What happened at SMILE in 2020

2020 has been tough. For many of us, we've suffered family tragedies, and dealt with things that we didn't expect that we'd have to. But it's not all been bad. Reflecting on the strangest of years, we celebrate the successes and look forward to a year of more good than bad.

In January 2020, I presented a plan to the SMILE team for the year ahead.

Things did not go to plan.

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Justyna and Matt

We hired our first employees without ever meeting them. In fact, some of our team have still never met physically. But Justyna and Matt have massively contributed to the development team at SMILE this year and I am so chuffed to have the opportunity to work with them. I am looking forward to all the great things that they will bring to the table next year.

Welcome, Justyna and Matt.

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Elliott got a promotion

Elliott was the first addition to our design team. And as the design team has evolved its processes and people, Elliott has been instrumental in that evolution. This year, Elliott was promoted to Lead Designer at SMILE. He’s done some incredible work, with a stand-out project of Morley College. I’m really proud of what Elliott has achieved so far.

Well done, Elliott.

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Launched Hijack

It’s no secret that we were working on a live event product for the education sector. We’ve got a long history in that sort of stuff so it made a lot of sense. In my January presentation I laid out the road map, with a Q4 launch window. The the COVID-19 pandemic came along, and we saw a huge spike in inbound enquiries about our progress. We saw that we could help a lot of colleges and universities, so we pulled everything forwards. In the end, we had our product ready in 6 weeks. We couldn’t have done that without the expertise and vision of James. Hijack was launched way earlier than we expected and James continues to drive Hijack forwards, with version two expected to drop in Q1 2021.

Thank you, James.

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We open-sourced more of our code

In January, I met with a friend of SMILE, Blake. He was over from the states, and we met for a coffee (remember those days?) in Oxford.

I talked about how I was way behind on my plans to release Border Control. I’d even presented it back at WPCampus 2019. I spoke of my anxiety of it not being ready, and shortage on time to get it where we wanted it to be.

Blake offered some sage advice:

Just do it. What’s the worst that’s gonna happen? People are more helpful than you realise, I think it’ll be a great opportunity to learn from them.

Blake Bertuccelli

I’m so glad that we followed this advice. We’ve had some amazing feedback and suggestions. And the opportunities that have presented themselves from this small act have been incredible.

In fact, it’s been so wild, that we’re planning on open-sourcing a whole host of our plugins. Look out for them next year.

Learn more, about Border Control.

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We sponsored and spoke at our first virtual conference

We sponsored our favourite conference – WPCampus – for the third year. We were looking forward to visiting Tulane university in New Orleans to meet our tribe. Alas, it was not meant to be and the conference went online-only.

It was a blast, we really enjoyed the whole event, and it’s made us think about how we will approach conferences in the future.

Thanks for having us, WPCampus.

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Pitched, on Zoom

Well, I didn’t see this this one coming – it’s always been a no-go for us, but this year it’s been a requirement. We love delivering presentations in person. And doing it online has some very real challenges. What I’ve enjoyed is the challenge of enhancing our presentations by delivering them online. I’ve started writing scripts rather than prompts, and it’s amazing how much more confident this makes me feel. Taking Q&A’s and having them appear as I’m delivering them and adapting as I go has kept me on my toes. And as a supplier that has to put thousands of pounds into each pitch, not having to travel for six hours to deliver a 30 minute presentation has made losing a little more bearable, and winning a little sweeter.

Let’s pause a second, my Amazon delivery is here.

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Saying goodbye to the studio

We like to think that we’ve been ahead of the game in the pandemic. We closed early, and we set longer term expectations about returning to work. We consulted with the team regularly and ultimately decided to say goodbye to our physical office space. We finally handed the keys back on December 1st after not having been in there since March. The SMILE team have been so fantastic in our transition. And though I’m sure there’s some sadness from everyone at SMILE about this, remote working and the future opportunity of work-from-anywhere is far more exciting.

Goodbye, Studio.

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Employed our first member of staff outside of England

OK, so it’s only Scotland technically. But honestly, it’s more important that it’s outside of the West Midlands! All thanks to going remote.

Chelsey is our first hire with an exclusive focus on our support offer at SMILE. We’ve massively developed our enterprise hosting and support offer (Hello, HappyPress) and increased provision for ongoing creative services (Hello, Evolve) and Chelsey is crucial in bringing structures and procedures together to keep things running smoothly – just like our updated and upgraded Support Hub. We really felt the pinch when we onboarded a lot of new customers in a small space of time (Thanks, Hijack), so Chelsey is a very welcome addition to our family.

Welcome, Chelsey.

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We built a website in two weeks

Yep. True story.

An agency approached us with a brief to build a microsite for a university. They were handling the design and there were a few speed bumps, and it left us with two weeks to build it. We built it purely in Gutenberg blocks which meant that we were able to create it in record time.

This is not an open call for you to request two week builds(!) but this is a showcase for what Gutenberg can do for developers as well as editors.

Thanks, WordPress.


What’s next?

I’m excited. I’m already putting together my 2021 vision slides to share with the SMILE team how we’re going to tackle the road ahead.

In 2020, we found our feet in a new way of working, and we built a lot of great things. We’ve got some exciting irons in the fire. Now we’ve found our footing, in 2021 we’re going to bring it all together.

Bring it on, 2021.

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Nathan Monk
I'm proud to work for some of the world’s most influential brands that shape cities and define lives: Universities and colleges. I provide advice to forward-thinking senior leaders on how to exceed their organisational targets by creating user-focused, digital-first strategies.

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