This week we chat with Joseph McClellan with Mode Effect. The conversation jumps from his move into the project manager role from being the front-end developer to their recent acquisition of Amplify Plugins. We also talk about how the last year or two has been for Mode Effect and some thoughts on the Woo/eCommerce space moving forward.
A Chat with Joseph
Brad and I talk with Joseph about:
- His journey from blogging with WordPress to Woo development
- The acquisition of Amplify Plugins
- How he moved from being the front-end developer to Project Manager
- When the shift for new clients will be even more strongly focused on the “futuristic tools” such as more drag and drop components
- Joseph’s reflections on what point there is a need for that dedicated project manager
- What he has seen and his thoughts on the growth of eCommerce over the last 16 months and where it’s heading
- Existing and successful online eCommerce sites and their needs during the impact of COVID
Connect with Joseph
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Bob: Hey everyone, BobWP here, episode 142 of Do the Woo. I am here with Brad Williams. Hey Brad, how you doing?
Brad: Good. How you doing Bob?
Bob: I'm doing good. We are two thirds through summer, how do you feel about that?
Brad: It's going fast. It felt like it was snowing yesterday and then now it's a 100 degrees and before you know it, it'll be snowing again.
Bob: Yeah, really.
Brad: It is going fast but I'm looking forward to fall. Cooler weather, leaves falling, hot drinks, fires, all that good stuff.
Bob: Yeah. I've heard that pretty consistently. Lot of people looking, especially after this summer, looking forward to fall. Well, I want to dive right into this because we have a lot to talk about, some good things happening with our guest. I'd like to welcome Joseph McClellan from Mode Effect. Hey Joseph, welcome to the show.
Joseph: Hi Bob. Thank you. It's cool to be here.
Bob: And I know you're in kind of a hot spot too, aren't you? I don't want to say that in the wrong kind of way these days, but weather wise.
Joseph: Yeah, it seems like the whole country's a hotspot right now, but yes. Living in Phoenix, I am always looking forward to summer being over.
Brad: I'm sure you are. Little warmer there than probably by Bob or myself.
Joseph: Yeah, our fall starts and it's like everybody else's summer. It's nice out. I'm looking forward to the shorts and t-shirt weather after the horrible heat of the summer.
Bob: Yeah. That's an interesting perspective. Anyway, well cool. Let's go ahead and dive right in. Typically, the first question that comes out of our mouths is, how do you do the Woo? Just tell us a little bit of what you do in the Woo space.
Joseph: Yeah, sure. Mode Effect, working for Mode Effect, we do a lot of eCommerce sites and we actually have a shop that does asp.net storefront and we also have a shop that does WooCommerce. That's where I grew up in the web development industry, working on WooCommerce sites. And I guess actually prior to WooCommerce, just WordPress in general. Cody and I have a long history together, eight years or so. Don't fact check me on that, I could be a little off. We've got a lot of clients, we're building some cool things with WooCommerce right now and looking forward to doing even more cool stuff in the future.
Bob: Alrighty. Well, so you mentioned WordPress and then WooCommerce. Can you kind of encapsulate a little bit your journey, how you got into WordPress and then how WooCommerce came along?
Joseph: Wow. My journey is kind of interesting, I guess. Well, to me anyway. I actually started out, I found WordPress when I was in college. I was in school for business and finance and I was really into personal finance and investing and just stuff like that. I actually started a finance blog and just set it up using WordPress. I knew nothing about WordPress at the time. I wanted to do stuff to the blog that I didn't know how to do just out of the box with WordPress and just plugins that were available so I started diving into CSS a little bit and from there digging into some PHP, et cetera. My personal finance blog got me into WordPress.
Brad: I was going to say that's a very typical a story. That's pretty much how I think a lot of us, including myself, got involved. Started a blog, everyone said WordPress was the blogging tool to use and wanted to start changing things.
Joseph: For sure. And I don't know if you're all like me, but let the blog languish at that point. I can't remember the last time I updated my personal finance blog.
Bob: How did this WooCommerce thing come into play?
Joseph: It was just a decision that Cody and John, the other co-founder of the company decided just to pivot into doing WooCommerce eCommerce work. I think a lot of it had to do the fact that, like I said, we have another team that does storefront and they already were eCommerce consultants and Cody and John got together and kind of merged their two companies years ago and decided to just make the entire company focused on eCommerce. That's where we pivoted, I guess, into eCommerce.
Brad: Yeah. And that's something we've seen in the past, however many years is, well WordPress, there's a ton of work in WordPress. It can be hard to market to the WordPress global sphere, if you will, because how do you market to, we could build anything and everything with WordPress, it's a hard message to get across. But what we've seen in the past five, six, seven years or so is people really niching down even further into WordPress, like Cody and you guys have done over there at Mode Effect where you said, "Great. Yes, we focus on WordPress but we're going even further than that. We focus on a particular application of WordPress, which is WooCommerce and eCommerce stores."
I think that's a genius, especially for anyone listening that might be trying to get into the commercial side of WordPress as either starting a business or working with somebody, but find that niche that really resonates with you and then go all in. It's just a much easier thing to market. You're marketing WooCommerce, you're marketing eCommerce versus just we can build a website that does anything. That's a hard message to sell.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. And that's where we felt, at the time we were all over the place, making sites for anybody and everybody, like you said, Brad. And it's better to focus, it's easier to focus, not just from a sales perspective, but now all of our consultants and developers are eCommerce experts.
Bob: Let's move over a little bit. I want to talk about maybe some of the stuff you're doing at Mode Effect, projects and clients. But what's interesting we caught you at the cusp of just making a acquisition of a plugin shop. And this is something that you're seeing more and more in this space and people are diversifying basically what they're doing. This is Amplify Plugins and I don't know where we want to start. Maybe initially why or what was the idea behind wanting to actively seek that out? Or was it something that fell into your lap?
Joseph: It was an active look. It didn't just fall into our lap. Honestly, I don't know the story of specifically how we found Scott. I know Cody knew Scott already as I'm sure John did just from meetups, et cetera. But it was intentional. Absolutely. We've been looking to move more into a product space on the WooCommerce site as well. And we've built a couple of custom unreleased plugins for our clients that we think do good things to WooCommerce sites but we don't really have a product expert on the team. We made the conscious decision to go out and try to find someone who could help us with products. And that's where Scott came in. We're pretty excited. I'm excited to have him on the team. Looking forward to picking his brain.
Brad: Yeah. It definitely seems like a good fit. You look at going into a product space. At first being an agency and then going into product space might on the surface sound a little bit odd but if you look at it, these products line up with exactly what you're doing over there at Mode Effect. These are WooCommerce specific products, plugins, add ons for WooCommerce and WordPress. Out of the gate, it just makes a lot of sense. It's not like some arbitrary plugin that just is making sales and you wanted to bring it under the umbrella. It's an add on enhancement for your clients. And I'm sure continue to grow that side of the house, grow those products and who doesn't like making money when they sleep? Having some product income is never a bad thing, in my opinion. Diversify a little bit.
Bob: Why don't you tell us more what you specifically do at Mode Effect, what your position is and what your role is?
I'm curious how the mindset of an eCommerce business owner, as some of these kind of platform changing enhancements are coming and have been coming for a few years now around Gutenberg and specifically around WooCommerce, what are you seeing? Are clients join it? Do they not even care? Just curious about the trends you're seeing on that side.
Joseph: What I'm seeing is they don't care that much. eCommerce shop owners, their biggest concern is conversions. And for the most part, I haven't really had a client come to me and ask specific questions about the tech and how things work. They just want an easy way to add products and convert products. I haven't really had a chance to geek out with anybody on the client side about any of the cool stuff that WordPress is doing recently at least.
Brad: Yeah. It's interesting because I think on the content side, outside of eCommerce we're just talking about big media sites or just media sites in general, they don't have to be huge, but I feel like that area at least from my perspective with my company is we're seeing a lot more of that coming in the door with that in mind. Hey, we want to upgrade, we want to get to Gutenberg. Most of the clients, most people out there probably dabbled with WordPress might even already be on WordPress so it's less selling WordPress and more about, let's talk about the next iteration of WordPress, which is really making a block base and fully support Gutenberg. Build it out with that in mind. On the media side, we're seeing a lot of clients come in the door that already have that mindset, they want that. Or existing clients we're having conversations of okay, do we want to start rolling that out? Do we want to look at revamping the site or upgrading the site to support that?
I'm curious, like you said, conversion is king. That's that will always be king when it comes to eCommerce is making sales because that's the whole point. I'm very interested and as we talk with builders and creators, maybe we'll figure this out, but very interested when that starts happening on the eCommerce side. When they started saying, "Hey, we need these more futuristic tools, if you will, or more drag and drop based components." Because it does give them a lot of power. If it's built right it can give them a lot of tools and power at their fingertips to help with conversion. I'm interested to see when it will come. I know WooCommerce is behind because it's supposed to be. But at some point I think that shift is going to happen and I'm very interested to see when it happens. Is it going to be this year? Is it going to be more into next year? I don't know.
Joseph: Yeah. That's a good question. I feel like it's going to happen eventually as well but I would be surprised if it happened this year, at least from what I'm seeing. I feel like Gutenberg needs to be a little more well baked. Not that it's not, it's awesome. It's pretty cool already as it is. They've come a long way since they launched it. But it just seems like most of our eCommerce clients are a little slow to adopt the newest technologies. And for good reason.
Brad: Yeah. And honestly, it's hard to be first. I think once more eCommerce sites, WooCommerce specifically really take hold of this and implement, support Gutenberg and really either relaunch or whatever, redesign their site to be more block based with Gutenberg support. And then people see that and realize the power of it via WordCamps or presentations and it kind of gets out there, I think it will really help justify the power of it.
I think the coolest thing about Gutenberg in my opinion with WooCommerce is the fact that it's, you can start manipulating things like the checkout screens and the cart screens through Gutenberg and using blocks, which again, if it's implemented correctly, is it could be a bit of a game changer that store owners could actually make some pretty impactful changes on their checkout or cart screens without code. Could seriously be a game changer if it's done correctly. You don't want anyone just making changes on your cart screen or checkout but I think the idea of that and being able to actually see, oh, here's a store making tens of millions of dollars a year and they are doing it and using it. I think it's going to kick that door wide open. The question is who's actually going to be out there showing off what they're doing to kick that door open.
Joseph: Right. Absolutely. Man, I wish I could say we have something in the pipeline that we're going to show off but I don't have a current relaunch of a site that's fully block driven yet to show off. I'm looking forward to doing one though.
Brad: Yeah. It's coming. And the type of people we have on the show, the builders, the creators are the ones that are going to be building it like you and your team. At some point you're right, I want to see that too. And at some point we will get there. It's going to be very exciting.
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And now back to the show.
Bob: I want to step back to your role as project manager and because you have an interesting perception of it. Typically a lot of times a project manager, I don't know, maybe historically it doesn't always happen within, somebody that's already working there. We need a project manager, we're going to bring somebody in at this point. You have this small freelancer or the small shop that's maybe one or two people and that's kind of how they're happy. Then you have the bigger shops like you and Brad have. Those shops between, that are growing, there's probably a point they may consider or say, "Hey, we need a project manager." You having been there for this many years and actually lived it, what was the point where, okay, we do need a project manager? What made that decision? And maybe it wasn't something specific. It was just naturally we're at this point, we need to do it. But is there anything reflecting on that when you took over that it was like, we need somebody dedicated for this?
Joseph: Right. Historically Cody was the PM. He would keep things moving and keeping me on task and whoever else was around at the time. And I think it's just a matter of once Mode Effect and Morrison Consulting merged and became the new Mode Effect, Cody took on more of a leadership perspective, role and also deeper sales role as well and just didn't have the time to keep up on projects. We had an internal chat about it and decided that I'd take over. It wasn't honestly super complicated. I didn't see it coming necessarily. We talked about it. I was like, okay. Yeah, sure. I'll take it on.
Joseph: It's been a tough transition. I am not going to lie. Going from doing my best to avoid meetings at all costs as a developer, to doing my best to keep as many meetings as I can to keep things moving is a big transition. It's been tough and I've learned a lot along the way and I'm still learning a lot. Maybe it would have been a better call to go for it outside project manager but this is the decision we made and we're going with it at least for now.
Brad: And that's the fun thing about small businesses, at the end of the day, there's a lot of experimenting and if you're not in a smaller business or if you haven't ran one, you may not realize that, but it is a lot of exactly what you kind of just described, Joseph, of well, let's try this and see if it works. And if it doesn't, we'll pivot or maybe make a few adjustments, but that is how many of us, probably all of us figure out what we're doing here is by trying things. And I always tell the team, the classic saying, we're not trying to turn the Titanic here. When you're a small business, you can make changes, you can make process changes, you can change roles very quickly and see what works. And very quickly you'll probably realize if it's a terrible idea and you can pivot, switch back or pivot. But trying things, experimenting, I think is one of the really kind of fun and exciting sides of running a business.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely.
Bob: It was a catch 22 because in a way it's great because you moved into that role knowing the business. Somebody wasn't coming in not knowing how things work. But then at the same time, it was a personal challenge because you were in a totally different role and you were instead of avoiding the calendar, you were filling the calendar.
Joseph: Yeah, it's definitely a big mind shift, big change.
Bob: We've talked about this in quite a few shows and it's interesting to hear as we kind of move along is, there was a bump, people saw more people wanting eCommerce sites during this last year and a half. And you being in the role you are, you probably saw growth or saw that impact. I'm kind of curious because I've heard it both ways from people as far as now where we're at and kind of moving forward, is that staying pretty steady? Is there somewhat us coming to you because of they feel like the frantic part is over with or something? Or is it more of a security for the future? I don't know if you've noticed that as far as kind of the growth on eCommerce sites, maybe in just the last two or three months versus the last 16 months.
Joseph: To me it feels like it's slowed down a little bit in the past two to three months versus the past 16 months. When COVID happened, nobody knew where we were going to go or what was going to happen but it was a boon for eCommerce. And honestly, we have been busier in the last two years than we've probably ever been by a long shot. Which is why we're doing so much hiring and training new employees and whatnot. But it does seem to have slowed down a little bit in the past couple of months. People are getting back out, I guess. I don't know if companies are just putting less into their eCommerce shops now.
Brad: It's that summer slowdown.
Joseph: And that's it too. It's usually slow in the summer. It's still busy. I still think historically it's busier than it was three years ago but it has slowed down a little bit.
Brad: Yeah. I truly don't think that trend is going to change because I got to believe in the world we're in now, having everything we've been through at this point, any business that's going to start is going to be online first. You have to be. You have to have that in mind, whether you're a restaurant or whatever, it doesn't matter. You're going to have to be thinking about what happens if we have to close? How do we sustain? And how do you do that? By making it people can buy your items, buy your services online. I fully expect that all businesses going forward will hopefully have that mindset. At least the ones that are probably going to make it. And they're going to come to people like Mode Effect for help in that effort.
Joseph: Right. Absolutely. I would agree with you. I think the growth is just going to continue for sure.
Brad: And you mention that you've been busier the last two years than ever. It's really interesting when things like this happen and they don't happen often but when I started WebDevStudios, it was in 2008 and kind of at the spring of 2008 and if you remember the timeline there, basically the whole economy was collapsing in about by the fall of 2008. In retrospect that, while at the time it was scary that all the big massive companies are going under, housing market was in a bad spot and I'm starting a company. It sounds crazy. But to your point, what you just said, what happened is people realized, hey, I need to diversify. Maybe I shouldn't have all my money in stocks or maybe I shouldn't have all my money in real estate or something. I need to diversify.
We had a lot of customers coming into the door through those early days that were exactly that, they had an idea that's been in their head for a few years and they said, "You know what? I'm going to do it." And so in some strange way, the economic issues around 2008, 2009 actually helped jumpstart WebDevStudios. And I would imagine to your point that we're going to see some similar things, we are already seeing similar things with how busy everybody is. In a weird way for certain businesses, this pandemic has done well for them. Obviously not everybody, but certainly some.
Joseph: Yeah, absolutely. This probably isn't the correct phrase, but desperation breeds necessity. For me personally, when I started on my self employment path back when I was still a contractor for Mode Effect rather than a full-time employee, I had been laid off from a job. And I didn't know what else to do. I did know that I enjoyed writing code from messing around with my blog. I went to this local working joint called a Gangplank here in Phoenix and I met Cody by happenstance. And the rest is history, I guess.
Bob: Very cool. Now, I have a question for both of you and this is something I thought about, I've never asked and I don't want to dwell on this last year and a half but with your existing clients that were doing very well online before everything and continuing to do online very well, did any of them come to you for specific needs during this whole 16 months? Not based on we need to buff things up because we're losing business, but based on what was happening.
Brad: On my side, we definitely work with clients of all size from small business, all the way up to Microsoft. And on the larger size, of the enterprise side, there was definitely, most of our clients did really well. Campbell Soup is one of our clients. They did well selling canned goods did well over the pandemic because people were really stocking up, especially early on, if you remember.
What we ended up doing while at first, everything just kind of stopped because nobody knew what the impact was going to be so budgets were frozen and projects were paused or whatever. But what ended up happening is we worked with them on a number of initiatives specifically because of the pandemic. One of them being for kids, it was a save the snow day campaign. The idea being kids are all home and doing remote learning but that shouldn't mean they don't get those special days when you get a snow day. And, Joseph, you probably don't get many of those in Phoenix.
Joseph: I don't know what that is.
Brad: Maybe you get an excessive heat day or something.
In states they get snow, there were snow days. If there's a big snow storm, of course the kids aren't going to go to school, it's dangerous. And that's a really special day for a kid. Unexpected day off of school and you go sledding all day and it's magical. We were helping with specific campaigns around stuff like that, which I thought was really cool. Because it was, yes, there's obviously the marketing angle to it, but it also felt like good causes that they were trying to really help with kids and other things through their campaigns. That was interesting and fun and really what we saw throughout the pandemic, stuff like that.
Bob: Was there anything Joseph that kind of stands out to you?
Joseph: We've had a few clients that we've rebuilt their eCommerce sites or in the process of doing so over the last, since COVID started back in March last year, but to my knowledge, as far as I know it was already pre-planned. Some of these redesigns take a while, sometimes between the design phase, which can drag on to development, it can take sometimes six months to a year. Honestly, it's going to depend on the client.
Brad: Yeah, this has been a great show, Joseph. I think it's always interesting to hear different people's perspectives, builders and creators and obviously you have an interesting path going from a developer into more of kind of a PM role or product manager role. Definitely some different experiences and looking at the same thing from very different ways. I thought what you said about meetings, I thought really it's funny, but it also resonates. As a product manager, product owner, meetings are critical but as a developer, you just want to code.
Joseph: They're just a hindrance. For sure.
Brad: You got to find that nice middle ground on both sides.
Brad: It was very fun to hear about your journey and some of the things you've been working on.
Joseph: Yeah, for sure. And I think it's helpful too, coming from a developer background. I'm a little bit more able to help out or visualize how long it's going to take a developer to do something than maybe someone who doesn't have any background in that at all. And I think it's also helpful that I came from that side where I'm like, I hate meetings, please don't make me go on this meeting to now I'm scheduling meeting for developers. To me, hopefully my team agrees and if they don't, I'm going to keep working on it. But I don't want to schedule a meeting if there's really no point to it. I want to keep things on point and moving along. And if we don't need to be talking anymore, there's no need for it. Let's let a developer do what they want to do, which is write code. Hopefully, I don't know, I think coming from my developer background, it's been helpful.
Brad: Yeah. Anyone that was a developer that moves into kind of a different position, I think is in a good spot. They're going to have that special set of skills, like you mentioned, that technical side that you know. I've always felt, I was very fortunate in the position I am because I am a developer too and I'm running a company. If you look at the other agency owners out there, many of them are not developers and I think that would be extremely difficult.
I know it is because I talk to them and we're friends and it is difficult because they don't know on the surface if they're looking at something and they'll, oh yeah, that's correct what I'm hearing or if something doesn't sound right, that's not adding up I need to dig in more. They don't necessarily have that direct knowledge so they really have to lean on their team and their leadership team. But just having that background as being a developer, whatever other role you end up in, in my opinion, is only going to help you excel in that new role.
Cool. Well with that, Bob, why don't we go ahead and wrap it up. And Joseph, why don't you let everyone know where they could find you online if they want to connect?
Joseph: The best way to reach me or Cody or anyone is just tweet us @modeeffect or just go to modeeffect.com and fill out the contact form. I keep an eye on that too.
Brad: Awesome. Yeah, definitely check out Mode Effect. They got a lot of really great content up there. Cody and I always like to talk and strategize about our content marketing plans because he's always just put out a lot of great content. Even if you don't necessarily work with Mode Effect, check out their content because there's just a lot of really good tips and tricks when running an eCommerce store over on your blog there.
Joseph: Oh, I was just going to say, hopefully we're launching a redesign of our site this year at some point too, using blocks.
Brad: All right. We'll hold you to that because there's nothing harder to launch than your own website.
Joseph: Oh my gosh, I know. It's been a work in progress for far too long.
Brad: If you have some extra time, I need someone to build my website.
Joseph: I need someone to work on my blog that I haven't updated probably for six years.
Brad: We have a new design and probably just like you, new design ready to go and we have no time to build it. Classic cobbler shoes.
Bob: That's why I'm hiring somebody.
Brad: Yeah, I heard you're hiring one of the top agencies in the world, so I'm excited to see what they produce, Bob.
Bob: Yeah. Yeah. I know. We'll have to talk about that soon.
Brad: Yeah, there's a little tease. Keep an eye on Do the Woo website and you'll see what's coming soon. But definitely I want to thank our two pod friends as well. Make sure you check them out at nexus.net and yoast.com. Bob, anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
Bob: Yes, Yoast has that summer school. I mentioned it earlier in the show and that actually starts on the day of the show and I'm pretty sure you can sign in afterwards and catch up on it but they have some cool stuff. Four sessions, should be pretty interesting.
Brad: That's right. I'm going to be checking that out as well.
Bob: Yeah, I think that's about it.
Brad: Awesome. Well for Bob, I'm Brad with Do the Woo and we will catch you on the next episode.
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