Creating Great Culture Is Key to Business Growth

Host Jon Penland, 

Brad’s journey into 10up is unique. He first approached the agency as co-founder of Lift UX to see how the two agencies could work together on some upcoming projects. What he unexpectedly left with was an acquisition offer. Fast forward almost four years and Brad is now Vice President of New Client Strategy at 10up, a company that has almost doubled in size since he first joined.

Duration

48 minutes

Guest

Host

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Episode Summary

In today’s episode of Reverse Engineered, Jon Penland welcomes Brad Miller, Vice President of Client Strategy at 10up. Brad focuses mostly on new client growth and strategy but has years of experience working in web design, UX design, and web development with WordPress. 

Brad began his career as a singer/songwriter and sees a lot of parallels between music and web design. In both cases, you’re using your creative juices to create something from nothing.

Core to his success and the company’s growth are two things: working cross-functionally and diving into different steps in the process based on client needs as well as fostering an incredible work culture. 

Originally the founder of Lift UX, he stayed on after the company was acquired by 10up. The reason for planting roots? Brad saw a lot of the culture and work that Lift UX was doing in 10up. It’s just as though he had fast-forwarded Lift UX to where he saw it going a few years in the future.

Key Insights:

Today’s Guest: Brad Miller, Vice-President of New Client Strategy at 10up

Brad Miller has a background in songwriting. It was this link to entertainment that helped him attract large clients like AMC, Disney, Frito-Lay, and more.

Episode Highlights

Why He Stayed After His Company Was Acquired 

Feeling like he could make a contribution and wanting to support the continued focus on excellent company culture, Brad is still there four years later. “When I got acquired by 10up, the biggest thing was that I loved the culture, and instantly I saw what 10up was doing, what they were building, just everything that they had.” He originally reached out to 10up for support with some bigger projects and found himself in the biggest sales call of his life. “I talked with Jake for about an hour and 45 minutes, and he said, ‘What if I just acquired you all?’ And it was just like, ‘Wow, okay.'”

You’ve Got to Grow in Your Own Role to Scale the Company 

Founders often wear many hats when running their companies, but it can’t stay that way forever. As Brad notes, “We got to a really good point where we felt like we were established. And so we just started hiring folks to help with that growth. I took over probably midway through on the leadership side, the financial side, and started putting us into a position where we could put more money away and grow the business.”

Giving Employees Options Keeps Them Around and Connected to Their Work 

10up is willing to try different working arrangements to arrive at a happy medium for the employee and the team. 

When it comes to designing remote work, be flexible with getting and thinking through employee feedback. What works for one does not work for all, and keeping a company a great place to work means being ready to adapt. “There are some people that have said, ‘I’d prefer five days a week, or I’d prefer reducing my hours.”‘ Piloting different programs to teams has given 10up a chance to try things out, and it shows they value the employee perspective. 

“I know Florida has been talking a lot about it. They’ve even talked about the schools going to a four-day school week. If that happens, then you will see businesses try to match that for families.” 

When considering the acquisition to begin with, Brad remembered all the people who had contributed to make that a possibility. “There was an opportunity where the people that we were employing worked hard to grow the business; I wanted to reward them with an opportunity for growth.” 

Use Radical Candor with Your Team to Keep Things Honest and Real 

You’re not always going to get things right, and that’s okay. Using radical candor opens the door for honest feedback from the team. “We meet once a month with the teams and open a town hall. We say, ‘we want to know your input. We want to hear your feedback and give us some radical candor – how do you feel about this issue?’ There are times when the team will speak up and share that, and there are times it’s a little daunting. But we do want people to feel like there’s an open door.” 

Life is About More Than Work 

Brad’s been a musician for years and seeks ways to build it into his time for work-life balance. When it comes to fitting music into his life, he says you’ve got to look for the right windows. “I try to play as well, and I try to make time, it’s either on a Saturday or a Sunday or sometimes in the evenings. If I have a quiet house, I just sit down and tell myself, ‘Hey, I’m gonna work on that song I was writing.”

Transcript

[00:00:05] Jon Penland: Hey everyone. My name is Jon Penland and Reverse Engineered is brought to you by Kinsta, a premium managed hosting provider. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Brad Miller, Vice President of New Client Strategy at 10up. Brad, welcome to Reverse Engineered.

[00:00:22] Brad Miller: Hi, Jon. Thanks for having me on. I’m really excited to be here. 

[00:00:25] Jon Penland: Yeah, it’s an honor to have you here with us. Can you get us started by introducing yourself to our listeners? 

[00:00:30] Brad Miller: Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Brad. I live in Tampa, Florida, Brad Miller. I am the Vice President of New Client Strategy at 10up. I focus heavily on new client growth and strategy with our customers. I’ve been doing web design and UX design and development for many years in the WordPress space. And so, that’s who I am. 

[00:00:52] Jon Penland: I was taking a look at your Twitter and LinkedIn, getting ready for this conversation and you seem to be involved in a variety of different things. So, right. So I saw 10up on there, I saw Reactant Media. I even saw something on your LinkedIn about an independent singer/songwriter. So give us the lay of the land as to all the different projects, all the different irons you have in the fire.

[00:01:11] Brad Miller: Yeah. So, so yeah, before I got into the design and I guess WordPress realm, I was a musician. So I was on a label called Liberation Music Records out of St. Louis, Missouri. Recorded and wrote and still write and still record and things like that. I work with a couple of artists ghostwriting which is kind of fun.

[00:01:30] But yeah, I’m a musician, but from moving from that, I actually got into doing design and development and websites and, you know, helping with merch and things like that. So, I do still do music, that is something that’s important to me. Reactant Media is actually a side thing that we’re doing.

[00:01:45] My business partner, Stephen Christian, lead singer of Anberlin, is a good friend of mine. And we were actually working together to build kind of a community around technology, faith, and just in general, just, different types of things like that for a podcast. So, unfortunately taking a little bit of a pause just because there’s a lot going on with COVID and whatnot.

[00:02:03] But, yeah, that’s part of what Reactant Media is in. And then 10up is obviously my main focus. I work pretty heavily there and focus on the new client strategy side. So…

[00:02:14] Jon Penland: Yeah, and I don’t want to derail too far in this direction, but you’re the first person I’ve spoken to that I recall as a part of Reverse Engineered who is like a singer/songwriter. So I just have to ask a little bit, like, how did you get into that? What role does that play in your professional life today?

[00:02:30] Brad Miller: Yeah. So, you know, it was basically like early on in high school. I always wanted to learn to play an instrument and I started out with the drums. And I realized that I really like to sing. And so I just focused on growing that talent and focusing on singing and playing the guitar, while doing so, but since I had a natural rhythm, rhythm guitar came naturally to me and I don’t have perfect pitch or anything, but, you know, I have a pretty good ear for music. And so I just taught myself with tabs and whatnot and was in choir and stuff like that. So, as part of being a part of my church and community and things like that, I just continued to kind of focus on that talent.

[00:03:12] And so started doing that throughout high school and just would like to write and so I was a very creative writer. I loved poetry and loved to do that. And so, that was a big thing for me. And so, design and UX kind of came naturally. I just felt like, “I’m a creative person, I like colors and all these things.”

[00:03:31] And so it’s just kind of all comes together. For me, it’s almost like a new renaissance. And so basically, love inventions and creating something from nothing. And so like a song is basically like writing websites or creating websites, writing code. It’s like you’re creating something from nothing. And that to me is really exciting.

[00:03:48] And so when I got into music, was basically kind of just doing local stuff in St. Louis. And a friend of mine started at kind of a label and got me on that doing, like some booking and whatnot. And then ended up getting into more of a record contract which is cool. ‘Cause then I produced a couple albums and recorded one in St. Louis with Jason MacIntyre, which went really, really well. And then we also did another one in Nashville which was taking the EP that we did in St. Louis and kind of expanded on that as a band called August Reliance which was from Brad Miller to August Reliance. So that’s kind of how I got into it in a small nutshell. 

[00:04:26] Jon Penland: Yeah, and I don’t want to turn this into a personal advice conversation, but I have a similar story with music. As similarly got into guitar in high school, taught myself largely tabs and, and whatnot and, was pretty engaged in music through college. Actually, in high school, I moved around a bit and man, my summers, I lived with a guitar in my hand, because we were moving around, didn’t know anybody. Man, in the summers, I was playing 6, 8, 10 hours a day. It’s not some of those summers. So, it was a really important part of my life for a long time and as I’ve gotten older and I have kids and professional responsibilities have multiplied… If two guitars on the wall behind me, I don’t know if you can see them, but they have not come off the wall in maybe a year, right? So I’m curious, you know. We were talking before we started recording, you have a family, right? You have a lot of professional obligations. I’m curious how you’ve managed to keep music a part of your life as, as life has gotten busier and more complex?

[00:05:30] Brad Miller: That’s a great question. And one is really making the time to just sit down and do it. I will admit, just over COVID like the time last year, I think is where I actually recorded a new song in my home studio. And then sends it over to the guys I recorded with before and we actually released that.

[00:05:47] So I actually put that out on iTunes. So it’s just, it’s again, it’s not like something I’m promoting and then distribute like or anything like that, but, I still make time. And it’s important to me for that and so like, it’s also challenging having my kids at home too, because you know, they’re loud.

[00:06:02] You might even hear them when we’re talking. And so, because of that, you know, when you don’t have a quiet house, it’s… sometimes it’s challenging, but I do try to keep that going. My son is also a musician and he actually released a single and is doing that as well. And so it’s kind of cool because I see him, hear him, and then when he’s playing, I try to play as well, and it’s kind of an exciting thing. But to make time, I literally… it’s either on a Saturday or a Sunday or sometimes in the evenings if I have a quiet house. I just sit down and tell myself, “Hey, I’m gonna work on that song I was writing.” Or, “I’m going to work on this song.”

[00:06:35] Or if someone reached out to me and said, “Hey, Brad, I wanted to get dropped some acoustic music or acoustic track to something. Can you lay something for me?” And I’m like,” I won’t be able until Saturday because I’m busy.” But you know, just managing my time, it’s kind of almost like freelance, you know, a little bit… but that’s, that’s kinda how I make time for it. I just put it on the schedule and make sure I do it. 

[00:06:55] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s probably… there are so many areas of my life where I’ve done that where it’s like I managed to find time for this because I’ve carved out a spot in my life for it. And I haven’t done that with music. The idea with putting the guitars on the wall, ’cause they used to be in cases in the, in the closet, right? The idea of putting them on the wall was like, “There’ll be easy. I’ll just grab them. I’ll be in the middle of a workday and I’ll need a mental de-stressor and I’ll just pull it off the wall.” Has not happened at one time. 

[00:07:20] Brad Miller: So, I will say, I will say keeping them out is nice because you can grab them or whatever. But I also try to keep him in the cases too, like, especially with a couple of my acoustics, because I have a Taylor that’s really nice Taylor. I want to make sure I keep, you know, the humidity and everything.

[00:07:34] What’s great about Florida is I have the AC on all the time so it’s, the humidity is kind of like in a good place, but there are some times where it can get either too wet or too dry. So I throw the acoustic guitar in her case and, you know, try to kind of protect it. But, but yeah, no, that’s another thing is, that’s why I always love having multiple acoustics because I can pick it up and I can tune in different settings and things like that.

[00:07:54] So, it’s kinda nice for me, but I definitely like to have them available, but just trying to make time, put it on the schedule. And it’s like creative time, like creative space. It’s the same thing. If you make time for going out to see a movie or something, you know, you make time to, “Hey, I’m gonna write for a couple of hours.” You know or work on something.

[00:08:11] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah… that’s great. I want to pull it back in a professional direction, focusing in here at 10up at the top of the conversation and then we’ll work backward a little bit. So with Reverse Engineered, we’re always trying to get at the question, what is it that makes you tick? What is it that motivates you? Why do you do what you do? So, with that in mind, looking at 10up, tell us a bit about what it is that you do today at 10up?

[00:08:37] Brad Miller: Yeah, absolutely. So, at 10up I focus heavily on new client strategy growth. So that’s just talking with new customers and clients telling them about 10up and what we do and how we can help them. You know, 10up is a full-service digital agency, so, you know, we’re doing from soup to nuts, basically, from sales to completion, UX design to complex engineering solutions and publishing workflows on a headless CMS. Those types of things we do.

[00:09:06] And so I talk with a lot of new customers on projects like that on a daily basis. Some of those can be focused heavily on UX and design. That’s kind of, that was where my background was. But, yeah, I definitely help on the engineering side. I am not an engineer by trade, I know enough to be dangerous and probably know enough too much for an engineer will say, “You are dangerous to be working on this.” But, but yeah, like that’s just what I’ve been focusing on over at 10up.

[00:09:32] Jon Penland: Yeah, so it sounds like, and I just want to make sure I understand your role in the context of 10up. It sounds like it’s basically a very sales-focused role where you’re talking to folks who are coming into 10up. Are you before the sale, after the sale, across the sale, what does that look like for you? 

[00:09:49] Brad Miller: It really depends on the customer. We do have a group that’s focused on account management. I do kind of bleed into that a little bit. So it’s definitely more new client growth, new sales with new customers. But we also have some current customers that we’re growing with as well.

[00:10:06] So like Facebook is a big one that I work pretty closely with, but I have another account, accounts person that manages that. But there are projects like that, that I can be involved in for those larger conversations. But I would also say that it’s strategy too. So like sometimes we do paid strategy if a customer comes in and they want to really dive in on things and our core team can’t start on something like, our new client strategy team can jump in a little early and say, “Hey, let’s document your requirements. Let’s put some stuff in motion. At least get things going until we get to that point where we can kind of kick things off.” And that’s been very successful. So, I definitely feel like it’s kind of nice because I can like an early conversation sometimes I’ll do some wireframing or… If I have to throw a design concept together, I will, but I know my design team would kill me if I did that early because they want to do that. But it is kinda kind of good to kind of talk with the customer and give them at least a vision. And that’s kinda one of the things I would say at 10up we do pretty well is a vision and putting that together. 

[00:11:06] Jon Penland: It sounds like if I can use a baseball analogy, it sounds like you’re primarily a third baseman which is primarily bringing let’s just for the sake of this example. That’s primarily bringing folks in the door. Brad, but you’re actually a utility infielder. And so you’re third base, but there are some times where you’re playing short and sometimes you’re playing second.

[00:11:24] You may even switch over and play first or jump into the outfield. You’re really focused on this third base over here, but you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that it’s successful for that client and for 10up. Okay. 

[00:11:37] Brad Miller: Yeah, no, absolutely. So, yeah. Part of it is we… 10up tries to have those types of people in the early conversations because we w we have an understanding of what the customer, the customer might need based on what we’ve learned over the years.

[00:11:59] And I think that’s one thing that I’ve brought to the table which is nice, is I have a good sense of the little design. I have a good sense of the engineering. I have a good sense just overall general strategy and discovery and in that process. And that’s one thing that’s great is 10up has a team dedicated to that. And so we do that early on in the initial engagement. 

[00:12:18] Jon Penland: Yeah. What do you find most rewarding about the work you’re doing at 10up? 

[00:12:24] Brad Miller: That’s good. Connecting with new people and being able to kind of show them that WordPress is not a blogging platform. There’s a lot of people still out there that say, “You know, it’s not, I don’t think it’s enterprise.” And it’s like, “It is. It’s absolutely and here’s what we can do.” And I’ll never forget, I remember one time I was in a conversation with a customer and they said, “You’re telling me that we can write outside a Word now? Like we can write directly in the browser, like using Gutenberg?” And I was like, “Absolutely.” And their jaw had hit the floor. ‘Cause they’re like, “This is going to save us so much time.”

[00:12:56] And I was like, “That is the rewarding thing.” Like being able to see and show what we can solve for people is pretty cool. It’s exciting. 

[00:13:03] Jon Penland: That’s awesome. You came to 10up via acquisition, but you’ve been there quite a while. I think if I was maybe four years or so that you’ve been there now. 

[00:13:12] Brad Miller: Yeah, just a little over four years. Yeah. 

[00:13:15] Jon Penland: It strikes me as a little bit unusual for a founder. It’s not unusual for a founder to join a firm through acquisition, what strikes me as unusual for you to still be there four years after the fact. So what prompted you to put down roots at 10up rather than moving on after a year or two to the next venture?

[00:13:32] Brad Miller: That’s a great question. And you know, I’m sure Jake will probably watch this, so hopefully, he’ll appreciate my response. Yeah. So when I got acquired by 10up, the biggest thing was that I loved the culture. And instantly I saw kind of what 10up was doing, what they were building, kind of the growth model, just everything that they had.

[00:13:54] A great leadership, John, our CEO is just incredible. Everybody who’s in a leadership position they’re just great people. And, when I saw that and I saw what, what Lift UX was doing and, and I’ll tell you this, we were on a trajectory to be in a significant position. We had some really great clients lined up and I think, you know, I think 10up saw that.

[00:14:14] They were like, “This is great.” Like seeing a small boutique agency that’s going to have some significant growth and could potentially be another competitor in the space for them. And when we were chatting, I wasn’t even going into the conversation to have an acquisition. I was really just saying, “Hey, we have some new potential projects coming up. I really would like to lean on a bigger team to help me.” And I talked for Jake for about, about an hour and 45 minutes until he got to the end. And he said, “What if I just acquired you all?” And it was just like, “Wow. Okay. That’s… is this the most important sales call that I’ve ever had in my, you know, my current career?”

[00:14:48] And, and the reason why it kinda planted roots was it felt like I hit fast forward on, on what Lift UX was doing. And I was there. And that’s what 10up was doing. And the leadership that Jake has and John just with the company and, and just the overall growth was just incredible. And when I joined it was like 120 people, we’re now like 260 growing. So it’s pretty awesome to see that growth and I think I bet on the right horse if you will. 

[00:15:16] Jon Penland: Yeah. So something you just hit at there is that there was alignment between what Lift UX was already doing and then it felt like, as in your words, you hit fast forward on what Lift UX was already going after. So for the sake of folks listening to Reverse Engineered what’s Lift UX? Tell us a bit about what Lift UX was or isn’t? And how it came to be.

[00:15:38] Brad Miller: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, Lift UX was an agency that I was a co-founder of. The conversation started in 2009. Chris and I, Chris Wallace, we got together and we were just talking about, “I wanted to start an agency.” And I said, “Hey, I want to focus on design and UX and I love WordPress and I think we should marry the two and focus heavily there.”

[00:15:59] And he’s like, “Yeah. So am I. I want to do that too.” And so we started, we kicked the tires and I left my day job in 2010. And we started landing some, some customers and, and just kinda just jumped into it. It felt like it was more like a freelance kind of opportunity and just kept growing and growing.

[00:16:17] And we got to a really good point where we felt like we were established. And so we just started hiring folks to help with that, that growth. I took over probably midway through just kinda on the leadership side, the financial side, and started putting us into a position where we could put more, more money away and kind of grow the business.

[00:16:36] And so that was another thing is like, how could we become more stable and grow? And that’s right around that timeframe a couple of years after that and the acquisition kind of led up to that. But we were doing a lot of work with AMC Networks. We built the story sync application for The Walking Dead.

[00:16:54] We built the Madman fan cut project for AMC. We did a lot of interactive projects and press kits for AMC Networks. We did some stuff with Frito-Lay, HID Global. Previously right, right before I joined Lift, I did some stuff with Disney. I was doing personally kind of piggybacked on the Lift UX portfolio.

[00:17:12] But yeah. We had a lot of entertainment type of stuff which fit naturally ’cause I love music and I love the entertainment space and so I had a couple of connections in the industry. So it kind of led to that nicely. It was kinda fun. So, so that was Lift UX and Lift UX basically was born out of starting an agency to kind of do our own thing, you know, in a freelance way.

[00:17:33] Jon Penland: Yeah, I was curious how it was that Lift UX and now 10up, I mean, you mentioned Facebook earlier in the conversation, you’ve mentioned a whole bunch of different media brands. And I’m curious, you mentioned that you had these connections in the industry, is that where those relationships initially came from, or did that business come to Lift UX in some other fashion? And the reason I ask, like agencies many agencies would kill to work with the types of customers you worked with. So I’m just curious, like how do those relationships develop?

[00:18:05] Brad Miller: Yeah. So, you know, a lot of the relationships came through like just our general network. I know Chris had some internal net, just his internal networking people, his circles. I had a couple of folks that I chatted with. And so that was a big part of it, but there was another thing too that came out of that was just general, you know, people searching out for a UX design and searching for WordPress and UX. And that was one thing that we got from that was just on our website, you know, we kept putting up there that we’re focused on UX. And I’ll tell you what, we had a lot of companies come to us early on I really wish we would’ve worked, that ended up going to be very successful which was kinda cool.

[00:18:44] One of them was Square. So I had a very good connection with one of the directors there at Square when they were just kicking off. And I’m kicking myself for not getting in there. But yeah, I mean, it’s just, it’s just, you know, staying, staying connected. Being nice to people is another thing.

[00:18:59] Oh my gosh. That’s one thing I always tell people. It’s like, “You gotta stay kind and be, be kind to people ’cause you never know where they’re going to go in two to three years.” You know? 

[00:19:08] Jon Penland: For sure. You mentioned that some folks found you because of this UX focus. Was that something that was unique about Lift UX that you were focused on user experience as opposed to technologies or design or what…? Can you speak to that? What was unique about that focus?

[00:19:24] Brad Miller: Yeah. For us, again, I think people were, were thinking about UX at that time, but I don’t think they were, I don’t think it was a huge focus for a lot of companies. And the way I presented it is like, UX is like… I have this cup of coffee, right? Like, I’m going to pull this, like, how can I get that cup of coffee to my face?

[00:19:42] Right? It’s like, there’s a task that has to happen, right, that has to, to, to make that happen. So to me, UX is we are designing not just the cup and how it looks, but we’re designing how that user grabs that cup of coffee. Right? What does the design of the cup look like, how do things function?

[00:20:02] And so to me is when we were having those conversations, I kept telling, you know, people that we chatted with was, “People who can really, can land the UX sort of part of the business and making sure your customers are happy even from ecommerce,” that’s another thing, ecommerce is a big piece, “You’re gonna, you’re gonna, you’re gonna win.” Right?

[00:20:20] Like, “If you can get that right, that’s going to put you upfront. “And now Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple. Apple’s one of them. All of them focused on UX and accessibility and things like that, that’s an important piece to it. And so that’s why we focus on UX. And that’s why I was so into that. I loved human-computer interaction, wireframes, content blocks. I mean, we were creating like design systems. I mean, before design system was a word, I was creating those in Axure where we would create like these requirements documents where each content block was documented, right? That was what, that was the type of work I was doing before I started Lift UX.

[00:20:55] And I wanted to continue to do that. And that was a big, that was a big initiative for us. 

[00:20:59] Jon Penland: Yeah. So you were doing this work with Lift UX and you have a conversation with 10up about expanding some of your capacity. You need some engineering capacity to work with some of these larger clients. And the response that comes back is, “Why don’t we just acquire your company?” What prompted you to actually take that seriously?

[00:21:21] Were you already thinking about an acquisition or what was it that made you take that offer seriously and not just kind of say, “No, forget it.” I mean, “We just want help. We don’t want somebody to buy us.”

[00:21:32] Brad Miller: You know, that’s a good question. Part of it is, you know, in my business partnership, you know, we didn’t always see eye to eye, so that was another part of it. But the big part of it was I saw something better for our team. There was growth, there was an opportunity where the people that we were employing, who worked really, really hard to grow that business and to be part of that, I wanted to reward them with an opportunity, you know, for growth. And that’s what I looked at the most. But like with any partnership, any kind of in a relationship, anything you’re going to, you’re going to butt heads that happens. And so part of me was, I think we were at a point where I think Chris and I were like, “I think we need something new.” I think him and I were both kind of like, “I think we’re burning out a little bit, but I think a new, fresh start would be really great for us.” And so, you know, and initially, I wasn’t for it at one point, but I kind of talked about it, talk with my wife about it, talk to a couple of some of my advisors and people that I, you know, I hold close to my chest and people that I care about.

[00:22:34] And they just said, “Brad, this is an opportunity that, you know, only comes once in a lifetime. You know, you kinda… it’s like what if you say ‘no’, you’ll always question ‘what if,’ you know?” And so that was the big thing for me. It was like, “Think about it.” And I also prayed about it. I’m a Christian, so I prayed about it and just thought to myself, like, “This is something that’s really, really important to me.”

[00:22:55] And, and thought about the team. And so that’s, that’s what made the decision to make it, make it happen. 

[00:23:00] Jon Penland: Yeah. So it sounds like it was a combination of you were ready for, I guess, a change of pace. So it was ready, time to inject some kind of a change into the working arrangement, the company. And then, you know, this opportunity shows up. And the other piece you talked about it being good for the team.

[00:23:18] And I know that when we were talking about 10up a minute ago, one of the things you hit on was the culture at 10up. And I view those things as being aligned, at least they seem to be in my mind. So I just want to ask, what is it about the 10up culture that you find compelling and valuable?

[00:23:39] Brad Miller: That’s a great question. It’s very open and friendly and accessible. It feels kinda like, you know, the whole WordPress community, everybody’s willing to help. When I first joined, it was just everybody was so willing to learn and help me through the process. ‘Cause it was, it’s kinda like drinking from a fire hose because when you jump in you’re like, “I kind of did this way, a certain way. I was working, you know, this is how I manage customers.” But then it was like, “But this is how 10up does it a little bit. So you gotta kind of adjust a little bit.” And I’ll tell you what, the first couple of years it did, it was a bit of a culture shock in from that, from an operational standpoint. But the people that work at 10up are just incredible.

[00:24:19] And we still have some just incredible people and continue to bring more people on. But, yeah. No, that’s, I would say the biggest thing for me that that drove that was just the openness and people being willing to help. And, I feel like that’s just ingrained in the WordPress community which is really awesome. I know Kinsta is part of that as well. So it’s pretty, it’s pretty awesome. 

[00:24:38] Jon Penland: Yeah. So you hit on, you know, the openness and the willingness to help each other. I’m also cognizant that in the time you’ve been there, 10up has it sounds like doubled or a little bit better than that in terms of the number of folks working in the organization. Are there things that 10up is doing intentionally to try and retain that culture of openness, friendliness, helpfulness? What are some of the things that the company is doing intentionally from where you sit to try and retain that culture?

[00:25:11] Brad Miller: Yeah. One thing I would say, we have been, we’ve kind of piloted a four-day work week with some folks that have been with the company for a longer period of time. It’s not something that we have just decided that it’s going to happen, but we wanted to see how it impacted the team. We did something this month and when this airs for the month of August, where we gave everybody a Friday, basically called a ‘Refresh Friday’ where we essentially gave people the opportunity to clear their schedules, no meetings, no slack, but give them an opportunity to actually take the day off.

[00:25:44] But then when they did take the day off, it only costs six hours to their PTO. So we gave them, we supplemented like two hours of their PTO. And so it was really nice because a lot of people were able to say like, “Hey, I’ll just work that day, but I got more done.” Right?

[00:25:58] And so I was, I sent a message to our founder and I said, “Hey, I had more time to make paper airplanes with my kid.”

[00:26:04] And I posted on Twitter. I’m like, “It was awesome.” Like, just see the magical thing in my kid, just learn how to make a paper airplane. And just, it was like he was making all kinds. And I was like, “Wow, paper.” That’s all I need. I didn’t need a Switch. I didn’t need any of this stuff. I’m like just, I just need to buy a ream of paper for this kid.

[00:26:20] And so we had such a good time and because of that, I was able to finish my work on Friday because I didn’t have any distractions. And I was able to put some time into my children. And that to me is magical. And to be able to do that in a remote setting, that’s what 10up is about. And that to me is what really stands out for what we offer and bring to the table for a lot of people in this industry. 

[00:26:43] Jon Penland: Yeah, it’s funny. I actually just spontaneously for myself about two months back started what I’m just calling ‘No Meeting Fridays’. And I just went ahead and booked myself a full-day meeting for myself, right? So that nobody else can book a meeting that day. And I have, my calendar by default is set to private, but that one I set to public and it just says, “No meeting Fridays,

[00:27:06] let me know if you need to book a meeting.” Right? So it kind of forces folks, “Hey, I’m actually here, but if there’s something genuinely urgent, reach out to me. We can talk.” But I’m going to leave this day open and I get more done on Fridays than probably the rest of the week. I do have to ask because the four-day workweek has been in the news recently and there are a lot of different folks talking about it. I just have to ask, what the experience has been like? Has it been some positive, some negative, all positive, all negative? What what’s it been like?

[00:27:34] Brad Miller: So, so I’ve heard through just, you know, through seeing the team what they feel is like, one it’s there’s a lot of people that actually will kind of already manage their work schedule like that already. Like they’ll work Monday through Thursday, like 10 hours, and work a half-day, you know, or whatever, like maybe it’s like not full 10 hours but the work enough to the point where they check out a little early on Friday anyway.

[00:27:57] Right? And we’ve always been, we’ve always been in that organization where we feel like ‘No Meeting Fridays’ is something we want to people, want people to do. But as you know, if you see that free block and there’s something like, “I need to get an estimate together.” I’m going to be like, “Hey, can you please call?”

[00:28:13] Jon Penland: Yeah.

[00:28:13] Brad Miller: And that’s challenging. But I would say, coming back to your question is people have appreciated it. I also feel like… It’s interesting because we got to see how much it impacts even a consulting agency, right? Like how many of those hours that get dropped in the end, you know, if we, if we do go to a 10-hour workday, how does that impact? You know, how people are feeling in those days?

[00:28:35] But everybody’s different. You know, there’s some people that have said, “You know, I’d prefer five days a week.” Or, “I’d prefer reducing my hours.” And see, that’s another thing we piloted too, is like, we offered people, “Do you want to work less hours and you would, you know, you could essentially reduce your compensation to just drop that, like you are not required to do any more than this?” And some people have taken up on that. Because they were like, “You know what? I would prefer that.” But I do feel like we’re getting there. I know Florida has been talking a lot about it. They’ve even talked about the schools, like going to a 4 day school week which that I think if that happens then, you know, you will see businesses try to match that for families and things.

[00:29:13] But I do feel like we’ve had a really great response to it. I personally thought it was great, but I, you know, as a leader on the team I’m not going to take, I’m not going to do, I’m going to other teams to do that first. But I did appreciate having no meetings because I did have more time with my kids, which was awesome. 

[00:29:30] Jon Penland: Yeah. Kind of a logistic question around that the four-day work week, does 10up have any functions that are like 24/7? Do you have any support functions that operate on a 24/7 schedule?

[00:29:42] Brad Miller: Yeah. We have a managed services team. I’m not super close to that but, I know we do have some people that have that whether they’re on call on, or on the schedule. That was a little challenging, I think. Roughly don’t have as much feedback for you on that, but that is something that I know we were going to have to work around, unfortunately. And that’s just any, and as you know, hosting it’s like, you’re going to have that. And any company is going to have a 24/7 type support and it’s, unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. But as long as you set those expectations with people, I think that’s the important thing. And there are people that would prefer to work in the evening or prefer to work they’re on the other side of the world, working in different hours, that’s just what they do, you know? So, we try to be cognizant of that, but it’s very important that we keep that in mind as well. 

[00:30:28] Jon Penland: Yeah. It’s interesting at Kinsta we’ve always been as flexible as we’re able to be with schedules. That’s always been our goal. There are roles that have to be pinned to specific times and shifts and whatnot, the 24/7 functions. Support engineering. Someone’s got to make sure the servers are running, right?

[00:30:49] So there’s a few of those core functions that have to be pinned to schedules. For folks who don’t have to be pinned to schedules, we’ve been pretty flexible with allowing folks to a large degree set their own schedule provided there has to be some consistency so that your colleagues know when you’re working and how to get in touch with you and those sorts of things.

[00:31:10] Brad Miller: Yeah, for sure. 

[00:31:11] Jon Penland: In that context, the four day work week, I don’t know, it just feels a little bit like, I dunno, a forced solution perhaps, ’cause we’re already very flexible. And, I wonder if you have seen that or it sounds like the feedback that you’ve received for some folks. It’s been great for other folks, they’re kind of going, “You guys already are giving me a lot of flexibility. This, this doesn’t really move the needle for me.” Have you found that? It sounds like 10up has a similar culture of flexibility as much as possible. And I’m curious if you received that feedback where it was like, “This isn’t a huge change for us.”

[00:31:51] Brad Miller: Yeah. No, I haven’t heard anybody say that specifically. I mean, like I said, I’ve heard some people say, “I’d rather work Monday through Friday because my kids are in school.” So it’s just like, “What am I going to do on Friday, anyway?” Right? But yeah. No, I agree. We don’t want it to be forced and that’s why it’s a pilot, right?

[00:32:06] Like that’s why we want to see how, how does our culture react to that, how do they feel about it. And we do have something that I believe Jake and John have really pushed is called ‘Radical Candor’. And so we meet once a month and we have the teams sort of, we opened like a town hall, we say like, “Hey, you know, we want to know your input.

[00:32:25] We want to hear your feedback. And, you know, give us some radical candor. You know, how do you feel about this?” And, you know, there are times when the team will speak up and share that. I know that’s sometimes it’s a little daunting. You’re like this huge and all your colleagues are there and listened to listening in.

[00:32:40] But we do want people to feel like there’s an open door. And that’s something that Jake and John have always had, which is really great. But, yeah, to go back to your question, I do feel, I do feel like there it can be considered forced, especially if we have the flexibility.

[00:32:54] It’s like, “I, I can work when I need to.” It’s the same thing, like if I have to break away for one of my kids things that he’s doing or lacrosse thing he’s doing, I might break away and go do that in the middle of the day for two, three hours, if I can get it on my schedule, come back and then work in the evening.

[00:33:11] Right? That’s what’s really great. But I think part of it what we’re thinking is to avoid burnout, right? I don’t want people to feel and we don’t want people to feel like, “Man, that extra day, like if it gives me another day where I can have almost feels like three days off, four days on I, it might be interesting.” But I agree with you, there’s, there’s this potential thought of like, are we forcing people to change something that they kind of already feel comfortable with, but that’s why we’re piloting it, you know? So, we’ll see what people think. 

[00:33:40] Jon Penland: Yeah. And I do think there is a distinction there, ’cause you mentioned, you know, you might go take off to a kid’s sporting event or that type of thing. And,you know, as a leader or manager in an organization, I do think there’s a sense in which you feel more freedom to do that kind of thing.

[00:33:53] I’m in a leadership role and so yesterday was first day of school for my kids. And I went ahead and I started two hours late, right? ‘Cause I took the kids to the first day of school. And, and then towards the end of the day, I took about two hours off to go pick up the kids and on the way home we had celebratory ice cream cones and then came on to rest at home.

[00:34:12] And I, and I did just what you described. You know, I worked a couple hours in the evening to make sure that I was caught up, nothing was falling through the cracks. I do think, you know, one of the possible benefits of something like a four day work week or a very explicit, flexible work policy is that somebody who’s not in a managerial role then can point to something in writing and say, “I can do this.”

[00:34:36] I have the genuine freedom to do this because the company has gone so far as to put in writing that I have a flexible schedule or whatever that, whatever that looks like in the context of that company’s needs and culture. 

[00:34:47] Brad Miller: Yeah, for sure. And I think you have to lead, you have to lead by example too. Like if the leadership isn’t taking time and going in on that like, you know, people are going to see that and they’re going to be like, “Woah maybe, maybe I shouldn’t.” You know, the big dogs are watching kind of thing or whatever. But I think it’s really important, you know, the team here and Jake and John and team they really pushed for like, “Hey, use your PTO. Take your time off, enjoy the refresh Fridays.” You know, you know and again, certain people it depends when we’re piloting, the 4 day work week, it was, it was really up to some, some folks didn’t do it, some folks did. And so it was, it was interesting. So we were always looking at options to all of that, kind of figure out what’s, what’s good for our team. And so I really liked that. And I think that the one thing is just again, making time for yourself, I think is important. And making sure you let your culture and the people you know, that take that time. You know, give yourself some time off, like it’s important. Especially after last year. I think we’re like 2021, it’s like, “Hold my beer, 2020.” 

[00:35:50] Jon Penland: Right, right. One of the little things I do is if I am doing something like that where I realize I am making use of the flexibility Kinsta offers, I do try to be in, be transparent about that. It’s something as simple as my Slack status, makes it clear what I’m doing. Like when I was gone, my Slack status, the icon was like a bus and it said, “Gone to pick up the kids from the first day of school.”

[00:36:17] Right? So like there’s no question. Anybody I work with could see, you know, I didn’t put it in there ‘In a meeting’ or ‘Be right back’ or anything. I was totally upfront about it because I want others to feel that they have that flexibility as well. You know, and we’ve kind of hit on it, it’s the reality is there are roles that are fixed and scheduled and so there are some limitations there, but where that flexibility is possible I want my folks to feel the same flexibility to do the same.

[00:36:43] Brad Miller: Yeah, a hundred percent. I love to hear that. ‘Cause communication is a big thing and just being able to show your team that you’re, “Hey, I’m, I’m taking time to be with my kids.” Like Jake did that recently, you know, with his family. It’s like, “Hey, this is important to me. I’m going to be stepping away.” And I love that.

[00:37:00] And I think that shows a lot to the team that, you know, you should be doing the same. Again, we’re not telling you how to parent or whatever, but it’s just like, you, you feel free to make that time, you know? So it’s important. 

[00:37:11] Jon Penland: Yeah, it’s funny a minute ago and I just have to mention this. You, you mentioned that you have these ‘all hands’ and I think you said ‘radical candor’ where you allow folks to just kind of raise their concerns. And we do these ‘all hand’ conversations where we have folks ask the questions in Slack beforehand and then we jump in and we have a guest. A guest, an internal guest to answer the questions. And there’ve just been one or two times where, you know, right as we’re about to go live a question drops and I’m like, “Okay. I’m about to have a deer in the headlights moment here, because this is a really hard question.” Right?

[00:37:44] And it dropped five minutes before the AMA went live. So, those are super important, but they can definitely be challenging to the folks who are trying to answer those questions for sure. 

[00:37:53] Brad Miller: Yeah. think that Jake and John do a great job fielding them. And I think it’s important to, you know, we’ve made options where like, you know, try to respond to it beforehand. Like maybe if you have a question to ask beforehand so they can have maybe a better answer. But I also feel like we want to be able to have that feeling like, “This is brand new, like, this is coming to us with hot mic moment.” “Hey, this is what it is, you know what? Let’s talk through it.” But again, I think it’s that openness that open source, like what we believe in for WordPress is like, we want people to feel like their voice is heard and, you know, it’d be positive for everybody. 

[00:38:31] Jon Penland: Yeah. So coming back to some other ventures that you’ve been involved in, just briefly. I know there’ve been some other web-based projects you’ve launched. Two that I’m aware of, remotejobs.com, faithmade.com. So you’ve done a lot that’s entrepreneurial in sort of the internet space. What attracted you to entrepreneurship in the digital space to begin?

[00:38:52] Brad Miller: So I always tell the story. It’s hilarious. So when I was doing music, there’s a guy that reached out to me and I was doing websites and band merch and stuff for people. And someone said, “Hey, I need to make a website.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” He’s like, “Let’s get together for dinner and we’ll chat. You could tell me kind of like what we’re looking at.” And I was like, “Okay, perfect.” So we got together and so I started chatting with him and we were talking about the project and he goes, “How much is it going to cost me?” And I like, he was just like being blunt. And so I was like, “Oh, okay.” Well I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet, but as I was thinking about how I was about to say he goes, “I’ll tell you what, I only have 5,000 to spend.” And at that time I was like, “I’m charging people like 500 to thousand dollars.” I’m thinking, “Yes, 5,000 is more than enough.” And that’s when it clicked with me. I was like, “If somebody’s willing to spend 5,000 for a website.”

[00:39:41] I’m like, “I’m pretty sure we can make a lot more here.” And so that’s how when my freelance, when music became a side business and web, building websites and helping people that was like the time. And so that’s where I felt like, “This is where I wanna be.” Also, I think it’s ingrained in me because my dad was an entrepreneur and, he was a buyer for Stix Baer & Fuller which is the company that owned Dillard’s and he was into fashion and stuff.

[00:40:08] And my mom was a professional model and they were like two peas in a pod. And I saw that growing up like, you know, he was very much a business guy worked from his house. You know, he had an office and everything and so. When I thought, and when like he traveled for business and all of this and so, I think deep down it just, it was kind of something, that I had. And I lost my dad early.

[00:40:29] I was five, he died of cancer. And so, and that, you know, people always told me like, “Oh my gosh, you’re just like your dad. You’re good with people. You’re good, you’re good with the chase. You, you like to, you know, connect with people and make money.” And I was like, “Yep. That’s fun. It’s a good challenge.

[00:40:45] You know?” So I think what drove me to that was just the, the ability to again, to take something from nothing and, and kind of build it. And it’s, it’s kinda like, it’s kinda like a farmer, you know. You’re like you go and you plant a bunch of seeds and then you harvest and you’re like, “Here, we made a bunch of money from just working hard.” You know, and that’s something I believe in. 

[00:41:03] Jon Penland: Yeah, that’s pretty awesome. So as we bring this conversation in for a landing, I have two wrap-up questions for you. So first, what is a resource you’d recommend to our listeners? It could be a newsletter, a blog, a book, an event, really anything. What’s one thing our listeners should check out?

[00:41:21] Brad Miller: Wow. That’s a hard one, ’cause I have so many and I’m trying to think of like, “Oh, I wish I would’ve got this early.”

[00:41:27] Jon Penland: You could list a couple if you want to.

[00:41:29] Brad Miller: Okay. Okay. Well, I will say like, I love… early on in my career when I was freelance? Oh, I’m forgetting the name of it. It was in Envato bottom. Do you remember this?

[00:41:40] Do remember that website? Oh, I forget the name. But Envato’s blogs were great and that’s, that was like one of my biggest resources. And so anytime I go online, I try to look for those types of things. Like, especially if you’re an entrepreneur like, but again, for the past four years I’ve been focused heavily on like, just like client strategy and things like that.

[00:41:59] So I love Smashing Magazine, like learning about design systems. That’s a big one that I go to, gosh, you know.

[00:42:05] Obviously all the stuff that WordPress puts out, you know, their newsletter and things like that, things like that. There’s also one, and I’ll share it with you and maybe you can put posts on the notes or whatever, but there’s this, I think it’s Evernote, Evernote’s design link and it’s got a ton of stuff. And I have that bookmarked and I’ll share that with you, but I’m on Chrome now. But I’ll definitely send that to you, but that’s those are the type of things I’m looking for.

[00:42:28] For like music and, and things like that, I like to look at a thesaurus, it was probably the biggest… 

[00:42:36] Jon Penland: Nice. Okay. Very cool. 

[00:42:38] Brad Miller: That’s a big thing for me. So when I’m writing, I want to, you know, if I’m thinking of a word and I can’t find something like, you know, a thesaurus is definitely big or you know, a rhyming dictionary, things like that. That’s important. 

[00:42:50] Jon Penland: Yeah, that’s funny that you mentioned that thesaurus. I do a lot of communication internally, that’s one of the, kind of the core parts of my job. And on a regular basis I use a thesaurus just online and I’m like, “Another word for.” 

[00:43:02] Brad Miller: Yeah, no for sure. 

[00:43:03] Jon Penland: Another word that means, so I’m not saying the same word over and over. So I actually make heavy use of a thesaurus for sure.

[00:43:08] Brad Miller: I will say my vocabulary has grown being here ’cause, Jake and John, I think, I want to say John, he was an English major at some point. So, they’re both very written, like very well-written and spoken people and it’s, it’s really inspiring here. 

[00:43:25] Jon Penland: Yeah. We didn’t hit on this, but the ability to communicate effectively in writing is just absolutely critical for a remote business, like 10up. So I assume that’s kind of a core component of culture as well.

[00:43:38] Brad Miller: Definitely, definitely watch it, you know what you say, how you present it. Like the other thing is that we are really happy about Slack now has, you know, scheduling messages. Oh, my gosh. That’s so awesome. Because like, you know, at times you’re like, “It’s 5:45 where you’re at, I want to send this.” But I’m like, “I really, I just let me schedule it for tomorrow.”

[00:43:57] Like, it just makes it easier. Because I remember when I first joined, you know, being an executive on the team, one of the team leads came to me and said, “Hey, I got some feedback for you.” I said, “Okay.” And, and they said, “Well, you know, you posted that message at seven o’clock at night for them.” And I was like, “Yeah. I said, you know, for tomorrow.” And she’s like, “You’re an executive here. They’re going to jump on that.” And I never once thought of it that way, because you know, coming from a smaller business, I was like, “Hey, tomorrow, just heads up.” I was like, “Wow.” You know, and they sure did. They jumped on and started working.

[00:44:32] I was like, “I felt terrible.” Like I felt sick to my stomach ’cause I was like, I put that on somebody and they were working on it in the evening. And I felt terrible about it. So that’s definitely important. I think, making sure you’re setting those expectations with people and communicating. I love that feature now. It’s awesome. 

[00:44:47] Jon Penland: Yeah. Last question for you. Where can our listeners go to connect with you or to learn more about 10up?

[00:44:54] Brad Miller: Yeah, absolutely 10up.com. We have a lot of stuff there. I believe we have the Twitter account, which is @10up, so you definitely can, can follow us on that. And then you can catch me @imbradmiller letter i, letter m, my name. And Instagram is the same. I, if you look up @imbradmiller, that’s everything for me. So I keep it consistent. 

[00:45:15] Jon Penland: Awesome. Well, Brad, thank you so much for being on Reverse Engineered.

[00:45:20] Brad Miller: Yeah, this has been great. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a lot of fun. Appreciate it. 

[00:45:24] Jon Penland: And thank you to our listeners. That’s all for today’s podcast. You can access the episode, show notes at kinsta.com/podcast. That’s k i n s t a.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to Reverse Engineered and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform you’re listening on right now.

[00:45:43] See you next time. All right, let me stop the recording here.

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