Interview: Amasty's Ksenia Dobreva, Conference Organizer of Meet Magento Belarus


2015 was a great year for Magento and for Meet Magento conferences alike. From the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Russia to Germany, Romania, Belarus and many more, thousands of developers, business owners and managers, marketers and Magento enthusiasts have attended Meet Magento conferences worldwide in an effort to consolidate a truly amazing community of e-commerce specialists driven by self-improvement through knowledge-sharing.

I had the pleasure of picking the brain of a truly passionate team of Magento developers, who not only work with Magento but strive to be a driving force behind building a strong community of specialists through Magento conferences.

Q: Tell us a few words about you and the Amasty team.

A: Hey there! My name is Ksenia, I’m a part of a wonderful Amasty marketing team. Apart from running Amasty blog and helping my colleagues with various activities, I was also involved in organizing two Meet Magento conferences in Belarus.

Amasty is a team brought together to develop and support Magento extensions, having more than 120 products available for Magento merchants. Our mission is not only to deliver excellent products and services (we pay great attention to the code quality and carefully collect feedback to release features customers really need), we’re also into the Magento community.

Amasty team has organized two Meet Magento conferences so far and got the exclusive right to host this event in Belarus. We also visit other Meet Magento conferences a lot, and our specialists and founders often speak at fellow events.

Q: Why have you decided to focus on Magento?

A: In the early days of Amasty, our founders were involved into a Magento project and saw great potential in this platform. They decided to create several products to satisfy requirements users had at that time. In general, Magento functionality was widely discussed on the official forum, the market was expanding, the merchants were in need of various, more complex features, and the team soon got into the process.

Q: Organizing a conference isn’t the simplest of things so why did you decide to do it?

A: There were many reasons to do it.

First of all, we truly believe in the Magento community. It’s the driving force for the platform, and it’s essential to give something back in order to receive what you want. We wanted to unite Belarusian Magento developers and e-commerce specialists, and make sure that the local development market is close to what’s happening in the world.

What’s more, it’s important to be a trustworthy partner and service/product provider. Meet Magento Belarus is a unique way to show everybody we’re damn serious about business.

And, of course, hosting a Magento event really helps [with] establishing strong connections with the community members, partners, learning from them and sharing knowledge as well. Eventually, it helps us to deliver better results for our clients.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered organizing Magento conferences?

A: Organization itself. Looking for speakers and partners, inviting attendees, organizing every single detail from catering to after party, from email newsletters to prizes and giveaways. Lots of stuff. And bringing 130+ people in one place and making everything smooth is hard, when you still need to run the company, to make sure you’re delivering the same level of products and services. Taking resources away from our regular activities wasn’t an option.

I know that it’s common for bigger event hosts to hire specialists or even agencies for these matters, but smaller local and very specific conferences just can’t be outsourced. So you have to learn to do new things on the go and make sure the conference is a success.

Q: If you could go back and talk give yourself a piece of advice before organizing your first Magento conference what would you say?

A: I would sum this up for the whole team: you’re doing the right thing, just keep going and do your best as always.

Q: What’s the most exciting Magento session you’ve attended so far?

A: It’s a tricky question for me and for my colleagues as well. When you’re attending a technical Magento session, it’s relatively hard to speak about excitement – you can literally hear brains WORKING.

I really like what Guido Jansen does with his Online Persuasion presentations, they’re very engaging and funny, full of insights useful not only for marketers. We were happy that he came to speak for us this year. Look at these happy faces at his session!

Magento Session

In the end, as Magento Evangelist Ben Marks said, the most exciting thing is the so-called hallway track – when people communicate between the sessions, sitting, eating, drinking together and sharing things you’ll never hear from stage.

Q: What are some topics you feel were not touched on enough in conferences this year?

A: I feel like we need more real case studies from big or famous shops/projects.

It’s complicated, because some developers are careful about publicly sharing the projects they’re working on, some merchants don’t want to share information about their unique solutions as well.

People were very intrigued by the presentation we’ve got this year from EPAM (the biggest IT company here in Belarus) – nobody knew they completed some tasks for Magento 2 import/export features, and the speech was just brilliant, featuring some problem solving and performance challenges accepted.

I guess we can always find a way to maneuver between sharing knowledge publicly and respecting NDAs and business secrets.

Q: What advice would you give someone thinking about organizing a Magento conference?

A: You should be very confident about the reasons. Because it’ll be hard – and these reasons will serve as motivation during the challenge.

So once you have the idea – go for it. This is hard work, which pays off with lots of opportunities. Make sure you have enough resources for organization.

If you really want to contribute to the community, but you’re not exactly sure if you’ve got all it takes, there are other wonderful ways of doing it. The nearest one I could suggest is to support and participate in the next MageStackDay.

Q: How was your experience as an organizer different than that of a participant in the context of attending Magento sessions? (Any behind the scenes tidbits you can offer?)

A: I would say we had a chance to see the bigger picture after we organized our first conference.

When you’re just a visitor, you’re interested in things that are going on right now – you carefully listen to the speech, perhaps, take notes, talk to people, drink coffee, you think over what you’ve learned today.

When you’re early in the morning at the reception desk, giving out press bags, seeing how people slowly crowd the hall, tick the sessions they want to attend, greet old and new friends… I don’t want to seem too sentimental here, but that’s the moment when you start to see THE community.

Q: How are the conferences you organize different from the others in Eastern Europe?

A: I think we have a very diverse audience. We had guests from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and other countries. And it was very exciting to see that people came to visit us in teams of 5-6, arriving from different countries – a true inspiration, I might say. I mean, I would think twice before taking a night train, spending money on tickets, food and accommodation, taking into account that we all have our jobs and families – and people did that because they wanted to visit our event. It’s an honor.

Q: Does social media play an important role in your conference organization efforts and if so, in what way?

A: I don’t know how we could have managed without LinkedIn! Honestly, we’ve done tons of work searching for potential speakers and attendees there, finding partners, too. Also, we exchanged social media publications with our partners to get more reach for the conference and to introduce companies supporting Magento to our audience.

What’s more, Magento has a strong community on Twitter, so a lot of communication went there, and we also used and Facebook a lot, as they’re widely used by the Russian-speaking audience.

Q: What advice would you offer other organizers trying to get their audience and speakers more involved in social media during the event?

A: Do something fascinating! And people will share it on social without hesitation.

Also, encourage and ask people to share their fav moments, quotes and pics from the event, give out prizes for best publications. A fancy press wall is a must!

It’s a great idea for bigger events to use dashboards that collect social media posts about the conference for your convenience, and connection/outreach tools where you can see the other attendees and connect with them.

Make sure you establish your hashtag well before the event so people remember and get used to it. And don’t forget to hire a photographer and share the official pictures so people could reshare them as well.

But remember one thing: social buzz is important, but not the main thing here. Surely you want your attendees to listen to the speeches and socialize instead of poking into smartphones all the time!

Q: Imagine the perfect Meet Magento speaker line-up. Name a few people you’d love to have attend a conference you organize.

A: Well, I guess, it’s impossible to build a perfect agenda. Of course, one might think that events like Meet Magento NY and Germany with famous speakers are better than small local events know, the stars are shining.

The truth is, each event is unique and great in its own way. It’s hard to name anybody, because I know that a shy unknown developer can take the stage and blow it away by talking about an amazing solution he created. And I know that famous Magento community members are great because they have the experience that most of us don’t.

Speaking about Belarus, I would be really glad to see some local managers from companies connected with e-commerce, such as payment gateways, plus it could be wonderful to see some government representatives supporting e-commerce by taking the stage.

Q: How do you anticipate and tackle potential language barrier issues?

A: It’s a very important question, as most of Meet Magento events are bilingual.

It’s essential to balance the agenda: we had several speeches in English, and our Russian-speaking visitors are normally okay with it – they mostly use English for work, so we didn’t use translation services. I know that some of our international colleagues use translation services, but that’s a matter of knowing your audience – if you think you need it, you should do it.

But we wanted to make sure that we have enough Russian speeches as well, so that our attendees didn’t feel too tired – still, English is a second language for most of them, and it can be a challenge to manage with an eight hour conference full of various accents.

What’s more, if you invite English speaking partners or spokespeople, they shouldn’t feel detached because of the language barrier when it turns out 80% of the stuff is in the language they don’t understand. Think of how you can trigger interpersonal connections so nobody feels bored regardless of the language used.

The release of Magento 2 promises to make 2016 even more exciting, providing e-commerce development with a brand new set of powerful tools to deliver Magento innovation and a new round of worldwide Meet Magento conferences. This will allow developers to challenge, share and further improve their skills. Big thanks to Ksenia and the Amasty team for sharing their experience, passion and lessons learned!

Cristina Roman is a content writer and AdWords Certified online marketing specialist focusing on the e-commerce industry. Read her thoughts on the digital experience on Shoestrings & Fancy Things.

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