Today I will be chatting with Ben Fox. He’s the co-founder of WPUniversity and SIDEKICK, aimed at education and support for the WordPress community both old and new. In this interview we discuss his views on balancing projects and downtime, outsourcing, and his passion for WordPress education.
You can find him on Twitter @benjaminefox
How did you get started with WordPress?
I was at a tech meetup looking for an opportunity and someone asked me if I knew anything about websites and how much they should pay someone in India to build one. I said “Sure I do and I can build you one.”
They cut me a check for $300.00 and I went home to Google “How to build a Website.” That’s when I discovered WordPress. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
The first time I really got excited about WordPress as something more than a money maker and an awesome platform was definitely my first WordCamp Toronto in 2013 and really every WordCamp after that I’ve had the privilege to attend and speak at. People talk about WordPress being community-driven but until you’ve heard Chris Lema speak or gotten advice from Syed Balkhi or just sat and talked with any of the 100’s of attendees at a WC, you can’t grasp the concept of a community driven industry.
We’re very proud to be a part of it and support it every way we can.
How do you find balance between projects and downtime?
Karim Marucchi, CEO of Crowd Favorite, was on a WordPress Business panel at this past WordCamp Miami when he was asked (I’m paraphrasing): “How do you maintain a work-life balance and have a successful business?” Karim’s answer was to the point. “You don’t.” I agree, for the most part.
If you’re asking me how I find my balance I will tell you this: Being a successful entrepreneur and business owner means living for a few years like no one will so that you can live the rest of your life like no one can. It is an inherently unbalanced career choice and I love it.
Saying that, everyone needs a break and life can’t be all about work so, when we do have downtime as an organization we;
- Try to ensure that everyone takes a few days off or at the very least, short days.
- Don’t track vacation days.
- Trust our team and ourselves to know when they need to be working and when it’s appropriate to lay on the beach.
- Encourage our team to attend as many meet-ups, community events and learning opportunities as they can such as HackerNest or WordPress meetups
What are your views on outsourcing?
Now there’s a loaded question. We do use some local contractors from time to time and there’s nothing wrong, in my opinion, with outsourcing work to other agencies or dev teams that you trust and know (and maybe met at WordCamp!). Where I find the wheels come off with outsourcing, is attempting to do it on the cheap and/or in a part of the world where no management that you trust is close by. There are a few examples of some great outsourcing firms overseas and their rates are fair at $4.00/hr, but I have two rules that we stand by at SIDEKICK:
- GOOD. FAST. CHEAP. You can have two.
- A dollar purposely spent on an inferior product is a waste
As the co-founder of SIDEKICK and WP University, why do you consider WordPress education and support to be important?
My love of education started a long time before I ever conceived WPUniversity or SIDEKICK. Growing up I was a tutor, swim instructor and coach. Teaching, or helping someone to learn, has just always been something I’ve enjoyed and I probably have my high school principal mother to thank for that. (Awww shucks… Thanks mom!)
And support, well, I’ve always had a passion for great customer service. I think a business should create value and people should get more than what they paid for, otherwise, why are they your customer? Having awesome support is the best way to make an impact on perceived and real value of your product.
Given all that, I think it was only natural that my interest in WordPress would lean towards making it easier to learn and use.
How important is accessibility in terms of teaching in the WordPress community?
While I’m a huge fan of accessibility on the Net and in WordPress, this is where I hand off the mic to someone far more knowledgable on the subject than I. Andy Mcilwain (twitter.com/andmci) is SIDEKICK’s Director of Content but also co-organizer of WordCamp Toronto and ardent supporter of Accessibility in WordPress.
Andy says: “It’s funny. User Experience is all the rage right now, but we’re not talking about Accessibility in that. And we should be – it’s 100% UX.
Accessibility has been neglected by WordPress developers for far too long, which is a real shame, considering that WordPress powers over 20% of the web. The Make WordPress Accessible team deserves a lot of respect for what they do. They’re small and burdened with the huge task of making WordPress usable for everyone.
Bottom line: We need to create an accessible WordPress experience, from core to themes & plugins to the websites we build. We’re trying to raise awareness this year by focusing WordCamp Toronto 2014 on accessibility-related topics.
Beat that up however you’d like.”
In your interview on The DradCast you mentioned “scratching your own itch.” How does that translate in an entrepreneurial context?
As an entrepreneur, it’s critical you understand your market, customers and product. When I say an entrepreneur should “scratch their own itch” what I mean is, if you can solve a problem you have or have had, you are more likely to be successful because of your understanding of that problem and your empathy for those experiencing it.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
Better support for different media types as WordPress continues to mature as a CMS. Right now the Media Library is kinda clunky but expect more to be done with handling presentation of diverse media types in themes. i.e. “galleries” becoming “collections” as it separates itself from the image association.
More devs following what Automattic has done with Jetpack, or what Woo has done with WooDojo (http://www.woothemes.com/woodojo/). Basically bundling a bunch of related features, things that would normally be standalone plugins, into a single install.
And that brings us to JetPack which I think we’re going to see evolve into a SaaS marketplace but then again. What do I know?
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
WP News & Updates? I go to Torque and WP Tavern.
I’m also a huge fan of the Advanced WordPress Group and the WordPress for Business Group on Facebook. Lots of cool insights and conversations going on there.