#615 WP-Tonic Show: Building WordPress Plugins & Services From The World of Joomla?

Building WordPress Plugins & Services From The World of Joomla? With Vic Drover Co-founder and CEO of Watchful.co

Vic is originally from Newfoundland, Canada, Victor is now based near Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the USA, and has been working with open source software projects for over twenty years. Having hand-coded a dynamic website for his rugby club in the 1990s, Victor eventually migrated to building with WordPress and Joomla and has never looked back. Classically trained as a Biochemist, Victor retired from Academia to build and sell widgets full time. For the last 8 years, he has focused his efforts on SaaS solutions for digital agencies.

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Here is Our Full Transcript With Victor

Johnathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP tonic interview show. This is episode 615. Got a great guest. We’ve got Vic Drover with who is the joint founder and CEO of a company called Watchful. they’ve got some amazing products and services aimed at the WordPress community. We’re going to be finding out about these products also Vic’s personal journey in the world of WordPress, and what’s it like to try and build a kind of WordPress platform on WordPress? I’ve also got, Andrew with me, Andrew Palmer. Steven is, all his staff had gone on a holiday and they just left him working away. So he won’t be with us for the next couple of weeks, but do not worry. I know you only listen because Steven is my co-host. he will be returning in the especially the female part of the audience. he will be returning in the next couple of weeks. Do not worry. I have not scared him off like all my other co-hosts.

So, before we go into the main part of this in a very, with Vic I’m going to talk about our major sponsor and that’s Castos. if you’re looking to get into podcasting, which I think you should do for yourself or for your clients, you need somewhere to host your audio files, produce the RSS feed, and a host of other little things that you’ve got to do around podcasting. I was using another platform for about four to five years. I came across Castos It looked really good. Their prices were much more affordable than the people that I was using because as the podcast goats more listeners and viewers, and I’m very thankful, they go rather expensive. they had a flat charging system they were WordPress people. I signed up and then I found that Matt Medeiros had joined them as the head of sales and customer experience and I thought you’ve made the right decision. We had some chats, they found out my other major sponsor for the past four years. We had parted in good humor, and they felt they will be a great partner for the WP tonic shows. So they become a major sponsor. I’ve just loved the platform. I think you will. I think you’ll love it for your clients to go and have butchers of what they’ve got to offer. I’m sure you’re going to be pleased. so like I say, I’ve got Andrew Palmer with me, one of my regular panelists on the Friday show. Would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers that might not partake in our Friday show?

Andrew Palmer: They might not yea they might not take part in the Friday show. So my name is Andrew Palmer and I’m working with a variety of companies, grid pain. I’m a Spartan for them. So I support them because they’ve got a great management system for hosting and they help agencies knock it out of the park. And I’m also an investor in plugins and I own a few plugins as well. and I love taking part in the WP-tonic podcast every Friday.

Johnathan Denwood: And you’re most welcome. You’ve been a great addition to the regular panel Andrew and there’s absolutely nobody that Andrew doesn’t know in the WordPress community seemingly. I thought I was a bit of a mixer and shaker but Andrew puts me to shame actually. So Vic, tell us more about Watchful what’s it about, why did you start it and what do you hope to achieve with it? Only small questions

Vic Drover: Start off with the small stuff. Great. Well, thanks for having me by the way. Of course, great to be here and great to see you, Arnie, has been a little wild Arnie and I worked together a little bit full disclosure, I guess, back when he was, with Allergan marketplace. Right. so yeah, we started watchful back in 2012, and I’m going to say a naughty word on your WordPress podcast. We were Joomla folks back in the day

Johnathan Denwood: I forgive you, it has got a swearing, certificate on the podcast to speak. So it’s not the end of the world, but you know.

Vic Drover: It’s just like HBO anything goes we can say what we want.

Andrew Palmer: It is Yeah, this is-

Johnathan Denwood: Actually the Friday show tends to get rather potty very quickly. Doesn’t it? Andrew

Andrew Palmer: It does So carry on, carry on Vic.

Vic Drover: Yeah, sure. I was no, no worries. I was a, so we started in that world and of course, I mean, we’ve been using WordPress and Joomla and all kinds of open source technologies for a long time we started there and then I want to say about four years started supporting WordPress in our platform. And just to give a kind of a one-sentence overview watchful is a site management platform, like main WP managed WP, et cetera, GoDaddy pro. So it’s in that space. And so about four years ago, we started switching over to not switching over, adding in support for WordPress. So many of our customers have both of those systems in play, especially some of our hosting clients. And so, yeah, we’ve been selling to them both to that whole community now, or almost nine years. And we’ve continued to expand and push into the WordPress world. So not just supporting the basic updates, but, automatic updates are in core now they weren’t when we started having automatic updates in watchful. But what we’ve added recently are things like a scheduled automatic update so that your automatic updates maybe only get applied if you’re in the office during office hours and never on weekends, that sort of thing, never if your backups are stale. So kind of a smart auto-update tool,

The other kind of technology that we, like to differentiate ourselves on is our commercial update tool or premium plugin updater. So, this is where Andrew and I work together and we support things like, give WP and easy digital downloads so if you’re using those softwares. You can put your license key into our platform and update your paid plugins alongside your free plugins, whether manually or using the automated updater that I mentioned a few minutes ago. So yeah, it’s a kind of-

Johnathan Denwood: So what about auto roll up what’s that about?

Vic Drover: Roll-up is another tool we have. So like Andrew, I’ve got my, I like to dip my toes in lots of ponds as it were so roll-up is a new tool that I’m working on with a fellow I think Andrew knows Steven Berge at publish press.

Andrew Palmer: I know Steven Berge yes.

Vic Drover: So Steve and I of course grew up in the Joomla world together. And now we’re both, you know, on the WordPress site. So we’ve been friends and colleagues for a long time. And so, he a small, owner at watchful and now we have a joint partnership at a new company called roll-up, roll-up is basically a SAS manager. And if you go to roll-up.IO, you can get a little more information on it. but basically, you can put in right now, we have about 20 integrations get hubs, slack, zoom, et cetera. Google cloud, as your, all those things kind of the big, the big ones you might say, new Relic, we’re just working on our new Relic one now, essentially you can con manage your accounts remotely from this one tool called roll-up and they’re kind of, [Inaudible07:51] yeah, sure. It’s R O L E U P.io. Sure. And so you can imagine if you’ve got a, you know, you’ve got a staff or contractors coming on board, you can put them because you’ve got you, what’d you do is you register to say you have your get and your slack and zoom in Rollup. When you get a new person, come on board, you can create accounts for them at those services. and then, so, you know, I have to go into those, each of those services remotely, you can do it in a central place. and then when that person leaves, maybe it’s a short-term contractor, or maybe it’s regular employee turnover with one flick, you can destroy all their accounts and migrate their data to other existing accounts.

So the long-term, yeah, the long-term goal would be to have a, you know, if you’re hiring for a marketing role, then, okay, they’re going to get slack. They’re going to get a, you know, an email account and they’re going to get access to a certain repo on GitHub perhaps, and then there’ll be an automated flow, that would create all that for a user. And then, so you’re going to see one-click onboarding and is the kind of long-term goal right now. We haven’t launched yet. So, there’s no way you can buy, buy an account, feel free to review the features on the website, but we’ll be coming out here in a few weeks, for our soft launch. And, and going from there, getting our primary integrations up and running and really targeting at least at the beginning, a lot of the digital agencies like you both own, of course, and, and then people, your colleagues own. because they have all these digital accounts and managing them is just terrible.

Johnathan Denwood: Oh, I run, actually run an agency and you’ve got some really amazingly interesting products Vic watchful I’m amazed. Cause you only came on my radar a few months ago. I can’t remember how you got on my radar but it looks really interesting and I haven’t played around with it but I plan to, over to Andrew.

Andrew Palmer: Wow, Victor and we, we did have to, we didn’t have to, but we actually thought it would be a good idea if all the elegant marketplace premium plugins had an opportunity within, watchful to put the license keys in so that they could also update them or they could update them from the watchful dashboard I’ve actually got, I’ve just looked to that. I actually got 33 websites in watchful. So it’d be a few of my stuff. And we’ve got, we host about on a 500. so all of my customers that have a maintenance agreement depending on the price they pay, they go in blog vote, which is pretty similar. and, so they’re the premium customers, cause it’s quite expensive. What I like about watchful is it’s a purse as soon as you add a, not a site, the last pricing, I haven’t actually looked at the pricing again, Vic but it’s like $. 89 a site, or is it $2 a site or something?

Vic Drover: Yeah under Currently that’s right.

Andrew Palmer: It’s for nothing, you know, and it helps us and it gives us, I love the uptime monitor or the uptime robot on it. It gives us a clue when the server’s down. because you know, I got a thing about managed WordPress. If people call themselves a managed WordPress, but they don’t actually tell you your site’s down, and really annoys me.

Johnathan Denwood: Just a slight technical problem.

Andrew Palmer: If you’re saying you’re a managed WordPress hosting, you know, manage my site, but it’s just basically, I love it. Yeah. I love it you’ve got bulk updater in there, you know, so you’ve got these it’s very, it’s really user friendly. It’s really easy to set up. It’s very similar to blog volt, which is, which has been around for ages and I’m not going to, compare the two really other than they’re both good-

Johnathan Denwood: [Inaudible 11:46] they do the hacking and security, they tell you the science down, but they don’t do the automatic updates in there. So there are kind of, but the main thing, the main thing is I’ve been using main WP, but I am looking at your product because I love main WP, but it can be a little bit spotty about, how it’s updating the site is this something that you’ve had to spend a lot of time and effort on the reliability of your own platform, how it deals with the updating of these plugins?

Vic Drover: That’s a super good question, especially when it comes to-

Johnathan Denwood: I do like the old one actually-

Vic Drover: But to go to your question, update, integrity, we’ll call it let’s say. It’s a tricky problem. Most people if say you set up auto-updates on your WordPress backend, let’s just say whether or not that, happens on the first attempt or the 10th attempt. I’m not sure that anyone really knows or even monitors that kind of information. The update process can be a little spotty and maybe users don’t care if it takes 10 times in the background and they never see it, maybe they don’t care, but we measure that because we want it to be highly accurate. We spent a lot of time on scheduling if you’ve ever had to build, a world accurate, schedule or where someone also has the ability to set their own local time zone and then keep in track with the server time zone, and any other item where the time can get manipulated, it’s really super complicated.

So for instance, in our platform, you can say only update between 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Okay. Only apply auto-updates during that time period. Well, that only works if the system knows your current time zone, the time zone that your sites are in, it’s a big problem. So on top of just the normal noise that you get in updates of any sort automatic or manual. then you have a layer on top of that, this complexity of the time zone issue and having these times when you do and do not want updates to occur. And then we layer on only update if the backups are fresh to our system, is backup aware. That’s, it’s kind of like, being self-aware as an AI system, it knows if your site has, a recent update and you get to determine that because on a brusher site, a recent update a month, might be fine, but on an e-commerce site, you know, maybe six hours is a stale, you know, depending on-

So you set that for yourself. And then the system says, okay, if the backup is too old, don’t apply any updates at all. Let’s just wait until we’ll notify you that the backup is stale. And when that’s fixed, the updates will then continue. So we’ve definitely looked a lot into reliability. I think because of the complexity that we’re trying to build around updates and trying to get people, excited to do auto-updates. I still think like the classic editor and Gutenberg, there’s a lot of resistance in the broader marketplace. I think automatic updates are also quite people are risk-averse and I don’t think they’re jumping on, automatic updates the way maybe people thought.

Johnathan Denwood: We have kind of hybrid system we don’t allow automatic updates on sites that we’re managing where we just don’t allow it because if anything goes wrong, it’s our responsibility. So we want to know about it. We don’t, want the system automatically making that decision. but various people have different opinions. So when it comes to this particular project, I would say your two main is either WP main, or WP time machine, I think they are two, there’s about half a dozen of these type of platforms, but I think most of the people I talk in the industry are using those two and then yours came on my radar and I think you’ve done a fantastic job. I’m a little bit puzzled why you weren’t on my radar a little bit earlier, but that’s probably down to me.

Andrew Palmer: Not paying attention mate.

Johnathan Denwood: What do you think? cause we’re getting close to the first half of the show. What do you see as the main differentials from your competition in this area?

Vic Drover: Yeah, I think, these scheduled automatic updates and those backup aware the technology we’re building around the auto-update process, I think is unique. our pricing is competitive, extremely competitive. And I think the premium update licensing the central license manager is also unique. it’s labor intense because you’ve kin1d of having to go one by one down the road and get, you know, these folks on board. So that, that goes on. but when many people haven’t tackled those challenges and one of the really cool features of our license manager is that if you buy, like a five site license for some, let’s say, give WP, for example, if you then go to, update a six site, that’s not listed on your account, it tells you, Hey, that doesn’t work or if you have space in your account, it will add the domain to the vendors, a list of, you know, allowed updates so that we actually not only respect the license of course, but we help, get those domains into the venders’ platform. So because they want to know, they of course want to make sure that you’re not updating sites that are not included in the license and not registered on the vendor side. So I think those three are the main differentiators we have right now.

Johnathan Denwood: Well, I’m definitely going to have another look at it because you sold it to me, you did a great job there. You sold it to a lot of the listeners of the show. we’re going to go for our break folks. When we come back, we can be delving in some of the other products I’m going to let actually Andrew speak as well, we will be back in a few moments.

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Johnathan Denwood: We are Coming back we’ve had a good discussion with Vic, about his product and service, which I’ve got to say sounds fabulous actually. I don’t often say that, but I’m very impressed. before we go into the second part of the interview, I want to talk about one of our other sponsors and that’s Peachpay. Look, if you’re looking to get e-commerce functionality for yourself or for clients, and you want to do it in a really quick and easy way and cheap way, you should look at Peachpay. it’s really easy to set up. It’s a free plugin and it’s a free service. They make money cause like people like Stripe, give them a little cup of the normal fee that they normally charge you or your clients. And it’s really mobile-friendly. they’ve done a great job. Automatic put some money into them, invested in with them. So they’re a legit company and a legit player.

So go over and have a look at Peachpay I can’t offer you the inducement to do it because it’s free. so you can’t argue with that. Could you, so the link will be, and their banners are over the WP tonic website, I suggest that you should have a look at it for yourself or for your clients. So I’m just going to throw it over to Andrew. So he has a chance to actually be part of this interview over to you Andrew.

Andrew Palmer: Well I’m on it, what I think where, where interviews like this can almost get lost in the product. It’s about the reasons why you set up these products, you know, I was a Joomla user from 1.0 or whatever it was the first one. And then-

Johnathan Denwood: I forgive you. I forgive you, Andrew.

Andrew Palmer: The point is, is that, you know, I have 200 websites on Joomla and it was fantastic. It’s a fantastic platform. And then, there was no real backup system for Joomla There was no real like, you know, watchful for it or anything. We would do it all manually. And then all of a sudden, every single website got hacked, and to be Frank, it nearly bankrupted me. and so from that moment on, I was looking for a backup solution for it. I was looking for anything that would give me security as a business, as a host really as a reseller. so the reasons I want to know what, what incentivized you to build watchful that’s, the key and the reasoning behind that, because it’s a really, to me it’s a community project is it’s protecting users as well as owners of hosting and supplies.

Vic Drover: Agencies yeah

Andrew Palmer: Just give me the three bullet points of why you felt it was necessary, to build watchful.

Andrew Palmer: Yeah, right. So we kind of had a perfect storm. So I had been selling widgets in the Joomla space for a long time and we all know kind of where we all know where the, we all know where the kind of plugin market, and the widget market kind of has gone compared to services in the last kind of five, 10 years. Right. And so from a business perspective, I was thinking, okay, what comes after, you know, widgets? Okay. So, okay in SAS is kind of that’s what SAS was getting started. So this is 2012. and then on top of that, we had, of course- we had an agency with tons of sites and it was difficult to manage. We had the same problem, you know we didn’t have the security issues and knock on wood. but management was time consuming and tedious.

And so, I was interviewing actually, we were running a local user group. and I brought in this fellow from Sweden and, he was talking about his product that you self-hosted, and it was a remote tool manager. And basically, we were just introducing him to the community. You could download it and install it yourself. And obviously, WordPress has solutions like this too. And we just got to talking and said, this would be a really great community project we didn’t offer. We didn’t have a free tier back then we had a free trial. So now we have a free tier to get everyone gets a little something, and then if they want to upgrade, if it makes sense for their budget or what they’re doing, they can, they can upgrade or not.

So I wouldn’t say it was, I’ve got to solve this community problem, you know, but we definitely wanted to give something, give an option to agency owners, and just, I think what we’ve drifted, our, our attitude has just shifted in that we’ve said, you know, let’s have a larger community fee. So I’d say we went, instead of let’s build it for the community and for safety, I think we built it as a business decision. and then we moved into let’s kind of give back to the community, which is an interesting story. I think and I like where that is. I think it’s authentic also, it’s not, some, you know, giving everything away for free just for the love of it. Do you know what I mean? And it’s sustainable.

Andrew Palmer: But on the educational side, I mean, what do we see? I mean, many Facebook groups. I mean, you know, we’ve got our own WP tonic and we’ve got, I’ve got a Facebook group for divvy. And also, you know, I took over 23 plugins a few weeks ago, just Jonathan. And we see constantly my sites broken, and I’ve had to roll back all my sites completely broken I haven’t gotten it. [Inaudible25:22] There are Elementor users as well, and Elementor got updated about three months ago- [Inaudible 25:32] the website went down, so shut your mouth. You got- where are we in? How do we educate every single WordPress user and or Joomla user? So do-

Johnathan Denwood: Are there Joomla users Vic?

Andrew Palmer: Yeah there are many, just do a backup why can’t we get them to use something like watchful say to them, which you are, you’re giving them a free version, but educate the community that builds a WordPress to say, you know, Wix and Shopify and all those kinds of stuff. Yes. They handle the backups for you. But what if you’re a WordPress or Joomla user You have to do that yourself. And it astounds me how many agencies don’t actually have a risk and a backup plan. It’s crazy. So how do-

Vic Drover: We address that in two ways, we can only reach the people we can reach, right? The most direct people we reach are the ones who sign up for a free account, not a free trial, a free account. So when they do that our entire onboarding process is simply educational. What are the best practices for backups? What are the retention times? What are, you know, what, how do you write a good, security policy for your company to make sure that you’re protected and your clients are protected. So we actually go through a whole educational process and whether or not they become a customer, they do have those resources. We even have some things on our blog about, how do you make your own managed WordPress hosts kind of do it yourself for obviously much less than, you know, all the top, you know, top tier manage providers would charge. So, we do a lot of education. we call it onboarding, but it really is just its agency education. and a lot of our customers that we get that are on the free tier. I’m not sure they really qualify as an agency. They might have one or two sites that might be their own personal site. and which is totally fine, but they’re getting all that knowledge that we would expect from a solid agency and they can just walk through the process. So how do we expand that past there? I think that’s a great question. we’ve got the content. If you can help me get it out there, I’d love to share it.

Andrew Palmer: You know, I think it’s about meetups. I think it’s about things like this podcast, you know, people tell you, you bought X cloner, didn’t you?

Vic Drover: That’s right. That’s right. That’s a backup plugin. Yep.

Andrew Palmer: Tell us a little bit about that, why you bought that and how it integrates with, watchful. Cause I need to know that.

I’ll tell you. Yeah, and actually this is where we differentiate a little from blog bolt and a few other tools. so our system is, what we wanted you to bring your own preferred. Most people have their own preferred backup process and their own restore process. If they’re using something like blog bolt that all gets taken care of. But we have lots of people who use various different plugins, all in one, you know, and all those different, items. I mean, there are at least 20 [Inaudible 28:24] for WordPress or even more. so our idea right now, I think we’re supporting five of the WordPress ones and we just wanted to have a WordPress plugin that we had control over and wouldn’t change the usage wouldn’t change is licensed or kind of gets sold and converted to some spam ware, you know, all the things that are happening in the acquisition world right now.

So we reached out to ex cloner. It was well-developed, very secure, had about 40,000 installs. So it was a good size, you know, that at least within our budget and it was available. So what happens is when you add a site into watchful, you pick your backup plugin. And so, as I said, we have four or five right now, we’re going to continue to expand on those. And we just got a request today for a WP vivid. I actually had not even heard of that.

Johnathan Denwood: It’s the one we use actually.

Vic Drover: Is that true?

Johnathan Denwood: It’s very good. Actually.

Vic Drover: What, what an interesting coincidence just literally got an email from them today.

Andrew Palmer: When you, when you put your plugin into your watchful plugin into the websites and let’s not forget that I don’t actually do anything, I’ve got debs, of course, I kind of know-how these things work.

Johnathan Denwood: You’ve got minions.

Andrew Palmer: I’ve got the best minions in the world, mate. so the process is-,

Johnathan Denwood: They are trolls actually [inaudible]

Andrew Palmer: They are trolls, the process is you install watchful onto your website install X cloner separately. Or you can do that through watchful.

Vic Drover: You would do it separately. And again, most people who come to us already have their backup process in place. So then as soon as you install watchful, on your site, like it’s a plugin from the repo, you click add to watchful, it bounces you to our SAS, and then your site’s in there. And it says oh what backup, a plug-in do you want to use? And if you had it installed on your site, you select it from the list. And then you say, okay, back up every Monday, you know, save it for however long and put it in this location, you know, in the cloud or whatever. And so it takes you there. It’s a little more DIY. And I think that, well, that suits our current demographic. we would certainly love to expand that where, you know, we could have our own internal one, but again, that changes the price then. If you’re asking us to store your backups, then where do you have to charge you for that. Right?

Andrew Palmer: That’s why blog volt charges the premium and again, once again, it’s fantastic service- I mean, those are maybe we, you and I need to talk about APIs and things like that and how we can get it to actually store it on their own. [inaudible]

Johnathan Denwood: There’s business being done live on the air.

Andrew Palmer: [inaudible], I’m a bit busy at the moment, but no, that’s the thing, backups, and schedules monitoring. and it’s the whole system that people can use. And you’ve got unlimited opportunities to add any, any amount of sites on there. I’ve actually, while I’ve been in there, I’ve just deleted about seven sites. Cause they’ve gone, but because they were my own sites, and it’s so easy to do that while I was talking to you. I was deleting sites actually.

Johnathan Denwood: That’s not wise actually Because you put your mind on two things Andrew I’m not sure you should have done that, but that’s up to you. We’re coming to the end of the podcast, part of the show. hopefully Vic, you’re okay to stay on for another 10, 15 minutes, which we call bonus content. You’ll be able to watch the whole interview plus the bonus content on the WP tonic YouTube channel. before I throw it over to Vic, to give us where the best place is to find more about him and what sounds like his marvelous products. if you really want to support the show, you really want to join the WP tonic Facebook group. It’s the WP tonic WordPress mastermind group, Andrew is going to be helping me. I’m going to be posting more content I’ve nagged Spencer Forum to put post more content on it. You will probably make absolutely no notice of me, which he normally does. I’ve gotten used to dealing with WordPress people, folks it’s like herding cats. you can get frustrated or you can go with the flow. so do that. We’d love you to be a member of the community. We have big plans for me and Andrew about what to do with it. we’ll be doing a newsletter in the near future as well. so over to you, Vic what is the best ways for people because you got a lot of irons in the fire, you’ve got some really interesting stuff, by the sounds of it, what’s the best way for people to find out more about what you’re up to,?

Vic Drover: Hey, go on and watchful.net, create a free account. and if you need to drop me a note, just there’s a support link right there and get me on Twitter at Vic drover, V I C D R O V E R but I also encourage you to check [Inaudible]

Johnathan Denwood: He is broken up a little bit but- what also, in the bonus content, we’re going to be discussing Vic’s experiences of the Joomla community. what’s it been like to build a kind of platform on this? What does he think of the WordPress community? that’s what we’re going to be talking about so Andrew what’s the best way for people to find out more about you as well Andrew?

Andrew Palmer: well, you can go to the good pain group, the good pain Facebook group, and you can also get me on this is Andrew palmer.com.

Johnathan Denwood: That’s great. We’ll see you next week with another great interview. Remember to go and have a look at the bonus content because I’ve really enjoyed this interview so far. We’ll see you, next week folks,

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