How a web developer single handedly launched Hong Kong’s favourite web conference
If you’re someone who builds websites in any capacity in Hong Kong, you’ve most likely heard of Webconf.asia – Hong Kong’s most popular websites conference.
With all of the buzz around the conference, however, you wouldn’t expect it to only have been launched from scratch just three years ago – which is, in fact, the case.
Touted as “Hong Kong’s Best Web Conference” by StartmeupHK, the conference grew from a one-day event to two. Its third edition is primed for November of this year, and tickets are already flying off the shelves.
You’d also hardly expect a conference of this calibre to have been created, developed, and organised primarily by one individual – but that is, in fact, how Charis Rooda, freelance web developer, Neat Business’s first customer, and the woman behind Webconf.asia, did it.
From Holland to Hong Kong: discovering the gap in Hong Kong’s early tech scene
At the time with 12 years of web experience on her resume, Charis moved to Hong Kong with her now husband, after visiting just twice and subsequently falling in love with the hustle and bustle.
Back in Holland, her home country, Charis made a living building websites as a freelance developer. The market there was booming for the freelance market, which meant that even within the first few months of starting out she had already established herself well and was getting a variety of experience with a lot of different people. “I was building websites, working in a lot of teams with graphic designers, UX people, backend people.”
And on the side, Charis volunteered with one of Europe’s biggest conferences on front-end web development.
“I used to run Fronteers, which is a conference in Amsterdam,” said Charis. The two-day annual event launched in 2008, bringing together web enthusiasts and front-end developers. “I started in a volunteering role with a team of 4-5 people. I went as an attendee the first year, and then they asked me to volunteer the year after.”
Then, in 2014, Charis chaired the conference.
Fast-forward to life in Hong Kong – the community and landscape was quite different.
Besides meetup groups and smaller scale events, Charis found that Hong Kong didn’t have a platform for knowledge exchange, community, and inspiration for the web community quite like what she was a part of back in Europe.
So, armed with her experience running one of the most respected conferences in Europe, and years working as a web developer herself, she decided to fill the gap Hong Kong was missing.
Webconf.asia, also known as, “Hong Kong’s Best Web Conference”
Webconf.asia is a non-profit conference for people who build websites, with the goal of bringing together and inspiring the web community in Asia.
“It’s for everyone involved in building websites – designers, project managers, developers. I want every talk to be accessible for the variety of people that come.”
The bulk of attendees are people from Hong Kong, but Webconf also attracts techies from Southeast Asia, as well as overseas from Europe and a few from the States.
In 2017, it started out small consisting of a workshop and a one-day conference with around 160 people. In its second year running, they expanded the conference to two days and attendees numbers grew.
Today, Webconf.asia runs a single track with twelve talks over two days, as well as multiple workshops on topics such as accessibility, web performance, data visualisation and more. Just as important as knowledge sharing, however, is the community aspect.
“The evening before the conference we have dinner at one of the wet markets,” said Charis. “This is most of the time a pretty small group so people can get to know each other already. And after Day one we have an After Party for all attendees.”
While the first two years the conference was held at the HKFYG’s professional auditorium in Quarry Bay, this year, Charis has snagged Tai Kwun in Central, the trendy converted Central Police Station.
Behind the scenes, powering Webconf.asia’s finances is Neat
“I was the first business customer of Neat.”
In fact, Charis was a Neat Personal customer from very early on, before Neat was even launched.
“I needed a credit card. I knew Igor [Neat’s CTO and co-founder]. And being in the same circles, you hear about new startups,” said Charis. “Neat is also still the only Hong Kong card I use.”
When Neat announced Neat Business, she immediately signed up for the beta.
“I thought, I’m not going through all the hassle with a bank,” said Charis. With that, she became Neat’s very first business customer, operating her freelance and conference finances with Neat. “For my business, Neat is the only service I use. It works for everything I need it for.”
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“In the beginning you just don’t know if it’s going to work. You kind of hope you’re doing it right,” said Charis.
But as a testament to the strength of the conference, while this year’s full speaker line up has yet to be revealed, people are already keen to purchase their tickets. What’s more, the majority of sign-ups hear about Webconf.asia through recommendations from friends.
“What was very interesting about last year is that a lot of people I talked to had already heard of us,” said Charis. “Finding out that a lot of people knew about it felt like I did something right.”
Just three years ago, Hong Kong was missing a conference that really brought together the web community. Now, Webconf.asia has risen to fill the void, with a reputation as the place for people who build websites to go to, to learn, get to know the community, and be inspired by like-minded people.
According to Charis, while there were a few hurdles to get through initially, it was “so worth it”.
“I’m working with speakers right now and it makes me so happy. It’s so nice when people you really admire, who are really great, and say ‘if you need me just let me know!’”
Header image by Joey Kwok Photography.