Cory MillerCEO at Post Status
Jon PenlandCOO at Kinsta
In today’s episode of the Reverse Engineered podcast, Cory Miller, the CEO at Post Status, joins our host Jon Penland to talk about his professional journey. Cory is an entrepreneur on a mission to make people’s lives awesome, especially the lives of his team.
Cory highlights the importance of a company-wide shared vision. According to our guest, the best results come when every member of your team believes in a company’s path and has the freedom to grow as an individual while contributing to the organization’s growth.
Cory and Jon also talk about how people see entrepreneurs. As Cory explains, the public is often under the miscomprehension that entrepreneurs live perfect lives, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Cory is living proof that being a leader also means you are a human with real problems.
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- You don’t have to bulldoze people to make money. For Cory, being an entrepreneur means having the opportunity to make people’s lives awesome. Often, companies don’t think about their teams the way they think about customers. Many can agree that some business leaders treat their team members as machines. But, as Cory explains, if you treat your people like machines, you will never achieve great results. ”You can treat people well and kindly as fellow humans. It’s a mantra for me. When I can, and it’s appropriate, I want to make people’s lives awesome. Why shouldn’t business be about social change, mental wellness, and physical health? A healthier, happier team member is going to be a more productive, passionate, interested, contributing team member to your organization. That’s the way I think business should be run.”
- One of my startups is to be a connector for the hurting to the healers. In 2011, Cory was diagnosed with depression. Though Cory had built a reputable entrepreneurial career, below the surface, he was struggling. Four years later, Cory decided to speak publicly about his mental health journey to empower other people to seek professional help. ”The second part of my career is in mental health, to be an advocate, a connector for the hurting to the healers – professionally licensed therapists that can help you. So that’s my story. Everybody hurts, and you’re not alone. So, if you’re hearing this today and you’re hurting, take a step toward finding help and support.”
- We are under the misapprehension that we must take care of others first. Parenthood brings in tremendous responsibilities. It is similar when you are a team leader. But are we making a mistake by thinking that our number one priority is to take care of our kids/team members? Yes, yes, and yes! If you want to take care of others, you need to make sure you’ve taken care of all your needs first. ”When I don’t take care of myself, I’m not good for my kids. I’m not good for my wife. I’m certainly not good for my team. And so, putting the mask on first, you have to be a leader. We think we have to take care of others first and then ourselves. And that’s not what I’m advocating in the least. I know the times when I’ve been most unhealthy and come to work, I’m worse for my people. We, as leaders, I believe, set the tone and the pace, and when I’m not healthy, my team’s not healthy.’
Today’s Guest: Cory Miller, CEO at Post Status
In 2006, Cory started a WordPress blog. It quickly attracted the attention of people who wanted to do the same and Cory became a freelancer in the WordPress space. This momentum then evolved into a company called iThemes, which was acquired by a hosting company in 2018.
Post Status Is a Community of WordPress Founders
”If you do WordPress for a living, Post Status is your tribe, your community, your home. Brian started it around six years ago, and we’ve got three primary things.
One is the newsletter every week. For busy CEOs, it’s impossible to keep up with WordPress stuff. We distill everything going on and give some commentary to that in the newsletter.
The other side is Slack, and that’s where a lot of movement happens, engagement, where we can talk to our friends. The third is our job listings. So if you’re hiring for your agency, your product company, or whatever you do with WordPress, the job board is huge. So many people over the years and months have told me that they found great people through our board.”
Making People’s Lives Awesome Is My Mantra as an Entrepreneur
”When you read people like Viktor Frankl, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ and even religious texts, you get this common thing: we’re here to help each other. I think that’s help and support each other. I like helping other people. And so, making people’s lives awesome is my mantra as an entrepreneur.
A lot of companies will be like — make our customer’s lives awesome. That, to me, is one component, and that’s probably a secondary component. Too many times, companies and even entrepreneurs don’t think about making their teams awesome. As an entrepreneur, I think about two things: profit and purpose. Purpose plus profit equals success.”
Honoring the Fact That We Are Humans; We Are Not Machines
”When you treat people like a machine, all you’re going to get is the output you put out there. And by the way, I think it’s inhuman. We’re not machines. We’re not meant to work that way. It’s so crazy. If you look in the stock market in the US and across the world, it’s all about profit.
If you treat people humanely, honor their humanness, strength, and contributions — thank them. I’m not talking about worshipping the ground they walk on. I’m saying, treat them like you want to be treated.”
The Importance of Having a Shared Vision
”I think about the people we had and what inspires them, and what they want to contribute to the music of the band that we’re making. It was a shared vision. I read Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ about autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to do that.’ These ideas I’m sharing are not unique to me. I stole them from other people. ‘Leadership challenge’ is a great book. And one of the first things they talk about is to inspire a shared vision. I just followed the manual.
Gallup’s got a book out there called ’12: The Elements of Great Managing.’ One of them was – have a best friend at work. I look back at all my career and go, ‘Oh man, Brian Church at this organization, so-and-so at this organization, I’d go to lunch with them. They were my best friends at work.’ So I thought, ‘How do we apply that?’
I want people to like each other. You don’t have to love and cherish every moment with each other, but if you like being in the same space with each other and those types of filaments, how do we help them?”
We Need to Normalize Mental Health Discussions
”I started sharing my story in 2015 publicly because I think in entrepreneurship circles, we think everybody has to be perfect. All the success stories don’t have bad parts, but a good story always involves conflict. And for me, it was. I’m not sharing the story to get public therapy but to empower people to go and seek their support treatment by a professional.
So, back in 2011, we had hit a million dollars in sales. I had been asked to be a co-author of a ”for dummies book,” checking a childhood dream of being able to be a part of a commercial post-published book. We had one of the few offices in WordPress. We made this little road trip in an RV all the way up to WordCamp Boulder and all this stuff. I was getting asked to speak.
On the surface, if you had been around my sphere and knew who I was, you’d go, ‘Cory’s got it made.’ That’s what I’ve said about hundreds of entrepreneurs and different people over the years, just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface are the things that we carry around. But the full picture for me was divorce and depression.”
[00:00:05] Jon Penland: Hi 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 Cory Miller, CEO of Post Status. Cory, welcome to Reverse Engineered.
[00:00:19] Cory Miller: Thanks, Jon. It’s good to be here.
[00:00:21] Jon Penland: Yeah, we’re really excited that you’re with us today. So, to get us started, can you introduce yourself to our listeners?
[00:00:29] Cory Miller: You bet. So, I think, appropriate to your listeners, in 2006 I started a WordPress blog and quickly found my contact form was being hit up by people that wanted me to help them build a blog, and I was like, I’m learning as I go. And I started doing freelance WordPress, I wouldn’t say development, but design and you know, theme stuff, and then in 2008 rolled that kind of momentum into starting a company called iThemes. We built, at the end, by the time I left in 2019, we were doing plugins primarily, BackupBuddy, Hip plugin, iThemes Sync, iThemes Security and, but in 2018 were acquired by a hosting company in WordPress, and now I’m onto my next chapter and I became a partner at Post Status a year and a half ago, and then just fully became a hundred percent owner, bought out the founder and awesome partner, Brian Krogsgard and so, I’ve got a couple of things but Post Status that is probably my most relevant project related to this podcast.
[00:01:37] Jon Penland: All right. Perfect. Thank you. So, and I do want to come back to iThemes a little bit because as you alluded to, that’s something a lot of our listeners are going to be familiar with, but focusing first on what you’re doing today, tell us a bit about Post Status. What is Post Status? What’s your role there today?
[00:01:54] Cory Miller: So, Post Status is a community of WordPress founders. I mean, if you do WordPress, like you do, Jon, every single day for a living, Post Status is your tribe, Post Status is your community. It’s your home. And so, Brian started it around six years ago and it’s kind of that place to call home in between when you see each other at a work camp or something like a Pressonomics.
[00:02:16] In fact, it was launched around Pressonomics six years ago and so, we’ve got two primary, well, three primary things. One is the newsletter every week, so for busy CEOs and COOs like you, Jon, and me for the longest time, it was the too-long didn’t-read version of WordPress happenings. You know, it’s impossible to, like, keep up with WordPress-stuff so we distill everything going on and, kind of, give some commentary to that in the newsletter. The other side is the Slack and that’s where a lot of movement happens, engagement, where we can talk to our friends. When I became a partner I was like, “Heck yeah, these are my people. These are all my friends.”
[00:02:53] When I sold my company and, kind of, left the professional side of WordPress, now I use it, I say, “I’m a WordPress user,” and a Kinsta customer by the way. WordPress was, you know, I’m sorry, Post Status was all my, my buddies and that’s where Slack is, where you can keep in touch. The third is our job listings.
[00:03:12] So, if you want to, either you’re hiring in, to your agency, your product company, or whatever you do with WordPress, Job Board is huge. So many people over the years and months have told me that they found great people through our board, and so, that’s a little bit about Post Status, but, you know, if you do WordPress for a living, you make money off WordPress, we’re the business of WordPress tribe and I would love to have anybody of your listeners to come over and join us.
[00:03:38] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, newsletter, Slack, Job Board, and you’re COO, or CEO, sorry about that. What, what does CEO in Post Status do? What does that mean today?
[00:03:48] Cory Miller: I had to make that up for this because, so, I recently bought Brian out, so he’s got a new endeavor in a cool field doing software as a service for the crypto industry, and it was time for him to move on to, to go do all that and be able to focus on it and so, I didn’t know a funny title I could have given you, yeah, Community Wrangler, I guess, you know, but really, I just tried to help add value to conversations in our Slack, in our newsletter, help our people think about the future of what we’re doing and how the recent things that are going on in any given week affect them. So we do podcasts. One’s called “Draft,” it’s a longer-form podcast where we do interviews with relevant, you know, people in the space. We do one called “Excerpts” every week with David Bisset and myself, basically an audio version of our newsletter, and then we do Post Status Lives which are a little half-day workshops, several times throughout the year.
[00:04:51] And so, I just, kind of, like, try to serve the community, you know, be a part of it. I, I used to love, I mean, my favorite event from every year was going to PressNomics because they, the people where we can, like, geek out and understand the highs and lows of what we’re doing, those are the people that are in Post Status now, and so, I’m just, kind of, I think, maybe I’ll call myself “The Shepherd”.
[00:05:16] Jon Penland: Very nice.
[00:05:16] Cory Miller: In some way.
[00:05:17] Jon Penland: Do you, do you find Post Status filling, kind of, a unique void right now, as we’re in a time where there’s not a whole lot of in-person conferences going on? Are you, are you seeing, how are you seeing, kind of, the current dynamic with not a lot of in-person events affect what happens there at Post Status?
[00:05:33] Cory Miller: You know, so many of our, great question by the way, so many of our people were remote anyway before COVID hit, and so, they were already working out of their homes, and so, the isolation bit, I think was just part of daily life, which I think is a struggle before COVID, for our people, and you know that really well with your team. And so, I don’t know how much it had affected our people, if it, you know, we’re all, all of us were used to, kind of, doing Zooms and stuff like that, but I know there’s a craving to get back, all of us, you know, even me. I like to be a homebody, but I, you know, there’s still, all of us, kind of, crave that, being able to shake your hand, giving a high five, you know, and talking elbow to elbow, so I think we’re all ready to get back, and that’s something I’ve been thinking about is how we do, like, a small little get-together with a curated group of people to just, kind of, talk and celebrate that we can talk like this, without a mask in person.
[00:06:35] Jon Penland: Yeah. I also am a bit of a homebody, I’ve worked remotely for a number of years now, but there is something, you know, it doesn’t have to be every month, but a couple of times a year, there’s just no replacement for getting face-to-face with the folks that you’re interacting with and working with, absolutely. What I was curious about is if you might’ve seen an influx of new folks who were going, were missing this in-person element, and maybe we can find a virtual version of it here at Post Status?
[00:07:03] Cory Miller: I don’t think so. I think our normal influx was, kind of, normal, again, only because I think most of our WordPress industry is work from home, remote-based, so I don’t think I really saw that as much. Which is kind of interesting, you know, that the rest of the world was doing this thing called remote work and you’re like, “Yeah, been there, done that, doing it,” you know, for most of us. Even at iThemes we had a hybrid team. We had an office in North Oklahoma City, half of the people came in and then half were distributed throughout U.S, Canada, Europe. So, I don’t know how much… I know the iThemes office, I’m not connected to it anymore, but I’ve got friends there and Matt Danner leads that, that operation now, and they shut the office down for a while, so yeah, I don’t know if there’s much of a blip on that front, you know?
[00:07:56] Like, for myself, probably, you, I don’t know if you have kiddos, but I have two kids in elementary school and this whole thing, remote learning, I hate it for them. I love remote work for us adults, I hate it for the kiddos, that had to do that ’cause it’s not, like, an environment conducive, I think, to really appropriate human development.
[00:08:16] Jon Penland: Yeah, it was, it was a big deal in our house when outdoor sports started to come back, you know, like baseball and softball. I have a daughter playing softball right now and a son just finished up his baseball season and yeah, being able to get back into some of those in-person outdoor sporting events, which are a little bit safer, was a really big deal.
[00:08:36] All right, I want to come back to the iThemes piece, that’s something a lot of folks who listen to this podcast are going to be familiar with. iThemes was a real success story. You ran that company for a long time. What prompted you to decide that it was time to hang up the iThemes hat and move on to something else?
[00:08:54] Cory Miller: Gosh, you all know this really well too. I think, at some point… When we started in January 2008, the first thing we released and eventually got in plugins and focused all of our development on that, I think it was like 2014 or something like that, and I don’t remember how some of the managed WordPress companies go back, but I felt like there was this time where all the hosting companies go, “Hey, could you go run a check on our infrastructure and see how much WordPress is installed in there?” It probably came back, I’m going to guess 40%. And they’re like, “Holy crap. They were like, what is this thing called WordPress? We’ve got to figure this out.” And so, for us, it was all utilities. BackupBuddy was our first one, released in, I wanna say, 2010, and so we had really, kind of, niched yourself into the utility market. And then, as you well know, all the hosts started going well, what, what more value do we do other than just, like, a space on a box or a box, bare metal, what do we offer?
[00:09:58] And, around the WordPress offerings it was backups, and then, I could see the writing on the wall with security and the space got heated up. I mean, you know, we can’t go week now with WordPress without an acquisition. There’s been two that I can think of off the top of my head that happened this week, two big ones last week, and so, like, and we’re a bootstrap company from the beginning and it was like, “How long can we be David versus Goliath in this space?” You know, all these Goliath are showing up and like, “I maybe have one rock in my slingshot.” And, you know, it’s kind of the thing of going with Monopoly, like, you can’t do this, I don’t think in Monopoly, but at what point do you go, “I’m outmanned, I’m out, you know, financed, at what point do I take my chips off the table and go home?”
[00:10:43] You know? And I just, fast-forward the tape in the future and go, this probably is going to be really, really tough for us, and not that we didn’t have tough times, but yeah, it felt like the intersection of the time to say, “Okay, it’s time to go somewhere bigger than,” you know, 25 people we had at the time at iThemes, the people that I count as some of the dearest people in the world to me that have held my children when they were born at the hospital, been in my home, spent significant amount of time with, and I was like, “We got to figure all this out.” So, it was part me, part them, you know, part feature for our customers, and we found a great partner in that and we’re able to say, “Okay, so now, you know, the team goes from, “Okay, what’s your upward mobility?”
[00:11:27] Cory CEO, Matt was COO at the time, like, “Okay, if they leave, now they go to an organization I think is around a thousand people right now.” So, it was just the right time and right place. I did it kicking and screaming, Jon because I had a five-year, kind of, internal commitment to myself that I would focus on these things, on iTheme, and every five years I’d go, “Do I want to renew?” And I had gotten to my, you know, I was almost back second ten or second, second 5 and I was like, “Oh man, I want to renew, but this is starting to look a little shaky.” And so getting ahead of that was the ultimate answer to your question.
[00:12:08] Jon Penland: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I really hadn’t anticipated that answer, that it was, sort of, a looking at where the industry was headed and going, “This is the right time with the way that industry consolidation is happening, a lot of these feature sets are being pulled in-house by different hosting providers.”
[00:12:25] That’s something that I think about from time to time, as working for a hosting provider and I guess something that I, I think it’s probably good for individual hosting providers, but I’m not sure it’s great for WordPress as a whole is the creation of these extremely unique WordPress experiences at different hosts.
[00:12:52] So if you go to, and I’m going to avoid listing names here, but if you go to one host, you get a very specific experience where it’s not just the WordPress Core anymore, it’s the WordPress Core plus X, Y, and Z. And then, if you go to host B, it’s the WordPress Core plus themes and plugins that are completely different, and it’s not just the platform that’s different, it’s actually the software in some ways that is increasingly different from one platform to the next, and I’m curious, you know… At Kinsta, we’ve decided to stay focused on the core. We haven’t acquired any themes, any plugins, that’s been a choice. We’ve had the opportunity to pursue some of those things and we haven’t, and I’m curious how you think about that dynamic and sort of the long-term trajectory of what that does to the WordPress ecosystem as you have these very different experiences occurring at different hosting providers?
[00:13:46] Cory Miller: So, I always root for the entrepreneur, every single time and I know some of the companies that we might be thinking about were started at some point by an entrepreneur, but I love the fact that, a Kinsta exists and it’s doing really, really well.
[00:14:01] I’m a customer for a reason. I know you’re a lead of customer support, Tom Sepper, but, like, I’m a customer because it’s awesome, the experience is outstanding, super lightning-fast backend, both in your backend and then WordPress, and I love that experience and I just want to go, that’s what I want.
[00:14:21] Now, if you were to add stuff that’s cool, but, like, you’re nailing the core experience, which I think is so awesome of you all. The other experiences you’re talking about, I think, are appropriate for some audiences, you know, like, offering a set of themes and stuff like that to add some value to it.
[00:14:43] I always thought it was going to be, you know, the domino for the feature stuff is going to be backup security. Think about all the stuff that, 10 years ago, you and I didn’t have to worry about with WordPress that now we have to, kind of, worry about which is, backups and security, updates is another part of that, and, I think you nailed that as a quote “managed host” and you’ve nailed the core experience. The other stuff to me is, just like, a plus one or icing on the cake. ‘Cause I just want that fast core experience for a reasonable price and I know if I have a question I can hit somebody up. It’ll be interesting.
[00:15:19] You got the big, big daddy, GoDaddy, you know, with their onboarding experience that I heard him talk about a long time ago is incredible, but is it for a developer in WordPress? Probably not. It’s for someone, it’s for the DYIer, which, here’s the phenomenon I’ll tell you I saw in WordPress, Jon, and you probably see it every day, is like, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace.
[00:15:41] They’re starting to eat the very bottom of the market, and WordPress is in the space now where it’s like, I chose WordPress years ago because someone gave me to log in to Joomla and I compared it to, like, what I would imagine, a helicopter dashboard, yeah, you’re shaking your head because you know it’s true.
[00:15:58] And, I chose WordPress, it’s so simple, it’s an awesome experience. Well, you log in today and we probably have blindness to it, but it’s like ’cause we know where everything is, but it’s like, “Holy cow”, this is, this is not a great experience for people.” And then you log into something like a Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and you’re like, “This is elegant.”
[00:16:15] Even wordpress.com, I’ll go as far to say, is elegant, modern-looking software. The experience is awesome. And so, GoDaddy should do that experience because that’s their market. Kinsta, I get it, different market, different audience, and you all should stay in that realm, but, it’s an interesting day.
[00:16:35] I’d love to turn the question around on you, Jon, and ask you what you think ’cause you all right there, I think you are so well poised and have killed it with a product, and I’m curious what you think too, is an independent out there, not a big billion-dollar conglomerate yet, what you think? Can I flip the script on it?
[00:16:55] Jon Penland: All right. Well, I mean, I’ll give a little bit of an answer to that. So, we see a lot of the same dynamics you’re describing, which is the site builders, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly putting out a really nice product and particularly if you’re building a really simple website, don’t need all the bells and whistles or a ton of customized customization options.
[00:17:16] They’re more and more taking some of that market. I guess where we get concerned about the long-term trajectory of the WordPress space is where you do see a competitor seemingly trying to build a bit of a locked-in experience. So one of the things that attracted me personally to WordPress initially, was the ability to own the software and to move it wherever I wanted.
[00:17:45] And, and there is some concern and that’s, if you look at, I don’t want to get too technical into WordPress, but if you look at our WordPress up at Kinsta, it’s standard. I mean, it’s a standard setup. You can grab that software and move it anywhere you want to. So, you retain that, sort of, original vision of WordPress democratizing publishing, where you really do own the software, you can go drop it somewhere else if you want to. I do worry, and this is more of a personal worry necessarily than a professional worry. I do worry that as hosts create more and more of a unique experience that we do lose some of that, that we do lose some of that original vision of democratizing publishing.
[00:18:28] So, without, you know, pulling back the curtain too far, we’ve made a conscious choice not to go that direction, but we do kind of see these warring dynamics where you have that one part of the market going to the site builders, one part of the market going to folks who are building these experiences that are WordPress plus a whole lot more.
[00:18:52] And, and we’re trying to make sure we stay relevant with the segment of users that are most benefited by what we bring to the table.
[00:19:01] Cory Miller: I love that you all feel that way at Kinsta because you nailed it because I mean, the ethos of WordPress is freedom. That’s the underline GPL license. And you’re absolutely right, when you get lock-in, I think about PalmPilot or Blackberry. You know, Blackberry’s thing was “remarkably easy in, incredibly difficult out,” and that is the opposite of WordPress. You know, the old five-minute install thing was like, “This should be easy. I love that you use democratizing. That’s part of our anthem at WordPress.” And that is key. I think you’re absolutely right.
[00:19:38] Host or anybody otherwise gets off of that, then you’ve, kind of, branched off what really has brought us together as millions of people using WordPress contributing to it, benefiting from it, rolling outsides from it, I mean, I’m here because I started a WordPress blog, you know, and, I think you nailed that. That’s where you get into dangerous territory when you start to try to lock in and provide such an experience where I don’t have that kind of freedom, yeah.
[00:20:06] Jon Penland: I want to move away from iThemes and Post Status to some of the other things that you focused on professionally and taking a look at your blog. So, one of the things I noticed on your website is you described your life’s mission as “make people’s lives awesome.” So, can you unpack that for us? What, what do you mean when you say that it’s your life’s mission to make people’s lives awesome?
[00:20:29] Cory Miller: At the core, when you read people like Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” and different texts from, I mean, even religious texts, you know, you, kind of, get this common thing, which is we’re here to help each other.
[00:20:40] And I think that’s help and support each other. And, you know, a value amount is just generosity, just ’cause I can’t help myself, but I, I like helping other people, and so, making people’s lives awesome, I believe is my mantra as an entrepreneur. We had to put it up on the wall when you walked into the office at iThemes because it was everything we did and it wasn’t, you know, a lot of companies will be like, make our customer’s lives awesome. That to me is one component of it and that’s probably like a secondary component. Too many times companies and even entrepreneurs don’t think about making their team’s lives awesome. They think first and force their customers ’cause they pay us, and that’s a transactional thing. “Make people’s lives awesome” to me is a mantra as an entrepreneur is I should think about two things: profit and purpose. And, those things people think are mutually exclusive and they’re not, they are an equation profit or I’m sorry, it should go purpose plus profit equals success. I’m trying to show that in my tenure at iThemes, I’m trying to do it now with my different projects is that you don’t have to bulldoze people to make money in the world.
[00:21:49] You can actually treat people really, really well and kindly as fellow humans, and so it’s a mantra for me about how to live my life is when I can and it’s appropriate, I want to try to help make people’s lives awesome.
[00:22:05] Now, you can always inflict help sometimes, you know, but it’s that right of just going, like, purpose plus profit is the way to do business. And I was just talking to an entrepreneur yesterday and who, who runs a 200 + SaaS company. And one, you would know if I said it and you know, thinking about all those people that he leads and going, “How do you make their lives awesome?” And, there’s things that are going on today that are now starting to seep into business, and I think it’s a good thing and social change, like, why shouldn’t business be about social change? Why shouldn’t work be about mental wellness and physical health and all those things, a healthier, happier employee by and large… And, I hate using that term, I think team member is going to be a more productive, passionate, interested, contributing team member to your organization. That was the mantra I led for 10 years and tried to eventually crystallize it, it didn’t start out like that. And so, I think the reason why I put that big and bold is like, that’s the way I think business should be run. That’s the business model.
[00:23:19] Jon Penland: Yeah. And, and I want to give you the opportunity to, kind of, put some detail for any of our listeners who may be struggling to understand what that looks like in practice.
[00:23:27] So, you’re at Post Status right now, so let’s, kind of, zoom in there. What sort of choices are you making at Post Status that can be traced back to this idea of making people’s lives awesome?
[00:23:38] Cory Miller: So, let’s take David and Dan, they’ve been at Post Status before I have, they’re part-time, they’ve got other full, other gigs. And so, they come to Post Status and they probably don’t get paid what they rightfully deserve to get paid, they could make more, you know, with their time. They come because they want to contribute to the project, to the community.
[00:24:02] And so, part of that is, like, not just going, “Hey sales and new members, and you should put your needs, Dan and David, before our client, our members’ needs.” And, like, somebody is rude to them or even hateful and angry, I’m going to take their side every single time, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt until I figured it out, but for them, it’s just basically saying like, “You care about this project enough to spend your side discretionary time that you might have in your life contributing to this project.” I wanna listen. I don’t have all the ideas and I want to be a collaborator with them. And so, well if David, for instance, is doing project way out of the scope of what he normally does for us and one, it’s sure there’s a financial thing, a bonus, and I actually did that, but it was nowhere near probably what he actually, should’ve gotten, but more so just going, “Thank you for your contribution to this project, to something bigger than yourself, this team, this membership and community.” And, I think it’s just, for that scenario, it would be like listening and then when I get the chance to see David and Dan is have a high-five, if they want, we’ll give, you know, hug and like listening and understanding where they’re coming from and their contributions and respecting and honoring that. How it happened at iThemes is trying to put in, it’s the same with them, it’s trying to put people where they’re strong, where their natural strengths are, utilizing that because I know they’re going to be better if they’re in their, like, groove in their center of power and contribution, and then saying, “Thanks.” I think we forget that, you know, just “Thanks for what you have done,” and calling that out in public if you don’t embarrass people and saying, “Well done,” you know.
[00:25:58] Jon Penland: Yeah. Well, something I appreciate about the different points you made there, you, kind of, emphasized two different things. One is, I think where a lot of people’s minds go when they think about this is, the idea of money, right? Or, just something very tangible, and the other thing that you, you balanced, you know, making people’s lives awesome, it’s not just about that tangible thing that ends up in somebody’s bank account, it’s also about the culture and the experience of working. It’s about providing a good environment for people to work in, right? And, and it’s about, It’s about making sure that work is rewarding for them, not just financially, but intrinsically that the work itself is rewarding.
[00:26:48] Cory Miller: And, entrepreneurs and you know this Jon, you lead a bunch of people, they’re more, people are, as humans are more, are going to contribute more and better if we’re fulfilled, if we’re in that center of our strengths, if we see what we’re doing is contributing to the success of, like, success of the enterprise. And we used to say, like, there’s no rock stars at iThemes and that includes me. Like, there’s no rock stars now. I’m sure I’m a prima donna in many ways, by the way, but, you know, but it is a band.
[00:27:22] Like, it’s a band and too often I got ascribed or people praised me for the work that we did and I tried as best we can, when it was appropriate to say, “No, actually that idea was this person’s idea, or this is the team that actually builds that,” you know, I only played a geek on TV and it’s these people and give credit where it’s due.
[00:27:40] But I think the principle, if I boil it down to, and I’m so glad you asked me this because it’s helped me think through this even more is honoring the fact that we are humans of an incalculable value and respecting that, that we are not machines, we are not cogs in a machine either. And, too often, we see this blight and it’s one thing I like to rail against, so thank you for letting me riff for a second, is that when you treat people like a machine, all you’re going to get is the output you put out there. And, by the way, I think it’s inhuman. Like, we’re not, we’re not machines. We’re not meant to work that way. And it’s so crazy, you look in the stock market in the U.S for instance, and across the world, but it’s like, it’s all about profit.
[00:28:21] And, you go, if you just treat people humanely, like, honor their humanness, honor their strengths and contributions, thank him, do 10% more, I’m not talking about you worship the ground they walk on, I’m saying, just treat him like you want to be treated yourself, you would get the things that you really want.
[00:28:39] But instead, we coerce people. We bulldoze people. We put them into a system we expect them to act like robots. And so, that’s at the core of this, is that you can get everything you want if you just treat people with dignity and respect.
[00:28:52] Jon Penland: Right. Yeah. One of the things that you hit on as you were talking about helping folks find value in their work and find meaning in their work is this idea of contributing to something that’s larger than themselves. And this is something as an organization gets larger that I’ve found, we found to be increasingly difficult, right?
[00:29:14] Is that teams tend to become much more focused on what they’re doing than what the organization is doing. We have a variety of ways we’ve tried to work against that, but I’m curious to hear from you, are there things that you did at iThemes or that you’re doing now to try and as it were, demonstrate to your team members that they’re all contributing to the same goal, to the same priorities?
[00:29:39] Cory Miller: Yeah, I think I understand where you’re going there. So, one is having a shared vision.
[00:29:46] If that is not Cory coming off the mountaintop, I’m going out and bestowing my grand vision on you, shared vision. Along the way, I tried to think about the people we had and what really inspires them and what they want to contribute, the music of the band that we’re making, you know, too. And it was a shared vision. Now, it was one that I did give and lead, but I want to make sure it was collaborative and shared. And so, you know, starting with that, you know, and so, our thing was make people’s lives awesome, but then we detailed it down by making easy to use software with security or something like that.
[00:30:20] It’d be protecting people’s websites. With Backup Buddy, it was like, making sure they don’t lose photos like I did when my, my site crashed, you know. So, making people’s lives awesome, and there’s these tangible ways you can connect that back and say, because, you know, just like, it probably Kinsta too, the support people, the front, front ends people sometimes get mad, have to deal with the angry, mad people.
[00:30:41] And, you’re like, “Okay, let me connect that.” When you enter that mad person, we don’t know the context of it, but what you helped them do is, for iThemes is build businesses for our freelancer and agency clients. For you all, it’s like, I get to, you know, you can go back to your team now. So, I talked to Cory, he’s a customer, he’s got his mental health startup running on our system, he’s helping therapists market and connect to the people that are hurting and healing. So, when you answer a question from Cory or somebody else, you are enabling them, you are part of that master strategy and plan, the vision and impact in the world. I go back to this to you Jon, and Dan, Daniel Pink and his book “Drive” talked about autonomy, mastery and purpose, AMP (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose).
[00:31:31] And, I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m just going to do that.” So, these ideas I’m sharing with you are not unique to me. I stole them from other people. “Leadership Challenge” is a great book and one of the first things they talk about is “inspire a shared vision.” So, I just followed the manual. Dan Pink-AMP, and Gallup’s got a book out there called “12: The Elements of Great Managing.”
[00:31:53] And, one of them was, have a best friend at work. I look back at all my career and I’ve had a different job before I started iThemes, every two years on average, since I was 16. And so, I look back and I go, “Oh man, Brian Church at this organization, so-and-so at this organization, like, I’d go to lunch with them. They were my best friend at work.” So, I thought, “How do we apply that?” Well, I want people to, kind of, like each other. You don’t have to love and just cherish every moment with each other, but do you just, like, like being in the same space to each other and those types of filaments, how do we help them, somebody have autonomy and mastery to know that they’re not going to get dictated something. I’m not going to tell them how, I’m going to try to get to the what’s my outcome and let them get there with their unique strengths as best as possible. So, okay, there’s my diatribe.
[00:32:40] Jon Penland: Yeah. And that’s nice, on that last piece, the way we always talk about that is that we try to find experts and then have them tell us what to do, right? So, we find experts and then we let them do their job and they tell us the right choices to make. So, shifting gears just a little bit, really, kind of, in the same general area of making the lives of other people awesome. You’ve been very transparent about your own mental health journey over time. And, in talking about mental health, you’ve used the analogy of an iceberg to describe life. So, break that down for us. In what ways is an iceberg a good analogy for life?
[00:33:17] Cory Miller: So, I started sharing my story in 2015 publicly because it was like, you know, I think in the entrepreneur, entrepreneurship circles, we think like everybody has to be perfect and you know, all the success stories, they don’t have any really bad parts, but, like, a good story always involves conflict, right? And, for me it was, I tell a story that’s well in my past that I’ve healed from, sought my own private counseling, like, I’m not sharing the story to get public therapy, but to empower people to go and seek their own support treatment by a professional. And so, back in 2011, I talk about iThemes, I think the top of the iceberg was my curated press release version of life for Cory.
[00:34:06] And it was, we had just hit, this probably wasn’t public, but we had just hit a million dollars in sales at iThemes. I had been asked to be a co-author of a “For Dummies” book, checking a childhood dream of being able to be a part of a commercial post published book, in fact, it’s sitting right back there. And, then we did this whole road trip.
[00:34:26] We had one of the few offices in WordPress, we did this little road trip in an RV all the way up to WordCamp Boulder and all this stuff, so, and I was getting asked to speak and starting to keynote, WordCamps, different things. And so, like, on the surface, if you had been around my sphere and knew who I was, you’d go, “Cory’s got it made.”
[00:34:45] Like, that’s probably what I’ve said about hundreds of entrepreneurs and different people over the years. Just seeing the top of the iceberg, that’s what it made. The full fleshed out thing was all the stuff lurking under the surface. I had carefully, and we do this today with Instagram, whatever it is, we, I don’t share with you the crap going on in my life, the bad, the bile, the struggles, the suffering,
[00:35:07] I don’t share most of that with you, you know? I shared the, “Oh, here’s a cool picture of us smiling as a family,” and, you know, you’re talking about baseball, we went to a baseball game last night with, for my son. Under the surface is the things that we carry around, but it’s the full picture. For me, it was divorce and depression.
[00:35:23] I was going through a divorce with my wife at the time. And, for the first time in a couple of years, thought I don’t want to go to work anymore, we had some people that were causing some serious grief with me. And then, when I walked into a counselor’s office for the first time in a long time, he ran through a battery of questions and said, “Cory, you’re suffering from depression.”
[00:35:48] And so, it was a splash my face, “No, I’m Cory, the superhero, I’m out here doing all this cool stuff, like, no, that can’t be happening to me, and plus, I was my personal life was cratering.” Yeah, And so, I share that to say, and oftentimes when I talk about divorce or depression or share that story, like, “Hey, everybody hurts, including me.”
[00:36:07] I could, I could have kept on with the perfectly curated profile, but I’ve done that too much of my life, and I’m done with it now. I’m like, “No, I don’t want to do that. I want to empower people. I want to obliterate the stigma of mental health and say, ‘If you’re hurting, seek someone for help and healing.'” That’s what I’ve now devoted my second part of my career, is in this mental health, to be an advocate, to be a champion. And now, specifically with my startup, one of my startups is to be a connector for the hurting to the healers, professionally licensed therapists that can do some work and to help you. And so, that’s my story.
[00:36:45] Everybody hurts and you’re not alone. So, if you’re hearing this today, I’d invite you, if you’re hurting, take a step toward finding help and support. It’s the thing I didn’t do for the longest time. I still struggle with it by the way, is asking for help. And, you know, thank you for letting me have that opportunity to share that because you know, there’s gotta be somebody listening to go, you know, they need to take the next step.
[00:37:10] You know, you need to make a phone call, send an email, test-base with somebody that we’ve been in a riff with or whatever that is for you. Take the next step and start working on the stuff under your, under the surface of your iceberg.
[00:37:22] Jon Penland: Yeah, something that I picked up on, early on there, and your answer is, is you made the qualification that in talking about some of the struggles you were facing, you were not seeking public therapy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said quite that way before. Can you unpack that a bit? I think I know what you’re getting at there, but what do you mean by not seeking public therapy? Why is that important?
[00:37:43] Cory Miller: Thanks for letting me, thanks for noting that too, because I, I don’t want to give the misnomer that, see, I’m, I was trying to be really careful and said that these are events that happened 10 years ago, that I had done my private healing. And, I think too often, now there’s cries for help and you should always seek out and find help, there’s numbers you can Google around suicide and depression and things like that. You can ask your primary care physician for mental health help, but I say that because it’s not therapy to post things necessarily online about stuff that’s going on. That’s a cry for help, and I want you to get the appropriate help.
[00:38:21] And I’m, I’m trying to just say, like, the reason why there’s stuff going on today, Jon, that, you know, like, you know, there’s good stuff going on with me today. I mean, you can assume, right? But I’m not going to unpack this on the podcast because I’m in my private healing space. I’ve got a therapist I meet with very regularly, once a month.
[00:38:41] I was going about once a week, a year ago, and then space them out a little bit more. And, as I felt good, but I have the name and number of a counselor who knows my story, I can call and get an appointment with and that’s the key. We have a primary care doctor, most of us, like I do, but we don’t have a primary care therapist.
[00:38:59] Someone that, like, when the crap hits the fan, we can call, and so, I’m just saying, it’s a cry for help if you wanted to post that, take a step to find the private, professionally trained and licensed help that you need to unpack some of the stuff. And, the way I say, Jon, is like, you know, the tendency is for us to talk to our friends and family about it, but I’m like, there’s certain things they’re not equipped, I’m not equipped to deal with, and I don’t want to be at Thanksgiving and say, “Pass the cranberries, please, and then go, “Oh, I know Cory’s baggage,” you know? There’s certain things under the iceberg that needs to be private with me and my closest, like, my wife knows my baggage, for sure, but I don’t try to seek treatment from her. It’s my professionally licensed counselor, like, we’re in a relationship of love and, and all that, so.
[00:39:50] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s important not to, not to think of the Internet as you’re a professionally licensed counselor, but to actually seek that help from a qualified source. I think….
[00:39:59] Cory Miller: That’s the headline right there. I like it. “The Internet is not your counselor.”
[00:40:03] Jon Penland: That’s right. So, but I do want to ask, you’ve talked a little bit about, you know, you’ve got the phone number of somebody who knows your story, somebody who is professionally qualified to help you work through different things as they come up in life, are there any other things that you do personally, just practices you adopt to try and take care of yourself, mentally speaking?
[00:40:21] Cory Miller: It is a constant struggle, Jon, the self-care part. I’m reading a great book by Tara Brach called “Radical Acceptance” and the work I’m doing now is more around, led by my counselor, is around compassion and acceptance and it’s a tough one. I would love to tell you, I exercise 30 minutes a day or whatever the CDC rig is. No, I know those things I need to do and try and take steps to it and it’s for me, it’s a building block. It’s, you know, one is, I’ve got to have that relationship with the counselor. That’s number one for me. I also have a coach which is more the, you know, the counselors, the stuff that happened in the past, the source code, you know, from your adolescence usually that, or childhood, which ends up affecting you today. A coach for me is the forward-stuff. Like, professionally tuned, so I meet with my counselor very once a month at a minimum, I meet with my coach every week at Tuesday at 9:00 AM Central to tune me, to make me think through stuff and that’s been, I wouldn’t say, I don’t get psychology help with or therapeutic help with my coach, but it’s yin and yang a lot of times and I wish I had a coach for the last 10 years, especially at iThemes, I would have been in a totally different place, coach and counselor by the way, but no need to excess, I’m trying to make those steps to, you know, get out there, lose my extra that I put on during COVID, but the biggest is just trying to be present in the moment for me, and this is just my story and taking those steps to actively, like, sometimes to put my own body last in priority, and know, it’s just like, being on an airplane with your child, the flight attendant’s always going to say, “Put on your mess first.” I’m trying right now, Jon, to make sure I’ve got my mask on.
[00:42:21] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, as a business leader, I want to, kind of, bring these two ideas together, the idea of making the lives of other people awesome and this idea of taking, prioritizing mental health, so, as a business leader, what are things that other business leaders listening to this podcast can do to put other people who are in their professional orbit, other team members in the best possible position to live an awesome life, take care of their own mental health? Are there some practical things business leaders can do to empower their team members to prioritize as part of their life?
[00:43:00] Cory Miller: Tagging onto what I just said, and you know this, how many people are at Kinsta now? A couple hundred?
[00:43:08] Jon Penland: We are up to about 190.
[00:43:09] Cory Miller: Okay. Almost 200 people. The best thing, if I just, kind of, put the question back to you is for you to take care of those 190 people is to take care of Jon first. It’s the same for me.
[00:43:22] I know when I don’t take care of myself I’m not good for my kids, I’m not good for my wife, I’m certainly not good for my team and so putting the mask on first, you have to as leader. And, I think it’s something somehow wired, I don’t know where it comes from, we think we have to take care of others first and then ourselves and that’s not what I’m advocating in the least. I know the times when I’ve been most unhealthy and come to work, I’m worse for my people. It, we, as leaders, I believe set the tone and the pace and when I’m not healthy, my team’s not healthy. So, take care of yourself first, and then I would invite any leader, but I know you get this, but any leader is to look at your team as the unique, spectacular, wonderfully gifted humans of invaluable worth and how they can contribute, and if you free them with your vision, with some guard rails, like, “Here’s some rules of how we do things,” to take your organization to the next level and let them flourish along the way.
[00:44:28] So, take care of yourself first, then out of that operation of health and strength, you can help your people become their best self to through their work and have stories to tell by the campfires later on in life, that was, that’s the reward for me, my wife, I say, Jon, you know this better than me, the highest highs in business – always people; the lowest lows in business – always people.
[00:44:51] Like, and that’s the roller coaster we’re on when we become leaders and entrepreneurs and try to lead people and in the space, but I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t take a moment back because the highs are the ones I’m so proud of, like, the things that give me value. The money was great, don’t get me wrong, I like the money, but that is its true reward.
[00:45:36] Jon Penland: Yeah. It’s interesting that a priority you place on taking care of yourself first, I’m immediately reminded of just the way that I am a better boss when I am not in a negative headspace. Right? Like when somebody works on one of my teams or just somebody who works at the company comes to me with a question and it doesn’t have to be anything negative, but just a question that’s going to involve a significant investment of time or whatever to answer, I am going to react better to them if I’m at a positive headspace and I know that as a leader at the company if I react to them negatively, that’s going to color the rest of their day.
[00:46:02] Cory Miller: Oh yeah.
[00:46:03] Jon Penland: So, their experience, their experience is going to be dramatically impacted by my mental headspace, even if there’s not anything specific or tangible negative that happens, even if it’s just, you know, me being grumpy with them, that’s going to have a negative impact on them and it will directly impact their felt experience over the course of the day, and we’re there mentally, absolutely.
[00:46:26] Cory Miller: It’s a domino, you know. It’s a domino effect. What we take to work, what we bring home, it’s just that big domino effect.
[00:46:35] Jon Penland: Yeah. All right. So, as we wrap this conversation to a close, I have a couple of wrap-up questions for you. So, the first is, what is one resource you would recommend to our listeners? So, a resource that you think listeners to Reverse Engineered should definitely check out whether that’s a newsletter or blog, conference, really anything.
[00:46:58] Cory Miller: Resource, okay, I’m going to answer this weirdly, Jon, is, be a reader or be a learner, lifelong learner. And so, for me, my learning modality is reading so I would say the resources. Put the Kindle on your app or if you like audio, like, podcasts like this, put audible and get an audible subscription, ask your company to help you pay for it because you’re going to professionally learn through that.
[00:47:23] I’ll tell you, I didn’t know anything about management when I started iThemes. I had managed the part-time person and that person managed me basically. And so, and then we had a team overnight, like, 25, seemingly overnight, of 25 plus people, and I was like, if I hadn’t done my due diligence of reading and consuming something and an expert, someone experienced had distilled into this coal form and read, I would have been light years behind, so I would say, resources like, challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, you haven’t arrived, you should be always growing, finding something new, the time that you think you’re coasting is the time you need to dive back in and ask somebody like you, Jon, “What are you reading today? Or what are you listening to?”
[00:48:07] And, and challenge yourself. It’s hard to get out of that comfort zone, but I get it, so, it’s going to be a weird question, but I’d say get a Kindle, get an audible account, and then ask people like you, “What are you reading, listening to?” And then go do that.
[00:48:19] Jon Penland: I think this is an idea I’ve seen you talk about a little bit on Twitter, where you, I’m trying to remember, there was a series of tweets which was like advice for people in their twenties or something like that and one of the pieces of advice in there was something like, “Be adaptable, be always ready to learn more and, kind of, to turn the corner.”
[00:48:39] And that’s one of the things, like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve expressed a similar sentiment, which is that as fast as the world is moving today, you have to realize that what you’re doing today is not what you’re always going to be doing and you have to be ready to adapt to changing conditions and to turn the corner.
[00:48:57] So, being a lifelong learner is not optional, right? Like, if you want to succeed in the modern economy, you have to, you have to be a lifelong learner. It’s just mandatory.
[00:49:10] Cory Miller: Last year taught us the human race, it was the world or universe, whatever you ascribe to, a way of saying, “Hey, I need the human race to learn how to be adaptable.” Just what you said. I think about my kids, we’re both parents and I’m like, “If there’s one skill, I want them to know, it’s like, how to adapt to the situation they’re in.” And last year, the world, the universe, or whatever it is said, “You got to learn how to adapt. You gotta learn to get out of your comfort zone,” like, it forced the entire world to do that, and so, I think it’s a valuable lesson. So I want to 100+ that, the adaptability, like, that is totally the age that we’re living in and those that are going to get left behind are the ones that aren’t willing to or equipped to adapt and I mean, that’s been my life the last couple of years is like, “Hey, everything you thought you, kind of, got to start over in many ways or start from a starting, head start, but, like, being able to adapt and learn things, like, I wouldn’t have done ten years ago, five years ago, I wouldn’t have done, you know, detailed conversations around invoicing books with my CPA, I wouldn’t have done any of that. I wouldn’t have done the deep work, you know, but I was forced to because of this chapter in my life and that was a good thing for me, so, good stuff.
[00:50:27] Jon Penland: Yeah. All right. So, last question for you before we wrap up, where can people go to learn more about Post Status or to connect with you?
[00:50:37 ] Cory Miller: So, go to poststatus.com and then personally, you can, kind of, get a jumping-off form or hit my contact form at corymiller.com, my personal website, C O R Y miller.com and love to hear from anybody, and if I can help entrepreneurs, you know, that I’m the biggest cheerleader support-person ever of my fellow entrepreneurs is what I believe we have the opportunity to impact the world and make money doing it and we should readily, if we do good in the world, we should do well on the world and back to that profit + purpose kind of mantra.
[00:51:13] Jon Penland: Awesome. Well, Cory, thank you so much for being on Reverse Engineered and thank you to all of our listeners. That’s it 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, please 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. See you next time.