Q1: What is your background, & how did you first get involved with WordPress?
While my actual college degree is in education, I spent the first several years of my professional life in video production. Eventually local customers also wanted video on the web and that led to building full websites. This was back in 2008-2009. I had played with WordPress a little bit and was hired by a local web firm to build a real estate website. It was exciting and, with the help of the incredible WordPress community, I was able to slice up the PSD and create a working WordPress theme.
Once I realized I could build something on my own and without the overhead of expensive gear I was accustomed to in video production, I was hooked. I began freelancing, building sites, and started assisting in the community and professional forums where I had received assistance. In 2009 I took a position with a plugin development shop as a support rep and eventually grew the team to 12 people. At the same time, I saw the needs of small & medium-sized businesses and how frequently they were stuck without a reliable resource for managing the software on their site. In 2012 I started WP Valet and went for it full-time in January 2013.
Q2: What should readers know about Valet, & what kinds of clients are a good fit?
We do really well with two different types of clients. The first is small & medium-sized companies where the website is mission-critical to their business. Their site helps drive revenue and needs to be secure, stable, and speedy and they need someone who can prioritize intelligent technical decisions for them.
The second type is a marketing firm within a larger company that needs regular “code geeks” to manage their website performance. This includes things like keeping the site up-to-date, but also regular development tasks as they iterate on the theme, branding, and integration with 3rd party software.
Q3: What challenges did you face in building the agency?
All of them. Well, probably not all of them, but we certainly have faced a ton! I sometimes tell folks that if they want to build a successful company it’d be easier to open a Pizza Hut. They’ll tell you what ingredients you need to order and how often, how much to charge for your pies, and how to hire and pay employees. (Note: there’s probably more to it than that, but from the outside it’s fun to think that a franchise would be a “paint-by-number” scenario) The point is that building an agency – or any type of services company – from scratch is incredibly challenging and one of the biggest challenges for me is always discovering the benchmarks for success and for failure.
Q4: Did anything surprise you during the process of growing it?
It’s amazing how incredibly valuable having the right people working in the right environment is for overall company health. As much as I’ve learned about the metrics that make for a financially stable and profitable company, it’s still the people on the team that make it all worthwhile and ultimately determine our success.
I also continually find that we are our biggest competition. Several of the pressures and obstacles we’ve faced as a company have been self-inflicted. We pursue excellence – always. There are times when this pursuit leads to unreasonable or impossible expectations. This will start to create a lot of stress and, in reality, when we look a little deeper we find that it wasn’t our clients putting the expectation on us, but we created it for ourselves. Stepping outside our own bubble and looking at these challenges from a different perspective has helped us learn to balance expectations and how we measure success.
Q5: What does the future look like for Valet?
We’re focused on website performance management. That is, helping our customers to dial into what activities bring them the most success and presenting that information in a way that’s both quantifiable and easier to process. This means we’re taking care of a lot of the practical dev/technical needs of the site and aligning that to their business goals.
We have a beta program we’ve been offering under the radar to help folks who want these insights but with more of a self-serve approach. We’ll be making a public announcement soon and are hoping it proves to be valuable to agencies and end users alike!
Q6: What’s the WP community in the Tampa area like?
They are absolutely some of the most fantastic people in the WordPress community. The WP Community is strong throughout Florida with amazing events in Miami, Orlando, Tampa & Jacksonville this year. What’s really amazing to me (and I got to experience this first hand a couple weeks ago at WordCamp Tampa) is that all of the organizers work hard, most of the time without thanks, to help each community be successful. It’s inspiring to be around people with that vision, respect, and humility.
The local community has an incredible spectrum of hard-core folks who have been working with open-source technology for decades, as well as new folks who are setting up their first blog. Local events are a great place to jump into this mix and get involved.
Q7: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop?
Well, even if I’m away from my laptop for work, I’m probably still connected to something technical. Recently, I’ve been really interested in home automation – especially the DIY and open-source projects on the Raspberry Pi. I’m also a fanatic about renewable energy and other ways that machines are able to automate routine tasks from our daily lives. If I’m not working directly with technology, I’m probably at a coffee shop or in a restaurant passionately discussing the effect of this technology on us as individuals or our societal/cultural norms – pretty much always a nerd.
Q8: Who should we interview next, and why?
Ant Miller from Human Made. He’s got a (metric) ton of valuable experience and perspective from outside the WordPress community, and is incredibly thoughtful about the current problems we’re all facing and willing to dig for solutions.