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Matt Cromwell (Impress.org)

Partner and Head of Support and Community Outreach at Impress.org. Author of several free WordPress plugins and the Lead Admin of the Advanced WordPress Facebook Group.

Transcript

Aaron:  00:00 Hi, I’m Aaron

Micah:  00:02 And I’m Micah and you’re listening to the WP Square One podcast with us today. We have Matt Cromwell. He is the partner and head of support and outreach at impress.org, which is the maker of the Give Donation plugin, WP business reviews and WP Rollback. And he’s also the author of several free plugins and the lead admin of the advanced WordPress Facebook group, which I believe has over 30,000 members. So, welcome Matt.

Matt:  00:30 Thanks for having me. Glad to be here.

Micah:   00:34 Yeah. So tell us, beyond kind of that quick overview, what you’ve been up to lately and kind of what your, you know, doing business-wise in 2019 here.

Matt: 00:48   Yeah. Generally, like you mentioned, I’m head of support and outreach at our company and that means I’m running our support team on a day to day basis and also running our content that we are pushing out all the time, as well as managing the way in which we represent ourselves at various conferences, WordCamps meetups, other nonprofit conferences, things like that. So, that’s kind of the stuff that I am overseeing and implementing on a day to day basis. As well as interfacing with our product team in terms of what new add ons and plugins we’ll be developing and working on and what the types of features they’ll have. On that front, I end up often being like our customer advocate, essentially trying to really bring in the customer perspective on our plugins and how they’ll interface with the plugins themselves. The pain points that they have, types of feature requests they have, things like that….whereas long ago, sorry, I’m in downtown San Diego, so we get sirens here regularly. It happens. It’s a busy city. So let me give it a minute. Here we go. They got there. They were going and it looks like they’re right outside our door. Actually. I’m not coming here to see if somebody’s, everyone’s okay. Nobody called the ambulance. Right. All good. All right. I think we’re good…. Um, yeah. So, you know, whereas years ago I was freelancing and building websites, mostly for nonprofits, coding out custom themes and plugins and things like that. Um, my role and responsibility here at impress, has evolved quite a bit over the last four, five years.

Micah:   02:52 How long has the give WP and the WP rollback as well as business reviews plugins? How long have those been around?

Matt: 03:02   The newest one is WP business reviews. We launched that in August of this last year and that was actually more of like our revamp of a bunch of old business reviews plugins that we had. We had them all individually, like a Google places reviews, a plugin, a Yelp reviews plugin, a Facebook reviews plugin, and even a yellow pages plugin. And we had, we were maintaining them all individually and we had many users want to have all of them in one kind of gallery or lists set up. And we figured the only way to really do that really well was to merge them all together. And instead of just merging them, we decided to just revamp the whole plug in and really make it awesome. And live up to the standards that give had given us in terms of our reputation for high quality plugins and high quality support. So, that was kind of a revamp but ended up being really a whole new product that’s paving the way for new possibilities on the business reviews front as well. Then before that was a WP rollback, um, which we actually did as a contest. WordCamp Orange County does what they call a plugin Palooza and I’m pretty sure they’ve done it every year. Um, and our WP Rollback was the very first year that they did it and they just said, essentially you from the time you enter the contest on their websites, until the day of the camp, your plugin has to be on the WordPress.org Plugin directory. You know, you have to have built it yourself essentially. So we wanted to solve a problem that we had internally, often like trying to help users, to roll back their plugins or themes to previous versions. Like every time you tell them, like you go to download the plugin from SVN and you already lost them. So just trying to solve that problem for users and, um, that went really, really well. We won that contest that year, which was awesome. And now, um, it just passed a big milestone. It has over 80,000 active installs right now. So we’re super proud of WP Rollback and all that it’s been doing and helping for the WordPress community. It’s currently are only 100% only free plugin that we offer. We love being able to contribute to the WordPress community in that way. So, and then before that, in 2015 is when we launched Give, the donation plugin. That was really our big first big, uh, entry. We had, like I said, we had those business reviews, plugins that had been around before that. But Give was really our first big plugin that we decided to tackle together as a team. And really try to, answer a big, a pain point that we felt like nonprofits were having. And that was just simply that at that time there was really no dedicated solution for donations in WordPress. At the time there was lots of work arounds or a form builders that would give a way that you could do it. There was Woocommerce of course, but then you’re sending your donors through a checkout experience and that’s no fun. There was a couple that were like donation oriented on the WordPress.org repo. They just weren’t very well received by the community and didn’t provide, a more robust feature set and that a lot of nonprofits expect and deserve. So we decided to tackle that head on and launches give, and we would call it an MVP, set up, you know, just a minimum amount of features that we thought were necessary in order to get it out there and start getting users. And then iterated since then. And I’m now at this point, it is very, very full featured. We have over 35 different add ons that we offer now and it has over 50,000 active installs. So we’re very, very proud of Give, it’s definitely our meat and potatoes. It like keeps us waking up and going to work every day and um, it’s the focus as the majority of our efforts. So yeah.

Aaron: 07:32   Nice. I know that we use that for 48in48 and I know we honestly, I don’t remember when we put it on the 48in48 platform, but obviously that’s, if people aren’t familiar with it that are listening to this, it’s where we build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours is kind of like a, it’s not a hackathon, but I mean that’s the closest you get to it and Give has been incredible for us because it’s just so much easier. I don’t have to…. Before we were using gravity forms, you know, doing a authorized.net type account, that type of setup. And that’s just, that’s just complex. And so Give just makes it a whole lot easier for us where you can have, I don’t know the difference really between the paid ad ons and the regular, but most of the time we just use a PayPal, dropping a PayPal email address and then boom, people can receive donations.

Matt: 08:30   Exactly. Yeah. PayPal standard is in, Give core for free out of the box and it is really essentially just that simple. Once you get that PayPal email address in, there you go and you just create a form and we have some smart defaults. So all you really have to do is give it a title and hit publish and you have a dedicated page for your first donation form right there that you can push people to immediately and be up and running. Um, so we, you know, WordPress itself as was famous for its famous five minute install. And so we were like, what if we did like a famous two minute install? So that’s, that’s what we’re aiming for. And for PayPal standard, that is definitely the case. When you start doing premium gateways, it gets a little bit more complicated, complex. Um, but we really try to take as much pain out of that process as we can as well. So.

Aaron:09:22   What about your, the add ons? Like what are the most popular add ons that are available?

Matt: 09:27   Yeah, Give is essentially a freemium model. Just like, WooCommerce is. I’m not a free and a pro, but a free and a bunch of extensions or we call them add ons. Um, so the free plugin has really robust and, and full featured and then you buy the add ons, in order to add additional features. So the ones that are most popular ended up being gateways of course, cause everybody wants to have credit cards on their website. And so Stripe is our most popular gateway to date. And then it would probably be, PayPal pro and authorize.net. Those are all the most popular gateways, but we have I think at least 12 other gateways besides that, just because there’s so many gateways out there in the world. Um, and then besides gateways, then our next most popular ad on for sure is recurring donations, which allows people to create a donation that’s going to recur on whatever period you select, whether it’s annually or monthly or weekly. And some gateways even support daily recurring donations, which is crazy.

Aaron: 10:32   I don’t have that much money.

Matt:  10:33   Yeah. It’s like, why don’t I just give 30 bucks a month instead of maybe 31 or maybe 28. So recurring donations and then also recently, well, not too recently, last year we released add-ons that were really popular, that became really popular really quickly. One is called fee recovery, which basically, um, I always joke like, you know, add-ons are easy. It’s just a checkbox on the form, right? Well, that checkbox, it is essentially a checkbox on the form that allows the donor to say, I’ll donate the additional amount above and beyond, to cover the credit card fees essentially. But what that does behind the scenes is, is the math is actually pretty complicated and it allows the Admin to be able to choose whether the donor gets to opt into it or not. It allows the donor, the admin to choose what percentage to add. And it also then of course those fees are separated out in all of our reports. So it gets actually pretty complicated. But it’s a very, very popular add-on. And then the other one we have is called tributes. And tributes allows folks to donate in honor of or in memory of someone and have an e-card sent to that person automatically that you can design in the admin interface. Or just an email that you design and the interface. So those things can be done automatically and we allow you to basically named attribute anything you want. It doesn’t have to be an on or off or in memory of… it could just say, you know, on behalf of or whatever you would like to say for somebody’s birthday or you know, things like that. Um, so those are just some of the add ons that are most popular right now. But we’re releasing new ones all the time. Actually just this last week we released our brand new add on called annual receipts, which essentially allows your donors to have an annual receipt for how much they gave over the course of the year, which is perfect for their tax purposes.

Aaron:12:40   I was going to say I started, I’ve started that collection, um, you know, information that I’m going to need and the next couple of weeks. Um, and that’s I, you know, for my mortgage I have to, I can’t login and get a copy. They’re going to mail it to me. So basically this add-on basically gives people people that feature.

Matt: 13:01   Yes, it does. And you know, you won’t have to wait for it. Any donor who has any donations on your website? If they decided in December, oh, December one, here’s my last donation I’m going to have for the year, they can do that donation and then they go straight to their donation history page and they can get their annual receipt right there automatically. It’s basically always available to the donor whenever they want it.

Aaron:13:26   That’s cool. So your background, correct me if I’m wrong, is you’ve done a lot of nonprofit but you’ve done a lot of church websites.

Matt: 13:35   Yeah. I’m kind of smiling while you ask this question cause that, but my background is a kind of all over the place. But I did my BA in music education and I then went on and got a master of arts in theology at a seminary and taught church history for four years in Germany. Then ended up wanting to do history and was going to pursue a PhD, but decided that my family was more important than my egotistical degrees and ended up doing WordPress instead. I mean, that’s like my, my elevator pitch when people ask me about that stuff as it, because none of it makes sense. Like you go, like one plus one plus one doesn’t equal WordPress at the end of the day. But basically while I was doing all of this education, I was trying to pay for my education with freelancing and different WordPress projects essentially. And, um, while I was discerning, bailing on my PhD, I was like, you know what, this WordPress thing, it’s going really well. And I really like interfacing with churches. Yes. But also educational institutions. I did some work for, for Higher Ed, and different like professors and they want to have a website for their book or also for academic, like leads or are or, you know different, organizations that are, that the teachers across lots of universities can participate around common interests and whatnot. Things like that. I ended up doing a lot of work in that way, so, but that was all, you know, freelance work essentially. Eventually I got into technical support through Adam Warner and a few plugins, and then that led onto a working with Devin here – coming on as a partner and, um, and, uh, had a support over here at impress. At the time it was word impress, but, uh, now we’re impress.org. So, yeah.

Micah:   15:49 Cool. So, tell us a little bit about, uh, so, so you partner with Devin, so how’d you guys meet and you know, what was kind of the background there?

Matt: 15:58   Yeah, Devin and I have been part of the advanced WordPress group, for a long time, and that’s where we met, uh, the advance WordPress Facebook group that I’m an Admin of is the online representation of our local meetup called advanced WordPress. We started those together at the same time back in 2012. And, I met Devin at the local meetup, and Devin and I had always got along and chatted, but we had never had any, we never had any projects together for some reason. But when he wanted to start taking word impress really seriously and level it up, he reached out to me and, um, we ended up partnering together. So that meetup ended up being very pivotal and important for me personally as well as the AWP Facebook group as well.

Micah:   16:52 So when was it that you first kind of encountered WordPress? What was it that kind of got you started down that path?

Matt:  17:01 Yeah, actually just tweeted this out the other day. Um, somebody posted a screenshot of Kubrick being used on a website today and I was like, oh my gosh, that’s like where it all started for me because I was, I started really doing web stuff as a volunteer for a school and a church that was connected to the school and they just needed a website. And I was like, I have some time, I’ll, you know, try to figure out this website stuff with like angel fire and notepad and, um, nothing else really. And, um, as I started to get an understand CSS a little bit better, I ran across, like everybody at that time was just saying, Oh, if you want to see some really good CSS and how you can handle gradients. At the time, gradients were all the rage. Then take a look at Kubrick. And I saw that theme and I was like, oh my gosh, I want that. And I didn’t know how to download it. Because I was used to just like being able to grab the source. And I was like, why is all of this in PHP? I don’t understand. It just made me be like, well, I need it to go out what this is. And so I was like, oh, I need to have WordPress to in order to do Kubrick, but that’s going to be difficult. So I don’t know if I want to do that. So I just kept on doing CSS plain vanilla. Until later somebody was like, can you build me a WordPress website? And I was like, sure. I said, yes, I’ll figure it out. So after, you know, doing all the just plain old notepad, no syntax highlighting, just plain vanilla notepads, CSS, html, I jumped into WordPress and it took a long time to figure it out, but more or less figured out. And then somebody threw me into the deep end and through put me into that advanced WordPress Facebook group. And then I started asking really dumb questions and that helped me a lot to get my bearings and get going. So.

Aaron: 19:01   I went through my, history on WordPress.org and found the question I asked in December of 2008. You know, it’s, it’s such a newbie question. I mean it’s, it’s, I guess it’s been over 10 years now and it’s pretty amazing. We, I think everybody kind of started off if it was around ’08, ’07, Kubrick was, was the jam. So that’s what everybody remembers. So that’s a, that’s an interesting, uh, story should, it sounds like a lot of the people today is… “I don’t know, I just kind of start, I needed a website and they started, started building a without knowing how to do anything.”

Matt:  19:45 Yeah, for sure. I think what’s ironic or interesting about that in general is that like, for example, now that I’m in the product space, the product space has changed a ton in this amount of time. And for somebody to say, Oh, I’m just going to build a plug in and start making money on it. Like at that point at this, like that kind of thing today I think is a little bit naive or like it’s not very possible, but that was absolutely possible. Like say like six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years ago in WordPress, you could be like, I’m just going to build a product and I’ll make money and it could happen for sure. Um, but that freelance story of like, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ll build a WordPress website that hasn’t changed. I mean few people who do that today, like I meet people who do that all the time. They didn’t know what they were doing and they just started building WordPress websites and all of a sudden they’re making a living on it. That story hasn’t changed at all. And I think that that really speaks highly of WordPress.

“I meet people all the time who didn’t know what they were doing and just started building #WordPress websites and all of a sudden they’re making a living on it. That story hasn’t changed at all. I think that that really speaks highly of WordPress.” @learnwithmattc

Aaron: 20:44   I try to tell people, I have a friend that is, he wants to do web development and right now he’s learning Python. And I’m like, I’m like, I can tell you that’s, you know, that’s helpful. But I said, the only, the only realm I know now is PHP and WordPress. And I said, you, you can start working, start making money very quickly with little knowledge really, which is good and bad. Right. You know, if I have to inherit a site that was not built correctly, uh, that’s, that’s a problem. But I mean the, the, it’s like a open market. I mean to, to a certain extent.

Matt: 21:29   Yes, very much so.

Aaron: 21:32   Well, I’m trying to think of the three plugins…. I was obviously most interested in give just because of what we do with 48in48. Um, but what’s, what’s your, um, I guess primary focus right now? Is that the, the, the page.. Uh, drawing a blank, the business, the business one?

Matt:  21:55 WP Business Reviews? Uh, yeah, no, Give remains our primary focus for sure. Um, and WP Business Reviews is doing really, really well. It’s actually exceeding our projections and expectations by at least double. So we’ve been really happy about that. Um, and we continue to invest in it and we have lots of plans of for growth for it. But it really takes, I would say between 15, 20% of our time, uh, compared to give, taking 80% of our time. And we do that that way on purpose. We’re definitely giving it the attention that it deserves and that it needs, but we can’t invest in that at the expense of Give, because it really is the driver of how we’re able to pay our employees. And be able to keep the lights on and things like that. Yeah.

Aaron: 22:46   Yeah. How, how big are you guys as far as, uh, employees or contractors, et Cetera, et Cetera?

Matt:  22:52 We have 10 employees. Well, that’s including the three partners. So we have 10 all together here in the U S and we have three full time developers also in India. Two are doing development and one is doing fulltime support.

Aaron: 23:09   Okay. Okay. Nice. Mike and I were just in India, so, oh, nice. Interesting. Interesting country. So definitely different, so that’s cool. Um, but yeah, 10, 10 employees for a plugin or a few plugins. I mean, that’s, that’s a success story right there.

Matt:  23:28 I like to think so. I appreciate it.

Aaron: 23:31   Yeah. I mean it’s, it’s incredible. I mean, we’ve written some plugins here and there and tried to get some kind of traction and it’s, it’s not easy to do that.

Matt:  23:43 It’s not. It’s been.. we’ve very, very happy and very fortunate, with how interested and loyal our customers are for Give and the way it solves the problem that they have with donations. So we’ve loved that. But to say that it was easy is a lie it’s definitely been a lot of hard work and a lot of learning by trial and error and figuring things out along the way. But, fortunately for us, it’s been coupled by a lot of success, so we’re really happy.

Micah:   24:26 Yeah. I always enjoy listening to people’s stories, but, so many people talk about their business in the early stages and then they say, and we scaled up and now we’re this big and kind of skip over the whole, like, growth stage. Um, so like what, uh, you know, what would you say were kind of like the key turning points as you were starting to grow and what of those were intentional versus you just happened upon them?

Matt:  24:53 There’s a couple things. I think the crux of our growth really is product driven overall in the sense that Devin Walkers, our founder and head of product. He’s also our lead developer. He has just a very, very good instincts on, um, what products should look like and what they should do and how they should function. And then we couple that with collaboration with me and our finance partner, Jason. And lately a lot more with another of our lead developers. His name’s Kevin Hoffman, he’s in Pittsburgh. I think that collaboration has been really crucial for sure. But what really drives what we’re doing is the way in which we solve problems for nonprofits with our plugins. That, that’s kind of the broad way to say it, but, um, that development and that those products have to be super coupled with our premium support.

Matt:  25:58 if you go and look, if you go to the Give plugin on WordPress.org and you look at all of our reviews, I think it’s like seven or eight out of 10 of every one of them in the title is going to say and great support, something like that. And that’s largely because our users are a little bit more support needy. They don’t have big tech teams to keep them going or anything. So they’re doing this on their own often. Um, so that’s, that’s a big deal. That’s a big part of, of what has what makes all of our customers continue to renew year after year. Um, but, um, the other thing for me in particular, I have a couple of presentations on this in terms of that scaling question. Micah. I really felt that I didn’t, I wouldn’t know how to scale unless I could see it in the data. And so I have a couple of presentations out there. I can share links with you guys about those later. On how I basically track how many tickets my support team is going to have based on how many sales that we have and how efficiently we’re answering those tickets and what that will look like if our sales increase a certain amount. And that calculation altogether gives me a number for which I know when I need to be hiring again and I have three full time support guys working for me now. I started that calculation when I had one and I hired the other two based on that calculation. And so far it’s been working. Um, I’ve basically hired right on time every time so far I was a little bit late on the second, the third hire just only because we, it was just timing stuff. That’s been really crucial for me is being able to understand how our sales data drives our, um, our employee needs essentially.

Micah:   27:57 Nice. Yeah, that’s probably one of those things that it’s easy to get wrong and to, I’ve known companies that have decided, oh, we’re, oh, what? Oh, crap, we’re scaling. So they go out and hire a bunch of people and then realize they can’t afford it because the business, it was just a quick spike that dropped off and then they had to let people go. And uh, so yeah, that would be interesting to see that. Yeah. As soon as that link we’ll, we’ll add it to the show notes. Cool.

Aaron: 28:28   I might want to pick your brain. The hiring people is always the hard, hard part as an agency owner. Never know when to hire my kind of thing as if I have enough work to keep someone busy for two months. Like they’ve got to be full time. Uh, you know, we’ll, we’ll find the work for ’em later. But no, that’s, that’s cool. So do you do your support through the, WordPress.org. Is that your only support or do you guys have a section for the paid support?

Matt:  29:01 Yeah, we have both. Um, we do the free support, for the free plugin, also for WP Rollback. We have paid priority support as well for all of our customers. Um, forgive that means if you bought any add ons from us at all, you’ll have that access, uh, for WP business reviews, it’s only a paid plugin. There’s no free version really. So they all get the same priority access. One issue I talk about often with other plugin developers is there’s plenty plugin developers out there who really the free support forums. I get it because they are a little bit antiquated. Um, but, for us they have been very, very important and crucial to our success. Um, I really think of them mostly as a giant pre-sales funnel. They’re not going to be interested in anything we have to sell if they don’t have a positive experience with our free product. And if I can help make that positive experience happen with my time, then I’m going to do it, you know, so, um, I, and I’m never like in there just like selling or, or pitching them on stuff. I’m just trying to have the free experience be as positive as possible. Um, and that in itself is the wholesale that needs to happen. So that’s kind of how I take that approach. But everything you do on the, on the.org is, is public, everybody’s can see it all the time. So I honestly, I answered the majority of the free tickets just simply because of that public aspect. I don’t want any of my employees to get thrown under the bus for saying something offhand or whatever. Um, and um, yeah, so that, that’s the way I go about it.

Aaron: 30:55   Nice. I really like the tagline on your, your website. Um, generally helpful since birth.

Matt: 31:03   I try to live up to it. I try.

Micah:  31:08 Awesome. So, um, so I guess, uh, we’ll ask, we’ll ask the main question here now since we’re the WP Square One podcast is if you had to start back at square one today, what would you do differently?

Matt: 31:22   That’s so funny because I actually didn’t think about that question all that much before jumping on. I should have, I mean, I think about that kind of thing. Often I think about my academic career and like, you know, should I have done that instead and just ditch this all WordPress thing. None of those things I do is regret. But I mean because of, because of how my journey has been so varied and, and variable across different continents, I, there’s lots of space for what ifs. But I think I do have this one WordCamp presentation I gave, uh, that was, uh, essentially answering that question. I did a WordCamp LA talk and there were some basics like don’t go into Google and search free themes for WordPress. Like that’s just never going to bring you anything positive. Like there is some tips like that I gave there. I think at the end of the day, like I know that if, while I was freelancing, if I would have found a really solid partner from day one, that would’ve drastically changed my whole freelance experience for the better. I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned over all this time is that having excellent partners or collaborators that you work with regularly, that push back on you and everything, um, that that’s kind of personal improvement that you can never get by yourself. Like people might say, “Oh, I manage my time better,” or “Oh, I developed better daily habits or keep a better calendar.” Or those are all personal things that yes, I’m, I’m working on all those things today myself. But those are things that I can do. The things I can’t control is the way in which somebody else can positively influence me. Like there’s no other way to do that except collaborate and work together and find that person or people that you’re willing to spend your time with and invest in them as much as they’re investing in you. So yes.


“I’ve learned that having excellent partners or collaborators that you work with regularly, that push back on you… that’s the kind of personal improvement that you can never get by yourself.” @learnwithmattc

Aaron: 33:24   Yeah, that’s a great response and I would kind of be in the same or same boat. I feel like having a great business partner, uh, has been incredible for me. Don’t tell my business partner that. No, that, that’s a great answer. So, well, how can we get in touch with you? Let the people know, uh, you know, Twitter and all those things.

Matt:  33:47 Yeah. We are at Give WP or impress.org. And I personally love chatting with folks on Twitter. I am @learnwithmattc. Or my personal website is a great place to chat. https://www.mattcromwell.com/

Aaron: 34:00   Sounds great. All right, well thank you for your time.

Matt:  34:03 Yes, absolutely. Thank you guys.

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