#504 WP-Tonic Show With Special Guest Josh Pollock of Caldera Forms/Ninja Forms

We Discuss Good & Bad Points of WordPress Development

Josh Pollock is a co-founder at Ingot and one of the lead developers behind CalderaWP.

In addition to being a plugin developer, educator, and entrepreneur, Josh is a regular contributor to Torque magazine and various WordPress tutorial sites, one of which being his own blog. Additionally, Josh is a WordCamps speaker and one of the leading advocates for the WordPress REST API. Josh currently resides in Florida with his wife Alicia and their pets.

Jonathon: Welcome folks to the WP Tonic show. This is episode 504, and we’ve got a special guest. He’s been on the show before it was a blast. So we thought we would ask him back and that’s Josh Pollock. And he is the founder of [inaudible 00:00:29] foams. I’m going to let him introduce himself quickly. Josh, can you introduce yourself quickly to the listeners and viewers?

Josh: Hi, thanks for having me on. My name is Josh Pollock. I work at a company called Saturday drive. We make a Ninja forms, color form, send-wp and some other cool word press stuff. Before that I worked at Caldera-company called Caldera WP. I was a coder there acquired by the company, Granada Ninja forms. It was about a year ago. Now it’s just one big thing and I work on the team that builds those three plugins: Ninja forms, color forms and send-wp.

Jonathon: That sounds great. Before we go into the main part of the interview, I like to mention our sponsors because without their help, we couldn’t continue giving you the shows. And so we will start off with Kinsta, a WordPress hosting company. They’ve been our major sponsor for over two years now. We’ve been using Kinsta to host the WP Tonic website for over three years. They’re a fantastic host. They only specialize in Word Press. If you’re looking for yourself or for clients, really great professional hosting company. They can help you with word-commerce, membership website, anything that needs a bit of extra oomph. I would suggest you go over to you could choose a lot of worse. What you get with Kinsta, is a Google cloud, they host all their sites using Google cloud. You get a superb custom interface.

The mainframe is you get some of the best support on the market. You get support staff that really understand WordPress. I’ve never had an inquiry escalated. I’m the person that first answered it, dealt with it. And if you’re using some other hosting companies, which I won’t mention, that’s unusual. So if that sounds good for yourself or for your clients go over to Kinsta. Buy one of their packages and the main thing is tell them that you heard about them on the WP tonic show. Our other sponsor is WP fusion, which is a fantastic company. If you’ve got a CRM active campaign drip, there’s a lot of them on the market at the present moment.

You will really want to integrate your WordPress website with one of these CRMs. You need WP Fusion. It’s a fantastic company like Kinsta, fantastic support, and it’s just an amazing product. So if you’re looking for real integration with WordPress, you will see our realm of choice. Go out to WP fusion have a look at what they have to offer. You can cannot be blind in a way. Well, let’s go into the main part of the show, Josh. So what led to the decision to sell [inaudible 00:03:37] to need your forms? Do they just make you awful? Or did you come to a stage where you felt that you just couldn’t push the company any further?

Josh: Yeah. So, we being a small company with eight products and no outside funding-isn’t easy. We did it for a while, I was a co-owner with Christie Trios. She got a great opportunity at that time, to go and work at Liquid Web, with Chris Llama on the manage from commerce, the sound nexus and word commerce. It was like this great opportunity. It’s better than this. It’s more like work with Chris. That’s great. And then it’s like, but what about me? And so, cause there’s a lot of people using it, and I feel like a lot of them felt like it was a part-time thing because it was right. I was doing other things to make money and things like that. We wanted to make sure the plugin was solid, make sure the team was getting taken care of. I could have run the company myself, but that sounded really boring. Like being a business owner is really hard and it’s an interesting challenge. But at the end of the day, I like writing code, so it was really about like, here’s where we are.

There’s a couple pass and I want to write code. I want to see this thing finished. I want to work on new things beyond just this. We had been working for a long time on trying to come out with a second product under the Caldera name or pivot to other things. [inaudible 05:24] is an okay business. We have a lot of more free features than we needed. And it’s just kind of hard to do, as a small team to do the kind of things that we wanted to do. So this was a cool opportunity to go work with whom I always referred to as my favorite competitors. I like seeing these folks around, talking to James and Kevin about stuff there. DMS and stuff, t hey’re always really helpful to me.

For years this was just an opportunity. Kevin reached out- one of the founders reach out to me. I went to visit them in Tennessee. I mean, it was just the right thing to do when things didn’t feel very sustainable and work a good fit for me. I was in this position- to run the company and that doesn’t sound fun. So, this was just a different opportunity, that’s been real interesting for me.

Jonathon: Oh, I totally understand. You explained the cool reasons really quite clearly.
I think it’s been over a year since, the takeover time. Why do you think they were interested in buying Caldera? What did they get from the deal?

Josh: Well, I mean it’s a product, it makes money, right? Businesses need to make money. Because then they can do things like pay people, and I like that part. This is my first job since-I don’t like full time job since no comment. Probably the longest one I’ve ever had, like not working for myself. This is definitely 10 months, the longest job I’ve ever had. So, that’s a neat thing for me. I think the company is growing. Diversifying beyond data forms. Data forms is very successful. It makes money to pay for people and things like that.
Moving Ninja forms forward in a lot of ways, that’s something in terms of new features. [Inaudible 00:07:39] Working with parks and things like that, stuff I’ve been working on. I really enjoy setting up testing, and automation and that kind of call. Automated quality control, which any software project can benefit from. And I’m really interested in the [inaudible 00:07:59] stuff. The end of the block editor thinks that to plug in to like Ninja forms needs. The company Saturday drive, the company that built Ninja Forms is going in this year from being a small but growing, all in one city team to a distributed team. Half the company is in one city, and perhaps around the world. So before I got there, everybody was in Cleveland, Tennessee in an office.

There’s now a coworking space, which has been shut down because of COVID-19. But in Cleveland, Tennessee next to the coffee shop, there’s no office. And I think we’re at the Piper about half of the employees are remote and that was my reality before all of this. But this is all brand new to most of the people at the company and the leadership. So bringing in people from- the people came from Caldera were from all over the world. I was the only person in the US that came over. So it’s been an opportunity to look at the difference between an 80-person team; than an office team and a remote distributed team. You don’t help that culture change.

Jonathon: That’s really interesting. What was some of the main lessons you’ve learned from that process?

Josh: This is something that I think James, the founder/CEO said very early is. Implicit versus explicit knowledge that in an office, there can be a lot of implicit knowledge because somebody can say, Hey, how do we do this? And somebody else can answer. And you trust that somebody around is going to know the answer, or who do you go to? And that’s fairly quick when you’re all in the same building. You said, hey, UNO has the answer to this. And if they tell you to walk down the hall, they tell you to walk down the hall, but it’s still quick. And in a remote distributed business, I pretty much always developed cut air forms with somebody who’s in Western Europe or South Africa. So I’m really used to- and I’m East Coast US. So I’m really used to working with people who might do most of their work while not at work.

So if I don’t make it really explicit, what I want, they can’t do their job. If I don’t make the procedures, the things that they need to do it the right way to have access. If the Stripe API keys aren’t inked, and they have to DM me and ask for straight API keys, and it’s four in the morning. Where if I’m not responding, there’s going to have to wait until 10:00 AM. So that kind of stuff, that’s explicit knowledge that I think any distributed remote business needs to have, because it allows people to work independently. And that’s really what the key to remote work is, knowing that people can work independently the right way.

Jonathon: I think you pointed out something, cause my team that helps me with WP-Fusion. It’s all distributed, but it’s blended. I have two people based in the US that helped me. And I have about three to four people that are outside the US, so we’re blended company. And we’ve got some US people, and we’ve got some offshore, but it’s all distributed. But I think what you’ve just explained, you’ve done a fantastic job there actually, because that is the crux of the difference. If you’ve ever worked in office environment and then worked as a distributed group, that’s the main differences.

Josh: Yeah. It’s as simple as the straight API keys- one of the first things we were working on when we started. After the transition, was Stripe updates for Ninja forms and Caldera forms because the regulation that was changing. And they changed the API’s to support it, we needed to change our plugins. There are integrations and I didn’t have strict API keys. And I brought this up and it was a whole new thing. And it turned out previously in the office. It was just that somebody had them- everybody kind of had one and wherever they were, they were running down somewhere. And I was at course working with somebody in France, and he was gone and I couldn’t ask him for it. It was that way, past that reasonable hour of the deck, I was in the middle of my workday. I think for people going remote, that’s probably the reason people spend so much time on these interminable in calls it is because they don’t have anything written down they’re papering over.

Jonathon: Well, I think also technology plays a key part. A lot of people–my company our main technology that we use is teamwork to communicate internally with. And we’ve been with that for about four years, that platform. And I looked at a number of different platforms and that’s the one that I jelled with. Initially, we might be moving away from teamwork the next couple of weeks to a competitor, which is a massive task. I know a lot of people using Slack. What’s the technology that you use inside your company to communicate with?

Josh: Basic Camp, which I’m super happy about. I don’t have any Slack in my life and I can’t be happier with that. I think Slack is the worst tool for productivity. I think that any business going remote that wants to go orderly shouldn’t use Slack because they don’t just distract everybody. And it’s a bad way to communicate about work. I think the chat and text- I love chat and text. I use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, all that, to talk with my friends and group texts. Like I’m way better on writing than speaking. I love it, but for business, I think the only problem with Base Camp is, it has a chat function. The good thing about Base Camp chat function is not very good and you can turn it off for the most part besides the DM’s. But if they could get rid of that, it would be an almost perfect piece of software. It’s really focused on isolated projects. You can add people and remove people, everything’s searchable very well.

It loads real fast. The mobile app is great and it makes sense that the company Base Camp would put out a project management software that feels humane. Like most project management systems are designed around putting humans into the units of work. So that whole human resources. Like you have eight hours of [inaudible 00:15:34] and you should be able to do these tasks. Then you can measure how many tasks for human unit. I really liked the Base Camp seems to be built around communicating in a productive way.

Jonathon: We have to discuss that. Keep that in mind what you just said. That’s an interesting statement you just made, but we’ve got to go for our break, Josh. But we will back in a few moments with Josh Pollock. We’ve had a fascinating conversation already. Josh is a really interesting guy. We’ll be back in a few moments folks.

Announcer: Are you a WordPress consultant designer or small digital agency owner? Then you need WP Tonic as your trusted white label developer partner for your next big E-learning or Woo-Commerce project. WP-Tonic has the knowledge to help you build out custom functionality that your clients need and learn-dash lifter, LMS and Woo-Commerce. WP-Tonic is well known and trusted in the WordPress community. They stand behind their work with a full, no-question asked 30 day, money back guarantee. So don’t delay, find out how WP-Tonic with white label services can help your agency today. Go to wp-tonic.com homepage and book, a free consultation with Jonathan that’s WP dash tonic, just like the podcast.

Jonathon: Welcome back. We’ve got Josh Pollock he’s well known in the WordPress community. We’ve had already-so you made that point before the break about communication. Can you explain a little bit what you meant with that last statement?

Josh: Oh great. So we also use Base Camp shape up, a project management system. So they have a piece of software called Base Camp. They also have a book called ‘Shape up”, which explains how to do project work, and we’re using a form of it. I think anybody should read this book. It’s online, it’s free and short. I really recommend it, but it sets up for time-based work in a way that makes sense. And I think that my major grape with the software at scale is generally that we tend reduce work to tasks that get done. And then we can kind of measure them based on if they get done or not. And how many hours they take and points and things like that. And this really doesn’t make sense to how humans do creative work.

I like what Base Camp does, things like draw progress on a hill, right? That’s kind of how humans do perfect. We struggle to figure it out and then it comes together, and we come down the other side. So it’s a really neat way to track progress visually. And it just avoids like- Asana has this really like endless to-do list, which I used to believe in very much. I was like, I can get timelines for everything. And then I’ll have a calendar to you. And then, Oh, well look, and it’s all just magic. Right. It’s magical thinking. I just found that of all the project management systems, I don’t know what we should promote a product, but I work on not paying for it. I just really think that getting away from Slack, getting away from real time that it only sort of yelling communication to slack. It has really made my life better. I don’t miss it.

Jonathon: So, I suppose you’ve never worked in kind of office environments yourself then. Or have you always settled for remote?

Josh: Yeah. Before in the last year at Caldera, we had an office that we would occasionally go to at a coworking space. At one point there was three of us there at a seven. I mean I used to work in the music industry, so that was more in person, but not offices. I don’t really, I can’t imagine going to work in an office that sounds boring.

Jonathon: So I can’t really ask you to compare working in an office and working as remote. Cause you’ve always been pretty remote. So we won’t delve there because you can’t compare. So lets move the conversation on to different area there. But I think what we’ve discussed around the software and remote teams has been quite fascinating, actually. I was surprised we went down that road actually, but I think with your help we’ve come up with some great stuff there. Thank you for that. Let’s talk about WordPress and UX design because it spins-I was interested because you’ve been in this. You also involved Mr. [inaudible 20:24]. Are you involved in pods quite a bit as well?

Josh: Yeah. I mean, that was my first WordPress job. I worked there starting support and eventually it was like community manager slash junior developer. I started fixing bugs there. It’s kind of where I learned to write code for the most part. I’m one of those people who searched how to do whatever with WordPress and the answer was paste some code into function stuff PHB and hope for the best.

Jonathon: No, I’m not active coder now. Now I manage my business, I chose. That’s why I can relate to what you said about your decision. Because I had to make, and I wasn’t a fantastic coder. Was probably better than a full bomb, quite critical of my own work. I’ll [inaudible 00:21:37] uses to manage other people. I’ll rather be truthful about it. So going onto subject that I’ve been thinking a lot about. I want to get your thoughts on UX design. I think in some ways, you got Gutenberg and that seems to be growing.

I’m not going to ask you to remark about my own views cause through my round table show. I’ve been reasonably critical of the whole process down the river. So don’t want to drench all that back up. I think in a lot of ways WordPress is facing a kind of UX challenge, now. It feels a bit clunky, when it comes to UX design. First of all, would you agree with that and where do you think it needs to guide to rectify that?

Josh: I haven’t really used it in a while. I lost interest in WordPress as a long time ago.

Jonathon: And so first of all, you started with actually, I don’t use it.

Josh: I occasionally- I don’t manage any of our WordPress sites, but I’ll like upload the new version of a plugin or whatever. That’s kind of my experience of WordPress. I’ve always had this very- I get a little bit of site development back in the day, but it was always like, hey, we need commerce to do this thing. It doesn’t do, or we need some custom API work or integrate with some other service. So I think that Caldera forms -I know it was intentional choice and I believe in Ninja forms to be a very different UX because the older UX pattern just really didn’t work very well for anything application.

I think that I really like Gutenberg. Like as I think the problem with WordPress previously was that the WordPress post editors let you do anything in it. You could just like make text red for no reason. And this is more of an object-oriented, structured way of making content. Which is more manageable and makes more sense. It’s closer to what you see is what you get. I know, a year and a half ago I did-like write a bunch of stuff and however many posts and good number to get a better opinion. I really like it. I’m just the kind of nerd who would rather write in markdown to be honest. I think that, in one of the sort of side projects I’m working on. Looking at ways of using some of the blocks for the more complicated stuff, instead of building your own thing.

For like the galleries and the lists and the YouTube embeds, that kind of stuff. I think it’s a step in the right direction. I just don’t know enough about what people do with the WordPress editor to have an opinion on. If it’s helpful or hurtful or if it’s a step in the right direction or not. I think that having the system that will be done. I think on a cool level- it’s very well done. It’s a lot more extensible than the old system. It’s built with the idea that things can change in mind. There’s a lot of things in Word Press that are really hard to change. Where people are like, that’s not great, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. And I think that the [inaudible 00:25:44] was a big jump to get possible.

Jonathon: I agree with you. Obviously something needed to be done with the editor experience. I feel Gutenberg seems to be coming on. I don’t use it that but much because I decided at an early stage. I then decided to go down that road. But I think Gutenberg seems to be coming on. I was talking more about kind of like stuffing up in the settings, stuff cleaned up in appearance. Stuff can end up anywhere. It’s fine if you know what a post is and the difference between opposing a page. In four or five different places. It’s a little bit of a hot mess. Isn’t it?

Josh: Look, I live in a pretty old house and I make these jokes about when they were laying down the boards on the floor. Like this hardwood floor, that’s a mess. There must have been one guy who was a young guy who was like a hundred years ago thinking like, what if we measured all the boards first and figure it out. Off the bowl, the layouts, that way wouldn’t have a board. That’s too long, it’s too important, and it’s this color versus it. Everyone is like, shut up, just put them in the right way. So we’ve always done it. Now you go into houses, and they have these perfectly manufactured forest. And it’s kind of a timeless way of building that, you just kind of build organically and you add on as you go.

I’m using the timeless way of building. Christopher Alexander book architecture are organic architecture and it’s just kind of how things have been built. And I think the nature of open sources, you make things possible. And the tension there. And so, and then nerds like me come along and go, yeah, I’m going to put it there. And then some other nerd goes out and put it over there and right. Because we can’t and we all have opinions. And I think that’s really beautiful in a lot of ways and it’s very organic and it’s the way that things have always been done. That’s sad. Like people are really happy with slick, consistent, easy to use platforms that are closed, that don’t have this weirdness to them. And I think at the end of the day, that’s what you’re choosing on.

You are choosing the difference between I can do a set number of things that are determined by someone and everything should work. Everything should be integrated and everything should be all in one. Or I’m going to choose to assemble my own thing from other people’s pieces, the WordPress solution. And it’s going to be a bit of a mess. And I think that’s a trade off and I’m excited by a lot of companies that are now hosting company. And most of them are just offering the Word Press. But when they get into e-commerce hosting or- I think Elementor has their own hosting now. No not mentor- Givi, sorry. Maybe both but where it’s optimized for that thing.

And everything’s put together the right way and the WordPress ecosystem. It’s an opportunity to do this. Consumers need something consistent. I don’t know how to get there on a platform level, but Gutenberg might be the way for everybody to say we’re going to build it out of the same pieces. We’re going to put it in the same places, and we’re going to make it easier because we’re all using the standard API’s for hosts to move things around, for plugins to move things around. So I hope it will be best fragmented as a result.

Jonathon: No, I think that was really fascinating the way you just put a guy in- You making me think-thanks for that. We’re coming to the end of the podcast show. Hopefully Josh can stay on for another 10-15 minutes. There’s some other questions which you would be able to see on the WP Tonic website, and also YouTube channel. The whole week interview, we call this section our bonus content. So Josh, like I said, we’re wrapping up the podcast show. What’s the best way to find out more about yourself and your faults and what you’re up.

Josh: So again, I’m Josh Pollock. You can find me at Josh press or Josh 412 on Twitter. Ninja forms is ninjaforms.com. Caldera forms is calderaforms.com, and they’re both free on Word Press. If you go into your WordPress in the plugin screen and type Ninja forms, you can try it out. And then worry about [inaudible 00:31:33] items.

Jonathon: That’s great. I’d love to say on the 7th of July that’s Tuesday, the 7th of July at 9:00am. Me and Spencer forum are having another free webinar where we’re going to be showing you how to build modern shopping cart. Basically using Spencer’s own product and Woo-commerce how you can build actual shopping cart experiences that are better than Shopify and really delight your clientele with the experience of your customers. Or your clients that are asking you to build a modern shopping cart environment. We’re also going to be touching how to combine that with Lifter LMS and some other leading WordPress plugins.

So it’s going to be a blast. That’s going to be on Tuesday, the 7th July at 9:00 AM (PST). How you register is really easy. You go to the WP tonic website and right in the top navigation, there’s a button saying free webinar. You just click it and you can freely register for this webinar. You’ll be able to learn a lot from myself and from Spencer forum. We’ll be back next week with another great guest like Josh. We see you soon folks. Bye

Every Friday at 8:30am PST we have a great and hard-hitting round-table show with a group of WordPress developers, online business owners and WordPress junkies where we discuss the latest and most interesting WordPress and online articles/stories of the week. You can also watch the show LIVE every Friday at 8:30am PST on our Facebook WP-Tonic Show page. https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

Watch Us Live
#504 WP-Tonic Show With Special Guest Josh Pollock of Caldera Forms/Ninja Forms was last modified: by