Welcome to ManageWP.org

Register to share, discuss and vote for the best WordPress stories every day, find new ideas and inspiration for your business and network with other members of the WordPress community. Join the #1 WordPress news community!

×

I’m Gabe Mays, Head of WordPress @ GoDaddy. Ask Me Anything!

Dec. 7, 2016

Hey everyone! My name is Gabriel A. Mays and I'm the Head of WordPress at GoDaddy.

What I Do

My role involves everything from leading our WordPress products and strategy to identifying acquisition opportunities, managing partnerships, hiring new WordPress team members, evangelizing WordPress inside the company and helping GoDaddy be a better member of the WordPress community.

My Background

Like most WordPress folks, I have an unconventional background. Previously, I was a Captain in the Marine Corps. A combat veteran, I spent two years between Iraq and Afghanistan operating on small, embedded teams. While in the Marine Corps I met my wife, who's still an active duty Marine F/A-18 aviator and just finished two years as #8 on the Blue Angels.

I discovered WordPress almost 10 years ago after trying just about everything else building sites for myself and others. On my last 12-month deployment to Afghanistan I spent my free time learning about business, startups and teaching myself to be a better developer.

I learn by doing, so while deployed I decided to build a SaaS product that abstracted the complexity to give small businesses beautiful, fully functional websites in 60 seconds. Further, it'd integrate with hundreds of other apps to automate business processes. For example, when a customer submits a form it'd automatically create an invoice, schedule an appointment, add the customer to an email newsletter and CRM, send a text message summary, etc. The idea was to give businesses more than a website, they'd also get a way to automate their business.

This was challenging to do working from a tent in Afghanistan with limited internet connectivity on an old $300 duct-taped laptop. But it didn't matter, during the process I fell in love with building products, strategy and WordPress--there was nothing else I'd rather be doing. Halfway through that 12-month deployment I knew what I wanted to do next: leave the Marine Corps and build products that help people leverage WordPress to build businesses as great as their ambitions.

I launched the startup shortly after returning from deployment and soon had my first customers. After attending a Y Combinator startup event I met one of the partners from Google Ventures who became a mentor. I decided against seeking funding, but through connections I eventually met Jeff King, SVP of Hosting at GoDaddy.

At that time, I felt the same way about GoDaddy that many WordPress folks used to, but decided to give it a chance after learning about the new leadership team. I was impressed, they "got it" and were investing heavily to turn things around, so I agreed to do a product demo and stayed in contact with the team.

Over the next two years my startup spun off a new product targeted at high end real estate investors (also on WordPress) in addition to the existing product for small businesses. It was fun, but exhausting. We didn't hire fast enough (we were self-funded) or iterate fast enough. We remained profitable, but our opportunity to be a dominant player faded.

In late 2014 my wife joined the Blue Angels as #8 where she'd be traveling 300 days a year doing airshows for the 2015-2016 seasons. This inspired me to take advantage of the opportunity to try something new. Around the same time GoDaddy was looking for someone to lead WordPress and I accepted.

A year later, here I am. I absolutely love what I do and I'm incredibly proud of what the team has accomplished in the last year. We still have a lot of work to do to give the WordPress community the amazing experience it deserves and I'm grateful for the opportunity to be part of it.

I look forward to answering your questions and meeting you at the next WordCamp or Meetup. You can find me on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/gabrielmays and Facebook: www.facebook.com/gabriel.mays.

Thanks,
Gabe

Comment
21 vote   Flag
Joe Casabona

Hi Gabe! I'm a big fan of everything you guys have been doing over the last few years to be actively involved in the community.

What do you look for in an acquisition and what's the basic process like?

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Hi Joe, thank you! Great question.

There are different factors in considering an acquisition. The core question comes down to whether to build, buy or partner and it's a blend of art and science.

First, what do we believe about a market and how would we deliver the best experience?

Can we win through a partnership? If we consider it a core competency, we'd want to build or buy. When core competencies are involved partnerships typically only makes sense in certain cases, e.g. to validate a hypothesis prior to further investment or if we believe it to be a temporary solution due to changes in the industry (e.g. what assumptions is this product/service predicated on?).

For partnership, there must be a clear vision of how the companies can complement each other long-term. This is especially true for things that aren't part of our core competency and don't make sense to build or buy as part of our business.

To build, do we have this capability in-house and/or are there advantages to doing it organically? To buy, are there any existing solutions in the market that customers love or that do it better than we ever could? Are there talented teams that'd bring something special to the company? Are there other reasons to accelerate through acquisition?

Above all, the key question for me is: does 1 + 1 = 3? Can we do things together that neither of us can do alone and couldn't be achieved through a partnership? Synergy is key.

I hope that helps!

Thanks Joe,
Gabe

Reply
Vladimir Prelovac

Hey Gabe

Absolutely love your story, glad to have you here! Here are my questions for you:

- What do you think presents the biggest challenge for WordPress growth at this moment?

- You are active in hacker news community too. What would you say are the differences between managewp.org and that community and what can managewp.org learn from that community to improve?

- Can a random person fly in an F-18 in any way (including knowing you)? :)

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Hey Vladimir! Thanks, great questions.

- "What do you think presents the biggest challenge for WordPress growth at this moment?"

WordPress benefitted from such strong product market fit and, subsequently, such high growth that there weren’t the typical feedback mechanisms forcing us to make certain parts of the product better.

That combined with a fuzzy vision/focus have diffused the investments made. I'm excited about Matt's comments at WCUS about the new core release process and think it's the right step to make progress in key areas we'll need to stay relevant in the future.

We also need to figure out how to get more companies investing in WordPress, which Matt touched on in his WP Growth Council post. This is a great idea and I've responded to the WP Growth Council survey with some ideas. There are some key things that need to change for some of the larger WordPress companies to invest more.

- "You are active in hacker news community too. What would you say are the differences between managewp.org and that community and what can managewp.org learn from that community to improve?"

We're getting better at this, but more diverse perspectives and borrowing lessons from other communities would strengthen the ecosystem and the products we make. We should seek global maximums vs. local maximums.

For anyone curious, a good first step is to browse Hacker News and Product Hunt. Personally, I browse every article submitted to Hacker News and every new product submitted to Product Hunt, though I only read/investigate the interesting ones.

- "Can a random person fly in an F-18 in any way (including knowing you)? :)"

Haha. They do have a program to fly members of the media, celebrities and people who do a lot for kids in their communities. Time to start the Vladimir News Channel I guess ;)

Thanks Vladimir,
Gabe

Reply
JazzFan Junkie

Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

100 duck-sized horses any day.

I don't think a horse that small could generate enough force with a kick to cause much damage and their mouths would be too small to bite.

I'll test this hypothesis in a dream tonight and report back.

Reply
Nemanja Aleksic

Thanks for being on our AMA, Gabe!

1) The GoDaddy Managed WordPress hosting PHP version has been stuck at 5.4 since forever. What's going on there, and when can we expect 5.6 and 7?

2) A lot of people don't know that you guys published a pretty solid theme called Primer and published it on the WordPress repo. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

3) GoDaddy had a bunch of surprises these past several months: ManageWP and WP Curve acquisitions, Beaver Builder partnership, Primer theme, Pro program. What's next?

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Hey Nemanja, great questions!

1) The GoDaddy Managed WordPress hosting PHP version has been stuck at 5.4 since forever. What's going on there, and when can we expect 5.6 and 7?

Yeah, believe me, nobody is more frustrated about this than I am.

Our previous object caching solution didn't support anything above PHP 5.4, so we had to upgrade it. We opted to add a new Redis tier to our stack for object caching. This required ordering a significant amount of new hardware for all our datacenters around the world, which took significantly longer than expected.

Once the hardware was received, we encountered some issues building and rolling out the caching solution, which further extended the timeline.

We have an awesome team, but we're also the largest Managed WordPress host and things become *extremely* complicated at our scale--how do we do it without negatively impacting our customers? It's like trying to change the engine on a plane while it's still flying.

I'm happy to say we've overcome the hurdles and have completed the rollout of Redis and PHP 5.6 to 2/3 of our datacenters. We're taking a brief pause to complete the rollout of WordPress 4.7, after which we'll finish up the PHP 5.6 rollout.

I'm also happy to say that we're already working on PHP 7. It'll be available next year and it'll also be the default PHP version for new Managed WordPress customers.

But PHP 7 won't be the last version of PHP, so we're also working on ways to permanently fix the upgrade issues in the future. We're also talking to the WordPress core team about how to help the WordPress ecosystem better adapt to new PHP versions, e.g. how do we proactively ensure plugins and themes in the repo are compatible with new versions of PHP.

2) A lot of people don't know that you guys published a pretty solid theme called Primer and published it on the WordPress repo. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

We knew we wanted two things: 1) themes for our new onboarding experience and 2) something we could contribute back to the community that would help raise the bar for free themes.

We invested in building one parent (Primer) and 9 child themes that would be the foundation of our new WordPress onboarding experience.

We invested heavily in ensuring our themes were a high-quality example of meeting the WordPress coding standards and will continue to show the best of what WordPress can be. We continue to add improvements, for example we're in the process of adding WooCommerce compatibility.

3) GoDaddy had a bunch of surprises these past several months: ManageWP and WP Curve acquisitions, Beaver Builder partnership, Primer theme, Pro program. What's next?

More, better, faster :) We're just getting started and plan to continue improving our WordPress products and increasingly invest in the community. Vague, I know, but stay tuned ;)

Thanks Nemanja,
Gabe

Reply
Michael Terndrup

Hi Gabe

I plan on changing my business so I can do website management and support, can you give a run down of Godaddy and Manage WP and what I would need to do?

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Hi Michael, sure! Our GoDaddy Pro program is designed to help Pros like you save time, make more money and thrill your clients. To take it to the next level, it now integrates with ManageWP, the best suite of site management tools out there.

Using ManageWP as a GoDaddy Pro you get free uptime monitoring and backups. You can also import all your GoDaddy contacts/clients and assign them to websites.

There's a ton of other great stuff too, sign up for free and check it out here: www.godaddy.com/pro/managewp

Thanks Michael,
Gabe

Reply
Ahmad Awais

Hi, Gabe!

Nice to have you here! I have a few questions...


1) I wanted to ask what Nemanja asked on #3. What's next? But is there anything SaaS on the shelf?

2) How do you hire WP Developers? As a Full Stack dev and core contributor, I'd like to know what does the WP team ends up working on? Since yours is a product company, and how it differs from working for an agency based business. Pros and Cons if you will.

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Hi Ahmad,

1) I wanted to ask what Nemanja asked on #3. What's next? But is there anything SaaS on the shelf?

Hey Ahmad. This is an excellent, insightful question given the trajectory of WordPress and the industry, but unfortunately I can't talk about any plans at this time.

However, I can say that the promise of SaaS to abstract complexity and give customers what they need in a streamlined way is an attractive one. Customers don’t want hosting, hosting is just something they have to deal with to use WordPress and get a website. Any opportunity to improve the customer experience is an attractive one.

2) How do you hire WP Developers? As a Full Stack dev and core contributor, I'd like to know what does the WP team ends up working on? Since yours is a product company, and how it differs from working for an agency based business. Pros and Cons if you will.

Good question. Generally, we have two WordPress development teams that work together. We have the engineering team that builds and manages our platform and we have a development team that builds and manages all our WordPress components like onboarding service, themes, plugins, system plugin, builds WordPress plugins/services for the rest of the company, etc.

For hiring WordPress developers, a quick litmus test is to check for plugins/themes in the repo, GitHub contributions and core contributions. We want a deep passion and love for WordPress that'll help guide the company in building amazing WordPress experiences for our customers.

As for pros and cons, these are largely a matter of opinion. Personally, I'm not a fan of client work, but love building products and seeing the product evolve over time to achieve a strategy and have millions of customers using it. I tend to pour my heart into my work, so the opportunity to build equity and make long-term investments in products speaks to me.

Thanks Ahmad,
Gabe

Reply
Ahmad Awais

Thanks for your insightful response! I agree with you and have similar behavior towards products. Would love to meet you in person on a WordCamp somewhere next year.
Cheers!

Reply
Ahmad Awais

Thanks for your insightful response! I agree with you and have similar behavior towards products. Would love to meet you in person on a WordCamp somewhere next year.
Cheers!

Reply
Jeff King

In addition to your WordPress expertise, I've been impressed with your ability to consume large amounts of pizza and cheeseburgers and massive quantities of Coca-Cola - is this something you picked up in the Marines as well?

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Great question Jeff.

As a Marine, when you see threat you neutralize it. There's no greater threat than a pizza or cheeseburger in the open, so I'm just doing my part in making this world a better place.

You're welcome.

Reply
Ivan Bjelajac

Hi Gabe,

Awesome story. I learned new stuff about you that I did not know. :)

I have a few questions:

1) If you were in charge of the WordPress Roadmap right now what would you prioritize?

2) How do you envision the future of WordPress hosting? (GoDaddy is already the biggest Managed WordPress Hosting out there, so that answer does not count. :) )

Best regards,
Ivan

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Hi Ivan, thanks for the questions!

1) If you were in charge of the WordPress Roadmap right now what would you prioritize?

Good question. I'm happy with the three foci Matt mentioned during the SoTW: Customizer, Editor and REST API. Those areas are key to WordPress continuing to be relevant in the future.

Though I'd explore ways to more closely integrate the two (Editor and Customizer). For example, an easy, intuitive way to move back and forth between viewing/editing aspects of a page in the Editor and in the Customizer something we've noticed new WordPress users struggling with.

I'd also change the name of the Customizer and other features. "Customizer" what does that mean? Customize what? From a NUX perspective, it's not obvious what it's for. There are many things like this we can do to improve the experience for new users and we (GoDaddy) look forward to making significant contributions to core on this front in 2017.

2) How do you envision the future of WordPress hosting? (GoDaddy is already the biggest Managed WordPress Hosting out there, so that answer does not count. :) )

Another great question. First, we should stop calling it Hosting. The concept of Hosting is dying as the industry changes. To me it feels like continuing to call it Hosting is like a car company calling itself ACME Horses Inc. We should think if it as web services or cloud services because what we call ourselves impacts how we think of ourselves and, subsequently, what we believe we're capable of.

Next, think about technology and how it evolves. Think about how we got to Managed WordPress. Tech evolves up the stack with increasing levels of abstraction. Despite the cost (e.g. higher priced and lower performance than tuning it perfectly yourself), the productivity gains are always worth it in the long run.

On the low end we're seeing site builders and at the high-end we're seeing modularization and anything you need on demand with AWS. When building on AWS, whatever you need next they probably already have a service for it. Companies will have to diversify and become more flexible to remain relevant as basic "Managed WordPress hosting" increasingly becomes a commoditized and giants like AWS simplify their offerings.

Thanks Ivan,
Gabe

Reply
Gabriel A. Mays

Great questions, thanks all, I had a blast!

Gabe

Reply