It Was Actually Quite Sunny in Philadelphia: Post Status Publish Wrapup
This week, the Northern Hemisphere half of the Prospress team headed to Philly for Post Status Publish and WordCamp US. These were both outstanding events that greatly inspired us and gave us ideas to take into the Prospress meetup this week.
As there were so many interesting talks and ideas across both events, I will need to do a two-part wrap-up. This first one will focus on the inaugural Post Status Publish, and the next post will cover our adventures at WordCamp US.
Post Status Publish
An excited group of punters turned up bright and early on a sunny Philadelphia day. We were all ready for registration at the Hub, which was an excellent venue and a perfect size for the event. A team of helpful volunteers efficiently signed us in, prepared name tags, and had our swag ready and waiting.
Investment Banking and Acquisitions
For the first session, the WordPress community collectively adulted by listening to Steve Lee (an investment banker) in conversation with Joshua Strebel of Pagely. Steve covered what can be expected in an acquisition process and what it can mean for smaller organisations. Steve was not shy on throwing out terms such as EBIDA and CapEx (pretty early in the morning for that), while explaining that it’s important not to assume the acquisition process will be benevolent.
The WordPress world is growing up, proof? We're intently listening to an investment banker at #PublishConf
— Joost de Valk (@jdevalk) December 1, 2016
Marketing for Success as a WordPress Hosting Provider
During the second session, Tina Kesova explained the five focal points for SiteGround in their bid to become the managed hosting provider of choice for WordPress. Tina explained that one of their key goals has to provide outstanding customer support. As a Site Ground customer, I can confirm their live chat support is incredibly fast and helpful. :100:
In addition, SiteGround invests heavily in company culture. Tina said it is important that the people who work for you love your company and your product, as it attracts customers who love what you do and also love your product. Prospress agrees.
Getting some great lessons from @tinakesova sharing the @SiteGround story at #PublishConf pic.twitter.com/pakGQV4jzJ
— Prospress (@Prospress) December 1, 2016
Building a SaaS Using WordPress
Bryce Adams recently launched Metorik (pronounced as “metric”), which is an app offering reports for WooCommerce stores. Bryce explained that he was quite deliberate in choosing to build this as a SaaS rather than a plugin. It’s harder to create amazing experiences with a WordPress plugin than with an app, so it makes sense to take the services approach. He explains his rationale in the article The future of WordPress is not in a zip file.
There are also huge advantages in updating an app vs plugin, especially as updating an app deploys to all users immediately. This is very different to the process for deploying updates to plugins, as the developer has to wait for users to update (which reminded me of a previous Small Woorld interview with Elliot Taylor. One thing Elliot learned from hosting his plugin on the WordPress repository is that people do not update their plugins very often!).
Bryce has found that speed is the most important factor in using a SaaS model rather than a plugin model: WordPress is slow (a single lookup for an order raises 100 queries). He has solved that problem by using the REST API instead.
Another advantage of using an app-based or services based approach is the ability to set permissions precisely. When running a store, the owner has to give community moderators access to the dashboard, which gives them access to stats such as net sales and to the backend of the WordPress site. This level of access for community moderators isn’t always ideal, and the app-based approach solves that.
Finally, Bryce explained the importance of the sign up flow. Metorik does not support older versions of WooCommerce, so it checks each site first to see whether it is compatible with the app before taking the customer through the sign up process.
How to Get Attention For Your Product (or, It’s Not 2008 Anymore)
For the keynote session, Brian Krogsgard interviewed Christina Warren from Gizmodo. Christina discussed how to get attention for your product, given that a TechCrunch writeup doesn’t mean as much as it used to – it’s not 2008 anymore.
She suggested that sponsoring podcasts is one way WooCommerce could get attention similar to that attracted by BigCommerce and SquareSpace. It’s a strategy that MailChimp and Squarespace have followed and it has worked quite well.
.@Krogsgard asking the smart questions and getting savvy answers from @film_girl during the #PublishConf keynote pic.twitter.com/X0ds8EYbE0
— Prospress (@Prospress) December 1, 2016
Brian asked how to get written up in Gizmodo, and Christina suggested getting WordPress to do something nerdy and niche-y, even if it’s essentially useless. She provided an example of a guy who set up his Commodore64 to send and receive Slack messages – even though it had no real practical application, it had the nerd and niche factor that earned it a feature in Gizmodo.
Later in the discussion, Brian raised the question of whether Medium is a threat to the classic independent blogger. Christina agreed that it could have been – but it’s not. People will still have WordPress, because we will always worry what could happen if Medium pivots again. What would happen to your site? How do you migrate your stuff? These risks are too big to take.
Contributing to WordPress Core
The fifth session was a conversation between Helen Hou-Sandi (lead on WordPress 4.7) and Gary Pendergast, which covered a lot of ground, including the decisions behind whether to make something a plugin or make it as part of core. WordPress has added a lot of new committers in the last two years, and therefore have had to make changes to the commit process.
Helen pointed out that more committers can mean greater logistical issues: what happens when you extend the ability to commit to 100 or 1000 – or at the extreme – what if everyone can contribute? How do you manage version control in that situation? If you don’t manage it, developers could spend all their time rolling back changes.
"WordPress RCs have in the tens of thousands installs. A new release does the same after 10 minutes." – @GaryPendergast #PublishConf
— Taco Verdo (@TacoVerdo) December 1, 2016
Getting to Product Market Fit: or, be More Like eHarmony and Less Like match.com
The sixth session was from the incomparable Chris Lema – as introduced by Brian as the “VP of something or other” (actually VP of Products and Innovation at Liquid Web, as he explains here).
Chris told us how we should be more like eHarmony and less like Match, as people on match.com are looking for all different types of things: like maybe just something casual or a Friday night friend. But eHarmony says: you are here looking for love, and then they gear their product to that market.
Chris ran through five key points:
1. Product/market fit
This is a lot more about market than product. You only get a certain number of shots at pitching your product to your market, and you can’t afford to mess it up.
Product/market fit is more about market than it is about product @chrislema at #PublishConf pic.twitter.com/jSikwuDXcg
— Prospress (@Prospress) December 1, 2016
2. Empathy is often the missing element
This isn’t just a feeling, it’s an ability to step into the shoes of someone else. For example, you need to know how many clicks it takes for your customer to get something of value out of your product.
3. Your messaging should be targeted and timely
If you assume you’ll be compared to others, you’ll likely stop writing/saying stupid shit. Your product and home pages should be different from others – it should be clear who you are, what you do, and who you do it for. This is where you define your target and your segment of the market. If you try to say you are good for everyone, you won’t get product-market fit, you will get a lot of noise.
4. Differentiating is a lot easier once your segmentation is done
The broader your appeal, the harder it is to know if you’re getting traction. The advantage of differentiating is that customers will self select (either in or out of your audience) if they see themselves in your messaging.
5. Help your customers and prospects see their problems in your messaging
Articulate the problem – if a customer knows they have this problem just by reading the website/advertising copy, they know the vendor is saying I get you.
- Three keys for communicating with customers about the product:
- Pain (we know your struggle) – this is the first part of empathy
- Claim (we’re here for you) – that’s why I created this product: to help you
- Gain (there is hope) – if you choose this product, you can have hope again
Use Pain, Claim, & Gain & #empathy in #copywriting & #marketing. Great message by @chrislema #PublishConf #wcus pic.twitter.com/37bgl0n3hi
— Jen Miller (@JenBlogs4U) December 1, 2016
- Loss aversion is a key motivation for customers to push the button (to buy).
- Nobody likes to miss out, but people need a 5:1 ratio of upside to downside. For example, if you offer someone a coin toss and if it comes up heads you give them a dollar, and tails means they give you a dollar, most people will say no. There’s a 50% chance they will win, but there’s a 50% chance they will lose.
- You need to offer up to $5 to get a positive response, to entice someone to enter into that coin toss lottery. So your product messaging needs to make it very clear that if they don’t push that button and buy, they will lose out on something valuable.
Legal Issues at Automattic
Session seven was an interesting insight into WordPress and the law delivered by Paul Sieminski.
Legal issues at Automattic usually stem from lawsuits directed against bloggers or users. As Automattic tries to stand for free speech and protect the users, it needs to discern what is a real threat and what isn’t. The legal team faces a lot of copyright issues, and tries to ensure that the fight is a fair one, especially on the side of the users.
I could listen to @pesieminski talk about law in open-source forever #PublishConf pic.twitter.com/o7j0Rc31eV
— John James Jacoby (@JJJ) December 1, 2016
A common issue is around “copyright infringement”. A famous singer once sued for copyright infringement because a blogger was talking about them, and the singer had trademarked her name. These sorts of issues can be addressed by Automattic’s legal team before it even gets to the blogger or user. For further reading, Paul neatly summarised his talk in this blog post.
Session eight saw a very interesting discussion between Tom Wilmott and Scott Basgaard about running a small agency (Scott) and a larger and growing agency (Tom).
It was like a great conversation between two old friends, as Scott had originally worked at Human Made before leaving to work on his own agency. As Scott explained, he had learned a tonne of stuff from companies he worked with previously and wanted to apply it to his own company. Within a year has hired 5 people, but is now joining DeKode in Norway.
More background on my latest move to @dekodeno in 2017. https://t.co/Dv628BfExc #PublishConf #wcus
— Scott Basgaard (@scottbasgaard) December 2, 2016
Hiring Entrepreneurially Minded People to Your Team
Tom asked the founders in the audience to answer the question who worries about employees leaving to start their own company. One of the problems of bringing people into the company and investing in them is that (of course) there are always some that will want to do their own thing.
But the question is, as a business owner, do you embrace that? Do you embrace side projects and allow those people to be entrepreneurs within the company, either running a side hustle or promoting intrapreneurship?
Tom believes it’s not possible to shut it down, as they will eventually find a way to express those tendencies. That might mean you will see entrepreneurially minded people leave the company (as Scott obviously did). Tom believes however that there is a strong upside to hiring someone who will inevitably leave to do their own thing. This is the kind of person who will make a major contribution to getting your company where you want it to go even if they eventually do leave you.
Enjoying listening to @tomwillmot on stage repeatedly answering "I have no idea" to every question on how to run an agency 😀 #PublishConf
— John,000,000,000 (@johnbillion) December 1, 2016
Hiring Juniors vs Hiring Seniors
The most interesting part of this discussion for me personally was around the issue of hiring. Scott and Tom discussed whether there is a tendency to hire seniors because it is hard to hire juniors and to train them in a remote company.
Scott agrees that as an industry, this is something at which we could do a better job. Tom said that the tendency of “hiring senior” is the dark side of remote: it means you take them away from other companies who have put in the effort of developing those people.
Both Scott and Tom believe that as a community could do a lot more. We share code and techniques and process in the open source community; surely we could also do something to make the hiring and training process easier. Human Made has internal mentors, and an engineering handbook.
The Challenges of Hiring Remotely
Tom said his problem is being a bit nice: he has a tendency to “like everyone”, which is not a good way to hire people. When hiring remotely, we base our impression on minimal interaction. That’s why Human Made has trials as part of their hiring process (as does Prospress). Culture is everything in a co-located office, and it’s just as important remotely. It’s just a lot easier to build in an office with in-person interactions.
Starting and Developing an Agency
The discussion then moved to how the hardest part of starting an agency is that the agency becomes its own thing, its own entity. For the founder, this means letting go, bringing on other people and allowing them to be a team. As an agency you are no longer directly selling yourself (as the founder), you have to let go and trust other people to do the work.
Tom noted that growing a company is like separating off layers of your responsibility and hiring someone to take care of these, step by step. You start out doing it all, and then move down the list as you delegate. You might even end up doing things you don’t like that much, but ideally you delegate the responsibilities you don’t necessarily want. When asked about the goals for Human Made, Tom replied that they are vague-ish: but are basically centered on building a company that people enjoy working with.
Post Status Publish was like being in a rather large parlour with some of the brightest minds in the WordPress community speaking candidly about their work and what they see for the future. Many of the speakers sat down when they took the stage, lending a further feeling of intimacy to the event. The reception afterwards was such a success in terms of hallway tracks and mingling and socialising that the doors had to be closed to conduct the live podcast recording.
My answer is being YES, Brian.
We’d love for Brian to do this again. He did an incredible job organising the event, and we congratulate him on striking that balance between relaxed and professional, and for lining up such high quality speakers for this event. The volunteers were exceptionally helpful, and I want to specially thank David Bissett for going out of his way to ensure I had my gluten free lunch!
After a long day of learning and networking, the Prospress team walked back to our Airbnb, but not before we stopped in to try Philly’s famous cheesesteak.
We went to bed tired, but happy and inspired, and tried to get to sleep early for WordCamp the following day!