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WooCommerce Conference. It’s About the People.

bobwp-speaking-at-wooconf-2016

This week I traveled to San Francisco for the first ever WooCommerce Conference. First off, of all the conferences and WordCamps I’ve attended over the years, this one was one of the very best. I was fortunate to have been invited to present on the second day.

The presentations were beyond my expectations. The speakers blended their content into something that captivated developers, designers and store owners. As one person shared with me:

I came here expecting to hear a lot of technical presentations. Sure, there were some, but I also walked away with a bunch of tips for marketing my online store. It was a great surprise.

Normally, when I attend a conference or WordCamp, I do a wrap-up on what I learned. But I am taking a different angle this time.

And although it’s not quite that long, grab a cup of coffee because this is one of my longer posts.

It was all about the people.

I want to share some of the people I met and the experiences we had. I reconnected with a ton of familiar faces, as well as some new ones. And for the majority of the people I already knew, it was our first time meeting in person. If I don’t mention your name, or that we met, please forgive me. That doesn’t mean meeting you was not important or memorable. I did enjoy meeting everyone. Here are just a few of them.

People from 20 Different Countries

A lot of people from around the world attended. I know this isn’t unique to this conference, but at the same time, I found myself talking with more people who had travelled a long was to get there than any other conference I have attended. This, in itself, was very cool.

The WooThemes Team ( aka Woo Ninjas)

WooCommerce Conference

I started using WooThemes in 2009. I have talked with many of their team members over the years, via support, social media, Skype, and hangouts. But since they are all over the world, and their headquarters are in Cape Town, South Africa, I had only met one of them in person. So when I met a few as I entered the building that first day , and then found a swarm of them on the second floor, it was like WOW. Do you remember that scene in Night at the Roxbury, when Will Farrell’s character entered the Roxbury for the first time, and he had party overload? Well, that’s kind of how I felt. Woo overload… but in a nice way. Over time, I think I met just about every one of them. All I can say is they are one awesome team. (And I don’t use the word awesome much).

That First Person You Meet

Typically there is one person I meet shortly after arriving in the city for a conference who I usually keep running into. I find that I spend a bit of extra time with them during the conference. When I arrived at the hotel room, I tweeted this and got my first reply.

I thought, “Wedding Sparklers”? What the heck? I had never heard of him. And wasn’t sure if I was meeting a person or a sparkler 🙂

When I went down to the bar, I met Brian Kelly, owner of WeddingSparklersUSA.com. We ordered our drinks and I learned about the popularity of sparklers at weddings. I would have never known. We had a great conversation as others joined us. But it didn’t end there. We met in the morning for coffee and decided to walk to the conference. More good conversation and a someone to commiserate with when I discovered I was heading in the wrong direction. Turns out that we both had Google maps backwards as we tried to follow it on our phones. We finally found our way and not only did we connect again and chat at the after party, but we ran into each other throughout the conference. My first new friend at WooConf.

When You Can’t Pronounce a Name

The second person to join us that evening was Thijs de Valk from Yoast. I thought I recognized him from his avatar, but when I saw him I had no idea how to say his name correctly. I knew I would just mangle it. And although I was tempted, I didn’t want to say “Hey, are you the guy who works with Yoast?” Then our eyes caught each other and we knew. The reason I bring up Thijs is because he was truly a joy to get to know. Great sense of humor and a lot of laughs. I told him the challenges of living on an island, and by the time I was finished, when I tweeted to him and sarcastically invited him to the island, his response was

We ran into each other from time to time throughout the conference and I was able to chat more with him at the after party. Oh, and by the way, his name is pronounced like “dice” with a “t”. Tice.

Finally Meeting the CoFounder of WooThemes

woocommerce-conference-speaker-swag
Some very unique speaker swag given to us at the speaker dinner. And yes, there was a second shoe.

I’m not writing about meeting Mark Forrester to drop a name. But instead because he is genuinely great guy and I can understand after meeting him in person for the first time, why the Woo Team is what they are. I had the pleasure of setting next to him at the speaker dinner and was able to really get to know him. We were seated at a long table, so I also got to meet and get to know Brent Shepherd from Prospress and his wife (whose name sadly escapes me) and Raymond Brigleb from Needmore Designs. I didn’t get a chance to talk to his wife and business partner Kandace, but I was able to attend her presentation and it was great. In the end, during the long dinner, we touched on WooCommerce but mostly just chatted about anything and everything.

Lunch with a Winner

I shared lunch on the first day with three other attendees. I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot recall two of two of their names. Because we know that we can always find each other online, very few biz cards are exchanged at tech conferences. But the one I remember most was Sinisa. WooThemes had a competition where you could submit your WooCommerce site and one lucky winner would get a ticket to the conference, as well as airfare and accommodations. The site that won was overclothing.com. And Sinisa, all the way from Serbia, came to WooConf. It was a real joy meeting him. What a gracious and humble young man he was.

That One Person You’ve Known Online but…

As I said, many of the people I met I had been talking with online for quite some time. And to share all of them would make this long post into a book. But one of those peeps was WordPress freelance designer and developer Julie Kuehl. The crazy thing about this is that we had met in person at a few WordCamps. But we never really found the time to chat. Finally we did at the after party. Of course I already felt like I knew Julie, but wasn’t surprised after talking with her more, that she is who she is, online and offline. It was a chat that was long overdue.

My Partner in Crime

matty-and-bobwp
Photo courtesy via Twitter from Patrick Rauland @BFTrick

I was invited to teach a workshop at the conference. They asked me if I would be willing to do one with Matty who is the Chief Product Officer at WooThemes. I was delighted. I’ve known Matty for a long time. We have exchanged tons of emails and talked through Skype and Google Hangouts. But most importantly, Matty has been instrumental in helping me get where I am with my knowledge in and passion for WooThemes and WooCommerce. Finally I would not only get to meet him in person but do a workshop with him. We met the day before the workshop to do some planning. Two people could not have gelled or played off each other better than we did. It was amazing since we had never done it before. In fact, one Woo Ninja called us the “Dream Team,”. I know that any chances we get to do that again, we will. It was the highlight of the conference for me.

Unexpected WordPress Security Insights

I love conferences because you never know what the conversations lead to. There were many this time—too many to list. But I must mention the great conversation I had with Tony Perez from Sucuri. I’ve known Tony for sometime and I think we first met at WordCamp Chicago in 2011. I have always been a huge advocate of security with WordPress sites. I know the basics and what to do. But when Tony and I started chatting, and I brought up questions I have always had about security, well, his insights got me thinking again. Mostly in the direction of the current tools we are have to strengthen the security of our sites and what a third-party service can bring to the table. A lot of stuff I didn’t think about before. Needless to say, Tony and I will be working together more in the future.

Homeless and Hungry BobWP

little delhi

The last day of the conference was a half day. I checked out of my hotel before heading to the conference and planned on leaving for the airport because I had an early departure the next day. But it was around 1 pm and I was hungry and momentarily homeless. I bumped into Brian Richards from WPSessions, who I hadn’t managed to connect with and he invited me to have lunch with him, Daniel Espinoza, a WooCommerce expert (and I don’t use the word “expert” very often), and Doug Smith, co-founder of Simply Charlotte Mason. We spent more time figuring out where to eat than getting there, but finally ended up at a small Indian restaurant. Now I have experienced little Indian food, but it was amazing stuff. And of course, the conversation and sharing this lunch with these three was just as amazing. I had met Brian before at a WordCamp, but we never really had the chance to talk. Daniel has only been online, so it was great to finally meet him. And Doug, who I did not know before, rounded off the lunch perfectly. Just wanted to thank them for the invite.

Well, that’s it. I could go on and on and on…. And like I said, I couldn’t mention everyone I met. But if we did get a chance to talk, drop a note in the comments and we’ll talk about our time together.

I’m ending with a HUGE THANKS to the entire WooThemes team and all of the great sponsors for this amazing conference. Cheers and see you next year!