Reflections on an Acquisition with Laura Nelson

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Reflections on an Acquisition with Laura Nelson
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End of last year it was announced that WooCommerce had acquired MailPoet. As a result Laura Nelson, the marketing manager at MailPoet now joined a larger organization as a Content Marketer.

Often the conversation of an acquisition comes from the owners. But this time around Laura shares her experiences and insights during what can be viewed as both an exciting and challenging time.

A Chat with Laura

Mendel and I talk with Laura about:

  • Laura’s path to WooCommerce
  • How did it transpire and what the first reaction she had when she was informed of the sale
  • How and if the culture of MailPoet has changed since the acquisition
  • Where and how are the efforts of the marketing team divided with MailPoet and the other Woo products
  • What has been her experience having to market what could be potentially competitive products
  • Her two pieces of advice for people who are any part of a company that is acquired
  • How to communicate with your current customers in lieu of an acquisition

Connect with Laura

Thanks to Our Pod Friends

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Mendel: Ladies and gentlemen, today's a very special day because it is episode 133, 133, folks, of Do the Woo. Welcome. Hey Bob, how are you?

Bob: I'm good, Mendel. It is special because of 133.

Mendel: Yeah, 133 has significance on the Mayan calendar. That's a lie. I have no idea.

Bob: No, it isn't.

Mendel: You know what, 133 is just not even a fun number, 133.

Bob: It's really kind of boring.

Mendel: It's not like 113, it's not like 150, good and round. But it's going to be a good episode.

Bob: It's actually a very odd number. So you can't be that excited about it. But that's never the less of another side of ...

Mendel: I never thought about how insignificant 133 really is, nobody really thinks about 133. But here's the deal, when it's your podcast, Bob, 133 is epic. And today we have an epic guest on the show. Bob, why don't you introduce our guest today?

Bob: You want me to? Okay. Well, okay. I think the problem is he got into that 133 thing and it threw him all off his course there because he thought he would be much more inspiring.

Mendel: Forget it. Ladies and gentlemen, today we have Laura Nelson. And we are going to talk a little bit about Mail Poetry. But before we do that, hello, Laura. Welcome.

Laura: Hey. Thanks for having me. It's nice to meet you both.

Mendel: Yeah. So we're super excited to have you on the show today. And in true to Do The Woo form, I think, Bob, what's the first question that you ask every guest. I can't think of it. It has something to do with the name of the podcast.

Bob: Are you having mental problems today, Mendel? It seems like, ever since 133, I'm sorry, but Laura, how do you do the woo?

Laura: So how I do the woo, through my role as a content marketer at WooCommerce. So I'm part of the marketing team at Woo. And then I also spend a bit of my time continuing to market MailPoet, who were acquired by WooCommerce back in December.

Mendel: Okay. So before we get into MailPoet and before we get into what content marketing is all about, let's talk a little bit about how you got to Woo in the first place.

Laura: Sure.

Mendel: How did you start out on your path to Woo-dom ?

Laura: My path to Woo-dom, probably, I didn't even realize this at the time, started maybe 10 years ago, when at uni I started a blog on wordpress.com about video games. And it was through that small amount of WordPress experience that I landed my first job for a very tiny agency who only built websites in WordPress and I was their marketing person there. And then I guess since then I've worked in-house, everywhere I've worked has only ever used WordPress. So I've worked in-house at a recruitment agency, which is interesting, as their marketing manager. And then I worked, I spent a few years at a UK WordPress agency called Pragmatic, who are now part of Angry Creative.

Laura: And I'd say that was really the point where I really started getting into WordPress and WooCommerce, that was definitely the first time I was introduced to the community. I went to my first Word Count in 2016, which was WordCamp Europe in Vienna. It's pretty epic first WordCamp to go to. And yeah, since then I've organized WordCamps, I've spoken at them. I spoke at WooConf actually, talking more focused on WooCommerce a few years ago, at the last one, in real life.

Laura: And now, joined Mail Poet in beginning of 2020. And it all changed in the dramatic year that was 2020. And ended up at WooCommerce in December, which was unexpected. But overall very good.

Mendel: Yeah. So, you started building content and then you started marketing content and then you ended up over at Woo. Is that a good summary? And somewhere in between there, you did a whole lot of craziness with the WooCommerce and the WordPress community and spending time talking and learning and teaching. And so what was your background? What were you in school for when you were at university?

Laura: So I studied media studies, and I always wanted to write, I always loved getting involved with digital content I'd say. What better platform than WordPress to do that.

Bob: So let's step back a bit into what transpired, which was not that long ago. And there's a few things we could touch on with that. But do you want to just synopsize the experience of when you were told this merger acquisition was going to happen? And I've never asked anybody that has gone through this. What was your first reaction or impression to it when you started to learn exactly what was going to happen?

Laura: Yeah. So I remember the day well. In the morning, Kim, who was the CEO of MailPoet put in Slack saying that he had an urgent but very exciting announcement to make at midday. And we all had to wait. I remember the hour feeling, I think it was 11:00 AM my time then, the hour to 12 was the longest hour ever. And it seemed we were all chatting to each other and just like, "What is going on?"

Laura: And that was when he made the announcement that MailPoet had been acquired by WooCommerce. I think it was pure shock. I didn't see it coming at all. I had no idea. He'd been chatting to the folks at WooCommerce. If anyone's ever met Kim before, they'll know, he's a very, very open guy. We had a very open structure at Mail Poet. Everybody knew all about the financials. We knew how much each of us were getting paid. He was the most open CEO I've ever known. So for him to keep this a secret, I think was eating him up and also made it even more shocking because we knew everything that was going on normally.

Mendel: That's kind of the nature of acquisitions though, that everybody wants to keep things quiet. Everybody wants to be secretive about the transaction and the money and the assets and how it went down and why it went down and what you're going to do afterwards. And that's how things are. So, it's not super surprising that a normal CEO would keep that from the company. But it sounds like the culture at MailPoet was very open and honest.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah, it was. And I completely understand why he couldn't tell us. And actually we weren't able to say anything for a good month until after we'd been told.

Mendel: All right. So you say that the culture at Mail Poet was pretty open. And then the acquisition happened. How long ago was it? Was it six months or was it a year?

Laura: Yeah, six months or just over six months now.

Mendel: Okay. So, how has the culture changed, if at all, over the past six months, since joining Woo.

Laura: It is different because there was 13 of us at MailPoet and there are 1300 of us at Automattic. So, . I think we're all feeling pretty overwhelmed. However, the MailPoet team has remained pretty much exactly the same since the move over. So, culture-wise, it's very similar. And I think MailPoet and Automattic and WooCommerce specifically have quite good shared values and openness and transparency, the way we communicate. I think also the type of people that work there, I'm not sure if you know this, but part of the acquisition process is assessing how well the team will fit in with the existing team at Automattic or wherever they're going to be all part of, they're going to be placed in. So yeah, it's been really good and it hasn't changed a whole lot to be perfectly honest.

Mendel: How about your role as far as, how did that, obviously your role changes because you have a different probably communication in place and all that, but maybe some of the significant stuff that really changed with your role?

Laura: Yeah. So even though I just said it hasn't changed that much, that's the case definitely for the rest of the MailPoet team. My role was a slightly different one, in which two months after joining, I was moved to a completely different team. And my role sits inside the WooCommerce marketing team now. And I spend probably about 75% of my time working on WooCommerce stuff, and the rest of my time on MailPoet. Which is weird separating it like that because MailPoet is part of WooCommerce now.

Laura: But pretty much my entire career, I either worked in incredibly small marketing teams or on my own. And at Mail Poet, I was the only marketer, which has its bonuses. You call the shots, you decide what you're going to do, you're in charge of how you stretch your day and everything. But I've definitely been enjoying working as part of the team. They're all lovely, and it's just really fun. Stuff I used to bore the engineers with at MailPoet, getting excited about some really nice microcopy or, oh, look how great this email marketing is from this brand. Stuff which I think I had a different appreciation for than other people. And now I have a whole team of people that I can share that with who share similar excitement.

Mendel: Yeah, that's pretty interesting. So how big is the WooCommerce marketing team then? You joined a team of five people, 10 people?

Laura: I think when I joined there was nine or 10 and now there are, I think we've just, I think number 14 has just started or has just been given an offer. So, since I've joined it's already grown quite a bit. So actually I officially joined Woo marketing team at the end of January. So between now and then, there's been an additional three or four people join.

Mendel: Wow. So, really bulking up there.

Laura: Yeah. And a lot more hiring plans in the future too.

Mendel: That's cool.

Laura: It's great. Yeah.

Mendel: So, the idea being that it's important to get the word out about WooCommerce and then it's important to get the word out about all of the other things, all of the other components within WooCommerce or related to WooCommerce. Now, we haven't seen a whole lot of MailPoet integration yet with WooCommerce, as far as the actual WooCommerce product.

Mendel: I'm curious how this all works out within the WooCommerce marketing team. Because if MailPoet is being handled through the WooCommerce marketing team, there must be other add-ons or plugins that Automattic is using that marketing team to market. And I'm curious if there are others like MailPoet, or if that's a very particular situation within the marketing team. That part of the work is to MailPoet, and part of the work is to WooCommerce or are there others that are under that umbrella as well?

Laura: It's totally unique to MailPoet. And I couldn't tell you why, maybe in the future when more acquisitions happen, that might also be the case. I think it really depends on how that team is set up prior to joining Woo or Automattic. So yeah, no one else in my team divides their time like I do, in such a structured way in terms of I have a day plus per week to spend on this totally different business. But I guess other acquisitions have been more involved. So for example, AutomateWoo from a couple of years ago, that's embedded more within the Woo marketing team's responsibilities.

Mendel: Now, we know you're not a product manager. We know that you are not an owner. We know that you're not somebody necessarily that is directly charting the course of the MailPoet project. But you have to have lots of opinions because you've been working on this. And as a marketer, you're intimately involved with knowing all of the aspects of the product. And so I'm curious how you would see, I'm not asking for plans, I don't want you to give us any proprietary information or anything, although that stuff's good, if you want to give it to us, that's cool. But what I'm curious about is in your ideal world, if you're thinking about the Jetson's future, the Star Trek future of where MailPoet and WooCommerce go. How would you see the two intertwining, integrating, becoming a part of each other's lives and helping each other out?

Laura: Yeah. So this is what I would like. This isn't necessarily what's going to happen. Disclaimer here. I think, well, to me, email marketing is a fundamental part of running an ecommerce store. And I guess some merchants know this and understand that, others not so much. So it would be, I guess, intertwining Mail Poet way more deeply within WooCommerce and the WooCommerce products as well. In particular, say for example, with WooCommerce subscriptions. When you subscribe to receive a product on a regular basis, email communication is so, so important. And it would be great if Mail Poet was, when you buy WooCommerce subscriptions, Mail Poet, and that email functionality, just came as a part of it. So it was part of your setup, it involves email comms and that's handled by MailPoet. And same with WooCommerce memberships.

Laura: And also, I feel it could integrate really nicely with AutomateWoo and the functionality that AutomateWoo has. So I guess a lot of the functionality that we'd love to see in MailPoet already exists with AutomateWoo, and I think it makes sense to merge those two together a lot closer. So it's about, each have their own different sets of benefits there and you can make it one excellent solution for stores.

Laura: But aside from that, I guess just developing more ecommerce specific functionality. And I know that's already high up on the priority list, that is going to be happening. I don't know exactly what yet. But just to go deeper into WooCommerce and find ways that we can help merchants market to their customers a lot easier and lot quicker. Without it being another thing they have to think about.

Bob: One of the questions, somebody came up when we had Clara as a guest who is on your team, and I think alluded to it a little bit, what Mendel was asking about, but the fact that MailPoet, you are actually part of WooCommerce, but in their marketplace, they are also have the balance of extensions that are connecting to other mail services, email services. And I think in particular episode, they said, is there a priority? Well, it's got to be internally a priority to MailPoet. But how do you in the whole marketing scheme of things, and being on the team, I mean, you're sometimes probably looking at extensions that are basically, go and hook up to this mail service, email service, as opposed to MailPoet. Anything you want to reflect on that. I thought it was an interesting question. And I can't remember exactly how Clara addressed that. But just from your experience, how you perceive that, or it's like, oh, it's all good because there's a total separation there obviously.

Laura: It's an interesting one. And actually joining, it was quite odd having to, I felt like I was almost betraying Mail Poet when I had to start talking about other well known email providers. But I think it's, I mean, this is again totally in WooCommerce style and like an ethos, it's giving people the choice.

Laura: So Mail Poet isn't for everybody. And it doesn't do all the things that you might want it to do. And equally other providers might not do the exact things that you want them to do. Which is why you'd go to Mail Poet. So, I have definitely become more comfortable with that now. And reminding myself, you know what, this is all about the user. And the user's going to, like how I had done in my own marketing career, try out different solutions and then come to the one that suits my needs.

Laura: And I think it's really nice that we're giving people such a selection. It's awesome that so many different extensions that provide various email services work so nicely with WooCommerce. But it is a little bit odd sometimes.

Bob: Yeah, I imagine it is.

Laura: Definitely my first month, I was finding, I had to take a step back if I was mentioning Mail Poet in a blog post or in something that we were promoting. It's like, am I promoting this because I've just come from Mail Poet and therefore my loyalty is a hundred percent there? Or am I doing this for the right reason that I think it's going to be the most suitable solution in this circumstance. So it took a while to get my head around that.

Bob: Oh yeah, I imagine.

Mendel: So let's steer away from the MailPoet conversation, the WooCommerce conversation, heck, forget about WordPress for a second. And I don't even want to talk about your history anymore. What I am curious about is the way it feels, and maybe some advice you have, if you have a couple pieces of advice for people that are part of a company that is acquired. Because unless you've been living under a rock, you've seen tons of acquisitions in the WordPress and WooCommerce space, right?

Laura: Yeah.

Mendel: And a lot of them have been plugging companies or software companies. So what advice do you have for people that have grown with a software company and then been acquired by a larger company? Or even just by another software company, because there's some consolidation in that way as well. What advice do you have?

Laura: I would say, it's totally normal to be terrified. And so don't be concerned that you are terrified. Because it's a huge change and of course it's normal to worry about, is my job going to be safe? Am I going like the work I'm going to be doing? Am I going to like the team, et cetera? I guess with that in mind, is to just embrace the experience. Change is terrifying, as humans we hate it. And our brains, when that happens, go into this alert mode of like, oh no, this is bad, this is bad. Just try and learn and get as much out of it as you possibly can. It's a really interesting experience.

Laura: And I think, at least in my experience of it, it's been a really positive one. And people are excited to have you, so don't ever think that the team that you're joining are going to be upset that you're going to be there. So try and enjoy it. And open your mind to learning different ways of doing things, new perspectives, just soak up as much as you possibly can. And remember, if you don't like it, it's an experience that you have learned something from, and you can apply that to a different venture if that's what suits you.

Mendel: And it's not for everybody. They do that culture check, at least companies that are savvy with acquisitions do this culture check. And it may be that you're not into the culture of the new company or you're not into the role of the new company. And I think so many people try and do it anyway. And I think you have to check in with yourself sometimes and say, is this still for me? Is that your take too?

Laura: Yeah, definitely. And even though they, like Automattic have run this culture check, and I feel like I'm fortunate that it's working well for me, just the change of going from a 13 person company to a 1300 one, even if the culture is the same or largely the same, is huge. And some people, it's just not for them. It absolutely just doesn't suit the way they work or their beliefs in championing the smaller company or the smaller work environment. So yeah, you definitely have to check in with yourself and make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Work's more than just the paycheck you get every month, you have to enjoy what you're doing and who you're working with. And if that isn't right, then get out and move on, do what you'd like to do.

Mendel: Yeah. When you're talking about just the paycheck, that never works out well, right?

Laura: No.

Mendel: If you don't really love what you're doing, then forget the money.

Laura: A hundred percent. Life's too short. You're doing this five days a week, eight hours a day plus probably, and it's the majority of your life.

Bob: Okay. To add onto that, maybe a little bit of advice from you from the customer side. Now, you're a marketer, by the nature of your business communication is important, that's what your business is about and that's what you encourage other people to do. And everybody always thinks of this. What happens at that moment when you go through something like this and your customers start saying, whoa, what's happening? How did you take that on? And do you have, again, like Mendel asked, any advice? Because that's an important transition there to be clear and good communication to make sure everything is smooth with your customers.

Laura: Yeah. I'm going to be honest, it was hard for me to, because I was in charge of our communication basically from MailPoet to our customers, and it is really hard to be reassuring. Which is what you need to be when you don't know exactly what's happening and what's going to happen yourself. So listen to the facts that you've been given, don't let your brain fill in any gaps with intrusive thoughts of, you don't know if this is really going to happen. You should just make sure you're having open and honest conversations with the other party, which obviously in my case is about asking the right questions.

Laura: If a customer asked me, am I still going to be able to use MailPoet for my newsletters if I don't have a WooCommerce store? Am I a hundred percent correct in saying, yeah, they absolutely will. And I actually created the FAQ document before I created the announcement. I just went through what could possibly be in our customer's mind. Also in my own. And I shared that with WooCommerce and asked them to input on it as well, as well as adding what I thought was going to happen. Yeah. So just make sure you're totally aligned with the other party. And I guess try not to freak out.

Bob: It's neither the time or the place to start putting a spin on things, that's for sure.

Laura: Oh no. Stick to the facts, and if you don't know, you need to be honest, you can't promise that things are going to stay the same forever. You can't, people ask me about pricing and features and stuff like that, and I realized I couldn't have even answered that if it was just MailPoet staying as MailPoet. Any business needs to change their pricing at some point for one reason or another, their features are going to change. For example, like the upcoming Apple update, which is going to block email opens and stuff, things happen that is going to change your business. And yeah, just trying to be as reassuring as possible without promising anything that you can't a hundred percent stick to.

Mendel: Yeah, that's key, not promising more than you can actually promise. I think there are a lot of people that have to then back out of what they've said afterwards. And that's even worse for PR, right?

Laura: That's when things get messy.

Bob: Especially if it happens on Twitter, that's where it really, really becomes a problem.

Laura: That will come back to haunt you for sure.

Mendel: I just think it's so cool to talk to somebody that's been through this acquisition process recently. I really appreciate all of your time and your expertise and all of the knowledge that you've dropped. If you are a part of a company that is being acquired, or if you're going through this transition yourself, maybe Laura is a good resource in the future if you have a question. So Laura, how can people get ahold of you if they do have a question for you?

Laura: Yeah, sure. So I'm in the WooCommerce community Slack. You can find me, just fire my name, Laura Nelson, if you didn't catch it before. I'm also on Twitter, Laura_Nelson_ and LinkedIn, you can find me, you'll see my picture, there are a million Laura Nelsons in the world, but yeah, I'm the one who works at Automattic. And yeah, I'm super honest and open about the experiences, absolutely no sugar coating here, it was terrifying, but awesome at the same time.

Bob: Perfect. I love the conversation, and you're right on, Mendel, it's great to hear it firsthand, because sometimes we hear about it, we think about it, but we don't always know what's actually being experienced even as an individual in the process. Well, want to thank our pod friends once again, a Wayflyer.com and from 10up, they're elasticpress.io, do check them out, appreciate their support as always. And Laura, really appreciate you joining us today.

Laura: Thank you for having me, it's been great to chat.

Bob: All right, everyone, from Mendel and I, we are signing off, just keep on doing the Woo.