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WordCamps are community-organized events, channeling the power of community

Matt Mullenweg

Co-Founder of WordPress, Founder of Automattic, Investor with Audrey

Lessons Learned

Bringing people together is powerful.

The WordCamp template has been recreated all over the world.

Instead of one big conference, the WordPress community has 70 conferences of 300 people globally.


Lesson: Building a Unicorn with Matt Mullenweg

Step #6 WordCamps: WordCamps are community-organized events, channeling the power of community

WordCamp was the idea that there was this movement of volunteer organized conferences. BarCamp was one. I was actually involved with the first one just by chance not really by planning or anything. But that we're showing that bringing people together, even though we're a distributive company, we're big believers in the power of being together. So WordCamp was doing that for WordPress and saying, "Hey."

The first one was organized with just a few weeks’ notice. It was free. The first one was free as well. "Let's get some sponsors to pick up the barbeque bill and a venue and bring a couple hundred people together and let's talk about WordPress for a day." It was really cool. The first year, there was just that one. But then, after the second year, the template we had created for whatever WordCamp was, started to be replicated all over the world. The first international one I went to was in Buenos Aires. And now, today, there are 70 or 80 per year. So a couple every weekend, but usually on weekends all over the world in every possible, imaginable city.

In fact there's WordCamps devoted to education topics or even small niches of WordPress, which is already kind of a niche in the world. What we've arrived to is a good balance for them, as they're not free anymore, partially because we found that it's less likely for people to come. And at that first WordCamp we had about 80 pounds of barbeque that was unconsumed that, then, went in my freezer. And well, I guess it was consumed over the coming months. I kept defrosting it about ten pounds at a time and I gained a lot of weight. So $20 gets you good value for your money.

So $20 is just so people are more likely to come when they say they will. And, of course, it is for scholarships, if it's a problem for anyone. It's usually a t-shirt, a full day or two days of talks given by volunteers, also a lunch, and sometimes an open bar afterwards. So, it's the best $20, I think you can spend.

We try to keep them super inclusive, non-commercial for the most part. There's obviously commercial entities in everything, but they are not setting the agenda or dominating it. And to really focus on education. WordPress is powerful software. There's a ton you can learn. There's a ton I've learned when I go to WordCamp still. I love sitting in the back of a WordCamp talk and maybe I know 95% of it, but there's a 5% that I just never thought of in that way, that's a better way to present something. It might be something I didn't know or a plug-in I never heard of. Those are my favorites. And so these now happen across the world constantly.

I like where some projects take an approach of doing one or a couple of big conferences for 5 or 10,000 people. What we've tried to say is that," Let's make it a little more community driven and a little more grassroots." So rather than having one conference of 10,000 people, we have 70 conferences of 30 people, or wait, 300 people. That scale is both much easier to organize and more fun to be at.

The growth of WordCamps, I think that that's a good question. I'm sure that every organizer has a different story. But a commonality is often that with WordPress, you get basically a million dollar software for free. Quality-wise, I would put it next to any proprietary software out there, including some which is quite expensive. But it's free for the world. So people who have gotten a lot from the community or from the software itself, like to pay it forward and want to give something back. And often the most valuable thing they can give back, since we don't really have a way to give us dollars that directly goes in development or anything, is to give your time, helping people who know less than you, running meet-ups or WordCamps, volunteering, setting up sites for friends and things. So this ends up going pretty well.

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