A tiny year of business travel, 2019 in review

Revisiting pre-COVID business travel as we look ahead to the global economy reopening. Will it ever be as much fun again?

A tiny year of business travel, 2019 in review

Business travel ground to a halt in 2020, costing airlines, hotels, and conference organizers billions of dollars. Let's not forget the hundreds of thousands of people working in the hospitality industry who lost their livelihood. It was a tough year.

If you love travel you know the joy of discovering new places, engaging with different cultures, and experiencing new tastes and smells. Combining this with business can be an incredibly rewarding experience.

With events canceled and in-person meetings moving online, 2020 was a difficult year for those of us working outside sales and field marketing. With vaccination programs well underway in 2021, the good news is that events and in-person business meetings are starting to return.

Live events are already taking place, and predictions that people will be reluctant to return to close contact meetings and events are (imho) misplaced. If you worked from home in 2020, just wait to see how it feels to be in an office with colleagues again. The sense of human connection, professional collaboration, and joint mission is hard to explain.

Reminiscing about business travel and looking to the year ahead, the twelve months of 2019 were the most rewarding of my career. I flew 115,000 miles for business, many thousands more for leisure, meet hundreds of customers, and made new friends in dozens of cities on three continents. We can easily add another 10,000 miles spent in trains and automobiles.

If you are looking forward to the return of trade shows, business networking, and events, I hope my 2019 travel year in review rekindles excitement about traveling to meet new people, forge new alliances, and close new deals.

Tiny Travel – Brisbane, Australia

Month: April | Route: SJC-LAX-BNE-LAX-SJC | Miles: 14,938 (x2) = 29,876

2019 kicked off with two (2!) trips to my homeland in April. One was for my then employer's annual product development week, and the other to onboard a new marketing hire.

Let's start with some history. From 2015 to 2019 I had the privilege of marketing the world's most popular open source rich text editor, TinyMCE. I first used TinyMCE in 2006 in the Joomla! CMS, and have used it ever since.

That TinyMCE can turn a plain vanilla HTML textarea into a fully functioning "word processor in a browser" looked like magic back then and still does today. I have the deepest respect for the founding developers of the TinyMCE project, Johan "Spocke" Sorlin and Joakim Lindkvist. Very fine humans.

In this post I will share some of the experiences I had marketing the TinyMCE editor in 2019. Let's start with trips to TinyMCE's development hub in Brisbane, Australia.

Presentation with logowall of TinyMCE clients including Adobe, Dell, IBM, UBS, and Visa.
Logowall of TinyMCE clients, presentation at the IBM Think Conference 2019.

Product Week

Product Week was an annual event held by Tiny Technologies (the company sponsoring TinyMCE) in Brisbane, Australia. It helped bring teams on three continents together to build innovative ideas on the TinyMCE core editor. We all met colleagues we would otherwise never meet in-person.

Beyond the business, a visit to Australia is not complete without discussing the food. Australia has a long history of vocational learning, and by the time a chef is cooking your breakfast they've likely been to trade school, apprenticed in at least one kitchen, and will have accumulated nearly a decade's experience. No line cooks Down Under.

Which is why you can get breakfast for $15 that belongs in an American fine dining restaurant, for twice that cost. When in Brisbane, the trip is not complete without visiting The Gunshop Cafe in West End. Still on the menu today (April 2021) is an amazing pork, apple & sage sausage, bubble & squeak rosti, sauerkraut, honey mustard dressing, and a poached egg. It's much better than my lousy photography suggests.

Breakfast at The Gunshop Cafe. Pork, apple & sage sausage, bubble & squeak rosti, sauerkraut, honey mustard dressing, and a poached egg.
Breakfast at The Gunshop Cafe, Brisbane Australia. Pork, apple & sage sausage, bubble & squeak rosti, sauerkraut, honey mustard dressing, and a poached egg.

New Hire Onboarding

After returning from Product Week in early April, two weeks later I was again on a plane back to Australia to onboard a key marketing hire. She went on to lead the marketing team, which is a good sign that we got the hire right.

No more food pictures on this trip, the sausage should be enough ... Next stop, Belguim for moules frites.

HCL Engage – Brussels, Belgium

Month: May | Route: SJC-ATL-BRU-ATL-SJC | Miles: 13,084

HCL Engage User Group conference, final keynote, HCL team and partners on stage.
HCL Engage User Group 2019 conference, final keynote, HCL team and partners on stage.

On my return to the Bay Area from Australia, I immediately jumped a flight to Seattle, Washington to connect with a friend attending a trade show. An Australia-based CEO of a globally recognized reliability engineering firm, it's difficult to get his time and making that trip was an easy decision.

Within the week of landing back in America after the Aussie onboarding trip, I was on a plane to Belgium, Netherlands to speak at a conference. We were sponsoring a user group event supporting one of the IBM collaboration solutions bought by HCL Technologies the prior year.

Integral to my marketing philosophy is community engagement. Either in the communities that form around companies and their products, or literally in the community of the customers we serve. This is much more than a marketing tactic, it's a belief that companies must first be of service.

The event, Engage, is one of the best user group conferences I have ever attended. Known for holding conferences in interesting venues, I would easily participate again even without having any business to conduct. The community around HCL solutions like Notes/Domino, Connections, DX is strong, vibrant, and very committed.

Engage 2019 took place at Autoworld, a car museum, and as a Formula 1 fan I had the time of my life. The venue was great, my presentation was well received, and we strengthened our relationship with HCL's leadership.

A colleague, Fredrik Danielsson, who I met in-person for the first time on this trip, and I stayed in the European quarter of Brussles. The area is very walkable, green spaces are plentiful, architecture inspiring, and the food is excellent. In fact, the best toastie I've ever eaten can be found at OR Café (Place Jourdan 13a, 1040 Etterbeek).

I would have the good fortune of closing the year marketing TinyMCE with Fredrik in Paris, France. But before we get that story, let's talk cars.

Ferrari Testarossa on display Autoworld, Belgium.
Ferrari Testarossa on display Autoworld, Belgium.

It would have been remiss of me to not take a photo of this 1984-1996 Ferrari Testarossa. A 12 cylinder, 384 breakhorsepower, rear wheel drive, the vehicle reached at top speed of 290 km/hr (180 miles/hr).

For  F1 fans out there, Autoworld even had on display a Renault R28. Built for the 2008 season, it was driven by Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet Jr. Weighing in at only 605kg (1,333 lbs), it's engine delivered a staggering 700 brakehorsepower.

Renault Formula 1 R28 on display Autoworld, Belgium.
Renault Formula 1 R28 on display Autoworld, Belgium.

One month later I would be back in Europe, for all the wrong reasons.

Dresden

Month: June | Route: SJC-DTW-AMS-DRS-AMS-DTW-SJC* | Miles: 12,720

The hotel front desk agent proudly told me that the internet speed was fast. The property was newly constructed and not located near any landmarks or restaurants of note, which was fine by me. I like walking cities as a first time visitor, it helps me get a feel for the place, the culture, how people interact. A hotel a little out of the way is not only less expensive, I also get to explore the city. I was in Dresden, Germany for a meeting, and a fast, stable internet connection was exactly what I needed.

Traveling from San Jose, California, to Dresden isn't an ideal experience. Layovers in Atlanta and Amsterdam are made more bearable by excellent Delta and KLM lounges, with the latter offering a very welcome shower and good coffee on arrival at Schiphol. Arriving at the Hotel Indigo Dresden Wettiner Platz, the journey door-to-door is about 24 hours. (Should have flown out of SFO ...)

My second trip to Europe for the year, the purpose of the visit was business with a German software company. The VP Sales wanted another body in the meeting, smart move. Best to avoid taking significant deal meetings solo.

If you work in the information technology industry you can likely guess which firm we were meeting. You might also be wondering why the meeting was in eastern Germany, in a region still showing the scars of the cold war. I checked multiple times with the VP that we were in fact meeting in Dresden. Yes, confirmed.

Except the meeting was in a town near Frankfurt.

* So, the actual route was: SJC-DTW-AMS-DRS-FRA-AMS-LAX-SJC.

Frequent travelers to Europe might know that San Francisco (SFO) to Frankfurt (FRA) is an 11 hour flight. No layovers. Direct. On my eventual arrival in Frankfurt, the travel time was approaching 30 hours.

The upside is that I fell in love with German hospitality, and German breakfasts. The breakfast at the Hotel Indigo is on point. Good bread, meat, cheese, salmon, capers, and an omelette. I could (and should) have stayed there for a few days. I highly recommend the property. Rooms are well appointed, food is good, and the reception staff are professional, while speaking impeccable English. My only regret was not visiting Prague in the Czech Republic: it's only 90-minutes by car.

OSCON – Portland, Oregon

Month: July | Route: SJC-PDX-SJC | Miles: 1,138

Two weeks after returning to the Bay Area from The Dresden Experience, the team headed off to OSCON in Portland, Oregon. Organized by O'Reilly Media, OSCON is an open source conference, primarily focused on DevOps and back-end architecture. A front-end library wasn't an ideal fit, but we were learning about the events that would move the dial for the business and there were many businesses in attendance we wanted to reach.

After the Dresden drip, OSCON was a relatively painless experience. I stayed at The Duniway downtown with a colleague. The food at Jackrabbit PDX* is outstanding and it was good to be a mere elevator ride away.

* At the time of writing (April, 2021), like much of downtown Portland, Jackrabbit remains closed. Hoping it re-opens soon.

JoomlaDay! – Brisbane, Australia

Month: August | Route: SJC-LAX-SYD-BNE-LAX-SJC | Miles: 16,530

Third trip to Australia for the year, this time to attend the JoomlaDay! Australia conference where we were the major sponsor. Although the event was a bust, I have no regrets backing another community event where TinyMCE is a core component of the content creation experience. I also used the opportunity to reconnect with the new marketing hire and check-in IRL. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

HCL Social Connections – Munich, Germany

Month: September | Route: SFO-FRA-MUC-FRA-SFO | Miles: 11,732

"It's the Tiny guys ..!" exclaimed one of HCL's lead product managers across the lobby of the Novum Hotel München am Hauptbahnhof. A colleague and I were staying at the Aloft Munich, directly opposite but across from the Hauptbahnhof, and we were waiting at the Novum for our COO.

Back in Germany for the second time this year, and the third in Europe for 2019, I arrived in Munich via Frankfurt on solid flights with United and Lufthansa. Everything ran on time, and their respective teams were professional and courteous. I have status with both United and Delta, which means the airline's lounge is well used. It's a blessing for a frequent traveler, and the road would be a little harder without the benefit of a shower and espresso.

The flight into Munich arrived at the same time as a colleague from Australia, and we were in this magnificent city for another HCL user group. This time it was Social Connections. Our commitment to the HCL contract was strong (probably still is) and we sponsored many of their user group events. For this event we backed a dinner for speakers, and papered the event with some old school swag. Old school for an event focused on digital collaboration solutions, but sometimes sharing an idea on paper is the right thing. They were well used.

Ultimately, I liked these events because we got direct access to HCLs leadership, had an opportunity to discuss product roadmap, and often proactively solved challenges.

HCL Social Connections 2019 conference, papering the room with TinyMCE notebooks.
HCL Social Connections 2019 conference, papering the room with TinyMCE notebooks.

I regret not allowing personal time to travel on the European trips in 2019. My itinerary was pretty much get in, do the work, and get out. There's a risk that we spend too much time inside a conference center, and not with the locals.

HCL DX Inspire – Raleigh NC

Month: October | Route: SFO-RDU-SFO | Miles: 4,780

Back in the United States after Social Connections, I had two weeks to catch up on work and then head off to another HCL event. This time we were in Raleigh, North Carolina for HCL DX Inspire.

Unlike the other two HCL events focused on workplace collaboration and sharing, Inspire was focused their digital experience solution. Inspire was a small, well-run event that (again) reinforced Tiny's commitment to the HCL relationship.

On the swag side it was yo-yo time. Amazing how many people see a yo-yo and immediately relive their childhood. I guess we're talking about folks of a certain generation. All good fun.

Table with TinyMCE swag. Yoyos, stickers, pens, notebooks.
Yo-yos for the win at HCL DX Inspire 2019 conference.

HCL CollabSphere – Boston MA

Month: October | Route: SFO-BOS-SFO | Miles: 5,400

Two weeks after returning to the Bay Area from North Carolina I turned my attention back east, this time toward Boston for the HCL CollabSphere. The event is a three-day conference focused on HCL's B2B application and Digital Solutions technologies. It was a good event with a keynote session from their newly appointed head of global marketing for HCL Software Andy Bossley.

By now however I was starting to get tired. Especially since most of my flights were in coach, except where I leveraged status for upgrades. Turns out a road warrior I am not, and a lack of exercise was taking its toll.

DeveloperWeek – Austin TX

Month: November | Route: SJC-LAX-AUS-SLC-SJC | Miles: 3,201

Austin, Texas. One of the great cities of the world. Paris, France or Sydney, Australia it isn't, but it has an amazing music culture, great food, and of course BBQ. I love Austin and if I hadn't already moved my family across the world from Australia to the United States, I have a feeling I'd have made the move to Austin many years ago. Certainly before Californians "discovered" this music capital.

Sign at the entrance to the DeveloperWeek Austin conference, large freestanding letters, A, T, and X (ATX).
Welcome sign at DeveloperWeek Austin 2019 conference.

Pivoting away from the HCL relationship for the next two months I was back marketing the open source side of the TinyMCE house. We were sponsoring the DeveloperWeek Austin conference, and I had a lightning talk to deliver about monetizing open source. It was a popular topic.

Audience watching Robert Collings' lightning talk about monetizing open source at the DeveloperWeek Austin conference in November 2019.
Audience watching lightning talk about monetizing open source at DeveloperWeek Austin 2019.

Standing room only, it was a fun talk about a subject that I hold close to my heart. Modern software stacks are built on open source software, and finding a way to move from community to commercialization is critical for the health of the ecosystem.

The event delivered some good contacts and I was able to spend some time with a colleague who had been very supportive during my time at Tiny. It was the last trip we would make together, as I would soon be approached by a firm looking to make a mark in the world of agribusiness.

SaaS North – Ottawa Canada

Month: November | Route: SJC-DTW-YOW-DTW-SEA-SJC | Miles: 5,554

Who holds a conference in North America across Thanksgiving? Canadians apparently. I was at SaaS North in Ottawa, Canada. This one was a mistake. The conference was very well run, but attendance missed projections by some margin. In simple terms we didn't have enough good conversations. I rolled snake eyes on the bet and burnt goodwill in the process.

TinyMCE booth setup at the SaaS North conference 2019, in Ottawa, Canada.
Booth setup at the SaaS North conference 2019, in Ottawa, Canada.

dotJS – Paris, France

Month: December | Route: SFO-CDG-LAX-SJC | Miles: 11,528

Let's round out the year with some food poisoning, great walks, and hanging with TinyMCE co-founder Joakim Lindkvist, and Tiny's head of UI/UX Fredrik Danielsson.

I was by now exhausted and we were in Paris for the dotJS conference. Billed as one of the largest front-end JS conferences in Europe, we wanted to test whether directly marketing in Europe made sense for future investments.

Joakim and Fredrik kindly stepped away from their day-to-day work in Sweden, and we met in Paris for the event. What a time we had.

dotJS 2019 conference attendees during break, expo hall at capacity.
dotJS 2019 conference attendees during break, expo hall at capacity.

The event was at capacity, with thousands of people listening to talks about the latest developments in JavaScript and front-end software development. We had many great conversations about people's projects, about TinyMCE, and we were pleased to meet with existing clients and many new prospects.

TinyMCE team Joakim Lindkvist (co-founder) and Fredrik Danielsson (UI/UX designer), preparing for the dotJS 2019 conference.
Joakim Lindkvist and Fredrik Danielsson, preparing for the dotJS 2019 conference.

One of my favorite moments from the event—and a career highlight—was Joakim's response to the pop-up banner at our booth. His first response was, let's say, dubious, raising an eyebrow about breaking the word "developers" onto separate lines.

DEV
EL
OP
ERS

My response, "just wait and see what happens."

After the hundredth person paused momentarily to make sense of the sign as they walked past our booth, and after the hundredth time I said, "hi, how's the conference for you," Joakim looked at me and said, "that's genius."

One of the primary functions of marketing is getting your attention. If I can slow down a person (who's often quite reserved or even introverted) just long enough for me to say hello, to open a conversation, and to learn about their software development challenges, my work is done.

Being told that your marketing work is on point by the person who built the most successful open source text editor in the world, is validation of the crazy ideas. Like I said, a career highlight from a person I respect greatly.

I was appropriately brought back down to earth by food poisoning thanks to steak tartare. Day two of the conference was tough. One hour sleep, borked metabolism, and a full day standing at a booth, and not a sofa in sight. But we got it done, had a great show, and expanded the TinyMCE brand in Europe.

With dotJS 2019 behind us, we had a day in Paris to discuss marketing TinyMCE in 2020 and beyond. We walked and talked our way across Paris. Visited a few sights, ate some great food, and plotted taking on our closest competitor in the year ahead. I will leave you where I started: a really bad photo of great food.

Boeuf bourguignon from a bistro in Paris, France.

Bring on 2021/2022 business travel

Little did I know that as dotJS concluded and I said farewell to Joakim and Fredrik at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I'd soon move on from the firm, and that inside three months the economy would be locked down by a worldwide pandemic.

I read in the New York Times, that the E.U. is preparing to let vaccinated U.S. tourists visit this summer. As travel starts to return, and we accept the biological risks that are with us always, I wish you a safe return to business travel.

It is one of the most interesting and enjoyable aspects of executive life.