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John Davey and the Reasons To Be Creative story

I start to get a sense of John Davey when the tea arrives. At first, his eyes widen when a "nice big pot" of brew descends on to our table. However, his enthusiasm is quickly tempered.

"That's a bit of a con, it's two-thirds empty! It's only hot water," he rues.

Of course, I didn't meet up with John to debate the finer points of the High Street hospitality industry. I wanted to find out more about Reasons To Be Creative, (opens in new tab) the annual web design event that Davey founded. But as we start talking about the creative get-together, which takes place across three days in Brighton from 2-4 September, it becomes clear that John's attitude towards tea nods to his approach to event management.

"The first priority always in my mind is the content has to be the best. I believe that as long as the content is fantastic, that will draw the audience regardless of whether they're newbies, oldies, startups, or whatever," he says.

Davey continues: "Typically, I will only invite speakers that I've seen talk. The reason for that is that too many times I've seen amazing content and the speaker is terrible; or vice-versa, where the speaker is so charismatic and the content is terrible. I make it a point of always seeing whomever I invite to speak."

It's an admirable philosophy, but does Davey's gumption risk representing a lone voice in the wilderness? According to the Reasons To Be Creative man, the European events marketplace is already over-saturated. He points to other quality gatherings like Germany's Beyond Tellerrand (opens in new tab)as proof that he's not alone, though he's adamant that many organisers don't go the extra mile to ensure attendees get great value for money and walk away inspired.

"We are already at saturation point – on Lanyrd (opens in new tab), there are like 16,000 competitive events in Europe. Some of those are freebies. Some of them are like Reasons To Be Creative, which are paid. I would like to think that when you pay to come to something like Reasons you know that you are going to get some very heavyweights speakers. This year we have Stefan Sagmeister, Erik Spiekermann, Jon Burgerman, Dominic Wilcox - these people are at the top of our industry," Davey notes.

He adds: "And then the other speakers, you know that you're going to get quality because they've been vetted. I think the problem comes when you get speakers who are so eager to be at anything and everything, that actually what happens is they dilute their value. Why would an attendee go to a paid event if they can see that speaker a free event down the road at a pub?"

As well as careful curation of the Reasons To Be Creative lineup (opens in new tab), Davey says that attention to detail and a grassroots ethos help ensure that his event is the best possible experience for attendees and speakers alike.

"There is a big difference. There is an atmosphere that's built with 1,200 people, a professional AV setup, very comfortable theatres. This isn't a basement of a hotel. It is not a corporate event, it's not an expo," he notes.

It's clear that getting to the point where Reasons To Be Creative is currently pursuing its first sellout has been a very personal journey for John. So just how did he come to take over the illustrious Brighton Dome (see image, below) and two other leading venues every September?

Davey tells me that his background is in Flash development, and the creative community will no doubt recognise him from the speaking circuit. However, when since deceased Macromedia decided to shutter a key piece of related software, Flash Generator, he boldly rethought his career and founded Reasons To Be Creative's predecessor, Flash On The Beach.

"I was on the speaking circuit myself, wrote a couple of books [but] in their infinite wisdom, Macromedia decided to kill Generator which meant that the majority of my appearances kind of disappeared. [The] people that were interested in Generator, now it wasn't available, [they] weren't really interested in hearing anything else," Davey explains.

He continues: "I got to a point where I thought: I'm now getting in debt, what am I going to do to get out of it? And I thought because I know probably the top 30 speakers in the world at the time, why don't I do my own event? I had absolutely no idea how to run it, I just thought - yeah, I'm a bright guy, I can work this out. And about a month of two in, I thought: Oh my god, if this goes tits up, I'm going to have to sell my house."

It didn't go "tits up," of course, and I'm pretty sure John still has a roof over his head. In fact, Reasons To Be Creative was named Best Event of 2012 (opens in new tab) at the Microsoft-backed Critters awards and plans are afoot to expand the event across the UK in 2014.

"From the word go, it was a success. The first year, I think we had about 550 people and then it grew every single year to the point where I think the best numbers we've had recently are about 1,200," Davey says.

He adds: "My goal now is to do one day satellite events in places like Manchester and maybe in Edinburgh or Glasgow. We've also done a one-day event in London called Reasons To Be Appy, which was very successful. The intention now is to spread the love throughout the country and then bring it all back together in September for the big event."

If there's one thing that John Davey's story underlines, it's that while startups are a diverse bunch, the best are fundamentally rooted in their core idea - be in for a new going out app, a cloud-based enterprise service, or a web design extravaganza by the sea.

"It's an event that I put my heart and soul into - I put on the event that I want to attend myself," he opines, adding: "[Attendees] feel like they're being loved because they are loved – they're my extended family, really, and that's what I want.`"

To share in the love, buy tickets for Reasons To Be Creative (opens in new tab) now via the event's website - it's just over a month away and some workshops are already starting to sell out.

James is a freelance editor, journalist, and writer with 10+ years experience in digital media, SEO and news writing. He has produced content on a number of Future sites, including TechRadar, ITProPortal, Tom's Guide, and T3, and was Senior Staff Writer at ITProPortal.