In addition to being a plugin developer, educator, and entrepreneur, Josh is a regular contributor to Torque magazine and various WordPress tutorial sites, one of which being his own blog. Additionally, Josh is a WordCamps speaker and one of the leading advocates for the WordPress REST API. Josh currently resides in Florida with his wife Alicia and their pets.
Josh, we’re grateful to have the opportunity to do this interview. Thank you for joining us. Let’s begin with a weather question: How do you deal with that Tallahassee heat? How did you end up there?
We moved from New York City to Tallahassee so my wife could go to Florida State University’s College of Music for grad school. Honestly, with all the concrete and buildings and people, New York in the summer is way more brutal than being in a small town in the middle of a forest in North Florida.
You mention on your website that your educational background is in environmental studies, how has that coalesced with your current career path as a plugin dev?
I started writing a blog while I was in grad school. I got way more into hacking the theme for my blog, teaching myself PHP, etc. than writing content for the blog. That’s how I got started with development.
Studying complex systems and reading Christopher Alexander’s work on the pattern language at the same time, really helped me understand software development in terms of patterns as well as make sense of how a free software ecosystem functions.
You’ve done some WordPress development before CalderaWP. Can you tell us how you started out? What is your WordPress Origin Story?
Right after I finished school I took a support and documentation job working on the Pods Framework. Scott and Phil from Pods taught me a ton about plugin development, and about managing a big plugin project. I ended up becoming community manager and a contributing developer there.
What were some of the first plugins you developed? Are they still being used today?
I think my first plugin was a front-end UI for the theme switcher plugin. It was for my own theme site I used to have. It was pretty bad. I hope no one is still using that.
The first good plugin I did was the auto templates plugin for Pods. That one really filled a need for a lot of Pods users. It was never intended to be a “feature plugin” but it ended up getting merged into Pods at some point.
When WordPress was first released it was predominantly used as a blogging platform, when did you first realize that WordPress could be used as a business vehicle?
Pretty much from the start. As soon as I figured out that WordPress.com didn’t equal WordPress, I got pretty interested in understanding how Automattic related to the rest of the industry and how the rest of the industry made money.
What was your motivation for creating a WordPress business? What’s the story behind the name?
I think originally I was going to name it after one of my dogs.
I met David Cramer when he was contributing to Pods. He introduced me to his plugin Caldera Forms, which I found to be really refreshing, in terms of admin UI and end user experience — way more dynamic and AJAX-driven than any other plugin I had used.
So when I wanted to make commercial plugins and was talking to people I knew through Pods to work with, he was the one I most wanted to work with.
Since part of the plan was to monetize Caldera Forms, it made sense at the time to name the company after the plugin.
you’ve worked very closely with your co-lead David Cramer on numerous occasions. Can you tell our aspiring WordPress plugin developers about the importance or value of such a working relationship?
Working alone sucks, I’m so over it. I think everyone should be constantly trying to find people who are better than them. I’ve been super-lucky to work on a lot of different plugins with a lot of talented people and learn from all of them along the way.
I really hope the people I work with are learning from me too. Also, I’m super-opinionated on WordPress development and love when those I work with can prove me wrong.
Working alone sucks. Everyone should be constantly trying to find people who are better than them.Tweet
Really for me, I just love making teams. In an ideal world, I’d just keep writing MVPs, build a team around the product and slowly back away as the team members were empowered to run with it and make it better than I could have when working alone.
You also started a project related to A/B testing in WordPress. Could you please share with us what all the buzz is about?
Honestly, I got really annoyed with how big of a pain in the butt A/B testing is for WordPress. There wasn’t a solution that worked in the dashboard and just did the math analysis for you. I wanted something that you could set up and just let it run.
I’d been thinking for a while about ways to use automated testing and machine learning to make a website that evolved over time to maximize conversion rate and usability. So Ingot, the automated A/B testing plugin was something that I couldn’t resist building.
Any site with a profit motive should be using A/B testing.Tweet
Really, any site with a profit motive should be using A/B testing. A lot of people don’t because they don’t understand the benefit or think it is only for high traffic sites. Ingot is bringing this vital marketing tool to everyone and that’s exciting. It’s what WordPress is all about.
Your plugin Caldera Forms is a free plugin with paid add-ons. How important is WordPress.org for the success of that business?
WordPress.org gets us great exposure and makes it easy for people to try it out. I love that. It’s a minefield as that site creates an expectation of free support — instead of letting you make the choice that is right for your business.
Your new A/B testing plugin, Ingot, is a premium only product. Why did you choose to go that path this time?
We’re still figuring out what the best business model is. My feeling is it’s easier to start totally paid and then go to freemium then the other way around.
To be honest, the challenges of being on WordPress.org with Caldera Forms — people demanding free support, the expectation that the plugin will work on a decade old version of PHP — that made me really grumpy for awhile. I think I’ve gotten over it, but when we were planning Ingot, I couldn’t handle the idea of going down that path again.
Maybe we will do it in the future, but the numbers are not good, and the restrictions on upsells are not helpful.
What’s your typical workday like? Can you share a glimpse of Josh Pollock’s routine? Are you the kind of guy who works from the office or home?
I don’t have a typical day. I work out of the house most days — maybe one or two half days out of the co-working space. I love working out of the house. I’m ADD as hell, so workspace optimization and loud music are essential to my workflow. Also, I work a lot and being able to spend my break time with my wife and/or our dog is so valuable to me.
For the most part, I get up around noon like a normal professional adult and spend a few hours on support, emails, business management stuff and then jump into either code or content.
I think this is an appropriate spot to plug a recent tweet you sent out regarding dev time management
BTW If you’re thinking “I could make something cool like Josh does if I had time.” Shut up and make it, we have zero full time developers.
— Josh Pollock (@Josh412) July 27, 2016
What was your biggest gaffe or regret while running your WordPress plugin business?
I think I’ve cluttered my brand both with CalderaWP and Josh. All of the non-Caldera Forms plugins we make, those should have had their own brand. I regret that. I think Syed is really smart that he didn’t create WPBeginner email opt-in plugin, he made OptinMonster as a standalone.
At the same time, and this is a bit contradictory, I think I’m known for too many things. I hope over time to get a reputation like Pippin or Syed have and deserve — for building good stuff and building awesome teams.
Last but not least, what is the most important business advice you can give to plugin developers?
Build a team, and teach everything you know. Constantly try and bring promising people into the community. The WordPress community is awesome and is full of great people, it’s the best resource you have. You pay for that by working to make it better.