Long-time user — First-time caller…
I just got back from WordCamp US 2022 which I attended with a sense of reservation. The excuses in my head were common “I’ve never been.” “I don’t know anybody”. “I’m not smart enough to identify with anyone”. “This woke-tech crowd is out of my element.” With LifterLMS sponsoring my attendance and the event being semi-local, I had to overcome the excuses. I mean, I slayed it in the Powersports industry… how different could this be?
Different! All in a good way. What went from a crowd of no-name, blurred faces quickly became a new family. The openness, graciousness, and overall fun feeling of this crowd are palpable. I would even go so far as to say that working in the Powersports industry, with the hours and grind would give me the ability to surround myself with the toys of the industry I love… WordPress would allow me to enjoy my days and own the toys of the industry I love. Let me give you a quick recap — and while I am sure I will miss some people, I will link to some superstars along the way.
When we arrived in San Diego, the LifterLMS team had us all set up with a killer Air B&B just blocks from the beach, on a hill, overlooking killer sunsets. The kitchen was bomb, the deck on point, the WIFI adequate, and plenty of room for each team member. Chris Badgett and Thomas Levy (owners) are first class all the way. I was the first of the team to arrive. We all planned to pick up “Magic” WIll Middleton at the airport, have dinner, then head to the opening party. Dinner was at the Liberty Public Market which was diverse and awesome. The sensation of knowing people for years online, then gathering for the first time in person is different for everyone. Will, especially, seemed taken back at meeting everyone in person. It was great.
Next, we hit up the local Ralphs for a little food shopping. First Class to the rescue, we were told to put anything we wanted in the cart. Cheese for a fancy charcuterie? check. IPA? check. Granola, Milk, Ice Cream, Chips? Check, check, check. With the house fully stocked, rooms assigned and a beer primer, it was time to head to the Pre-Party hosted on a yacht by Pagely. Thomas was declared the DD – Designated Driver for the week and we were off.
Just waiting to get on the boat Chris and Thomas extended their years of networking in the WordPress Space to me. So here I was meeting new people them as a group, while also being brought into existing relationship and friendship dynamics. New faces for us were Ben and Chad of Rocket.net. These cats had party written on their faces before we even got to know them. For the next four days, you could hear me yelling ROCKET DOT NET across the gaps. Truth… I had a little admiration for Ben’s sense of brand loyalty… all those choices and I kept seeing Bud Light.
Once on the boat, Champagne was given, swag was flowing, and the DJ was bumping. I was on a couple of bourbon and sodas when I realized the DJ was dropping sick mash-ups of the Doors and Led Zeppelin. Sick. Everywhere I went from getting on the boat to being the wingman to Thomas, to getting to the rear of the ship… there was a man on a cane, kind of moping about. I’m not here to say he looked traumatized or any of that… but I got the feeling he was not all about the party at the moment. I had to engage. We exchanged pleasantries, but the exchange of information didn’t align… I was like “Hi, I’m Kurt and this is my bodyguard Will… we are from LifterLMS – where are you from?” Otto looked deeply into my eyes and said “I’m from Michigan.” No, no.. I meant where do you work? then Otto replied “WordPress”. Emphatically I hit back with “Well, we all work at WordPress”, circling my finger around my head to motion that everyone on the boat was with WordPress in one way or another.
Whoops… Otto works with WordPress. He is the man. He works with the department that determines if your plugin is a plugin or not. Turns out, Otto is a funny, open guy. I ran into him at least a dozen more times at the event. Directly after I met Taylor who is a bright shining star of a personality. Turns out she shares the love and fantasy of VANLIFE with me. She also got sick during the trip so I missed her after the boat party.
On the front of the boat, I was meeting quality people like Raquel at Elegant Themes, Clancy from GoDaddy, and Brian Bautista… all from the area around my boss, Thomas Levy. Clancy was on my favorites list as he wore a Kilt to the event. Soon the group was splitting up. Chris was hobnobbing with a bunch of plugin founders on the upper deck. WIll had disappeared below to tackle the buffet with the CEO of Pagely, and I was up top shaking hands and meeting new people.
Katie of Barn2 was on hand as well as James… both from overseas. Meeting them was cool because we met at the house first, then the boat. James had recently (I don’t know how recent) joined the StellerWP organization, but it didn’t interfere with keeping the relationship alive. Steller WP carries a competitor product to LifterLMS, but the people to people thing is still well and good. This was an outward sign to me that the WordPress community is more solid on the inside than other groups of industry.
The next day we picked up our last incoming team member, Natalie. Natalie is a rockstar taking care of a great proportion of LifterLMS Support tickets and the like. She also validates external third-party plugins or extensions for us. After the airport, we set up the table in the display hall and got ready for the Sponsor Party. We were kind of winging this. We were under the impression that only two team members could attend, but then we heard conflicting stories. One of the angels on the Volunteer team got us all checked in early with badges, so we all walked in. Easy Peasy.
The Sponsor Party was held on-site and outside… bonus! No Masks. They had wonderful finger food and an open bar. BINGO! We shook a lot of hands, but the interactions that popped off the page for me were Jonathan Denwood of WP-Tonic, and the guys from Divi… Nathan and Jason. Of course, you know I had to check out the cheese board… and boom… there were the Rocket.net guys, Bud Light in hand… I’m sensing a product placement ad deal for these guys.
Welcome to Friday. It’s the first day of the show and we’ve split into teams. Will and I are on the afternoon team but Jonathan has invited us to be on a roundtable podcast where I meet Steven Sauder. The roundtable discussion became a linear panel discussion relegating WIll and me to “Live Studio Audience” status. So here we were at the event hours ahead of schedule and not even on the podcast. So back to the house we went.
Meeting Steve in the debacle was the silver lining to the whole deal. Without divulging the topics we discussed, I can tell you that this man is genuine in his walk. We seemed to hit it off and continued to engage well after the podcast session. In fact, I rode my bike to the event on Sunday to see him getting in his Uber to go home. Wonderful, introspective human being. Steve is the co-founder of Hustle Fish.
Friday was a night of parties. There were the big hosting company parties like Bluehost, GoDaddy, Cloudways, but there were also more subtle ones like Elementor on site, after the show on Friday. I cannot explain how down to earth everyone is and how open people are to meeting, sharing, and being part of the community. One of my big meets was Adam from WPCrafter. It turns out he is right around the corner from me. When I decided to get more serious about my WordPress journey it was a lot of his YouTube content that inspired me to keep pushing. Picking up on the SoCal vibe, I was introduced to Kai. What a character. I mean that in the best of ways. This Gen X entrepreneur spits it out direct… just the way I like it. It turns out he also does screenprinting — Hello.
As the LifterLMS team was headed out to turn the city upside down, we got a text or post stating that Raquel could not find the Cloudways Party. Bonus for us. We picked up her and a guy named Daniel. Daniel and Thomas hit it off straight away. I thought this guy was an old friend!! I start cutting in and now its a sing-along party on the truck. Daniel is a photographer at the event. Now he’s part of the family. But this wasn’t always so. I asked Thomas one on one… “How long have you and Daniel been friends?”. They weren’t. They had just met. See what I mean?
After all the parties, part of our crew (RAQUEL) wanted vegan ice cream. Well, the line looked long. Chris Badgett and I looked at each other and the messaging was clear. We wanted beer, not ice cream. So we tell the group we will be at the bar across the street. It was an English Pub… crowded, loud, and then… over the half wall we see it. There was a huge table of WordPressers lighting this place up. We joined in. Daniel was soon to share the space as well.
Saturday was another day of show time, followed by a talk from Matt at WordPress for the masses. After that there would be a wrap up party on-site but the after party was on with Spencer Foreman and WP Launchify! The wrap up party worked out fantastic as the team played Ladder Ball away from the party while Badgett “worked the crowd”. Eventually, I made my way back to the party and was so glad I did.
The depth of conversation and connection I got from Josh and Aaron with WPEngine and Infinite Uploads was awesome. To be at an event that can sometimes feel more like Crystals and Pyramids, it was so refreshing to enter my own little echo chamber of thoughts and engage with really smart people I can align with.
When we weren’t working the show, the LifterLMS team made time for clients. We all met with Kevin of the Tiki Nation to enjoy a meal but to also encourage him on his project. Later in the week, Chris and Will met with Nik Fawx to share a meal and discuss all things crypto and WordPress.
Me? I got a little solo time to enjoy the saddle, and rck up miles for the Great Cycle Challenge. Thomas? He got to leap off a cliff and tape his foot back together 🙂
WordPress is awesome. The people in the WordPress community are awesome. WordCampUS and the team at LifterLMS are awesome.