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Hola, I'm James Farmer, Ask Me Anything....

Feb. 16, 2016

Hi, I'm James Farmer and let's get the WordPress persona non grata thing premium.wpmudev.org/blog/10-years-as-a-wordpress-entrepreneur/ out of the way first yeh? Tick. Done. I'm sure we won't hear anything more about that ;)

In other news I founded edublogs.org in 2006, co-founded the business side of premium.wpmudev.org a few years after and have since had a crack (and often failed) at pretty much every WP business under the sun.

Currently I'm CEO of Incsub, based in Melbourne Australia, run by an awesome worldwide team of folks who do far more important work than me.

Ask me anything...

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28 votes   Flag
Nemanja Aleksic

Thanks for being on our AMA, James!

- What was the most promising idea on paper that you failed to turn into a successful business, and why?

- What are the most important parameters when hiring remotely, in a scenario where that person is not connected to your current team in any way?

- How different is the Australian WordPress community from North America and Europe?

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James Farmer

Happy to be here :) Email notifications would make me even happier lol.

> - What was the most promising idea on paper that you failed to turn into a successful business, and why?

Probably the thing I was most excited about for the longest time was a project called blogs.mu (great domain name huh!) which we launched in 2009 after about 6-9 months of dev and basically did to Multisite, what Multisite did to WP... namely start your own blog network.

On paper it looked awesome, not only because there wasn't (and still isn't lol, for reasons I'll come to in a minute) anything that did that, but also because it was a defensive move against anyone creating a similar tool that would (in my mind at least) trump the Multisite hosting and management platform I had built on top of Edublogs - now campuspress.com - as it'd be free / easy etc.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the demand for third party hosted, largely diy, multisite network creation ispretty much 0 :) The new Ning I was not going to be.

But you only find out by trying!

> - What are the most important parameters when hiring remotely, in a scenario where that person is not connected to your current team in any way?

I've written a massive post all about this including some serious tricks and techniques: premium.wpmudev.org/blog/starting-your-internet-business-part-3/

In a nutshell though, be specific, require people to jump through hoops, set financial stuff early and hire until you can't hire any more.

> - How different is the Australian WordPress community from North America and Europe?

I wish I knew!

I actually setup and ran the first ever WordCamp in the Southern Hemisphere back in the day, which was lots of fun, but as you can find out in the post I linked to at the top of this article, I was pretty quickly pushed out of (for good and bad reasons, mea cupla, etc.) the WP community en large, especially in Australia... and I haven't been invited back... so I can't tell you :)

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Vladimir Prelovac

Hi James and thanks for your time.

You obviously run a very successful WordPress based business. How do you see things unfolidng for WordPress in the upcoming years and what do you perceive as the biggest threat to WordPress growth?

What do you expect from Upfront?

Do you ever wish things between you and Matt settled down, and if yes, what could be the first step from your side?

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James Farmer

Thanks Vladimir, pleasure to be here :)

> You obviously run a very successful WordPress based business. How do you see things unfolidng for WordPress in the upcoming years and what do you perceive as the biggest threat to WordPress growth?

Squarespace, Wix, Webs and schmancy new players in that market... I mean have you even *seen* how many Squarespace 'developers' there are out there, it's crazy and only gonna get crazier.



Especially, and fundamentally, due to those platforms becoming both easier and more powerful, and WP still basically being something that needs to be hosted.

I think wp.com has a strong future, I think Calypso is a big part of that, but the individually managed self-hosted WP that we know and love, in 5-10 years I think we'll be the CMS equivalent of an Ubuntu user.

> What do you expect from Upfront?

Oh, only the World and everything in it :)

More seriously though we just released 1.0 after a massively insane year of learning about function, process and how to even cope with something this complex and significant, and the new product, and how we are developing it, is far far better premium.wpmudev.org/blog/upfront-1-0/

BUT we're nowhere *near* done yet, in my mind this is like wp 1.0, when we get to version 4, oh my.

Huge things on the horizon are different user roles, a completely redesigned front-end posting experience, the BUILDER (oh my word that'll be exciting, only 18 months late lol), a brand new UI that we've already been working on for a few months and rolling it out on Edublogs and CampusPress, which will be an experience in itself.

In terms of the business, I want to make it far far more accessible to regular WP users (i.e. free, although of course it already is GPL) although of course WPMU DEV members will get extra goodies.

Fundamentally though, and above all else, I want to make using and customizing WP far far better and more accessible experience for authors, admins and developers alike... give us a chance to keep those third party systems at bay for a bit ;)

> Do you ever wish things between you and Matt settled down, and if yes, what could be the first step from your side?

Maybe a nice Turkish bath? ;)

In all seriousness, of course, absolutely, we've been swimming upstream for most of the last decade 'cos of this, imagine how we could be doing if we got the same support and approval as Cory, Pippin or any of that crew, it'd be insane not to want that, from a business perspective.

From a personal perspective I feel like I already have made the first move, in a very public and (for me) somewhat cringeworthy way with the post referenced up top, I'm obviously still a little upset, and I think given all the water that's flown under the bridge me and jeff/brian/matt etc. are never gonna be best mates, but I don't lose any sleep over it (I literally used to) even if you can generally start me on a pretty good rant by mentioning how we are 100% ignored (check tavern, post status etc.) by these people and yet link to them copiously and without question in the WhiP premium.wpmudev.org/blog/get-the-whip/

I'm full of first moves :)

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Vladimir Prelovac

Thanks for those insights. Makes you wonder what the future looks like for all the WP business evolved around self-hosted WordPress sites and how to best make the transition into the on-demand economy of tomorrow.

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Mark McWilliams

Hi James! :)

What have been the 5 biggest lessons in building Edublogs that, given a second chance, or a whole new business sector, you would learn from and not make again? While I have no use for the site; we never used it when I was in school, they subsequently do now though, I love how it's run with WordPress.

To touch base on the "whole new business sector" above, if you had the chance to create another Edublogs (and we'll exclude CampusPress), something outside Education, what would it be and why?

I'm in the process of building something similar (WP.com/Edublogs), for a sports sector; what helpful articles should I read?

Do you not Open Source any aspects of your business, on the likes of GitHub (for example) like other successful companies?

Can you see Edublogs going down the same route as WordPress.com with Calypso? Do you use the REST API within Incsub?

If it wasn't for WordPress, where/what do you think you'd be doing today?

Thanks for your time!

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James Farmer

Hey Mark,

Should be called Ask me Everything :D I might be a bit shorter with these just so that I can make my next meeting (only 30 mins, will be back)

> What have been the 5 biggest lessons in building Edublogs that, given a second chance, or a whole new business sector, you would learn from and not make again?

Never as for donations, it doesn't work, don;t ask teachers to pay either, it's their job and they aren't over the moon about handing over cash to do work they are generally already poorly (and unfairly so) paid for... really focus on the enterprise and institutions, from day 1.

> To touch base on the "whole new business sector" above, if you had the chance to create another Edublogs (and we'll exclude CampusPress), something outside Education, what would it be and why?

Probably something in the small business space helping people both set up, and actually succeed, on the web.

> I'm in the process of building something similar (WP.com/Edublogs), for a sports sector; what helpful articles should I read?

Well it's marketing marketing marketing so I'd get over to the Moz blog, Conversion XL is also awesome (I'm going to CXL Live in Austin end of March, very excited!) and there's a lot of good marketing stuff on hacker news etc. Too much to point to individually.

If you can't drum up an audience you won't succeed. So you need to start there.

> Do you not Open Source any aspects of your business, on the likes of GitHub (for example) like other successful companies?

Everything we do is 100% GPL, we're experimenting with using github etc. we have a lot of stuff on wp.org profiles.wordpress.org/wpmudev/

> Can you see Edublogs going down the same route as WordPress.com with Calypso? Do you use the REST API within Incsub?

Yes :) And WPMU DEV, perhaps too. I'm not a techy so can't really comment on REST.

> If it wasn't for WordPress, where/what do you think you'd be doing today?

Probably some sort of entrepreneury thing, I've been focused on running my own business since I was a kid, so that was always gonna happen... I used to think about starting my own school.

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Mark McWilliams

Thanks for the reply James. I'm sure I could find you a few more questions to ask!

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James Farmer

Haha, feel free!

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PageFrog

Thanks James!

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James Farmer

FYI @vladimir this definitely needs email subscriptions or similar... refreshing repeatedly throughout the day (especially when nobody seems interested in me, lol) is a right PiTA

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Jake Jackson

I don't have a question for you James, but as an Australian WordPress developer (I develop the Gravity PDF plugin for Gravity Forms) it's nice to see other people from Australia working hard and getting recognition (whether good or bad – I can't say I know enough about you to make a call like that) in the WordPress world. Kudos, and thanks for taking the time to do the AMA (even if you may not have got that many questions).

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James Farmer

Thanks Jake :) I think they're just not that into me ;)

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Justin Busa

Hey James!

I’ll throw a question your way :)

I’ve seen you mention Squarespace, Wix, etc. as the competition on a few occasions. Are you considering evolving Upfront into some sort of cloud DIY platform similar to those at some point? We have debated that direction with our own competing product, so I’d be curious to hear what someone in a similar position has to say about that model on WordPress.

Thanks!

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James Farmer

Yes, absolutely, and fortunately we already have the audience who will LOVE it at edublogs.org and campuspress.com (or at least I hope so!).

They are already (especially the institutions) very keen on divi, which is great as it's a stepping stone to a real front end experience (and also the most solid editor out there at the moment, and best marketed, and blah, fuckers ;)

In terms of taking it beyond our established niche though, wow, that's a massive challenge but also exciting... the one thing I would very very strongly recommend if you do try that is to go niche, don't try to step on wp.com, squarespace, wix etc. because you simply won't succeed.

And make sure as all hell you have serious SME (and ideally extensive exposure) in that niche, cos it's gonna be hard otherwise too... although enthusiasm also goes a long way.

Thanks for an awesome question, I reckon we'd have heaps more top talk about over beers, you're not gonna be anywhere near here are you live.conversionxl.com/ ?

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Justin Busa

Thanks for the reply! That's pretty much the conclusion we came to, niche or bust. Specializing makes much more sense given the current landscape. Glad to hear others are thinking the same way.

Not planning on being in TX, but if you're ever in CA, look us up!

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James Farmer

Will do!

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Omaar Osmaan

Hello James-

Nice talking to you. I remember those days- when the edublogs came in, you've started MU Dev- and early BuddyPress days. Golden memories now- :)

Those days there were less blogging people, comparing to current days- and Social Media/Network wasn't big name like what Facebook, Twitter became- but people used to communicating more in blogging, and commenting. For some reason the interactions (specially in comments/conversations) became far less, although there are more people using Internet now, and there have been boom in technology/mobile-

Do you think blogging will increase? Will there be even more 'focused/niche blogging' in future? More blogging for business/earning/traffic purpose? Or, will it decrease- will there be less active blogging than now-a-days?

My other question is: What would you suggest if someone want to dive into WordPress business- Theme and/or Plugins, in 2016? What business strategy should they pursue? Club? Individual product pricing? Add-on model?


Thank you!

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James Farmer

Another awesome question, thankyou!

I remember the days... radio-weblogs.com/0120501/ well!

> Do you think blogging will increase? Will there be even more 'focused/niche blogging' in future? More blogging for business/earning/traffic purpose? Or, will it decrease- will there be less active blogging than now-a-days?

I bought the domain blogs.com.au for what was, at the time, a heap of cash back in the day and have NEVER done anything with it, for which I am eternally regretful, because now I don't know if I can justify the expense and energy to put into that, because of what blogs are... a technology sidelined by better, more engaging, more connected and FAAAAR better financially backed stuff.

Blogging is already at an ubuntu stage, the reason wp continues to sore high is because Matt positioned it from day one as a publishing platform... which is a very good thing :)

We rebranded Edublogs Campus to CampusPress for exactly that reason, blogs are nice but kinda meh to educational institutions, WP is where it's at, it's transformed that business.

Interactions are another thing, I think that's just cos it's far easier / better / more connected to do them with the tech, we're always gonna want to interact.

> My other question is: What would you suggest if someone want to dive into WordPress business- Theme and/or Plugins, in 2016? What business strategy should they pursue? Club? Individual product pricing? Add-on model?

I think free still, and always will, win.

Start a consultancy, make awesome WP sites for people and develop brilliant custom solutions for their needs that simply aren't covered elsewhere (you'll discover these gaps by doing the business itself) and then roll out those solutions through either wp.org with premium upgrades (best) envato (second best) [both cos of audience].

Start your own product / site / club etc. at your own peril, it's a very very competitive environment and not very product-meritorious, so you are going to need to be mr/mrs marketing or partner with somebody who is.

Hope that helps!

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Omaar Osmaan

Thank you so much for sharing the sights, and the tips- confirming the years of grasp absolutely helps. Appreciate it, James- :)

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James Farmer

Anytime :)

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Ryan Love

Hey James, thanks so much for doing this.

- What advice would you give to a new WordPress developer who's just getting started in their career? What would you recommend they put their main focus on? What things do you look for most when hiring?

- What's been the biggest challenge you faced in the last 6 months and how have you worked your way through it?

Thanks for your time!

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James Farmer

It's a pleasure Ryan, thanks for the question :)

> - What advice would you give to a new WordPress developer who's just getting started in their career?

Develop a plugin (or two), put it on wp.org, improve it as you go... that'll get you hired (by me, at least). Personally I prefer wp.org to github etc. 'cos it demonstrates an affinity with the platform (I suppose I should also say 'and its principles', I won't, cos I'm just an swine ;)

> What would you recommend they put their main focus on?

Making stuff we can see and assess, obviously I'm not a developer but our main ads of late have been for php and javascript (you definitely need to know both very well to be on a team like the Upfront one) so those are important.

Front end things, not so much, platforms like Upfront are making the days of the 'theme developer' somewhat passé - I can find a wealth of FE people across the development spectrum and they don't reaaaly need to be WP experts.

> What things do you look for most when hiring?

Demonstrated experience, keen-ness more about that here at length premium.wpmudev.org/blog/starting-your-internet-business-part-3/ (my entire hiring process, for you to peruse!)

> - What's been the biggest challenge you faced in the last 6 months and how have you worked your way through it?

I'm gonna cheat and choose two, and stick to WPMU DEV rather than the far larger and more complex challenges that I generally face day to day by being me ;)

So first big challenge is the WPMU DEV model, how do we radically increase our growth and vastly increase our members satisfaction?

The first part I can't really tell you about now, but it'll become obvious within the next couple of months (if you don't hear about it we won't have done a very good job lol), for the second we've invested heavily in product design staff and focused on what our members really want, we're just rolling that out as we speak.

I know that's a bit bland, but it's been our biggest challenge and in a couple of months I can tell you a lot more about it (and 6 months after that whether our solution worked lol).

The other main problem was Upfront. We've never undertaken such an insanely complex and challenging development before, I reckon that it's fair to say that it's probably 10 times more significant in terms of development time, skill, design and thought than anything we've ever done before.

And we tried to do that without a project manager, lol.

Ooops.

So the solution was pretty obvious, go on a search for, find and get going an awesome project manager... which is exactly what we've done, and now we're 'cooking with gas' as we say down here :)

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Ryan Love

It’ll be interesting to see what you’ve got come down the line in the next few months!

And thanks for you're answers.

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James Farmer

I can guarantee that at the very least it'll be interesting :)

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Eric Karkovack

James, I've been a WPMU Dev member for several years. I'm curious to know if you will ever consider selling your awesome plugins individually again?

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James Farmer

Hey Eric,

You catch us at an interesting time :) Right now you can actually purchase them individually ($19 gets you the plugin forever + support + upgrades for a month) but I can't guarantee that'll be the case for much longer!

Cheers, James

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Eric Karkovack

Thanks for your time, James!

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Michael Cheng

This sounds great!

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Luis Alberto Caro Marchesi

Hey James,

Happy to have your attention if only for a few seconds, I'm Luis by the way.

I'm a WordPress developer and I created something I think is worth sharing to get developers involved, so I figured maybe you can help me if you agree. Basically it's a core theme for WordPress that allows anybody to create pages with the most common features in a fraction of a time, but this is actually oriented for developers.

I don't want to take up much of your time with this, so if you can just go to marchesi.xyz and check out the video, the idea is to get people collaborating on the github page to make it grow.

Thanks for your time,
Luis Caro

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