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I’m Noel Tock, Product & Partner at Human Made. Ask me anything!

Nov. 2, 2016

Hi all,

Built my first website in 1995, wasn’t much of an industry back then so I worked in banking for a while before deciding to make the switch over to freelancing to now running Human Made with my friends Tom & Joe [1]. We do plenty of big agency work, but I’m mostly excited about all things product. I’m also a WordCamp Europe organiser and have run two Swiss WordCamps. My day is filled with front-end dev, designing in sketch, creating keynote decks and jumping on calls.

Things that I’m either working on or excited in participating in:

- Founded Happytables [2] with Tom & Joe, a platform which previously was a squarespace for restaurants. We learnt a lot from that which is why we pivoted the business and are aiming for a much larger segment of the industry; unifying various restaurant software into one and producing insights that restaurant staff can on the same day. Built with React and the REST API.
- Nomadbase [3], a platform for digital nomads to find each other. We’re working on an exciting mobile app built on React Native and the REST API.
- Vienna [4]. The current WordPress mobile app is quite Automattic-centric (by favouring JetPack) and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. However, I think that it’s important that a vendor-neutral alternative is available to the community. This is also a React Native project, so I’m looking forward to contributing (and you should too).
- Exploring the core experiences of WordPress; creating content or consuming content. Be it front-end editing, live collaboration, new page builders, new interactions for readers, etc.
- WordPress as an Application Platform. WordPress growth has slowed down (maybe even come to a rest?), it will be very interesting to see how it evolves with the REST API coming in.
- The thought of more regional (WordCamp Nordics) and continental (WordCamp Asia) events. They’ll grow faster than we think.
- Building teams and companies that have progressive ways of working and employing/compensating people.
- Been a nomad for 3 years, so all things remote working [6] Check out our remote working event "Out of Office" [7]

Things I’ve worked on in the past:

- Founded Project Reality, which went on to become one of the largest gaming modifications of the last decade.
- Founded Game-Artist.net, a community for game artists, ended up selling it to CG Society.

Fire away!

[1] hmn.md
[2] www.happytables.com
[3] nomadbase.io
[4] github.com/joehoyle/vienna
[5] realitymod.com
[6] medium.com/digital-nomad-stories/the-nomad-way-of-work-f638a11a02ff
[7] www.outofoffice.hm/

Comment
25 votes   Flag
Donna Cavalier

Hi, Noel. Back in September, I tweeted to @humanmadeltd but got no response. So, I'll ask here:

twitter.com/DonnaCavalier/status/772265509764993024

@humanmadeltd Anything ever happen with selling @wpremote ? hmn.md/2015/11/06/wp-remote-deserves-a-better-home-so-were-selling-it/ … Wondering if it will be reliable in future.

And the followup question regardless of the answer is...how do you think is best to handle phasing out a product without hurting users who love it?

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Noel Tock

Hi Donna,

Thanks for those questions and apologies you didn't get a reply! We're still seeking the right home for WP Remote. What that means in practical terms is that WP Remote isn't sold for parts (i.e. someone who just wants the domain/brand/etc.) but is instead acquired by a group who wishes to continue/enhance/build on it. The sale of ManageWP to GoDaddy highlights the need for aggregation and a single place of administering your portfolio of sites. We had a lot of ideas for WP Remote ( medium.com/@noeltock/redesigning-wp-remote-72163e94a128 ) but just didn't find the time to execute them. We'll continue to run the WP Remote servers for the foreseeable future or till we find the right buyer.

In terms of phasing out, I think the core elements are clear communication with a healthy amount of lead time if feasible. For example "We're closing X, this means Y and you have 6 months from now to find a replacement.".

Let me know if that answers your questions, cheers!

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Kevin Ohashi

Will I see you and your team in Thailand again next year?

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Noel Tock

Yes! Various trips to Thailand planned again, especially Koh Lanta :) Keep an eye on WordCamp Bangkok, no website yet but I think the idea is end of February 2017.

Would be great to hang out again!

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Kevin Ohashi

I'm planning to be there feb/march for sure. Maybe see you in BKK. But definitely come out to Lanta again, where I plan to spend most/all of my time.

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Noel Tock

Yay, let's do it :+1:

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Michael van Lohuizen

Hi Noel! Great to see you doing a AMA. WordPress still seems to be getting a bad rep in corporate/enterprise space. What do you see as the top 3 (or 30) steps needed to get WordPress adopted in the enterprise realm?

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Noel Tock

Hey Michael,

Thanks for the solid question. I’m not sure if bad rep is the correct term; I feel as if WordPress conversations within enterprise are often just new.

When you look at the enterprise ecosystem as a whole, the Gartner quadrant for CMS’s 2016 (recently published), puts the companies behind CQ5, Drupal and Sitecore way ahead of WordPress; labelling those companies better leaders and visionaries. So whilst we all know WordPress is great, that validation is at a consumer level. There’s still a lot of work to be done for enterprise. It’d be nice if the consumer-success translated to board rooms, but there’s a lot more ground work to be done there as individual companies and as a professional community (sales, marketing, white papers, associations, etc.).



Next week, a few of us humans will be in Singapore to attend and exhibit at Digital Media Asia (a publishing conference). We won’t be presenting ourselves as Human Made directly, but rather “WordPress” together with WordPress.com VIP. This followed with social events, meetings, etc. We’re competing with a lot of publishing solutions and have to go through the challenge of 1) Selling a new CMS to enterprise; WordPress, and 2) Selling ourselves as the company to execute it. That’s a big ask and we’re still learning. As a c.40 person company we’re punching well above our weight (especially if you consider companies like Acquia are in the mix).

The gist is we can’t expect WordPress to sell itself or point fingers towards external “bad rep” factors, there’s a lot for us to do before we’d ever get to that point.

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Ahmad Awais

This is pretty exciting, I'd love to see how this event would turn out.

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Jon Brown

me too

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Vladimir Prelovac

Great to have you have on an AMA Noel.

That is a quite impressive career and a list of accomplishments, congrats!

- Did you originally built WP Remote because of a need or because you wanted to explore the market? If it was because you needed a tool like that, what happened to that need and what tool(s) you use nowadays for the job?

- Can you share a recent sketch/design of yours?

- What do you think about the e-sports phenomenon?

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Noel Tock

Hey Vlad,

Believe congratulations are in order for you too :) Two great teams coming together, looking forward to what you guys cook up.

- We built it as an internal need. We had a lot of websites to manage and wanted a better way of doing it. We’ve grown as an agency, so we don’t host the majority of our clients anymore (enterprise host themselves oftentimes), but where we do, the setup has become a lot more complex to the point that we likely wouldn’t trigger 1-click updates or other shortcuts. Everything goes through staging/QA. If WP Remote is the consumer tool, we’ve built our own enterprise one once again (but it’s growing and still trying to figure out exactly what it wants to be when it grows up :) ).

- Sure! Here’s some of the Nomadbase app stuff I’ve been playing around with:

- If you mean the quantified self, I really like playing with it but question the value of it a lot. Apps like Gyroscope look awesome, but is it something I need to check all the time? No. If anything these apps have made me realise I need to sleep more rather then do more activity :)

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Vladimir Prelovac

Actually I mean more and more people participating in online tournaments like LoL, Dota, CSGO with tournament prizes going over several million USD. Are we witnessing a rise of a new paradigm in sports?

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Noel Tock

Ah yes, I used to be a lot more active in all (FPS), but I find it a difficult spectator sport. Obviously there's a great/growing ecosystem around it. What I find more interesting is how to try and motivate recreational players to play in a more competitive/organised manner (without compromising the joys of being a lone wolf). Squad seems to do that quite well.

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Ahmad Awais

Hi, Noel!

I've been following what you people do at HumanMade for quite some time now. Esp. I like the fact that HM has both product and service ends to deal with. I've come to believe that building products can have a much better impact on the services side of your business than most people realize.

Anywho, I have a few questions.

Q#1: How do you define growth at HM? What do you think HM would be in, let's say three years from now? Where are you people headed?

Q#2: Ryan has done an incredible work with REST API, as a whole, I think WP community owes a lot to him as well as HM for his work. I have been contributing off and on to the REST API project and now building a commercial product based on it. What advice do you have for a new REST API based product which also happens to be a SaaS project?

Q#3: What would you say is the best way to connect a product with user's sites based on the current state of REST API?

Q#4: I suppose you've worn different hats throughout your career, which is what makes you a perfect candidate for this question... (full disclosure, I have asked the same question from Shane at ModernTribe)
— I have been deeply involved in the WP community, which is why I know for (maybe a fact) that it is hard to get promoted in different agencies nowadays. As it is in the current state of known WordPress agencies (maybe it's the speed at which tech stack is changing, or maybe it's hard to get promoted from solo/lead to manager or a director level position unless you're a foundational stake owner). Which is why I see folks changing their employers — for the sole purpose of getting promoted per their improved skill set (every two years or so). I'd go as far as to say, how do you, at HM, address this stereotype (not my words) → "There isn't much room for vertical growth or promotions - more or less you stay doing what you were brought on for in the long haul."

Q#5: JavaScript & its frameworks are changing pretty fast. Do you have a personal favorite, React, Angular? Vue? —— And why?

Q#6: You linked to an article that you wrote on Medium, why not WP? — A silly question indeed ;)

Looking forward!

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Noel Tock

(working on this, give me a bit :) )

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Noel Tock


#1 Great question (and not one that we have defined in any certain terms). From my perspective, growth has mostly been about extending/acquiring/developing talent (people with skill on a mission, whatever that mission is, they simply care deeply). Beyond that we’ve really been seeking bigger/more challenging clients and projects to pursue. Three years out is a long time, but we’ll want to retain this idea of building/experimenting/contributing back as much as we can. Many see us as a WordPress company, but we consider ourselves a technology company, staying flexible enough to stay on top of innovation.

#2 Ryan has certainly done incredible work and I’m amazed at the perseverance he displayed. Not sure if I’d have any specific advice, both keywords REST API & SaaS are massive in nature. API’s are basically a necessity and SaaS the majority of internet companies. I think with any idea, focus relentlessly on achieving product/market fit and understanding the problem you’re trying to solve.

#3 Hmm, not sure I understand this one? But I’m also not that technical :)

#4 Great question. I think that discussion has started becoming more relevant for us now that we’re growing into numbers which aren’t insignificant anymore. Siobhan is our Hosting Director for example, and Ryan has just become our Engineering Director. Slowly but surely, we’re creating the sort of positions you’re talking about. A lot of that is operating off feeling for Tom, Joe & I; the pressure from an area of business is large enough and there’s someone who is just an incredible fit. I think the future will be similar, a new solution (i.e. we should promote person x) will naturally bubble into sight as opposed to us having to go dig for it. If all agencies were 100+ people, then we wouldn’t have this question to begin with I guess; just a lot of small players in this game.

#5 Safe to say we’re all in with React, for now… the usual JS story :)

#6 Good question. WordPress is a tool, it doesn’t distribute for you. Medium on the hand has a more specific mandate, you’re better off comparing it to WordPress.com then to WP as software. I have a bunch of followers on Medium and the recommendation system is quite strong, so it’s a good way of notifying readers that know you as well as finding new ones.

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Ahmad Awais

Nice, thanks for the response. I hope HM continues to grow. Apart from being a developer, I love business metrics and data — i.e. it's good to know HM is growing :)

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Noel Tock

I probably haven't done a great job of explaining our business metrics and data, but that's also not what leads the narrative of our business. Sure they're important, but our employees take precedence. For instance, this is our holiday policy:

"You should take a minimum of 28 days holiday per year... If you have to take time off for things like appointments or any unexpected circumstances, you do not need to count these towards your holiday."

We can't quantify the benefits or ROI of this, but it's simply what we feel is right (even if it's not the norm, or isn't the "optimal" model for revenue).

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Ahmad Awais

You make a valid point here, sir! Also, I have heard good things about your holiday policy :) — so, this is not the first time, I am reading about it.

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Vladimir Prelovac

A follow up question - what host is really popular with your enterprise clients and why?

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Noel Tock

We often find ourselves working with WordPress.com VIP, their own stack (AWS) or our own hosting solutions (also based on AWS, but with our years of experience behind it). It was also really nice to work with the SiteGround team for the Greenpeace project we did ( heartoftheamazon.org/ ).

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Jon Brown

Hi Noel - As a fellow nomad I found it surprising talking to you awhile back that you mostly stay in hotels (I far prefer AirBNBs/etc). Different strokes for different folks.

1. What's the longest you spend in one place? Where's the place you like to stay the longest? Why?

2. Does work (meetings/conferences) or leisure (beaches, skiing, food) mostly drive your travel planning?

3. What's your best tip for staying focused and organized while traveling?

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Noel Tock

#0 For short-term travel, I certainly prefer hotels. The pricing has dropped significantly and Airbnb has become less attractive to me. Many Airbnb flats are now built for that sole purpose, so the furniture is cheap (which is fine, until you get to the mattress) and often lacking various bits and bobs. It just makes sense to take out the guesswork when you're on short trips. Longer term, I still go with apartments (even airbnb, just have to find the right items).

#1 A month. As to the where question? Japan, SE Asia, Australia/NZ.. could stay at any of those for a while if the real world didn't come calling :)

#2 Work plants itself wherever it wants and the locations I enjoy take the remaining gaps! I don't mind bouncing across longer distances, especially with airlines such as Emirates making it affordable/comfortable.

#3 Learn to work offline. You can either let poor wifi bother you, or turn off wifi, save some battery and get to work without wasting any time.

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Amit Kvint

Hi Noel,

Met you for a brief chat when shared a speaker room once in WordCamp Norway, anyway great of you to take the time and share your thoughts and experience here,

I have a couple of questions:

- How do you evaluate if a project had been successful? I mean a part from the obvious bottom line ...
- Can you share the support level and support workflow you give to clients after a project had been finished ?

Cheers!

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Noel Tock

Hey Amit, for sure!

#1 Projects are generally successful when we were able to produce the desired outcome whilst at the same time feeling like we were part of the team. This often means being part of the decision making process, being kept in the loop with changes/news and the client using our services to their full potential (thus pushing us further as a group, and more importantly, as individuals).

#2 Two things that separate us off the bat, 1) Enterprise, not small/medium business clients, and 2) We provide WordPress development (rarely design/UX/etc.). This means that we don't have the typical post-project support smaller agencies talk about, but rather have 1-2 employees continuing to work full-time in an agile manner. So an existing team of 2-3 WP devs/employees (from a client), may want to be supplemented with additional dev resources.

Cheers!

Noel

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Amit Kvint

Thanks!

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Myles

Noel,
What about someone looking to purchase WP Remote to open source it? Would you guys even consider open sourcing it at all?

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