A few weeks ago, Eric and I took Gimlet to Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Library Association. When we got back, our friends and family all wanted to know: Was it worth it?

Short answer: Probably. It’s not an obvious direct financial win, but meeting our customers is priceless.

First off: exhibiting at a conference is expensive. A 10×10 space alone is more than $2200. Electricity, carpeting, and seating add nearly $1000. Travel expenses (airfare, gas, tolls, parking, hotels, food) come out above $1600. Printing banners, our sweet Gimlet coasters, and postcards cost about $500. Some of those things might be reused later – but we’ll want to update them as Gimlet (and our messaging) evolve. Add some miscellaneous costs, and going to ALA represents about $5500 in direct costs. While this doesn’t break the bank, it’s not chump change, either.

We’re charging $120 per year per library branch, so for us to financially break even on the conference, we’re looking for about 45 library branches to sign up as a result of meeting us at ALA. That’s certainly not impossible, but it’s no surefire bet, either.

On top of that, exhibiting takes time. Lots of time. Gimlet is a two-person shop: Eric and I are the whole deal. The hours we spend designing banners and coasters, registering for conference space, shopping for hotels and airfare and banner stands and what-have-you, and (of course) traveling and exhibiting are hours we aren’t programming or designing or upgrading servers or sending invoices or answering support questions or any of the other hundred things that keep Gimlet alive.

On the other side of the equation are the positives. We talked to lots of people. Hundreds of people. It was a pleasure – and hugely helpful – to talk to each and every person who stopped by our booth. At our price, we’re not going to send a sales team to a bunch of site visits, so ALA is our best chance to sit down with existing and prospective clients. We love to hear about the challenges of running busy public service points and how better stats help people make informed decisions about staffing and programming. It’s great hearing about how Gimlet works great for people. It’s invaluable hearing about the ways we could make Gimlet better for library staff and directors alike.

But the best thing about exhibiting is meeting the people we talk to over the internet. It’s easy to run an internet service and not know, really, who your clients are. Sitting down and talking to you reminds us why we’re doing this: We love librarians and libraries. We want to help you evolve and thrive through whatever the future holds, so our kids can grow up loving librarians and libraries just like we do.

See you in Las Vegas.