Blue Flavor

Vegetable Stand by Nick Finck

What I learned from The webmaster Jam Session

September 25th, 2006 at 9:50 a.m.

Following in Keith’s footsteps here I thought it would be good for me to post about my experiences at The webmaster Jam Session this last Friday and Saturday in Dallas. I was asked to speak at the event by J Cornelius of CoffeeCup Software several months back. I had never been to Dallas and it sounded like an interesting conference so I accepted.

Interesting” doesn’t even begin to describe it. First a little context. This is the first ever webmaster Jam Session conference. Now, we all know that first impressions count a lot, well the people at CoffeeCup pretty much put ever other conference I have been to to shame, including the ones I helped organize.

The Price

Lets start with the price. Free. Yes, they put on a conference at the very fancy Adam’s Mark hotel for free to the first 1,000 attendees. As I understand it everyone who attended got in free. That’s quite a deal. One would make an assumption that due to the absent ticket price there would be a lack in well-know speakers who are talking about hot topics. You’d be wrong with that assumption.

The Speakers

So who were the speakers? Well, on the first day Eric Meyer keynoted the event and the day concluded with Jared Spool giving a updated version of his infamous talk The Scent of a web Site. Friday was packed with names such as Derek Featherstone talking about accessibility, Cameron Moll talking about the essential web skills, Bryan Veloso diving into Photoshop, and Chris Wilson talking about IE7 and beyond.

On the second day we kicked off with a roundtable discussion answering questions from attendees who filled out question cards on Friday. I spoke immediately after that on the topic of layout standards and techniques which covered the web team process and HTML deliverables (getting real for IAs, developers and designers if you will).

Ethan Marcotte and James Craig followed me up talking about designing with CSS. Then Nick Longo of CoffeeCup and John Moore hit the stage with some mind-blowing insights into marketing by word of mouth. Andy Budd did his beautiful and elegant presentation on being a web design superhero. The day wrapped up with Nick Longo, Garrett Dimon and James Craig offering advice on social networking for attendees brave enough to have their sites displayed on the big screen.

The Royal Treatment

So, we got unbeatable price, superb speakers, what more could you ask for? Well, let’s just say CoffeeCup really went far far out of their way to ensure that their speakers will treated like royalty. From the paid airfare to towncar pickup at the airport. From paid hotel to the room upgrade to the executive suite (which was nearly the size of most people’s apartments in most cities). From the fletminion and lobster dinners every night to the stretch limo ride back to the airport. And that wasn’t just for a few speakers, it was for all of them. I was impressed.

From an attendee perspective the smaller size of the conference provided unparalleled one to one access to some of the biggest names in the industry. I saw attendees who were trying to learn CSS and design talking with Eric Meyer and Andy Budd about some of their challenges. I was able to sit down with a few attendees, load up their sites with them, and provide expert advice and guidance. You just can’t get that at the larger conferences.

Lessons Learned

So what about the information I learned from this conference? Well, to be honest this conference wasn’t targeted at people like me. It was targeted at people who were just getting past the initial hurdles of learning CSS for layout, semantical markup, accessibility compliance, usability challenges and new technology learning curves.

Despite all of this I actually did walk away from the conference learning quite a few new things. For example chatting with Scott Fegette from Adobe about where they are taking their various product lines and what to expect on the horizon. Then there were the handful of slides and insight that John Moore provided in the web marketing 101 session. I went to that talk expecting to be underwhelmed. I was expecting it to be like every other marketing talk I have ever seen, I was expecting it to put me asleep or give me a opportunity to work on the slides for the next conference I will be speaking at. I was wrong.

In 15 minutes or less John amazed me at some of the trends and techniques he explored in the brief time he was on stage. He talked about viral marketing and marketers don’t decide what is viral, people do. He talked about building great products that you can have confidence in before you even attempt to market it. He talked about tearing down the facade of spin and being truthful to your customers.

Near the end of John’s part of the session he exclaimed that buzz doesn’t create advocates, it is the advocates that create buzz. From there Nick Longo took center stage and talked about how CoffeeCup used some of these lessons to create exponential growth within their business. Now, I know what you are thinking… sounds like a product pitch. Thats what I thought it was going to be like too.

Nick impressed me with his genuine interest in putting the customer first. And I don’t mean in the sense that the customer is always right, but in the sense that his business isn’t about the product, it’s about the customer. He went on to explain how CoffeeCup set out with two philosophies in mind; the people come first and true advocacy is worth more than any marketing dollars can buy. To achieve this he did two simple things.

First, he redesigned his site to be about the people. Second he identified not just people who use the products but people who genuinely advocate the products. He then empowered these people to spread the word. You see, he knew the quality of the product would sell itself, but it needed to come from the people who actually use the product. The word spread rapidly with amazing results.


I can only conclude from this conference that if there is a second one, you can bet I will be on the first flight out Dallas. J Cornelius, Nick Longo, and the rest of the staff at CoffeeCup did an outstanding job of organizing the conference and set the bar far higher for the level of quality that goes into events such as this. If you are a web professional who wants to learn from the experts, this is a must attend event at a price that is traditionally unheard of in this industry.


Nick Finck

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