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I am Kimberly Lipari, Co-Founder at Valet. Ask Me Anything!

Apr. 12, 2017

Hello! I'm Kimberly, Co-Founder and herder of cats at Valet.io (formerly WP Valet). Valet is a comprehensive site management agency. We provide larger businesses with the resources to create a stable infrastructure around their websites. Our approach is one of a kind and we really enjoy the variety of folks we get to work with. We've had the pleasure of working with folks like Mixergy, Social Media Examiner, Etsy, and Time Inc, to name a few.

We've had our share of changes and struggles along the way, but we're incredibly proud of how far we've come. We have over 30 active clients and hope to push out a Version 1 of our own SAAS style tool later this year to help folks monitor their website heath in the 5 key areas that matter the most. We had a BETA version out for testing earlier this year, you can peek at the demo here: valetmetrix.com

My position in Valet (www.valet.io) is a long way from my original career in Engineering Drafting. I graduated in Industrial Technology and spent the next few years designing residential subdivisions, working with professional surveyors, and doing 3D scanning. My husband and I started a family in 2009 and I started a new journey into the WordPress world. I have been enamored with this community ever since my first Word Camp (Miami).

This year my co-founder and I decided to change up or leading roles in the company and I'm moving to more of a General Company Managment role, so taking more of the day to day and directional voice in the company's future. I'll still have to manage Operations but I'm incredibly excited about contributing my own ideas to the long-term growth of Valet.

I live in Louisiana, near New Orleans, with my three daughters, husband, and one boy dog. We currently spend as much time as we can fishing and chasing the girls around to Soccer and Softball. My youngest is 3 but going on 13 so our lives are constantly full of glitter and laughter. I love to cook and spend time digging in the dirt whether it's gardening or turning soil for flowers.

I'd like to read more but usually only get to do so during travel, I really relish those times now! I've been a PTO mom, a soccer coach, and so many other things I'd never imagined in the last two years! I'm definitely looking forward to the next adventures coming my way. Oh, and today is my Wedding Anniversary!

Go ahead and Ask me Anything :D

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27 votes   Flag
Nemanja Aleksic

Hey Kimberly, thanks for being on the AMA, and congratulations on the anniversary!

- Valet Metrix is a really great project. What's the biggest challenge so far on your road to becoming a SaaS business?
- When I talk about a successful website maintenance business, Valet usually comes up as an example. You guys negotiate $1,000+/month maintenance contracts, while others struggle to justify $10/month. What's your secret?
- Having 2 kids, how do you maintain your work/life balance?

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Kimberly Lipari

Hi Nemanja!

Thank You :)

Ok let's see...

- The biggest challenge is overcoming what's 'good enough' to get started and get out there. Our idea springs from strong feelings that we've all developed over the years so pouring that passion in and then trying to dial back the feature meter has been (and still is) tough.

- Glad to hear we come up in conversations, we spend so much time working it's hard to gauge what the public view is since we've grown up. Honestly, the secret is we don't do maintenance. :) We do website management. There are so many tangential threads in a large business that connect to a website, keeping software up to date is only a fraction of what we provide. We don't limit the scope of what we support and that is a great value to many companies. We hear from many folks in different positions in any given company; the IT guy, the marketing managers, event coordinators, etc. and we help them all.

-I have 3 kiddos, and I've always struggled with the phrase 'work/life balance'. Balancing is an act that requires continuing concentration and adjustment, yet many use the phrase in a way to mean they have it all figured out. I do exactly that, balance. Some days it's more kids than work, some it's more work than kids. The key, for me, was to stop beating myself up about it, no matter which kind of day it is.

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Nemanja Aleksic

Sorry about the error in the number of kids, it's been a long day here :)

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Nevena Tomovic

Hey Kimberly,

Thank you for attending our AMA, especially on your Wedding Anniversary. So let's start with an easy question. How do you celebrate your Wedding Anniversary?

I think it's really exciting and brave to have total shifts in your career. How did you go from residential subdivisions to WordPress? And would you think about changing it up again?

Final thought. I met Mason when he was here in Belgrade, and he is just a ball of laughs and a pleasure to be around. How important do you think having a person you can trust and rely on is in the building of a successful business ? When do you guys get along and when do you not see eye to eye?

Next time make sure you come to Belgrade, and don't let Mason come without you!

Nevena

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Kimberly Lipari

Hi Nevena!

Thank you so much :)

-Official celebration this year is going to be delayed until next week. We'll go out to dinner and dancing most likely. I've already gotten my gift and tonight we'll order out so we don't have to do the cook/clean routine!

-The short version of the career change is 'It's hard to find another job when you're 6 months pregnant' :D I was doing a lot of climbing in manufacturing plants and outdoor bridge work and wanted to dial back. In the end we figured I could do something on my own and started a small community newsletter, then a local crafters group, which led me to building a site in WordPress and then to getting hired on as product support at WPMUDEV. I've been learning software all my life, so I was a whiz at picking up WP and helping others with it.

-Mason had a great time in Belgrade and I will certainly be going with him next time! It's incredibly important to have someone you trust if you're going to be building something you hope to grow successfully. We've had to get a bit vunerable at times, which is counter-intuitive to business relationships, but essential in partnerships. That's allowed us to be honest and keep things stable between us through all the chaos over the years.

As far as getting along, I think we have learned to deal with each other's quirks and habits...We have no trouble getting along but can definitely frustrate each other. We communicate differently, and that has been a struggle over the years, but we've found ways to improve that consistently. Overall there is no comparison to knowing someone wants YOU to succeed. That's something we both carry for each other and makes a big difference.

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Trey Praytor

Gumbo or Jambalaya?

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Kimberly Lipari

Gumbo, Cajun not Creole, with potato salad!

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Adam W. Warner

How important is it to attend WordCamps and other WordPress-specific events in terms of lead generation?

Do you find value there? Have you attended other events that aren't WordPress-specific and what was the experience?

What is your client acquisition strategy in general?

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Kimberly Lipari

Hey Adam! Long time no see! Thanks for the Q's

We love WordCamps! But we rarely (if we have ever!) come home with a new client.

WordCamps are relationship building events for us. Our best connections are with other vendors. We get to talk about what we do and hear what others are doing. This leads to many referral relationships, which serve us well. We believe in sticking to our core competencies so finding other service providers who are doing great work outside of what we offer is another thing we look for. We love to send out referrals with confidence to folks we've met and connect with.

So value, yes we find that...Clients, not directly.

Mason and I actually attended Drupalcon last year! It was in New Orleans, and I think he's going back this year in Baltimore. The conference was HUGE and setup more like a seminar weekend. There were rooms with talks and a huge trade show style room. Attendance was phenomenal. We mostly attended because of the locale but we're returning because we see some talk of crossover between the spaces and want to see where that is leading.

Client Aquisition strategy at the moment is....in progress :D That's one of the things I'm hoping to develop in a more official sense this year. We've always done well with folks by just talking to them about what they need and letting them know we understand the pain. The plan is to find a way to get that empathetic voice out in a more structured and public way.

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Ross Johnson

Hi Kimberly, thanks for doing an AMA.

I have two questions:

1. To piggyback off of what Nemanja asked, how have you gone about attracting clients who want and needa premium service in a largely commoditized space?

2. My understanding of Valet is that you provide design and development support in addition to maintenance type services (software updates, backups, uptime monitoring, etc...) Are those services rolled into a retainer type agreement or are they done ad hoc? Maybe you can describe how these types of engagements are typically structured.

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Kimberly Lipari

Hello Ross! I'm really excited to be doing this today, to be honest :)

To your questions:

1. We were really lucky at first to work with a couple of partners that needed someone like us. In our first year or two we probably had over 60% of our income in migrations. We were one of the first to learn and provide WP Engine migrations and quickly realized how many folks had questions about their WordPress installations following the move. From there it was a natural thing to help them out. The following years was a lot of the same, we'd lend a hand somewhere and folks like what we had to offer so they stuck around. We do less migrations today, but the few we do are complicated, and we work with Pagely and Pantheon now too.

We never really had to worry about marketing much...but we're going to change that this year.

2. My answer here kind of rolls off your inital question... The WordPress space is indeed commoditized but I think we're seeing that start to change. Valet, from day 1, has been less about commoditization and more about personalization. We have 'plans' only as a starting point for conversations, because it's easy for folks to wrap their head around. They are monthly payments based on what we 1) know we will need to run monitoring systems and updates and 2) what we anticipate their technical need to be from our staff.

We're really hitting our stride this year in smaller scale development tasks and site management in general. We do 'maintenance' stuff, yes, but the majority of our daily work is in the form of requests and troubleshooting. The benefit of having a less commoditized service means we get to learn more about each client than you typically would if you were just supplying product. So when a marketing manager writes in because she doesn't know why her newsletter is bouncing we can quickly jump past all the typical questions you'd get in a support forum and find the root of the problem.

We support our clients, not a specific list of plugins or themes. Our job is to continuously make their lives easier and their site healthier!

We do supply work ad hoc for clients on a monthly plan when they want something outside the scope of our services. Our service scope is really more exclusive than inclusive. We typically decide what qualifies based on what complexity of work it is and how long it will take us. We price those in smaller increments so that they have flexibility for things that are only a couple hours but require some deep code knowledge or tedious concentration. Larger requests, like rebuilds, get a more traditional SOW treatment.

Hopefully this answers your questions!

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