We have another WordPress big hitter with us today, with Syed Balkhi kindly taking time out from his busy schedule to talk to Pagely.
Syed is best known as the founder of the fantastic WPBeginner website — one of the many WordPress resources online, which has helped thousands of new WordPress users find their feet, myself included.
He has also launched and been involved with a number of the top WordPress plugins, and he recently launched his own personal blog, syedbalkhi.com, where he regularly posts insightful content on growing an online business.
Not enough Syed for you? You can also follow him on Twitter at @syedbalkhi.
As always, a big thanks to Syed for taking part. It’s great to have such a well-respected member of the WordPress community sharing his insights with us.
Without further ado, let’s get on with the interview, shall we?
For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?
Absolutely. I am an entrepreneur. I started my first business at age 7, and my first online business at age 12. I have spent more than half of my life immersed in different aspects of building and running an online business.
I first started using WordPress in 2006 when I needed to create a blog. Shortly after I fell in love with the platform and started using it to develop all of my websites.
In 2009, I launched WPBeginner to help fill a huge educational void in the WordPress space. Now it is the largest free WordPress resource site for beginners.
Over the years, I have also launched and acquired several WordPress plugins and businesses such as OptinMonster, SoliloquyWP, Envira Gallery, ThemeLab, Floating Social Bar, Insert Headers and Footers, and many more.
I like to describe myself as an entrepreneur with a passion of marketing and just enough development knowledge to be dangerous.
You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?
I had been a user of WordPress for a few years before I became involved with the community.
For the most part, I stayed under the radar until I launched WPBeginner. At the time, most WordPress resources were by developers for developers. So I built a resource for users which due to the need grew real fast.
This led me to attend several WordCamps and get more involved with the community.
During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?
I have been in the organizing committee of WordCamp Miami for the past 3 years. I have also spoken at dozens of WordCamps across the United States.
I was invited to the first WordPress community summit where I helped the documentation team.
On a day to day basis, we have helped hundreds of thousands of users get started and improve their WordPress sites through WPBeginner.
I have also been an advisor to several WordPress companies in their early stages.
What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?
I think the best thing about working with WordPress is how welcoming and helpful the community is. I think I am fortunate to call so many of these brilliant people my friends.
The platform has evolved significantly from when I first started which has allowed for huge growth in terms of adaption and popularity of WordPress. This is great for anyone doing business in the WordPress ecosystem.
How has the WordPress community changed since you started?
The main change that I have seen in the community is size. It’s gotten a lot bigger. There is a WordCamp happening just about every week somewhere in the world.
There are private events focused just towards WordPress such as PressNomics, LoopConf, PrestigeConf, etc.
We are also seeing several Slack chats, Facebook groups, diverse meetup groups and other membership forums all around the WordPress community which is pretty exciting.
What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?
My biggest advice would be to use the resources around you rather than reinventing the wheel. Embrace the culture of helping others, and you will go far in this space.
If I was starting all over again, I would focus on offering solutions rather than services. Instead of building and offering everything on my own, I would form strategic alliances that’s mutually beneficial.
Whether that is for products or services, the end goal should be to give the customer what they need and want. It works every time 🙂
What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?
Not building a segmented email list. It’s surprising how little attention most business owners pay to building and nurturing their email list which is often the biggest asset your company can have (a list of targeted customers).
Email is by far the most reliable way of communication, and if you are not leveraging it, then you are making a big mistake.
What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?
WordPress has gained a giant market share, and its increase in popularity is carrying the growth forward. We need to continue to make decisions that benefit 98% of the users without alienating the 2% vocal minority.
For the community to flourish, there needs to be open communication, transparency around the processes, and clear rules / guidelines for others to follow.
There is a lot of competition with different website builders gaining traction, and it poses a serious threat (not short-term but over a long-run).
I would like to see specialized hosted solutions powered by WordPress catered for specific industries. Rainmaker by Copyblogger and HappyTables is just a start.
Instead of building mega plugins with a suite of features, in my opinion niche hosted solutions are the way to go because it adds more value to the end-users.
The challenge is to keep these hosted solutions open rather than being closed. In other words, allow third-party developers and WordPress plugins to extend the platform.
I think the involvement of hosting and particularly managed WordPress hosting companies would be crucial in this.
WordPress being used as the core to power these hosted platforms would truly make it an operation system for the web and that’d be an awesome achievement.
One more thank you to Syed for providing us with some great answers today. With such a huge amount of industry knowledge, it’s well worth taking his words on board. As Syed pointed out, an email list provides you with the solid foundations for building a successful online business — if you aren’t growing a list already, you really should start.
With so many different projects, it’s also great to see the entrepreneurial spirit burning strong in Syed, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll be back next week with another interview!