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Howzit, I'm Mark Forrester, Co-Founder of WooThemes, AMA

Mar. 16, 2016

I'm excited to be here to answer any questions you might have about building web businesses and living in Cape Town, South Africa. Thanks for having me ManageWP.

I'll try check-in here regularly throughout the day.

Comment
21 vote   Flag
M Asif Rahman Ⓦ

How is life after joining Automattic family?

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Mark Forrester

Hi Asif,

Life is good thank you. Being part of the Automattic family provides many benefits for the product, team and community. We hope that is apparent in our recent releases.

For myself personally, it's obviously been an adjustment going from the owner of a business, to the lead of the WooTeam within a bigger organisation, but I'm enjoying the learnings, the experience and the network Automattic provides. It's also quite liberating - not having to now worry about every operational aspect of the company, having more experienced teams available to us (e.g. Distributed HR, Finance, Law).

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M Asif Rahman Ⓦ

As it seems I am the only one awake now, let me ask you few more question if you don't mind?

1) What is your thought about SaaS in E-commerce?

2) If anybody complains about eco-system is little costly and learning curve is little higher than average WordPress, what will be your answer?

3) Why it's so hard to get into WooCommerce Official Addon Listing? I only hear developer's frustration as it take very long to get an answer and most of the time the answer is negative. Why is that? Don't you want to have your door open for any good developer?

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Mark Forrester

1. It's been a proven success by our hosted competitors. Our recent API developments means SaaS can help complement and simplify many of our WooCommerce offerings.

2. I presume you are referring to our WooCommerce eco-system? I'd probably say something along the lines of - Don't be fooled, eCommerce is tricky business. The tech is the easy part. Ensure you know what you are getting into and that there will be learning curve getting into this line of business. With regards to our tech, we'll continue on our quest to provide the best new user experience and on-boarding facilities.

3. Our official third-party WooCommerce developers, and their extensions listed, represent our brand. Our brand is one of our most prized assets. You won't find many marketplaces supporting third party products. We do that. We also conduct meticulous code reviews and audits on all the products we list. We want to ensure third party products enrich the WooCommerce experience. It's therefore quite a process to accept new developers into the programme. That said, we understand developer frustrations and are working on better resources for them.

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Nemanja Aleksic

Thanks for being here, Mark!

I have a couple of questions:

1) You're a CEO of a highly successful company, a father and a dog owner. How do you juggle all these duties?
2) What was the dynamic like between you and the other WooThemes founders, back in the early days?
3) A lot of WordPress developers don't have the soft skills to match their coding skills. As an entrepeneur, what is the single most common mistake they're making, and how should they fix it?
4) How hard is it to hire remotely? What is your number one concern when you screen candidates?
5) What's the biggest mistake you've made in your professional career?

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Mark Forrester

1. Titles can be big and flashy, and at Automattic we decide on our own. I consider myself to be more of a "first mate". Responsible to the captain (Matt as CEO of Automattic) for the safety and security of the Woo ship.

Over the years we've grown a very capable, experienced and knowledgeable leadership team at WooThemes. Magnus (who I co-lead with) and myself have the duty of ensuring all our teams have all that they need to succeed and meet the ambitious goals we set ourselves.

Thanks to the confidence we place in this leadership team I can find a better balance at home. Last year was tough navigating the growth strategy for Woo and the eventual acquisition, and I think my family life suffered a bit because of it.

With baby #2 days from arrival I'm confident I can now be a more present dad. And toy poodle dog walker :)

2. We were lucky to find each other, in opposite corners of the world. We shared a passion for WordPress and commercial theming and had a really healthy work and play relationship. The first few WooTrips are testament to that.

3. Tough one. I've always struggled with the opposite. I believe with time, and the right coaching either can be learned. If you're a developer working with a team - communication is oxygen. Do it regularly and articulate it well.

4. Automattic have a HR team that now take this challenge off our shoulders. Hiring remotely presents fantastic opportunities to find really passionate, smart people. The number one focus is ensuring they enrich your company culture, not pollute it.

5. Too many small to medium ones to mention, but they all help shape and sharpen you as a business owner.

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Nemanja Aleksic

BTW Adii posted this question on the announcement post:

"Serious question: Will Benitez save your beloved Magpies from the drop?

More serious question: Thoughts on this? www.shopify.com/blog/113145925-introducing-shopify-for-wordpress "

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adii

I also need to seriously make sure I post questions in the right places. :)

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Nemanja Aleksic

You also need to pray for another Alan Shearer, because Benitez alone will not be enough.

:)

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Mark Forrester

Hey Pienaar.

1. I never imagined Rafa Benitez managing Newcastle at the beginning of the season... If at all. I also never imagined us being in the relegation battle with the recent signings... It's good to see Mike Ashley spending some money and showing some real intent, but I fear it might be a little too late. And it probably highlights the real reason why Mr Sports Direct continues to "invest" in Newcastle :|

2. It's certainly a splashy headline, but Shopify have been testing the waters with WordPress for a while now. It's encouraging to see them investing in the space and following what their users are asking for. I'm sure we'll see even more API driven development in this space. They've got a fantastic ecommerce solution and do a really good job selling it. Their time might be better spent building out WordPress like functionality into Shopify though. I guess WordPress have a 12 year head start.For me, the crux of it remains do you want to manage your website across two separate easy-to-use systems, one for your content and one for your products, or do you want an open source, all-in-one solution. Luckily WooCommerce for WordPress offers that :)

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adii

I'm happy not to be a Newcastle supporter. :)

What I find interesting about "Shopify + WordPress" is the choice / options available to eCommerce store owners. I agree with you though that the better move (for Shopify) is likely to improve their own blog / CMS functionality and do so in a native way, because native experiences will always win.

We've definitely seen this with Receiptful. Our core aim is to have a standardised experience within the Receiptful dashboard, regardless of which platform powers the store to which it is connected. But our WooCommerce users want different things to our Shopify & Bigcommerce users, because each of these platforms are unique and even opinionated in the way they do things.

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Nemanja Aleksic

I have a few more:

1) What was the most successful growth strategy you applied to WooThemes?

2) Do you have cross-team members, or are e.g. WooCommerce people working only on WooCommerce?

Reply
Mark Forrester

1) Perseverance. There's no quick fixes to sustained growth. WooCommerce launched off a 4 year track record of commercial theming, building an audience of WordPress users that would spend money, and nurturing a credible, trustworthy brand.

The freemium model was a great enabler for WooCommerce, utilizing an entrepreneurial developer ecosystem to open as many doors, as quickly as possible.

2) Our teams are pretty focused around WooCommerce projects and goals at Automattic. That means a team might move off to another WooCommerce project, and an individual might move to another team. There's lots of horizontal movement, within Woo and to other Automattic teams.

Our happiness teams focus is on exactly that - customer happiness, but they now have the opportunity to allocate some of their time to work on other Automattic projects and work with other people in that time.

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Petar Atanasovski

Hey Mark, nice to have you here :)

Here are a couple of questions from my side:

What do you consider the most important metrics of the customer experience?

How do you measure the success of your Customer Support Team?

What is the structure of the team?

Reply
Mark Forrester

Hey Petar,

Good questions.

1. Brand evangelism, but a difficult one to track. We focus heavily on new user experience, retention and of course some revenue metrics.

2. Customer satisfaction ratings and average response times.

3. The teams are focussed around goals and teams are built around the projects to achieve those goals. Whilst everyone operates pretty autonomously within Woo we still have a leadership team to ensure we're all moving in the right direction collectively. Historically, we've had a growth, partnerships, support and product team.

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Tom Harrigan

Hey Mark!

With WooConf right around the corner, what aspect of it are you most excited about?

What are the biggest hurdles in getting WooCommerce onto the .com platform?

Have you seen any trends lately in the types of e-commerce sites utilizing WooCommerce? As in are there certain segments of the market or certain types of companies that seem to be creating new properties, or adding value to their existing offerings, by using WC at a faster rate than others?

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Mark Forrester

Hey Tom. We miss you still!

1. I'm actually sad to report I won't be there. Not that sad though, as I'll be distracted by the arrival of our second baby boy. Hopefully a couple days prior.

I loved meeting developers, store owners and partners at WooConf 2014. There's something special about IRL interactions with your customers. It's validation on a whole different level - what we do is impacting so many around the world!

I'm excited for Matt's address at WooConf and hopefully some exciting teasers of recent projects.

2. The development, whilst complex, is something we are confident we could achieve. The biggest hurdle is validating that WooCommerce is something WP.com users want and need.

3. Not really vertical specific to my knowledge. More omnichannel merchants requesting POS integrations. Larger merchants with bigger product catalogs and impressive revenues wanting to scale. More subscription based WooCommerce stores selling all sorts of products types.

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Tom Harrigan

Miss you all as well, but still get to see many at WordCamps and other events, or when people come to NYC.

Congratulations to you and your family!

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Mark Forrester

Oh and something else on this:

"With WooConf right around the corner, what aspect of it are you most excited about?"

Bryce Adam's talk should be lots of fun and... futuristic :)

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Tom Harrigan

Are there any plans or discussions around opening up more repositories like has been done with Sensei? Thinking themes, WooSlider, etc.

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Mark Forrester

There are no explicit plans. If there is benefit to opening up a repository for a specific product we’ll certainly consider doing so.

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Vladimir Prelovac

Great stuff Mark, thanks for stopping by.

Given how saturated WordPress market is nowadays meaning positioning for new products is really hard, what would your first steps be if you were to start a new WordPress company tomorrow?

What are niche products/services that are still lacking in the WordPress space in your opinion?

Any thoughts on the future of WordPress.com vs WordPress.org?

Reply
Mark Forrester

Hi Vladimir,

Thanks for having me!

1. Tough question. We were fortunate to be ahead of the gold rush. I'd say understand and interact with the WordPress community. Luckily there's plenty of opportunities to do that with smart WordPress folk at WordCamps and meetups around the world. Rally them behind your business idea/product/service. Then provide the best possible customer service and support.

2. I think there still lies opportunity in products/services catering for more specific verticals and niches and marketing to those specific audiences. I also think there's opportunity to leverage audiences of existing popular WordPress products and offering child themes for popular themes, and extensions for popular plugins.

3. Javascript? ;) It's exciting to see Automattic and WordPress.com invest so heavily in re-engineering the WordPress experience and opensourcing Calypso. Whether the greater WordPress dev community adopts this new opportunity is yet to be seen.

WordPress has some serious competition, investing huge sums of money in marketing and development. WordPress collectively has always drawn it's strength from it's developer eco-system. I hope to see more cross pollination between code bases to ensure we stay one step ahead of the rest.

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