Flashback to Imagine 2018 in April. As organizers for Meet Magento New York, we were invited to attend an organizers meeting. The meeting was to learn about the new Magento Association taking over the Meet Magento Association. This was the first time we heard about it and were surprised. At Imagine we learned that 4 community members would be leading it. The meeting was, well, not much. There was very little information provided. Our impression was the Magento Association was transferring ownership of Meet Magento Association.
Since Imagine there have been several more meetings. In these meetings the attendee types started to drift. First organizers from other events. Then Magento Masters. Then community celebrities. Then people from outside the Magento community.
We started hearing Magento Association was more than Meet Magento Association. Magento Association was more than events. But what was Magento Association?
The Magento Association idea started before the Adobe acquisition. The idea came from the fear of losing Meet Magento Association. The M eet Magento Association is the association created by Thomas Goletz in Germany. There's a long history of Meet Magento DE, Meet Magento, and the Meet Magento Association. I won't get into the nitty gritty of it. The important thing to know is that the Meet Magento Association was formed to produce the DE event and to spread more Meet Magento events around the world. But Meet Magento Association never owned the trademark for Meet Magento. Since then Meet Magento Association events have been spread around the globe and in this regard it's been very successful in doing so.
As a member of the Meet Magento Association we pay a yearly fee to the association. The money earned from the DE event (which is the only break even Meet Magento Association event and also earns profits) is used to fund the Meet Magento Association's yearly budget. There has been contention in the DE community for several years. The contention is around having an organizer, one who's not earning a living from Magento, organizing a Magento event. There are opposing pov's here. On one side people question the over-commercialization and revenue generation of MMDE. The organizer yearly fees, where that money goes, and what we as organizers receive back. On the other side is an organization who has full time employees devoted to the Organization and producing MMDE.
Over time, for various reasons, the founder of Meet Magento Association became more involved in China. The contention was growing stronger. The Meet Magento trademark was owned by neither Meet Magento Association nor Magento. Magento saw all this as a risk of losing the Meet Magento events - over 25 worldwide. The German laws are complicated, to say the least. It was easier to form a new association and buy the trademark than it was to take ownership of the existing Meet Magento Association. At this point, the Magento Association was very much about protecting the future of the Meet Magento events. But once you create a non-profit association, how do you manage a community with it?
Magento looked at Acquia and the Drupal Association. They learned that looking back, the Drupal Association really wished they had engaged a professional company to help them. Drupal Association spent years self-teaching themselves lessons that could have been avoided. From these conversations Magento found SmithBuckland. They engaged SmithBuckland to start the Magento Association. Hopefully, this would avoid the wasted time and costly mistakes of the Drupal Association.
Enter SmithBuckland. SmithBuckland has been leading these meetings as a discovery to help form the structure of what Magento Association should be. Up until now Magento only knows they wanted to protect losing the Meet Magento events. Through these meetings they start to realize maybe there's more than just the Meet Magento Association. Maybe they can add more events. Maybe there's potential here for more than just events. That's when more and more unusual people were invited to the meetings. Largely to explore and see what community opportunities there which evolve with every meeting.
Three critical mistakes were made here.
First, they tried to keep this quiet. The reason being they didn't exactly know what they wanted or how to do it. They didn't want the community to form pre-conceived notions about what Magento Association was. Instead, the community was left to draw their own conclusions. Most of us do not have good experiences with Magento's business practices. Nor with their involvement in our events. We were left to draw our own conclusions. Conclusions through the lens of previous negative experiences.
Second, the people invited were not described. Yes, Magento put up a form to fill out if you're interested (which I filled out and never was contacted - another employee was). Yes they reached out to Masters and Event Organizers. But many others appeared and it very much looks like you had to be a friend of certain people to get invited. From a Community POV this is bad optics. A lot of the drift was simply miscommunication between the people inviting attendees and people attending not following the rules. Say what the guidelines are for the people you invited and stick to those guidelines. Enforce your attendance policies at meetings. It's important for the appearance to not show cronyism in order to build confidence and trust in the process.
Third was communication, or lack of. This goes back to keeping things quiet. They should have come out and said clearly what the business goals were driving the decision to create the Magento Association. Just say it. Make sure you announce the form to request your involvement by more than just a tweet. The communication strategy with community needs a major upgrade. As it stands now you pretty much need to hang out on twitter all day to know what's going on (please don't kill me Sherrie - I love you).
SmithBuckland isn't going to be here forever. But before they go they need to figure out who's going to pay for this thing. That's right, it's not Magento, it's us. Surprise! At least it was for me. For some reason I thought with all the unicorns being thrown around that events would be supported and possibly even help funded.
Why would I think that?
Last year at MMNY we didn't receive anything from Magento, not even some stickers. But they wanted free tickets. They wanted private meeting rooms. In fact, we weren't even allowed to say we were an official Magento event. I was personally reprimanded for saying this. I was given a long legal clause to say that sounded like it was the end of a pharmaceutical commercial. It basically said we're not an official event, Magento and Meet Magento Association have a cooperation agreement, and Magento supports the Meet Magento Association. But never, ever, say you're an official event.
Talking with fellow organizers there are many issues with Magento and the Meet Magento events. From stalling on dates, to trying to insert speakers into keynotes only 2 weeks in advance. It's really been unpleasant working with them on the events. In fact, Magento has been downright been obstructing us in some instances.
Here we are with the Magento Association and a decision to make. The Meet Magento Association was collecting dues for basically just the right to use a license to "Meet Magento" (which they never owned). Why would we be interested in participating in Magento Association at all? Events like Titans and Unconference and others have been fine on their own. We've been all been fine on our own, arguably better off without Magento / Meet Magento Association. Why would we want to be involved in this new Magento Association, especially if we're going to be the ones likely to fund it by now sending yearly dues to Magento Association...
Because it's a chance for a fresh start. It's a chance to do this Meet Magento Association thing over. Magento's control should at least in theory be limited due to the 503c status. This limits their controlling interests on the board to a single seat voting/non-voting. The actual structure remains in discussion. What I would like to see is X board seats. The community makes nominations. Nominees accept/decline. Then the community votes on the nominees for the final board seats. It would also be a good idea to decide the distribution of board seats and types to the types of stakeholders. For example in the community - developers, small business merchants, technology partners, etc.
What is Magento Association then. It was the saving of Meet Magento Association. From there it's not sure what it wants to be. In SmithBuckland's own words: "It was also challenging to prioritize stakeholders as it is unclear what is the #1 problem the Association needs to solve or opportunity to capture".
When you hear Magento say "you tell us" they are really serious. They do want to figure it out. They need to figure it out. As an Organizer I'm not sure what they can do for us. We're already established. We already know 90% of what we need to know. If anything, a central calendar of event dates organizers could collab on, to ensure a good distribution of events, would be nice. Some say a simple spreadsheet could suffice. But there does need to be an arbiter and some process to ensure fair play and dispute resolution. Does that need an association? Is it worth paying thousands of dollars per year? Is it worth the hassle of dealing with Magento?
No, we're going to need a heck of a lot more than that if we're going to participate only as a Meet Magento organizer, on our own free will.
But hey, at least right now we have the chance to say what that something more should be. Should it provide efforts focused on building Merchant / Small Business owner communities? Should it provide efforts on security research and protection?
We're on board with all these ideas. We love the community and have always supported community efforts, even at our own expense, and my personal expense. And will continue to do so.
You the community member needs to tell Magento. What is the problem you see that needs solved? What opportunities do you see to be captured? How do you think it should be funded?