Kinsta Kingpin: Interview with Per Esbensen
By Brian Jackson, Updated: June 5, 2017
Q1: What is your background, & how did you first get involved with WordPress?
I’ve actually had quite a turbulent career before starting Codeable, having all kinds of jobs that were mostly related to sales and marketing. In all honesty, I wasn’t the best employee and got fired a number of times due to my low tolerance for bad ideas and people – you could say I’m not good with authority, especially when I think said authority is lacking in leadership skills and knowledge.
The last 9-5 job I had before Codeable was being a client director of a small online agency in which we used another CMS called TYPO3 – a very popular platform for enterprise clients in north Europe. We were building and maintaining massive websites (most over 2000+ “pages”) for all kinds of corporations.
I’m not a developer myself, so the area I shine the most is in starting and discussing projects, then making sure they get done with high quality and on time. This, of course, isn’t easy, but I have learned a couple of tricks in my career, which I put to good use even today with Codeable. I’m helping our expert freelancers to win and retain clients through an ever-evolving guidebook we have written down with my co-founder, Tomaz, and which is now being actively maintained and updated by our amazing customer support staff.
Whilst running the agency, we stumbled upon a big issue with one of our largest client’s website that we simply couldn’t solve in-house, which is when I decided to search for external advice on another outsourcing service called Elance. There I was lucky to get in touch with my now co-founder and friend, Tomaz Zaman. He was a certified TYPO3 integrator and the issue was resolved in less than a day.
After a couple of years had passed, Tomaz became my consultant and developer for all the TYPO3 projects we had in the agency. Not only did we hire him more and more, we also became close – albeit virtual – friends.
One day Tomaz, got this crazy idea that we should build our own outsourcing service that focuses on expertise and above-par customer support. He could provide technical skills (he’s a developer, after all) and I would be responsible for sales, accounting, and legalities. Little did we know that this idea would change our lives in more ways than we could imagine. We were both so consumed by it, we almost completely stopped talking about anything else; only brainstorming how on earth to make it happen. Soon after, we quit our jobs and embarked on a journey that’s still full of surprises, excitement and sometimes a few frustrations.
As any responsible business owner, we also knew we needed to do our homework and create a proper business plan. We realized we will not be successful without external funding and in order to raise funds, we needed to present a great case to the investors. And this is how we stumbled upon WordPress. Competing against giants like Elance was an impossible mission, which is why we needed to carefully choose a niche and focus on it. And that niche was WordPress. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q2: What should readers know about all the stuff you’re doing in WordPress these days?
Well, our promise hasn’t changed since our launch in January 2013. We wanted to build a service that connects great clients with experts that have gone through a rigorous vetting process so that they can deliver top quality solutions while meeting the deadline. Tomaz sometimes jokingly describes us “Tinder for WordPress” :)
Our ultimate goal is to become the go-to place where people with all kinds of WordPress issues will hire our experts, not only for one-off projects, but also to take great care of their WordPress websites in the long run.
The fact that we control the supply part of the equation (limited amount of experts, currently around 300 of them) also allowed us to achieve an unintended, but welcome side-effect: Our experts became colleagues, friends, and help each other out when needed. They also don’t compete in a race to the bottom, phenomena we observe in other outsourcing services. We even set up a Slack channel for them and the discussions there are lively and don’t revolve just around WordPress. Right now, for example, we’re discussing who will be attending WordCamp Europe 2017 in Paris. There will be around 60 of our experts and 11 of our core team there to connect and become stronger as a team and enjoy a nice dinner before the event.
I guess you could say we’re doing something we will never cease to do: Building and evolving a healthy working environment for a community of amazing WordPress developers; Making sure they provide work that benefits their clients, and that they get compensated fairly for their hard work and expertise.
Q3: What challenges did you face in getting to where you are now professionally?
Where do I start? :)
I guess one of the biggest challenges was figuring out my place in this world regarding my work. I’ve always been in a marketing/sales position, but rarely questioned whether that was something I felt passionate about, it was just something the course of life had brought me into. With Codeable, the answers to those kinds of questions became clearer, and I’ve come to realize that we all have unique sets of skills and gifts, but not all of us are lucky (or sometimes courageous) enough to find out what those are and put them to good use.
I’m convinced my magic recipe was meeting and co-founding Codeable with Tomaz. We’re two very different persons with wildly different backgrounds and skills, but fortunately with a shared passion and vision: To build something that makes an impact on people’s lives, have fun while doing it, and grow both personally and professionally while making money at the same time.
This diversity makes us a great team (now even more so with our employees), but it took some time to getting used to these dynamics.
I’ve always been a bit of a control-freak and I felt the need to micromanage every process and activity, so I’ve had to force myself out of that mindset and start trusting people in the company for the greater good of both the company itself and my mental well-being. It’s done nothing but good to the relationships between all the people in the company and it really unlocked the full potential of our partnership with, Tomaz. Not to mention it freed me to really focus on my strengths and deliver the best of me into the company. Granted it took me a few years but I believe to be fully cured of this.
Q4: Has anything surprised you while coming up in the WordPress world?
In fact, it did. Coming from a more corporate environment prior to founding Codeable, I was used to layers of decision making and more importantly having answers to most of the things prior to starting any work.
With Codeable, it was quite the opposite, we’ve had to improvise a lot along the way to really nail the business model and our approaches to providing great service to both our clients and our experts. While it felt quite disorganized, or “hippie-style” as I like to call it at first, it became quite liberating when the whole team embraced this approach and played it to its strengths. Now that we are growing, we, of course, need to introduce some of the order back, but we’re not forgetting our roots and we try to take what’s best of both worlds.
Another surprise to me was the inclusivity and openness of the WordPress community. Open source was something we used in the agency I was running, not because of its philosophies, but because it was free – and I didn’t think twice about it. But now, I’m a huge advocate for the open source movement – even if I’m not a developer myself – and feel my personal mission is to educate the community that even with the GPL3 license, the work that people in the WordPress community do, should be appreciated and encouraged – regardless of the type of the work.
And I guess this is one final, biggest surprise. People organize the events, write blogs, translate WordPress and contribute in numerous other ways – all for free. Because that’s how the healthy community grows, strengthens WordPress’s position on the market and in the long run provides paid work for everyone.
Q5: What does the future look like for you in the WordPress world?
As I mentioned in the previous answer, I feel very passionate about educating the community about best approaches and techniques that developers can employ to make the most of the skills, whatever the purpose; Some want to make more money while others want to have more free time.
As for Codeable, we’re working tirelessly and closely with our clients and experts to really build a platform in which everyone can reach their fullest potential; For clients to be able to “let go” and rely on their chosen expert allowing them to focus on their business, not technical issues that websites bring. And on the other hand for experts, to not have to worry about being paid enough for their work or if they will get work in the first place.
The fact that we have over 25,000 clients and 300 experts is evidence we’re on the right path.
Q6: What do you look for in a WordPress host?
I’m a firm believer in the saying “businesses are people“. I always look more into processes and activities (or lack thereof) when it comes to other companies. And one of the most important activities is great customer support.
I strongly believe it’s the customer support that made all the difference for Codeable and helped us to get us where we are today. It’s no different for other companies; When clients have problems, they don’t necessarily expect them to go away immediately – what they want is to be heard. I think this is where the majority of online businesses – not just WordPress hosts, fail.
Of course, if a hosting provider offers a $4/month plan, then the client needs to be able to solve as many problems on their own as they can, otherwise, the math just doesn’t add up. But it’s a race to the bottom that ultimately benefits no-one. The good side of this is that many hosting companies are beginning to realize that and are increasing their prices while providing enough value in other features and services that their clients stick with them.
Q7: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop?
Being a family man, I enjoy spending time with my wife and daughters. We travel often, and Codeable has allowed us to see some amazing parts of the world – and plenty yet to discover together.
When I need some time for myself I take my golf equipment and enjoy a good match with my friends who also love the sport. I’ve been playing golf since I was a child and I love the fact it lets me completely disconnect from everything else.
One thing I haven’t been able to do lately, but looking forward to in the future, is enjoying a good book every once in awhile.