2020, I guess it would have been because you’re early in the year, right?

Marisa Hambleton:
2020, yes. Yes. And it does, it feels funny to say like, “It was last year, but all we know is this year.” Now, it was last year. So the size was small. And again, I feel like numbers matter because, again and I’ll keep repeating it, we have a very specific audience of advanced developers and architects, people that are more experienced in working in and around the Salesforce platform. These are the people that are solving the really hard problems. And again, that’s that gap because there’s a lot of content around, and Trailhead is awesome for getting started and making that leap into the platform. But then once you’re in the middle of the hairy, tricky problems, okay, then you need something beyond that. And that’s where I feel like CactusForce comes in.

Josh Birk:
Gotcha.

Marisa Hambleton:
And so, the first year, we targeted 100 people and according to the community conference guidelines, you need at least 200 people in order to be considered an official conference.

Josh Birk:
Got it.

Marisa Hambleton:
So because I’m a delivery person and I say, “Okay, I can promise you that I will get 100 people here. I can’t go beyond that.” And they’re like, “Okay, well, we can’t make you an official conference.” And I’m like, “I’m cool with that. Can I use my developer group budget to help fund this initiative?” And so, then I went and got sponsors. So we actually had almost 200 people. I think it was 170, was our final count.

Josh Birk:
Got it.

Marisa Hambleton:
Our target was 100. So I feel like we blew it out of the ballpark there.

Josh Birk:
Awesome.

Marisa Hambleton:
It’s kind of set the expectations low, deliver high.

Josh Birk:
Yeah. One of my favorite quotes from being a consultant is, “Reality always wins.” You can’t push the numbers that aren’t there, right?

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes.

Josh Birk:
Okay.

Marisa Hambleton:
And the second year, we went, we said, “Okay, we can get more than 200. So let’s target 250.” So totally hit that. I think I’d have to go back and double check the numbers. I don’t have them off the top of my head, but I believe we had almost 300 people. And we were trying to stuff people in a room that had a capacity of 275 and Steve was like, “I want to tweet it.” And I was like, “No, because I don’t want the there’s fire marshal [crosstalk 00:31:08].” Yes.

Josh Birk:
Fire Marshall is out there. I love how having worked in conferences and event planning, all of this kind of stuff, and respect to them and the work that they do because they keep us safe. But the fire marshals are always the boogeyman. They’re the ones who opened the door. People think Dreamforce has this tradition of opening early. No, the fire marshals call us. And they’re like, “You need to open doors now because there’s too many people outside.” They have power.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes. Yes, they do. They do.

Josh Birk:
Nice. Okay. So then walk me through 2021. When did you know that you were going to have to… Actually, let me frame the question like this. When did you know that you were not going to have a live event, a real person event?

Marisa Hambleton:
Probably by the end of February. That was my personal feeling. My personal gut, but kids are getting ready to go on spring break. They go on spring break early out here in Arizona, the first week of March. And I felt like at that point, I was still kind of really from CactusForce, like, you know the energy, right? Yeah. I had my CactusForce shirt on. We get our organizers a different color shirts so that we stand out a little bit.

Josh Birk:
Gotcha.

Marisa Hambleton:
And my son and my grandson were revisiting and we’re talking about it, he works, he’s going through his Doctor of Physical Therapy program at UNLV. And we were talking about COVID and he says, “Yeah, mama…” He says, “This thing’s really bad.” He says, “I think it’s going to get really, really, really bad. I’ve been reading about it.” And I said, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” And I was thinking about CactusForce, and I said, “I think you’re right.” And I said, “I just have this really bad feeling that next year is not going to be the same.” And by May, Steve and I, for sure were like, “There’s no way we’re going to do…” I’d already been talking to the event planner that we use. And she says, “Well, we can try a hybrid.” And then by May, the three of us were like-

Josh Birk:
Not even hybrid.

Marisa Hambleton:
“No.” And we’re talking January, right. We’re still months away. But yeah, it was… Yeah.

Josh Birk:
Yeah. So then the follow-up to that is when did you decide you… Was it always determined you were going to just go IRL to virtual, or was there an inflection point where you were like, “Maybe we just don’t do 2021. Maybe we just skip a year and we’ll see you all the following year.”

Marisa Hambleton:
Again, I felt like I got to keep my January, like I’m on a cadence.

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
I got to keep it. So then I told my husband, I said, “I don’t know, you think Steve will go for it?” He’s like, “I don’t know.” So, again, I have this internal dialogue and then I was bouncing ABS to my husband. So then me and Steve sinked-up and we’re like, “So what do you think?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. Let me think.” And he’s like, “I’ll think too.” And then I said, “Well, let’s circle back in a couple of weeks. And then we’ll independently decide what we’ve come to.” And we both were like, “We got to keep January.” We just got started. I mean, CactusForce, I feel like we were really just in this momentum and we felt like it’s crazy, but you know what the heck? Let’s just do it.

Marisa Hambleton:
I said, “We’ll figure something out. We’re smart people.” And we told our event planner and we said, “Look, how can we make this happen?” And she really… Again, Eric Dreshfield recommended HirePro and she found us our event platform pop in, and they helped us run through some test runs and just negotiate that whole arena, our budget, just everything. Just, we had to go through. And it was incredibly time consuming and it really took so much more effort. I mean, we knew it would be a lot of effort, but it really… Our expectations were exceeded, but also as far as the level of effort on every person’s part, everybody worked incredibly hard to pull it up.

Josh Birk:
Nice. And just, as a simple question, how did it go?

Marisa Hambleton:
It exceeded all of our expectations.

Josh Birk:
I feel like is a trend with you. I’m just going to say it.

Marisa Hambleton:
Yeah. Gosh, I still get… I feel like I’m still coming off the CactusForce cloud, and it’s not saying that everything… There was a lot of things that went wrong by the way. We could pull a really long gag reel for all the awkward moments of people being on camera. And these are, “Are my sites showing?” [crosstalk 00:36:04] Or, “Can you hear me?” Our moderators and being on camera when they should have been off and all this, but I feel like it’s also real, like the presenters showed up, we were able to have more presenters. Again, there was a lot we couldn’t do that. There’s no way you can replace in-person experience with virtual. We didn’t even try to do that. We tried to focus on great content.

Josh Birk:
Gotcha.

Marisa Hambleton:
And the fact that we’re virtual, let’s bring as much as we can, which we knew it would be a lot of effort, but we felt like it’ll give people the option to pick and choose which sessions they want to be in live, to interact live with the speaker. And have the opportunity to be on camera and ask their questions live, which again, CactusForce, it’s that access to the experts and being able to ask those hard questions. And so, we wanted to give people the opportunity to do that in a virtual space. And while we’re at it, invite everybody, right? It’s a party for whoever wants to come. And so, we had a premium paid ticket where you get a t-shirt, and then free.

Josh Birk:
Of course. Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
And so that’s our second, right. Our number one is great content. Number two is great t-shirt.

Josh Birk:
That’s excellent. And what is the post-event experience shaping up to be?

Marisa Hambleton:
The, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.

Josh Birk:
The post event. So now that… Because CactusForce was a couple, like two or three weeks ago, at this point, if somebody is hearing this, they’re like finding out about CactusForce for the first time, can they go back and see the old sessions and the videos and stuff like that?

Marisa Hambleton:
Yes, they can.

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
All of our video content is posted. We’re still uploading our speaker resources. There’s some of the speakers that wanted to add, provide their slide deck along with the video content. And so, our speaker send that in, we go ahead and post that up. Our t-shirts are for sale. They’re incredibly comfortable. It’s a next level 60/40 poly/cotton blend shirt, super soft.

Josh Birk:
Nice.

Marisa Hambleton:
The design is actually a pandemic friendly because it’s a black-on-black design, so that it’s subtle. You can just support CactusForce and be comfortable at the same time.

Josh Birk:
I love it. Nice. And we will definitely get links to all of that into the show notes. One final question on CactusForce itself, because I’m asking almost every community/conference organizer who’s been going through this. What are your plans for 2022 in regards to like, if we get, let’s say, vaccines out, for post-pandemic, you have the opportunity to do a live event again, what’s your take on continuing doing virtual events?

Marisa Hambleton:
So we will do our very best to bring CactusForce to a broader audience. So, we’re very committed to staying in January. So there will be a CactusForce 2022, in January, 2022. And we’ll do our best to bring that to as many people as possible because, again, it’s a community conference. It’s a community event for the benefit of everybody learning and sharing the lessons. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more lessons between now and then of what kind of interesting solutions or work arounds or other technology got integrated, or architecture design or frameworks. And we’d like to be able to share that. So, we’ll definitely be back. We’re fingers crossed that we get lots of vaccines and we can have some sort of in-person event, but we most certainly do plan to either, if we live stream it or have to organize a whole virtual team, we will be back in January of 2022.

Josh Birk:
And that’s our show. I really want to thank Merisa for the great conversation and information, but I still really want to thank her for CactusForce. It turns out I was kind of accidentally poaching Chris speakers for the show, and now I’m just going to pretty much start doing it on purpose. So keep an eye out for those in the next few weeks, and as mentioned, we will have links more about Merisa and CactusForce in the show notes themselves. Now, before we go, I did ask after her favorite non-technical hobby, it turns out it’s writing, but that’s one of many.

Marisa Hambleton:
I actually have a lot of hobbies. I actually like doing a lot of different things. But during the pandemic, I found that writing has kind of been my… It’s a nice little escape. I can sit and write on the computer or just write longhand. And it’s been really fun.

Josh Birk:
That’s wonderful. I find I run into two answers to that question. One is, I have so many hobbies, I’m not sure which one I’m going to pick. And then, there’s the developers who’re like non-technical. Now, if you want to learn more about this show, head on over to developer.salesforce.com/podcast, where you can hear old episodes, see the show notes, that have links to your favorite podcast service. I’ll talk to you next week.