This was an event of firsts for me. First WooConf. First trip to Austin. First trip to the States!

I have to say that the whole experience was awesome. Austin is an amazing city – great quality of life, super friendly people and loads going on. The fact the event was held at the W Hotel was the icing on top – great hotel and an awesome base to go and see the city. I’m glad I took a couple of days before the event started to explore and experience the city outside of the event bubble.

Anyway, onto the event itself. As the venue geared up, it became clear that this was an altogether different event from a WordCamp. Although there were many familiar faces and brands, the vibe was different and the event felt much more focused, professional, moneyed and serious. Everything was just more glossy (and that’s not putting WordCamps down in any way!).

The ticket price alone ($600) is a step-change from the $50-or-so WordCamp ticket price. The people I met were mainly agency-based developers/WordPress professionals, store owners or people from Woo/Automattic (there were a lot of these!).

It was a hugely inspiring week. A number of talks and conversations opened my eyes in terms of seeing how much is to play for, how much money to be made and how young the platform is. 37% of all eCommerce sites are running WooCommerce now, but only ~20% of small businesses are selling online. To an outsider, it might feel like the Woo ecosystem is now too well-established to see major new players and plays. From what I’ve seen this week, that’s totally wrong. I believe that far more opportunity for all lies ahead than has passed by already.

Another strong lesson was how much the Woo acquisition has changed Automattic: how core Woo now is for the business. And it seems that Automattic did a great job of integrating the two teams – everyone I spoke to seems happy and excited. That’s no mean feat for such a big acquisition.

So, on to some business takeaways.

What did WooConf make me realise?

First, it’s the need for a combined, consolidated approach to the large corporate and enterprise market – rather than individual plays by agencies, software- and service-providers. WordPress and WooCommerce rely on the community, partnerships and collaboration – and that should be reflected in the marketing and sales process too. At Pragmatic we’ve always invested in partnerships – WooConf validated the importance of that approach and we hope to announce some new partnerships soon.

The centrality of the REST API. When the developer panel I was on was asked what most excited them about the future of WooCommerce, we all mentioned the REST API. Why? Because the REST API lets WooCommerce integrate with any other tech platform. This means WooCommerce can play to its strengths (such as agility, flexibility, pace of development, cost-effectiveness) without needing to conquer huge integration hurdles: if a system has an API, WooCommerce can integrate with it. The REST API makes WooCommerce a universal eCommerce toolkit.

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Inside the WP Engine offices in Austin, Texas.

And I can’t mention the section about business takeaways without a mention to our partners at both WP Engine and Woo. The Woo team took super care of me on the run up to the event, giving me great feedback on my talk and generally making sure I was happy at all times. The WP Engine team welcomed me in a unique way to their offices (with a high-five line – no, you’re not seeing the video!) And what offices. If anyone has any doubt of the strength of the WordPress economy; go to Austin. Alongside the signs of banks and global brands adorning Austin’s gleaming high-rises, you’ll see WP Engine’s. They’re now 370 people strong and you’d have to see their offices to believe it. High fives to the WP Engine team for taking me out, introducing me to some great folks, support at the event and for generally making sure I felt valued as a partner.

Finally, I realised that we – Pragmatic – need to focus more on eCommerce. Not only because it’s a great way to scale, but because we need to invest in that day-to-day living with eCommerce so that we can share our own learnings with our clients.

On to some specific tech takeaways.

For me, surprisingly, the biggest impact was realising how all-powerful and yet under-used Facebook is when it comes to WordPress sites. I think there are a ton of reasons why that’s the case but the insight is that there’s plenty of room for growth in engaging with Facebook. It’s definitely something I’m going to invest in for our own business so that we can do some deeper learning.

I learned from the talks about a couple of exciting developments coming up with Multilingual Press, and WooCommerce Subscriptions that will be good news for some of our clients.

I also learned a couple of ways we can further improve our hosting service, and that’s something we’ll be looking into further over the coming weeks.

I hope that’s a useful write-up of my take on WooConf. I loved the whole experience and am eternally grateful to the WooCommerce team for accepting my talk.

If you’re serious about eCommerce – whether you’re a developer or a store owner – whether a WooCommerce user or not – you should be at WooConf 2017. I hope to see you there.