The Caldera Journey So Far and What Is Next

CalderaWP WapuuI started 2015 stranded by a freak storm in a small town in West Texas. I ended it wondering if I had what it took to make it as an entrepreneur. In between I launched a new company or two, traveled to ten WordCamps and the one constant that held was community.

Those two days in Balmorhea, TX population 500, were actually pretty inspiring. After a scary night trying to get off the road and stay warm sleeping on a blocked highway off ramp, my wife and I made it to the one little inn, which was sold out and sent us to the community center turned shelter.

This tiny community, which clearly was not very well off came together to organize food, cots and more to keep over 100 people fed and safe until the roads were relatively safe to travel. Being stuck in an overcrowded community center is not the best experience. But being a part of a spontaneous and self-organizing community that arose to help out strangers made a bad situation into a great experience.

It reminded me of the value of community. You know like WordPress always does.

Back In The Sun

Who knew it snowed in Texas?

Photo by: veeterzySix weeks later, back in sunny Florida, David Cramer and I launched a new company to monetize his plugin Caldera Forms and make other plugins. It was exciting, even if the sales didn’t exactly pour in.

By the end of our first month — gross revenue: about $350 — I knew I was in way over my head as a business person and online marketer. But that was OK. Im someone who went from sort of knowing HTML, to being a pretty badass PHP and JavaScript developer.

I figured I could just hack business until I got good at it. This almost destroyed my business. After about 6 months we had increased our sales to about $1500 a month, which was good, but not enough. Client work was robbing our time and straining our relationship.

More than that, I had essentially demoted myself to junior developer and support representative. I spent my time fixing bugs, helping users and hardly ever writing any fun code.

Knowing I had to try something different, but not knowing what, I started another company as an A/B test on my business. Yah, I’m that guy, who starts another business to test the theories of what is wrong with his business. In the meantime I created a pretty cool new product: Ingot, an automated A/B testing tool for WordPress. Meta right?

All the while, I worked to figure out how to escape or fix the problems in CalderaWP. Over time the business and developer to developer relationship between David and I really improved.

Not shockingly, as our communication improved and we paid off our technical debt, our revenue rose. It’s still not great, but we’re finally in a good place, product-wise where we are ready to grow and grow properly.

If there is one thing I learned it’s that going slow can be a good thing. if Caldera Forms had blown up in a year to the kind of user base we are now focused on building it probably would have destroyed us.

I’m being patient with Ingot. It’s too early to say what Ingot will become and it’s slow growth is a good thing. The support demands are low, and we have plenty of time to figure out how to refine its feature set and really nail how to explain this product’s value properly.

Maybe it’s different with established brands and big marketing budgets, but in my experience, you have to spend a year running your mouth about something before it goes anywhere.

I Am A Developer

I can’t stop thinking like a developer, and that’s OK.

Photo by: NASAThe other thing I figured out is there are a lot of parts of running a business I don’t like. When I’m stressed out it’s normally about the business or money and one of my best coping mechanisms is to learn more about JavaScript.

That last paragraph is the words of a developer, not someone who should be running a business. A short audit of my financials and the number of loose ends in my business is a testament to that.

I embrace that. I’m a developer, and I can’t stop thinking that way. That’s good, and I love the strategic parts of designing products and marketing plans. But I’m done running the parts of the business I lack a passion for, am quantifiably bad at and take time away from the things I am passionate about and love doing.

I love being a developer, I love teaching — writing, speaking and creating course — and I love going to WordCamps to meet new people and connect with the growing group of friends I’ve found in this awesome community of ours.

The Ingot project had a lot of objectives, including trying new approaches to development. The other was to try out to new people I had met in Tallahassee that I believed in and wanted to work with. One of them, I still believe in, but he wasn’t the right fit, nor were we the right fit for him

Growing Toghether

The theme of 2015 was team work

Photo by: Stefan KunzeAs Ingot and CalderaWP grew, it became more and more clear how silly it was that the more mature company was being mismanaged by me, while the less mature company I had was being run incredibly well by Christie Chirinos.

Having two teams and two companies was a good way to start as we tested out what worked and didn’t work. But, moving forward as we have seen everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, we will move forward as one company.

For the last month I have been transitioning Christie into running both companies together and we will soon merge them into own company known as Caldera Labs.

In addition, my freelance practice and educational site will be folded in. It’s a lot of stuff, but I believe with better organization, focus, some tweeks to the business model, we are now ready to grow quickly and have badass products to back this up.

For the last few months I have been more active in Caldera Forms development than I had been in the past. David is going to remain the lead developer of Caldera Forms and I’m going to balance my time between that and leading the Ingot project. But I’m going to take my time with Ingot and let it develop naturally.

Moving Forward

The theme of 2016 is growth 

Josh Pollock speaks on Do WordPress Better With The WordPress REST API, at WordCamp San Diego 2016 #WCSD
I’m happy to represent my company, but I don’t want to be the only one. Photo by Kari Leigh Marucchi.

Of course, because Josh Pollock and David Cramer, we will keep making prototypes of fun new stuff. That’s something that used to drive me nuts about both of us. There is a ton of stuff that we have both built because that’s how we learn, with no plan to evaluate which of these plugins or services are worth pursuing and which were just fun.

You can expect to see a few of these reach the light of day as we evaluate the stack for good products. We never had a process of keeping track of early ideas, and evaluating them to see if they solve real problems that people will pay for or not.

That’s what’s next? I’ve been spending less time being freaked out and more time writing. My REST API video course was fun to make and pretty well received. Look to see more courses and some online or in-person workshops soon.

Also, we have some exciting updates for Caldera Forms and Ingot, as well as new add-ons about to launch. If you ask me real nicely at a WordCamp — I’ll be at WordCamp NEO and WPCampus this summer — I may tell you about some secret projects.

Have Fun

Seriously, that is the point of all of this, right?

This is me, at WordCamp San Diego using the force to summon an object to me in the middle of my talk. Photo by Joe McDonald.
This is me, at WordCamp San Diego using the force to summon an object to me in the middle of my talk.
Photo by Joe McDonald.

Sometimes I worry that when I tell people “have fun” or “sounds like fun” they think I am being sarcastic. I say things like that a lot and I am generally very serious.

I find what I do to be really fun. Not always, parts of it are not fun, but overall it’s a blast, and that’s what I want and why I do it.

So yep, I’m excited for Caldera Labs, it’s a new approach to organizing and growing our company and our team. It sounds like a lot of fun to me.

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