The Wonders of Webflow

Reflections from Webflow Conf 2022

By
Geoff Roberts
·
13 min read

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After spending most of the last three years building Outseta in the solitude of my garage, I shot up to San Francisco last week to attend my first ever Webflow Conf. In many ways it felt like a return to a "normal" that I once knew so well; in others the experience felt downright foreign. It's hard to overstate how much work has changed for so many of us in recent years.

Webflow Conf was a resounding success (and a lot of fun) in every way. It was certainly one of the most worthwhile conferences I've been to and personally it was cause for quite a bit of reflection. Outseta will be a staple at this event for years to come—what follows is a smattering of my thoughts having spent a week immersed in all things Webflow.

The wonders of Webflow

I want to start by getting the flowerly language out of they way. I know there will be no shortage of retrospectives written on the event hyping how great Webflow is, how awesome the product announcements were, and how much fun we all had—all true. But for me, I left feeling both inspired and grateful because of what I saw when I looked closely at Webflow the company.

I am often critical of the tech industry, for a wide variety of reasons. The tech industry shovels a lot of bullshit and has a lot of bad actors—if you opened Twitter this past week you definitely got a sense of that. But unequivocally:

Webflow is a company worthy of your admiration.

And I don't say that lightly—there are only handful of companies I'd so readily give that level of praise. Buildium was one early in my career. Wistia is another. But man-oh-man it's so refreshing to watch Webflow. Getting discovered by the Webflow community back in early 2020 was really what drove the first major upshift in Outseta's growth rate. When I look at Webflow today I feel like a little boy looking up at his big brother with pride.

Webflow is thinking big—and going for it

What makes my feelings towards Webflow all the more telling is they are doing things very differently than we are at Outseta. I spend a lot of of time espousing the benefits of bootstrapping, of staying small and independent, of building companies in a more organic and sustainable way. Webflow is doing the opposite—they are building a heavily venture backed moonshot of a business. They are thinking big, executing big, and going for it across every dimension. It's fun to see.

But Webflow is rare in that they're doing so while building a massively human business. You see it in their team. You see it in how they treat their community. And while they are very aggressively pursuing growth, they've carved out room to care about and answer to more than just growth alone. They are a proof point that you can follow the VC path and still build a high growth company with a high level of care for people.

Webflow has the team, the capital, the product, the community, and an almost unlimited market opportunity in front of them—it's going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

They've hired really well

My very first interaction with anyone at Webflow was when I reached out to their support team asking if Outseta could be listed on their integrations page. I remember the response coming quickly from a fellow that was ridiculously nice and helpful (thanks Micah). Then this past week I was wandering through Webflow's office when their CEO, Vlad, waved me over and thanked me for being there.

From top to bottom, the people I've met at Webflow are super smart and extremely kind. It's no wonder they've been successful and it makes me want to root them on all that much more. Then you look at all the talent they've gobbled up in even the last 12 months—someone on their talent acquisition team needs a raise.

I don't trust this McGuire guy

Webflow's educational content is now commonly lauded as being amongst the best in tech—I completely agree. They've managed to make often dense material informative, accessible, and downright fun. If you've watched any of their content, you'll recognize this guy—unbeknownst to me until the conference as McGuire Brannon.

McGuire is Webflow's VP of Education and there's no other way to put it—the guy is hilarious. I always assumed Webflow videos required countless takes and were heavily edited... they may very well be. But I watched McGuire present for nearly 30 minutes, live, while giving product demos in front of a live audience of 500 people and thousands more online. The same delivery, the same tone, the same comedic timing, the same flawless mouse scrolling—he did it live! It looked and felt exactly the same and was every bit as funny.

It was so flawless that I found it to be deeply disturbing. He seems like a super nice guy, but I'm still oscillating between whether I should be impressed or terrified. As of now I'm picking the latter—can't trust this guy!

Webflow has built the best community I've come across in my career

All kidding aside, it's no secret that Webflow has built a killer product—that's a prerequisite. But without question, Webflow has concurrently built the most genuine community that I've come across throughout my career in tech. They say a rising tide lifts all boats and that certainly applies here. But people in this community go out of their way to help one another like I've never seen—even Webflow agencies and freelancers that compete with one another for business. It's really cool to see and to be a small part of—and it's absolutely one of Webflow's biggest assets.

Thinking on Outseta

Webflow aside, the event caused me to reflect on many aspects of what we're building at Outseta. I met somewhere between 30-40 Outseta customers in person—about half of whom I knew would be there. The best decision I made was wearing an Outseta T-shirt that I rush ordered a few days before the event—it led to many people stopping me and saying "I use Outseta!" who I wouldn't have otherwise known were customers.

There were two common threads of feedback that I heard from customers first hand—one of which came as a surprise.

People are inspired by how we're building Outseta

Of the two bits of feedback I heard over and over the one that I wasn't terribly surprised by was that people are inspired by how we're building Outseta—everything from our compensation structure to how we operate the business. Admittedly we hear this a lot, but I still love to hear it every time. Ultimately this is what gets me most fired up about our business, so it's great to hear that it resonates with so many other people too.

The quality of our engineering team was consistently lauded

The feedback I heard most often at the event was that Outseta's code base is "rock solid," our APIs are great, our documentation is strong, and our technical support is amazing. In short, people couldn't stop saying nice things about our engineering team (kudos to Dimitris, Dave, and Bernard).

This came as a surprise to me—not because I don't recognize this as being true, but because my perception was that I was at a heavily design oriented event. I didn't think these aspects of what we've built would resonate so much with Webflow's audience.

I think the truth of the matter is the most successful no-coders—and certainly the more successful Webflow agencies—are still staffed with deeply technical people who clearly pick up on this stuff. From "I wish more products in the Webflow ecosystem were built this well" to "It's clear your team has built SaaS companies before" to "I looked at your data architecture and found myself wondering why I didn't build things that way" I really wish our engineering team had been on hand to hear these comments first hand.

Meeting customers in person is massively motivating

I think that the value I got out of Webflow Conf more than anything was the motivation that I felt as a result of meeting so many customers in person. As a start-up founder it's always awesome to see someone derive value from "your thing" and I obviously know that Outseta is growing. But it hits so much different when someone comes up to you out of the blue and says "I use and love your product!"

I was able to meet customers like Corey Moen, Andrew Bass, Kevin Watkins, Eric Unger, Niklas Bubori, Hugh Laverty and many others that I'm forgetting here. These are names that come across my computer screen daily and people I've spent countless hours interacting with. But no matter how much care you put into your customer interactions, there's just something about meeting the person on the other end of your emails in person. It's humanizing in all the best ways—you realize that they're just out there with their own hopes, thoughts, and desires using your product to try to better their own lives.

In a world where people are increasingly hiding behind their digital profiles and personas, it's helpful to remember that.

Webflow got me thinking about announcing features pre-launch

My day-to-day job over the last two years has morphed pretty heavily into product management. I don't have any formal training in product management per se and I certainly don't think of myself as a product manager, so I'm very much learning as I go.

As I watched the Webflow team announce all of the new features during the keynote presentation, one thing I noted was that they announced a mix of features that went live in the product that same day as well as many others that won't be released for months to come. This certainly got my product management wheels turning... On one hand, I see the benefits of doing this to build excitement, momentum, and to share with your customers the direction that the product is heading. On the other hand, this inevitably puts the company in a position where customers are constantly asking "Is it ready yet?"

If you've spent any time building software you know that even in the most high performing teams there are always delays in releasing some features that then result in a lot of customer frustration—we've seen this at Outseta and we've seen this at Webflow.

I don't necessarily know what the "right" approach is here, but it's something I'm turning over in my mind coming out of this event. Just as we've elected not to have a public roadmap, I think my natural instincts tell me that we should only announce features as they are released. I like the idea of feature announcements always pleasantly surprising customers rather than being long drawn out ordeals. And I think particularly in the context of a smaller bootstrapped team this makes sense—our engineers oftentimes get pulled into making necessary infrastructure upgrades that take them away from new feature development. Without dedicated teams to handle this stuff, I'm leaning towards "announce it only when its ready."

Up next—get listed in the Webflow apps marketplace

Coming out of the event the number one item on my to-do list is to get Outseta listed in Webflow's new app marketplace. In short, this lays the infrastructure for Webflow to build out an ecosystem of complimentary products that enhance or extend Webflow's native capabilities.

If I'm honest, I was a little bummed to hear that the marketplace launched without Outseta in the initial cohort of apps when several other products that are complimentary to both Webflow and Outseta were. But I'm undeterred—if Webflow will have us, we'll do whatever it takes to get listed for the benefit of our mutual customers.

Faces with names

Probably the most fun aspect of the conference was simply putting faces with names. Before the event, I definitely found myself wondering how many people from the Webflow community I'd actually recognize in person—most of these being people that I interact with on Twitter. The conference literally felt like an in-person meetup of my Twitter feed.

Almost as soon as I received my badge and entered the venue, I felt like I immediately recognized... everybody.

Look, there's Connor Finlayson. I've watched a bunch of his YouTube videos.

There's Melissa Mendez. She interviewed me within her Flow Party community.

There's Max Joles. I referred some work to him.

Oh look it's Prakash from Xano. We built an integration together.

The next thing I know I'm sitting on a couch in Webflow's office and Marcelo Russo, Richard Reynolds, and Esteban Muniz start chatting me up. Little did I know, they are the team behind Fri3nds Agency—the agency that manages both Webflow and Outseta for one of our more well known customers, The Futur.

Marcelo, Esteban, and Richard

Finally, I go out to dinner with those guys and spend it largely chatting with the entire team from Relume.

New friends from Relume, State of Flow, Flow Party, and more

The whole event went this way—putting faces with the names was worth the price of admission alone. And a final to-do that's taken way too long—we published a list of recommended Webflow freelancers and agencies that can help with Webflow and Outseta projects.

Through it all, it felt like the only person missing was the King of the No-Coders himself—Glenn McWhinney. Glenn, the peer pressure is on—we want to see you at next years' event!

San Francisco

Finally, I'd feel remiss not to mention San Francisco. I'm on team San Francisco—it's a city I've always loved. I got engaged there. I've had some important moments in my career there. And I've always loved the culture and quirks of the city.

While San Francisco has plenty of super fancy and mega expensive hotels, I've always reveled in finding its 3-star middle-of-the-road gems. Old hotels like the Beresford Arms or the Chancellor Hotel (where I stayed this time) whose lobbies smell musty but whose twenty foot ceilings and ornate decor simply can't be replicated by more modern hotels. Or the hole-in-the-wall breakfast spots where you can eat a $20 omelette in a nook or cranny all your own.

It had been about 4 years since I'd last been to San Francisco—and as much as I hate to say it, I noticed the difference. I spent much of the evenings walking the city, and the popularized comment that San Francisco has turned into Gotham City was certainly more true than I expected it to be. Even while steering clear of the Tenderloin and the other neighborhoods of the city that have been plagued with problems and crime I saw more people blatantly smoking crack, more people openly putting needles in their arms on the sidewalk with no attempt to hide it than I've ever seen in any city anywhere in the world.

San Francisco is a place where many of America's absolute wealthiest walk the streets, weaving their way through a maze of some of America's most poor and desperate and helpless people. And as I walked I couldn't help but reflect on what I see in my Twitter feed almost every day—some of the wealthiest people in tech bemoaning San Francisco's problems in one tweet, followed by their best advice on dodging taxes in the next.

It's just kind of... ugly. I don't pretend to know the answers to San Francisco's problems, but there's no argument that the talent and resources to tackle them are there if only people cared enough. I'm rooting for SF.

Business is personal

Finally, I want to end on a note that to me is both personal and positive. I left Webflow Conf feeling both positive about inspired—about Webflow's future, about Outseta's future, and about what I saw from all of people that I met.

There was no sense of competition, only a sense of camaraderie stemming from a group of people who have all stepped out on limb with the shared goal of building a better future for themselves—and of helping everyone else in the community do the same as well. Those email addresses that pop up in my support inbox every day were suddenly waking and talking individuals, sharing their own challenges and aspirations with me.

Webflow Conf for me was a reminder that business at the highest level is deeply personal.

And if there's something that I love and respect about Webflow coming out of all of this, it's that they don't hide from the idea that business is personal—they embrace it.

Thanks for having me. See ya in 2023.

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