David Blackmon of Aspen Grove Studios.
David Blackmon is the co-founder of Aspen Grove Studios, a dynamic WordPress agency that creates both custom web solutions for clients as well as products that help DIY WordPress users build websites.
In 2017, Aspen Grove Studios expanded its brand and acquired Divi Space, a peer WordPress product development firm operating solely in the Divi arena of WordPress. 2018 sees Aspen Grove Studios expand further as a third WordPress company will be added to the growing portfolio.
In managing and growing two successful WordPress development businesses, David has plenty of experience in the digital marketing space, seeing both businesses accrue over 30,000 email subscribers and over 1 million page views. At this year’s RV Entrepreneur Summit, David will discuss the exact tactics he employed in his email marketing strategies to meet and exceed his business’ objectives.
An avid traveler and digital nomad, David, together with his wife Lisa have been RVing full-time from 2015, and have no plans in looking back!
Johnathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show is episode 520. We’ve got a really interesting, and I’ve been looking forward to this interview, we’ve got David Blackman with us from Alpine Grove Studios. We’re going to be talking about a lot of things actually. He’s got many aspects to his business. David, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
David: Absolutely. Hey guys, thanks for having me. First of all, my name is David Blackman and I am the CEO of Aspen Grove Studios. I like Alpine Grove Studios too though, but it’s Aspen Grove…
David: Studios, yeah. And yeah, we’re a WordPress development company, we create plugins and themes for WordPress. We primarily focus in with the divi theme, we’re probably most well-known for that but we do have quite a few WordPress plugins as well that aren’t divi specific. I also teach courses. Over the last couple of years, we’ve launched four courses and we have about 5,000 students that are learning…
David: Anything from tech topics to business. My specialty is kind of business with my company as opposed to the tech side of WordPress. So yeah, I’m excited to be here and talk with you guys about WordPress, something that I absolutely love. So…
Johnathan: And I think you can tell listeners and viewers whilst David on the show, he kind of covers all my dream areas WordPress corpses is the dream guest, actually. Adrian, Adrian, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the new listeners and viewers?
Adrian: Hi everyone. My name is Adrian. I am the CEO and founder of Groundhogg. We build marketing automation, plugins for WordPress that help small businesses launch their funnel and grow their list and scale their business.
Johnathan: Great. And before we go into the main part of the interview, I just want to mention one of my, our sponsors, one of my, our major sponsors and that is Kinsta Hosting, they’ve been my major sponsor for over three years now. Their support is most welcome. It costs a fair bit of money to keep this show on the road and to produce two episodes per week and they have helped enormously. They’re a great hosting company. They only specialize in WordPress. Why should you care for yourself and for your listeners? Well, they use Google cloud as their backbone.
It’s blindingly fast hosting, totally reliable with a great support team. So for the price, I think they offer some the best value on the market at the present if you looked at all three areas and they’ve got a fantastic interface, it’s really easy to use, you don’t have to spend hours trying to figure out how to use their service. It’s really easy and they provide all the technology, the most modern technology that you’re looking for yourself and for your clients. So, go over to Kinsta, have a look, what they got to offer, buy one of their packages for yourself or for your client and also tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show. So, David, so you’ve been a bit of a nomad for the past five years. David was telling us because of the pandemic he’s rented a house, but he feels like a duck out of all to really because he’s been roaming America for the past five years in his RV. So, how’s that been like trying to run a growing business and also been a digital nomad, David?
David: It’s been incredible. I guess probably in my mid-forties, I just got to the point where you realize that life is short and at some point in your life, for me, it was in my early forties, life short, I want to do something different and being that self-employed and I work with a computer and an internet connection, I felt like I could work from anywhere. So why not? And now is the time I was still relatively young. I could travel hike, get out in the nature, which is kind of the thing that fuels my soul is being in nature and made a decision to sell my home, purchase an RV and start traveling full time. I did research for about a year before I actually launched out and did it. And what I found out was that, A, you absolutely can build a business and work from the road, B there is a thriving, amazing community of entrepreneurial RVers that are doing this full time around the U.S.
So, WordPress is an amazing community in and of itself because it’s so giving and, and it’s just, it’s awesome. And what I found was that there’s an RV equivalent to WordPress for people traveling around in an RV as well. So, it was… it’s been really, really fun, it’s been amazing. I have slowed down because of the pandemic. I actually leased a home in the Pacific Northwest in Ashland, Oregon for six months and it looks like I will be extending it probably, at least another six months, if not a year, till we figure out really what’s going on. Because a lot of the national parks, a lot of the places where I go are currently closed, they’re not even open. So, it’s a little bit harder to travel around currently and the safety factor as well. So…
Johnathan: Yeah. Well it’s the vaccination, the vaccines they’re trying to develop, one of those will be successful and we, to some extent can see the back of this pandemic. Over to you Adrian.
Adrian: Working from the road, how often, I’m just kind of curious a little bit about your lifestyle, how long do you usually spend in a place?
David: Well, it depends. I’m a little bit different when I was early on I thought I had to see the whole country in the first year, so I went across it back and forth a few times and that was a little bit kind of not as fun as it is now, I tend to try to stay in a place a little bit longer. So…
Adrian: Meet some people, view the sites.
David: Yeah, Exactly. Yeah. I spend about, I try to spend at least a month, far least two weeks to a month in an area so that I can truly explore it and get to know it. The first couple of years I would spend a few days and then move. Few days and then move. And what happened is that just that that gets kind of tired. You’re excited, you want to go to all the places you’re mobile, hey, I can move, why not? Let’s move, and so the last few years I just kind of slowed down, take my time and experience an area and realize that it’s not going anywhere and I can get there next month, so…
Adrian: Do you have a favorite spot?
David: Yes, but I can’t tell you where it is because then everybody’s going to go to it. Actually, I will share it with you. The Pacific Northwest is where I’m currently at. It’s beautiful. I mean, it’s a place… I’m from South Louisiana, so it’s very flat, it’s wet, it’s hot, it’s humid and coming into the mountains and stuff it’s just breathtakingly beautiful. That’s where my soul resides. I think I’ve been a mountain man trapped in Louisiana, my whole life, so I love the Pacific Northwest. Oregon is absolutely beautiful where I live currently. And two hours of in any direction of driving, I’m at the coast, I’m at Crater Lake, I’m at Mount Shasta, National Park, it’s just stunningly beautiful.
But my favorite place is actually in Southeast New Mexico. It is a town called Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and the population is about 300, it sits at about 9,500 feet. And…
Adrian: That’s high.
David: It’s high.
Adrian: I went to the Grand Canyon…
Adrian: This year, which is at what, 7,000 feet above sea level? And I went to in February and [cross-talk 09:04] yeah, the only time I’ve ever seen the Grand Canyon is in movies so they’re never there in the winter so I went there expecting it to be like, blisteringly hot because [inaudible 09:13] desert. I was very wrong…
David: Yeah, you’re wrong.
Adrian: And they’re like a leather jacket and like sneakers and there’s like three inches of snow and ice all over the place, I’m like what? And it was fricking… it was in Celsius, minus 29 degrees…
Adrian: Celsius, which is very, very, very, very cold. I don’t know what that translates to in Fahrenheit but it was cold. So, it must be cold there at some points…
David: Oh yeah, yeah.
Adrian: That’s literally the point I was getting to, it’s 9,500 feet above sea level.
David: Yeah. It’s typically, Southeast New Mexico is desert and hot. And then there’s this gym that sits at 9,500 feet and it’s just… it’s perfect, moderate temperature in the spring and summer and the fall it’s just gorgeous and beautiful. aspen trees, elk kind of roaming around. And you would never expect this in Southeastern New Mexico, Northern New Mexico, yes. Santa Fe, Taos, those kinds of areas.
David: People are like, yeah. But Southeast New Mexico is like Alamogordo, it’s like desert and [cross-talk 10:27] then there’s just…
Johnathan: You’re making a good sell, we got to move on though because this isn’t this week in travel though. So, let’s go to… because you got a very diverse number of services and you’re in a number of different areas like you say, you specialize in the divi area, but you’ve got a couple of plugins that really caught my eye as well. You’ve got WP layouts and you’ve got page builder everywhere. So, let’s start with WP layouts. What does that basically do and why did you create it, you and your team, David?
David: Actually, it came out of like probably most plugins come to be, a pain point in our own business. We were, migrating sites, whether it was client sites or child themes that were created and stuff, and one of our servers kept crashing and it was because of the import, export process, it was getting hung up and it just kept crashing our server for whatever reason. And our thinking was, there’s just got to be a better way to do this. I mean, WordPress’s way of importing and exporting XML files and all the things that it does to move something just seemed kind of clunky. And we sat down with the development team and we thought, why don’t we just come up with something a little bit different? What if we made it cloud-based and to where we didn’t have to move it, import files, export files, piece everything together.
What if we just had it in a cloud and we could basically transfer it with the click of a button. And that in essence is what it is and what it’s came to be. Well, since we were heavily invested in the divi theme, obviously we made it work with that page builder, but we decided to make it work with all the page builders. Beaver Builder, Elementor, Gutenberg. Gutenberg was just coming out; it was the new thing. And we felt like we wanted it to not just be specific to divi, we wanted to make it a WordPress product as a whole.
And the ability to import and export layouts pages, even entire websites so it could technically be a migration tool for a website. And if you’re building websites for clients, which a lot of our audience is building websites for clients, you reuse, there’s only so many ways you can design a contact page. So instead of going and looking on your computer and finding the style that you want and importing that into WordPress, we decided what if you could have everything in one place, all of your designs, your assets and everything, just kind of cloud hosted and you could pick and choose what you wanted and it would show up in a, in a thumbnail gallery, a library, you know, depending on how you want it to sort it and stuff, and you could grab it with the click of a button and it would be there. So that was kind of our concept and that’s kind of what it morphed into.
Johnathan: So, you also import any kind of plugins that the theme or the website needs as well, does it?
David: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I’m not sure that we’ve released that version yet but we do have it. It’s definitely in beta and it’s already working where it will take an entire child theme basically and export and import at the click of a button and we’ll do all the plugins as well.
Johnathan: Now what about page builder before we go for our break? What about page builder everywhere? What does that do?
David: Page builder everywhere was… it’s specific to the divi theme and it basically allows you to nest modules inside of modules. So, someone may want to design something, with a text module in divi, but they may like the tabs module and in order to get those tab modules inside of like a text module or another module, it wasn’t possible. So, page builder everywhere allows you to basically nest modules inside of modules is in essence what it does and I hope that doesn’t confuse people…
Johnathan: Well, I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m not… I make it quite clear, I’m not really very big in the divi world but I have used divi so I understand what you’re saying. So that’s really useful. We’re going to go for our break. We’ve got a fantastic guest. We’ve got a lot of things to talk about. We’ll probably extend it to bonus content as well. We will be back in a few moments’ folks.
We’re coming back. We’ve had a good discussion in the first half, but before we go into the second half, I want to talk about our secondary sponsor. And that’s the WP Fusion. Now WP Fusion has been a friend of the show for a number of years as well. It’s got a great founder and a great team behind it. And the main thing is it’s the right product, the right pluggin at the right moment. We’re all into automization, using CRM, active campaign, drip, that click funnel, there’s a number of them. But if you want to really have your WordPress website really communicate with one of these external CRMs, you need WP Fusion. It puts that… makes the whole thing, the whole communication process, and setting up your triggers so much easier, and it will put your whole automization on steroids.
So, go over to WP fusion, see what they got, so offer, I suggest for yourself and for your clients you should buy one of their packages and also tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic show. Their support is most welcome. They’ve been a great partner of the WP-Tonic show. So, onto the discussion. So, David, in our pre show chat, you said that you’re not a developer yourself, you’re an entrepreneur very similar to myself. I dabbled as a front-end developer and action flash action script and Java script developer but I don’t do much of that now. So how did you manage to find talent in as a non-developer and be able to assess the development talent that you decided to work with?
David: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And I, before I answer that question, I have to give you a little bit of a backstory.
David: Because I wasn’t a developer and I found WordPress and I started building websites for clients in my local area, in Southern Louisiana, because I didn’t have the knowledge, I was seeking out a place where I could learn more in an interactive way with a community, as opposed to watching YouTube videos or going on linda.com or following a course or something. I’m more of an extreme extrovert. I love people and I want to be involved in a community that is active and stuff. So, what I did was I joined some groups on Facebook, some WordPress groups and if you’re in WordPress and you’re not involved in some of the Facebook groups on WordPress, they’re amazing, their community is fantastic, I’ve met a lot of amazingly talented people, but made some really good friends as well. So, in 2013, when I started my WordPress journey, that’s the December of 2013…
Johnathan: Can I ask David, sorry interrupt, what can you give a quick outline on what your background was work-wise before you got into WordPress?
David: Yeah. Yeah. Sales and marketing are where I’ve been my entire life. I’ve been an entrepreneur. I own a sales and marketing company that focused in the newspaper industry for 10 years prior to WordPress. So basically, we… I worked with some of the largest newspapers in the U.S in San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Miami, New Orleans and I had my company did subscription acquisition for them through kiosk sells at storefronts. So, we helped them increase their circulation for their newspaper. And obviously the internet killed the newspaper business and that model anyways so I had to basically reinvent myself and boom, because I am a guy and I went to LSU for computer science, I do have a technical background and I do… my brain works that way and then I can figure things out pretty easily even though I’m not a developer and stuff.
So, I had a friend that asked me to build him a website. I said, sure, let me give it a shot, found WordPress open source sat down in a coffee shop, being an entrepreneur mindset also, I don’t really shy away from things. As I sat down with my first time opening up WordPress in that coffee shop, a mutual friend of ours walked in named Will and Will said, Hey, David, what are you doing? And I said, well, I’m building Phil a website. He knows Phil. And he looked at me and he said, really? He said, I’m on the water board in Opelousas, which is a municipality close to where I lived and where we were sitting in the coffee shop. He said, we need a website. Can you come give us a presentation in two weeks?
And I said, absolutely. I think most people probably wouldn’t. They probably be like, Oh, well, I just figured this thing out, I’ve never built it before, but that’s just not how my brain is wired. So, two weeks later I gave him a presentation, they hired me on the spot, my WordPress company was born. And so, in doing that because I wasn’t a developer, I was watching a lot of YouTube videos and divi came out in 2013. So, we created a Facebook group and I did not know that this was going to happen, this just kind of happened organically. Other people were trying to learn WordPress and this new thing called divi, so we created this Facebook group that now has 60,000 members in it and it just kind of blew up. And what I did was that talent acquisition, you were asking that question, how do you find those awesome people?
For me, it’s been…the primary source has been Facebook because I feel like I can see kind of how people interact with other people, I can see their skillset because when you’re involved in WordPress groups, a lot of technical questions come up, me being the guy who is asking them in the beginning, hey, how do I do this? How do I solve this? And you see people who are helpful and who are knowledgeable and the way that they interacted and engage with people, their demeanor, are they kind? Are they curt? Are they abrupt and direct? Or how do they deal with people? So, me being…
Johnathan: I’m English.
David: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, there was this one guy that was very helpful, he seemed extremely knowledgeable tech wise and me being a curious, just entrepreneur, I’m curious, I want to know about your country and where you’re from and what it’s like for you working over there. So, I just start up a conversation with them and I’m asking them and I find out about him. And next thing you know, I find out that… I learned a lot about exchange rates and global currency and how much different it is with the U.S then some other countries. And I was kind of…my mind was kind of blown like, oh, wow. I mean, I can scale as an entrepreneur, I realized that I could scale my company quickly if I outsourced to some other countries were the dollar value was a lot different than where I was.
So that’s kind of where my mindset was. And I just started finding people in the Facebook groups and stuff. And, I would talk to them and I’d get to know them and stuff and find out what their skill set was and then just try them out and work with them and stuff. And I’ve been very lucky. I’m going to say, I don’t know if it’s luck or I feel like it’s a super power that I never really knew that I had, evaluating talented people.
Johnathan: I think in a very natural way you’re doing what a lot of people don’t do and they go to certain exchanges, certain freelance platforms, there’s about two that come to mind and they just hire somebody based on their track record, where you obviously you’re interested in their technical ability, but you’re also interested in the person themselves.
Johnathan: And you’re actually in an informal way interviewing them and trying to find out about the actual person, because fundamentally when you hired them and they’re working and you’re relying on somebody to finish it, then it’s the person’s character and is their word worth anything, are they the type of person who gets a load of work overstretched themselves and really…
Johnathan: Doesn’t really care about who they dumped. It’s the next job basically, you it’s the person’s character you’re trying to find out isn’t it, David?
David: Yep, you summed it up perfectly. That’s exactly what it is. I never really thought about it like that.
Johnathan: Some people word means… they don’t think it, but their word means nothing does it?
David: Right. Exactly. And I’ve run into those people, we’ve had… I’ve hired them, I’m sure you’ve hired them, I’m sure Adrian’s worked with them, we’ve all worked with them where yeah, they say they’re going to do one thing. I’ll tell a funny story. I hired this one guy who had like, his English was good, he spoke English well, he was in another country, I won’t say what country and stuff because it really doesn’t matter. His skillset was really good, fit really good with our company and stuff and I probably paid a little bit more than I should have based on the currency exchange and stuff. And I realized that people if you pay them too much they’re not going to work as hard. It’s kind of interesting how that works. You would think it would be the opposite, but it’s not…
Johnathan: Yeah, wouldn’t you? That’s interesting actually.
David: Anyways, all of a sudden, this guy’s English got worse, his coding quality got worse. And I was like, what the heck is going on? He’s not speaking in English and I realized that he’s the little budding entrepreneur over there as well and he was outsourcing his stuff to someone else, which is okay if you’re communicating that with the person that you’re working with, but making people believe that you’re not doing what you say you’re doing and which leads to their character and stuff but it was really interesting to watch this person that worked with us for a year that’s their English just got worse. I was like, how’s this possible? You were speaking perfect English like a month ago and now all of a sudden, you’re struggling to put sentences together and stuff. And it was just kind of, oh no, I’m the same person, I’m fine. Yeah. So yeah, it’s a process that’s for sure but you nailed it on the head. I guess I didn’t realize what I was doing was I was getting to know them on a personal level and finding out more about their character and truly who they were as a human being and stuff and…
Johnathan: [Inaudible 28:32] off shore my own company, we’re blended. I’ve got a friend, John Locke, who’s my Chief U.S and we’ve got another U.S developer on retainers. And then I have a small offshore team and I have a U.S based Project Manager and then I’ve got a couple other resources that are offshore, but everybody’s treated the same. And a lot of people treat their offshore resources, just like that. Just as a resource, they don’t treat them as human beings. Do they David?
David: Right, You’re right. You’re right. I think we probably have… we’re probably the future of what business will be, I think were you and me and Adrian probably as well or the future of what business is going to look like globally and stuff, because we do have the disperse team and I am very aware of these are human beings and they matter and they have lives and they have families and…
Johnathan: So, they’re not English, they’re not Christian, but over Christmas they get a Christmas bonus…
David: Yeah, absolutely.
Johnathan: Which I don’t have to pay them, but I give it to them as a sign of appreciation for their loyalty and hard work.
Johnathan: So, I think we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show because we’ve almost got O half hour. You’re alright staying on for some bonus content as we call it David, you alright with that?
David (30:07): Absolutely [cross-talk 30:08].
Johnathan (30:09): We’re going to…in the bonus content we’re going to be discussing the same topic about how to hire really tentative developers. And also, we’re going to be discussing with David, how he got into courses and what he’s learned from the 5,000 people that have taken one of his courses. So, we’ve got a lot of interesting stuff, which you can find on the WP, you’ll find the whole interview with the bonus content on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel and on the WP- Tonic website with full transcription. So, David, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?
David: Well, our main website is aspengrovestudios.com and we have a couple of other websites that we use the product and the courses are in different wpgears.com. We offer courses and we actually do a podcast there as well, WP The Podcast, which is a daily podcast. divi.spaces has all of our DV products but you can find me at aspengrovestudios.com pretty easily. If you want to get in touch with me, just shoot me an email or I’m on the socials as well but I’ll be honest. I’m not the greatest social poster and stuff I’m on them, but I don’t… I’m not [inaudible 31:35] I guess.
Johnathan: Well, I purposely since this the kind of development politically in America and also the pandemic, I’ve actually cut down almost to zero my social posting because I just didn’t really want to get into certain discussions. So, Adrian, how can people find out more about you and your company that you’re up to Adrian?
Adrian: If you’re interested in and you might need help with marketing automation, or if you need help with building your list or launching your first sales funnel to get those first few new leads in, you can head on over to Groundhogg with two gs .io. We have lots of tools or resources there that will help you to do just that.
Johnathan: It’s a great product. I highly recommend it to you listeners and viewers. If you want to support the WP-Tonic show, just give us a review on iTunes. It really does help the show. It helps us. We got some announcements that we’ll probably be telling you in September about a certain change I direction for the show. So, I’m just teasing you a little bit listeners and viewers, but I think you’re going to be delighted in our new direction.
We’ll be back next week. We have with another great guests like David, we see you soon folks and remember, remember to go over and also watch on our YouTube channel, our bonus content with David. We’ll be back next week. 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/