Our experience at WordCamp US 2019


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Donata Stroink-Skillrud

Co-founder and President of Termageddon

Hans, Vito, Andrew and Donata by the St. Louis arch

We spent November 1st through the 4th attending WordCamp US. For those of you not familiar with this event, WordCamp US is one of the largest gatherings of WordPress professionals and supporters in the world. The event spans three days and includes more than 50 speakers and numerous workshops. Companies and speakers usually spend weeks preparing for this event and, regardless of who you are, you are guaranteed to get value out of going. Since we had an absolute blast, I wanted to write this blog post and share our experiences so that you can see for yourself why it is worth going. I’ll talk about our preparations for the event and sponsorship, the talk that we went to, who we met and the parties we attended. WordCamp was a wild ride and I am excited to share it with you. 

Preparing for WordCamp

WordCamp US has over 1,000 attendees. If you are like me in the sense that you can find large events overwhelming, try attending a smaller WordCamp first to get your feet wet. We had the pleasure of attending WordCamp Jackson, MI and WordCamp Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, and these events helped me understand the structure and expectations of these events. I do have to say that I was forewarned about WordCamp US – I was told that the event is high octane, hat I will meet hundreds of people and that I will need a few days to recover. As a forever introvert, I had to mentally prepare myself for this event. 

Part one of our preparations was deciding to sponsor this event. The amazing thing about WordPress in general is the community aspect of it all. Money from sponsorships goes towards the costs of the actual event so it was a no-brainer. The sponsorship opportunities also have a few different levels, which include reasonably priced packages that are perfect for startups. So we picked the Bronze package, which placed our logo on the event website and allowed us to place our swag on a shared sponsor table. We are very happy that we could contribute to the event and  the wonderful community that it supports by sponsoring. 

Next, we had to decide on our swag. Almost everyone knows the “protect yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self” sticker so we brought some of those. We also brought laptop camera screen covers and hundreds of cookies with a flyer attached to them. We also wore our “arrrrrrr you compliant?” t-shirts which were an instant hit. Here’s a picture of Hans next to the sponsor table.

Sponsoring WordCamp US

Step two of the preparations was getting our friends from the airport. Originally, our plan was to go with Vito Peleg, the President of Atarim. Hans met Vito earlier this year at Lee Jackson’s Agency Transformation Live and they became instant friends. Hans and Vito are accountability partners and have a call every week to catch up on what is going on with business and what exciting projects they are working on. Vito is a rockstar (literally, he played in a rock band when he was younger) and his product absolutely amazing. Atarim simplifies the process of getting feedback on a website from clients and is used by hundreds of agencies worldwide. So, I prepared our home for one guest but we ended up with two. 

Andrew Palmer, the founder and President of Elegant Marketplace joined us as well! Andrew had some flight troubles and successfully came from London to Chicago but had no way to get to St. Louis. Hans met Andrew earlier this year at Agency Transformation Live as well and we were more than happy to have a full house. Elegant Marketplace is one of the largest marketplaces for plugins and themes for WordPress sites and they feature some can’t miss deals on a regular basis. We spent that evening together packing t-shirts, cookies, stickers and eating way too much food. 

The Road Trip

On Thursday morning, it was time to leave Chicago for St. Louis. It was about a five-hour trip so we had to rent a car. We ordered a nice Chevy Suburban to fit our endless baggage but, upon arrival at the rental place, we were told that this car was not available and we were stuck with a Dodge minivan. That was totally ok though because even though the minivan looked less than cool from the outside, it had plenty of room on the inside and we were all comfortable. Also, since we live in Chicago and the weather is often unpredictable, we had to drive through a snowstorm for the first two and a half hours of our trip. 

It is snowing outside but we are ready for our road trip to St. Louis

However, Hans and I switched the driving duties and the trip was really not so bad. Vito played his Spotify playlist, we stopped for Taco Bell and other snacks multiple times and before we knew it, we arrived at St. Louis. One major recommendation for conference and event trips such as this one is to have your hotel or Airbnb close to the venue. The fact is that events such as WordCamp already require a lot of walking inside of the venue, to the after parties and meetings. You also may want to take a short break during the event or quickly change for the after-parties. You really do not want to be ten miles from where you are staying. We booked a great Airbnb about five minutes’ walking distance from the venue. 

Welcome Hans & Friends board at our Airbnb
Hans standing by a couch at our Airbnb

Now that we were “home”, we unpacked our stuff, ordered some food, watched Ancient Aliens and prepared ourselves for the first day of WordCamp. 

Day One: Friday

It was time for day one of WordCamp US! There are a lot of things that I enjoyed about WordCamp but one of my favorite things is that it started at 9 am. This allowed us to sleep in, get fully ready and not rush out the door every morning. We had breakfast and walked to the venue. My first impression was: wow! They were not kidding about the number of people that come to these events! The entrance hall was packed so we got our badges, took a picture of the speeches to take place that day and went over to the sponsors’ area. 

Schedule showing the speakers and events at WordCamp

We set up our table (with just a few minor issues) and it was time to go and mingle with the rest of the sponsors. The amazing thing about this event is that you can meet the actual CEOs of really large companies that you truly admire. And I mean truly admire? We met amazing people from WP Coffee Talk, Yith, White Label Agency, Wordfence, Pressable, Yoast, PublishPress, Big Bite, FlexiDB, and WPmudev. We saw a new trend this year, which is hosting companies creating marketplaces that allow agencies and customers to have a one-stop-shop for all of their website needs. We had amazing conversations with hosting companies about us participating in these marketplaces and we just cannot wait for what the future holds. We met some great hosting companies such as Cloudways, Siteground, GoDaddy, Kinsta and Convesio. 

During lunch, we were happy to eat some delicious vegan and vegetarian options. We also met up with WP and UP, a not for profit that provides mental health resources to WordPress professionals. Working from home and working in this industry, in general, can be taxing but WP and UP connects people in need and helps us all see that we should take care of ourselves first.

Donata holding the WP And UP plaque

We really hoped to be able to make it to at least a few talks on Friday, but we had meetings scheduled just about every hour, meaning that we missed those great speakers. We did get a chance to see some of our agency partners though and that was definitely the highlight of the day! Time just flew by and it was time for the afterparty at the City Museum. 

The City Museum in St. Louis is a different world. It’s Alice in Wonderland meets Atlantis meets a welding enthusiast with an unlimited supply of scrap metal. The City Museum has caves, fish tanks, walls made from mirrors, an 11-story slide, a bus that hangs out of the roof and endless climbing adventures. The museum also featured a beautiful view of the city and a rooftop Ferris wheel, which I was obviously way too afraid to go on.

Donata and Hans by the Ferris Wheel in the City Museum
Donata and Hans by the St. Louis city skyline

We had an absolute blast and, after a full day of meetings, activities and fun, it was time to go home, take it easy and prepare for the next day. 

Day Two: Saturday

Day two was the real test. We had a ton of meetings again but wanted to make sure that we do not miss one talk – the California Consumer Privacy Act talk by Rian Kinney, Esq., CIPP. As a Privacy Policy generator, this is obviously the one talk that we HAD to go to. We spoke to Rian for the first time a few months ago but this was our first time meeting her in person. Rian is an attorney in Florida and she focuses her work on agency contracts and privacy in her law firm, the Kinney Firm. In fact, she is launching Ecomm Legal in a few months, which will provide agencies with contracts such as web design contracts, non-disclosure agreements and much more. We were so excited about her talk and she did not disappoint! She spoke about privacy, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and what agencies need to know about it to protect themselves and their clients. 

Rian Kinney at the podium speaking about privacy

It was an absolute honor to hear this extremely knowledgeable attorney speak and I still can’t get over the fact that she mentioned Termageddon in her speech. Since we were the only two privacy attorneys in the entire event, I was a bit nervous about speaking to her. Turns out that she is kind, nice and thoughtful and we had a wonderful time sitting and talking by a fireplace at an afterparty. 

We also met Iñigo from PUXL. PUXL is an interface that can be used to build accessible websites using WordPress. Iñigo was kind enough to take the time during a busy party to talk to us about fonts, colors and other features that make websites accessible. His company is an excellent resource for anyone building accessible websites. 

I’m still not sure where day two really went. It was packed full of meetings and, as soon as I blinked, the day was done. It was time for some after parties! Here’s the deal with our experience at WordCamp US – we were invited to so many after parties that we had to make a schedule.

5pm to 7pm GoWP after party


6pm WpEngine and Freemius after party

7:30pm WordFence afterparty and Community Code premiere

7:00pm GoDaddy afterparty

9:00pm PostStatus and Jilt afterparty

That’s a lot of events to go to, some of which were at conflicting times. I’m happy to report that we made it to all of these events and here are some pictures to prove it! 

Hans and Tim from
Everyone at the GoWP after party
Everyone at the WordFence after party

We met some amazing people at this event and are happy to say that we made some friends and saw some friends as well. After all of the partying was done, it was time to go home and get ready for contributor’s day. 

Day Three: Contributors’ Day

The community and volunteers are what makes WordPress what it is. Contributor’s Day is our opportunity to give back to the community and the people that planned and organized this event and that provide support and help in using WordPress. We participate in the privacy group and the marketing group to show our thank you. If you are interested in volunteering with WordPress, just go to the Get Involved page as there’s plenty of room for everyone. 

After the contributors’ day, we were having lunch when we met some awesome folks from Big Bite. Big Bite is an agency located in the UK that builds websites and apps using WordPress. They invited us to join them in an escape room and we couldn’t help but agree. We had to escape a puppet theater and made it with a few minutes to spare. 

Picture of all of those who escaped the puppet theater

After that, Hans and Vito met with Mike Demo from Web Ventures for a fun evening at Six Flags. I stayed at home because I was absolutely exhausted and I had to pack us up and get ready to leave the next day. The guys played carnival games, rode roller coasters and flew in some bizarre-looking contraption. They did have a lot of fun though! 

Hans playing carnival games
Mike, Vito and Hans at Six Flags

Day Four: Leaving St. Louis

It was now time to leave St. Louis and WordCamp. We had the best time and we were a bit sad to leave. We made sure to visit the iconic arch and the Missouri river nearby.

Hans, Vito, Andrew and Donata by the St. Louis arch

The thing that separates WordCamps from other events is that you actually make friends there. Real friends that you keep in touch with and see again and again at other WordCamps. It was an absolute pleasure to participate in this event, to sponsor it and to meet everyone. I’m sorry if I accidentally missed mentioning you in this post. I hope to see you at the next WordCamp!

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About the Author
Donata Stroink-Skillrud

Donata is the Co-founder and President of Termageddon and a licensed attorney and Certified Information Privacy Professional. She serves as the Vice-Chair of the American Bar Association's ePrivacy Committee and the Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

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