Welcome to the 22nd edition of our monthly transparency report (for November 2016). This series is about everything interesting that’s been going on behind the scenes at CodeinWP, ThemeIsle, and Revive.Social. Click here to see the previous reports.
This one is different
At this point, you’ve probably gotten used to the traditional form of our transparency reports – with our CEO, Ionut Neagu sharing his thoughts, experiences, and lessons learned the previous month.
But Ionut is kind of offline this time. As in, he’s visiting one of the few countries on this globe with rather poor internet access. (Care to guess what that country might be? > Feel free to comment below.)
Knowing that he probably wouldn’t be able to contribute this month, he suggested that everybody in the team chip in for this edition and share 1-2 things that we have learned in the last month.
After all, this is the whole company’s transparency report, not just his, right? 🙂
Cool? … Okay, let’s get this thing started:
I don’t know if that’s usually the case for WordPress companies, but it seems that we’re constantly trying out new things and not going the same path twice. For this, you have to be comfortable with the lack of concrete rules and also be flexible when working with a team.
One idea I’ve been contemplating recently is the trust we have in each other. Let me expand on this a bit. The largest part of our team is based in Bucharest. We’re all working in the same office, so it feels like our headquarters. However, Ionut, our CEO is not here, he works remotely from Lisbon, or from whatever part of the world he happens to be in at the moment.
Then, another four members of the team work remotely too, from various places around the globe. We engage mostly via Slack and Redbooth, with occasional Skype meetings.
Lastly, there are the external contractors who have been working with us for a while, and who feel like they’re part of the family too. In such a diverse company, with different characters, different time zones, people working from all parts of the world, unrestricted and boss-less, having mutual trust is essential. It’s what keeps the music playing.
So I want to recommend a video that gets to the bottom of how trust works, plus a quote that I find really insightful:
“Helpfulness is absolutely core to successful teams, and it routinely outperforms individual intelligence. Teams that work together longer get better, because it takes time to develop the trust you need for real candor and openness.” – Margaret Hefferman.
Networking is People are awesome
Visiting the US a couple of weeks ago (for WCUS), another thing that impacted me were the interactions I had with other people in this industry. As much as I want to avoid the “WordPress community” hype, I think there really is something to it.
The bonds you make are important. At the root of all things stand people. The people you meet (in person or online) might end up being your business partners, your future employers or your friends. For instance, I first met Ionut and ThemeIsle at a local WordPress Bucharest Meetup. And the rest is history.
Act on it. YOLO
Don’t rationalize, don’t overthink. Why? Think of your past experiences. Are there more things you regret doing or not doing? Introduce yourself, ask that question, send that email in your drafts, get involved.
For example, SiteGround sponsored our WordCamp Bucharest a while ago. I first messaged them about this via their default contact form. It was a small step but paid off.
When offered something, say yes
Because you never know where life will take you. From where you are standing, you may not always see how things will fall into place. Be open to what comes towards you.
Be true to yourself
Sometimes, things don’t go the way you planned. You cannot change this. What you can do, however, is do your best. Walk the walk, and feel good about yourself at the end of the day.
One of our ideas for this year’s WCUS was to have quick video interviews with people in the halls during the conference. It went well … at least that’s what I thought immediately after recording the whole series – 10 interviews. This undertaking took a lot of preparation and effort. At the end of the day, though, it turned out that the SD card was corrupted and the sound files couldn’t be recovered. All that work is lost. I am quite upset about it, but I don’t regret any minute of it.
Reviewing themes on WordPress.org can actually help you on a number of levels!
- It helps you find new ideas/techniques for your own themes.
- It keeps you updated with what is allowed/recommended at the moment at WordPress.org.
- It keeps you connected with the people that can help you and/or inspire you.
- It can also be satisfying to know that you’ve had your little part in helping someone else get their theme to market.
On the downside, every once in a while you will see some poorly designed themes that somehow end up being approved because, despite their quality, they still manage to follow the basic rules.
At the end of the day, though, I think it’s a very good idea to be an active part of this community and contribute to the directory to the extent that’s possible for you.
We are currently in the process of implementing a full Continuous Delivery pipeline for our plugins, as well as a Feature Toggle system for the new features we would like to develop (to minimize the risks when releasing new iterations into production).
Being a small team, it’s always a challenge to automate our processes and repetitive tasks for us to make competitive and professional themes and plugins for our 500k user base.
Seeing all these challenges first-hand – being a part of the support and development team and all – you learn a lot about what the needs of users really are and how they actually end up using our products.
And those lessons are not always what you’d expect. It’s easy to get lost in building new features or releasing new plugins, and not pay as much attention to the actual problems that those products are solving. In short, my lesson for the month is always to keep a short feedback loop with your users. Just because you think a feature is great, doesn’t mean that everybody else does.
I’ve been contributing to the WordPress project for more than two years now, but all of the contributions that I made so far were online. All the work that I did was done in front of a laptop screen. But in October, I visited WordCamp Nashik, which made me realize that the best way in which I could contribute to WordPress is actually by helping my local community!
But who would want to have a meetup about WordPress in Kanpur? The town in which people barely know about blogging, let alone open source. But I wrote an email on my way back from Nashik and sent it to our local group. And, surprisingly, dozens of people replied and were interested in having a meetup, so we did!
Not only did we find some people eager to contribute, but during that first meetup, we also found a company willing to sponsor by letting us use their office as a venue for future events.
That’s the best thing we, as a community, did in 2016. We’ve brought people who love WordPress together, and now it’s not only part of our online lives, but our offline lives as well.
Something I didn’t know back when I joined the company was how important customer support is in the WordPress theme business. Okay, maybe it’s not the most important part, but still pretty crucial for a business like that to operate long term.
Basically, we – the support team – probably represent the company more than anyone else in the eyes of the customer.
I mean, most people don’t talk to developers, the marketing guys, or the CEO, but they do talk to the support team if they happen to need help with anything. What this means for me, is that we really need to treat our jobs seriously.
At the end of the day, it’s your support team that makes an impression on your customers of what your company is about. If they are helpful, people will think your company is helpful, but if they are rude or have some other shortcomings … well, that impression will stick as well.
Recently, we’ve managed to get our latest (and greatest!) theme approved on ThemeForest – Hestia Pro. During this process, and during the whole back and forth review with the Envato Quality Team, we’ve ended up raising our standards as a whole when it comes to how we treat our products even before they are released.
What I’m trying to say is that it’s really helpful to get a critical perspective on your work as a theme creator, and that this experience has benefited us all in the sense that we’re trying to improve the smoothness with which our new products are released.
Practice makes perfect, and I do expect that ThemeForest product upload process to go smoother for us from now on!
On code maintainability:
We’ve also been trying to improve the code maintainability for our themes recently. It seems to be a very tedious process when you first approach it, but after a few hours spent trying to understand the skeleton of what you’re working with, it becomes a lot easier.
For instance, ShopIsle is a theme that had three different versions:
- a pro version,
- a free version distributed through the ThemeIsle site,
- and another free version distributed through WordPress.org.
Alas, three different GitHub repositories. Imagine what happens when you have to solve the same bug in three different places. Hint: it’s not fun at all.
Well, after refactoring the code for modularity (and being able to generate both free versions from the pro theme without a hiccup) that doesn’t need to happen anymore. Hopefully, by the end of this month, everything will all be stored under the same GitHub repository, and it will be merged into production.
As a result of all that, I’m sure that our products will be much more easy to refactor for easier and better maintainability in the future.
In the end, spending time creating the right framework for your whole workflow always pays off … even if it seems like a tedious thing to implement at first.
On a personal note, I found myself learning more and more every day about the ecosystem that is WordPress, and was nicely surprised to see that CodeinWP and ThemeIsle are active supporters of the community.
I believe in an open web and a collaborative ecosystem where a win-win is the best possible outcome, and being part of this here inspires me! I like a lot what the team has managed to achieve, and although there are things that can be improved, as there always are, I am not going to mention them because they are insignificant on the larger scale, and I know for sure we’ll manage to solve them with each step.
Front-End Developer @ThemeIsle
In this period, I contributed to the improvement of the ThemeIsle products and started to develop a new theme – Belise. Working on this theme, I learn new things every day, which keeps me captivated and motivated.
In the first month, I also took part in my first WordCamp, organized in Bucharest. It was a great experience for me, and I met many interesting people from the community. ThemeIsle is a super-team for me! And I’m looking forward to developing new products with them month after month.
Pirate of the Caribbean
I have never experienced temperatures that low, and my body was not taking it well. At some point, I was even convinced I had frostbite because I awoke some days with aching fingers; 10 days was not enough to get “used” to it.
The brighter side was spending time with some of the ThemeIsle team members in person. Although not all of us were there, it was still good meeting them. During our time away, I thought I would find some time to work on support a bit, so the rest of the guys who didn’t attend WordCamp US wouldn’t get overwhelmed with the amount of tickets coming in. However, as it turned out, I rarely found a moment I could spare.
All the talks I attended were great in their own way, Pippin’s comment on him regretting using the freemium model when he built Easy Digital Downloads still sometimes pops in my head because I’m big on the whole open-source movement and also freemiums. We all need to keep the light on, right?
One talk almost had me in tears if it went on any longer, it was the one by my buddy Topher from HeroPress. I really encourage you to watch the recording.
I’m now back home in St. Lucia where the average temperature is 29°C in the Sunny Season and 26°C in the Rainy Season. Nowhere near what I encountered in Philadelphia. 🙂
the blog guy
So my lesson for the month is this:
It’s the small decisions that add up to huge results.
And sorry, I know it sounds a bit cliche at first. Like something that a useless life coach would say.
But think about it. If you go back to any of the successes you’ve experienced in your life so far, everything always starts with a small step, a seemingly insignificant decision.
I bet that every single Google engineer had this one moment in their childhoods when they felt like, “Hey, this computer thing is interesting, I wonder what I can do with it.”
And the funny thing about these steps is that you cannot see their significance looking forward. You can only begin to notice and understand it as you look back. And that makes it difficult.
In other words, what you do today, may or may not lead to success. But it’s also reasonable to think that if you make sufficiently many of those small steps, some of them will indeed take you places.
If you want to try something new, try.
Even if you’re 90% certain that something will probably lead to nothing, try anyway. Because, ultimately, you don’t know what’s going to work in the long run.
For me, I started with WordPress somewhere around 2007 or 2008, I think.
Those were my final years before getting my degree, we had a small web design/dev business with a friend, and I just wanted to test WordPress out and see if it can be any useful for client work.
I wasn’t impressed.
But I kept coming back to it every so often, checking out what’s there, experimenting with plugins, themes, learning how to use the platform, then learning how to teach others how to use the platform, then writing about various aspects of it, then having people asking me to write for them, then having people asking me to write for them for money, then suddenly being able to make a living out of it.
It all started with a small thought, like, “I heard WordPress is cool, let’s see what it can do.”
So, small decisions. Small actions.
What are your top lessons of the month?
We’re all curious. Feel free to share in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading and for supporting CodeinWP! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:
All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.