Growing a Business in Europe with WordPress

The Early Ages

I got involved with computers ever since I got my first one at home in 1996. I dug into everything going on in DOS and Windows 3.11 and managed to break it all at least 20 times in a row.

At one point I had decided that I need more disk space so I’ll start deleting every file that doesn’t look too legit and is over the capacity of a floppy disk. That was pretty insane, but I actually managed to get rid of hundreds of files that weren’t crucial before I crash the entire system.

Fast-forward a few years later, I built my first HTML site learning from http://www.davesite.com/webstation/html/ in 1999. It was so exciting that I was spending day and night improving it one way or the other. Over the next couple of years I learned QBasic and started working at the local PC game club helping with the computer maintenance services, which was my main thing for a while. I got involved with several other things related to website administration, translating security bulletins, setting up simple sites and so forth. There was a lot going on, and all of it was in the tech field, which was what I really wanted.

Pull Quote: People in 3rd world countries, with slow Internet bandwidth and fewer opportunities now have the chance to start making a living or at least helping their household budget by using WordPress

The Corporate Lifestyle

I was studying Programming and I also signed up for an intensive high-level course for C# and Java development and software engineering. During the 2005-2008 period I was spending approximately a hundred hours a week studying and working, and thanks to my CompSci education, knowledge and understanding of other similar areas, I got promoted to a team leader for a few months and got into business development at the end, building all of the heavy waterfall paperwork for projects between $100K and $2M. It was all moving so fast and I wanted to keep growing with the same crazy pace for some time.

In addition to that I was running some side activities – small freelance gigs, consulting, and I administered a forum for programming and computer security. I grew my network of technical experts going to, volunteering at or organizing conferences, running a technical forum and giving regular talks at universities and some enterprise companies.

But the company’s business model changed a bit and they wanted to try new ventures. It was right in the first months of the financial recession and things got heated, so the work environment was no longer what it used to be before.

Remote Working and Business Opportunity

Due to my crazy work hours for many years in a row, I got really detached from the reality of my friends and acquaintances. A lot of people around me were still unemployed and busy with university, traveling or something else. Every now and then when I was out in my lunch break or took a half-day off in order to go to the bank or sort out some car problems, I was meeting someone I knew, sitting in the park or walking around the city.

A blissful and calm life, it was like a fairy tale.

That was combined with my long and thoughtless commute – spending about 3 hours a day driving in order to work on a project alone, while my managers and clients were abroad. It was unreasonable in any possible manner, but I couldn’t get the approval for working remotely.

The tip of the iceberg was the communication and planning problems arising at the time, so I left my job and started freelancing.

My biggest disappointment was that I faced a massive challenge due to my technical experience. As a certified Java programmer, I was not needed as a remote worker, since all Java projects were pretty large and required an established team of people working together in an office. All job opportunities were on-site, and even required relocation abroad.

I had some PHP experience from some of my previous jobs (plus every now and then we had to fix various internal PHP-driven websites that were broken for yet another reason), and I started my freelance career. I kept coding different projects: using plain PHP, a framework such as CakePHP or CodeIgniter, or do some development with one of those things called WordPress and Drupal.

I was acquainted with most of the popular PHP-driven platforms – Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, Gallery, all the forum platforms, dozens of other systems. I ran a few personal projects of mine, I had to do some research for a blogging platform at one of my jobs, and I was doing freelance work for pretty much every platform out there.

And I kept juggling with PHP, Java, Python and even some C# work for a year or two, until we decided to switch to WordPress completely.

Building Products

I had a tough technical project where my technical lead went MIA. It was a critical one, with UNICEF and several other organizations backing it up, and a lot of planned media coverage in 5 different countries. I had no other option but take the lead, start planning the next phases, meet the client each week and renegotiate the terms. We shipped it successfully at the end. The site got millions of hits daily for a few weeks during the TV campaigns, and a lot of voting for some charity activities.

Since I replaced my client’s technical lead and saved the project, my client offered me a spot in some of his activities, including a new startup for building a WordPress theme framework. I wasn’t that acquainted with WordPress back then – I had some development experience, several clients and my blog was running on WordPress with plenty of custom mods – but I had to spend a couple of months learning WordPress from the inside out.

It was madness – I was a conventional person with architectural design patterns in mind and all the “best practices” from the tech world. WordPress seemed like an eccentric young hipster somewhere on the line between insane and genius at the same time.

Eventually I fell in love with WordPress and we either stopped delivering other services with my own team for the custom platforms that we maintained, or converted my other clients to WordPress. Additionally we built a rad framework that is currently running the backbone of a dozen themes since the startup is going strong and my former partner is still running it.

European Community

One of the key selling points of WordPress for me was the international openness. I used to be involved with other Open Source communities that were extremely US-centric. There were plenty of outstanding engineers around me who were waiting for months in order to get their patches reviewed, let alone accepted, since they had no opportunity to join the largest tech events in California or New York where all the magic happened.

The most stubborn ones kept waiting and waiting for years and eventually got something in after the third or fourth one, or just invested in a trip to the US where things changed overnight. That is, if their visa application got accepted in the first place.

The WordPress community is also a US-centric. The majority of the decisions happen there, by US folks, or employees of the top US-based companies. That always sounds ludicrous to US people and is clear to everyone in Europe or Australia. Almost like the ongoing diversity talks – you don’t get it unless you’re in the position of a disadvantage.

The good news is that things are slowly moving in the right direction – decentralized management model (hopefully would be more apparent and functional by 2020), about a hundred WordCamps around the globe every year, hundreds of meetups going on with like-minded people sharing the love of WordPress. The birth of WordCamp Europe was something magical, and the numbers speak for themselves. I’ve been involved with discussions for a potential European WordPress event since 2011 with plenty of people at different events, and all of a sudden it happened. And being involved with organizing the past 2 ones, there’s nothing like meeting WordPress enthusiasts and professionals from over 50 countries brainstorming and working together at a WordCamp. You simply HAVE to be there to understand how powerful it all is.

While I still strongly believe that it’s a US-centric project, there is hope and various activities that slowly move it to a decentralized model. And the fact that each country is allowed to run its own community as an official WordCamp or even a WordUp, BarCamp or something else is incredibly important for the health of the project.

Growing a Team

Another key benefit of WordPress is its popularity – an ever growing project currently powering over 24% of the Internet. It’s popular enough to be a de facto standard for blogging and a large percentage of the small corporate and magazine websites. Internet marketers love it and spread the Word everywhere.

WordPress has a low entry point and one can achieve a lot without being an expert. Admittedly, that is often being exploited by people who believe that they could build Facebook on WordPress after they successfully installed a ThemeForest theme on a clean blog, but sane and humble people can appreciate the low entry point and start gaining experience without having to spend years to master the basics.

That also makes it easier to build a team.

Running a company requires a different set of skills, including marketing, sales, PRs and so on even for a technical agency. Being able to use a tool that is user-friendly, not overly complicated and easily extensible makes the team stronger, requires less time for adjustment and makes the introduction process faster and easier. That is more cost-effective and allows more startups to enter the market with lower investments and fewer months to launch an MVP, which is boosting the entire ecosystem altogether.

We have built our own Invoicing tool and CRM system on top of WordPress, in order to bring all of it together and make it easier for people to use that – and it works like a charm.

Helping Others

Despite of the often misrepresented culture of Open Source (where clients keep asking for everything for free and yell at developers when a feature is missing since they feel entitled to it), that low entry point is paramount for the bigger picture, which is the development of the entire world.

People in 3rd world countries, with slow Internet bandwidth and fewer opportunities now have the chance to start making a living or at least helping their household budget by using WordPress, one way or the other.

A year and a half ago I gave a few lectures at a foster home. I won’t get into details since being there is excruciating for the mind, but 17-year old children were about to lose the roof over their heads and discussed stealing dogs and selling them on the black market, invading houses for food and what not.

Several people spent a few month teaching them the basic IT skills – working with Word and Excel, with WordPress, basic design work and marketing skills, that would potentially help them to start any job, even as juniors, and pay for their rent and basic needs. When you look that from another perspective, a platform that could save lives – literally – and change the world for better is worth contributing to, in any possible manner.

Two months ago I gave another talk for using WordPress for kids, age 6-12. One of the main problems of our advanced modern civilization is people who don’t know what their future is at the end of age 24, or 27. My lecture covered WordPress as a tool for writing homeworks and class assignments, where kids could learn the basics of design (themes), development (plugins), marketing (stats, social media), copywriting (blogging) and other branches by simply using WordPress. That lower entry point doesn’t require technical skills and could be used as the initial step for their development and growth within that field, and shape them as experts at early ages.

We have several great examples in our WordPress community with contributions at the ages of 12 or 14. That is admirable, and being open to and able to do that is something we should strive for.

There is a lot of #wpdrama going on, and most of that is happening due to “first world problems”. I often get passionate about that drama, but throwing money away on BS, arguing and wasting time for obnoxious, impudent and spoiled people is often not worth the time.

There are actions that may destroy our happy bubble that we live in, and we should protect what is ours – since the WordPress community consists of people of all race and color, living all around the world, working as teachers, developers, bloggers, designers, business owners. Let’s work together to help each other, and serve justice where justice is due. Let’s not let invaders take what we’ve worked for hard for many years, and teach them our ethics first.

Let’s bring WordPress to the world and don’t let the wrong people misrepresent it. Let’s stick together and make the world a better place.

3 comments

  1. John Locke says:

    What you’ve touched on here, Mario, is something that many people in the WordPress (or web development space in general) may not realize. Being able to make a living through code or WordPress is often a way out of bad living conditions for many people. It is the one escape hatch in an increasingly uncertain world.

    Most of the people I know in the WordPress ecosystem here in the US have either always been coders, or have not had the level of personal struggles that you have encountered in your travels. The power of this platform goes beyond what many people perceive it to be.

    I think of Paul Clark’s work with the Free Burma Rangers as an example of how the approachability and flexibility of the WordPress platform has made a significant impact on people’s well-being. People who truly use it for a tool beyond the normal business applications.

    Thanks for pointing out how WordPress and technology can be a way out for people who normally would have no means of escaping a spiral of despair and hard-edged living.

    • Mario Peshev says:

      Thanks John – it’s really something that you don’t think about until you face someone who’s changed their life thanks to WordPress.

      There’s a lot to think about here really. My only real question is whether there’s any future for WordPress for large platforms and enterprise. I know that there are examples, that mostly what we do, but I don’t see that headed in the right direction and I’m not fully convinced that this future won’t affect the aforementioned group of people.

      Because, after all, there is always a right tool for each job, and the Swiss army knife isn’t that flexible at the end 🙂

  2. Zakir says:

    yes worpdress makes the living for devlopers of third world, this is true, i hired few devlopers from there and found useful. The point i am making here is worpress really making a decent living for the people of third world compared to other too names i.e. facebook, twitter. These so called social media tools have no contribution feeding someone on a single day, they are just social time passing platforms.

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