WooConf 2017: It rained in Seattle and other obvious statements

stylized W and the words WooConf in purple letters

When you fly into Seattle most times, you will drop below the clouds and fly through a pretty thick marine layer. Sometimes, this is the last time you will see the sun for the next few days. Fortunately the sun was easily replaces by the warm glow of the vibrant Woo Commerce community as I got to spend a little under 2 days in the Jet City for WooConf 2017

Food and Fun

It was raining Wednesday night when I arrived at the hotel and I did not venture far from my room. But since I was staying in the official hotel I still got to hang out and have a drink with some of the conference folk who were also staying there. I even got to see my old colleague Alex who now works for a pretty sweet little company that helps with abandoned shopping cart conversions, Jilt.Before too long I turned in as day 1 of the conference was going to be a long one, with lots to learn.

Unfortunately, at 2:30am the fire alarm went off and the entire building was evacuated. Luckily it was a false alarm, most likely a drunk or a kid (or a drunk kid) had pulled an alarm as a prank. Still, it made for a tired morning.

Day 1:

Breakfast was served and I think it was a lovely one. There was even granola and almond milk along side all sorts of other staple foods. I ate to my fill, drank a good deal of the very good Seattle’s Best coffee and got all geared up for the keynote.

Lunch was a clear cut above most events. This was one of the times I realized it was not a WordCamp, though it is a lot of the same people who would go to such a thing. It is also not nearly as affordable as a WordCamp, as the amenities reflected. I had one of the more delicious tofu and veggie dishes I can remember on the road along a beautiful salad. No vegan deserts, but I really didn’t have room for it anyhow.

The afternoon snacks were a real treat, with hot hamburger sliders and fresh french fries. There were also these tiny stuffed tomatoes, a lot of candy and veggie chips. I am going to admit I went a little nuts with the veggie chips. So good though.

Networking Event

At the end of day one we were ushered to a giant room with an open bar, black bean burger and salmon sliders and a pretty awesome popcorn bar with flavors like dill pickle and sriracha salt and candy fixin’s to mix in. I loved the dill pickle flavoring and abused the situation to fill a bag with Jelly Belly beans without adding any popcorn. I still think this was in the spirit of the popcorn station, but some others later disagreed. It was great to meet a lot of new folks and have some interesting conversations about the future of Woo based on what we all learned in the keynotes and sessions. The long day and the interrupted sleep lulled me back to my room for a power nap instead of going straight to the after after bar some folks were walking to in the rain. In retrospect I wish I would have powered through as I met no new people or had any interesting discussions in my room, but the bunk time felt mighty nice in the moment.


I realized that we would not have to modify the prefix for WCKaraoke to make it fit this event and that made me insanely happy. Refreshed from my power nap I ventured over to the Capitol Hill neighborhood to one of the better ‘mixed use’ karaoke bars I know about, Rock Box. By mixed I mean it has private room as well as a main stage you do not have to rent. The staff is a little surly but given the number of drunk karaoke fans they put up with year round I can understand it. We had a blast and sang well into the night and I got to meet some pretty interesting locals as well as catch up with an old improv buddy from SF who moved to the area earlier this year. This was really one of the best WCKaraoke experiences of the year for me, even though the WC meant something else.

Day 2 and After Party

I am sad to report that due to my other commitments I had to leave before the end of the second day, only getting to sit through 1 full keynote of the 2 in the morning. The after party looked like it was going to be a blast as well. Oh well, can’t be everywhere and do everything, though I will keep hoping technology will eventually solve this. There are too many good events and not nearly enough time.


Let me just say this us front. WOW! The caliber of the talks at this event was second to none. Since I go to a lot of camps and cons, I have a lot to compare this to and I am certain this is one of the very top from a quality perspective. I felt engaged and energized by each and every session I sat in. I had applied to speak at this event and in retrospect I can see why my talk wasn’t chosen. I can only strive to improve and hope to be able to provide this kind of value to anyone sitting in my sessions moving ahead. It really raised the bar for me.

Also, let me take a second to give it up for Julia Amosova, who did the intros for most of the talks I saw. Intros are not something I often talk about but I think she deserves a shout out for putting a nice practical spin on any talk by relating it to her experience in support. Really helped set the stage with grounded real world applicability before the speaker even appeared. Great job!

Keynote 1:

State of the Woo
Todd Wilkens

More or less just going to toss you my raw notes here. I don’t have a lot of commentary after this talk other than that. I walked away with a new appreciation for where the tools are headed and a curiosity about using Woo that I have not had before. I am actually planning to build my first Woo store in the near future for testing out some ideas.

Raw notes:
Todd is the self described “Head Janitor” of the project.
He started out really celebrating our diversity and all who make and use it
Here are the numbers:
32.4 Million downloads globally
3 Million active installs from the WP repo
So many amazing things built on Woo
They are on track for Woo stores to do $10Billion in sales in the next year!
Conservative estimate based on their numbers
$30Million in Woo extensions this year as well
Healthy ecosystem
613 contributions in the last year from the community
A diverse set of users
Basically 3 key roles
1- Store Owners
2- Store Builder (the original focus of the tool)
3- Extension developers
They have different needs, but this is the best way they have made these distictions
Mostly is is small – medium businesses
This sets you up for evolution, does not happen with large systems
Cases tude from his friend that
Sqarespace got started, but no room for flexibility or growth
it was really inflexible, he has high end craft , needs a unique experience.
WooCommerce is a fit for him to do it himself, and as evolve, a pro takes over…that is the dream
This is a typical one though, likely know such a story
But it is not just about small -med
there are multiple doing $100M+ a year ont heir sites
H-E-B case study
12th biggest private company (Forbes) grocery stores
more tha 40 stores + growing
HEB was 2 hours ahead of the FEMA convoy during the Houton floods
same ethos but at scale for whole state!
They don’t just sel stuff, they do good stuff
Big news from the year was Woo 3.0
Abstractions – CRUD classes
new product gallery
new CLI (WP-CLI and some REST API)
logging system
Don’t want people to have to hack PHP to customize in the future
The 2.0 rollout was shakey and they admit that now, they learned their lesson though
LEarned: More reliable update/upgrade experience
That involved Woo and Extention Devs
Committed to making upgrade and maintenance experience rock solid,
For instance: internally they ping certain woo usrs to preview releases now
regular roll outs expected and much improved experience in the future
3.1 and 3.2 had ver few issues for a lot of feature rolls outs/improvements
1-CSV import/export in core
Extention license management in Core
Search helpers for orders
2- Better coupon control
Extension version checks
Search helpers for Products
Better integration with SaaS payments, shipping, an taxes
In near future
Faster tables
new event queues to remove race conditions
Making it easier to manage store builders to manage more stores from the product side
No more subscrition keys to manage
copy/paste is not scalable, now one click
Also need to be able to share and transfer subscription, new now, improving fast
Woo and WordPress.com are merging affiliate programs
test extentions before you buy
Better UX for store owners
Paypal, Stripe, Square, Klarna (Northern Europe)
New automated tax service, automate for all the largest markets (US, EU, CAN, AU)
make it easier to onboard no matter where they are
Have to set up Jetpack – trying to make it super simple, just hit connect and JetPack just happend
Then can set payments, tax, logitics before they put their first product online!
Been investing a lot in cloud services foundation
Don’t want to pull people away from the idea of self hosting but looknig at cloud more and more
Woo + Automatic can build on their strengths
they agree 2 factor auth is great why rebuild it,
same thing with Jetpack, it is larger than Woo and learned a lot before Woo, moght as well combine forces
Constrictive feedback helps them grow!
Also revamping the mobile app for WooCommerce (this is a big deal)
2018 roll out is planned
Store owner feature love
Builders can more easilt sell since it is all included!
No plans for chaging for mobile app, just part of Woo
Big changes in extensions
Not a lot rolled out in 2017
BUT a lot of devs asking for more and more
Current extention devs want more direct access to customers and more contril over products
retinking architecture
Going to be opening up the marketplace for extensions! (There is a whole talk on that later)
needed to open it an change dynamics, higher payouts and more control, more open

Keynote 2

Why Customize?
Kandace Brigleb

I always tell people I am a bad designer or that I am not a designer at all. This single talk has corrected this behaviour. I, in fact, do have the ability to contribute to the design process and so do you, no matter who you are or what you think you know. All it takes is clear and honest communication. Every step of every process can be opened to improvement and the evolution of those ideas is the design process itself. I hope this talk is made available online as I think everyone that ever says “Oh, I am not a designer” should see it!

Raw notes:
She lives by “Make every room you walk in better because you are there.”
Small shop Needmore
Coffee brands have universal issues
she has a show for coffee folks
coffee roasters have specific needs arond design
Many people get the same beans, so it comes down to lifestyle brand
lot of that comes don to design
Must differentiate
WooCommerce helps them be flexible
Joy to be a part of this community
Looked at customized website strategy and case study
Need to first explain the why
then how
and then ‘Who does what’ on these projects
Make every project you join better ebcause you are there
Not making websites just to do so
making stories that have a pull, sell things better
more donations, ect
make it easy for people to buy
need to buy direct on the sites, but prduct into hands of customers is the uderlying goal
we want more than things though
experiences make us happy
in the end, the hot coffee in a cup is happier than holding beans
need to start making emotional connections with your stories
leave room for emotional connectionst o grow
not every page needs to direct drie conversion
Let people fall for your brand
Traditional Web Process – used to be good
but it does change some
still alinear process
discovery, structure, design, developer, hand off, Launch
expects milestones
billing cycle linked to this most of the time
but some decisoins later or earlier need adjustments. Hard to rethink sometimes
Earlier assumptions about customers and needs need readjustments somemtimes
We have to empathize
To be interesting, be interested.
Try to talk to anyone along supply chain for coffee
Go do a thing yourself and see how you felt through each part of the process.
Define the issue,
It’s not “design a chair” its “create a way to suspend a person” — (I love this quote)
No good idea have come from staring at a screen from other peoples work
It is only in still water that we can see
get out of your bubble
They make lists of 10s each day, just used to generated ideas
gets you used to throwing ideas away and letting go
why 10? 3 to 5 is too few
10 means they are expecte to throw out 1/2 of ideas
by 9 or 10 ideas get weird
create and build as you g, protoype early to get ideas out
Never a sense design was over, bill by month, not by phase!
Case study time
coffee reoassters, hand tallying as they printed labels
lot of errors, customers didn’t rust the process
made them reports that told them what to do, custoemrs trusted that process, more sales
Flavor Notes, fairly new, like wine
changed the way FourBarrels did it, beat the rest of the market.
Literary arts example,
map was just the programs site map basically
very silos
they did an empathy step, everyone wanted less siloed
Team engagement – need better teams working togetther for custom web design
Team A Dsigner, Exec, PM, Client, Programmer
Team B Some people have experience, some don’t, when the meetings are over, people linger for a while
which team innovates more: Team B says research
less structure makes for better innovations
Less a good idea to stick to traditional approaches overall they have found
Devs and Design wall is bad, does not feel good
“I don’t like to be encumbered by that is possible” – designer
Everyone designs!
Design is how it works
Anyone who influences what the design becomes is the designer
We have responsibility to speak up then
means all voinces need heard
Sometimes the simplest answers are easier to see from the outside
In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few
Some case studies:
Sakeone – brewer/importer
team B approach
smaller budget, but important to tell story of the brewers and their local process
excited about what akes sake so interesting
Oregon vs Japan similiarities, tells the tory modularly, very successful and simpe to design
We are ultimately judged by how successful it is, not by who came up with the idea
La Marzocco
espresso machines
the lamborgini of the espresso world
give people more ownership feeling before buying, made configuratior
press loved it gave all new press, boosted sales!
We are all made of stars
We are all designers!

How we are scaling WooCommerce Core
Kevin Killingsworth

This is one of the sessions I specifically came to the show to see and take notes about. As you can imaging scale is one of the main concerns I have around eCommerce in general given where I work. With the coming and current changes to Woo and how data is structured with the new CRUD objects, there is a lot to parse through and understand. I anticipate we in the hosting world are going to be running into some of the edges of this new in memory ‘data store’ idea as we cluster and run apps on multiple app servers. The awesome news is that I did no see or hear anything that spooked me or seemed out of place. I am still wrapping my head around the underlying caching of the array and how we could hook something like Redis (or Memcached) into it for further persistance and scale. It is really one of the things I love about Computer Science is that it is a very much alive and moving beast. I did the best I could to capture the entire talk and Q/A.

Raw notes:
Scaling to Huge
Performance: Appropriate to scale
Extention compatibility
CRUD objects in WooCommerce
comes from SQL
does not just aply to relational DBs
Improves the intereface
New Release CRUD class Dec 2016 Woo2.7
go read that blog post
Data stores = data flexibility
Data Stors were his idea, but he did noe of the work
Data stores are true but not persistant
Does not know how it is stored anywhere else, just busienss logic around it
Right now, default
data store get_post_meta in array of order objects
can implement abstraction and not break anything
CustomTabels – Lot of postmeta, how t we up performance, lot of poepl agree, custom tables!
Liquid Web just related plugin that abstracts thaat table approach
How does it scale though?
Abstractions are permeant
By the time you are doing a thing, hope to have enough money to solve the scale issue from infrastructure
solvable problems
more machine, more DB changes are possible then
New diagram
Custom Table Data Store
Get row call, it getpostmeta
many compbos of information
Question1 Save method, there is a data structure to it, CRUD objects, why is that work that way?
Q2 – Are cutom Tables really the future?
CRUD int he data store
Why is CRUD important?
All owners want to make millions but most wont
they have to pick a platform when they are tiny
Multiple Sites, Multiple Databases
DATA stores make some happy intended befefits they have found:
What if you had single place that you shipped from but have regions you sell in international
do you really want to serve all of those from a single site in the US? US – Australian connection is hyper slow, does it make sense to do it. Legal concerns for localization
All same US warehouse though. Multiple sites, different currencies
Data Story that got it from inventory systems
Orders Data Store
Product Orders store
Inventory can be on anything else and just feed the objects, not the DBs
Import/Export (for free!!!!!)
iterate array and export to another store without directly manipulating the DB
How does it use processor resource
can do batch or can do this one at a time
Lot of code that needs evaluated
WooCommerce Custom Order Table – Mindsize and LiquidWeb built it
Already done, Woo does nto need to do it on their own
Woocommerce Product Tables Feature Pllugin in their Woo Core team recently
private now, public in a few more days
DEMO CODE- Pre-alpha Product Product Inventory Datastore – Kevin’s project
easy to implement
Postmeta matting
CRUD beneath that
also has extra function to update post meta as well
Q3 – is there a performance impact
Q4 -hard to hear but about metadata on the CRUD itself
There are meta store on CRUD but you can push that post meta
Backwards compatibility os the trip up for some of this
how do you do this in a custom table
better than adding this step to business logic and validation
just focused on what do I kneed to do to read and save data
Flexibility to connect not just to $wpdb but to anything
Q5 – eventaully you wan to clear that out,how invalidate?
Post_Meta is the concern here.
(If I am understanding we are basically creating an in memory data store as an array that leads a table that reads/writes to the DB indirectly) (Does this natively persist to the WP object cache?)

Lighting Talks!

Oh, I love a good lightning talk! And on Day 1 I got to see 2 in a row! There were more but I had some things to attend to and have not got good notes from the other ones to post.

Lighting Talk 1

Aviva Pinchas
Opportunities for your plugin

Raw notes:
3 Million sotres running Woo under the hood
A store running Woo runs 15 plugins
6 are specific to Woo
Lot of plugins, need to have regional flexibility
we solved these together!
Opening Woo marketplace to new developers
long tail of Woo makes up a lot of the userbase
need specialized local solutions, like FastPay in South Africa
Success is when people dev product for solving loclal issues
CASE STUDIES of things individual devs have made:
Fashion is the top use case
By default Woo includes variations
Product Type extensions make more money than anyother category
also most complex
vape supply store, hard to manage artisanal inventory
bundles for own customers
rolled that out to the rest of community
FB and Mailchip plugin
can think big with good partners
first new dev extension
by solving a real use case for real customer and then releasing that
Claudio Brazil specific plugins case study
1200 ideas on Woo ideas board, real problems
types of things plugins can solve
Any extension for sale on WooComerce is discoverable through the product
Not just a proeuct but Supports and Updates
Launched to let plugin devs to support their own plugins
Connecting ot customers in Woo i their inbox and product
November you can submit

Lighting Talk 2

Fostering repeat business
Cody Landefeld

Raw notes:
Clients get hyper focused on a single challenge
they don;t want to start from scratch
this is the victory you wan to focus on
“Little hinges swing big doors”
Part if their challenges were around staffing
accounting and sales
we need to know their business, not a crude thing to offer more value accross the business, crude to blindly sell on
learn to sell

Rand Fishkin
Wizard of Moz

For me, this one was the main event of the whole darn event. Not to diminish the other talks which were very amazing, but this was a chance to drink from the fire hose of knowledge of the man that defines a lot of what I know about SERP and SEO. I am likely going to be recalling and telling people about this amazing talk for a long time to come. Biggest thing I waked away with was over 21% of all search is Google Image Search. Think about that for a second. That is over one out of five times someone goes to a browser to search, they are looking for images. The other thing I got distracted with was how he thinks about Google trends. I had played with this before but I got lost later digging through trends and seeing all this data in a new light. I am not an SEO marketing person per se, as I do not make any money doing it, but this incredible wealth of knowledge at my fingertips makes me want to explore and play with data around the space!

There is no way I captured even 1/10th of what he said, go look at this slides. Just a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge. Slides: https://bit.ly/keepup2017

Raw notes:
A move to machine learning,
Old guard was not AI first, that changed
Rare to see 10 blue links, now mixed results is 90% of all reselts
PPC growth continues and levels off
Thanks to clickstream data, We know more about how searchers interact
Theory of why Google images are 21.80% of all web searches in may 2017
We google celebs a lot and like looking at pics and look for related things
mobile results
2% goto paid
40.9% click on organic
57.1% don’t click, for any
2% paid 65% organic 37 no click
Google sends traffic to the long tail
See where competitors get their traffic
create multiple content channels for multiple engines
Google images drive a LOT of eccomerce
google is owning the experience, Google does not send it unless the user clicks on it
there is a way to draw the click
text in images is one way to draw in clicks for the right kind of queries
influence search suggest
call things the things they are called, not what you are competing on
KEyword matching is not a competitive advantage
on-page SEO is not longer stisfied with keyywords either
Growth Hack
Replublishing – recreate it or a part – create much more link for brand
Published on medium

Step 1 find two similar stores in the region
Skip chains
step 2, use a combined query for those businesss
boom, link opportunities galore

Keynote for Day 2

Selling Open Source ecCommerce to clients
Beka Rice

I know I have said this before and in many different ways but one of the bedrocks of how we advance as a society is the open sharing of information and the freedoms we have to act on that information. I really loved how Beka laid out the differences between OSS and freely distributed but not open source software vs proprietary (locked down) software. Again I am astonished by the data that shows that even though OSS is more secure, flexible and bug free than any closed system, the myths persist and the client objections are real. We still have a long, long way to go to get Open Source as the de facto way to approach technology adoption by the vast majority of the public. This talk well arms the community, not just with rich data points, but also with relatable stories that any end client is going to relate to immediately.

Raw notes:
Their company has 50 plugins on WooCommerce
If you run a store, most likely running code they wrote
Why OSS ecommnerce matters?
May not be in the merchant’s shoes
True Story:
laptop stands, getting them to market
intimidating process: design, source materials and protypes, manufacturing, shipping, lots more
then you can finally look at marketing to consumers
yearly trips to china is common
want to have own store and sell on Amazon
3 years later, great reviews, on time delivery, all standards doing great
a few negative reviews and you cna lose your store
cautionary tale of not owning the whole of the mechanism
if interrupted then you can lose everything
Open Source vs Closed Source
Self hosting is assumed here
Freedoms of FOSS is important
Looking at the myths:
OSS is only for small stores – nope, HEB
there are theoretical limits of 5 orders a second – but most shops will never hit this
Free – can’t be good
Other costs arise
Are OSS harder to use?
can be
Just for bloggers
let’s focus on strengths
freedom! when you own the platform, no one can remove you from it
No data loss – stop giving away your data and not accessing it all
Developer independence
Usage freedom
Security – proprietary hides it
Carnegie Mellon found proprietary – 20-30 bugs for every 1000 lines of code
Linux have 0.17 bugs per 1000 lines of code
Flexibility is massive, can change when they need to shange them
inverts the features waned vs available things you can do,
anything possible, though maybe not easy, with FOSS
Contribution – you can fix things in the codebase
you cna connect anything to about anything else with APIs
Closed you are stuck with their decisions, no flexibility again
Community –
Resources are massive
we can all join in
Weaknesses – lets be real
Setup and Configuration are not eeasy to a non tech
optimizations must be done, not baked in out of the box
Maintenance is actually important and you need to think about this
Clear responsibility – closed has a clear throat to choke

Wrapping Up

Even though it was only a 1.2 day camp for me it was a great one. I think in part because of the sharp contrast from the previous event I came directly from and the overall super high quality of the speakers, this show stands out for me as one of the highlights of 2017! There are a lot of great things happening in the WordPress world and it is exciting to be a part of them.

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