For the Freemius team, it was a story years in the making, with many a twist and turn along the way. But finally, at WordCamp Asia 2023, we traveled from all over the world to meet in person, face to face, for the first time!
Meeting each other was as awesome as we’d hoped, and it marked the next step in the growth of Freemius. Similarly, but on a much larger scale, the first WordCamp on Asian soil felt like a long overdue meeting of East and West, where peers who’d only known one another digitally finally got to shake hands, swap smiles, and take selfies.
For me, the event was a shining example of how WordPress brings people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe together.
Finally united in one place, here’s what the Freemius team experienced in the fast-paced, beautifully chaotic city that is Bangkok
All Roads Lead to WordCamp Asia 2023
Remember those twists and turns I mentioned? The team was originally meant to meet up at WordCamp Asia 2020, also scheduled to be hosted in Bangkok. The plane tickets were booked, the accommodation sorted, the excitement at fever pitch. And then…
Well, you know what happened in 2020, so let’s not dwell on it too much. Onto (much) happier times.
As the WordPress world descended on Bangkok, our journey begins at the tip of South Africa with me (a first-time traveler overseas with a fear of flying) and Robert, our Digital Copywriter who was itching for exploration. Though we live in the same city, we’d yet to meet in person, let alone enjoy a beer together.
— Scott Murcott (@ScottMurcott) February 14, 2023
‘No beer together’ no more!
At about the same time as we were clinking glasses, our CEO Vova Feldman and Head of Video Zee Hazan were traveling from Israel and in transit through Dubai. As you can see, even sleepwalking couldn’t squash their excitement:
— Vova Feldman 🔥 (@vovafeldman) February 13, 2023
Not to be outdone by distance, Lead Animator Nicasio Garcia was making his 40-hour way around the world from Argentina. Developer Support Lead Leo Fajardo and Content Marketer Mary Jane (Mj) Aniciete had an easier — read: three-hour — trip from the Philippines. Dror Yaakov, our CTO, was soon to follow…
A Long Overdue Meeting
The only physically acquainted team members were Vova & Zee and Vova & Dror — because of living in the same city — and Leo & Mj, because of being family. But the rest of us were yet to transition from Slack waves and GMeets to handshakes and hugs. To put matters into perspective: Vova and Leo had never met in person, despite having worked together since 2014.
But that changed once the team convened at our hotel on Wednesday (with some a bit worse for wear than others). I had a strange case of disembarkment syndrome and a few team members had to brave a terrifying tuk tuk ride after navigating Bangkok’s maze-like sky train system (which affords beautiful views of the city as you speed above the roads far below).
— Vova Feldman 🔥 (@vovafeldman) February 15, 2023
Fast and the Furious: Bangkok Edition
But we all made it in one piece, and amidst big smiles and heaps of cheer, we hit a small Thai restaurant for our first team dinner and then joined Miriam Schwabb and the Elementor team for a few drinks at a Boho-cool rooftop bar.
‘Team Day’ (AKA Smiles for Days)
For many people, America and Europe are too pricey to travel to, let alone stay for a lengthy period. On the flip side, Thailand offered an opportunity for people from all over Asia (and from developing countries like South Africa and the Philippines) to join in on the WordCamp fun. It really did feel like two worlds coming together for a memorable celebration.
And speaking of celebrations…
Jetlagged and jolly, the day arrived for the Freemius team to put work on pause and focus on team building.
But first, there were cinematographic matters to address. Under the direction of veteran filmmaker Zee (with the help of cameraman sidekick Sen), we started to document our Thai retreat and #WCAsia2023 experience with a Freemius team video.
And so it was that on Thursday morning we kicked off ‘on set’ with everyone in strict business attire 🦩👯 to film the opening scenes.
With fresh footage in the bag, we got out of costume and reconvened at a local eatery. After a yummy breakfast where the “spoiled South Africans” (looking at you, Vova 😉) ordered orange juice with their coffees, we set off for the Grand Palace. I could honestly devote an entire article to the landmark’s majesty. If you’ve been, you’ll know why. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
We continued shooting the breeze (and each other) with three laser tag matches, each getting successively harder as the heat and running sapped our energy. Making things even more interesting, the games were broken up with a few quick-fire (sweaty) interviews for the upcoming team video.
And the laser tag victor? Despite being a staunch pacifist, Zee’s calculated approach (i.e. camping in one spot) secured him the win for every single game!
— Freemius (@freemius) February 16, 2023
As night fell over the city, the team hailed tuk tuks and weaved through gridlock traffic towards GoDaddy Pro’s swanky Island Boat Party cruise (thanks for the invite, Adam!). Think cocktails, fire dancers, Zee, Vova, and Dror lighting up the dancefloor, and me showing everyone how not to sing karaoke 😂
The dancing halted as the ferry docked. A few stragglers (Freemians included) grabbed tuk tuks to Yoast’s after-party at the Hilton Residence. Partly due to arriving late (but primarily due to miscommunication), we ended up on the hotel’s 31st-floor rooftop bar and raised our glasses against the backdrop of the glimmering Bangkok skyline to send a memorable day off in style.
And So It Begins… Contributor Day Kicks Off
My first time walking into a Contributor Day was eye-opening.
WordPress is often lauded for its open-source merits, but visiting the various contribution sessions — ranging from design and marketing to plugins and CPI — truly brought home the extent of the passion and community in our ecosystem.
While Vova and Leo tended to support tickets in a sprint (how’s that for commitment to our partners?), the rest of us set out to explore, contribute, and say ‘hello’ to people we’d been waiting for ages to meet.
Ready to rumble
Robert and I joined the Marketing contributing group, where we were briefed on a few tasks to promote the WordPress Photo Directory. While exploring the main contribution area, Dror remarked how amazed he was by the many different contributing teams in the WP community. For example, there are 5 different teams just for the letter ‘T’ — Test, Tide, TV, Training, and Themes.
At the same time, Zee hustled about shooting testimonials with old Freemius friends, Mj did some reconnaissance and took pics for our growing bank of WordCamp Asia photos (all about the memories!), and Vova joined Nadia Maya Ardiani for a WordPress TV interview.
With the ‘ticket sprint’ and interview behind him, Vova was free to meet up with a bunch of Freemius partners and plugin/theme devs, as well as people he’d been in contact with digitally for years — something he tells me was a major highlight of the trip.
After Contributor Day, the team set out for dinner and drinks and a good night’s rest before the official #WordCampAsia2023 kick-off.
WordCamp Asia 2023 — Chaotic Camaraderie
Remember the team video I mentioned? What started as a simple idea, turned into a shoot of epic proportions so that we could truly document our Bangkok experience while we were all together. With a variety of locations, the team was split between filming the video and trying to get the most of out WordCamp Asia 2023:
- Robert and I waxed lyrical on a basketball court in a botanical garden
- Vova and Leo were interviewed while speeding around Bangkok in a taxi
- Mj, Nicasio, and Dror had it comparatively easier at the Hilton Residence hotel
We really can’t wait for you to see what we’ve cooked up in Bangkok!
Onto the conference itself:
Bangkok is the perfect mirror for the scale and hustle that was WordCamp Asia 2023. Packed to the rafters with 1500 people, dispersed between the ultra-bustling ‘sponsors hole’ — where swag was on parade and people were happy to pick up as much as possible — and the various sessions (choose your own adventure: Tracks 1, 2, or 3).
Between meeting old/new friends, visiting the various sponsor booths, and “lights, camera, action!”, few of the team got to attend many sessions if truth be told. However, Dror — a veteran engineer and mega-skeptic — attended three talks and found them to be highly rewarding.
“Wow! WordPress can run as a serverless solution, leveraging AWS Lambda functions. Cool!” 👈 Dror’s WhatsApp to me while Robert and I were signing up for WooCommerce and Jetpack’s Airpods Max lottery (no luck, I’m afraid).
To get an idea of the craziness, here are a few pics that the team took while dodging foot traffic and navigating the mean streets of Swag Alley’s networking underbelly:
After shooting a particularly challenging ‘comedy’ scene (you better laugh!), we headed to a beer-and-burgers bar to share — as you’ve probably guessed — craft brews, burgers, and choice conversation with a few Freemius partners and pals at the now-famous Freemius Makers’ Meetup.
Burgers, Beers, and Banter: All in a Night’s Work at the Freemius Makers’ Meetup
What do you get when you put 8 Freemians and 61 WordPress product founders into one room? Here’s a clue:
With beers flowing and delicious food on hand, the Freemius Makers’ Meetup was a conveyor belt of awesome conversation as partners and friends filled up the space.
73 beers were enjoyed on the night — solid effort, guys 😅
We’d like to extend a special thank you to all of our partners and friends for reminding us why WordPress is one heck of a special community. You guys are the life, the party, and the reason for our purpose and passion.
We left Save Our Souls with fuzzy heads and full hearts and ended the night with a team Thai massage 💆
The second day of WordCamp picked up where the previous one ended.
- By this stage, Leo had transformed into a networking machine, taking selfies with the who’s who of WordPress and owning it while doing it
- Zee and Nica(sio) were wrapping up the final scenes of the Freemius
- Dror attended a few more sessions
- Robert and I collected swag and worked on the article you’re busy reading
- Powerhouse Mj silently ran our entire operation in the background (as always) and made sure we all stayed in line
— Leo Fajardo (@vienlhanz26) February 18, 2023
The highlight of the day was Vova’s participation in the Elementor panel discussion on building businesses in the WordPress ecosystem. Joining him on the panel were Head of Developer Partnerships at Elementor Verdi Heinz, Atarim founder Vito Peleg, and WP developer M Asif Rahman.
Just participated in @elemntor live 🔴 panel on building product businesses in an open source ecosystem 🎤 and it was a blast 🔥 with my dear friends @VerdiHeinz, @VitoPeleg, and @Asif2BD. Kudos @geurts_ziv for the incredible moderation 👏 Check it out 👉 https://t.co/Rbxk7iVP88 pic.twitter.com/2kNTxx3S2M
— Vova Feldman 🔥 (@vovafeldman) February 19, 2023
The discussion revolved around sage WordPress business advice, touching on:
- What attracted each guest to the open-source WordPress space
- Why it’s important to be passionate about the solution you’re offering
- How developers can make their vision materialize into a business
- The importance of marketing
- What AI means for the future of the WordPress industry and the software
- Why entrepreneurs need to experiment and adapt to new developments and challenges
- Why hiring exceptional people is the most important step on the path to success
You probably noticed that Vova’s voice is rather husky in the video. This, my friends, is the price you pay for networking until the early hours, for days on end! Personally, I think it sounds quite cool 😎
The After Party (Who Knew There Was Still So Much Energy in the Tank!)
WordCamp Asia 2023 wrapped up with an extravaganza at Lhong 1919, a restored Chinese mansion on the banks of the Chao Phraya. The spread was wild: a top-class cover band, DJs, food stalls, craft beer by the barrel load, and the entire WC Asia delegation in full-blown party mode.
After clinking glasses with old and new friends and having a final blowout on the dancefloor, the team ended up on the river deck playing Jenga (with a catch): sharing a story every time you successfully removed a block from the stack. Much was revealed but our lips our sealed 🤐
With strengthened bonds and contented hearts/stomachs, we were kicked out at 2 AM and caught our final taxis back to what had become our home in Bangkok — the Naga Residence.
That was one heck of a campfire
The Long Goodbye
Robert and I had to be up at 3:30 AM the next morning to catch an early shuttle to Don Muaeng airport for our individual one-week post-WC Thailand holidays. Final hugs, goodbyes, and sentiments were shared in the lobby and the elevator:
- “Come visit us in [Israel] [South Africa] [Argentina] [The Philippines]!”
- “Vova, when’s the next WordCamp?”
- “I’m gonna miss you all so much!”
- “Why don’t we all just stay in Bangkok forever?”
I think you get the idea. Goodbyes always suck, but this one was particularly hard.
After that bittersweet farewell:
- Robert and I parted ways at Donsak Pier and caught our respective ferries for island life on Koh Samui and Koh Tao
- Vova and Nica enjoyed a wild time together in Phuket, while Zee opted to stay in Bangkok to explore his creative side
- Dror spent a few more days in Bangkok before meeting his family at Suvarnabhumi airport for a two-week holiday in Phuket
- Mj and Leo returned home to keep the fort (and partner support) going strong
Summarizing all the highlights of this trip is a near-impossible feat, but I will say the following:
WordCamp and the WordPress ecosystem were a bigger metaphor for why this team trip was so special, especially in light of how both sides of the WordPress spectrum — East and West — were brought together after a particularly difficult time that kept the world apart.
The Freemius team parted ways not only as better-acquainted colleagues, but as firm friends with a united mission and vision: To help our partners achieve success, and to work hard to make our shared and individual dreams a (crazy) reality.