Christie Chirinos (Caldara WP)
Christie Chirinos is the co-owner and general manager of Caldera Forms and VP of Technology of Do Big Things.
[00:09] Aaron: Hi, my name is Aaron.
[00:10] Micah: I’m Micah. You’re listening to the WP Square One Podcast. With us today we have Christie Chirinos, she is a co-founder of Keller MWP and the VP of Tech Ed Do Big Things and is Florida state’s youngest MBA. I’ll let you give yourself a further introduction but we’re glad to have you.
[00:35] Christie: I see you just read my Twitter bio.
[00:36] Micah: I did. It’s awesome.
[00:41] Aaron: Nice.
[00:43] Christie: That’s a solid way to find out who this person is. I do it all the time. Look people up on Twitter. Who is this person because on LinkedIn —
[00:53] Aaron: We’ve been stalking you for a couple of weeks now
[00:55] Micah: All we found was your Twitter profile.
[00:59] Aaron: Just kidding. Tell us a little about yourself, what you do at Caldera.
[01:03] Christie: Would love to. Like Micah said, I’m one of the co-founders of Caldera Labs. We’ve (changed 01:10) back to the WP name, funnily enough, that’s a thing that’s happening. In 2016, Josh Pollock and I got together to start Caldera Labs. The intention behind Caldera Labs was to take an existing concern which was Caldera Forms, and also set an intention that we were going to be a product only WordPress company who would work on Caldera Forms as well as other products. That’s how that started. The way that I joined Josh, Josh is a pretty popular developer in the WordPress world. He has a good following for his tutorials. The thing that Josh came to me with was, I need somebody to run the business. And that was actually something a little bit unusual at the time.
[01:03] I’ve seen it happening more in the last few months than I did. What’s that, now two years ago? And that’s good. That was his pitch to me. Somebody to come in to take care of the administration, take care of the money, take care of the marketing, think about a sales strategy, think about a positioning strategy. Around this time I was just wrapping up business school so it seemed right and that’s how we got started.
[02:33] Aaron: That makes sense. So what do you do within Caldera? Actually tell us a little about the product because I don’t know if everybody will know everything about the plugins that you guys do.
[02:44] Christie: Of course. Our main and flagship product is Caldera Forms. Caldera Forms is a drag and drop form building plugin for WordPress. So a lot of people are familiar with things like Contact Form 7 or Gravity Forms. It’s a lot like that. Our main differences are, first of all, we have a drag and drop mobile responsive interface out of the box. The plugin is written in a way where it gives you less heartache in adopting your existing theme styles. It’s a little bit easier to style if you did need to add styles because of the way that it’s made. We have a handful of premium features that are a little bit unique. In the pro version of Caldera Forms, in addition to having all of the integrations and things that you’re used to, such as Mailchimp, Paypal, it also takes care of email handling for you.
[03:34] A lot of the time WordPress websites have to install things like SMTP plugins to make sure that the forms and the emails notifications go out. With Caldera Forms Pro that’s not the case. A couple of other things we can do, form to PDF, set up fancy layouts, notifications for clients and customers and whoever else needs to hear about a form submission. A lot of the time people come to Caldera Forms because now we’re sitting at the close top of the plugin repository. So our free version of the plugin gives you a lot out of the box. You don’t have to pay us any money for conditional logic for multiple pages for a couple of other features like that. That’s the main thing that we work on nowadays. So that’s called Caldera Forms. We are working on a couple of other things. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve that you’ll know about in about a month.
[04:28] Aaron: So you can’t tell us anything about them?
[04:31] Christie: It’s a secret I’d have to kill you.
[04:37] Micah: A month from now you’ll be safe. But right now…
[04:41] Aaron: I think a month from now I might be out of the country. Will I be? I will be.
[04:46] Christie: Where are you going?
[04:47] Aaron: We’re going to India, so that’ll be an interesting trip. If you’re going to kill me you’ll have to fly to India first… So I know Josh more than you. I’ve run into Josh Pollock at, I feel like eight WordCamps… How do you guys work together? How technical are you? Are you involved in any of the development or planning?
[05:16] Christie: We’re a small team. It would be impossible for anyone on this team to not have any hand at all in the development. With that said, I’m definitely not as technical as Josh. A lot of my development has to do with the e-commerce website more than with the products. When it comes to the products, I will help out in terms of managing priorities and managing milestones, but that’s about it on a day to day basis. I am primarily responsible for our websites.
[05:46] Micah: When you first came to Caldera what was your familiarity with WordPress in general?
[05:54] Christie: I’d been working with WordPress for a little while. I had started a company that had a WordPress website. That’s how a lot of people get into WordPress. After that I was working at a couple of nonprofit organizations in New York City, where I was living, where the organization had a WordPress website. So it sort of fell on me to manage it and to eventually redesign it. I was at a very solid user level when I made this transition outside of this WordPress for good space and just went all in on WordPress from WordPress. Just a few months ago I returned to my WordPress for good space in an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up, which was this role on the technology team of Do Big Things.
[06:47] Micah: What types of big things do you do?
[06:51] Christie: Do Big Things is an agency that focuses on progressive political and nonprofit clients. It’s a cool organization applying this technology that we all know and love to causes that are important to me. So I’m really excited about it. That has been interesting to settle into.
[07:14] Micah: Given that you had some experience and background in WordPress, had you already been in the WordPress community and getting involved and that kind of thing?
[07:23] Christie: I had a good amount of experience with WordPress before I came in. I found now that it’s really tough to bring on new team members who have zero WordPress experience entirely possible, but it’s even tougher to bring in people who are involved in the community. I was not involved in the community at all. I was using WordPress at work. I used it in my full time job. I had all this familiarity with it. I had built WordPress websites for people who asked for them and I had never gone to a WordCamp until I started working with Josh and he said to go to one. That was a really big experience for me. Even then, I went to a couple of them where I just stood in the corner until I think it was the first WordCamp US that I went to and actually got really involved and worked on contributor day and actually drank the Kool-Aid.
[08:28] Aaron: It’s good Kool-Aid, I’ve had a lot of it…. You’ve done a lot of speaking too. So you not just got involved in the community, you jumped into speaking, now I forget what it’s called. Is it Press for Word in Israel? How’d you get that? I want to get that gig.
[08:53] Christie: That was crazy, cool, and fun. How did I get that? (unclear 08:58) from Freemius.
[10:38] Aaron: That was a lot of Kool-Aid. I haven’t spoken internationally yet. That’s pretty cool. I’m assuming that you are continuing to speak at different places. How were you trying to find WordCamps to speak at?
[10:56] Christie: Right now, if there’s a local one or nearby one, I’ll apply. Every once in a while an organizer or a member of the community, they’ll reach out because the WordCamps need speakers and if it’s possible for us to go and pay for it on behalf of Caldera I will try to go. That’s how that’s going right now. Beginning to speak at WordCamps was something that was pretty intimidating. It was something that Josh suggested right when we started working together, again on that premise of there’s just not a lot of people giving business talks. There would probably be a good amount of attendance and interest in hearing a pure business talk even if it’s not completely about WordPress. To just go in and talk about building sites and a business perspective and a user perspective. I said: “okay, I buy that.” I started applying at my local camp, which was New York at the time. I got in to speak and then just applied other places. I’m definitely the rare breed where public speaking isn’t that scary to me, but that’s not necessarily the case for a lot of people.
[12:21] Aaron: It took me a little while and I remember Micah and I, we went to Tampa, and I have a Fitbit on and it tracks your heart rate. My heart rate would get up to 128 or so, which a pretty good workout. I get up there and what’s really funny is once I start talking, it drops to slightly above my resting. It’s in the seven days or so when I actually do a talk it’s like the buildup is a little intense for me. That’s good to hear that you are comfortable doing that. So business stuff. I was watching one of your talks on WordPress.tv. Do you talk about processes because that’s kind of something honestly I think Micah is really good at tends to ask questions about.
[13:20] Christie: What do you mean processes?
[13:23] Aaron: Processes like when you do a talk at a WordCamp, what type of advice are you giving people? Does that make sense?
[13:30] Christie: The WordCamp talks that I’ve given, I’ve given a good number on just form design based on the things that we learn more from our users and from the perspective of somebody who sells a form product and thinking about how products solve problems in the market. But then there’s other business related talks that haven’t necessarily been about WordPress and just been about business. The one that I gave at a WordCamp Europe was about financial forecasting and that seemed to be a topic that’s of interest to a lot of people because we are not seeing that level of planning, especially in smaller products. A little bit of planning can go a long way. There have been other talks where I took a cue from a couple of talks that I’ve seen from other WordPress or WordCamp speakers who have aa expertise that isn’t wordpress development. So they go in and they say: “Here’s five things that I think are really important that you should know about.” It gave a talk like that where I talked about concepts in terms of strategic management asset field of study that are good to know. For example, what’s competitive advantage? What is external analysis? What is the difference between an order qualifier and an order winner? All of these things are strategic points that makes sure that all products, including WordPress products are positioned in the market in a good way. Those have been really fun topics to give that I usually get feedback that says: “Hey, we don’t hear this kind of material at WordCamps often.” That’s been pretty cool. But again that’s changing. I think more and more I’m seeing more people enter in the community with those skills, which is really good.
[15:25] Micah: So you entered Caldera at a time where, like you said, Josh was trying to convert from more of an agency model to product based.
[15:37] Christie: Yes.
[15:39] Micah: What was that transition like in terms of how you were able to help make that transition? Because I know there’s a lot of people who are in that space, they run an agency and they want to get some products or some sort of recurring revenue going. What are types of things that help people go that direction?
[16:04] Christie: There’s a good number of people who are trying to do that.There’s a couple of things that are important. One of them is the essentials of product research, good reading for people to read up on.This is basic stuff, unless it isn’t. Reading up about what’s the minimum buyable product. How can I test out my ideas? Those are really important concepts to familiarize yourself with if you’re somebody who is transitioning from client work to wanting to create some recurring revenue with products. Being able to adjust your brain to identify what’s the least amount of work that I can put in to test out an idea and see if this is something that’s worth working on and start creating that recurring revenue immediately.
[17:06] That’s key when it comes to undergoing that transition is figuring out like, you have this huge idea, but what’s the teeniest, tiniest p that you can do today? That’s the mindset that takes some adjustment. Another thing that I think is important is looking for what your existing strengths are. What have you built that could be built upon, what current clients do you have? Who would be interested in paying you for your development time for a product? And how can you make those things overlap? That’s really important. Does that help?
[17:55] Micah: I think so. One of the things that I’ve found helpful in just thinking about moving from service based to product based is that most people don’t make the jump overnight. There’s some in between steps like productized services that I know I’ve heard other people talk about. It’s always interesting to get people’s perspectives on what that process looks like. There’s a lot of people that want to go that route, but really it just comes down to action. But before action, like you said, is that mindset of you to put yourself in that different mindset. I got my degree in business, but it was definitely not an entrepreneurial type business degree. One of the things I found as I started doing things from a business perspective is that a lot of the strategies and things don’t necessarily apply all the time. One of the things that was most eye opening for me in that regard was going to a startup weekend where of course the whole idea is you’ve got a weekend to create a minimum viable product —(crosstalk) to do customer discovery. Just the idea that it’s not a if you build it, they will come situation.
[19:19] Christie: That lean startup stuff, it’s really good foundation for anybody who’s interested in going from that: “we have clients and we’re trying to start some recurring revenue.” Because it’s the biggest downfall in so many situations to get stuck in a mindset where you’re just like: “I have to build this whole thing, and then I’ll sell it.” No, you have to be lazy. You have to put in the least amount of work possible. That’s how you bootstrap something. Unless you’re wanting to invest your own self generated revenue into products, which I wouldn’t do that with anything.
[20:01] Aaron: I own co-own an agency and we’ve had multiple clients come to us and say we need this. Once we’ve done it five or six times, we’ve decided to make that a plugin. We just put our plug in on the repository and we’re going to sell modules for it. It’s similar to a lot of them out there, you get a lot of functionality out of the box and then if you need more features, we’ll sell that for x amount. We’re in the process of figuring out what that dollar amount is. We have modules written. So with Caldera it’s the same type of thing. How do you guys wind up adding modules? Do you guys have requests from people and that’s how you start realizing that you need to sell that module?
[21:06] Christie: We do tally requests. That’s something that we do, but that’s not the guiding principle behind how we create add-ons or add new features. The guiding principle behind how we create add-ons or add new features is the underlying user research about how people are using the product, what problems they are trying to solve, what they pay for, what they’re not willing to pay for, and making sure that we’re prioritizing feature development based on that research. Part of that research is what people ask us for, but it’s not all of it.
[21:45] Aaron: How do you guys start doing that? Did you get a certain percentage of your clients and you just reach out to them and say: “hey, how can we make this product better for you guys?”
[21:54] Christie: When I started working with Josh, that was the first question I had. I wanted to understand why people pay for this. I especially wanted to understand why people pay for this when they could be paying for Gravity Forms. The first thing that we did to try and answer that question was actually send out a survey. There was a mailing list signup already on calderaforms.com that had been collecting emails. We weren’t really using it, so that was actually the first communication that went out and, and we incentivized it. We got out and we tried to get as much information as possible about why people were using this product and what problem it was solving for them. I remember when we first talked, Josh was saying: “people pay for it because they want to support the development of the free plugin because it’s helpful to them and sometimes they pay for add-ons.” When we talked to people that just wasn’t the case. Nobody was sitting there like, “I’m going to give them money because they’re doing a great job.” Most of the time people were paying because they had a client project and the client needed this, this, and that. And they had started using the plugin for something else and they were doing research on what products would solve the premium problem they had. They found it, they bought it. Seeing that difference and acting on it was really important to us. Then continuing to foster that channel of communication about how people were using what they’re using is really important. Right now we do that in a couple of different ways. We have a community group on Facebook where people collaborate on projects that they’re using Caldera Forms Free on and we creep it every once in awhile to just see what types of problems people are solving and where they’re struggling.
[23:45] We do of course have a public GitHub repo and people talk and open issues and complain about stuff in there all the time. We look at that really seriously and use that for prioritization and milestone management. Another big part too is we just make sure that the entire customer relationship is a two way street. In support we are talking to people in a conversational way. We’re not just trying to get them in and out the door, we’re actually trying to dig up what the problem is and how many dollars is this problem costing them. Then we’re doing the same thing in presale support. So if you have a sales question and you’re asking that question, what types of problems are going on and taking a really holistic view as to what the problems that the plugin is solving are. Then we can then prioritize, many people have been complaining about this, is this frequency bias at work where we’re just seeing it over and over but it’s not actually that important? Or are we seeing it over and over and over and it is important? How we work within that matrix of urgent and important to determine what needs to get work done and what needs to get developed.
[25:02] Another way that we’re helping people get the things they need while also maybe touching to, like you said, agency owners who are looking to create some recurring revenue. We’re working on a third party developer program. That’s been interesting because we have an audience and we have items that would be worth a lot to a certain selection of people that maybe we don’t have as much of an audience, with or we don’t have as much reach to. We can provide this effect that’s really smart when you’re somebody who’s building out products of any kind, which is you tie yourself to an existing platform. So Caldera Forms itself is taking on that strategy. It’s tied to WordPress and now we’re hoping to cultivate this ecosystem where we’re giving the opportunity to tie yourself to Caldera Forms. We have an existing user base and you can make pretty solid money if you can sell a plugin to 1% of our 100,000 plus users. Those are some of the ways in which we’re building out new features and trying to manage all the requests and all the needs, all of the things that come in, in a way that makes sense for everybody. But that’s a very important part of management. If you’re just responding to every single thing that looks like it’s on fire, you’re just putting out fires all the time and that’s not how you grow.
[26:41] Aaron: Sounds very strategic. It makes sense to me. While you’re talking, I went to the website. I didn’t realize you guys had so many modules. I know a couple of years ago, the first time I dealt with Caldera and you guys have added thirty modules looks looks like. So just to rephrase and make sure I understand, you guys are making it where if I were a third party developer and I wrote something for Caldera, I’m going to be able to go to you guys and say: “Hey, I wrote this. Can I sell it via your ecosystem?”
[27:20] Christie: Correct. If you are somebody like an agency owner or you’re somebody who’s looking to get into WordPress product development and you want to tie yourself to an existing platform, we’re big enough where it’s worth your time given the free user base that we have but still small enough where it’s really worth my time to promote you really hard if you made a Caldera Forms product. You can make WooCommerce addons and you can make add ons for those sorts of things. There’s so many right? Figuring out that medium size relationship to establish seemed like a good priority. That’s what we’re working on now. A request that we get a lot for Caldera Forms integration that we don’t have is MailPoet. We are setting up a system by which if you’re an agency owner and you want to build up some recurring revenue if you build MailPoet for Caldera Forms, then you can go through this page on our site, we can list you on our site, write a blog post about you, and send out a notification to our email list with 30,000 people on it, so on and so forth. It’s a win-win for people looking to get involved and create that recurring revenue, but also it’s a huge win for us. We’re still at that point where we have developed more modules and addons and features in the last two years, but we still don’t have a ton and there’s still a lot that people ask for that ends up not ranking that high in that prioritization matrix that we work off of.
[29:02] Micah: It sounds like one of the issues that you run into is the more modules you write yourself then, as a small development team, the more you have to maintain.
[29:12] Christie: Right. That’s an important part of product planning. If you are not an existing machine and you’re just a developer who wants to create products, you have to keep in mind that products have two things. They have investment costs and ongoing costs. Starting to think about it in that sense is really important. We tend to muddy those ideas because we think they’re products and it’s also intangible, but if you were selling jewelry, you would think about how much money do I have to pay for my tools, for the pliers, for the things that burn things, for the polishers. All the stuff that I need to get started. How much do I have to pay for the gemstones, the metals, all the ongoing things that then go into the product which I sell? Doing something like a WordPress product is the same way. Those costs that cut into your margins are things like the support for it, the ongoing marketing, the ongoing content creation. Those things should be incorporated into your pricing and how much time you think this is going to take.
[30:22] Micah: It all adds up very quickly. You alluded to the Eisenhower Matrix previously and, as a productivity geek, I’m always interested to hear what types of productivity tools people are using. Particularly people like yourself who do many things well. Any productivity tips or routines or things that you find helpful in your everyday?
[30:50] Christie: I’m totally a productivity geek too. It’s so bad that that’s my procrastination. If I don’t want to work on something, I learn more about productivity hacks. My number one productivity hack is don’t do that and instead get your work done. But I also love productivity tools. The new thing that I’m geeking out about is timeboxing. I started doing this a few weeks ago and it’s this idea of actually planning out on a calendar all your tasks. I still am a big fan of long, vast, and idealistic to-do lists and those are still important especially for somebody like me. I’m an idea a minute kind of person. Sometimes those ideas are good, sometimes they’re not, but I just need to get them out of my brain. But Trying to work off of something that
[31:56] So I started doing timeboxing. What that is, is when you need to complete a task, you actually pull out your calendar and you schedule time for it just like it was a meeting. That’s been going really well. An important thing that I considered when I went into it was that it was a skill like anything else. When I started doing it I wrote my
[33:30] Micah: I recall the first time I tried to put things on my calendar, everything ended up on my calendar. Then I think, like you said, nothing got done because I was too busy to focus on those idealistic goals I’d put in my calendar. But I actually just gave up on it as opposed to trying again, like you did. I’m going to have to look back into that, but a cool. We’ll ask our final question here. If you had to start back at square one and start all over, given where you are today, what would you do differently?
[34:08] Christie: Oh Man, I know this one. This is why the podcast is called (unclear 34:12). I’ve been thinking about this one a lot. I would learn to delegate. Something that Josh and I are grappling with now is that our business is undergoing a huge transition where we need to teach other people how to do the things that we’ve been doing for the past year and it sucks. It sucks because him and I, between the two of us, we’ve got like a pretty good skill set coverage. He’s an excellent developer. We’ve got the business skills. We’ve got the content creation and market between the two of us. We grew a lot of this, but like: “That needs to get done. Let’s do it. Who’s going to do that? Josh or Christie? Josh or Christie?” That’s not a sustainable way to grow a business because eventually there’s just too much work and you are only so many people.
[35:10] I’ve talked to people who figured that out pretty early on because there were a solopreneur or they didn’t know how to do some things. They had to figure out how to grow a team quickly. That was not the case for us. We didn’t realize that we had to delegate until it was way too late and now we are scrambling to create documentation, to document the processes and the ways in which we do things, and all the different things that we do that come up throughout the month, throughout the quarter, throughout the year. To make sure that all of these tasks can be passed on to different team members and let our job be the task of figuring out how much these things cost and and what we can skim off the top and reinvest and actually think like business owners that are growing a scalable product.
[36:04] That’s important because if you want to do more than just grow this product and you actually want to enjoy the benefits of having grown a product, you have to have created that machine that goes on without you. A lot of reading that we’ve been doing has been reading on the (unclear 36:21) factor. That’s huge. Especially for people who are just starting out. I’m encouraging everybody to think about every step along the way as how quickly can I stop doing this. Here’s my advice for people. It’s be as lazy as possible. Because that’s how you grow something that can grow without you losing your mind. You figure out what’s the smallest thing you have to do to prove that there’s market demand or disprove that this is worth your investment. Then how quickly can you document, systematize, and give to somebody else a part that you’re doing so that then you can allocate that time to the next thing that reaches the next growth milestone. That’s been a big lesson for us who didn’t delegate for a long time as we focused on growth and now we’re playing catch up.
[37:19] Aaron: That makes perfect sense to me. I’ve learned how to delegate, and my wife laughs at me because that’s all I do now is delegate, but growing a business you do have to let go of things. I’m sometimes a control freak and so it’s hard to let go but it is the best way to grow your business. Thank you for your time. How can we get in touch with you? Via Twitter? whichever, tell us.
[37:51] Christie: I am pretty available to chat. I’m on Twitter as @xtiechirinos. Of course if you just message us in the help on calderaforms.com and you’re like: “I wanna talk to Christie, I heard her on WP Square One.” That will eventually make it down the road to me. And I am on my own site at christiechirinos.com.
[38:25] Aaron: Thank you for your time.
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