October 2, 2014
This episode is a continuation of Episode 26 and is all about business. We wanted to discuss some of the various ways that we find inspiration and motivation to continue building our businesses.
At the end of episode 26 we asked for listeners to submit any business related questions they had, and we received a really great submission from John Brackett. We wanted to take some time to address his questions, which included:
- Do you hire them as full-time salaried employees?
- Do you pay them based on how many tickets they respond to or based on hours? How do they log their hours?
- Do you give them admin access to your site so that they can handle payments/transactions/refunds etc? How did you find developers you could trust?
- Did it take a lot of effort to train them to be able to support your plugins?
- How do you handle communication and ticketing?
This episode was sponsored by WP Ninjas, the creators of Ninja Demo and the highly popular Ninja Forms plugin.
- Podcasts: Startups for the Rest of Us, Tropical MBA
- Blue Ocean Strategy from W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
- Inner Game of Tennis from W. Timothy Gallwey
- Rework by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson (Basecamp guys)
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- Anything from Seth Godin
- Trialing at Automattic blog post by Dave Clements
- Big Snow Tiny Conf
- Review us on iTunes
PIPPIN: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Apply Filters, Episode 27. Today is going to be a continuation of what we talked about last episode, and it’s all about business. As developers that are leading businesses in the WordPress world, there are certain challenges that we face that we’re maybe not entirely accustomed to facing or that other developers aren’t accustomed to facing. We want to talk some more on that.
Specifically, we want to talk about where do we get inspiration and motivation to keep working and building businesses, and then we’re going to directly answer some questions that a listener had regarding dealing with sales and support growth. Brad, why don’t we go ahead and start out. Tell us a little bit about where you find personal motivation.
BRAD: Yeah, I mean there are plenty of different sources. I guess I’m kind of a podcast junkie, I guess you would say. I pretty much have to —
PIPPIN: It seems appropriate that you would cohost a podcast then.
BRAD: Yeah. That might have had something to do with starting this thing because I get so much inspiration from other podcasters that have been at it for years, right? They’re on, like, episode 200-and-something.
BRAD: I’m just like, holy crap these guys are crazy.
BRAD: Yeah. Probably my favorite would be the Tropical MBA podcast. The reason is because I love traveling. These guys just kind of travel the world and run their businesses remotely, and so I’m kind of living vicariously through them. It’s always fun to hear where they are next and that kind of thing.
PIPPIN: That is really cool.
BRAD: The other one is Startups for the Rest of Us. Those guys also have a conference that I attend every year. They spend each episode either answering a listener question about business or just kind of giving a report on their own businesses. Those guys are software guys as well. Those are developers who have turned into business owners, and so it’s very relevant to what we do, I think, so a really great podcast. Check those two out for sure.
PIPPIN: Yeah, definitely.
BRAD: Have you ever listened to those, Pippin?
PIPPIN: I’ve never listened to either one, but I hear about them constantly, both from you and from others. Clearly they’re great things. I actually find myself not listening to podcasts very often unless I’m driving in the car.
PIPPIN: When I’m driving, I really like to have a podcast. I don’t like to zone — I mean, when I’m driving, I tend to zone out a little bit, but for me zoning out is thinking —
BRAD: That doesn’t sound good.
PIPPIN: Well, it’s like thinking about something a lot.
PIPPIN: For me, listening to a podcast on a three-hour drive is a way to keep my mind active.
PIPPIN: Yeah, keeps me going.
BRAD: Yeah. I’m the same way, and so I’ve actually cut back my audio, just listening to audio stuff. I listen to audio books as well because we’ve moved into a town, so I do a lot less driving places.
BRAD: But I tend to listen to it while I’m doing, like while I’m preparing supper or while I’m doing the dishes and cleaning up.
PIPPIN: Yeah, I’ll do that sometimes.
BRAD: That stuff. Yeah, so I try to check in with those podcasts when I can. They’re really good. What other things motivate you? You mentioned dreaming. What do you mean by that?
PIPPIN: Yeah, so this is something I think I mentioned a little bit at the end of the last episode. For me, a really big motivation is that overall goal that you want to achieve. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what the goal is. I’ve heard people say, like, oh, my goal is to make a business that brings in a million dollars a year. Awesome. You have a goal.
PIPPIN: And you work towards it. I’ve heard other people say that their goal is to just make their business successful enough that they can spend their day surfing.
PIPPIN: That’s awesome.
BRAD: I betcha — I know who that was too. I know who that was.
PIPPIN: I bet you do.
BRAD: I betcha it was Shane, wasn’t it? Was it Shane?
PIPPIN: Yeah, it was Shane. But I took that quote to heart. To me, that was a really great example of defining what you personally want out of your business. If that, if your business allows you to do what you want to do, no matter what it is, you are successful for you. I think that’s the most important. And so, for me, dreaming in that sense and having some sort of goal that I’m reaching towards keeps me motivated because that’s what I want to achieve.
PIPPIN: Whether it’s in a year or ten years, I’m pushing towards that.
BRAD: Are you dreaming, like, when the dream of a million dollars or whatever? Is that like I want a yacht, or is that like a million dollars in revenue that you want the business to achieve, and you’ll have employees, and that kind of thing?
PIPPIN: Well, obviously I think it differs for everyone. For me, I have no interest in owning a yacht. I would like to go sailing.
BRAD: You live in Kansas.
PIPPIN: Yeah, man.
BRAD: Is there a place where you could put a yacht there?
PIPPIN: No! The biggest body of water that we have is a lake that’s 45 minutes away, and you could put a little sailboat on it, but it’d be a little one. A yacht is not going to do me very well. It’s actually funny because every time I drive to my coffee shop, there is a giant yacht that lives in a parking lot. It’s been sitting on a trailer for a year. And every time I drive by, I think, “Where did you use this thing?” There is not a body of water big enough within 500 miles to put this thing. Why is it here? I don’t understand. Yeah, so I have very little interest in owning a yacht.
BRAD: Yeah. Yeah, same here.
PIPPIN: For me personally, I don’t really have monetary goals. There are some. I wouldn’t include specific dollar amounts. For me, I want to be sustainable, obviously. I want to be able to provide for a sustainable living for others. And I would like to be able to not have to work if I choose not to.
PIPPIN: That’s my —
BRAD: That’s like freedom, right? That’s what a lot of people say.
BRAD: A lot of entrepreneurs say.
PIPPIN: Yeah. I want to get to the point where I can say that I have achieved the freedom of not having to work in order to pay my bills.
BRAD: Right. Yeah. That’s, yeah, those are similar.
PIPPIN: Or not having to work an excessive number of hours. Let’s put it that way.
BRAD: Yeah, that’s similar motivations for me as well.
PIPPIN: I also think that dreaming goes much further than that. We kind of stuck within the realm of where do you dream of your business going, like what’s the goal of your business. But, for me at least, I think motivation and having that drive to do more goes much further than just what you want the business to do. I have an example. One of the things that keeps me really motivated to work and to grow my business and make it more successful is what I want to do outside of business.
I’ve recently become very interested and in love with brewing and brewing beer. One of my goals is, in the next 10 to 15 years, to open a local brewery here. There’s not a brewery within 150 miles of where I live, maybe 100 miles. I would love to see one here, and so that’s a goal is, in the next 10 to 15 years, to make that a reality. That keeps me really motivated to make the business today successful so that, in the future, I can transition into something else.
BRAD: Right, so it’s like your retirement dream almost, right?
PIPPIN: Yeah. I think that’s a good way to put it. It’s what I want to do when I’m done with this.
PIPPIN: Not necessarily done with this, but when I want to supplement it with something else, when I want to scale this back a little.
BRAD: Right. Hmm, that’s cool. What are the other things that are inspirations? I find conferences are huge.
BRAD: I mentioned Micro Conf is one of the ones I go to. It’s one of my favorites.
PIPPIN: That’s definitely on my list for this upcoming year.
BRAD: Yeah, it takes place in Vegas, and they also have one, so Vegas in May or April. I can’t remember. MicroConf.com, anyway, and they have Micro Conf Europe now as well in Prague. If you’re looking for a European adventure, that would be a way to go.
PIPPIN: That’s cool.
BRAD: Yeah. What are some other conferences? There’s Prestige. We mentioned that last week.
PIPPIN: Yeah, Prestige is this weekend, two days from now, which should be really cool. I’m hoping to tune it. I’m actually going to be sitting in my garage brewing and will hopefully tune in while the pot boils away.
PIPPIN: I find even smaller conferences like WordCamps are really inspiring. You get to go around and meet other people that are in a similar business as you, or that are either running successful businesses or aspiring to it.
PIPPIN: And then more business focused conferences in WordPress like PressNomics is really awesome.
PIPPIN: I really like PressNomics….
BRAD: Yeah. For those who don’t know, PressNomics is a WordPress business focused conference, so it’s all about the business of WordPress, similar to Prestige. I believe that’s what Prestige is all about as well, right?
BRAD: Yeah. Then you mentioned WordCamps. Man, some of the WordCamps are huge though, like Miami.
PIPPIN: Yeah, like WordCamp Europe, that I just finished was huge.
BRAD: Oh, yeah? Sorry. What was that? WordCamp what?
PIPPIN: I was at WordCamp Europe that was just last weekend, I think.
PIPPIN: I don’t remember how many attendees they had, but I think it was — it was approaching the size of WordCamp San Francisco.
PIPPIN: Yeah, it was….
BRAD: Do you know? Yeah, you don’t know the numbers. How does it compare to Miami, like on what kind of scale?
PIPPIN: It’s bigger than Miami.
BRAD: Yeah. Man.
PIPPIN: Miami is definitely one of the larger WordCamps.
BRAD: Cool. I was super impressed by Miami. That was the first U.S. based WordCamp I’d ever been to, so I have nothing to compare it to, so that’s why I’m asking.
PIPPIN: I’ve been to WordCamps that had 50 people and ones that had 1,500.
PIPPIN: There is a huge range. I think my favorite thing about them though is getting to — I like what people have nicknamed the Hallway Track.
PIPPIN: Which is basically hanging out in the hallways or in the common areas and talking to other people and meeting them. Sometimes you’re meeting people that you’ve known online for a long time. Sometimes you’re meeting brand new faces and names. But you get to hear a lot of cool stories from people, learn about cool businesses that other people are running.
PIPPIN: And maybe get some insight into your own.
BRAD: Yeah, I love the hallway chatter, and I love the networking time. Like at conferences, oftentimes the talks are kind of the side thing.
BRAD: For me, the networking is the big thing, the one-on-one conversations.
PIPPIN: My favorite part, like you said, is the networking. But generally my favorite part is the after party because that’s where everybody is just going to talk, which is the same reason why I don’t like after parties that have really loud music because then you can’t talk very well.
PIPPIN: Those are definitely the most valuable to me.
BRAD: One other note about MicroConf is that there’s a contingent of WordPress businesses there, so if you’re running a WordPress business, a plugin, theme, or whatever, there are other people there that have very similar businesses to what you have, and so it’s always good. We kind of tend to be a little cliquey, actually. They kind of congregate together and go to dinner together. Yeah. It’s kind of like a little subgroup of the group.
PIPPIN: That’s probably pretty normal though.
BRAD: Yeah. It’s wild too. The first night there was like a social, right? And they had it in this pretty good-sized room. And it was so loud in there just from people talking. There was no music whatsoever, but people were just — there was so much energy the first night, right? People were super excited to be there that people were just basically yelling at each other.
PIPPIN: That’s awesome.
BRAD: People had no voices the next day. It was wild.
PIPPIN: What about — this was something that I find really helpful in not just getting motivated, but also in getting advice are things like mastermind groups.
BRAD: Oh, yeah.
PIPPIN: I know, Brad, you and I obviously participate together in a mastermind group where we get together once every two weeks and talk business, and it could be anything. It could be what were recent struggles that we had in our businesses recently, or recent achievements, or tactics. Brad, what do you think are some of the most valuable things that we can get out of those?
BRAD: The big difference between a mastermind and just talking business with whoever is that you kind of bring kind of a set of rules to a mastermind. Basically everything you talk about is confidential, and you can put pretty much anything on the table. Talk about all your numbers. You can talk about kind of anything that’s confidential. You just have the trust in the group that those things won’t kind of get leaked out of the group.
PIPPIN: I think that’s really important.
PIPPIN: I think that’s really important for business, like, if you want to talk business with someone because, let’s be honest, numbers matter a lot. Details about numbers in business matter a lot. And so I think, being able to talk about those in a private setting with other people that are in similar positions as you is really helpful.
BRAD: Right. Yep, and there are other things like if you’re having trouble with an employee or something. We can talk about that. There are just all kinds of things that you really don’t want to talk about publicly that is really great to be able to bring to that group and have the support of those people.
BRAD: I guess the other point of a mastermind group is that they’re small. They shouldn’t be — you know, five is getting kind of big because the more people you add, right, the less time each person has to speak in your hour long meeting or whatever.
PIPPIN: Right. Yeah, and I think you want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak up and have their voice heard and to get their issues addressed.
PIPPIN: That gets exponentially harder the more people you add.
BRAD: Yes, and it gets harder to schedule. Everything gets harder, right?
BRAD: I’ve heard people that had a mastermind. Oh, yeah, we’ve got 12 people in the mastermind group. I’m like, that doesn’t sound like a mastermind group at all.
PIPPIN: Yeah, I mean the one thing I will say about a larger group that is definitely beneficial is that you have a lot wider ranges of experiences that can contribute to a discussion.
BRAD: Yeah. Well, I mean, what you could do is you could have two mastermind groups and meet each one on an off week. Each week you would end up meeting with a different mastermind group. Some people might prefer that. Anyway, there’s a Startups For the Rest of Us episode that basically describes how you can set up a mastermind group and how it should work and that kind of stuff. We’ll link that up in the show notes so people can find that.
PIPPIN: Yeah, that definitely would be really good for anybody who is interested in getting one set up or participating in one. I actually am part of two different masterminds groups. I have the one that is Brad and I and another person and then another one that I do every other Friday on the alternate week, which is with a group of five people. It’s really cool to see the differences between the two, but they’re both very valuable. I noticed that in the larger group we definitely talk about different things.
BRAD: Right. Yeah. I mean, I can’t stress enough how important this is once you get going with business, just to bounce ideas, especially if you’re a single founder.
BRAD: If you have no business partner, you’re really just bouncing things off the wall to yourself, right? If you can bounce them off of someone else, and they can actually process it and then give you feedback, that’s huge when you’re a single founder.
PIPPIN: Absolutely. I think, for anybody who is interested in starting one or participating, I think it’s absolutely crucial that you agree with everyone else involved that you can talk about private information safely because otherwise it’s not going to be that useful. If you can’t talk about numbers and other private information, then there’s not a whole lot of value you’re going to get out of it because that’s when you really start to get the value from a mastermind group is when you can talk about the things that you wouldn’t talk about otherwise.
BRAD: Yeah. If you go to a conference like MicroConf as well, it’s kind of a — it kind of goes without saying that you should share numbers and disclose things like that when you’re talking to people there because if you don’t, people kind of feel that you’re guarded, right, that you’re not opening up. That’s one thing I learned when I went to MicroConf. It’s better to kind of open up about your business, how your numbers are doing, and that kind of thing.
PIPPIN: Interesting. I would not have known that.
BRAD: Yeah. I mean, it depends where you are, right? At that particular conference, that’s how it was. I’m not sure if that applies at somewhere like PressNomics or Prestige.
PIPPIN: I don’t think so.
PIPPIN: Now, if you choose to open up, no one is going to be like, whoa, what are you doing?
PIPPIN: It’s perfectly accepted. It’s just not necessarily expected of you.
BRAD: Right. Anyways, books, do you read books on business or no?
PIPPIN: I don’t. I actually don’t think I’ve ever read a single business book.
BRAD: I have in the past, but I haven’t read many recently. Mostly just because I find that most of my reading is before bed, and I cannot read business before bed because then my mind starts racing, so I just can’t get to sleep.
BRAD: But I’ve started to listen to audio books, and I got through the Inner Game of Tennis, an audio book, and that was really good, a really great book. Blue Ocean Strategy, I read quite a while ago, and it’s really good for inspiration. I’d definitely check that one out. My mind was just firing, sparking like crazy when I was reading that book because you get all kinds of ideas for businesses. If you’re in the idea phase where you’re looking at trying to figure out what idea would be the good one to go after, that’s a great idea for someone at that stage. If you’ve already got a business, it’s probably a terrible book because you should be really focusing on your business, not trying to think of a new business to start. Rework by Jason Fried and David —
PIPPIN: I think I actually have read that one.
BRAD: Have you? Okay. Yeah.
PIPPIN: I either read Rework or their other one they wrote.
BRAD: Yeah, that’s a great book, right? It’s just little essays right from their blog, I think.
BRAD: And maybe a little bit of bonus material.
PIPPIN: The guys from 37 Signals, the guys that made Basecamp are awesome.
PIPPIN: They’ve got so much good insight.
BRAD: Yeah. They’re huge bootstrapper advocates, right?
BRAD: They really are not shy about talking about venture capital being an evil, basically. Yeah, it’s always entertaining to hear their thoughts. Getting Things Done by David Allen, also known as GTD, that was a really good book that I read a while back just about how to organize things and get things done faster and in the right priority and that kind of stuff. It’s basically a system for that. There’s lots of software out there that actually implements the ideas in that book, like task managers and stuff.
BRAD: Then Anything by Seth Godin.
PIPPIN: I’ve read some of his blog posts and essays, and they’re great.
BRAD: Yeah, they’ll pop up on your Twitter feed every now and then probably, right? His stuff is pretty good.
PIPPIN: He’s pretty prevalent.
BRAD: Yeah. Anything he writes is pretty solid. Yeah, that’s about it. Like I said, I haven’t read too much recently.
PIPPIN: That’s awesome.
PIPPIN: Why don’t we go ahead and move to — we had some really great questions come in from one of the listeners. His name is John Brackett. He runs a plugin development site. He’s responsible for one called Custom Facebook Feed, and he’s running a business. He says that it’s doing well. We want to address some questions that he asked because I think they’re really great, and they’re questions that you’re going to run into if you’re running your own business, if you’re just starting one, or you’re thinking of running them. There’s some that we’ve actually run into really recently, both Brad and I have.
PIPPIN: First, I want to actually just go ahead and read verbatim what John wrote us because it sets it up pretty well.
John says, “I’m a regular listener, and I love the last business oriented episode. I’m a WordPress plugin developer and currently just a one-man-band. Sales have been good. But due to the increase in sales, there’s also been an increase in support tickets. I’m finding it difficult to effectively balance both support and work on the plugins themselves. I’m considering hiring another developer to help me with support so that I can focus more on the business and would love to hear about how you guys handle hiring and managing your support team.”
We’ve got a couple of things here. Number one, he’s obviously got a business that’s up and running. His sales are doing well, and he’s handling support. But he’s starting to run into the issue of support becomes a hard job. The more successful your business becomes, in this case in sales, you’re going to get more and more support, and it becomes more and more difficult to balance that.
BRAD: First of all, the first thing I thought of here is, this is a good reason to hire someone. But there is also another good reason to hire someone. That is that, say you’re a developer. Your job, if you’re building a product, should be to control the user experience to make sure that the user has the best experience possible.
Now, if you’re also coding that product, sometimes you take shortcuts, right? If it’s easier to do it this way, you do it that way, whereas for the user it might be better to do it the hard way. And so, if you hire someone to do it, you can be the kind of quality controller, the user experience kind of police and make sure that the developer does it the best way for the user, right?
PIPPIN: Right, focusing more on making it a successful product as opposed to just getting the job done.
BRAD: Yeah, exactly. I can relate to this because I’ve taken shortcuts in the past.
PIPPIN: Oh, yeah. I think we all have.
BRAD: Just because it’s easier, right, whereas it wasn’t always the best decision.
PIPPIN: We’ll ship it this way for now because it at least gets the job done. We’ll improve it later. Two years later, it hasn’t changed.
BRAD: Exactly. Exactly, so I’d say that is another really good reason why you should be considering hiring someone.
BRAD: If you have a support surplus and you’re finding it hard to keep up, that’s also a really good reason. I think that John is definitely in a good position to hire.
PIPPIN: I want to give, actually, a really good example. I want to give a really good example of, first of all, I just hired a full-time employee recently. He’s actually someone that’s been working with me as a contractor for a while, but he is now a full-time salaried employee. One of the things that he’s doing is he’s actually working on some of the internals of the business in terms of like the website that powers the business, some of our own tools, things like that.
There are some really kind of hacky, half-ass things that we did early on just to launch the site and launch the products. To be honest, some of them have made it more difficult to run things or more time consuming. These have been things that I’ve always looked at like I need to improve this; I should fix this. But I would always have the excuse of I’ve got more important things to work on because they don’t really hurt. They’re not that important.
PIPPIN: But one of the things that he’s doing is he’s going through, and he’s improving a lot of these. For example, we pushed some updates a couple days ago that cut the amount of time it takes to deploy a new version of a plugin to the site in half. That’s huge!
PIPPIN: Those kinds of things are now things that we can do more easily because he’s working full time on these things.
BRAD: Right. John’s first question here is, “Do you hire them as a full-time salaried employee?” I guess the alternative is to bring them on part time. I can tell you what we do. We’ve just gone through about six months of hiring where we had people come onboard on a trial basis for four to six weeks, usually, and just to try them out to see if they’re a fit us and if we’re a fit for them.
What happened is we ended up going through probably a dozen people before we found the two developers that we hired the last couple weeks. And so I think that trial process is really important, but I would hire full time. I think, as long as he has the revenue to support that person, and you’re not going to be laying them off in three months if sales plummet, I think hiring full time is the way to go.
I’m making a lot of assumptions here too. I don’t know his numbers and stuff.
PIPPIN: Yeah, I want to add a few things to that. I’ve done the same kind of trialing process. Mine’s been structured a little more informally than yours. I know, Brad, you and I have talked more in depth about how you handle the trialing process.
But for me, what I’ve always done is I’ll hire people as contractors. Maybe they’re working in the support forms part time, or maybe they’re doing some plugin development for me part time. If we work together over the course of six months or a year, and we work really well together, I know that you’re probably a good fit as a full-time employee. If you’re not, that’s okay. But I think, doing that in the same way that doing a trial does, it protects you both from getting into a position where you realize either they’re working for the wrong boss or you hired the wrong employee.
PIPPIN: I think that’s one good way to do it. Salaried: One of the nice things about doing contract work is, if your business is still starting out and you don’t necessarily have the revenue stream to support something full time is it can vary. If you have a really good sales month, you can contract more work. If you have a poor sales month, you can cut back a little bit.
One of the things that I really wanted to do before I started hiring full-time employees is I wanted to make sure that I had their salaries guaranteed. Maybe that was simply because of sales volume that we knew that based on trends that we were going to have, or maybe it’s because there was a reserve set aside in the bank to pay them their full time. I think both of those are things that you should probably consider if you get into hiring full time.
BRAD: Yeah. It’s really how much risk you’re comfortable with, I guess.
BRAD: Making it clear also. When I hired Chris, who is the first employee, I made it very clear to him we could be shutting down in three months because this is a startup. I don’t know if this is going to work because I hired him before we even launched, before we even had sales.
PIPPIN: That’s a gutsy move.
BRAD: Yeah. We had cash in the bank, but you only have so much, right? There’s a runway, you know. And so, if this thing didn’t work out, I might have been going back to freelancing, and he might have been looking for a job. And so if you put that upfront to the person, I think it’s okay because they are accepting that risk. It’s not ideal. If you can rack up a huge wad of cash, then great.
PIPPIN: Sure. I know there are a lot of companies that really compartmentalize things, so finances of the company, administration of the company, et cetera, is very, very — it’s kept in the administration, and there’s none of that carried over to the employees. That’s perfectly fine. But one thing that I think helps a lot in building a cohesive team and building one that people want to work with is not necessarily making it that everybody knows what the sales numbers are or anything like that, but is being very open. If we have a great sales day, I’ll tell the team. Hey, guys, this was awesome. If one of you is responsible for this, great.
The same thing like I hired Shawn recently. I gave him some reassurances in terms of like this is where we are as a position, so you should be able to feel comfortable. I think, being open and honest about the business with the people that are involved with it, with you, is really important and can really help build that better team.
PIPPIN: Which I think actually leads into one of John’s next questions. He asked, “Do you give employees admin access to a site? Do you let them handle payments, transactions, refunds, et cetera?”
For me, this varies. We have a couple different levels that we have in terms of admin access to the site. There’s full on admin that can do anything. They can view all the e-commerce data. They can do anything they want. Then there’s some that just have access to updating a plugin page or updating content, support tickets, et cetera. I think it’s entirely up to you, and it’s really do you trust them or not. To be honest, if you don’t trust them, probably you shouldn’t hire them.
BRAD: Yes! I was just going to say that. I give the keys to the castle to my employees because, I mean, if I don’t trust them 100%, then something is not working, right?
PIPPIN: Yeah. The only keys that I tend to keep are simply like access to PayPal and Stripe simply because there’s no need for them to have those.
PIPPIN: But if they did, yes, I would trust them.
BRAD: Right. Yeah, I should probably turn off access to those now that I think about it.
PIPPIN: You can always — what I’ve done as well is you can set up extra user accounts.
PIPPIN: Both PayPal and Stripe support this where they have access to do things like process refunds, but they don’t have access to transfer funds out of the account.
PIPPIN: Which can be very helpful.
BRAD: Yeah. Even then — I’ve thought about this because I saw how my balance is kind of getting up there in PayPal. Stripe, there’s no such thing as a balance in Stripe, really.
PIPPIN: Yeah, true.
BRAD: PayPal is getting up there, and I was like, hmm, maybe I should do something about this because all the boys have access to this. Then I was thinking, you know what? This is not even close to their annual salary. Why would they jeopardize that for a small, immediate payout? Plus, I trust them. I think it really always comes down to trust.
PIPPIN: I agree, which is John’s next question. “How do you find developers you can trust?”
BRAD: Yeah. Yeah. That’s hard.
PIPPIN: This is hard.
BRAD: That’s hard, yeah.
PIPPIN: It’s super hard because here’s the thing. You don’t know if you can trust someone until you’ve worked with them for a while. You don’t know if you can trust them until you’ve given them access to do something, given them the ability to do something that would make them break your trust.
PIPPIN: Because you’re only going to find out if you can’t trust them is if they actually choose to break that trust, which is kind of rough. I really like, if you pay any attention to how Automattic hires.
PIPPIN: It’s really cool. Dave Clements wrote a really good blog post a few months ago about his experience trying to hire Automattic. Automattic has a trialing process where you work for three months, I think, or maybe it’s a month, for them to see if you’re a good fit. On day one, they give you keys to the castle. He was telling — Dave was talking about how he had access to every single site on WordPress.com. He had access to everything, and that’s because they have given you the keys to the castle to determine if you’re trustworthy. If you’re trustworthy, you’re going to show it very quickly.
BRAD: Sorry. I think you should rephrase that.
PIPPIN: If you’re not trustworthy.
BRAD: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
PIPPIN: Yeah, we should flip that around.
BRAD: You’re going to stumble. Yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s pretty much — I used Dave’s blog post as a guide when I was setting this up, actually, the trial process. Obviously we had to tweak it and stuff as we went. One of the mistakes I made is I gave them the keys to the castle, and I had them doing development and support and kind of everything at once, and it was overwhelming, just too much. I changed the process to be, okay, I’ll give you the keys to the castle, but let’s start with this. Let’s start with development.
BRAD: And let’s ease you into it.
PIPPIN: That’s one of the things that worked really well for me recently with Shawn who is now full time. He worked for me for about three months as a contractor, but he only did one thing. He only did support. That was what he did for three months, and so that kind of gave him the first, like, here; let’s get you used to the feel of things to see how it works. Now when he comes on as a full employee, he has the keys to the castle.
BRAD: Right. Yeah, yeah, I mean we don’t give; we don’t really give the keys to the castle on the first day to the trial.
BRAD: You kind of get what you need to do the things that you’re working on and then, as you progress through the trial, the rest of the things open up.
PIPPIN: Beyond just trust, I think entrusting employees with that kind of level of access does a couple of things. Number one, I think it empowers them. It empowers and I might even say inspires them in a way because you’re basically saying you have access to do this. I trust you. I know that you’re going to do a good job. That can be a huge motivator for someone.
PIPPIN: Having someone say, “Yes, you have access to do all of this,” is pretty powerful. I remember when, in college, I worked at a theater as a stagehand, and we did a lot of Broadway shows. I remember one of the most empowering moments of the four years that I worked there was the day that I got keys to the building because it told me that they trusted me enough to go in and out of the building at any time. I could go unlock the doors early in the morning if I got there before anyone else. I was able to shut it down. We’re talking about a building that has millions and millions of dollars of equipment in it, so that’s not really a small statement of trust.
PIPPIN: I think that means a lot to your personal self worth.
BRAD: Yep. No, I think that’s how you figure out if you can trust them, really.
PIPPIN: But I think it also goes further than that. It also makes them more able to do their job. If you’ve hired someone to do something, but you constantly limit what they’re technically able to do, they’re not really doing their job as best they can because you still have to then do that extra work for them.
BRAD: Yeah. A good example of this is, so what we were doing, so we’re getting them to do the development first, and like sometimes we would post a Help Scout URL to an issue people were having inside a ticket or, sorry, a GitHub issue. Then some people didn’t have access to Help Scout, so that was a problem.
PIPPIN: Yeah. That’s not very useful then.
BRAD: Yeah, so they couldn’t see any of the information in Help Scout, and so I realized, oh, well, I’ve got to give them access to more things here.
PIPPIN: I’ve got another example for that, which is a little different though. Shawn has been doing some site development, fixing things around the site, both on the front end, as well as the backend for our tools. But initially, he could commit those, and he could send them up to a staging server, but he couldn’t send them to production. Here I was entrusting him with fixing all of these issues, but then he wasn’t actually able to fully fix them because he couldn’t make them live.
I was like, wait; that’s silly. Here. Here’s access. Hit deploy, and you can go live. Now, we’re going to have a general process because we want to make sure that things are reviewed, not because we don’t trust you do to it, but just because an extra set of eyes is going to catch those little mistakes that everyone makes.
PIPPIN: But suddenly it becomes much more valuable to have him able to fix a bug live than to say, okay; it’s now ready, so when you get here on Monday morning, now you can go push it.
BRAD: Right, yeah. It’s funny. One of the problems I have actually is that our stuff is kind of so all over the place, so we’ve got Google docs with stuff in them. We’ve got GitHub. We’ve got Scrutinizer CI. We’ve got — there are so many different services that we’re using, and we don’t have a way to just turn, flip the switch, or even a checklist to go through and go enable all of their access on all these services. Sometimes I realize, oh, I haven’t given them access to this. Then I’ve got to go and do that. Do you run into that issue at all?
PIPPIN: A little bit, but not as much because we’ve tried to really cut down on the number of things that we use. Basically for us it’s GitHub, which I just have to add you as a team member that has the appropriate privileges, access to Trello, which is where we manage all of our extensions, access to the main website, and then our internal chat room, which is Hall. With those four things, you pretty much have access to everything.
BRAD: Sorry. What did you say? Hall? What is that?
PIPPIN: Hall, H-a-l-l. If you’re familiar with Slack or HipChat, it’s another service like that.
BRAD: I see. Okay. We use Slack, and we just started using it probably a month and a half ago or something.
BRAD: That’s actually one of John’s other questions, actually. What do we use for communicating and ticketing. “How do you handle communication and ticketing?”
PIPPIN: I found that having an internal communication system was really key to building a successful team and for actively or successfully communicating whether we’re talking about an issue, whether we’re talking about a bug on the site or an enhancement, or even if we’re just hanging out talking about beer. It doesn’t matter, but I found that that was really, really important.
PIPPIN: And so, for me, and for the EDD team, we use Hall, Hall.com.
BRAD: Right. It’s funny. I really resisted. I had heard about Slack 100 times, I’m sure, and I just hadn’t adopted it because I was like, well, we use email. What’s wrong with email? The problem with email, it’s more friction. To be able to say something to the group really quickly in Slack, you just start typing. There’s no add. If you started an email, you’ve got add the people to the email, and then add a subject line.
BRAD: It’s just more steps, you know.
PIPPIN: I haven’t sent an email to the team in at least six months.
PIPPIN: Maybe more. But we communicate actively every single day.
BRAD: Yeah. That being said, if you’re just two people, it makes no sense for you to have a chat tool, I don’t think.
PIPPIN: I disagree.
BRAD: Really? Okay.
PIPPIN: Okay. Here’s the thing. Your chat tool might be Skype.
BRAD: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
PIPPIN: It doesn’t matter what your chat tool is.
PIPPIN: But I think an active, instant messaging communication system is far superior to email, no matter whether you’re 2 or 50.
BRAD: We used Hangouts, Google Talk. That’s what we used.
PIPPIN: Sure, but that’s the same, really. The EDD team used Google Hangouts for at least six months or a year.
BRAD: Right. Yeah. It’s not quite a good though, right, because you still have to initiate a group chat.
PIPPIN: That’s true.
BRAD: You have to start. Yeah.
PIPPIN: Yeah, we just had one that we just left open all the time.
BRAD: Oh, okay. That makes sense. Another question he had is, “Did it take a lot of effort to train them to be able to support your plugins?”
PIPPIN: This is a hard question. It’s not a hard question; it’s a hard one to get an answer to because here’s the thing. For me personally, I’m terrible at training someone. I used to think that I could train someone to do their job, and whether that’s in support or development. I realized later on that that simply is not true for me. Some of that is because I don’t think I’m a great teacher and, two, because I personally don’t have the time to train someone.
BRAD: Yeah. I think the problem is, training remotely, just training people remotely is just really hard because, if you’re sitting next to someone, whenever they have an issue that they cannot solve, they’ll just tap you on the shoulder. But they may not have that luxury if they’re remote. You may not be online, and so they put it off. They don’t even write it down, so they never learn it. I’ve found that mentoring and training remote employees is extremely difficult.
BRAD: I would not. I would forego that. I would not. I would try to hire someone who is kind of self-motivated to learn on their own.
PIPPIN: I 100% agree.
BRAD: That can figure things out on their own and direct themselves because, yeah, you’re going to be spending a lot of your time training them if….
PIPPIN: I had — over the last couple of years, I’d hired a couple of people that I had to train when we brought them on. It just ended up not being a good experience. Honestly, I don’t think it was a good experience for anybody. They didn’t work out. We ended up parting ways for various reasons. But then those people that have not needed to be trained, those are the people that are still with me, and those are the people that I’m actively interested in bringing on.
One of those reasons I think what, Brad, you already mentioned is being self-motivated. To be honest, if you’re not self-motivated, we’re probably not going to work well together. One of the reasons for that is because I’m not a very good boss. I am not a director. Number one, I don’t really have a lot of interest in directing people. I want to work with people. That means that you have to be self-motivated to know what needs to be done.
Yeah, sure, there’s going to be times when, if I am in that leadership position, I’m going to ask you to work on this or tell you to work on this or that. But in those times that I’m not actively directing you, you need to be self-directed. I think it’s very clear when you find somebody who is self-directed because, if you don’t give them something to work on, they find something to work on.
BRAD: Yes, exactly.
PIPPIN: Otherwise they sit on their hands. And so, if they’re sitting on their hands, they’re definitely not self-motivated. To me, that’s a really big mark of a good employee and somebody that is a good potential for an employee.
BRAD: Yeah. One way I’ve found to snuff that out is — that’s the wrong word — sniff that out would probably be more appropriate.
PIPPIN: There you go. I was trying to figure out where you were going with that.
BRAD: Is to ask them for their opinions when you’re in the trial period.
BRAD: Ask them what they think about this, what they think about that, and justify their opinion and defend their position.
PIPPIN: Self-driven people tend to have an opinion.
BRAD: What’s that?
PIPPIN: Self-driven people tend to have an opinion.
BRAD: Exactly. Those that aren’t, almost never do.
BRAD: They just shrug it off. They’re like, I don’t care; whatever.
PIPPIN: They’re like, yeah; it looks good.
BRAD: Yeah, exactly.
PIPPIN: What looks good about it? In what way?
BRAD: I don’t know.
PIPPIN: What sucks on it? Yeah. If people can answer that, honestly that’s a good sign.
BRAD: Yeah, yeah.
PIPPIN: How do you find those people though? Brad, I know you obviously have a couple of those people working with you. How did you find them?
BRAD: Yeah. One thing I want to say, I had mentioned earlier the 12. We went through 12 people or whatever. I don’t even know if that number is accurate. It was thereabouts, but a lot of those people actually didn’t even — they didn’t — they couldn’t synchronize their daily work with the trial period. They just didn’t have enough time to devote. They just couldn’t juggle the two things, and so that was the majority of the people that dropped off from the trial is that they just couldn’t juggle the two things.
That’s one thing to watch out for when you’re hiring, I think, is like the two guys that I ended up hiring had time to devote to actually going through the trial process, significant amounts of time. That’s one thing that Dave, in his blog post, mentioned that he was doing this while working full time. He found it excruciatingly difficult to go through his trial with Automattic at the same time that he was putting in full-time hours at his day job. That’s one thing I would watch out for.
PIPPIN: Yeah. Definitely, when you do find that person, they’re pretty easy to identify because they’re working that full-time job, but they’re still there late at night trying to get things done.
BRAD: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You can definitely find the people that have grit.
PIPPIN: Oh, yeah.
BRAD: But I don’t necessarily want to eliminate the people that aren’t willing to work ridiculous hours. I’m one of those people, to be frank, and so I wouldn’t not want to hire me.
BRAD: That’s why I kind of shied away from that part of Automattic’s hiring process that it’s basically a boot camp.
PIPPIN: Well, and to be honest, it’s a little hard to love what you’re doing if you’re forcing yourself to work extra hours just to go through a process like that.
BRAD: Yeah. Yeah. You come home from work probably pretty tired from working, and then you’ve got to go work for Automattic or whoever you’re trialing with. It’s just hard, right?
PIPPIN: It’s grueling.
BRAD: Yeah, and you do that for four weeks straight. That’s a tall order, especially if you have kids and a lot of other obligations.
PIPPIN: Yeah, definitely.
BRAD: It’s almost impossible.
PIPPIN: This is definitely not true for everybody, and this is something that I feel exceptionally lucky to have been able to do, but one of the ways that I found — every person that works on the EDD team now made themselves available to me, basically. Not necessarily available. They made themselves visible. People that are self-motivated also tend to be the kind that will kind of like perk up and say, “Hey, I’m here.”
And so every person that’s on the EDD team were people that were either involved in the support forum. Maybe they just started answering tickets for people, just volunteered. Maybe they wrote a theme, or they wrote a plugin for EDD. They did something. They wrote a core patch or reported bugs. Basically, through their actions, they made themselves visible, and so they caught my eye. When they kept doing that, and I was able to see that they had this drive to keep building something cool and to keep working, I approached them and said, “Hey, would you like this?” That’s worked for at least four different people so far.
If you’re in the position where you have, maybe it’s a development community or a user community where those kinds of people possibly can make themselves visible to you, pay attention.
PIPPIN: Because that’s where you’re going to find your best employees.
BRAD: Yeah, absolutely. One of the guys that works part time for us, Ross McKay, he was an avid user of Migrate DB Pro, and so much so that he was blogging about using our hooks to do stuff and everything.
PIPPIN: That’s exactly how my guys were.
BRAD: Yeah. I’m not sure how we ended up connecting, or maybe we just found his blog post, I’m not sure, or he contacted us. I can’t remember. But the bottom line is he was already very much engaged with the product and our business.
PIPPIN: Yeah. It’s varied for me. A couple of the guys, they started actively contributing and even went as far as to say, hey, I’d be interested in doing more of this. One of them, Shawn, who we recently hired full time, he was doing a lot of blogging and development on EDD, like he had built his own EDD theme. He was writing tutorials for EDD, all on his own site, just like building up his own stuff.
PIPPIN: But never once came and said, hey, I would like to work with you or for you or anything like this. But he was still very visible. And so I approached him and said, “Would you like to work with us?”
PIPPIN: This would be awesome. You’re doing amazing things.
BRAD: Yeah, so that’s definitely the first place that John should be looking is looking at who is using his product, who is talking about.
BRAD: And who might be available that might be interested.
PIPPIN: I think it’s also important to know that’s not just for developers.
PIPPIN: That’s where you can find great support people as well. You can find a great support person that doesn’t know a lick of code.
BRAD: Right. Here’s the thing I noticed about. It seems like, in his questions, he is leaning towards hiring a support person, not necessarily a developer. It sounds like that’s where he’s leaning, but he might be better off hiring a developer who can also help him with support and development because this is his first employee.
PIPPIN: If he can get both, that’s awesome.
BRAD: Yeah, because then that’ll free him up to run the business, to grow the business, to do the things that hiring someone to do is not going to be easy, or at this stage probably just pretty much impossible to hire someone to run your business for you.
BRAD: Yeah. Anyways, should we wrap it up?
PIPPIN: Yeah. I think we’re getting about then. This has been fun. I really like talking about business, and I know, Brad, you do too. If anybody has additional feedback, would like us to continue doing more episodes in the future for business, obviously since we’re focusing on development, we’re going to get back to doing a little bit more dev talking, but I think we’ll probably do some more business episodes every now and then. If you have any feedback, let us know.
BRAD: Definitely. Also, check us out on iTunes and drop us a five star rating and a review if you want.
PIPPIN: I would appreciate it.
BRAD: We’d be more than happy to read that. I think Pippin still has that invitation.
PIPPIN: Yep, the offer is still good. I actually had at least one plugin come in last week that I was able to take a look at and give some feedback to the developer, which was fun.
BRAD: Right, so if you leave an iTunes review, Pippin will review your product for you on WordPress.org. Is that right?
PIPPIN: Yeah, or anywhere else. You just have to be able to send me a copy of it.
PIPPIN: Also, just a thanks to our ongoing sponsors, the WP Ninjas, the creators of Ninja Forms and Ninja Demo. Both are very cool products and plugins to go take a look at. They’ve been extremely helpful in their continual sponsorship of Apply Filters, so let us do some kind of cool things, so thank you to them.
BRAD: Awesome. I guess that’s it until next time, everybody. Thanks.
PIPPIN: Yep. Catch you soon.