Impression of a Semi-Newbie to The WordPress Professional Community
More About Kurt Von Ahnen
Kurt is a published author, former executive, and current entrepreneur; I am uniquely qualified to help others grow their teams and businesses through communication and leadership consulting that builds culture. This culture leads to processes that stick, which equals growth and profit.
Main Questions For Interview
#1 – Kurt, can you give the listeners and viewers some insights about your general background and how you got involved with the WordPress community?
#2 – Kurt, you attended WordCamp USA; what were your initial impressions and the good and bad things that you didn’t like?
#3 – All online and physical communities have a different feel and general philosophy; make them all unique how in your own mind, would you verbally explain to a newbie what the key thing they need to know about the WordPress community is?
#4 – Any personal thoughts connected to how Matt Mullenweg and the leadership runes WordPress?
#5 – If you go back to a time machine at the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
#6 – Are there any books, websites, or online recourses that have helped you in your own business development that you like to share with the audience?
This Week Show’s Sponsors
Sensei LMS: Sensei LMS
(00:01) Intro: Welcome to the WP Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS podcast where Jonathan Denwood interviews the leading experts in WordPress e-learning and online marketing to help WordPress professionals launch their own SaaS.
(00:16) Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show this week in WordPress. And I’ve got a friend, a special guest. I’ve got Kurt back with us. We are going to be discussing Kurt’s experiences of going to a first word, Camp USA. And he’s been more active in the WordPress community. I just want to get his impressions about the community. We are also going to discuss anything else about WordPress that comes up in the interview. It should be a great interview. We’re going to be back in a few moments. I’ve got a few messages from our major sponsors. Be back in a minute.
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(02:02) Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. I just want to point out that we got some special deals and if you’re looking for a specific recommendation around a WordPress plugin or SaaS service, we’ve got a long list of products that we personally recommend and give you a quick review. To get all these goodies and special offers, all you have to do is go over the WP-Tonic deals, WP Tonic/deals, and you can get all those goodies there. Plus you can sign up for the WP-Tonic Newsletter that goes out every Sunday. That has a great, all the latest WordPress and tech stories, plus a couple editorials from me. So Kurt, would you like to quickly give an introduction about yourself, about your background, and about how you got involved in WordPress?
(03:00) Kurt Von Ahnen: Jonathan, my journey with WordPress started a lot further back than I realized it had. I recently joined a Facebook group and one of the questions was, when did you join the WordPress community? You had to go to wordpress.org.com and look up your username and it said 2004. And I was like, Holy crap, I’m old. But I started out with Macromedia 2004, the suite back then. And I, at first was doing HTML websites through Dream Weaver Fireworks and all that. And then of course Adobe got in the mix and bought that out. And I’ve done Joomla and Droople and live site with Camelback and WordPress and I ended up just finding the simplicity and the flexibility of WordPress to be really attractive and I started focusing more and more on that.
(03:49) Jonathan Denwood: So you got a background in corporate education and, and training in general with emphasis on the auto industry. Is that correct, Kurt?
(04:03) Kurt Von Ahnen: Yeah. I used to be the North American Training Manager for Ducati North America. So that was Canada, United States and Mexico. And then when I left Ducati, I went to Suzuki, Suzuki is, a much bigger company. So, I worked as the technical training and publications manager for them. And that was automotive motorcycle and marine. And so it was really cool to work in those industries, but also to get exposure to how corporate folks think about e-learning and what they’re willing to spend for it. And that’s when I realized, really hit hard, that WordPress was a fantastic option.
(04:38) Jonathan Denwood: Right. That’s great. Just look at my questions. So you attended, cause I attended it you attended Word Camp USA, which was a slightly odd affair because of Covid they limited the tickets to slightly under 700, and normally over 3000 people attended, which in some ways was a bit odd, but it also made it a slightly more intimate word, Camp USA. And it was based around a kind of suave-ish where they’re trying to make it hotel. So it was like a free day event, it was your first US Word Camp. What was your general impression about the whole thing Kurt?
(05:32) Kurt Von Ahnen: Well, first off, I wanted a guest of Lifter LMS and so those guys spoiled the crud outta me and made it so much fun. And they were so good at introducing me and so gracious at sharing their network with me that it was an unbelievable event for me. But if I were to look at it from the average person attending, you know it really did seem to be like the inner circle of the kids club, because there wasn’t a lot of extra people there, at least in my opinion, this was my first word camp. So, but I’d gotten feedback from other people at the post-event beers and Hors d’oeuvres and stuff like that. And it really did seem like, here’s the folks from Blue Host, here’s the folks from this hosting company or that hosting company or, and, I got some really cool socks and, and hats and stuff for swag. But it was interesting to just kind of dive in, dive at the deep end, and meet all the people that run these different programs and tools that I use.
(06:34) Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, it definitely, had the feel, in my opinion, at, of a trade show. Would you agree with that?
(06:42) Kurt Von Ahnen: well, yeah. And not for nothing, I didn’t think of it as anything other than a trade show cause I didn’t have anything else to compare it to. And so it did feel like, like those in the power sports industry, if you went to AM Expo or if you went to the International Motorcycle Show it felt like that without the fans, it felt like it was, it was just the dealerships and distributors that got together, not the people that ride motorcycles. And this word camp to me was like, it’s the people that make WordPress and make products, but I didn’t see a lot of end users or, content creators walking around.
(07:19) Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, like I say, it, it like I attended Word Camp Europe and that had a slightly under 3000 people. So it’s always a kind of mixture of a trade show industry in a crowd with a lot of developer outside or just general users, obviously going to something like Word Camp US or Word Camp Europe, it tends to be a slightly more industry crowd because you’ve got the cost of the flight going to Portugal or flying down to Southern California where the regional Word camps you do. So have you been to any regional Word camps?
(08:09) Kurt Von Ahnen: No, no. The, Word camp experience was so positive for me though that I’ve started to attend some of my local regional WordPress meetups and I’ve been in the WordPress community forever, right? But then I thought, well, it’s a community. I should probably get outta my shell and meet some of these folks. And so I’ve been hitting up a couple of the meetups in the area. So I did the Riverside One and the Orange County one here in Southern California.
(08:34) Jonathan Denwood: Orange County has traditionally had a very large WordPress meetup and Word Camp. I have attended the Orange County Word Camp a couple of times over the years. It’s a smaller one compared to the OA Word camp, but it’s got a very strong industry feel to it because you get a lot of, it seems that there is a lot of the industries plugin developers there that attend that. So what’s been your impressions about going, are these virtual or have they been physical, these meetups?
(09:26) Kurt Von Ahnen: The Orange County one was virtual and yeah, I’ve only attended once so far because, that’s the way the timing worked. But they had some obstacles with the Zoom and the Zoom bombing and you know what it’s like you start getting spammed inside your meeting and that was a distraction. But once they got, once they got through getting ready to the Zoom bombers, they were able to break out into questions and, and help other folks. That’s the cool part is when you’re part of the solution and you get to, work with peers or problem-solve with people, it’s really pretty rewarding.
(10:00) Jonathan Denwood: So I’m amazed. You actually had some bombers trying to get into it and disrupt it a little bit Were they?
(10:08) Kurt Von Ahnen: That’s been happening on a lot of things for me lately, Jonathan. I don’t know how people, I don’t, I don’t see how people get paid doing it. It’s gotta be just boredom at home. I don’t know. But it’s happened on the lifter LMS presales call last week, and then it happened with this, you post that link somewhere in a public calendar, people jump in and do crazy things and you’re like, I’m trying to do business here. But it doesn’t seem to have an end in mind when they do it, it’s just disruptive.
(10:43) Jonathan Denwood: So did you, did you notice any kind of peculiarities? Nothing too bad, but, every community in my opinion has a slight cultural difference. And was there anything you noticed about Word Camp US, the way people were, the way it was running that you found slightly different to attending other trade shows and being involved in auto communities?
(11:15) Kurt Von Ahnen: Well, I’ll just go out on a limb and at the risk of ruffling feathers, Jonathan, the Automo–
(11:22) Jonathan Denwood: I would, I would never do that. Would I?
(11:26) Kurt Von Ahnen: The automotive industry was an essential business during Covid. The motorcycle industry was an essential business during Covid. And so when Las Vegas opened back up and people could do a convention, and they said, Oh, masks are required, to enter our building, nobody cared. Everybody walked in hugs and handshakes and high fives and people were so happy to be back networking again. It was like a business-as-usual situation. The word camp kind of took me aside because that was after all the automotive meetings. And so, even after they had said there were no mass mandates in the city and there were no mask mandates here or there, it was still a thing at the Word camp. And then I noticed that there were people within that community that were super sensitive to the idea of masking and social distancing. I noticed they didn’t always have that same sensitivity at the after-party, but during the event, they sure did. And that was something where, mentally I just picked up those cues. And it reminds me, Jonathan, that as we interact within our world we never really understand the sensitivities of someone else that we’re interacting with.
(12:44) Jonathan Denwood: In WordPress. They make it very, very clear. They’re experts at making it clear that you’ve upset them. And obviously, I’m not psychopath I’m sure you are not, I’m not sure if you would agree that I’m not. But I don’t go outta my way to upset people. So it’s a balance. But it’s not hard to upset people in the WordPress community. So yeah, because I notice that in WordPress Europe, they didn’t really enforce it and they got from a certain group in the WordPress community. They got a lot of grief and criticism, negative criticism for that, which I felt was, I just had to kind of oscillating feeling about the whole thing because I thought WordPress Europe was, it was in Portugal.
It was a great event. It was the first major event for over, two years. They almost got 3000 people. Porto was a lovely city. The Portuguese were very welcoming, the whole thing. Had a good buzz. I think everybody was enjoying themselves. And then you had a lot of online criticism from people that didn’t attend or had attended that were upset that they didn’t enforce the mask restrictions. And that kind of put a little bit of downer on an event, but that’s WordPress for you. It has a tendency to shoot itself in its foot. And you could say I’m one of the trolls about that. So apart from that what did you think of the setting and the hotel and the whole way it was organized? Any observations,
(14:45) Kurt Von Ahnen: outside of the mask mandates and the people walking around reminding you to put your mask on? I thought, I thought the facility was fantastic. Now I stayed at an Airbnb offsite. I didn’t stay at the Hotel.
(14:57) Jonathan Denwood: Oh, I did, I did.
(14:59) Kurt Von Ahnen: Yeah. And so I don’t know anything about the rooms or the accommodations or the house cleaning or none of that. And I didn’t really care about the pool because I was there for the event. I thought the room was the right size for the amount of vendors and the amount of participation and the amount of traffic. I thought that the room itself and the speaking rooms, I thought they were well-appointed, proper sized. And, and I thought as far as being like, from an event planner’s perspective, I thought that went off really, really well. I thought
(15:31) Jonathan Denwood: Without the lifter LMS team introducing you to people and if you had gone there as, yourself as a vendor, maybe as an independent website builder in the e-learning learning area How do you think you would’ve found it?
(15:56) Kurt Von Ahnen: See that puts me on a, I do this a lot where I try like, what are other people’s shoes like? I always try and think about that. What’s it like for the other person? Because I really try to recognize the blessings I’m given through life. And if I had to go in there unescorted as myself without a team behind me, I think there would’ve been a little bit of a challenge. There was something going on, on the other side of the room from us around, around the Gravity Forms booth. And, this is not a poke gravity forms. There was some kind of prize or some kind of drawing they were doing. There was a bunch of people around, and it was very, very obvious that the people in that clique and that group all knew each other. You know what I mean? It was obvious that it was a, group of, of those people. And if I didn’t have the strength of lifter behind me to introduce me to all those folks, I never would’ve gotten to know any of ’em.
(16:52) Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. To wrap it up, because there’s been discussion that if you are a person from minority if you are from a minority group if you’re a disabled individual, I’ve always thought that Word Press was pretty open. And, because of the price point, normally it costs about $40 to attend. It’s highly subsidized by the hosting or other major players in the WordPress space which keeps the ticket price down to a very low level, which is good and bad in my opinion. But I’ve actually been thinking about it and I do think there’s a need for some fundamental changes because it and it doesn’t, I’m not attacking WordPress in general. I would imagine this applies to all such a type of events. They do become very cliquey. And unless you’ve got structures and methodologies to attempt to overcome that to new people and people from minorities, it can become–
You gotta try and put yourself in their shoes, which isn’t easy and you can dismiss what they’re saying. And I do think there are some different things that need. I don’t, unfortunately, have how that could be done. I think there probably are some methodologies that could be adopted that could help out with that. We’re going to go for our break. When we come back, I’m going to be asking Kurt about corporate training and his experience and the attitudes that corporations have around training and how they regard it. We will be back in a few moments like,
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(20:02) Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back folks. We’ve had a discussion with Kurt about his experiences at Word Camp and that I just want to point out if you want to really support the show, the best way is to subscribe to iTunes, subscribe to the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. That really, really helps if you subscribe, it’s a major signal to Google and YouTube if you do that. Also listen to our podcasts for membership machine show with my co-host Spencer Forum. It’s a great news show. We’re getting a lot of interest in it. That would be great. So Kurt, let’s talk about your experiences in the corporate world and training. So big question, but how does the corporate world view online training in general?
(21:00) Kurt Von Ahnen: I was going to say, you were, you were starting to take that question down, down a road that would be fun to answer and that’s, they don’t. Training is the last thing on corporations’ minds. They say it’s important until it’s time to write the check or to hire somebody or to buy, some equipment. And then of course it comes down to, well, we gotta make cuts or we have to watch the budget or, sale sales are up this quarter, sales are down next quarter. We gotta be careful. Most of what I saw was horrific overspending and poor planning. It’s because they, it’s like they wait too long to start their training initiative, it becomes an emergency so then they contract somebody out, that overcharges ’em for curriculum development and stuff like that.
I mean, Jonathan, I don’t want to give out names, but I’ve worked with companies that have spent a half million dollars a year on just hosting an LMS and they still have an internal department that’s making content. so the corporate world, I’d love to crack that nut open a little bit better as a freelancer and as an agency myself and figure out how could I possibly convince them that their proprietary learning platforms are junk and it takes too much work and it’s too much maintenance and it’s too many hands in the pot when there’s, when there’s, right now technologies come so far in the last decade. I mean, it’s so easy to, I shouldn’t say its so easy cause then I take away my own sale. But it’s easy to make an LMS, to have a site. You just have to worry about content and user experience and, getting people through the product, you know?
(22:44) Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I always felt I just want to confirm if I’m on the right track. I always thought training when it came to corporations was the Cinderella and it, and it’s really in the middle. And what I mean by the middle is when things are going well, the sales team are producing the internal team that, that supports the sales, support is driven by sales. When things are going well, well, we don’t have to bother with training cause things are going we can’t meet the demand now, so why should we invest any money in training? And then when times get tough the business is still making really good money by the way. But the market’s got a little bit less hot, put it that way. Oh, we gotta cut back ’cause we got, profitability has declined a bit and we’re going to cut the training because it’s not essential. So I always felt training was a little bit in the middle. What your thoughts about that?
(24:01) Kurt Von Ahnen: I’m more pessimistic than you are Jonathan. Almost on purpose. So let’s say that a company’s making a new widget, right? And everyone that sells this widget in the country is going to have to have some kind of training on product. Like some kind of product training, some kind of technical training, some kind of something. The training team, you would think, because common sense would tell you the training team would be working with engineering and development and production to be able to understand how this product was built. And
(24:31) Jonathan Denwood: Well, it’s just a slight hope, just a slight hope. That would be the fact
(24:36) Kurt Von Ahnen: How it’s supposed to work when it’s working well. And then if this product fails to operate as designed, what are the critical thinking methods to figure out why the product failed? Jonathan, that’s not even close to reality. Reality is they purposefully tell sales about the product so they can start pre-selling it. And everyone’s pre-selling off of a, off of a sheet of some kind, a one-pager, and the product can sometimes be developed, manufactured, packaged, and on a boat to America before the training department even gets official notice that the product is coming. This has happened to me with simple products, but it’s also happened to me with very, very intricate high-performance products. And as the training manager, you’re like, you’re begging people, can I have an image of it? Can I have a picture of it? Can I, do we know what the engine’s going to look like? And magazines, the media is getting media packages that have details about the product, but the training department doesn’t get the product. And so you can be two, three weeks away from a major product launch. And as the training manager still not know as much as the editor of a magazine that got a tech package from the sales department.
(25:54) Jonathan Denwood: Is that, linked based on your experience that the PR the marketing department is totally separate from the training? Does it tend to be under HR supervision where the marketing is a totally separate department and then sales is in the middle of HR and PR and marketing? Am I on the right track?
(26:26) Kurt Von Ahnen: You’re on the right track in so many ways. But there’s, the other thing I hate to say it comes down to trust Jonathan, but I really do think a lot of it comes down to trust. If the company really trusted the training manager and really trusted people that make training, training content, they would have them in the mix the whole time so that you could launch prepared. But typically what happens is you launch a minimal viable product for training and then six months or a year later, you have to update that training and then mandate the people take the update. So that’s typically how that works. And I think it’s the silos, like you mentioned. So there’s marketing, there’s sales, there’s product development, there’s research– research development and product development they treat everything. They do like its top secret like you’re working in the Pentagon and they’re afraid that you’re going to leak all their secrets out to the rest of the world.
When you make training product, you’re basically leaking what the development was. The other side of training at the corporate level is stemmed from what I just said technicians in the field need to understand how things are made so they can make repairs or they can, affect positive results from training. But a lot of times product development and engineering, they’ll believe or perceive that what they built somehow is proprietary knowledge, but it’s not like they’ll take three common things, bolt them all together and say it’s proprietary. And it’s like, that’s not really proprietary you got three common things bolted together. I just need to know why they’re bolted together and how it works as a unit. So from the corporate world, building training can be very complicated but also very frustrating because of the internal politics.
(28:14) Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. Cause would you agree that I think when if training is under the orbit of HR that I think HR based on my experience is, is a bit of the Cinderella department of most corporate hierarchy. It, really is a very underfunded, minimalistic and the real drivers are marketing and, and the real driver is the sales department basically. Would you agree with that?
(28:51) Kurt Von Ahnen: Yeah. Every technically driven company I’ve worked for really did focus on sales first and everything else after. And HR is always a struggle. So you can go to an HR department in the corporate world and say, I’ve got this great platform, we can on board your employees this new remote working thing, we can help you make, personal branded training for your company and realistically their company’s given them a very limited budget and everyone gets a subscription to linda.com or LinkedIn learning. Yeah, there are some challenges in the corporate world, but that leads me to small and medium-sized companies that will actually make the investment and understand that when you train staff for a small to medium company, you are saving them the expense or saving them the money of having to train people the hard way. So it,
(29:41) Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, also I feel, and, I’ve written a piece and I published it on LinkedIn and that is that I really see the most effective marketing and sales or, marketing and sales linking those two departments. So they actually work together more effectively, is a bit of a nightmare in itself. But producing e-learning or learning, I call it learning marketing producing materials that educate because I think the consumer because of YouTube, because of the internet, does a lot more pre-research and identifying the products and services that they’re going to contact much more than just ringing up somebody and not really still can happen. But I think most consumers are, doing a lot more research before they actually contact a particular vendor. What are your thoughts about that Kurt?
(30:53) Kurt Von Ahnen: Well, in the power sports field and automotive, that couldn’t be more true. Especially with the supply-demand issues we’ve seen in the last two years because selling now isn’t selling, you’re just order taking and customers are showing up, having done the research through, the OEM’s website and they understand what’s the horsepower, what are the features, for a motorcycle, does it have wheelie control and slide control and all that stuff.
(31:15) Jonathan Denwood: Can I interrupt their slightly? Cause I slightly disagree with you. Not in the majority of, it’s just the way you framed it. I actually think you are totally right. They’re much more educated, but that requires the salesperson to have even a higher level of knowledge to have authority and bring anything to the discussion.
(31:43) Kurt Von Ahnen: Yes, what you said makes absolute common sense, but in practice has not happened. The dealerships and the people that are in charge of putting sales staff on these floors, and it could be from Best Buy buying computers to, they’re just trying to get warm bodies to blow fog on a mirror and stand there and take orders. The demand has far outweighed the supply recently, which has made sales extremely easy. But I’m actually seeing a, a pretty quick trend around the corner where that’s not going to stay that way very long. And training’s going to be at the forefront of these companies once again to figure out what do we do with the staff. They’ve had a lot of turnover, with the stimulus checks and all that stuff. There are a lot of new people in positions at a lot of these retail companies and they’re not prepared to actively sell and optimize the relationships they need to have on the floor.
(32:40) Jonathan Denwood: Right. We’re going to wrap it up now. It’s been an interesting discussion, Kurt. How can people find out more about you and what you do in WordPress and in training in general Kurt?
(32:50) Kurt Von Ahnen: I’m on LinkedIn almost every day. I’ve really worked hard at growing the LinkedIn network and kind of being a force there. So Kurt Von Ahnen on LinkedIn, I’m the only Kurt Von Ahnen on there, so that makes it easy. I went under the name Manana No Mas for a long time and branded that name really well. So Manana No Mas takes you to a really good blog and, and some sample product that I’ve got. But I’ve just started recently rebranding myself as WPE learning under someone else’s advice. And that’s been interesting to play with too, to see what kind of audience that kind of new branding brings. So yeah, I’m out there, come see me. And on LinkedIn, they got this new thing where they say follow everybody. But I still encourage people to connect, actually click the link, make the connection, and then we’ll do a discovery call, have a quick phone call and get to know each other.
(33:35) Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. I’m going to wrap it up. We’ve got some fantastic guests in the next couple weeks and in December. In December, we’re going to have a couple weeks’ break, but we’ve got some fantastic guests and I’ve got some great plans for the New Year. Join us, next week folks. We’ll see you soon. Bye.
(33:56) Outro: Hey, thanks for listening. We really do appreciate it. Why not visit the Mastermind Facebook group and also to keep up with the latest news? Click wp-tonic.com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.
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