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Ep 10: Devin Walker. Finding a market niche and creating a powerful donation platform for WordPress

Ep 10: Devin Walker. Finding a market niche and creating a powerful donation platform for WordPress

Host: Joshua Strebel | Published: October 14, 2019

Devin Walker is the creator of several highly-rated and award-winning software products with his company Impress.org. Their flagship product, GiveWP, is in it’s fifth year and has secured its position in the nonprofit sector as a powerful WordPress-based platform for handling donations.

In this interview Josh and Devin talk through his journey creating his company, challenges they overcame in the early days, pricing strategies, handling issues that arise from having employees based in many different States, balancing product stickiness with vendor lock-in, eating humble pie and crushing it on the golf course. If you have a question for Devin leave a comment below. Enjoy!

PS. If you enjoyed this interview Devin was also recently featured in one of our in-depth technical, video case studies. You can find that here.

Watch

Show Notes

0:00:38   Welcome and context
0:01:44   Tell me about your journey with Impress
0:04:24   What was the incentive to do a donation platform?
0:06:32   What were some of the roadblocks you guys hit in the early days?
0:09:30   How did the ecosystem respond?
0:11:06   Do you think the “boots on the ground” launch promo strategy would work today?
0:14:08   “The number of active install counts doesn’t equate to how profitable your company is.”
0:15:32   Have you ran into the case where nonprofits can’t afford to pay?
0:18:18   Stickiness vs. creating barriers to exit: how do you walk that line?
0:23:22   The Salesforce “nonprofit success pack”
0:24:20   What led you to the pricing model you currently have?
0:26:10   “If there’s one piece of advice I could give: never do lifetime licenses”
0:28:46   How much of what you do is driven by trailblazing vs. responding to competitors?
0:31:32   Did you get resistance when you declared that you were going to charge for WordPress?
0:35:08   How do you manage all the HR nuances that come with having employees in so many places?
0:39:18   What do you do for fun?
0:41:50   How is it working in a partnership of three people?
0:46:52   Vulnerability: how do you handle mistakes?

Show Transcript

Josh: 00:38 Hey, welcome to the podcast today. I’m here with my good friend Devin Walker of Impress. And their primary product is the GiveWP plugin. Thanks for joining me today, Devin.

Devin: 00:50 Thanks for having me, man.

Josh: 00:52 So, Devin, I just saw you what last week? Um, we’re, you came out to PressNomics and we went golfing and I have to say, damn, you know how to add a golf ball.

Devin: 01:06 Yeah. You know, while I was on a team with some really good golfers signed and like step my game up a little bit, but I think, uh, I contributed as much as I could, but, uh, you know, the majority of this shots where they’re at Thomas or, or Dan taking it. So, uh, the golf was one of my favorite times at PressNomics. I always enjoy that.

Josh: 01:27 Yeah, I think you’re too modest, but you know, always a team player, right. Um, in your company, it’s kind of like that though too, isn’t it? Like, you may have a unique skillset, but without your whole team, you’re not gonna get anywhere. So tell me a little bit about, uh, your journey was impress and you’re your primary product.

Devin: 01:49 Yeah, so I’m a bit of background about that. Um, started the company on my own in 2012 just sort of, um, developing my first plugins. Um, I did a number of free plugins, um, that were widgets at the time. And then, um, those got semi, uh, noticed by the community and, uh, decided to try a, a pro version. Um, most of these were just a small either extensions to WooCommerce or, um, a standalone, a widget to pull in, for instance, reviews from an API like Facebook or Yelp, um, and display those on your website. Um, it wasn’t really until 2014 which, uh, really decided, uh, sort of, you know, take the business to the next level, which, uh, then partnered with Matt Cromwell who was also a press Pressonomics Lissa and then, uh, Jason Camille, who unfortunately couldn’t make it the press dominance. But, um, we really rounded each other out pretty well.

Devin: 02:58 I’m, I’m really product development focused. Um, Jason’s really finance and sales focused and, uh, Matt is, um, marketing and community outreach. Um, and support focused. So, um, with that trifecta, we’ve, um, we’re able to really build a good team around it. Um, but we weren’t able to build that team until we, um, first, uh, thought of the idea for give WP, which is our flagship product. And then, um, developed it of course, designed the brand, uh, built the website, um, created the marketing material and then went to market with it. Um, and that happened in, uh, mid 2015. So since that has been really taken off for us, it’s been, uh, the primary, uh, the focus area of our company for, um, at least since 2015 and now we have 15 employees. Um, the majority of them are working on give WP and, um, and we’re always focused on, you know, improving that and bringing the best, uh, solution forward. Uh, fundraising on word press two. Those are customers of ours.

Josh: 04:12 Nice. Nice. Real nice. All right. So give WP exactly, I mean, what does it do? What, what was the incentive to do kind of like a donation platform?

Devin: 04:23 Alright. So we were, uh, running a small agency before we decided to really start into the product space. And, uh, the primary, um, customer we’re serving were churches, uh, nonprofits, um, sports clubs, organizations. Um, and a lot of them had the need to accept donations directly on their website. Um, so we decided that, uh, you know, let’s try woo commerce for a couple sites and the customers always came back, Hey, you know, we don’t want a cart system. We want the checkout directly on the page. We want to have customer amount field. We want, um, the receipts and say donor, not customer, not mentioned the word orders because that’s a donation and went on and on and on. And we, um, we basically tweaked, we’ll commerce with the number of extensions and custom code to appease all these customers. Um, and it led to a lot of scope, create a lot of frustration. Um, so we, we searched for awhile to see if there was any solution for WordPress already available. There wasn’t really anything that good. Um, so we identified the problem in the market, um, and decided, you know, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it full force and really give it a our best foot forward. And, um, that’s really what, uh, led to the creation of that platform.

Josh: 05:51 So trying to turn an elephant into a giraffe wasn’t working you and no, it was like trying to skin a hippo. Yeah. It’s not a good thing. So I mean, I could see how like, it would be logical, Oh, I can just use an existing plugin and make some changes. But when you’re, when you’re talking to like actually down to values of receipt language and, and, and, um, how it’s categorized income-based and it’s such a dedicated giving platform or donation platforms seems like the way to go. What were some of the roadblocks you ran into, you know, whether it’s from a product market launch or, or fit to just like code road blocks. What was it like starting from zero and saying, okay, now here’s what we want to build.

Devin: 06:41 All right. So building the best platform was, um, we utilize a lot of open source code to do that. Um, which really didn’t, uh, any roadblocks there until we went to market and we realized, well, we knew that people really wanted recurring donations, the ability to accept subscriptions and uh, we didn’t go to market with that solution. So one of the big pain point, um, after we released, we didn’t see very many sales. I mean, we saw some and it was steadily increasing, but not to the number that we were wanting because a lot of people were holding back because the lack of that, um, ability to do that. So we spent another six months after, uh, the initial launch and released, um, about six to eight months after that, the recurring donation out on which then, um, that was like the key missing piece and that really helped us take off from there. Um, from there we added an a and, um, another more key add ons people were looking for. But that was the biggest mistake I think is holding back on that. But you know, it did at least create some anticipation for people once we did release it, it was one of our, you know, strongest sales day.

Josh: 07:58 Gotcha. So the initial product will, we’ll call that an MVP. It got it out there and got you some name recognition, people understood what you were doing and then when you brought back that killer feature of a reoccurring donations that set you off and running, huh,

Devin: 08:14 right. That really helped us get to the next level.

Josh: 08:18 So 15 employees now. So it started with the three of you or just the two of you and then now you’re 15 people.

Devin: 08:25 Oh, it was the two of us. Then Matt came on shortly after and then, um, then, uh, one or two developers from the next few years. And then the last two to three years we’ve been hiring, um, you know, probably four or five a year. And we’ve got pretty good retention. So if you’re like working with us

Josh: 08:44 as a fellow or a fellow employer, having employees do their yearly anniversaries is a really good feeling for me. Yeah. When, when, when, when we’re celebrating somebody’s fifth, sixth, even seventh anniversary, we were like awesome. Either either they’re still there. I’ll say this nicely, you know, either they’re too foolish to leave or we’re really doing something correct in order to keep our employees engaged and happy for as long as we have.

Devin: 09:13 Yeah. All right. Well I’m guessing it’s the latter for sure.

Josh: 09:16 We certainly hope so. Depends which day you catch us. Fire could burn out. I totally get that. Yeah. So, you know, how did the market respond? Art? Well, the market obviously responded by buying your product, but how did like the ecosystem, the other WordPress players out there who spawned, did you get some fast followers, you know, some competitors that jumped on board and quickly after?

Devin: 09:42 Um, yeah, there was one competitor.

Speaker 3: 09:44 Okay.

Devin: 09:48 On board, uh, Abbott, he was, uh, working on, uh, pretty much, very similar solution to us. Um, in conjunction, we just got to market first. I didn’t even know that his platform existed and it’s still out there today. Um, but you know, it’s a great solution. We’ve collaborated with them. Um, but we have, you know, he’s overseas and we have access to the actual market. We went to 20 different word camps in that first year and then 23 in the next year. So we really hit it. Um, you know, hit the conference scene, um, sponsored quite a few. We spoke at many, many, um, helped organize WordCamp San Diego for the last three years. Um, multiple people on our team are also word camp organizers and speakers and meetup organizers and so we are fully into the community. So, um, that has been really, really helpful. And actually getting that product known and recommended.

Josh: 10:48 So hitting the ground running, uh, with the, with a ground game in the community is kinda how it worked for you guys.

Devin: 10:56 Yeah. And boots on the ground and was definitely a very important for our growth.

Josh: 11:01 Do you think, um, that strategy, is this feasible today? Say you came up with a new idea and you know, in early 20, 20 you wanted to go to market, do you think you could just kind of rinse and repeat the same process?

Devin: 11:15 Um, depends on how much money you have. I think that’s always important. I definitely think, uh, you know, if you’re bootstrapping it and you’re one person and you don’t have a lot of that revenue, uh, that allows you to go to these work camps or whatever conferences you choose, then you might have some trouble unless your product really stands out or you can do some other form of marketing. Um, but I do think you can still go out and make a name for yourself. You, there’s reasons why I go to press Nomics and talk with the other business leaders. There’s reasons why I go to a small work camp where there’s maybe 150 attendees. Um, so it depends where you’re spending your time. If you have a team around you, I could never have done this if I didn’t have good partners, which has been really helpful. And, um, and they’re well known to, um, maybe even more well known than I am. Um, so having that exposure really helps a lot.

Josh: 12:16 Mm. Yeah. So, yeah, it was interesting to hear your story cause you, you hit on a, uh, a need, an unsolved need for donations. And to be honest, you hit it fairly late in the WordPress kind of growth cycle. You were still able to be successful with it. If somebody came up to me tomorrow and said, jive, I want to start a theme company, I’d say, no, don’t, whatever you do, don’t trash. I want to start a hosting company. Yeah. Don’t, don’t do that either. You know? Well, I have a, I have an idea for a form plugin. Nope, don’t do that either. Right? So the right time to get into most of these channels was six, seven, eight years ago. And it sounds like you guys found a untapped channel more recently and we’re still able to be successful in it. I mean, kudos to you for having the foresight to kind of find the, the, an, the unclaimed blue ocean.

Devin: 13:11 Yeah. I mean, there’s definitely was a blue ocean, that’s for sure. And uh, to an extent, there’s still many of those in the WordPress community. It’s just finding them and, um, and taking it on. Um, I think with WordPress you can really compete and be nimble with a small team, which is unique. Um, to our industry. And then on top of that, um, uh, you know, I think the reason we found the niche was, um, there were solutions, they were just not good at all. Yeah. Number of them. And when people think nonprofit, they, I mean, it’s in the name, it’s like no money. Right. Um, but that’s not necessarily true other than accepting payments online for eCommerce. Um, gift-giving is the second most, um, popular way to, to, um, give or on top of e-commerce. So, um, on top of that, uh, WordPress is free and, and, uh, 50% of nonprofits run on WordPress.

Devin: 14:11 So this is a, it was really great opportunity for us. And you know, another thing is, um, people really focus a lot on active install counseling and we think it’s a good thing too, but the number of active install counts you have doesn’t necessarily equate to how profitable your company is. I would say we’re much more profitable than a lot of these plugin shops that have a million active installs. Um, and it’s how sticky your product is. So if you’re churning donations on through our platform, it’s really hard to just turn that off. Um, and if you have fully integrated with your theme, perhaps you added some custom styling, maybe even some custom code to modify how it works. Um, it, it gets even more sticky. And so that’s one of our keys too is, is I’m making sure that we have a good product for multiple years for our customers, that these customers can bring in a, uh, a lifetime value to us that they can afford and then helps us grow as a company and, uh, and the initial costs that gets them through the door.

Josh: 15:16 Yeah. You mentioned two things there I want to talk about, one is nonprofit doesn’t always mean no money in too kind of vendor lock in. So let’s talk about the first one. That is kind of a misnomer, right? Nonprofit doesn’t mean there’s, they’re broke or they can’t afford anything. It just means their motives for generating money and their motives for how they spend that money are, are very different, right? They’re not trying to increase shareholder value. They’re trying to fund a cause of whatever their, their happened to, their cause happens to be. Have you ran into, um, that case though where a nonprofit comes in and says whatever your price is, it’s still too much. We’re nonprofit help.

Devin: 16:02 Absolutely. And we definitely have been coming in running into that Mark and um, and it’s one part of it is, you know, in WordPress I think there has been a steady increase of prices, which has been great and I hope we’ve helped lead that. We were one of the more expensive plugins for awhile, but now I think we’re getting to be more of that standard, right. As you see some of the smaller players kind of backing off or going out of business because they didn’t charge enough. But, um, what we are doing now, um, the first couple of years we didn’t offer any discount at all. Um, but now we’re kind of opening up, uh, some of our discounts strategy more. So if you come to us and you ask, you know, Hey, I’m a small nonprofit, I need some help. Um, we, a lot of times we’ll give you a coupon code to use, um, at checkout and then if you’re sponsoring events. So for instance, WordPress does a do action events and then if you’re building sites for nonprofits for free, we’re going to give you the first year license, uh, absolutely free. That helps you get off the ground. If your nonprofit successful then renew, you’ll get updates and support, um, after that first year expires. And uh, and it helps us do, um, helps them get off the ground. So that’s one of the ways we’ve been giving back and also, um, spreading the word about our plugin, Tim.

Josh: 17:26 So that’s an interesting take on the freemium model. Essentially it’s like we’ll partner with you early while you’re starting, give it to you for free and then, you know, by that year, two year renewal or what have you, if we’ve all done our jobs right and you’re a nonprofit cause working then coming back and paying our rate shouldn’t be an issue for you. So we’re going to in your future, just as you’re investing in your own. Yeah, exactly. As K. so the vendor lock in [inaudible] you okay? So notice I’m using a different word. You’re saying sticky, which I think is a great way to look at it. In terms of the UX, the value, the integration, it’s all sticky. It means you’ve got a good product, right? Somebody, somebody integrated it into their business, it’s sticky. In our industry, unfortunately in hosting, we, our customers complain about vendor lock in, which is very different from sticky, right?

Josh: 18:30 So, um, and just to elaborate on that, when I mean vendor lock in, it’s like longterm contracts. Um, the pain of switching from a, uh, poor environment is so costly that they’ll just deal with it, you know, until the contract runs out. Or even sometimes I’ll just renew because again, the pain of extracting a website out of one service and move it to another is difficult. So it doesn’t necessarily incentivize, uh, hosting providers to, to build their company and their customer service in such a way that sticky. They built it in such a way to make it really hard to leave. And those are two very different things. So how do you keep walking that line to where you can, you can make a sticky product but not necessarily lock somebody in?

Devin: 19:25 Um, I, it’s, it’s interesting because I, I’m thinking about our integration with Pagely and I’m like, yeah, we’re pretty locked in but do have a problem with it? Not really because it’s, I mean, again, the, some of the best hosting we’ve ever used for sure. Um, with our product, um, it’s, you have to walk a fine line because there’s easy out of the box, easy to con. Okay. Um, and just, it works, right? Like you set it up, create some amounts, maybe connected to your payment gateway and boom, you can start accepting commissions. A lot of users just do that and they’re happy with that. But let’s say you’re using Salesforce with your non profit, do you want to add a into where it needs to go? Well, we have a, a zap your add on for that, you connect a multiple triggers into your application.

Devin: 20:16 Um, you send it to wherever it needs to go on Salesforce and maybe you’d pipe that email over to MailChimp to or wherever it needs to go. So that’s one layer on top of that. On top of that, let’s say, you know, some code, your developer, you understand hooks within WordPress. Well, I want to filter this and that, or I want to add an action on there. I want to do this and that and that. That’s again, another layer that they get on top of. And this is kind of up to the customer, the user. A lot of them love it because if you’re using a SAS platform, you can’t really do a lot of these. Like it’s where like clay or they’re like a brick and just leave the clay, sit in there, it’s going to harden and it’ll be fine, but you can still kind of mold it. Um, whereas the SAS platform, I would feel a lot of times they’re a little less, um, vendor lock in depending on what you’re using. So you know, long answer to my complex question.

Josh: 21:10 Well, I think every provider should strive for stickiness and strive to limit, you know, lock in [inaudible] you know, like we’re, I was talking with another guest today and we talked about like the cancel button that how so many services don’t even have a cancel button. You got gotta you know, you’ve got to get them on the phone so they can up sell you and, and all the BS there. And there’s, there’s some services that they may have a canceled button, but it’s still a very convoluted process after that and there’s still all these multiple pages to try to upsell you and save you and I get some of that right. You, you’d like to, uh, understand why they’re canceling and try to save them before they actually do cancel. But you can’t make that so burdensome that they’re just like, you know, they’re going to carve on their headstone when they die. F this company, they never let me cancel. You know, cause, you know, I think the more products that focus on stickiness, you know, obviously the better it’s gonna work. You mentioned something though that I thought was interesting. Two names that you don’t usually hear together. Nonprofit and sales force. Sales force is not a cheap sass to use. You know that. And so if, I don’t know, maybe I’m just thinking of this, but if a nonprofit comes to you and wanting to Salesforce integration, that’s a premium priced product in my mind.

Devin: 22:41 Well, for sure. And nobody uses Salesforce the same it seems. So we thought for a long time and we did a lot of research on how we could best integrate with Salesforce and we’ve concluded that Zapier is the best way to do it because, um, every nonprofit needs to type differently. And you, you need, you can create the zaps that you need to get the data to go where it needs to. Other than that, we’d have to create our own dashboard and you see some of our SAS competitors doing that, um, creating their own dashboard. But that necessarily doesn’t mean it fits the needs of the nonprofit. Salesforce has a, a, a, um, in nonprofit starter kit, I believe that’s what they call it. Maybe it’s nonprofit solution kit now, whatever they’re calling it. But I think it’s, we’re up to like 10 to 15 seats for nonprofits. So that’s how they’re getting them in the door and they’re, they’re really pushing, um, nonprofits to, you know, it’s a, a good vertical. It’s for them. Um, but I agree, you know, if they’re using a Salesforce, they must be semi-technical.

Josh: 23:42 Yeah, yeah. And so they can possibly afford a little higher price for your product or service, you know, I mean, that’s the whole strategy, right? Do you make your core product free or cheap and then you monetize heavily the ad dons and you can monetize them differently based on the need, like the Salesforce add on would be, you know, top price versus, you know, maybe something else. Or do you, you know, do an all in one bundled pricing where it’s just everything’s comes included for one price or do you start high and make the add on slow? I mean, there’s 20 ways to skin this cat. What led you guys down your decision tree to arrive at the model that you’re using?

Devin: 24:23 Um, well we’ve always been testing pricing and seeing where it goes for a lot of our, when we first came to the market, it was um, you know, just like a sort of like we’ll commerce was in 2015 you go to the extension shops, in our case we call them ad-ons. You pick one or two items that you need and you go to the checkout and you, you’re gone. What that means is, um, separate license keys for each of those, um, which is annoying to have to copying back and forth. And then difficult upgrades, separate subscriptions for each add on depending on what you got and um, and lower lifetime value or lower average initial cost, but then lower lifetime value. So we wanted to, um, have different bundles. We were calling them, now we’re calling them pricing plans cause that’s easier to digest and kind of in line with our competitors.

Devin: 25:15 Um, but we bundled up a couple of different atoms called a de basic bundle, a plus one on a pro bono. Obviously all the good stuff is in the middle tier. That’s when we, um, still emphasized. Now to this day and as a recurring donations, it has fee recovery, has everything you need, each of those add ons. If you were to buy them individually, we raised the price on them. So it just makes sense that you would want to go with the bundle because if you were to checkout individually, it’s going to cost hundreds of dollars more. So, um, that was been the most profitable things for us to do. And we did that in 2017 and uh, now we’re looking to just go to a pricing plan only. Um, we’re gonna future gate some of them and then, you know, uh, the highest plan we’ll have more sides, better support all the add ons here and in the future. And, uh, if there’s one advice I could get, never do lifetime licenses, um, maybe if you’re just launching the product to get a bit of lift, um, but only do it for like a week and then shut it off. Um, but I think those are largely in our community going extinct. Thank God. Um, and our, uh, our is learning. So let’s get, we’re, we’re on a higher trajectory now.

Josh: 26:31 You know, funny story. Um, Paisley’s 10 years old this month. Oh, congrats. And I remember 10 years ago when we launched, I did like a two week promo free for life, right? [inaudible] 10 years later where, you know, millions of dollars, there are in revenue. Our average price is, you know, our average revenue per user is upper hundreds of dollars per month. I still have free for life customers that are just writing these old, uh, legacy plans and they’re not paying a dime. I don’t blame them one bit. So they’re getting the benefit of everything we’ve done over the last 10 years and they’re just, you know, that’s their little personal blog or whatever it was they set up a long time ago and it’s still there, just still kicking away. And on the next tier up, I think I created some promo codes that like locked in a F $4 and 99 cent price.

Josh: 27:34 So there’s some people getting some amazing deals still at the shirt. I’m sure you know. But what are the ways we looked at it is like we just, we grandfather everybody in whenever we raise prices and we’ve only done it a few times. Um, we’ve never gone back and retroactively raised anybody’s price. So, uh, it’s, it’s interesting to look at the books when we do that because you have, you know, from like this point at time, all of these customers are on this pricing and their, their, uh, profit graph and income graph looks like this. And then you have this actually a quite larger set of customers over here, but all in like the H sub $100 a month range and their metrics look totally different. So it’s like we’re running two companies still, even though we haven’t sold these lower plans in five, four or five years, you know? Right, right.

Devin: 28:23 Well, you know, I think you’re going to market as really the smartest move ever. And, uh, and you know, how do, how do we switch one of those four nights,

Josh: 28:35 right? Survival. It was just survival. That’s all it was. Um, so Hey, you mentioned something that caught my ear. You said you changed the verbiage, the messaging around your pricing in response to competitors. So how much of what you do is driven by this is just us and we’re doing it this way versus we need to get back in line with the market so that everybody understands what we’re selling.

Devin: 29:02 Well, we’ve always tried to be like a premium brand, but not so much that it’s going to turn away. Um, people, um, not only our, our brand, but the product and our support is something like, you know, you’ll never receive it in WordPress. For instance, when somebody makes a purchase, we get in the McCall, uh, there later and we help them set it up. They get a 30 minute, um, uh, session with our customer success team. A lot of, lot of plugin shops don’t even have that. They don’t even make the effort to make a call. Um, and we do those check-ins. We make sure that you know, that there’s a community around you and that will help you. Um, but to answer your question, when we take a look at what,

Speaker 4: 29:49 huh?

Devin: 29:52 Effective plug plugin shops are doing out there, for instance. Uh, I always like to see what Sai adds up to. I always like to discuss with [inaudible] pricing and what he’s doing with his brands. I’m on top of that. The, the folks that work within those brands too. Like Chris Christoph was in our golf group. We had a good conversation with him. I always chat with him, um, at Ben Williamson scene when he’s doing and um, and trying to push the bar forward with the community because, um, 2014, 2012, uh, those, back then people were just giving away their drugs. You wouldn’t get the support. Uh, the products might disappear after a while. And that’s happened multiple times from me for solutions I’ve created. And it’s really hard to bring that back in. So somebody complains to us about pricing, you know, we, we explain this to them, we explained them at, you’re going to expect a level that you, uh, that you haven’t had before and, and our products in many rounds for years to come and it’s only going to be improving and come along with us with this journey.

Josh: 30:59 Yeah. Sustainability, right? You’re investing, your customer is investing in the sustainability of your company so that you can be there. Yeah. 18 months from now to still support them and serve them and their capacity.

Devin: 31:13 Right. Sustainability, but growth as well. We want to make sure that we’re growing and you know, we have targets and goals that we always want to meet.

Josh: 31:21 So, um, Le, we can get a little controversial here, but again, not as bad as it was in 2012. You’re talking about growth, metrics, finances, charging for WordPress, monetization, commercialization. These are all words that, you know, 10 years ago, eight years ago, five years ago, I mean, Hey, you got kind of some sideways looks when you’re like, I’m going to go monetize my WordPress stuff. I’m going to actually make money. I’m going to charge what my time’s worth. I mean, these are novel ideas, you know. But did you get any, uh, sideways glances or anything when, when you kind of said, Hey, we’re, we’re a premium product, we’re going to charge some money for it.

Devin: 32:05 Um, you know, we do have a free course so you don’t have to pay us a diamond if you don’t want to at all. Our plugins are, are open source, so, and many of them are open on a get up. So you really want our code, you can have it. But access to our support and future updates, you know, we have to pay our staff and we make sure that they’re happy and they’re good. Um, it’s not, that’s not going to happen with just a regular open source community. We’ll just build proprietary products then nobody can access it. So I think to not get too controversial on it, but um, compared to other communities, uh, for instance, the Drupal community where you really are kind of still shunned to this day, um, for creating premium modules. Um, I think WordPress has gone leaps and bounds ahead of that, which is really great.

Devin: 32:56 Um, because the growth of WordPress has been explosive and continues to be. And I, I wouldn’t say that’s just because of the WordPress product itself or sorry, platform. It’s kind of product, but it’s, it’s from folks like you who are running hosting sites and pushing it from your competitors and from folks that run shops like me, whether it’s a theme shop or a plugin shop or a block shop, I don’t care if you’re building products for WordPress, you’re helping it. And by the way, we are also giving back a lot as well. I mentioned we were doing that. We’re doing at least 5% in our entire company, if not more. Um, going toward camp sponsor work camps, organizing more camps, um, supporting, do action, helping out with communities, um, and the growth of them. So it’s not just like a, we’re capitalistic pigs trying to just suck in vacuum cleaner of sports and money. Um, we’re just trying to do that a little bit.

Josh: 33:55 Yeah, I’ll take the vacuum cleaner full of money. We just have to, you’re just gonna have to make sure we’re nice about it and an ethical while we’d do it. So you’re, are you based out of San Diego?

Devin: 34:10 Yeah, we have an office a but Wednesdays our work from home day, so I’m just hanging out at the home office now.

Josh: 34:17 Oh, so is most of your team in San Diego? You haven’t? Or do you have some remote?

Devin: 34:23 Uh, no. Uh, the, we have six of us in San Diego. Three partners are in San Diego. Um, and then, um, a couple, one developer, one designer, one marketer, and then, um, scattered across the United States are a majority of our, um, staff. But we also have a small office in Rochester, New York, which, um, is, uh, three people work out of there.

Josh: 34:46 Oh, so you’ve got little clusters.

Devin: 34:49 Mm Hmm. So it was like Florida, North Carolina all over the place. Uh, we have Rhode Island, so, um, that’s been fun insurance wise. But other than that, you know, it’s great to hire a remote.

Josh: 35:01 That’s actually a fun topic. Let’s talk about it because we have a cluster in Phoenix, a cluster in LA. Then we have Denver, Virginia, the Carolinas, Texas, Oregon, Montana. So it’s, do you have an outside service? We use an outside service because we die if we didn’t. But when you know, payroll onboarding, you’ve got to set up their tax accounts in that state. You got to get your unemployment insurance number, which is sometimes different from your franchise tax number. And you need to set all these things up and then start withholding wages, uh, payroll taxes and then making sure they’re paid on the schedule that may be different from the other state. Are you guys managing all that yourself and how much fun are you having doing it?

Devin: 35:52 Uh, luckily my business partner who is sort of like our acting CFO is handling all that, but he doesn’t do it by himself. He uses, uh, we have a CPA that kicks ass. We’ve got a bookkeeper that’s really good and she manages all that. And um, thank God I don’t have to do that, but I, we regularly check in. Sometimes there’s a slip up every once in a while, you know, that we have to remedy. Um, but overall, um, it hasn’t been too much of a pain point. I know we do pay more and filing taxes where, um, you know, one of our employees recently, um, you know, uh, got pregnant. So, um, having that, uh, through New York with a disability and all that, um, was a bit of a headache, um, but I didn’t have to really touch much of it. So that’s why I should partner up.

Josh: 36:48 Yeah. We actually contract an outside CFO group and they’ve been with us for several years. They do all our bookkeeping, all our, um, tax withholdings, all the, um, quarterly statements, you know, they do everything on the kind of bookkeeping side as well as the business side. Like they give me quarterly projections and budgets and, but then, uh, we use Gusto for all our payroll. And so what, it’s really easy to set up like the new state in Gusto. And then you’d get the numbers from the CFO group and you plug them in there and then everything just works. But man, I would, I would just go crazy if I had to do that all. Um, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, maybe based on your experience at PressNomics. Sally is the detailed oriented one. She’s the one that dots the I’s, crosses the T’s and takes care of things. [inaudible] I’m the idiot that’s like, let’s go play golf. Well not sound fun. Right. You know, so I I the company would crater if there wasn’t somebody else dotting the I’s and crossing T’s on all that HR stuff for me.

Devin: 37:55 Absolutely. And I don’t know how many total employees you have, but it’s, I think once you hit, right now we’ve hit close to that 18 number and then backed off a little or it started the 20 number, but I think around 25 we really need to start finding somebody to do some of those, whether it’s we hire a, an assistant, but a help with HR. I know once you get above like 30 to 50 then maybe it makes sense to bring it in house. But the HR stuff, a large number, a large amount of that we’ve been doing ourselves like employee handbook, you know, all this, our lawyer does help with that. We have a pretty good lawyer were incented to that. Even our insurance reviews our, um, but doing all this sort of onboarding and cultural stuff. For instance, we’re going to WordCamp us next, um, month man scheduling all the flights and B, the who’s kind of the table rotations, like it still comes down to the partners generally to figure this all out.

Josh: 38:55 Yeah. The, the menial tasks of running the business are just as necessary as you know, the, the product and the direction and the vision. But man, they take a lot out of yet. And you gotta have like, just the right mindset to do it right. You know? So, uh,

Speaker 5: 39:14 what [inaudible]

Josh: 39:16 what’d he do for fun? You know, when you’re not working, when you’re not helping all these nonprofits, what do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?

Devin: 39:24 Um, well, you know, I haven’t been getting into golf a little bit more, been a little more inspired now to, to tune in my game. But, um, my main sports, uh, volleyball, so I play a lot of beach volleyball.

Josh: 39:36 If you guys can’t see Devin, he’s like six, seven or something. And [inaudible] and built, built about this wide. So it’d be pretty imposing to play volleyball against.

Devin: 39:46 Oh, it’s pretty satisfying actually. I used to play basketball a lot.

Speaker 5: 39:53 Um,

Devin: 39:55 but let’s to get 30 over 30 start. Uh, it’s better to play a non contact sport. So what else can top people do that are decent at basketball, they can, uh, play volleyball. So that just was a natural transition. And being from San Diego, I never played until about a year and a half ago. And I’m pretty hooked. I’m pretty hooked. It’s fun. So are there like leagues around town? Like men’s jabs are here? Believe it or not, next, this weekend I’m playing in a, uh, Arizona versus San Diego. The majority of the players are coming from either a Phoenix or Tucson and it’s a 16 is from Arizona versus six teams that from, um, from San Diego and uh, just like a tournament on the beach. So I’m looking forward to that.

Josh: 40:41 You know, I love San Diego, um, but they have a derogatory term for us there and they call it zone. He’s all the zone. He’s come and flood their beaches in the summer to escape the Arizona heat.

Devin: 40:55 I don’t blame them at all. I mean, I, I’m a, uh, Zoni and heart from, uh, from [inaudible] and I could be your neighbor in a, in a couple of years. We’ll see.

Josh: 41:05 Yeah, we talked about that. You know, I’m, I’m scoping some nice properties in the Hills for you, so you just tell me when you’re ready and I’ll point in the right direction.

Devin: 41:14 That’s one of my favorite things to go on Redfin and check out those foothills up there, especially next to Ventana Canyon. That’s a great place.

Josh: 41:21 Uh, yeah. You know what, I, I totally failed this on that golf trip. My neighbor like literally kitty corner on the coldest sack is the golf pro at Ventana. Really? And so I saw him the next, I was like, Oh Hey, I just played your course. He’s like, why didn’t you tell me? I would have came up and totally like gave you guys the VIP treatment. I’m like, Oh, well yeah, maybe next time. So how is it working in a partnership of three? Um, you got yourself a mat and I forget Jason, Jason, and you know that that’s the decision making priorities in a company. There’s a lot of decisions to be made for one, but you know, sometimes decisions can be open for debate. Like, I think we should do this. I think we should do that. What’s your idea? What started, okay, cool. We’ve, we figured it out, let’s go that direction. Other decisions, sometimes you just want to be a tyrant and say, no, we’re doing it this way and the discussion, let’s go. Obviously those just got, that never happens in our company because if I ever spoke to my wife like that, she’d hit me. But what’s it like, um, you know, with, with the three of you, how did, how did you figure out the power dynamic or the relationship dynamics so that everybody’s effective? Yeah, everybody can feel heard.

Devin: 42:45 So that’s a really great question. Um, we’ve had, uh, lots of discussions. We’d meet every single week, twice a week, the three of us, um, ongoing agenda items, um, longstanding goals, short, short goals and how we’re going to meet those. But, um, I would say the majority of our meetings are, are very civil and um, the decisions are made together, um, as much as possible.

Speaker 6: 43:11 But um,

Devin: 43:13 there have been some very heated conversations as well.

Speaker 6: 43:18 Um,

Devin: 43:19 whether it’s one partner versus the other two verse one or one going against the two, it’s, it’s, it’s depends on what we’re talking about. You know, if it’s something we’re all sensitive and about, then it can be very touchy. If it’s something that’s, um, one person has a lot of expertise in that, the other two don’t. Then there’s a, they lean on that trust. Um, a few times I have had to um, sort of lay down, uh, wield the hammer, whatever you want to call it. Um, cause I am the majority owner in the company, which um, makes me sort of like the final decision maker. But I like to run it more like, um, a democracy where we can all have a voice and we all have equal said. So as much as possible, that’s how I run it. And then that’s not just for the three of us.

Devin: 44:09 Of course we make a lot of the decisions, but the entire company, I like to say it’s a S a semi flat organization where everybody can have a say on Slack. We have a suggestions channel where anybody can suggest anything for the company and we’re always looking for that, not only from our team members but from our user base as well. Um, that doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything that this suggests or suggest, but, um, being open, honest, not live in behind closed doors, not putting yourself in an ivory tower. I think those are all really important things for being a leader in a company and making sure that everybody knows you’re working as hard as them. And the ultimate goal of ours is to increase our growth and to benefit you as an employee or as a customer. Um, so that’s what we’re doing in the future. We’re going to be more transparent about kind of what our product roadmap is, what our growth trajectory, Liz, not only with our team but outside as well.

Josh: 45:09 [inaudible]. Yeah, I had a conversation three or four years ago and now with a close friend of mine and that’s, that was his key takeaway. He’s like, whatever energy you’re investing in marketing your product, your vision and things externally, you need to be spending that energy internally to make sure that you’re shaping the culture and the value system and, and the task list for your employees. Because, you know, people will follow a bad leader, but they’ll follow a mediocre leader with a great message a whole lot farther in her name’s hand.

Devin: 45:52 Absolutely. Um, I think it’d be great to be, uh, both. It’s hard to always shine as a grant leader. You do get frustrated and um, tendency to point fingers sometimes can overwhelm, but um, you have to remember like, you know, people are, um, looking at you and, and always trying to evaluate what their professional growth goals are. [inaudible] you can’t fulfill them, then they can move on. And luckily we’ve been pretty good about filling them, getting good quality team members, making sure there’s a culture there. Um, and you know, I didn’t go to business school or anything, so it’s not something that anybody you have to get an MBA for. You can, uh, I’ve read plenty of books and learned a trial by fire a lot of times too.

Josh: 46:39 Let’s, let’s wrap up on this one topic. Yeah. Uh, this one I’m getting better at vulnerability, right? So you’re, you’re the head of your organization or the try head, the three of you, but you’re the majority owner, so we’ll call you the head of the organization. You have a presence in the community. You have a, um, persona that you’ve, you know, subconsciously or consciously crafted about your accusation of running a business and a plugin shop. But, you know, we all mess up. We all make mistakes. And when can you or are you able to, and what are the real repercussions when you do, you know, kind of let your guard down a little bit and say, yeah, I messed up or I’m not good at this. It’s, I really lack in this area. Or that was a total mistake, you know, I’m sorry. Like, what sort of experiences have you had? Was that [inaudible]?

Devin: 47:37 Well, I’ve definitely went out and, um, you know, spent money where money is not really, I think it’s really necessary at the time, let’s say whether we’re using a contract service for something that we think could be really good for our, not only our brand, but our product spent thousands and thousands of dollars in that. And in the end we never used it. Um, that’s a classic example where I’ve gone down as a product person always trying to discover, um, as well, you know, on top of that, a lot of the, um, cultural things with the company, how people have left the company. Um, some Mo on not the best terms, some on really great terms, but as far as, um, getting that right all the time, uh, you know, it’s, I can accept that some people would leave and not the best terms at granted. It’s only been a small, small, small number, but I still feel bad about that and are still, um, always want to improve on that.

Devin: 48:38 And, um, and then working with my partners, like it’s, I’m always thinking about what I’m doing compared to them and how we can improve together and, and meaning to them that I’ve made mistakes. Um, whether I’m not hitting a, a timeline or a goal, um, or something went wrong with an update or you know, there was a vulnerability that didn’t get patched fast enough, something happened. Um, but what we can do is, you know, evaluate that, do a postmortem on it if you want to in Seattle improve. Um, but I’m not afraid to admit I make mistakes and, and I’m sure I’ll be making a lot more mistakes, but it’s easy to fall into that imposter syndrome type of mentality. Um, but you have to be confident. You have to listen to some of that, but also, um, get a good coach or mentor. Yeah, great coach and mentor, which has helped quite a bit, sort through that muck

Josh: 49:42 a, there’s a lot of muck there, you know, sometimes over my career, what’s happened to me sometimes is I forget my own status, we’ll call that right where I am in the company. What my personal brand is or whatever. I forget my own status for whatever that’s worth and I, I am vulnerable for a moment and say, Oh yeah, I’m terrible at that. I just, I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. Whatever the case may be. And then I’m criticized for it. And the criticism is where it hurts because it’s like, wait a minute, I’m supposed to be this all knowing, you know, perfect specimen of a CEO. Like I’ve done this before. Like if I can’t admit my deficiency somewhere without getting my legs taken out, well then now I just have to build my wall up higher. Right now I have to just hold my face, get work on my poker face even more.

Josh: 50:41 Cause if you can’t, you know, if you can’t share kind of a little bit of vulnerability about something without fear of getting taken out, why it’s a lonely road, you know, thankfully I’ve learned over time that that context really plays there, right? In the context of inside the company, we’ve built a culture where it’s okay to be vulnerable, you know, all across it’s okay to say, gosh, I’m just, this isn’t me, I’m not doing this right or something. And it’s okay. The context. So outside of the company, yeah, I still have to kind of wear my mask quite often, you know? And I think that’s just par for the course. You just have to get used to it because if you’re not inside the company or in your mastermind group, you kinda just gotta play the part of everything’s fine. It’s all awesome. I know everything.

Devin: 51:35 Right, right. And it’s, I mean, you’re not going to come out and get with all the terrible things going on that just doesn’t make sense. Like, how’s your company? Don’t OD terrible younger than him, but, um, you know, I like to, I like to say when somebody criticizes us, like let’s learn from it. Um, each are humble pie and a improve on what they’re saying cause it’s likely they have a point that they’re trying to make. They might not be doing it the best way, the most nice way. I could tell you a number of one star reviews that are like complete garbage on install right now. Um, where maybe that might not be the best example of a constructive one, but yeah, no what I’m saying, right?

Josh: 52:17 Oh yeah, absolutely. Like, um, you can read their diatribe and somewhere in there, I guarantee it isn’t. There’s one if not two, if not three valid concerns that you should be looking at to address, but you have to unpack 50 lines of vitriol and hate and really have to know how to not take it personal and separate yourself so you can just pick out those nuggets you need to focus on. And it gets hard sometimes. You know, if you’re in business long enough, somebody’s going gonna read me a new one, whether you deserve it or not. And understanding, okay, I hate the way he said it, but he’s got a point. Let’s see if we can fix that. So I think we’ll call this episode humble pie. Oh, that’s a good one. I like that. All right. So Devin, tell everybody where they can find you online.

Devin: 53:13 Oh, you can find me on my website, devin.org or you can check me out on Twitter at inter-webs and of course I’ll be on a the business site, a given wp.com right. Well thank you

Josh: 53:25 so much Devin, for joining us today and good luck in your volleyball tournament coming up. And while I want to root for you, cause you’re my friend, I’m going to go for the home team and say goes Odis. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks a lot. Alright, thanks Devin. Cheers. Cheers.

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