WordCamp US 2019 Recap

Even if such long journeys are not without effort, only a few days pass before you feel like seeing the familiar people and the new characters again. After the WordCamp is before the WordCamp!

The WordCamp US 2019 in St. Louis was one of the most important WordPress events this year. And of course, we were there! In this article, Inpsyde CEO Alex Frison tells about his experiences:

A bumpy start with an impressive encounter

It all started well in St. Louis. Well, not really. Because on my way to the WordCamp US in St. Louis, there were some unplanned stops. So, I had to spend a night in Minneapolis, because my connecting flight to Amsterdam was too late. As a result, the plane flew overseas with my colleague Robert and the Yoast team without me. I was five minutes too late to get to the gate in time after a marathon in Birkenstock shoes through Amsterdam airport. What I learned from it: Amsterdam’s airport is very spacious and Birkenstocks are very comfortable in the plane. But they are not practical when it comes to reaching the plane in time.

Let’s get back to “It all started well in St. Louis”. After I struck off “See Minneapolis once” from my bucket list, I finally arrived one day later and a little tired in the city of the current ice hockey champion and was greeted at the baggage claim by Kori Ashton unknowingly. With my WordPress hoodie, it could not be overlooked that I would probably also go to the WordCamp US.

Kori Ashton – an Inspiring Personality

Kori offered me to share the taxi ride – or more precisely: an Uber – because we wanted to go in the same direction. I accepted gratefully and in the end it turned out that not only the shared costs were a gain, but also the conversation with her!

I learned that she would be one of the speakers at this year’s WordCamp US. She’s also a very active member of the Texas WordPress community and organizer of several WordCamps in San Antonio and the Texas area. She also told a lot about her life. I didn’t need to say much, I just listened with interest.

Before she founded her agency, she was a professional musician and worked in several other agencies whose philosophy and attitude did not really match her values.

With the financial and moral support of her parents, she founded her own agency, Webtegrity, and gave a chance to people who, because of their résumé and experience with WordPress, may not have been the perfect candidates, but who fit interpersonally and are willing to learn and take their chance. Veterans, school leavers, late entrants, people with disabilities, etc.: These people made Webtegrity the third largest web agency in San Antonio within five years. An agency with a lot of heart and passion.

After five years she sold her agency, with the prior consent of her entire team, to the largest web agency in San Antonio. The sale of the agency gave her parents a secure pension. Not a matter of course in the USA.

Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, which had been discovered much too late, although she had already complained of severe pain 18 months earlier and had had several examinations. Two months ago, she had her operation and now she hopes for positive news at the next examination. Kori is a brave and positive person who doesn’t want to let this terrible disease get her down. It’s a will to live that inspires.

Agency Meeting and German-American Cuisine

In Downtown St. Louis, after a warm farewell from Kori, I finally arrived in our apartment, where my colleagues Sebastian, Giuseppe and Robert spent the last night without me.

After a purchase of typical student food and drinks for our men’s living community, we went to the agency meeting at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. There we met Jenny Beaumont of Human Made and Iain of Big Bite Creative, who organized this evening. Many thanks for that! The lively exchange with like-minded people from the agency world after such a long journey and the suitable beers ‒ with unspeakable names like “Oachkatzlschwoaf” or “Schnickelfritz” ‒ were very refreshing.

various types of beer, including "Schnickelfritz"
Different beers, including “Schnickelfritz”

How could it have been any different? We had German traditional food that evening. Of course, you already missed it after two days. Well, not really. I would have preferred delicious ribs, brisket and pulled pork from the finest St. Louis backyard kitchen. After the brewery closed the gates at 10 pm, Scott Jones, whom I got to know there, drove us back in a Ford Mustang the real American way. Thank you for the cool return, Scott, for the great exchange of ideas during the days and for the enthusiasm for the Blues! After that, we spent a relatively quiet evening in the hotel lobby of the Marriott with reunion of old acquaintances as well as new faces and pleasant conversations.

The WordCamp US 2019

On Friday morning, the WordCamp US finally started. It was my third WordCamp US after Philadelphia 2016 and Nashville 2018. Our apartment was only a stone’s throw away from the conference building. It was a WordCamp of short distances, because the accommodation, bars and restaurants were mostly within walking distance.

The organization went smoothly, the food was very good and the conference building was clearly and well signposted. Thanks to the organization team! Unfortunately, this time, there were perceived fewer participants. Some of them were probably not there this time because they preferred Halloween and Trick or Treat with their children, which is understandable.

The impression of few participants was also reinforced by the division of the conference into two floors (sponsors on the ground floor and sessions on the first floor) and the many session offers and ongoing workshops at the same time. Some presentations were attended by no more than 50 people, which was disappointing for some of the speakers at such a big WordCamp.

Great Sessions at WordCamp US 2019

Of course, I didn’t miss the session of Kori. As to be expected, a great session, that gave you a lump in your throat in between. Well Done! I hope to see her healthy again soon, maybe at a WordCamp US in Texas.

Kori Ashton at WordCamp US 2019
Kori Ashton at WordCamp US 2019

Another interesting talk was Disrupting the Enterprise by Nick Gernert, CEO of WordPress VIP. He explained how WordPress is currently causing uproar among the enterprise content management world and shaking up the market. One of his findings is that enterprise companies demand agility, ownership of the product, flexibility, and ease of use. Everything we can best serve with WordPress!

It was striking that many topics were no longer so WordPress-focused, which I actually found quite good. This provides variety for WordCamps. One had the feeling that, even on a WordCamp, WordPress was no longer the navel of the world. The topics were more varied and also from other points of view and not only through WordPress glasses.

I have to admit: I haven’t seen many sessions, but things like interesting conversations, networking and getting to know each other more likely take place in the corridor anyway. Because not only one person speaks but everyone has the word and can take part in the lively exchange.

Reunion with Old Friends and Hotel Room Party

On the first day of the WordCamp US 2019, I met my old WordCamp buddies from Codeable. We’ve known each other since WooConf in Austin 2016 and I was excited to see how Per and his team have evolved. With a small, but ingenious and at the same time simple idea, the two-man team has grown to more than 250 members and the number of codeable developers will increase even more, I bet you anything! I am very pleased to see this development and that we will cooperate more closely with them in the future. Be it in the use of our plugins by their developers or recommendations of customers whom we cannot serve for time reasons. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun to spend time with Per, Raleigh, Marcel and Dave.

It was also great to meet our old American friends Jeff from Nolte and Dominic and Mitch from Saucal. Spontaneously, we decided to give a small party in our apartment between the WordCamp and the WordFest before we had an awesome BBQ at Pappy’s.

BBQ at Puppy's
BBQ at Puppy’s

We had a lot of fun this evening with a great group of Codeable, Alain Schlesser, Saucal, Jeffrey Nolte, Big Bite Creative and Jonny Harris. After the BBQ, we went to WordFest at the St. Louis City Museum and the evening ended traditionally in the hotel bar of the near Marriott, where many night owls of the WordPress conference were still enjoying their time together.

Alex with friends at the Marriott hotel bar
Evening finale at the Marriott bar

The Second Day: Anticipation of new projects and the osDXP launch

The second day of the WordCamp US was no less exciting and included fruitful conversations with Nadia from PayPal, Mechiel from WooCommerce, Vova from Freemius and Syed from WPBeginner. All talks were about deepening or starting a cooperation. Let’s see what happens in the coming weeks and months! We are excited and optimistic about new projects and cooperations worldwide.

Not to forget: There was also a lot of interest and feedback about the new project in which we are actively involved, osDXP! The digital experience platform was unveiled to the public this weekend. The topic DXP is currently very popular in the WordPress scene. Thus, this solution comes just in time for many. We are curious to see where this journey will take us!

State of the Word 2019

The final part of any WordCamp US or WordCamp Europe is the State of the Word by Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress and the face of Automattic. In contrast to many previous presentations, this time there were not many new announcements, but rather information about what has been achieved in the last months and what the roadmap for the next months will look like.

Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp US 2019
Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp US 2019

The central topic was Gutenberg and the next phases in the coming years. The focus was also on the community, without which WordPress, as it currently exists, would not exist. The community plays a big role in the success of WordPress. Because without this support and voluntary help of many people, it would not be possible at all. That’s why Matt also reminded of Five for the Future. Five for the Future encourages companies to provide five percent of their resources to WordPress development.

I would be happy if many agencies would invest only 1% there. Unfortunately, there are many agencies or companies that are very big beneficiaries of WordPress, but do not invest a single cent or minute in this project. They don’t understand the idea of Open Source and what it lives on. But that’s another topic.

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I was surprised that the Series D funding of Automattic by Salesforce wasn’t mentioned at all, not by Matt and there was also no question on the subject from any of those present. Rather, there were many meta-level questions.

The Finale: Afterparties and Sightseeing

And then, it was already over, the official part of the WordCamp US 2019. It was good, not spectacular, but rather solid. As already mentioned, well organized and also filled with friendly and great people, but rather unagitated. Maybe it was because, in contrast to WordCamp Europe this year, everyone went separate ways after the sessions. Maybe also because there was no big controversy or news, which was discussed. Or just because of the routine you get after years. Or simply the mentality that is somewhat different in America than in Europe. Who knows, but probably a mix of everything.

As the saying goes: “The best comes last”. This hit the nail right on the head. Freemius and our partner WPEngine invited us to a really great afterparty. A typical Irish pub, exactly my thing: good food, darts and great people. What more could you ask for?

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The Gutenberg topic is still hot

The discussions among plugin and theme developers were very interesting there. In the past, people always talked about new plugin ideas or how to optimize sales and marketing. But this time, the conversations went in a different direction. One noticed rather a tendency to worries and fear of the future in the plugin and theme business. Gutenberg is changing things for many plugins, but especially for themes. If we interpret the statements from the WordPress core correctly, there will be no more themes in the distant future, as we know them, instead, everything will be handled by Gutenberg.

Today you create content with Gutenberg, tomorrow header and footer, what will be left for a traditional theme? Widgets in today’s sense will also disappear and the first ones affected by change are the visual editors. Gutenberg is slowly but surely catching up with them in terms of functionality and stability. So, all you can do is to wait until the own business model dies or build on the previous experience and offer extensions based on Gutenberg.

Finale Festivities

I had many interesting conversations about this and other topics. It was really a lot of fun and I would like to thank Vova, CEO of Freemius, and WPEngine, for inviting me to this great event!

But the evening was full of events and so, after the Freemius party, we went to the VIP afterparty, where many familiar faces gathered. They made sure that the guests were well cared for. Really cool party, thanks to Suzi and her team!

And: three guesses! Yes, we ended up at the Marriott hotel bar with the rest of the VIP party crew. A final get together with numerous farewells until next year, either at the WordCamp US, WordCamp Europe or even at the first WordCamp Asia! We will be there!

Small city tour at the end

Sunday, one day before the departure, I took my chance to first taste again the good BBQ cuisine of St. Louis for lunch with Vova of Freemius, Per and Raleigh of Codeable and Scott Illustrate Digital at Sugarfire and then the rather mediocre beer at Budweiser brewery. The tour was worthwhile and the fresh canned beer ‒ yes, there is such a thing ‒ which we got was phenomenally OK.

The last tourist point we visited was the famous Gateway Arch. We were quite lucky to be able to take a close look in really nice weather and sky. If you are ever in St. Louis, you should take a look.

Scott, Jeff and I spent the rest of the evening in a Mexican restaurant. And no, this time the hotel lobby wasn’t the end of the day. We went straight back to the apartment to recharge our batteries for the journey home! Luckily, the travel was unspectacular this time and I was back at home with my loved ones in time.

Inpsyde Baby with shirt of the St. Louis Blues
My little one in the jersey of the current ice hockey Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues

WordCamp US 2019 Conclusion

After the WordCamp is before the WordCamp. Even if such long journeys are not without effort, only a few days pass until you feel like seeing the familiar people behind the well-known Twitter avatars and gravatars again. And also lots of new characters, who might enter the non-digital WordPress community for the first time. I am sure that we will meet a lot of new and fascinating people at the WordCamp Asia in Bangkok. We are already looking forward to it. I am excited and just let myself drift on the always positive atmosphere of the WordCamps! See you soon in Bangkok!