Naomi Bush (Gravity+)
Today on the podcast we chat with Naomi Bush. Naomi is the head of Gravity Forms and has previously worked for Stripe.
Aaron: [00:00:09] Hi, I’m Micah. Wait, no, I’m not. Hey, I’m Aaron and I have this other guy with me.
Micah: [00:00:18] Micah Wood, and our guest today is Naomi Bush and she is a WordPress developer. She’s a core contributor, a meetup organizer, has her own plugin, and probably many other things. So welcome, Naomi.
Naomi: [00:00:36] Thank you. Thank you guys.
Aaron: [00:00:39] Yeah, thanks for joining us. Why don’t you tell us a little about, I guess, just personal—what you do, what you like to do? And then we could move into more business-y things like your plugins and stuff.
Naomi: [00:00:53] Sure. So I am Naomi. I love my family. How about that? I have two kids and they are just the light of my life. So I love hanging out with my family, listening to music, let’s see, long walks on the beach.
Aaron: [00:01:22] Describe the perfect date. No.
Naomi: [00:01:26] No, no. But for real. I love my family and I love hanging out with them. And so, if I’m not working, that is what I am doing. I have kids. I know that you guys have kids and you know the energy that they bring. And so there is never, ever a dull moment here, except when they’re asleep. When bedtime comes, that’s kind of when it all stops. But after that everything is high energy all the time.
Micah: [00:01:58] I can relate. In about a month I’ll have two teenage girls. And then I have a follow-up, another set of kids. And so transitioning from little kids to teenagers, that’s a big one. But no, that’s good. So you’re in Atlanta. Are you an Atlanta native?
Naomi: [0:02:24] I am not. When I said that I liked long walks on the beach, I really meant that, even though it sounded funny, because I grew up on the beach in New Jersey and I miss it.
Aaron: [00:02:36] Okay.
Micah: [00:02:38] Fair enough. Well, tell us a little about what you do within the WordPress community. I know that I see you every year at WordCamp Atlanta and you always do the Contributor Day. But I will hand the microphone over to you.
Naomi: [00:02:53] Yeah. So in WordPress, in the community specifically, one of the things that I’m really excited about is I am the WordPress Gwinnett, one of the lead organizers for that. And that’s our meetup group here in Gwinnett County. It’s been going on, I think, for about six years now. And that is just one of the things that I’m really excited about because I just love what we’re able to do here in the community.
[00:03:23] And then from there, I’m one of the organizers of WordCamp Atlanta, which is our local WordPress conference. Of course you guys know this. And for the last two years I have been doing Contributor Day, which was— I remember when I attended my first WordCamp. I think it was 2012, 2013, and I always wanted a Contributor Day. And so, when the opportunity came, I was really excited for that. I am a core contributor. I do have several free plugins in the WordPress repository. And then I have a business where I create plugins as well. So WordPress is very much a part of my life.
Micah: [00:04:16] So I’m always curious. So when you say contributor to core, why don’t you explain maybe some of the different ways that you’ve done that and some of the types of things that you’ve contributed?
Naomi: [00:04:27] Sure. So I have some code that’s in WordPress, if no one has contributed over top of my code. I have some code that’s sitting in WordPress, and so that’s part of being a core contributor. Of course, there are multiple ways to contribute to WordPress and so code is just one of those things. Being a meetup organizer, I contribute to the community. Being a WordCamp organizer, that’s contributing to the community.
[00:04:57] Anyone— And this is what I like to say, anyone can contribute to WordPress. If you know how to do anything in WordPress, you can help someone else because there’s always someone who is not where you are. You’re always further along than someone else is. So if you tell someone about WordPress, you’re contributing to WordPress. If you can help someone do something in WordPress that they couldn’t do before, you’re contributing to WordPress. And so one of the things that I think I consider for myself is why am I doing this? Why do I contribute to WordPress? And I think one of the reasons why is just because WordPress has afforded me so many opportunities. First of all, it’s a completely free piece of software. There are volunteers all over the world, hundreds that make this software and then they give it to us for free.
[00:05:48] And so I feel like the least you can do is try to give something back and then we can continue it on. It’s a circle and a cycle that we can continue to have going which is freely WordPress is given to us and so freely we can give to others. I think Matt had something going on called Five for the Future. Look, five minutes an hour everybody can contribute something.
Micah: [00:06:15] Cool. So I’m also curious, when exactly did you get started down this WordPress path? And, yeah, what does that look like for you?
Aaron: [00:06:28] Yeah. So back when I first started was that NT was the big thing. NT and LiveJournal. I remember everyone had an NT blog in college. And then there was LiveJournal. And then somehow learned about CMS’s and I think the first CMS that I got my teeth into was a Ruby on Rails CMS called Mephisto. I don’t know if anyone is familiar with that. And that was a struggle. I remember feeling so accomplished when I finally got that up and running because I think anyone who’s played around with Ruby and Ruby on Rails knows that it is definitely not as easy as PHP.
[00:07:18] And so then somehow researching, I come across WordPress, I said, “Oh, the five minute install?” And so coming from Mephisto, which was more like the five day or the five week install, five minutes? Okay, let’s check this out. Anyone can do this? Okay, let’s check this out. At that time I was building websites for people and for clients and so played around with WordPress. And the funny thing is I think one of the first big sites that I built for a client was using the first version of WP Ecommerce. I don’t even know if that’s still around. And if you know anything about the first version of WP Ecommerce, it was so painful. So much so that my client begged me to never make him use WordPress again.
[00:08:12] And so I actually left WordPress for a little bit because I’m like, “Okay my client doesn’t want to use this. There must be something better.” And so I went around for about two years, trying all these different CMS’s, paid and some unpaid. But I came back and the reason why I came back is because I realized that even though WordPress wasn’t perfect, the thing was I could customize it to do what I needed it to do and so we can make it good enough. And so ever since then I’ve been here. And so that’s kind of how I got into WordPress.
Micah: [00:08:47] So once you got into WordPress, how long was it before you got involved in the community?
Aaron: [00:08:52] I would say not long, but maybe longer than I wanted it to because I remember learning about WordCamp Atlanta many years ago and I reached out to try to volunteer, but I never received a response. And I was told that there was one person that was in charge and they never got back to me so… But in the meantime I was always just watching and observing, taking it all in, figuring it out. So I was always wondering about the community. And I think before you can just jump in, you do need to watch and observe first. So I’m glad I took that route.
Aaron: [00:09:38] Cool.
Micah: [00:09:39] Yeah, I know that I started playing around with WordPress long before I got involved in the community. A friend of mine actually told me about WordCamp and I was like, “Oh, that sounds awesome.” Of course he was telling me right after the WordCamp happened. So I was asking him to tell me, “Oh, maybe next year just let me know about it and then we can go together.” So next year rolls around and he tells me about it right after WordCamp. So yeah, it was a little while longer than I was hoping before I really got plugged in. But yeah, I think it’s good that it’s… The community has grown more than… It’s not just the WordCamp once a year. The meet-ups have popped up everywhere and it’s easy to get in. So…
Aaron: [00:10:21] So when was your first WordCamp, Mike? And then same to you, Naomi?
Micah: [00:10:29] Okay. Mine was in 2010 in Savannah.
Aaron: [00:10:32] Okay. Oh the, the famous one with Matt Mullenweg. Woohoo. Naomi, what about you?
Naomi [00:10:40] I want to say it was 2012 because, and I always say this, I went as a man, and not a woman. One of my friends, they actually had a ticket that someone wasn’t using and so I think I went as someone called John something. I can’t remember. But that was my first WordCamp and it was such a great experience that I said, “Wow, I want to do this more often.” And so I remember asking the organizers, “Hey, are there people in Gwinnett that meet up?” And he said, “No.” I said, “Are you able to ask around and see if anyone wants to meet up?” They said, “Oh you can just do it yourself.” So I said, “Oh, okay.” And so I put the call out there and the next month we had a meet-up here in Gwinnett. So that was, yeah, six years ago.
Micah: [00:11:36] Nice. So you did your meetup up for six years and then you became an organizer at a WordCamp Atlanta. That was two years ago. Was that the first time you were an organizer?
Naomi: [00:11:49] That was the first time I was a WordCamp organizer. I’ve actually done conferences in the past, but that was the first time I did a WordCamp.
Micah: [00:11:56] Gotcha.
Aaron: [00:11:57] So let’s shift real quick into kind of what you do now within WordPress. We know that you are a Gravity Forms… I was going to say Gravity Forms ninja, but I guess you can’t say… With Ninja Forms being around, I can’t say that, so I’ll say a Gravity Forms expert. Tell us about that.
Naomi: [00:12:18] Sure. So, oh gosh. So Gravity Forms. I never intended to be in Gravity Forms, but I was, again, building a client’s site because that’s what I used to do, is build client sites. And I remember when Gravity Forms first came out and I kind of watched it and then they did their whole lifetime thing and I said, “Okay, let me get on that.” And so I bought my lifetime license. This was, I want to say back in 2010, 2011, somewhere around there.
[00:12:46] So I was building a payment form for a client and at that time PayPal… We were using PayPal, but it wasn’t the best for us. And that was just because of that whole redirect. And so for this client we were working with older people who weren’t as used to technology and so the likelihood of them getting lost between the redirect, the PayPal, and coming back to our site and making sure that their payment was recorded properly was very high.
[00:13:16] And so that’s when I had been hearing about Stripe, this payment processor called Stripe. Payments for developers, that’s how they billed themselves at the time. So I’m like, “Hmm.” And I kind of kept it in my back pocket. “Hmm, this is interesting. I don’t know when I’ll use it, but it’s interesting.” And so when this project came up, when we were doing version two, I said, “Oh wow, that will be perfect because there’s no redirect. Everything happens right there and that’s it.” And so I asked the Gravity Forms guys if they were going to build an integration. And they said, “Oh, we’ve heard of it. We’ll get to it maybe sometime, not now.” That whole kind of thing. And so I said, “Well, I need this in two weeks, right? I need this now.” And so I looked at one of their other payment add-ons and I reverse-engineered it and I built the Stripe One.
[00:14:09] And then at that time I had been watching the community. I wanted to have one of my own plugins. I wanted it in the WordPress repository. So I said, “Well, hey. This will be a good first one.” I just put it out there. I expected no one to use it because who am I? Why are you using my plugin? Nobody will need this, that kind of thing. But it’s just for me, as a learning tool. So I put it on the WordPress repository and I posted it on the Gravity Forms forums and the very next day I got someone that sent me a $50 donation and started encouraging other people to send in donations as well. And so I said, “Oh.” And it just took off from there. So I’ve been doing that ever since. I still have that plugin. I still sell that plugin. That kind of jumped off my Gravity Forms career.
Micah: [00:14:58] So you said you released that on the public repository. So how did you transition to that being a paid plugin?
Naomi: [00:15:05] Sure. So that plugin very basically took a one-time payment, that’s it. So there were other features. The Stripe API was growing at the time. There were other features that people wanted. So I said, “Okay.” And I put those into a paid plugin.
Aaron: [00:15:19] How does your licensing work? So I guess it’s multiple questions. First, where is your plugin? Give us the URL. And then how does the…? You install that and then you go and you purchase the add-ons you need?
Naomi: [00:15:34] So there’s the free version that’s on the WordPress repository and then there is the— More commonly, people call it a pro version that has all of the other features and that’s paid and that’s on my website. You can actually get to all of my plugins at gravityplus.pro. So that’s gravity, P-L-U-S, dot pro, P-R-O.
Micah: [00:15:54] Cool. So what all features does that offer?
Naomi: [00:15:58] Sure. So the paid Stripe version, I call it More Stripe, right? Because the first one is just one-time payments. That’s it. You know, it worked out really well because for some people that’s really all they want and all they need. It’s just the ability to take a one-time payment and so that’s fine. But the paid version, it does subscriptions, it does membership, self-management. I now have a multi-currency selector; that’s actually been spun out into its own product because there are people that did not have Stripe that wanted to use it. There’s also Stripe Connect, which is Stripe’s marketplace product. So we added that as well.
Aaron: [00:16:40] Okay.
Micah: [00:16:41] So I remember you spoke at a WordCamp Atlanta and I don’t remember what year it was. ’13? It’s all a blur, right? ‘13, ’14? And do I remember this correctly? And I think it’s been three plus years, so bear with me. Did you wind up working for Stripe, with Stripe?
Naomi: [00:17:02] I did.
Micah: [00:17:03] Okay. Yeah. Tell us about that.
Naomi: [00:17:04] As a result of doing the plugin, I love Stripe and I ended up hanging out in their little chat room a lot. And then one day I get a email from one of the co-founders and he says, “Yeah, we want to meet you, come out.” So I ended up working for Stripe and that was really cool. First, because they let me stay here in Atlanta. I didn’t have to move to San Francisco. So I would go out there once a month.
Micah: [00:17:34] But you can do long walks on the beach in San Francisco. So maybe you should have. No, I’m just kidding.
Naomi: [00:17:44] But it’s cold in San Francisco.
Micah: [00:17:48] It is. The water is very cold. Yeah.
Naomi: [00:17:51] Yeah. So that was a really cool experience, especially because when I first started there, I think I was employee 20-something. There were just a few of us. The second floor of this building. And it was just… It was really cool because it felt like you were really working towards something and you were really helping people. I won’t say changing the world, but you were really helping people do things that before were difficult. So you were changing their lives and changing their businesses. So it was just a few of us and we would just knock things out. And not soon after I joined, about a year later, I think they had just gone through an explosive growth. Explosive. I mean like hundreds of people. And me, particularly I’m not a big company type of person so…
Micah: [00:18:43] So you shifted away from there. And so what is your day-to-day like? Where do you work now? Are you basically just self-employed?
Naomi: [00:18:52] Yeah, I work at home here and I do Gravity Forms day-to-day. All day every day.
Micah: [00:18:58] So you work with not just the plugin though, right? You do client work as well?
Naomi: [00:19:03] I did start doing client work a few years ago because I would get people that wanted to customize things with Gravity Forms and I wasn’t doing any client work at that time, but I said, “Hmm.” I started getting some really interesting requests to modify and customize gravity forms in ways that I thought was interesting. So I said, “Hmm, let me start trying to take on some of these.” Because as you know, product work, it can take up all of your time.
[00:19:34] But I think just having your finger on the pulse of what people want to do with Gravity Forms, it only helps make your products better. I started learning a lot and meeting some good people that way. So I take on a few. I’ll say maybe a few projects a year. It’s not many. It’s definitely not one a month either, but a few that I find very interesting so…
Micah: [00:19:59] Have you ever been able to land a project where you got paid to essentially build a product?
Naomi: [00:20:05] Yeah. I’ve actually had a multiple of my products turn out that way because, as part of client work, everything that I do is open source. So I don’t do anything where I can’t then contribute back. And the reason why is because even when I’m working on a project for a client I’m bringing knowledge that I’ve learned from somewhere else, from something else. So from someone who is willing to allow that, to contribute to other things. And so I feel like that’s only right. We’re working on open source software, WordPress is open source, Gravity Forms is open source. So how I pitch it to clients is your project is only better because I’m able to bring a lot of what I’ve learned on other projects and I’m able to contribute that to yours. And so I only do open source work. So yeah, I have had people who say, “Hey, I want this to exist. Build this and then you can sell it.” And then I’ve had people say, “Hey, build it. I don’t care what you do with it.”
Micah: [00:21:07] As long as it works for free.
Aaron: [00:21:09] That person. Yeah, makes sense?
Naomi: [00:21:11] Exactly.
Aaron: [00:21:13] Mike, you normally ask things that I normally forget which are like processes because you are a processes kind of guy. So I’m going to hand the virtual mic over to you, hit you up with one of those questions.
Micah: [00:21:29] So basically you’re just going to ask the question indirectly, right?
Aaron: [-00:21:34] What are we…? What? Hmm?
Micah: [00:21:40] Yeah. So yeah, that’s one of the things that I always like to find out more about is what types of productivity tips, I guess, you might have for the work-at-home freelancer type?
Naomi: [00:21:54] So there’s two types, there may be more, with kids and without kids. So…
Aaron: [00:22:00] I can relate.
Naomi: [00:22:02] …that makes a big difference. I’ve worked at home in both phases of my life, with and without kids. So without kids is, now having kids, yeah, it’s a lot easier. There are no interruptions, no distractions except the ones that you allow to happen yourself. But set your working hours, of course, don’t just be haphazard with it, “Oh, I’ll work whenever.” And I think some of that is more of just self-discipline, those types of things. So set your working hours. I have heard some people recommend to get dressed as if you’re going to a job. I will not say that. That’s one of the things that I like about working from home.
[00:22:47] So some people say have a dedicated environment. Yes, absolutely, have a dedicated environment. But one of the things that I like working from home is sometimes I can sit in my bed with my laptop or my computer so… But I still do have a dedicated environment. Have someplace where you can close the door. Close the door and lock it. Put a do not disturb sign on the outside.
[00:23:15] Sometimes for me, it could just be me, I find that I need to change environments. So during the fall or spring when it’s really nice, I’ll end up working outside before the mosquitoes get bad. But yeah, I’ll work outside. I would also say don’t just stay… Again, this could just be my personality. I need variety. Make sure that you exercise. Go take a walk.
Aaron: [00:23:43] Especially on the beach.
Micah: [00:23:45] Yeah.
Naomi: [00:23:48] Yeah. But especially if you’re a developer. Sometimes you’ll be doing something else and the problem that you were working on, the answer will come to you so… But then I hear some developers, they just sit there all night and the answer comes to them like that, just by staring at it and banging on keys. So that’s just what works for me. Get out the house at least once a week.
Micah: [00:24:12] Well, yeah. I’ve been that way. So working basically for myself. I mean, I have a team. But I mean, I’ve looked before and I’m like, “Wait, I haven’t left the house in four days. I probably should do that.” So it was funny, you said outside. We recently interviewed Gary Kovar that’s in Jacksonville, Florida, and he said he’s outside all the time. And I don’t know if you’ve been to Jacksonville, but my goodness it’s hot there. And so I could be outside spring and fall. Summer, no way.
[00:24:50] No, that’s good advice. It’s setting your hours is one thing that I learned. I remember when I first started, I would work until midnight and really, I wouldn’t get a lot of stuff done past nine o’clock. I’m pretty picky on my hours, nine-to-five type thing. I mean, it fluctuates a little bit, but I mean that’s kind of where I stand.
[00:25:17] I’m going to ask you the final question, the most important question you’ve ever been asked in your— No, just kidding. So this is WP SquareOne. So the question is, if you were to go back to square one and start over, what would you have done differently / what kind of advice could you give people that are just now starting off and they want to get involved and do something similar to what you do?
Naomi: [00:25:46] I would have listened to my customers a lot sooner. Back then, and even now, Gravity Forms add-ons, they’re pretty specific things. They have a lane and they stay there. That’s what I was trying to do when I first started out, right? We just do one thing, one specific thing and we do it really well and that’s it. Nothing else. Now when I say it, it makes sense. But your customers are the ones that are using your product and I would have customers ask me over and over and over and over and over to add certain things to my product. And I resisted for a long time because I just wanted to stay in the lane that had been set for what an add-on does. But of course, this is still early in Gravity Forms history.
[00:26:36] And finally I relented. And when I relented and added those things that the customer asked for, whether it was in that particular product or I created a new product, it really allowed for some longevity for the product to be used in other ways that have just been so helpful to people. So even in the face of competitors, we’re still here, still successful because of those features that we added. If we had not added those features then the competitors would have come along and just killed what we had. So if you are building a product, if you want to build a product, listen to your customers, listen to your audience. I’m not saying you have to do everything that they say. Your job is to take what they’re telling you and then turn it into something that’s useful.
Micah: [00:27:31] On the flip side, I had a free plugin and it had a little bit of usage. One person gave me some feedback so I added something. I got a handful of other people using it, so I added some more stuff, whatever they asked for. And eventually got over a quarter million downloads. But the problem was when it got done, it was a bit of a beast because I had put everything that everyone was asking for in there. And it kind of deviated from its initial purpose.
[00:28:00] So yes, I totally get where you’re coming from. You want to control it and keep it on the specific path that you want it to go down. But at the same time, yeah, you got to listen to the customer so… And nowadays there’s people who will tell you before you build anything, do your customer discovery, figure out what the customer wants, then start to build. That way you make sure you address their actual need as opposed to what you think that is so…
Aaron: [00:28:27] Good advice.
Micah: [00:28:28] We really appreciate you coming on and we want to make sure everybody knows where to reach out and find more information about your plugins or getting in touch with you, that kind of thing. So what would be the best way for that to happen?
Naomi: [00:28:42] Yeah. I am over at gravityplus.pro. That’s gravity, P-L-U-S, dot P-R-O. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I do know you guys, but I do appreciate you having me on…
Micah: [00:28:58] Yeah. Thank you for spending the time.
Aaron: [00:29:00] Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate it.
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