I had the privilege of both attending and sponsoring WordCamp Europe 2023, which took place from June 8th to 10th in the city of Athens, Greece. The annual conference is a focal point for WordPress enthusiasts, developers, and businesses from primarily Europe, but also has a large presence of folks from Asia and around the world.
WordCamp Europe, or WCEU for short, offers a platform to share knowledge, learn about the latest trends, and connect with a wide network of professionals who share our passion for WordPress. This year, I attended for the first time as a General Manager of multiple brands, not just GiveWP like in past years. This allowed me to have a wider array of conversations at the conference network and look for potential opportunities through multiple lenses.
My goals going into the conference were to foster new relationships, inside of Stellar and Nexcess in addition to the WP community, explore potential business opportunities, and stay ahead of the curve in understanding the evolving WordPress ecosystem. Now that we’ve returned, I’m excited to share a comprehensive recap of my experiences and insights from the event.
WordCamp EU has Recovered from the Pandemic
Like all conferences post-2020, WCEU took a big hit from the pandemic. The event in 2020 was canceled, a virtual event was held in 2021, and a lower-attended and restricted conference in 2022. This year felt like the first one where we were finally back to normal. Attendance was back up, nearly all the masks were gone, pandemic-era regulations were nowhere to be found, and people were shaking hands and making deals like the good ol’ days.
Here’s a gallery of pics I took at the event. As you can see it feels a lot like pre-2020 WordCamp vibes:
The Value of Sponsoring a Successful WordCamp
The conference center where the event was held was impressive and well laid out. I felt that every sponsor had a ton of eyes on their booths and the organizers did a wonderful job of ensuring that a lot of foot traffic flowed through sponsors’ areas at all times. They did this by spreading out the various speaking tracks, strategically placing sponsors along the routes, and placing lunch and snacks at stations along the routes. The attendees were also highly engaged with the sponsors.
Some sponsors did better than others, and I strongly feel we were on the higher end of the spectrum in terms of engagement. Personally, I interacted with multiple waves of curious people at the Stellar booth and a little at the Nexcess booth throughout my two days at the event.
Stats-wise, I believe the conference welcomed 2,500+ attendees, 60+ speakers, and 50+ sponsors. We sponsored both Stellar and Nexcess at the Author level, which in return got us both a medium-sized booth. We had a bit of trouble getting out swag imported into the country. Props to Drew for becoming a certified Greek importer and managing to get our swag into the country. It paid off. At the end of the conference, both booths were entirely out of swag items. The mini backpacks from Nexcess and the travel bags from Stellar were a hit. People also love the “All my friends are plugins” slogan. Those pins were going hot.
So how can we maximize the event in the future?
Two areas that I think we could have done better with our sponsorship are collecting emails (leads) and a big prize giveaway at the end. When folks came to our booths we did a great job being friendly and discussing our products which eventually leads to a swag giveaway. At some point during that discussion, we should encourage them to sign up for the big giveaway at the end by submitting their email or dropping a business card. There are multiple ways to do this. In the past at GiveWP, we had a big fish bowl and folks had no problem providing us with their information.
At the end of the conference is when the final giveaways happen. This is a great chance to get a ton of eyeballs on your brand before they leave the conference. I believe it’s an effective strategy to get brand recognition back to top-of-mind at the end of the conference. There are various ways to structure this strategy, for instance, whether we want to collect leads for all medium to larger swag items, or simply for the giveaway.
WordCamp Business Discussions and Opportunities
While it was a whirlwind of days, I managed to have a lot of great conversations and glean some helpful insights into other’s businesses and also gauge how others interpret our brands. I believe this is the most important part of this recap so I’ll try to keep my thoughts concise and to the point while attempting to keep adding to the list as my memory serves me:
Meeting with My New Boss – It’s not every day you get to meet with your new boss and connect with them in an amazing city like Athens. While we didn’t get a ton of time to connect, the time we did was valuable and paved the way for additional conversations to happen in the near future. She did an excellent job wrangling a fun team-building boat retreat, which the entire team appreciated and connected throughout that trip. As well, I enjoyed sitting down with Vito from Atarim and our teams to discuss how his product and services can help augment our offerings at Liquid Web. Being involved with both brands made me appreciate how both have grown-minded leaders and I was happy to help facilitate that conversation.
My priorities while chatting with my new leadership were to cover some short-term priorities, while keeping an eye on the future goals and how we align on them both at the Stellar and hosting Liquid Web / Nexcess sides of the business. There was some definite headway made in Athens, and more will be happening in the coming weeks. I’ll be heading to Atlanta for a leadership meeting at the end of this month to continue the conversation.
Getting to Know the Additional Team Member – A few of our teams have been relatively siloed in their products and marketing efforts. One of my top goals for attending WCEU was to start building a bridge between our various parts of the business. What we are doing at SolidWP has multiple applications across our business and can provide a true value-add to hosting. We need to start aligning on product development, cross-brand marketing, and collaboration. What better time to start breaking ground on this than in WCEU with a new leader and two teams aligned on the same goal: grow the overall Family of Brands.
Attending the Nexcess and TeamWP party was my first step in ensuring that we were here for each other. I thought the party was great, everyone had a good time, the venue was nice, and was a great lead into the conference.
Meeting with Partners like Patchstack – I met with the CEO of Patchstack, Oliver Sid, during the conference. His brand is quickly becoming the de facto security authority in WordPress and he’s a rising star within the community. He’s especially popular in Europe and his talk was one of the most engaging and highly attended at the conference.
Oliver and I sat down for about 20 minutes and chatted about what’s coming in the future from Patchstack and what we are doing with our Solid Security product. Patchstack is our partner for the firewall rules engine API and we already have an integration with their Vulnerability API.
Hanging with Raquel Karina from Elegant Themes – I’ve been good friends with Raquel Karina Manriquez, community manager for Elegant Themes, for many years. She used to run her agency before moving on and becoming a community manager for Elegant Themes. She and I speak the same language when it comes to WordPress and the community. We also glean insights from one another and it’s interesting to hear her unique perspective on goings on within the community.
Raquel is an excellent community manager and knows a ton about the WordPress community. She has a unique way of placing the brands she’s associated with into the community and I wanted to learn more about this topic.
Raquel makes herself part of the brand in a way that’s more than simply showing up and wearing a t-shirt. I think that is great and can augment our more traditional networking and marketing efforts like sponsoring to receive a booth, handing out swag, and shaking hands.
Besides talking business, we had a chance to explore the city during a walking food tour with a cool friend group.
Meeting with Sujay Pawar from Brainstorm Force – Sujay is the leader of Brainstorm Force, the company behind many leading products in the WordPress space including Astra, CartFlows, SureCart, Spectra, and more. He is also the M&A consultant for Automattic – a role he recently started that is highly interesting and unique. During our meeting, we discussed his new Spectra Blocks and Spectra One theme and how that relates to Astra. It’s incredibly valuable to hear from Sujay and get his perspective on the direction WordPress is headed.
Besides discussing Spectra, we chatted about payment revenue share and how it is performing for him with Stripe and PayPal. We both do a lot with payments and sharing ideas on how to optimize the way our mutual systems work was an important conversation and a highlight for me.
One topic I would like to discuss further with Sujay that we didn’t get to discuss is how to push prices up a bit in the theme market. Our mutual products offer so much for so little and it’s in the best interest of all brands to push it higher. The trick is to do so without giving the competition an edge.
Artificial Intelligence and WordPress – AI was discussed throughout the event. Jetpack announced its AI integration. New brands built entirely around AI such as GetGenie.ai were making their debut while other established brands were showing off their new integrations. The clear pattern I’m seeing is that established brands are using AI to augment their existing offerings.
LearnDash is a clear example of one of our brands that can and is currently being, augmented by AI for course creation assistance, grading, and more. Elementor is a good example of a company doing this effectively. I’m glad to see Kadence is coming soon to market with an offering. The community appears to be accepting AI integrations with semi-open arms and a dose of healthy skepticism.
Shane Pearlman’s panel on AI was well attended and the information was good, but the panelists were a bit bland in their presentation. You could sense some butterflies were persisting throughout the panel – and I get it, the event space for the track was held with a huge theater. Shane did his best throughout to engage the panelist and audience and overall it was good, not great.
Here are a few honorable mentions that I don’t feel need a huge explanation.
Freemius Makers interview with Zach Tirrell – Both me and Zach were in a seemingly well-produced interview series with various “makers” in the WordPress space about a significant failure we experienced and how we overcame them. Zach did a great job, despite stealing my story of a failing at a SaaS launch, which meant I had to think up a story on the fly. Despite fumbling around a bit, I think I pulled it off. I’m looking forward to seeing how this video is produced.
Freemius is a brand that likes to collaborate with the community a lot. This interview was supposed to be honest, informative, and humorous. Take a look at the Groucho Glasses we had to wear to open it up:
Don’t worry, we take the glasses on after the interview’s opening. Once the video posts, I’ll likely Tweet it. Maybe blog about it.
Introduction to SiteDistrict and Marc Benzakein – I’ve known Marc a long time and he recently joined forces with Matt Kopala to help him better position his hosting company https://sitedistrict.com/
Despite knowing both Matt and Marc for years, I haven’t ever looked at the platform to see what it does so I asked for a behind-the-scenes look at the hosting. What I saw was very impressive. The capabilities of the hosting are pretty dang powerful. The next closest thing I can compare it to is Pantheon. However, it looks like a developer designed it (terrible) but if given the proper repositioning and rebranding, SiteDistrict could go to the moon. It’s a brand worth keeping an eye on.
WCEU 2023 After Party – Typically a WCEU after party is a ton of dancing and networking. This year was just a lot of dancing and loud music at a nightclub. The community attempted to network outside the nightclub, but it was cramped and uncomfortable. The team spent about an hour at the event but then left to seek a quieter atmosphere. We found a nice little spot and invited others from outside of Stellar to join in. We had Rich Tabor, Alex Denning, and Jamie Marsland join us which was a good chance to connect with them on a more personal level. Jamie is a great guy who does a high-quality production on YouTube focused on WordPress. I thought connecting with him was fruitful and we could do more with him in the future with our brands.
Overall Revenue Discussions – In almost all my discussions I asked “How are you doing this year (revenue-wise)?” And most answered transparently. To put it bluntly, most folks I talked to are struggling to maintain their year-over-year numbers. Smaller brands less than $1M are not having as much of a problem, for instance, WP Umbrella is crushing it, while bigger brands seem to be having issues with continued growth. This is the pattern I’ve seen pre-WCEU and it has been reinforced post-conference.
Despite the headwinds, people are bullish on the future and WordPress.
The way that the project is progressing and the world economy is recovering can lead to many future years of growth ahead.
WordPress Trends and Updates
The block editor is here, it’s matured, and it’s now reaching into our other admin experiences. Rich Tabor, a recent hire by Automattic, provided me with the most insights of anyone at the event as to what’s going on behind closed doors. I also had conversations with multiple other core contributors.
Phase III and IV of Gutenberg – What I gleaned from multiple conversations was that less emphasis will be put on Phase III of Gutenberg, which is multi-collaboration, to more quickly get to Phase IV, internationalization and multi-language. The community has been very vocal about the ordering of these phases and I think the message has been received. If this is the case, I think the adoption of the block editor and what WordPress is becoming will be on a faster track.
Core Contributors Listening to the Community – I was able to speak with several core contributors who were roaming the hallway track looking for feedback on how to better engage community contributors. I mentioned that the cycle of discussions for features such as the proposed Interactivity API and Notifications API stifle innovation and discourage contribution. There are also multiple community-led proposals for big ideas, such as the Interactivity and Forms APIs, and many more exciting proposals out there by the community that do not receive the attention they deserve. It was encouraging to see a new emphasis put on community engagement and feedback.
Sight Seeing in Athens
You don’t go halfway around the world without building in a few days to see the sights! Athens is a beautiful city with a rich history. I spent time seeing the city, visiting the Acropolis, and taking a ferry to the Island of Idra.
Here are some pics I took along the way:
Final Thoughts on WordCamp Europe 2023
Now that we are all back at home and reflecting on the WordCamp we must maintain the momentum we gained while in Europe. This includes following up with any potential leads and continuing the conversation on potential partnerships and opportunities. Being proactive can pay dividends down the road.
WCEU 2023 reinforced why we do WordCamps and why they are so vital to the success of our brands. It’s our chance to truly be a part of the community and engage on a personal level with our customers, competitors, and companions.
WordCamps are back. I will be working hard to ensure we have a stronger presence at WordCamps in 2024 and beyond. This means not putting all our eggs into the US and EU buckets, but also looking at Asia and other regional camps and seeing what more we can do there.
WordCamp US 2023 is right around the corner. I look forward to putting my best foot forward to ensure it’s as successful as WordCamp Europe was this year.