Is WordCamp Dying…or Not? Valuable Takeaways from WCUS 2019 in St. Louis

This WordCamp, I heard some pretty tough feedback from other attendees, especially from veteran campers that have been attending WordCamps for years. In particular, I heard that the venue was too spread out because it was so big, the speaking rooms and events felt “disconnected” from each other because you had to travel far to get to them (within the massive conference center and to external events), and quite a few people commented that it was “more of the same old thing”.

This is some pretty harsh criticism of an event that is supposed to bring people together and normally be pretty fun…

I’m always someone to take things pretty lightly, so I felt like my opinion was in the middle of all this feedback. I thought the St. Louis City Museum was a pretty whacky place for everyone to go for the after-party – in a good way (even though it was out of the way). Also, comparing it to the experience I had in WordCamp EU earlier this year in Berlin, the energy of the event was a bit more “sleepy”. Did anyone else feel that way too?

Overall, I had a great time, but I think it’s still worth asking:

Is WordCamp Dying?

Maybe it was the location, the venue, or the distance you had to travel, but I can guarantee it wasn’t the people. Everyone we met was just as interesting and exciting as they were at previous WordCamps, and those valuable connections continue to be what WordCamp (and WordPress) is all about.

But does the decrease in positive sentiment from some folks mean the end of WordCamp?

I say – hardly!

WordCamp remains the place to be when it comes to giving back and building strong relationships in the community. Vova Feldman and I made some fantastic connections – new and old – and kept the WP spirit alive.

Hopefully, the organizers will take the feedback as constructive criticism from the community and make some improvements for later years, either in 2020 or when they change the WCUS location for 2021 and beyond.

Barring some improvements that could be made, here’s our recap of the exciting things that happened and cool people we met at WordCamp US 2019 in St. Louis.

The Importance of Community

When you go to WordCamp, you can literally feel the excitement – it’s tangible – it’s not like any other conference. People go to WordCamp to party – wait, I mean – celebrate their WordPress businesses, of course 😉

Setting aside the fun – there truly is a community that surrounds WordPress, and the only way to get in touch with how WordPress really impacts people’s lives is to go to WordCamp and see it first-hand.

Every attendee, volunteer, speaker, and contributor has been touched by this amazing platform in one way or another. It’s not only open-source, but it’s truly open to everyone.

One of the things I’ve experienced from both of the WordCamps I’ve attended is that the conference is completely inclusive and you can just be who you are without fear of judgment. Everyone is an active participant in the community when they’re online, so when we meet offline it doesn’t matter what you look like, who you are, or where you come from. Just as an example, in one of the after-after-after parties, I ended up hanging with some product folks, having in-depth super-interesting discussions until 3 in the morning with Andrew Palmer from Elegant Marketplace, Vito Peleg from WP FeedBack, Sujay Pawar from Astra theme, Radost Dacheva from SiteGround, and Vova Feldman our CEO.

I was the only American in that room, soaking up insights from British, Indian, Israelis, and Bulgarian business people – that type of diversity in background, experience, and knowledge is pretty surreal and unforgettable. It happens at WordCamps all the time.

The feeling of community is captured well by the new WordPress documentary produced by the guys from WordFence and announced by Matt Mullenweg during his State of the Word speech. The documentary is called OPEN: The Community Code, and here’s a little preview video (along with the rest of his speech):

While the documentary seems pretty inspiring from the preview Matt shared, there are some other relevant updates for product people that are more actionable and useful for your awareness in the short-term.

Relevant WordPress Updates for Product Devs

If you listen to the whole speech above, you’ll hear Matt go through some great new features of the latest WordPress upgrades and Gutenberg improvements.

First off, Matt announced that there has been a huge increase in the number of Contributors to WordPress Core – the number almost doubled from 594 in 2018 to 1,122 in 2019. This means the community is getting even bigger – but with more Contributors comes more complexity, code review, and devs who catch bugs, so let’s keep an eye on how this impacts the development of core in the future. After talking with Vova about this change, he’s of the opinion that the boost in Contributors may be directly correlated with Gutenberg, as it started out pretty buggy. The Contributor number is potentially a “vanity metric” because many of the bug fixes might result in developers receiving the Contributor badge.

It’s official – there’s no more white screen of death! When plugins cause errors in the future, an email will be sent to the site admin that includes a deactivation link. This is a simple improvement that will save a bunch of time. Whereas you used to have to manually deactivate a plugin via FTP or cPanel’s File Manager if you needed to troubleshoot something, now you can just click a link to get your site running again and disable any erroneous plugins.

Another interesting change is that the Block editor is now available on mobile – even for offline editing. This means that blocks can be used by everyone on their phones anytime, anywhere. A small innovation, but definitely something to consider if you have Gutenberg integration for your plugin.

From a development perspective, there’s now a new “preview” feature for blocks. In the Gutenberg editor, users will be able to search the block directory, preview block actions, and add them into WordPress as plugins – all without leaving the editor. New blocks basically get installed as plugins in the background.

With all these new changes, it’s important to remember where we are in the Gutenberg development process. The first four phases of Gutenberg include:

  1. Easier editing – The whole purpose of Gutenberg in the first place.
  2. Customization – The most extensive stage – customizing WordPress to support Gutenberg blocks and building out thousands of new blocks. Matt says we’re getting to the end of this one now…
  3. Collaboration – Users will be able to collaborate on building a page, like Google Docs
  4. Multilingual – Making blocks fully multilingual so everyone can use them.

These are some interesting phases and will all make WordPress much more powerful.

Now, back to the other cool WordCamp happenings…

Freemius + WP Engine Makers’ Meetup

We finished off the main part of the conference leading up to Contributors’ Day with the fifth Freemius + WP Engine Makers’ Meetup at an awesome Irish bar nearby the WordCamp venue.

In case you aren’t familiar with our Makers’ Meetup, the purpose is to bring together WordPress masterminds, including product people, influencers, plugin/theme business investors, and many other interesting folks to make connections and cross-pollinate their awesome skills and unique perspectives on the WordPress space. Each year we make a new video showcasing the event – in case you don’t believe it actually happened 😉

To give you an idea of what we’ve done in the past, here’s the invite pages of all the previous meetups we’ve hosted and the folks who have attended over the years. It’s getting more impressive every time!

  1. Freemius + WP Engine Makers Meetup – WCEU Paris 2017 🇫🇷
  2. Freemius + WP Engine Makers Meetup – WCEU Belgrade 2018 🇷🇸
  3. Freemius + WP Engine Makers Meetup – WCUS Nashville 2018 🇺🇸
  4. Freemius + WP Engine Makers Meetup – WCEU Berlin 2019 🇩🇪
  5. Freemius + WP Engine Makers Meetup – WCUS St. Louis 2019 🇺🇸

Here are just a few of the great folks who attended:

Makers Meetup Attendees

And some shout-outs to the folks we caught on camera…

Not everyone who attended was photographed, but here’s almost everyone in the photos:

Adam PreiserWP Crafter
Scott DeLuzioAmplify Plugins
Chris BadgettLifterLMS
Justin FerrimanLearnDash
Zack KatzGravityView
Alexander Frison – Inpsyde
James TryonBizTender
Katya BazilevskayaSetka
Dmitry Mayorov – ThemePatio
Chris ChristoffMonsterInsights
Horea Radu – ExtendThemes

Some TEAMS showed up too! Extra shout-outs!!

WP Engine:
Ashwin Bhargava, Anthony Burchell, Steven Word, and David Vogelpohl

Delicious Brains:
Lewis Warren, Ashley Rich. Liz Lockard, Caillie West, and Brad Touesnard

Elegant Themes:
Kenny Sing, Nathan B. Weller, Travis Seitler, Nick Roach, and Mitch Skolnik

Kadence Themes:
Benjamin Linden and Hannah Ritner

Per Esbensen, Raleigh Leslie, and David Papandreas

Miriam Schwab and Josh Lawrence

Web Ventures:
Tim Evans and Mike Demo

Thanks to Gale Wallace Photography for her fantastic support taking those photos at the event.

Making Connections for Partners Perks

One of the priorities I worked on during this WordCamp was building relationships with external partners for Freemius Partner Perks, which you may have heard about if you’re currently selling your plugin or theme with Freemius.

If you haven’t heard about it – it means you’re not on our platform yet! No rush, we know you’ll eventually join the club 😉

Partner Perks is one of the newest benefits we’re adding to the multitude of cool things we already do for our selling partners.

Subscribe and grab a free copy of our WordPress Plugin Business Book

Exactly how to create a prosperous WordPress plugin business in the subscription economy.

The WordPress Plugin Business Book

Basically, the goal of Partner Perks is to negotiate exclusive discounts on tons of products and services for running your WordPress product business – everything from Support as a Service to discounted reviews so you can promote your product for a lower price.

We’ve also negotiated other discounts for hosting, development services, and much more – all exclusively available to plugin and theme shops using Freemius.

Because of the great connections we made at WordCamp St. Louis, Freemius partners can expect a lot more deals and discounts coming just around the corner! These offers will eventually become available in our Developer Dashboard where you can apply for them or get in touch with relevant external partners for more details – we’ve just got a bit more negotiating and relationship-building to do on your behalf.

Some of the perks will be offered to everyone who sells on Freemius and some will only be made available after reaching certain milestones, like $5,000 in total revenue with Freemius or 5,000 users of your product.

We want to do everything we can to benefit plugin and theme businesses at every step of the way as you grow your bottom line! Subscribe to our blog on this page to keep up to date as we continue to add more Perks.

Also – if you have an awesome product or service to offer Freemius sellers at a discounted rate, you can apply to become an external partner and potentially get listed as one of our Partner Perk offers. This listing lets you promote your product or service to tons of plugin and theme selling partners using Freemius, all of who have successful businesses and need valuable tools of all kinds to operate their business and grow their bottom line.

Keep in mind – the deal you offer must be exclusively for Freemius partners.

Marketing Mastermind

Another amazing thing that happened was our second Marketing Mastermind breakout discussion co-hosted with Alex Denning of Ellipsis Marketing. The purpose of this meetup on the sidelines of WordCamp is to bring together marketing experts from across the spectrum of WordPress businesses and share best practices so we can all learn from each other.

We had to split up into two groups because we had so many attendees this time! We started off the conversation with a focus on marketing channels, which turned into a full-blown discussion about a wide variety of useful marketing strategies we can all learn from.

Here’s an official shoutout to all the attendees!

Brian Jackson from Kinsta, Kyle Maurer from Easy Digital Downloads, Kim Gjerstad from MailPoet, Maddy Osman – a fantastic freelance writer, Vito Peleg from WP FeedBack, Sujay Pawar from Astra WP, Joshua Daily from WPMU DEV, Scott Bolinger from AppPresser, Andre Gagnon from Project Huddle, Emily Gagnon, Christina Voors from GoDaddy, Andrea Zoellner from SiteGround, Ed Perry from Beacon Agency, Andy McIlwain from GoDaddy, Emily Hunkler from GoWP, Siobhan Cunningham from Yoast, Ashley Chadwick from Casper College, Tim Bowers from WPMU DEV, Tess Coughland-Allen – International Speaker, and Tom Fanelli from Convesio.

While I joined the group of mainly larger companies, Alex led the discussion with small-medium size businesses, and after combining our notes, we’re happy to share the insights we learned that are relevant to businesses of all sizes in the WordPress ecosystem.

Here are some of the most valuable takeaways from this Marketing Mastermind meetup.

  • Content Marketing for Growth – The lesson from this meetup: If you want to get big, content marketing is a must – and don’t forget to update all that old content! You can expect Freemius to be doing the same with our blog.
  • Publishing Multilingual Content – Brian Jackson from Kinsta shared their multi-lingual content marketing strategy. A lesson for us all in how to reach new audiences with translated content. Until we find more awesome candidates for our Content Marketing positions – especially those with fluency in other languages – we’ll probably be using the AWS for WordPress plugin that supports Amazon Polly translations.
  • Paid Advertising Strategies – It’s critical to forecast how your ad spending is going to bring you new sales when you’re buying ads. Whether you’re thinking of advertising with Google AdWords, Facebook, Twitter, Quora – whatever – you need to forecast your Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) from the beginning, which is basically the measure of your Return on Investment (ROI) for ad spending. The calculation for ROAS is the following: Return on Ad Spend = Revenue from Ad Conversions / Ad Spend x 100

The following is a quick bit from Alex Denning

My group was for “small and medium” WordPress businesses, and we had attendees from bootstrapped product companies, freelancers and agencies doing marketing for clients, and even a funded hosting company!

We started off with Tess, a freelance writer and international speaker, reporting that she’d started a podcast following a recommendation at our previous meetup at WordCamp London and that it had gone very well so far.

We then talked about other forms of audio content, and Emily shared how GoWP has been using webinars to nurture leads. They’ve been cross-posting these to their Facebook group, which led us to talk about Facebook!

Sujay Pawar shared how Astra uses its Facebook group to engage with its community, build brand loyalty, and get rapid feedback. Tom also shared how Convesio is using LinkedIn groups, and we discussed some of the challenges of this, like effectively moderating a large group and maintaining a high standard of discussion.

We finished up with Kim from MailPoet asking what the biggest mistake most WordPress businesses make with their marketing: My answer to that was emphasizing how important it is to focus on data, see what works, and do more of the same. That approach is hugely valuable, and it can be the difference between an “okay” business and a great one.

Thanks to everyone who attended and to Brandon from Freemius for co-organizing with me. I’m delighted with the conversations we had, and I can’t wait to do it again!


Thanks, Alex! It was a pleasure working with you too, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next Marketing Mastermind!

Upcoming WordCamps

Freemius will be at all the upcoming WordCamps:

We’re also happy to announce that our entire team will come together for the first-ever WordCamp Asia in Bangkok! This is the first time the Freemius team will be getting together and we’re super stoked!

Cheers everyone! Thanks for reading and see you on the flip side ✌

Brandon Ernst

Published by Brandon Ernst

Founder of Brand on Fire LLC, specializing in premium web development and digital marketing; former Head of Marketing at Freemius, leading content development and outreach, providing valuable advice for WordPress plugin and theme developers' growth.

Jamie Marsland

“Moving from WooCommerce and their licensing API extension to Freemius made our life so much easier. The seamless EU VAT handling streamlined our UK-based business and we can now focus more on our products. The guys at Freemius have been really responsive and we love their vision.”

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