On Being the CEO of WooCommerce, Past, Present and Future

Do the Woo Podcast Guest Paul Maiorana Episode 168

Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
On Being the CEO of WooCommerce, Past, Present and Future

It's that time of the year when we ask WooCommerce CEO, Paul Maiorana to join us for a chat on a look back over the year and a bit into 2022. But at the same time we have the opportunity to learn more about Paul's role at WooCommerce and what makes him tick. Join Ronald and Zach as they dive into all things WooCommerce with Paul.

Connect with Paul

  • @pmaiorana
  • WooCommerce

Highlights of the chat with Paul Maiorana

  • That first time stepping into a new role. [01:18]
  • The focus on growing the community and helping store owners and how it has grown over the last couple of years [03:55]
  • Carrying quite a lot of responsibility for millions of livelihoods [06:58]
  • Collaborating with other Automatticians and departments [08:36]
  • WooCommerce and WordPress feed each other and make each other better [10:55]
  • Monitoring other eCommerce platforms and the effect on outlook and strategy [13:44]
  • MailPoet and others bring scalability to WooCommerce [17:31]
  • Scaling extension prices on the marketplace [21:44]
  • The challenge of managing a large team and connecting with each other and hitting targets [25:45]
  • P2: an incredible knowledge base as a byproduct of the way that they work [30:25]
  • Empowering teams [33:10]
  • WooCommerce turning to the very resources that they push forward [38:03]
  • Driving better awareness for WooCommerce [39:27]
  • Leading WooCommerce, but not running a store [42:45]
  • The much bigger opportunity is us working together [46:28]

Thanks to Our Pod Friends


OSTraining has a great collection of WooCommerce tutorials that will help your clients get the most out of their site.

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And, again, whether you're selling physical goods or tickets or you want to build a crowdfunding solution with Woo, you could do all these things. So anyway, so we actually have principles here in the way that we build our commercial commerce and financial products like payments. WooCommerce is at the center of all of that, because we, again, want to dog food and create those different avenues for people to use Woo in however it can support their business. And increasingly commerce is feathered into almost everything that people do. So we think that, that's the future of commerce and that's where we're heading with Woo as well.

BobWP: Hey, BobWP here and welcome to Do the Woo, the WooCommerce builder podcast, episode 168. This show is brought to you by OSTraining.com for the latest and greatest in WordPress and WooCommerce training. And also, Nexcess Managed hosting, with their upcoming big 75% off sale. So let's join co-hosts Ronald Gijsel and and Zach Stepek as they take us on another behind the scenes look at WooCommerce.com.

Ronald: I’m here together with Zach Stepek who's my co-host today. We have also Paul Maiorana, who is the CEO of WooCommerce. How are you both?

Paul: Doing great.

Zach: Doing good.

Paul: Happy to be here.

That first time stepping into a new role. [01:18]

Ronald: Great. Paul, this is really all about you in this episode. So I'm going to try to understand your journey, your thinking and also your leadership within WooCommerce. So bear with me as we dive a little bit deeper and see what we can learn from that. And I think in particular, it is useful for those who maybe new to WooCommerce or maybe those who've been developing with WooCommerce, but not really understanding what the company that keeps it going and developing and making a future proof is all about. So if I can start from the point you started as CEO of WooCommerce. If you transport your memory back to that moment and you stepped into that first time into your chair as a new role, what was going through your mind?

Paul: That's a great question. So I had been on the Woo team for a few years at that point. I've been with Automattic for, actually it'll be 11 years next month, which I keep saying 10 years. This year has gone incredibly fast. It's crazy to be here talking year end stuff already. I can't believe it's November, in any case. So I've been with Automattic for were about 11 years. I initially came in working on our VIP team. Automattic was about 70 people at the time. I think VIP was eight or something. Really tiny. So like a classic startup, wear a lot of hats, but it was mostly working on sales and partnerships.

And about five years ago, I came over to the Woo team lead partnerships, which was, I think, a two person or three person team at the time. Still pretty lean. And then about a couple of years ago, it was around May, is that 2019? I stepped into this role and it's been really exciting. So I've had in my time leading VIP had some experience leading a business here at Automattic. And excited to be stepping back into that role. And I think particularly with WooCommerce, it was literally that month. We've just been seeing tremendous opportunity and growth over the last couple of years, certainly since COVID, the closure of so many physical storefronts and a lot of consumer dollars shifting online and a lot of spending shifting online, had the wind at our backs, but really Woo has just been on an incredible tear and growing tremendously well over the last couple of years.

So just what was on my mind was a lot of excitement to just help better capture this opportunity and help improve the lives of everybody who's out there using WooCommerce and everybody who's not yet using WooCommerce.

The focus on growing the community and helping store owners and how it has grown over the last couple of years [03:55]

Zach: Yeah. I think that it's been really fun watching the growth of WooCommerce over the last couple of years and just seeing an increased focus on things like customer success and really trying to help some of the stores that are just starting out and some of the larger stores that we may not even know are using WooCommerce until they reach out, which is really an amazing part of this platform is that there are stores out there that we don't know about until they become known. And that's amazing.

Can you talk a little bit about how that focus on growing the community and helping store owners has grown over the last couple of years?

Paul: I make the joke here often, and we've been doing a lot of hiring and recruiting that in many ways, we're catching up to our customers. Woo just had this tremendous product market fit from almost the very beginning, certainly well before my time. But Woo celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. And again, it was just like it hit immediately. And it just very clearly filled a need and did it very well in the WordPress world. And where we sit today is, again, we're still very much trying to catch up to the community and all the amazing things that they're doing with WooCommerce and providing anything from great APIs and platform, a great compelling platform for developers to build on to. Yeah. Some of that relationship type stuff, like having a customer success team who can work with our larger accounts to help them just navigate the platform and ensure that they're following best practices and staying on top of all the great things that we have coming. And obviously also a really great opportunity for us to learn from that customer base as well.

I think particularly for stores that are a bit more established and they tend to be working with a larger agency or even have developers on staff, we don't tend to get just through support or a lot of the ways that we get product feedback today, those folks don't always tend to come into those channels. So we have to be more proactive to go out and seek those insights and get a better idea of just how we can help improve the platform, not just for everybody. Certainly for everybody, that's who we really think a lot about the different constituencies. They use WooCommerce, whether it's a DIY merchant or an agency or a small business owner or a mid-market company.

And think in the WordPress world, we don't talk enough about the different customer segments and what they need of our platforms or businesses or whatever. Anyway. So those larger stores, again, this is through customer success, just a great opportunity for us to learn really distinctly what they need from an eCommerce platform that say, a sole proprietor or a small business doing a million dollars a year in sales or less and only a handful of employees, they just have very different needs from the platform.

Carrying quite a lot of responsibility for millions of livelihoods [06:58]

Ronald: It's a huge responsibility, because if you go back to when you started, maybe very black and white, but WooCommerce then was a plugin. It was a plugin that went through a series of updates, added new features and developers just ran with it. And then now, a few years down the line, WooCommerce is now an ecosystem and now it starts to become much more, becomes a platform, but also so tool and the business that's run through WooCommerce. And yet the team is so small. Do you live that consciously that you actually carry quite a lot of responsibility for millions of livelihoods that depend on that, essentially, just a plugin?

Paul: 100%. Yeah, that's what fuels us every day is how can we enable what people love about WooCommerce, the ownership and flexibility, and the ability to sell anything to anyone anywhere, but also to offer them the peace of mind that you would get in a completely centralized SaaS environment. And I think the there's always room for improvement there. We had a security issue this year that, of course, we take security very seriously and are redoubling our efforts on a lot of that work. Scalability also and performance also, really top priority for us as we come into 2022. Again, always has been. But as we, again, grow the team and are able to better invest in some of these areas, that's what we very much want to be doing. We want our customers to have confidence in the platform that they're using to build their livelihoods on top of. And again, we take that very seriously

Collaborating with other Automatticians and departments [08:36]

Ronald: Yeah. How closely do you work together with Automattic, because I know you touched a bit on the security and other services, and I know you come from the VIP background. WooCommerce is its own independent unit with its own support employees team, but how closely do you collaborate with other Automatticians and departments?

Paul: Yeah, very closely. Folks may have heard Matt talk about this model of Berkshire Hathaway for the internet. And that's a transition we've been making over the last few years or so, and now operate much more independently. Woo sets its strategy somewhat independently of, say, WordPress VIP or wordpress.com or Jetpack or Tumblr or some of the other business units that Automattic operates. But there's also a lot of collaboration where we work very closely together with wordpress.com and VIP to ensure a great hosting experience for people using WooCommerce more, small businesses and then all the way up to high end enterprises.

And actually, I think some of the best things or the services and level of support work that VIP provides is the best thing for large stores as we talk about peace of mind. It's one of the best things we can do to help retain large WooCommerce stores on the platform. I've made this joke for now 11 years almost that WordPress was referenced the Spiderman quote, "With great power comes great responsibility."

And I think many folks are running WooCommerce or WordPress sites at scale and doing a great job of it on their own, but many others have a challenge just adhering to best practices or even understanding what those best practices are in the first place. And through our VIP offering, we're able to help provide some of those guardrails. So again, you can have that flexibility that people love about WordPress and WooCommerce, but to balance that with that piece of mind, knowing that if you're going to send an email blast and 10 million people show up on your homepage for a 50% off or something like that, that your site will stand up and be able to respond to that.

So anyway, so lots of collaboration there. Certainly, we have just incredible topnotch security team here at Automattic as well that we work very closely with and many other parts of the company.

WooCommerce and WordPress feed each other and make each other better [10:55]

Zach: Well, and I would say one of the things that really comes out of that I think is in being able to have other teams at Automattic put these things into practice, it pushes the platform forward, because as we're able to see things like full site editing coming around the corner for WordPress itself, and as we are able to take some of the lessons learned from that and apply them to WooCommerce as a whole, we're going to be able to utilize the lessons learned in just the FSE experience in general, for making that experience great for store owners earlier. And so it's phenomenal. See the way that the ecosystem works together, and the two projects really feed each other and make each other better.

Paul: Yeah. And I think that happens quite a bit internally here as well. Automattic operates as somewhat of private open source ecosystem. Once you're in Automattic, you have access to everything, information, data, repositories, code, whatever it is. And many of the things that we're building here with Woo are very complimentary to what other parts of the business across Automattic are up to as well. Like one example, and this is an extreme example because it's crazy, but we made it work, which is Tumblr launched this Post Plus feature earlier this year, which was a premium content model.

Tumblr is not powered by WordPress, but WooCommerce actually powers that feature. And we were able to build it in a way that leverages WooCommerce. And it's not just because we like architecting things in crazy hard to build, but it is because we are that adamant about dog food in WooCommerce and improving it and ensuring that it can really support any commerce, no matter how you envision it. So whether it's, again, this kernel that's supporting a completely different front end and a headless fashion or the classic WordPress WooCommerce monolith type of approach. And, again, whether you're selling physical goods or tickets or you want to build a crowdfunding solution with Woo, you could do all these things.

So anyway, so we actually have principles here in the way that we build our commercial commerce and financial products like payments. WooCommerce is at the center of all of that, because we, again, want to dog food and create those different avenues for people to use Woo in however it can support their business. And increasingly commerce is feathered into almost everything that people do. So we think that, that's the future of commerce and that's where we're heading with Woo as well.

Monitoring other eCommerce platforms and the effect on outlook and strategy [13:44]

Ronald: Would you see yourself as an industry leader, just what you've said earlier about where you think eCommerce is heading? And or are you closely monitoring what other commerce platforms do or just the trend? And how much of that influences your outlook and your long term strategy? And maybe added to that as a follow up is how important is the community to drive what you're focusing on?

Paul: Yeah. Commerce is probably the most competitive space in business at the moment or at least the eCommerce. It's not even just the website builder category. If you put WooCommerce alongside Wix and Squarespace and Shopify and BigCommerce, and I guess, Magento to some degree, although going much further high end enterprise after the Adobe acquisition. So we're always certainly keeping an eye on what our competitors are up to. The state of what makes for table stakes features really in any business. But I think particularly again, just the state of commerce today is there's a lot of just rapid innovation happening. So we're always keeping our eyes peeled and ensuring that we're being competitive, but we also have our own perspective on what exactly the WordPress and WooCommerce communities need.

And I think in particular, if you look at Shopify as maybe the best or most classic example or most direct competitor, I guess. Well, so I would say, one, to answer your question directly, Woo is at least by install numbers very much a leader in eCommerce. It's most popular eCommerce platform on the web, but we all are certainly catching up in some areas as well. And I think one area where Woo has had a lot of strength is catering to developers and building really a great platform for developers to take to market, where Shopify has had out of the gate, a really great turnkey merchant experience for those DIY merchants who have cool idea and they want to get it up in 15 minutes or less or something. Shopify is a really great platform for that. And the work that they now need to do and have been doing to their credit is to make the platform much more developer friendly.

And so Woo has had to do the opposite walk where we've had a really great developer experience. And there's, again, always room for improvement. I'm not saying that, that we're done there. In fact, a lot of attention going there as we come into 2022, but where we have not been as competitive as in the merchant experience. And it's not just the design of WooCommerce, but partially WooCommerce admin has been a response to that. But also just making it more intuitive. And that means having things like email marketing built in, and that's why we acquired MailPoet last year. We think that's endemic to running a store in the year 2021, is being able to build direct customer relationships. And our integrations with Facebook and Google and TikTok now, and all that work at Pinterest. Anyway.

So I'm just rattling off features at this point, but you get the point that we've had to close the gap on the merchant experience side as well. So I think there's trade offs that every company makes. And we've had to trade off a little bit of attention on the developer side of things over the last year or two to catch up a little bit more on the merchant side. But again, as we grow, we're now 350 people working on Woo day in day out, actually a bit more. And I look at across Automattic and other folks that are contributing to WooCommerce projects. And growing, again, tremendously into next year. And as we grow the team, we're able to have fewer and fewer of those trade offs and embrace both the merchant experience and the developer experience.

MailPoet and others bring scalability to WooCommerce [17:31]

Zach: Yeah. I think it's been really fun watching all of that happen and the acquisition of MailPoet. And some of the other things that have been happening are really moving towards something I've been talking about for half a decade now, which is moving some of these things outside of what WordPress is trying to do and using hosted services in a strategic way to make things more efficient. And I think it's really cool to see WooCommerce actually supporting that vision and moving toward that vision even internally to make sure that WooCommerce is doing what WooCommerce does well and that other services are doing what they do well. So things like MailPoet and the ability to handle transactional email and marketing email in an offloaded way are huge for the scalability of the platform. It's not just making the code scalable, it's making the way we use it scalable. And I think it's great to see that.

Paul: And it's also you should not be, if you're a store of any size, but particularly, I think once you start to hit some scale, you should not be sending emails directly from your $5 a month web server. Or even if you can handle the scale and size of your list, but from a deliverability standpoint, those are things that this company can help you with. And you want to reach your customers or payments, probably the most canonical example of something you really don't want to do yourself. And it's very best to outsource to the experts. And actually, we've spent a lot of time working on payments this year and WooCommerce payments in particular.

And that's where I am most excited about some of the work that we've been doing, because as an open source company, and this is always a little awkward to talk about because I think people are not super, at least in the WordPress community, don't often like to talk about Automattic making money, which it is what it is. But I think what WooCommerce payments represents to me is an opportunity to better align ourselves with stores such that we can win together. And that's a big differentiator in a world where it costs hundreds of dollars a year to get up and running with a basic Shopify plan or Wix or Squarespace.

With Woo, again, you need a web host and you can pay for that fairly inexpensively. But if you look at things like we've done recently, including subscription billing functionality or multicurrency functionality into WooCommerce payments, as a store, you're going to pay your 2.9% and 30 cents, at least in the US. Those are the standard payment transaction fees. You're going to pay that to anybody, but if we can include, instead of you having to pay $199 a year for WooCommerce subscriptions or $79 a year for a multicurrency extension. To include those features in WooCommerce payments now, you're able to. Obviously you need payments on your site if you're a store. You have to sell something at the end of the day.

So you're going to pay that 2.9% and 30 cents to somebody, but now you're getting some of that additional functionality that if you're a really small business, a sole proprietor, and you don't have that $200 to pay for WooCommerce subscriptions, you can now get into market and launch your store. And again, now we win together. And as your store grows, we're in a position now where we can continue to invest back into this platform. Anyway. So again, I think payments also represents just a huge opportunity in terms of improving the consumer experience for our shoppers and improving conversion rates and all of that, that I think what is especially interesting is the business model that it represents and what it enables us to do.

And I think we've heard some of this feedback in the past about nickel and diming on it extensions. And I think the WooCommerce community is very competitive on price with our proprietary competitors, ultimately. But again, for a very small business that's getting up and running, it could still be, if you're spending $1,000 on extensions or $500, it could still be that adds up very quickly. So what WooCommerce payment and some additional services that we're launching represent are, again, an opportunity for us to align ourselves with the merchant.

Scaling extension prices on the marketplace [21:44]

Ronald: Will you increased these type of services? Yesterday, interestingly, we had a conversation about scale and how WooCommerce has always served the small medium enterprise. But now, going on towards the very large enterprises that look at maybe a $49 extension thing, is that really going to be good enough for me? But the example of SaaS and payments where you pay depending on scale. And it's probably common, you mentioned yourself hosting email marketing. Will we see more of that within the WooCommerce marketplace?

Paul: Yeah, I think so. Definitely a topic of constant conversation here is what are those sticky issues that people have on their stores that we can help with and that again, align us so that our stores grow? We're able to win together and continue to invest back in this business. And Automattic and WooCommerce, we're very mission driven businesses. And to me, I care a lot about helping. Our mission is to democratize commerce. And what we mean by that in particular is helping to preserve a free and open internet. And we set very aggressive business goals here, because, essentially any store that launches on the internet that is not on WooCommerce and some smaller open source platforms is an erosion of that mission. They're going to proprietary platforms. And that is largely who have been winning over the last few years.

So that is what fuels our ambitions and entering some of these opportunities to expand and introduce new businesses alongside payments and shipping and email marketing. It's all in that vein of how can we help stores. Payments is hard to do. Shipping, we're in a position to offer discounts and a much better experience to our shipping solution. Email marketing, really hard to do if you're trying to do it on your own. So you'll see us expand it to similar categories where we can help people still run in a distributed fashion or decentralized fashion, but to effectively outsource some of those harder parts of the store operation to us.

Ronald: Yeah. There's a lot of speculation around woo.com. Is that something that's on the horizon?

Paul: Yeah, I'll be honest. I think there's not a whole lot to speculate there. We're very happy to have it. No immediate plans or anything to announce really.

Ronald: Okay.

BobWP: Hey BobWP here and I’d like to take a moment to thank to of our 2 Pod Friends for their support of Do the Woo.

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And now back to the show.

The challenge of managing a large team and connecting with each other and hitting targets [25:45]

Ronald: Just going back on your role yourself and how you keep in touch with the 250 plus employees, was it 350?

Paul: 350. Yeah.

Ronald: And growing. 350. It's becoming more and more difficult, of course, to manage a team like that. So how is your day to day role in making sure that all projects are moving forward? I think the bigger challenge is that these teams connect with each other and hit the targets they just set out probably this time of year for next year.

Paul: Yeah. We actually are just wrapping up our annual planning process, which is always more time consuming than I expect it to be, but it is time well spent. Actually, it's an interesting maybe lens through which to look at how we operate here, but we try. For our annual planning process, we've adopted the W framework, because we like Ws here for one. But I think it came out of Airbnb or there's a blog post about it if you Google that. So we have a slightly adapted version of that and the W follows the planning process. And it bridges tops down and bottoms up planning.

So the idea being that typically the leadership team often have a lot of context on higher level strategy and where we need to go. And that's certainly me. I have plenty of thoughts about where we need to go into the future, but certainly the team as well have a tremendous amount of context on what we need to be doing to build and grow this platform and obviously meet our customer needs. So anyway, so we run this process that it really attempts to bring both together. And that's a lot of how we just operate outside of our annual planning process as well is we give just the culture here at Automattic, teams have a lot of autonomy. We tend to engage at that OKR level, like what are you trying to accomplish and what are the results that we should expect to see? And then you figure out how to get there, essentially.

And obviously I'm very invested in all this. And I want to make sure that the plans that we're putting in place are all well coordinated. And a big part of that is we've been building our leadership team over the last year really intentionally. And just a hyper growth environment is the way we've been scaling up. Some of that connective tissue is really important. So bringing in new roles around product operations and again, establishing some new leaders and new teams that didn't even exist. We've never had a sales organization here at Woo before. So we're still early, and like I said, the top of the conversation, catching up to our customers still in many ways. So we're still building out some of those key functions of the business. But yeah, I try to vacillate between what is that forward looking, where do we need to be in six months, 12 months, 18 months, while also saying where are we today and how do we get from point A to point B?

The career path within WooCommerce and becoming part of the Woo family [28:45]

Ronald: Yeah. So if somebody starts new at WooCommerce and they have all the ambition, what's their future? Are doors open to wherever you want to go and move towards and maybe move departments or is it a clear career path? Maybe describe the newcomers, how are they start and become part of this Woo family?

Paul: Well, the Automattic culture is I think no surprised to probably people listening, very much informed by open source communities. And so I think we often describe career development here at Automattic as a little bit of a choose your own adventure. And what I mean by that is certainly we all have our day jobs and our responsibilities that come with the role, but it's also a company where we just have a lot going on. And I think by virtue of the fact that we're distributed and everything is written down here, it's really easy to see what some of those other things are that's going on as well. So if there's something that piques your interest in public policy, for me, I love following along with our legal team and what we're up to and in helping set policy for the internet and some of the letters being sent to Congress. Some of that stuff is intellectually, just interesting to me. So I like to follow along with that.

But if you're an engineer and you're really interested in security, a lot of our work on security is masked on one blog, one P2, that we use. And you can learn through osmosis there almost. I think I've probably got a little far afield of what your original question.

P2: an incredible knowledge base as a byproduct of the way that they work [30:25]

Ronald: No. So you mentioned P2, and we were interviewing Gary last time and he gave us an insight of how extensive that P2 archive has become over all the years and how important it is for anybody.

Paul: It's incredible.

Ronald: So if you step in today, you can go back 10 years and see where 10 years is.

Paul: Totally. We built this incredible knowledge base just as a byproduct of the way that we work. And I guess where I was going with that is, again, as someone who's early in their tenure at Automattic, it just affords you the ability to see where could I go here? And then if you want to start contributing to some of those projects and adding your thoughts on P2 and comments, or whether it's writing code and contributing more directly, we don't set hard lines or guardrails around work here. Again, if you have interest in a project or initiative or whatever it is, then we're happy to have you. So that's what by that open source approach to even how we work internally here.

It's also just, again, hyper growth environment. And we run a lot of just different businesses, different customer segments, enterprise with VIP, small businesses, developers and agencies, advertising businesses through Tumblr and word ads. We've just got a lot going on here in smaller businesses that we're incubating in our other bets divisions, our R&D or labs division. Anyway. So that just also creates a lot of opportunity for people to grow and again, find something here that really suits their interest in whatever motivates them.

Leading right from the front or encouraging the teams to do that thing and make it work [32:05]

Ronald: As a CEO, do you find yourself leading right from the front or more from the bank where you encourage the teams to do that thing and make it work or do you set up a very clear vision daily, weekly, monthly, annually of this is where I want to go based on this research?

Paul: Yeah. It's a little bit of both. I've been increasingly... My son over the last year and a half or so has transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. And I don't know if this is familiar to you all or your audience at all, but they talk a lot about being scout leader led in Cub Scouts. And as they move into Boy Scouts, they're a bit older, now the boys lead the troop and the leaders are following. So that's metaphor, I guess, has been very much on my mind as Woo has been growing, we've been building out our leadership team a bit more. Certainly, again, it's important to be setting a vision and high level direction for the team, but again, we really want to build that autonomy. So we want to ensure everybody's heading in the right direction, but how we get there is very much for our teams to define.

Empowering teams [33:10]

Zach: One of the things that I did when I was a leader was very much to focus on empowering the teams under me and removing impediments that were in their way. That type of servant leadership is a huge part of who I am. And I see a lot of that in you and in how the team at Automattic and at WooCommerce works as well. So it's very cool to see.

Paul: Yeah. We definitely try to embody that here. And I think that just makes for good work. People want to know. And you create the space for new leaders to emerge. And I think we've all been in a room where you're the most senior person or the leader in the room, and you could get a sense that people are disagreeing with you, but people are maybe a little afraid to stick their neck out and say it. So we try to create an environment where we love disagreement. And again, that it's like it doesn't matter where you sit in the organization, we very much operate as...

I think people get confused. We talk a lot about how Automattic is a flat company or a flat organization, and certainly we have our hierarchies. I report to Matt, people report to me, people report to them. And that just helps from a focus standpoint. And it just makes it a little bit more obvious of how decisions get made. But at the end of the day, you should operate in a very flat way. So if someone who reports to somebody who is in a different division at Automattic or it's not like they have to go up through their boss who can talk to me and then back down or something, it's like, that's silly. So we should just all put some of that baggage to the side and just do the work that we need to do. And again, whether that's disagreeing with each other or whatever it is. I don't know. That's the culture that we try to create here

The importance of community to drive the popularity and success of WooCommerce [34:50]

Ronald: Community. So community is a really important part for WordPress. I've been doing a lot of WooCommerce meetups myself. I know to try to expand the audience is ups and downs purely because of the different lockdowns in different countries. How important do you think that the WooCommerce is to drive the popularity, but also the success of WooCommerce?

Paul: Yeah, it's huge. The community generally, I think particularly, the developer agency, freelancer community that bring WooCommerce stores online, that's a big part of helping realize the vision of Woo. We tell people you can... And certainly the platform affords the ability to do anything with WooCommerce, but that's not accessible to everybody. You often need a developer to help realize your vision. And certainly a lot of the work that we're doing leveraging things full side editing and Gutenberg is to close that gap, but it's still hard to build the store. Even if it's a proprietary turnkey offering, making decisions around what shipping policies you're going to support or who is the best payments' provider for exactly what you're trying to do. Again, if you don't live and breathe this step, those are hard decisions to navigate.

So we always see while we're always focused on improving the, again, usability and accessibility and just how intuitive our user experience is, that's not intended to erode the role that experts play in our ecosystem as well. And so I mentioned earlier, we've had this Woo experts program that we've run for many years and has been in a little bit of maintenance mode hiatus for a little while as we've been rethinking how that should work. And, well, no announcements to make today, but certainly, as we come into 2022, you'll see a lot of activity there around just better embracing the developer community and working much more closely together and providing better trainings and better documentation and opportunities for better commercial relationships with WooCommerce as well. And mobile indexing on agencies, because that's just been a topic of conversation here quite a bit over the last few months. And again, I think will be a big part of the next year for us.

But also just the broader ecosystem. I think I didn't answer this question earlier, but as we think about expansion and where we go next. One of the really great things about being part of this huge open source ecosystem is that we're able to punch above our weight and only be 350 people, but still competing with companies that are 10 times the size of us, because of that open source strength. Not only will we get through WordPress and the contributions there and direct contributions to WooCommerce itself, but also people building amazing extensions and apps and themes for WooCommerce that, again, we just don't have the capabilities to do all of that ourselves. So that's, again, just a huge benefit to being part of the WooCommerce ecosystem and why we really are investing not just in agencies, but the overall community as well. We have a number of openings for developer advocates and community folks at the moment.

WooCommerce turning to the very resources that they push forward [38:03]

Zach: Well, the other thing that I think is really interesting there is you mentioned that WooCommerce likes to dog food and that Automattic as a whole likes to. And I see WooCommerce turning to the very resources that they push forward for other people to use when there's a need for additional resourcing that isn't internal.

Paul: Yeah. We work with a number of the top WordPress agencies to augment what our teams are doing. And it's been particularly hard with engineer hiring and recruiting. We're not the only company, but over the last year, 18 months through COVID has been really hard. And we've wanted to grow the team a lot more than we've been able to do. And we're in great shape now certainly, but six, 12, 18 months ago, I think we were having challenges reconciling all of the great work that we want to do to support our community, particularly through again, COVID in this really stressful time in people's lives. Anyway. Working with some of our friends in the WordPress community has been really great. We get not just an opportunity to help accelerate what we're trying to do and help small businesses, but also just bring in folks who have maybe a bit of a different perspective from this team. So it's been great to get some of those insights as well.

Driving better awareness for WooCommerce [39:27]

Ronald: Do you think there'll be a return after WooConf? I know you've run that a number of years.

Paul: Yeah, I'd love to. We actually just brought on a new chief marketing officer, our first chief marketing officer, or least since in my time leading Woo. And I think one of the big things that are very much on our mind is just how to drive better awareness for WooCommerce. I think, again, it's such a frankly bizarre juxtaposition of the role that WooCommerce plays over $30 billion we'll run through this platform this year. Three million stores out there using the platform and having great success with it, most popular eCommerce platform.

Ronald: That's some amazing figures. That's fantastic.

Paul: It's incredible. And that's 50% growth nearly from last year, which was itself an incredible year just as a result of the tailwinds from COVID. So just a tremendous presence that this platform has. But if you're not in eCommerce or maybe FinTech or certainly in the WordPress community, you haven't heard of it in many ways. So I think there's just also a very big opportunity for all of us who work on Woo that as we invest in just driving better awareness for this platform, I think that also creates a lot of opportunity for this ecosystem, not just for us as a platform, but agencies and hosts and extension developers and everything in between.

Ronald: I remember, I think it was Yotpo who went to a WooCommerce conference. No, sorry, not WooCommerce back upon. An eCommerce fair, I believe it was in Belgium, being asked who do you work for? And this is only maybe last year or two years ago, WooCommerce. And few people heard of it. And I had very much the similar experience maybe three, four years ago. WooCommerce has been under the radar, but I do see that in the last few years, that a lot of big enterprises, those who provide services within eCommerce now want to connect with WooCommerce. They want to be part of this winning formula and to be seen as part of that.

Paul: That's right. But I think where we need to drive better awareness is into the merchant community itself, and I think into the developer community outside of WordPress. But I think, again, it just represents a lot of opportunity for us. And I guess just to circle back to the question, I would very much love to do a WooCom. I was only able to go to one in my time in working on Woo. And it was fantastic. And I think this is just such a passionate community of people trying do some stuff online, but it's hard to replicate that experience of being together with hundreds of other people that are focused on commerce. But also we share that mission around democratizing commerce as well.

Ronald: Yeah. I'm curious, you said you've got a son probably now coming to an age where he starts to be interested in also computers and maybe installing his first WooCommerce store. Is that something you're practically working with him? I've got sons myself on a similar set of age, and it's fantastic to go back to basics and surprisingly, just going through the whole process, how things have changed, but also, it gives you really good insight of what you're building and what you're experiencing through different views or different eyes.

Leading WooCommerce, but not running a store [42:45]

Paul: Totally. That's been one of the hardest things for me in operating Woo has been I don't have a great reason today to use WooCommerce as a platform in my own personal life. I don't run a store. And I've been trying to figure out what is that thing that I could run on the side that would actually connect with people where I would sell something, not to make money, but so I can actually walk in the shoes of a merchant and have that empathy and again, just better experience our platform and where we need to improve. And I haven't quite hooked on that idea yet. But my son, actually, he's taking a bit of a different direction, very into gaming. And he's been building a lot of... He's learning, I think, is it Lua that he builds a lot of Roblox games? And so that's been exciting to watch.

But my daughter, Maggie, is 10 and she is very into building crafts and art projects and stuff. So we've been talking about setting up a store for her to sell some of the things that she makes. So I think that will be my first WooCommerce dog fooding project. I, of course, have dozens of test stores set up, but it's very different when there's a real customer and real dollars exchanged.

Ronald: I see a theme here, because there are so many people I've spoken to and this is ecosystem that have kids and started to dabble with WooCommerce. And some are more serious than others, but there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from, well, first of all, teaching kids. And surprisingly, how easy they take on Gutenberg and using block editor as if there's never been an issue.

Paul: Yeah, that's great.

Ronald: So that's interesting to see. But yeah, whether that's a kids WordCamp, whether there's an education side of teaching kids on commerce and building a living online. It's something very interesting.

Paul: And that's, again, one of the really great things that the community has brought to bear, is that I think we've got a lot to do to just build out some of that. It's like tutorials and help for people. And I think that's a role that the community has just played so well, and just for WordPress generally. You can hit Google and type in something about WordPress and you're probably going to find an answer to it. And I think that is just a huge part of being part of this ecosystem.

Ronald: Yeah. Because the kids and probably your kids have a similar sort of they have to learn to cook in school and use resistant materials. But really they should be learning eCommerce.

Paul: I would think so. And actually, I didn't intend to come here and talk about scouts so much. But my daughter is a girls scout as well. And a big part of why they sell the cookies and stuff, a big part of this theme of Girl Scouts is entrepreneurship. And maybe there's a partnership there we can do, Woo and the Girl Scouts. Create some training programs for all these girls. Yeah.

Ronald: Zach, have you got a final thought question to share with Paul?

Zach: Just that it is really cool to see everything happening. And I'm often surprised by the things that come out, but I'm always behind them. And it's very neat to see the growth. So one last thing is maybe rotations through the WordPress swag store. A good idea in the support rotations.

Paul: Yeah, that's a good point. We could do more of that. That's a good idea.

Ronald: Yeah. So what Zach mentioned as well is being part of this ecosystem. And there's no secret we are sometimes on opposite ends. But also in the past, we've learned to start to collaborate. And I think that there's a lot more in the pipeline on that. And having that open source and open conversation as part of this community is really quite special. And it's something I take great pride in and want to make sure that we keep that going for many years, because I think that, that's what makes WooCommerce totally special to any other commerce platform.

The much bigger opportunity is us working together [46:28]

Paul: I agree. Yeah. We try to truly embrace being open, not just from obviously core technology standpoint and being open source, but in the way that we approach partnerships and working with other companies around the ecosystem, because at the end of the day, if we're all fighting amongst ourselves, then all the proprietary platforms are going to win. We'll be distracted over here. And the much bigger opportunity is us working together to again, help preserve a free and open internet and erode this stranglehold that many proprietary platforms have over really key elements of the web. So that's very much how we operate here and I think you'll see a lot more of that into the future.

Ronald: That's probably a really nice way to end this podcast. Paul, if people want to get in touch with you, what's the easiest way?

Paul: Yeah, sure. And please do. I'm on Twitter at Pmaiorana, that's P-M-A-I-O-R-A-N-A or my email address is just pm@automattic.com. And I'd love to hear from folks.

Ronald: Well, thank you all very much for your time.

Paul: Thanks, guys.

BobWP: Hey everyone, BobWP here, thanks again for tuning in to today's show. I would like to give one more shoutout to our two Pod friends. Find the best WordPress and Woo tutorials over on OSTraining.com and don't mess the Black Friday sale on all managed hosting at Nexcess.net.

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