This is the second of three episodes where I ask my co-hosts to put on the guest hat. Today I chat with Mendel Kurland, who came on the show at the beginning of this year. It was the perfect opportunity to hear about the diverse background and talents that he brings to the Woo ecosystem.
A Chat with Mendel
In episode 73, I chat with Mendel about:
- His current work with WooCommerce, both as a developer advocate at Nexcess and his own personal projects.
- Mendel’s unique and diverse journey to WordPress and WooCommerce.
- What he has learned from talking with Woo builders on Do the Woo.
- How he has discovered a lot of grit and excitement from guests who come from all walks of life.
- Who he found most inspirational in the episodes he has co-hosted.
- Why is considers the strength of giving freely important and a steady message from the community of Woo builders.
- Mendel sharing the story of being a happy camper and a developer in the early days.
- What challenges people may not know about him when it comes to conversation.
Connect with Mendel
Mendel’s Top Episode Picks
- Bold Moves, Woo Reluctance and Membership Sites with Shannon Shaffer from Purple Finch Studios
- Learning and Growing. WooCommerce Meetups with Sandi Batik
Bob: Hey everyone. BobWP, episode 73 of Do the Woo, this is number two in a series. This is really fun because I get to literally throw my co-hosts off the show during the regular episode and then ask them to come back on as a guest, so they have to put on a different hat.. I can actually see Mendel and he is wearing a different hat, I think, compared to the last time I saw him. Of course, I don't remember that, because that's been about a month, but anyway, we have a great show.
I'm going to drop in our community sponsor, WooCommerce.com, before we get started. You know WooCommerce.com. If you're a developer or builder, you probably have gone to their developer resource portal.
Don't forget that for your clients and your customers that are new to WooCommerce their blog has a lot of good Wooness on there at that beginner and merchant level. They can learn the basics of Woo and wrap their brains around that. So check out WooCommerce.com.
The new Do the Woo launches October 6th
I'm going to just make one quick announcement before I bring on my wonderful guest here. And that is that we have set a date for the official relaunch of Do the Woo, so watch for that, that day will be October 6th. (applause) And you can see we're recording at a live studio right now, and there is social distancing going on, so nah, not really, not at all, that was all Mendel's fans.
Hey, Mendel. How you doing?
Mendel: Hey Bob. I'm great. It's good to be here of course, I'm marking that date on my calendar. What date is that again, Bob?
Bob: October 6th.
Mendel: October 6th, the relaunch of Do the Woo. I'm pretty excited myself.
Bob: Yeah. I'm excited to have you as a guest. This is going to be fun because you've been on my other podcast before in the past,. Here, we ask everybody else about WooCommerce, but it's nice to get the backstory and hear a little bit of what you're thinking. And just a side note,. I believe the first time Mendel and I talked was over a Bloody Mary bar at WooConf.
Mendel: It was WooConf in San Francisco. I think we were in the basement of that cool space that they rented. And yeah, I walked up to you and I say, "Hey man, let's chat." And we had a Bloody Mary and I think it was like nine o'clock in the morning. So there's no reasonable reason we should have been having a Bloody Mary, but it was WooConf and it was fun and interesting. And there were wonderful speakers and awesome topics and great content and cool artwork, and having a conversation with you kind of just put the icing on the cake.
Bob: Well, that's nice of you to say after all these years.
Mendel: And just for the record, I am wearing a different hat than I do when I co-host. So yeah, you are seeing me with a different hat, Bob, even though the rest of you in the virtual world can't see me.
Bob: Excellent. Yeah. That's good to know. So you are wearing a different hat literally. Well, this is what we always start with and I know that it gives people an idea of what you do, but I should ask you, Mendel, how do you Do the Woo aside from Do the Woo?
How does Mendel Do the Woo?
Mendel: Wow! Well, it's funny. One of the things that I've tried to do on this show is to not bring a whole lot of Liquid Web and Nexcess into it, because I want to focus on the people that we're interviewing. And so during this episode, I guess I'll talk a little bit about what I'm doing over at Liquid Web and Nexcess, and also how I Do the Woo in my personal life. I am a developer advocate for agencies at Nexcess for WooCommerce. So I help agencies onboard, I help them answer complex questions about WooCommerce and about building on WordPress and WooCommerce for their online stores. And generally, just try and be a helpful human over there at Nexcess, So that's how I Do the Woo in my professional life.
Now I do some fun little side projects to kind of keep my mind sharp, so I spin up print on demand sites and personal rental sites and things like that for camping equipment. I try and keep myself sharp with some online stores and some eCommerce stuff. One of my favorite things to work on, this is super nerdy, is WooCommerce optimization. I've been fascinated with that for, I don't know, the past five years, and now I'm starting to get back into writing code and building a couple plugins that might be helpful for the WooCommerce world in the future. So I'm just all over Woo, and that's how I'm doing it these days.
Bob: Wow! Couple of plugins. I'm impressed.
Mendel: Yeah. Plugins are fun and what happens is, I'm doing work for somebody at Nexcess or I'm doing something on my own, and I'm playing around with WooCommerce. I realize there's something as simple as I can't see the inventory for all my products in list view, which is super frustrating to me. Why can't I see my product quantities? I want to know what's in stock, what's not in stock, but even more than that, I want to know what the product quantities are.
Now, I haven't looked to see if that option is a column that's just hidden, I would assume it's not. And so in that case, I might go write a little piece of code and throw it into a plugin. And you get enough of those things together and all of a sudden you have a WooCommerce tweaks plugin, which is cool. So it's just stuff like that that I'm playing around with, trying to solve problems for the world.
Bob: Yes, you're joining the ranks of a lot of the builders here who come up with the idea because they need to solve it either for themselves or for their clients. And then it's like, hey, might as well do a plugin and give it to the world. So cool. You are an official guest and an official builder and you are going to do a plugin, so this is just qualifies you like 100% as a guest.
What is the backstory,?I don't think I ever heard this of how you got into WordPress and then where did WooCommerce come along ?
The backstory of coming into WordPress and WooCommerce
Mendel: Yeah. So it's a story that takes us back a little bit further than even my last job, which you, and a lot of people know about, and I'll touch on that in a second. So if you go back to around 2000, I built a social networking site in Iowa City, Iowa. This was before Facebook and all of those other, Twitter, all that stuff. I think it was around 2003, I built the site, it was pretty popular and what came out of that were a bunch of clients that I was doing advertising for, building simple websites for.
I was trying to earn as much revenue as possible by helping small businesses build presences or actually just add business to their books. So I went through building sites by hand, and then I decided, well, as I got better at PHP, I thought, maybe I'll include headers and include footers and started to build what was half CMS and half not CMS, something where I was reusing a good amount of code.
Eventually, I started working with Joomla and I played around with Joomla for quite a while. I ended up using it on client sites, and I went to go work for a music company. And I was working there and building sites for them, and at one point there were some issues with the Joomla content based sites. And at some point it was difficult to update the software and I ran into some problems that were not that great, I won't go into what those were, but they weren't that great.
And I found my way to WordPress. And what I loved about WordPress is that WordPress was simple to update, right? As long as you didn't do tons of modifications, usually the updates didn't break things, if you did modifications in the right way.
So that's not editing core files, that's creating future plugins, that's creating child themes, that's doing all of the things that you should be doing as a non cowboy or cowgirl coder and actually building things in the way that they're supposed to be built for WordPress. So as I got to know WordPress, I left that company, I went to go work for GoDaddy.
And while I was at GoDaddy, I was working on other things, but in my spare time playing around with WordPress and playing around with WooCommerce eventually, when it became WooCommerce. At some point at GoDaddy, because of my knowledge with WordPress and software development and things like that, I helped to build out their developer evangelism program, which was cool for WordPress. And in particular, which is when you met me at that event in San Francisco at WooConf.
I eventually left GoDaddy and I was working on my own thing, right? And my own thing was Geek Adventures, where I built eCommerce solutions that would sell tickets to events and would sell clothing , have them fill out their waiver online and would rent camping gear to them. This really put my eCommerce knowledge to the test. So by the time I got to WooCommerce, I had been working on asp.net systems that integrated with Microsoft ERP systems that integrated with the web, right?
I did super enterprise complicated stuff like that. I had helped small businesses work on their eCommerce websites, do online ordering, do online ticket sales and things like that. And then started working on my own and building out my own eCommerce stores. And around the time I decided, hey, maybe I should dip back into this world of WordPress and WooCommerce, because I was kind of missing it. I talked to my buddy, Chris Lema, over at Liquid Web Nexcess because I loved what they were doing with managed WooCommerce as the first management WooCommerce host.
And I said, "Hey, what are you doing over there? I want a piece, let's do this. And he said, "I've been waiting. I've been waiting two years for you to free to come here." So I went over to Liquid Web Nexcess and I've just had a blast playing around with the platform and all of the cool add on plugins and performance tuning and all the fun stuff that really we're doing at a different level than a lot of hosts out there.
Mendel: So that's the intense story, right? That spans like 15 years, something like that, 20 years, but yeah.
What Mendel has learned as co-host of Do the Woo from the Woo builder community
Bob: I have to say you're a very modest person because there's mellow Mendel, everybody always has fun, especially when they meet you in person. And just to know your experience now, your vast experience, everything you've touched on is pretty incredible. I got to say I'm impressed. When I was talking with Brad, our other co-host last week, I was saying that each of you bring in different personality, perspective and experience, and that's what makes this podcast fun.
I can often let you as a co-host or one of the other two run with the show many times, because you connect with guests, especially at that level as a builder, a coder, somebody that's really into the guts of things. So good stuff. And I appreciate you sharing that with us.
I want to move a little bit to the space, but also to the podcast. You've been on the podcast since the beginning of the year as a co-host. Has there been one big thing that has stood out that you've heard over and over from Woo builders or that you've even learned yourself?
A lot of grit and excitement from guests
Mendel: Yeah. I think the thing that stands out the most, especially with Do the Woo, is you do a great job of getting awesome guests. You do a great job of getting awesome guests on the show and they are all, not just builders, but they are people that have a lot of grit and a lot of excitement for what they do. They've clawed their way to where they're at, and in many ways come from a super diverse set of backgrounds and experiences with the web in general. Maybe not even the web, maybe in some cases more than just the web. The thing that stands out with Do the Woo is how willing the community is and how willing people that are, maybe on the outside of the community, looking in or maybe big shots in the greater web community, but how willing they are to come and talk and share their knowledge.
All walks of builder lives
And I credit you a lot, Bob, because you're such a well-known personality in the space. And I think a lot of people respect what you've done through podcasting, through disseminating information and teaching and helping and just being a friendly face. And I think you can really see that in the guests that have been on the show. There've been people that I know of course, Brad himself is a big shot, but then I had a co-host session with Chris Coyier right? He's internet famous. And then you bring in these people that should be internet famous, that maybe aren't as internet famous yet.
So Shannon Shaffer from Purple Finch Studios, oh my God, I loved that particular episode. It was amazing. She's done like 17 things. And then she starts Purple Finch Studio after she masters photography, it's crazy the breadth and depth of not only the guests, but the conversations that you have on the show. And so what stands out to me is the same thing that I've loved since I've first stepped foot into the WooCommerce community and that's the willingness of people inside the community to help each other and share information.
Bob: Well, first of all, I do like to just reach out to anybody. Some podcasts worry about how much listeners will certain guests bring in, I need to get somebody big name and sure. I've been fortunate enough to have some people drop in like that, but also we can bring in anybody, anybody in the Woo space, whether they're just trying to get into it now or they've been around, but they've been in the background for so long. And a lot of these people are, I know personally, they come to me, they maybe don't come to my co-host, but they'll come to me afterwards and say, "You and Mendel made this so much fun. I was nervous as heck."
So I've been lucky to have picked three co-hosts that bring in that extra comfort level. Between the two of us or one of the other co-hosts, we've been able to make them feel relaxed. And some of them say, "Oh, I don't know if I'll have much to talk about." It's amazing just how much they do have to talk about once you get them in that space, you don't put any pressure on them and find out that thing that drives them. Then grow on that and get them excited about it and that's where the conversation just goes.
Thanks to the continued support of our community sponsor, WooCommerce.com, here at Do the Woo our next iteration launches Oct. 6th. If you are a Woo builder of sites, products or services, you are going to want to make sure that Do the Woo is at the top of your list. It’s all about connecting the Woo builder community. I have a ton of great stuff in store for you so make sure and stay tuned in, follow me on Twitter @bobwp and get ready for some serious Wooness.
And for those client sites, keep the WooCommerce marketplace bookmarked for access to a huge variety of extensions that will fit almost any clients needs. Or if you have a Woo plugin yourself, it might be time to consider the marketplace. Just go to WooCommerce.com. And now back to the show.
The WooCommerce community, giving freely
Mendel: When I think about community, when I think about how you pull people on the show that people might know and people might not know, I think one of the pieces of advice that I would give in a way that I try and live my life within the WordPress and WooCommerce world. Want to dub it like the BobWP way of interacting with the community, if you have information to give, give it freely. Give it freely up until a point if somebody needs 40 hours worth of time, then maybe this is something that they might want to consult with you on rather than give freely. But if people have questions, give freely.
If you are not known or you don't feel known, you're probably more known than you think, but it doesn't matter anyway, because people want to answer questions because everybody else wants to seem smart. And if you are known, go out of your way to give back whenever asked and also give back when you're not asked to.
And I think you've really embodied that, Bob, in the guests that you've brought on and in including us as co-hosts, I think that's a special way that you've led your WordPress and WooCommerce life, at least as long as I've known you. So I think it's awesome, I think the show has been really fun up until now, I just hope you don't screw it up in the next few months. Just kidding. Just kidding.
What episodes have stood out to Mendel and why
Bob: Well, I have the three of you to oversee me, because who knows what direction I'll go. But thank you for the kind words, that's very cool.
You had talked a little bit about the show you loved, let's just revisit that a little bit as far as why you liked it. Now they're all great shows. I'm putting a lot on you. But which one or two do you really remember and what makes it stand out in your mind?
Mendel: The two that I think about in recent history are Sandy Batik, that was episode number 60. We talked to her about WooCommerce meetups and the whole idea of lesson plans and learning within the meetups. And then, like I mentioned before, the one with Shannon Shaffer, that was episode 69.
Incredible diversity, experience and expertise
What stuck out to me about both of those is the incredibly diverse background of both people and all of the things that they did to get to the point at which they are and at which they're being successful. I think the cool example that they've set in how they've built their lives and their livelihoods around WordPress and WooCommerce, is that they took the experience and the expertise from other dimensions of their life, right?
Other types of work that they've done, hobbies that they've had, ways that they've approached work in the past and they've continuously reinvented what they've been doing to get to the most successful place. It's like continuously optimizing for what it is that they care about, what they love, what they enjoy doing and just this continuous reinvention.
I think those two people that I've spoken with on this show in particular, embody this idea of the iterative agile process of creating awesomeness within your livelihood. And so I love it. I find stories like theirs inspiring and the way that they've grown, inspiring. And I'm sure, if we were to have them on this show in a year or two years, they'd probably be working on something new or an upgraded version of whatever they're working on now. And I think that's super fun to watch. And it's a super fun thing to try and keep up with.
Learn a bit more about Mendel both professionally and personally
Bob: I totally agree. There has been guests over the years during my podcasting that I've had on more than once, a few of them actually been two or three times. And it's always interesting, no matter what time span it was, sometimes it was maybe even a couple of years or maybe it was a year or less, to see where they're at and what they're doing now. It's fun to watch them grow, just like you said.
And speaking of how we grow and what we've done, what I want to do is move this towards having you tell us something that the people out there, our listeners, don't know about you both professionally and personally. Tell us the dark deep secrets of Mendel.
Mendel, a developer and a happy camper
Mendel: Yeah. So professionally, I'll tell you a story, very few people know this. There are a couple of people that know this, but for the Internet's debut, it was two or three summers before I went to go work for the music company. I still had clients, I decided to go to the Lake of the Ozarks to be a camp counselor and take some special needs kids or campers on some fun adventures, some in Colorado and some elsewhere. I had this Jeep at the time and one of the windows didn't roll up all the way. I purchased the Jeep from somebody and it got T-boned before I got it, and so I was rolling around with this real beat up Jeep.
Anyway, during the day, I'd be helping these kids out, and at night, I would work on web development. I would update client websites and things like that, because I was hustling both at the same time. Well, when I got back from Colorado and the Lake of the Ozarks and I was back in Iowa City, I decided, it's summertime and I've been camping for the past month, why not keep camping? I packed up my apartment, I had a printer in the trunk of my Jeep, I actually had a cat at the time and I would take the cat camping with me. At some point, I decided that was not the best way for the cat to live, so I took the cat to a no-kill shelter, and that's one of the sad moments of that experience.
But I remember when I wanted to prepare to go see a client, I would get a cheap motel. I would take a shower, get a good night's sleep and I would take that printer from the back of my Jeep and I would plug it in and I would print all of my collateral of my packages. In fact, I recently came across the actual packet with all the packages on it, which was pretty awesome. But anyway, I'd print it out and then I would go to my client's office and I would pitch them on a new idea or a new concept for their website. And that's how I lived for a few months until when It started to get cold, and I was still in this mentality, that I was just going to be scrappy and not get an apartment.
At one point, one of my clients who was close to my age said to me, "Hey, Mendel, I just bought a townhouse." He said, "Do you want to rent a room in my townhouse?" And I said, "Yeah. Yeah. Sure." I was a little reluctant, because he's a client, and now he's an old friend, but I ended up renting a room from one of my clients, so I wasn't the roaming the earth web developer. It's a crazy story. It was a funny time. And yeah, not many people know that, but I guess I just put it out into the world. So there you go, world.
Bob: Yeah. That gives it a whole new meaning to Mendel the web developer.
Mendel: That's right. Yeah.
We all have insecurities
Bob: So how about something kind of on the personal side?
Mendel: Yeah. I guess on the personal side, there's nothing I really like more than just having a deep conversation with other people. And sometimes, as many people can be with themselves, I'm very critical with myself, and sometimes I look at the conversations I have and realize that I shared more about myself than that person shared about themselves. And that makes me feel nervous and worried that I didn't get to give them as much of an opportunity to talk as I had. So I guess on a personal side, I have insecurities about conversations and meeting strangers and public speaking and being on podcasts and saying, um, too many times and all of those things.
I think everybody that speaks publicly has those worries and insecurities. And I think it's important for the world to know that, while I am not the best public speaker and I am not the most famous person in the world. A lot of people see me doing things like giving talks and speaking and all that stuff, and while I love it and I love sharing knowledge and I love learning from people, there's always a voice at the back of my head that keeps asking me, did you do it right? Should you have said that? Should you not have said that? So I think, on a personal level, that's something that both drives me to be better and also creates anxiety for me.
Bob: Yeah. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Myself, I can relate to it because there is always that questin, did that conversation work, did that talk go right? Did I go off on some tangent there? What were people thinking? I tell people that when I first started our previous business, and this was in the what? Early 90s, I was really involved with chamber of commerce because we were a local marketing business. And I remember going to networking breakfast where we'd sit around a table and there'd be like about 10 people at the table in a larger room. Then they would go around and you would have to stand up and give your elevator pitch.
And I could not think of anything or listen to what anybody said, because my gut was just in a big knot, waiting for that moment that I had to stand up and speak for 60 seconds or something like that. And yeah, my face would get all red and I'd start feeling almost nauseous, it's like, oh, okay. And I'm just watching as a person next to me finally says something, I know it's my turn. And then I'd get up and most of the time I'd feel like, boy, I really blew that. I sounded horrible. And I just kept making myself do it. And you get to that external comfort level that people are looking at you like, okay, cool. And where you can maybe listen, but there's always that point where still you get that anxiety a bit about it being your turn next.
Bob: Whether it's standing up in front of a crowd or whatever. 'm sure there's some people that handle it a lot better, but I don't think it's human to not have a little bit of anxiety and the heart rate go up a little bit because, hey, you're putting yourself out there no matter what. And whether it's a conversation one-on-one with somebody you may be asking yourself, was I talking too much? I've done it. I've stopped. Mentally, I'm thinking, I better shut up. I need to let this person tell me a little bit about themselves. So I can totally relate.
Mendel: Something my wife reminds me of a lot after I'll walk away from a conversation. I'll say, "Oh my God, I just stuck my foot in my mouth." Or, "I said the wrong thing." Or, "I hope they didn't take that the wrong way." Or something like that. And she says, "Listen, most people are so focused on themselves that they don't even hear it. They're not thinking about it." Which is always a reassuring thing to think about. So these days I try and think, you know what? Yeah, yeah. I said something a little silly. The people that know me will realize that that's just one of my quirks, and the people that don't know me hopefully, are paying too much attention to themselves to notice. So yeah.
Bob: That's a good golden rule to live by there.
Alrighty. Well, this has been fun.
Glad I was able to get you in the guest seat. And also, for me, it also gives me a chance to publicly thank you for coming on at the first of the year. We've known each other for several years and you were a perfect choice in the lineup and it's been a blast and I hope you hang around or I don't scare you off in the near future or anything. And even with your insecurities, you do a great job, people enjoy it, people love coming on and talking. Like I said, guests love all three co-hosts, and I think I've found three jewels.
Where to connect with Mendel
So with that said, how can people connect with you?
Mendel: You can touch base with me personally, @ifyouwillit, on Twitter. Ifyouwillit.com, on the internet. If you need anything, need some advice, need some help optimizing your site, whatever it is, just give me a shout, I'm here for you and I'm available. And part of that is because Liquid Web and Nexcess pays me a salary to not only help Liquid Web and Nexcess customers, but also to help people in the community that need help with eCommerce and with WordPress and things like that. So I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Nexcess.net, the website for the company that pays the bills while I talk and tell you crazy deep secrets about my life.
Mendel: Sorry for that unpaid advertisement, Bob.
Bob: That's perfect. Actually, it's good because I want to thank them too, because I know that they have granted you permission to come on here and be a co-host once a month. So I reach out to them and of course, I will mention, they are my host, the host for both my sites. So I have a special place in my heart for that company as well.
Well, everyone we are launching as I said before, on October 6th,
I want to thank WooCommerce.com one final time for their support. They've been an ongoing support since the beginning of the year and they're going to be continuing their support and we'll be having a lot of cool people come on.
In fact, the week of the launch, that we will be having Allen, who is a developer advocate at WooCommerce, come on. So we'll be able to pick his brain and see what he's up to and some good stuff, and even more Woos.
So appreciate everyone joining us. We'll be back next week with Jonathan, our third co-host, and hear a bit about what Jonathan's doing, and we'll be announcing more about what you can expect with the new Do the Woo. So until next time, take care.
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