August 17, 2018
Planning PickleCon: An International Event
PickleCon is our annual gathering held in Manila. From August 20-27th, a large portion of the US team will travel to Manila to celebrate and learn with our amazing Filipino production team. Follow us on Instagram that week in lieu of the blog for updates and news!
I’m not a natural planner. For most of my adult life, event planning meant improvising the day of, MAYBE the day before. Sure, a fun time was always had, and it never cost a ton of money. But most events I planned had that whole “learning to build the plane and fly it at the same time” vibe.
Fast forward to a few months ago, I joined the team that would be planning our annual event in the Philippines. We now call it PickleCon!
Let’s get this straight: I’m the one writing the article so it can be easily misconstrued that I am somehow the MAIN PERSON planning the event. I AM NOT.
Tanya Chica, a member of our Filipino production team on the Ticket Assessment Group is the main #BOSSLADY in this adventure. Tanya planned our last event, and this year she has the monumental task of making this event happen, but make it bigger and bolder. In addition Nicole Lovelady, the executive assistant is another key member of this team, she keeps things organized and provides a very healthy dose of grace under fire (she’s a former Starbucks manager, she knows how to handle acute stress).
My job is just to provide some support, ask questions, and give crazy ideas and suggestions to Tanya and Nicole.
We’re a young company so this event in August will be the 3rd official event we’ve held in the Philippines. I want to provide some backstory for context.
The 1st Trip
The first event was held April of 2016. Founder Russ Perry flew out to the Philippines solo, traveling to a couple different cities in the Philippines, meeting various members of the production team.
A lot of Filipino food was consumed, I think there were even a few horse rides, and an infamous hike up a mountain that left many gasping for air. Russ also got to experience firsthand the crazy traffic of Manila. It was more “Russ tours the PH” vibe.
At that point Design Pickle had a total of 20 teammates in the PH and 2 in the US. If you look at the pictures from the event, one thing that stands out is that many of the people in the pictures are now in key positions throughout the company. As we’ve expanded our team, it’s extremely important that we promote from within. Their experience and skill set is incredibly invaluable.
What’s even moving is how many of the folks in the pictures have since gotten married, had kids, bought cars and homes. Russ’ hair looks pretty much the same too. Lucky guy.
The second time around, we held our event in February of 2017. This was a MUCH bigger affair.
Our team was bigger and more complex.
On that trip representing the US team was Russ, Jim, Michelle, and I. Our good friend Shaina came along to document the whole thing. We left behind 1 person, Kevin to make sure things wouldn’t fall apart. The team landed in Manila a few days early and gathered at the Ascot for two days of meetings with leadership, spin classes, and running through traffic.
Our team and client base were growing exponentially by the time we landed in the Philippines. At that point, we had a total of 5 full-time US-based teammates and about 50 Filipino teammates!
We had the need and the resources to pull our location independent team together for 3 days at the Pico De Loro resort in Batangas, a LOVELY seaside resort. I’m talking about beaches, palm trees, coconuts. Most of the team met us in Manila. After many hugs (this was this first time we all met each other in person!), we boarded a few 12 seat passenger vans and took a 3-hour drive to the Resort. This was also when I realized how HUGE vaping was in the Philippines. I really think that at least 75% of our amazing Pickle crew vaped.
This event was much bigger in scale. Learning sessions, team meals, team-building exercises, a talent show, an awards ceremony, KARAOKE. Lots of Karaoke. To many folks, MY shining moment was performing “Love Shack” by the B-52s.
Meeting our teammates in person was was incredibly inspiring and moving. Matching faces to names, hearing their stories, sharing our dreams and goals made this trip worth the flight, and quick turn around. We all came away refreshed, and ready to move mountains.
On a personal level, this trip was very moving. My parents are from the Philippines, but due to time, finances, and the general bustle of my family, I had only been to the Philippines twice before this trip.
Growing up, my Filipino heritage was something that was important to me, but it was mainly expressed through the food my family cooked and a general sense of being slightly other. Since joining Design Pickle, I’ve felt an enormous pride in my parent’s homeland, and I long to make more sense of it.
Touching down onto the tarmac, I almost began to cry. Perhaps it was exhaustion, or maybe relief. Whatever it was, I suddenly felt more connected to my mother (who died when I was 17). It’s just such a strange coincidence that my job has somehow gotten me closer to my roots than any other experience I’ve had.
Tanya was the sole organizer of this event, scouting locations, negotiating prices, wrangling transportation for 55 of attendees, picking menus, beverage prices, and so much more. Without Tanya, PickleCon 17 never would have happened. I have to mention that Tanya did this in addition to her full-time job at DP, as well as wrangling her husband and two beautiful children.
Packing up and heading home, one thing we knew was this: the next event was going to be bigger and badder.
PickleCon 18 is technically August 24th and 25th, this is when the WHOLE group will be together at the swanky Shangri-La at the Fort in Manila. However, the US team, all 18 of us, will be there a few days early, meeting with the leadership team for some intense vision building and planning before the whole shebang.
When the whole gang arrives, it’s gonna be an intense two days of workshops, experiences, another talent show, and an awards night!
Yesterday (as I write this) I ordered t-shirts for the event. 198 people will be attending PickleCon 18. It’s ridiculous!
In the 18 months since we last visited our team, our team and client base has exploded in size.
The theme this year is Awake and Create. It’s a chance for us to awaken our senses and awaken our sense of wonder and possibility. It’s also a chance for us to create. Not just great design, but to create our future.
Planning this event has had its fair share of expected and unexpected challenges. Obviously, the time difference makes it difficult to sync up for live meetings. In the months leading up the event, we met at least once a week on Zoom.
We also rely heavily on Kyber, Google Docs, and Viber to make sure we stay in constant communication. Our meetings are scheduled for 4:30 pm PST on Thursdays, which is 7:30 am in the Philippines. I’m usually driving to pick my son up from daycare, Nicole is nearing the end of her day, while Tanya has been up for a few hours doing her regular DP duties.
We rely heavily on Tanya to be our eyes and ears on the ground. Of course, this also means that Tanya bears the brunt of annoying emails or having to physically carry out tough conversations with vendors.
Because of the size of the event and our desire to lighten Tanya’s load, we hired an outside production company to handle most of the event logistics. This takes a large amount of work off of Tanya’s plate. That still leaves Tanya to deal with the hotel, food/drink, and transportation. While some decisions need to be made by me on the US team, we trust Tanya to make a majority of the decisions.
Some strange, unexpected situations I had to deal with concerned iced tea. I was shocked that the pricing for food and beverage packages didn’t take into account free refills of iced tea. I’m still a bit shocked and incredulous about this. However, when in Manila…
Food was also an interesting situation. While a majority of our team is Filipino, many of the US team have very little to no exposure to Filipino food. I definitely wanted them to experience it. However, I was also concerned that our Filipino teammates might be sick of Filipino food. The Shangri-La is a FANCY hotel with a very skilled kitchen. They can pretty much make ANYTHING. Ultimately, we ended up going with mostly Filipino food for the event. Perhaps some sushi next year?
Since we’ve had such huge growth, there are many folks attending that have never seen each other in person. It’s definitely an interesting experience looking into the eyes of someone you’ve worked with for MONTHS but have never actually met until now. Making sure we have enough time for people to connect and bond was a priority.
If you’re a client, a fan, or a friend, we just want to say thanks for your support and interest. PickleCon 18 is our opportunity to re/connect with our Filipino brothers and sisters, and to look into the future, together.
This post was written by Alex Guevara, the Director of Brand and Experience at Design Pickle. Alex formerly served as the Head of Customer Success and Director of Training before moving into his current role. Alex was a teacher before joining the Design Pickle team 3 years ago. He currently resides in Phoenix, AZ.