As CEO of the website creation company 10up, Jake Goldman is an evangelist for WordPress. He began using the open-source development platform in 2006 and started his company specifically to leverage its power. Today, Goldman and several engineers on his team are core contributors to the WordPress project and maintain some of the highest rated plug-ins in the official WordPress repository.
Goldman founded 10up in 2011 to establish a development team that could build beautiful, easy-to-manage websites on what he considers to be the Web’s best platform—WordPress. The company counts Time Inc., Consumer Reports, and Juicy Couture among its customers. Goldman and his team also developed Techonomy.com.
We spoke with him about why he is such a fan of WordPress, and how his company has grown to take advantage of it.
WordPress has been around for 10 years. It started as a good, open-source, flexible, dependable blogging platform. But people quickly found that the model it had been built around let you do really cool, really big things—and it has evolved to handle anything from blogging to conference management, and a lot more. It’s become the engine of the Web. Nearly 20 percent of online properties you go to are powered by WordPress.
What makes WordPress so powerful compared to other widely-used open source content management systems like Drupal?
I like Drupal. I’m not one to pooh-pooh other platforms that do great things. I’m a fan of all open-source platforms. The reason our team has chosen WordPress is we think it is focused on the publisher, or the customer, first. The emphasis is, “How do we make this the most elegant, clean, great user experience for people who are actually publishing content and managing the website?”
The WordPress community has a philosophy: decisions, not options. That means you don’t get massive setting screens full of complex choices and configuration options for developers.
WordPress has another fundamental belief: We don’t break things. When a new version comes out, which they do frequently, it iterates on a very rapid schedule. When you go to upgrade, you don’t have to worry that your site is going to break. If you’re following WordPress’s API, its guidelines, you can rest pretty assured that, for the foreseeable lifetime of your site, you’re never going to have to worry about that upgrade button breaking things.
Are there aspects of WordPress that make it as attractive to designers as it is to publishers?
WordPress is freeing in terms of design. The way it’s built, you’re not constrained by how modules in the CMS want to output themselves. The other thing that’s appealing to Web designers is the wealth of off-the-shelf options and themes, frameworks. It encourages smart designers who want to dabble but might be overwhelmed by how much code they have to input.
What are the benefits of WordPress being open source?
It allows people who are curious about how the platform works to educate themselves by studying the underlying source code, enabling them to build projects without being constrained by obfuscated or under-documented functionality. WordPress falls under the general public license (GPL)—anybody is allowed to use this code for absolutely anything that they want, including copying it and making their own version, without any restrictions besides giving attribution to the people that started it. Those freedoms are powerful, and have really enabled WordPress and its community to soar.
Does 10up take WordPress code, soup it up, and then release it back into the WordPress community?
Yes, we and thousands of others make plug-ins that extend and give back to this community in a way that we would probably be much more loathe to do if we were giving it to someone’s closed, they-control-everything product. At 10up, we donate about 1.5 people’s worth of time to helping make WordPress and add-on software. You get the benefit of all these different minds collaborating, building the core product.
Is there anything you would add about why you’re so passionate about WordPress?
What’s interesting to me is the way that open-source, or WordPress as a “free product,” has revolutionized the economies of publishing. It was 7 or 8 years ago that people were paying $200,000 – $300,000 just for licensing crummy publishing software on the Web. It’s pretty amazing that so much of the Web is now powered by a piece of software that you don’t have to pay a single user license for.
If Techonomy had built its website 6 or 7 years ago, the price would have been very different, maybe even unaffordable. It would have changed the economics of your company, and it probably would have been a lot less elegant, not owned by you, running on someone else’s platform, and subject to their whims. WordPress’s fundamental mission was and is to democratize publishing.
Aside from publishers, are there other online businesses that WordPress has enabled to succeed and thrive who otherwise might not have that opportunity?
Yes. One of our customers is a deal shopping website. It started with the wife of a serviceman who was trying to save money on grocery shopping while her husband was overseas. She started publishing her techniques—deals she was finding, coupons for women in similar situations. The blog blossomed, and is hosted on a high-end platform, WordPress.com VIP, which scales to much larger audiences. NBC is the primary advertiser, it’s been featured on the Today Show, and gets massive amounts of traffic—six figures at least worth of visitors every month. It blossomed into a business for this team of sisters and friends that now runs the site. That never would have been possible without the low barriers to entry to make publishing easy and simple.
Getting one’s story out there before might’ve meant getting a good ad in the Yellow Pages, or buying a TV ad or a radio ad. Twenty years ago, there were a lot of companies that sent newsletters to customers or sent press releases to newspapers. That reality has changed; the economics of getting one’s message out there have changed.
Could you give a brief history of how you started 10up and how it’s grown?
I started 10up in February 2011 with 6 or 7 years’ experience in other agencies managing teams and growing consulting product. I was determined to focus on WordPress as the platform to make publishing easy and elegant—not because WordPress was all I knew, but because I enjoyed working with it, and it was the platform that made for happy customers in my past experience.
We had an opportunity to work with TechCrunch and 9to5Mac.com and other small and large businesses. Good opportunities kept coming. Six months later we started hiring employees. A year later, we were up to 10 or 12. Now we’re at around 38 employees. What we do looks great, feels great, and customers are happy with our work. We’re in the right place at the right time, in the sense that WordPress and publishing online is a very hot industry to be in.
Your employees live and work in many different locations. How did the company evolve its current distributed model?
Distributed was never, for me, about being able to “work from home in your pajamas.” If you want to scale a premium service very quickly, you couldn’t put a pin down on a map and say, “all of my talent is going to be within a 50 mile radius.” I just don’t think it works.
You can maybe do that in New York and San Francisco, but you’re going to be constrained by the labor market and the costs of living to get premium talent into your team. It’ll make you very uncompetitive as an international player in this space. My perspective was, I want to be able to get the best and most energized, honest talent, and be able to scale my team as the business grows. I could never have scaled to the demand we saw and grown to 35 employees in less than 2.5 years with a traditional model.