Kinsta Kingpin: Interview with Joe Howard
By Brian Jackson, Updated: August 23, 2017
Q1: What is your background, & how did you first get involved with WordPress?
Like a lot of people in the world of WordPress, I came to it after jumping around a few different jobs. I studied mathematics and education as an undergraduate, so I went on to teach high school math for a couple years in Washington, DC Public Schools.
When I decided to transition away from that, I got involved with an early-stage SEO agency. I was brought on as the Director of Operations. While the title sounds impressive, when you’re the first employee of the company, it really just means you run around with your hair on fire doing pretty much everything.
This was a blessing in disguise though! Yes; work was pretty hectic. But I learned a ton about WordPress and building websites! We decided to use WordPress as our Content Management System of choice for a couple main reasons: it was simple enough for non-technical people (like me) to host, launch and build websites and the open-source component meant a vibrant community to get help when we got stuck.
I also got the chance to learn a lot about digital marketing and creating an online business, skills that I use and sharpen to this day.
So while that first startup job was tough, it was worth the blood, sweat and tears to sharpen the skills I needed to get to where I am today (and where I’m going tomorrow).
Q2: What should readers know about all the stuff you’re doing in WordPress these days?
Probably just that I’m very invested in the WP community! I do my hiring via PostStatus job boards and speak at WordPress Meetups (DC, Baltimore, and Northern Virginia). I’ll also be giving my first WordCamp talks at WordCamp Pittsburgh and WordCamp Baltimore. Boom!
I’m also the Head Buff at WP Buffs. We provide technical support plans for serious website owners and agency partners. We will have sponsored 5 WordCamps this calendar year. The WordPress space gave my business legs, so it’s only right for us to give back.
Q3: What challenges did you face in getting to where you are now professionally?
So, so many! Most people sound impressed when they hear that WP Buffs is where it is at only one year old, but I have to tell people it grew out of 7 years of making mistakes and accelerated learning. There have been 7-10 failed projects that have gotten me to this point.
Honestly, the biggest challenge I ever faced getting here wasn’t WordPress-related at all.
I’m going to keep it real; leaving a 9-5, well-paid consulting job to work on my startup full-time was really, really tough for me. Once I made the decision, I knew it had been the right one, but when your life is pretty comfortable, it gets harder and harder to break out of that cycle.
I’m a big believer that time is my most valuable currency, so everything I figured out I had to stop wasting mine. Plus, I was a pretty lousy employee, so doing my own thing was what I needed to do.
Overcoming the expectation that I have to be working a 9-5 job to be successful was just step one, but I think one of the most important steps that I’ve taken in the past few years.
When it comes to WordPress though, you name the challenge and I’ve faced it. Migration-gone-wrong, white screen of death, database connection errors, marketing campaigns that didn’t pan out and many more.
The trick is to take the time to really assess what went wrong and what you can control better next time to get the result you want. I’m pretty focused on that so I was always able to improve.
Q4: Has anything surprised you while coming up in the WordPress world?
Honestly, just how welcoming the WordPress community is.
You could be a total n00b (like I was 7 years ago) and there are people are WordPress Meetups and WordCamp Happiness Bars who are ready to help you.
Regardless of the business I run, being part of the WordPress space is something I don’t take for granted. It’s a really vibrant community filled with authentic people who are unapologetically themselves. There aren’t many places where you can put an extroverted marketer and an introverted developer in the same room and see them get along easily; that’s really special.
At the same time, I’m also surprised at how many people focus on WordPress but don’t put enough time into learning how to really grow and scale a business. I think there’s a lot of space in the community for people to create scalable value from a small business instead of grinding out 80 hours every week doing freelance work.
In my mind, that’s something our community needs to work on. Making smart business decisions and scaling what we’re doing into something we don’t have to work on 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It’s why I really like seeing people like Troy Dean at WP Elevation out there trying to help people build WordPress businesses, create real value for people and solve big problems.
Q5: What does the future look like for you in the WordPress world?
Onward and upward with WP Buffs!
We want to be the very best technical support partner for any individual, business or organization with a WordPress website. It’s a work in progress, but we’re close to 100 customers, so I think it’s safe to say we’re past proof-of-concept.
Focusing on growing our white-label partnership program is a big priority for me. Finding the right marketing agencies, design firms and WP freelancers to partner with for ongoing support is a big area of growth for us, and I continue to see it continue to push us forward.
Like most entrepreneurs, I’m always thinking about new projects or businesses I’d like to start, both in the WordPress space and outside of it. But I’m doing my best not to get shiny object syndrome so I can focus everything on making sure WP Buffs provides incredible value to our customers.
Q6: What do you look for in a WordPress host?
The number one thing I look for when it comes to hosting is that it’s fully managed.
I understand why cheap, shared hosting can be attractive to some people. It’s inexpensive and if you’re just running a personal blog that doesn’t get much traffic, shared hosting is probably the best place for you.
But if you’re doing anything serious and have a high-traffic website, partnering with a hosting company that can handle the entire backend for you is critical.
Again, in my mind, time is my most valuable currency. There are only 24 hours in a day and I only have so much bandwidth. And to continue to grow and scale WP Buffs, I need to put all my energy into hiring the right people, attending conferences, speaking at WordCamps and solving big problems. Spending time figuring things out in the hosting dashboard of our customers just isn’t something I want to have to worry about, so I partner with hosting providers who cover this.
Of course, you want a host that’s going to keep your website fast, secure and up and running. But in all honesty, there are a lot of high-quality hosting providers out there; if you go with one of those, you’ll probably be pretty solid when it comes to that kind of stuff.
The differentiator is in customer service and handling everything I don’t want to do or don’t have time for. Expert WordPress support is probably why you guys here at Kinsta have become one of the preferred hosting partners for so many big brands!
Q7: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop?
I live in Mt. Pleasant, tucked right into Rock Creek Park where I get my nature fix and walk my dog Marvin every day.
When I’m not working on WordPress, I’m probably hanging out with my wife, Sterling. We just got married last month! We like to go camping and hiking outside of Washington, DC. We also travel a lot (Burning Man is coming up fast).
I’m also part of a community called Sandbox. We’ve had global summits in the jungles of Panama and an island in Croatia. They’re my tribe!
When it comes to reading, I’m big into SciFi. I probably finish a couple books a month. And I probably listen to an hour or so of podcast (Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, etc) most days. So much good stuff out there!
Q8: Whom should we interview next & why?
Brian Krogsgard! After attending Post Status Publish, I’m even more impressed with his knowledge about the WordPress and digital space. He also created a vibrant community of WordPress leaders out of thin air. He’d make for a killer interview :)