How Codegarden 2017 led to uMarketingSuite and how that might motivate you

In 2017 the people at Perplex Digital thought it was the right time for me to attend Codegarden for the first time. “Is this even interesting for me as a non-developer being?” Oh boy...

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Back then I worked with Umbraco as a CMS for 2,5 years and although I heard very good things about the community behind it, it simply didn’t interest me. You should know that my credo is that “technique must never be in the lead”. Not limited by any Umbraco knowledge I stretched the possibilities of Umbraco’s core with every project. I solely focused on what the client was in need of which often resulted (and still does) in sitting down with the developers to figure out the ideal architectural setup. So with this in mind, I flew off to Copenhagen, took the train to Odense and attended my first Codegarden (2017). Not knowing that two events at Codegarden would change my professional life at Perplex Digital;


1. I became intrinsically motivated to bring Umbraco to the next level

As someone that developed as well as front-end and back-end in the days that those weren’t even separated from each other, I was able to follow and understand all the somewhat more technical sessions. The relaxed setting and atmosphere somewhat surprised me and was quite refreshing. Actually, I really enjoyed my stay in Odense.

Without me even knowing, Jeffrey (owner Perplex) entered the ‘verder-online.nl’ case I did for our client vFAS for an Umbraco Award. Within this project, we (still) fully personalize your browsing experience based upon the articles you read. Eventually, we were nominated but we didn’t pick up the much-desired wooden ‘U’.  Frankly, I didn’t even know that you could win an award with your own Umbraco project. Right after the Award show and during the remaining days of the event, people started asking questions about the project. Almost all chats ended with the question “will you ship this as a package?”. “No, I don’t think it is possible to come up with a generic solution for Personalization.”, became my default answer.

On the last day of CG, I also attended an ‘Open Space session’ where we discussed how combining different packages could eventually lead to some sort of marketing suite. It was a good session and initiative; some really smart people joined the discussion but eventually, it didn’t take off. I guess that activating and lining up different developers was just not possible without having one clear goal. My lack of knowledge of Umbraco and its community made me unable to contribute in any way.
I also realized that this was not my ‘natural’ playground.

Codegarden ended with ‘BETAGarden’; one could take the stage for 5 minutes and present whatever he or she would want to share with the audience. Jeffrey told me that he had a movie that showcased the basics of our Personalized content platform. Armed with this video I took the stage for 15 minutes and really enjoyed sharing our project and knowledge. After my session, I sat down in between Jeffrey and my other neighbor within the audience which complimented me on the project. “This is one of the most impressive Umbraco things I have seen for quite some time” he whispered as the next speaker entered the stage. Back at the hotel I somewhat proudly shared what my neighbor has said with Jeffrey. He started laughing and told me who Niels Hartvig is 😂

On my way back home I felt quite excited about visiting Codegarden and Odense in general.
But where did this odd feeling came from then? Something changed…

During the year I was invited to come and tell more about this Personalized Content Platform case at the Umbraco User Group Denmark 2017 and the Dutch Umbraco User Group (DUUG) 2017 summits. Again, a lot of positive feedback and the same ‘package’ question came popping up multiple times.

Driving back home from the DUUG summit it suddenly struck me; technique became in the lead when I said that it wouldn’t be possible to come up with a generic Personalization package. This changed the way I looked at Umbraco. In my head, Umbraco turned into some sort of client which had a need that had to be solved. Now Umbraco got my attention and motivation…


2. I actually experienced that magic happens whenever you leave your comfort zone

One particular chat got my full attention at Codegarden 2017. I honestly don’t remember who it was. I guess my head went into some sort of ‘stack overflow’ at that time (oh no, the guy from Marketing & Strategy is trying to make a code-related joke 🤔). We talked about the architectural structure of the platform and also how we tried to prevent the ‘Personalization Rabbit Hole’ or ‘Content Bubble’. At the end of our conversation, the person stated that it was a pity that such clients never came to them with similar requests. Questions like ‘could you develop a personalized content platform for us?’ never came from their clients. That statement made me realize; we also never received similar questions?! However, we got questions like; ‘we need a renewed website for our content, what will it cost’ or ‘can you develop an international website?’. What did we do different then?

I turned these questions into solutions where we were in need of functionalities like ‘Personalization’. Not because I already had a lot of experience with it but because I truly believed that this was what these projects were in need of. Of course, since 2015, I had read a lot about Personalization, attended events where big gurus talked about it and I started researching the topic. In fact, I also found out that a lot of people were (and still in 2020) only talking about the topic. I convinced the client that Personalization was the way to go and we started off by developing our own platform and algorithms. It was one of the best things I ever did in my professional career. Not only the client benefits from the excellent results we still realize, I and my team also have learned a lot since the moment we left our comfort zone. We applied Personalization in multiple projects since then.
That particular chat at Codegarden 2017 made me realize that we achieved a lot because we are not afraid to leave our comfort zone. But most importantly, you should not wait till the perfect pitch, client or project comes along. Try to integrate new things with small steps and iterate.

"If you are the kind of person who is waiting for the ‘right’ thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It’s like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip."
~ Robert Kiyosaki ~

From that moment on I was aware of the fact that this approach if well-balanced applied, could lead to magical projects. The results? I and my team won the Umbraco award for ‘Best Custom Solution’ in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and ‘Best Gold Partner Solution’ award in 2019 and 2020. As I write it, it feels arrogant, to sum up these awards but please be motivated by it. The awards were never our goal; it was – and still is – all about the journey and the client. You (and your team) too can do this whenever you decide to leave your comfort zone and simply start developing all the crazy, innovative and postponed functionalities that were in your head all that time. I hear you, the client didn’t pay for it and we only had X hours to design and develop. Felt it too and dealt with it. Once finished, it had cost us money. Once used within pitches it started to make the difference and so on started to revenue. The things we learned from the previous project, directly took the next project to another level. So please make yourself a promise for 2021; stop talking about what could be and start doing sh*t (and share it)!

So please make yourself a promise for 2021;
stop talking about what could be and start doing sh*t!
~ Leon de Wildt ~


Developing the generic Personalized package ‘uMarketingSuite’

Back to the Umbraco Personalization puzzle. During the following months we had several strategic sessions at Perplex where I kept popping up the “shouldn’t we make a personalization package” question. I talked with a lot of colleagues, stakeholders and eventually, it became bigger than my personal quest of trying to create the ’generic solution’. It became a quest within our company. We selected some amazing people to form the uMarketingSuite team. We started off doing some research on gathering data. While doing so, we even developed a live chat package at the end of 2018 which gave us the possibility to gather huge amounts of data on live websites (yes, one day we will come with a package for this too 😉). Analyzing the data, the structure of storing the data and ‘understanding’ the data took us some time. One year later we had the data, the structure and the knowledge we needed to start off this uMarketingSuite ‘project’.
Our second project became visualizing all this data into an Analytics section. While doing so, we became even more excited of all the possibilities which came into reach. While still having headache on the Personalization quest we decided that we could start off with the integration of an A/B testing functionality. This gave us the opportunity to start working with data and variants in combination with segments within Umbraco. The segment part within Umbraco wasn’t quite finished and, in good cooperation with Umbraco, we managed to include this into the core of Umbraco. After ‘completing’ the A/B testing part (we are never ready, but agreed upon moving forward), we focused on Personalization. Right now we are doing the thing that we, as a uMarktingSuite team, dreamed of for quite some time; integrating Personalization as a generic functionality within Umbraco. In September of this year, we released uMarketingSuite version 1.4 which includes ‘Personalization’. We did it 🙌

In September of this year we released uMarketingSuite version 1.4
which includes ‘Personalization’.

Recently we transformed uMarketingSuite into a separate company to service other digital partners and direct customers all over the world (!!) even better. We are working on version 1.7 which brings Personalization and Analytics even further, deeper, stable, faster and we are not finished. The first sketches of 360 degree profiling are there, the first mindmaps or Marketing Automation are setup and we even started concepting ‘Smart Segments’; the first AI integration within uMarketingSuite!

Three years after Codegarden 2017 we nailed it! We never stopped dreaming and we did not wait for the perfect moment. Even Covid-19 couldn’t stand in our way. And what a journey it is! We meet fantastic new people, reconnect on different levels with people we already knew and we keep on learning from all these fantastic digital / marketing agencies all over the world. Just by sharing what we love to do into a package.

Codegarden 2017 was a blast... 

Ready to get out of your comfort zone?

Do yourself a big favor and start working on that particular idea you already have. Don't wait for the perfect moment to come along; create it by simply starting off. Once you do, you will notice that others get inspired too. It won't take long until you blame yourself for not starting earlier.

Enjoy your holidays, take that well-deserved time off, reload and come back even stronger! In case you have some time, feel free to take uMarketingSuite for a spin. Simply watch this video where we walk you through the installation and the registration of a free dev license. Do you have a challenge where you think Personalization, A/B testing, or own Analytics data could be part of the solution? Drop me an email!

Leon de Wildt