A Mission To Improve The WordPress User Onboarding Experience
WordPress is an open-source platform that powers over 40% of the web. WordPress is becoming the de facto operating system of the web and is supported by a massive ecosystem surrounding the platform. While at Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com), my co-founder and I saw the WordPress ecosystem’s power. We founded Extendify to transform WordPress into a superpower for hosts, developers, and users.
Before Automattic, my Adobe team led acquisitions and investments in enterprise marketing technologies and next-generation media. We created the Adobe Experience Cloud through a series of transformative acquisitions, and we helped evolve the Adobe Creative Cloud into a modern SaaS platform for creativity through acquisitions and investments in marketplace, 3D, VR, and voice app technologies.
I previously worked at Silicon Valley Bank and KeyBanc Capital Markets and started my career in software development at Andeen-Hagerling and Melodies (nka SoundHound).
This Week Show’s Sponsors
Sensei LMS: Sensei LMS
Main Questions For Interview
#1 – Artur can you give the listeners and viewers some background info about yourself and Extendify?
#2 – What are the significant problems that Extendify is trying to help fix regarding WordPress?
#3 – I personally feel that WordPress really does need some help when it comes to improving its onboarding experience at the beginning of 2023 can this be done in core or reality can this only be done by hosting providers, or is a mixture of both doing better?
#4 – WordPress isn’t a SaaS, and one of the leading drivers in the platform’s growth, in my opinion, has been its extensive library of third-party plugins. However, this inherently courses problems when it comes to UX and onboarding experience compared to SaaS applications would you agree with this statement and are they any fixes?
#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?
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.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back, folks, to the WP-Tonic Show, this week in WordPress and SaaS, we have a great guest. I know I do say that every week, but I, actually, really, mean it this week, we have Arthur, and he’s from Extendify. It’s a, really, I don’t quite know how to explain what it is, it’s much more than a plugin, but I’m going to let Arthur do that. We’re going to be talking about the problems with an open-source platform like WordPress when it comes to onboarding. Can some of the problems that are linked to some of the inherent strengths of WordPress that lead to inconsistent UX design be overcome or improved.
It’s going to be a fascinating discussion. Before we go into the main meat and potato of it, I have a couple of messages from our major sponsors. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. So, I’m going to let Arthur introduce himself. So, Arthur, maybe you can give us a quick background about yourself, about Extendify and what led you to, with your co-founder, what led to starting Extendify.
Artur Grabowski: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, thanks for having me, Jonathan. It’s funny, I’ve had you in my ear for years now, through the podcast.
Jonathan Denwood: I want to apologize about that, Arthur, I’m sorry.
Artur Grabowski: No, and it’s funny, I’ve spent many walks with my dog listening to the WP-Tonic podcast, and because of everything going on in the world, we haven’t, really, had a chance to spend time together. And then, finally, this year we got to catch up a bit in Portugal and then in San Diego, and that’s pretty cool. It’s been, really, nice to, actually, get to spend some time together and trade notes and I look forward to more of that in the coming years. But, yeah, thanks for having me.
So, I’m Arthur Grabowski, if folks have seen the spelling of my name, it’s Artur, but I go by Arthur because that makes it easier for everyone. And I am, in the grand scheme of things, newer to the WordPress ecosystem than lots of the folks that I work with here, and I think that’s been, really, a big advantage and that’s something that I’ve leaned into also, in taking some perspectives from outside of the ecosystem and trying to introduce them here and figure out how we can leverage all of the awesome work people are doing in the software world outside of WordPress and bring some of that in here as well.
And so, kind of, going way back, I started out on the software development front in both, kind of, a research setting and then in a more traditional, kind of, Silicon Valley startup setting, and then pivoted toward more of the business world, where I spent a bulk of my career at companies like Adobe. So, lots of folks know Adobe for the creative tools, the Photoshop and Illustrator and that, there’s also a large enterprise marketing product part of that business. And so, my team was involved in building a lot of those through a variety of acquisitions and investments and bringing together some multi-billion dollar businesses there, which was a, really, fun set of projects to work on.
And then I, really, came into the WordPress ecosystem when I joined Automattic, and my co-founder, Chris Lubkert, and I joined Automattic around the same time. And, really, got to spend time on everything, sort of, related to how does WordPress and Automattic grow across its businesses, whether that’s wordpress.com, WordPress VIP, Jetpack, Woocommerce, and was a, really, cool opportunity to spend time with that team, with Matt and, really, dive deep into this amazing ecosystem that all of us know so well, and where there are strengths and weaknesses and opportunities.
And, in particular, what was interesting to me was coming in and seeing work around Gutenberg, which we can talk more about Gutenberg, but coming from Adobe, we had spent a lot of time thinking about what does the future of web editing, web authoring look like? And we saw from our own tools and everyone else’s tools that block-based editing is, really, where things were headed, and so when I saw Gutenberg, I was super excited about it. Lots of folks that have been in the ecosystem for a long time have various opinions about the products side of things and the rollout of it, et cetera.
But when I looked at WordPress and a state of the ecosystem where the base built-in editor was, really, very hard and limiting for average users, this looked like a huge step forward to me. And so, anyway, this was, kind of, that initial deep dive into WordPress and what Chris and I observed and decided to pursue was the state for the average, kind of, new user to WordPress for whom WordPress remains challenging. We saw an opportunity to leverage Gutenberg and build a set of solutions on top of WordPress to make it an almost, kind of, Wix-like experience, an experience that is easy to get started, be successful in building a digital experience.
And we decided to build those tools, specifically, for WordPress hosts, as a way to deliver those experiences to users when a user first signs up for WordPress and before a user has a chance to fail; that is an important component of what we’re doing, is we didn’t want to just build another plugin that users, kind of, stumble into. We wanted to build a set of services and experiences for WordPress hosts to deliver to their users so that they can offer this world class SaaS-like website building experience on top of core WordPress and do it in a way that decreases their churn, grows that host’s revenue and makes everyone successful at the end of the day.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s fantastic, Arthur. Follow through question. Basically, I think Jetpack was seen as a solution to some of the inconsistencies and onboarding feedback, which they were, probably, receiving. That was the strong impression, I’m not for sure, but that was the strong impression. I think that, and this is based solely, I’ve had no quantified internal information, this is, totally, just my opinion. I feel that that’s been given up on, I think the idea that Jetpack was going to help in solving some of the onboarding UX consistent problems has been given up on; that’s my impression.
And I think you have two ways of making, either you find a niche in WordPress and you build a, I’m focusing on plugins, you find a niche and you can make a, really, good living still, if you find a niche because the WordPress platform is so enormous. Or you can, really, try and solve something that’s, really, difficult and you’re going big and you’re trying to solve something that’s, really, difficult, and, obviously, you’re going big with it, so I, really, admire you attempting this because.
So, that was a little bit long winded, but so I presume that is the significant problem that you’re trying to solve with Extendify is, of all its strengths that WordPress brings the table, one of its biggest weaknesses is the onboarding experience, in my opinion, I presume; and you seem to be saying that, that is what you’re attempting to try and make better. First of all, obviously, you come to the conclusion that it is a big problem, obviously, you’ve come to the conclusion that it can be improved quite a bit.
Artur Grabowski: Yeah, that’s right. There’s a lot there, I’ll say that onboarding is a, it’s a big term and I think a lot goes into it. I think that there are elements of onboarding that core will address, but because WordPress has to serve so many different use cases, so many different types of users. It will never become an overly opinionated experience that, really, meets the expectations of this small and medium business user that we are primarily serving, that business that is creating a website for its yoga studio or law firm or manufacturing business, it needs that website to, kind of, help them, really, create a compelling experience, there are elements of that core will never do.
And onboarding is, there is that initial first touch experience, which for us, that is a product we call Extendify Launch, and this is, again, one of these products that a host anywhere in the world can come in and work with us, partner with us to offer that onboarding experience for their users. And when they do, it is this seamless experience, where a host redirects their users to WordPress, we will take over that initial first touch experience and onboard those users in a goal-based onboarding, which means we’re not just offering pretty designs.
We ask a user, what are you trying to achieve with your website? And if they tell us that they are trying to schedule events or appointments or sell products, et cetera, we will deliver to them different designs, different functional components, and, really, make something that is, it feels, really, bespoke to that user. And importantly, the websites that we onboard users to are built 100% with core Gutenberg components. We don’t have our own page editor, we don’t have our own blocks even, and what’s important there is, we think core is amazing, and we want to just make core more usable for that average user, which means we’ll get the user started with that initial launch experience.
But then after they get through that, they are just using the core editor, if they need support with something, if they need help, they’re just looking for help with how to use the block editor or how to use site editing; they’re not looking for, Hey, how do I do this Extendify thing? And that’s, really, important to us. But then I think onboarding goes beyond just that, what is that first-touch experience of going from zero to a site that’s 80% ready? How do we keep going? And there we have two other modules to Extendify, one is called Assist, which you can think of as this smart contextual to-do list of what is the next most important thing for this website owner to create.
And we still think of that as an extension of onboarding, because Extendify Assist lives with you throughout the life cycle of your website. It is what you use to set up some of the initial stuff like upload a logo, an icon, change the site tag, we guide users through all of that, uploading images, all of that stuff. But then, we’ll guide users through the things they’re going to be doing three months down the road and that they shouldn’t have to think about day one of creating their website, but they will need to think about three months down the line.
So, that’s, kind of, the second module. And the third module that we’re offering to users now is the Extendify library, this is, actually, the one piece of Extendify a user can find on their own through the .org repo of plugins. Everything else I’ve talked about is, really, delivered through a partnership with host, but the free version of the library is something someone can download on their own, and it is a library of preconfigured patterns and templates using, again, only core blocks.
And it’s done in this, really, cool way where we show the library, we show these designs to users rendered live using their theme and styling decisions on their website. So, what they see in the library reflects all of the colors and typography and all of the other decisions they’ve made on their website, so it looks like a very personalized experience for them. And so, I say all of that, again, to go back to this idea of onboarding for us goes beyond the first five minutes of getting started with WordPress.
We cover that and we do that, really, well, we do it in a cool way that no one else in the world has done, and it leverages all of the, sort of, latest and greatest of core Gutenberg, but we continue to live with that user and guide them along the way throughout that life cycle so that they don’t fail on day three or day five or day seven, that they keep going, they’re successful, they build a larger website, they’re spending more on their website so that the host partners that we work with are able to grow their businesses and everyone’s happy and everyone succeeds together.
And when you think about all of that put together, there’s no way core is going to do that there, and if core chips away at little pieces of it, we’ll leverage that, we don’t need to replicate what core is doing, we’re contributors to core through Five for the Future; we love what core is doing. But all of this other stuff that added, kind of, value layer for getting small, medium business websites up and running and continuing to grow, that’s, really, where we’re leaning in and have a real advantage in the experience that we’re building.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. Just to wrap up the discussion before we go for our mid-break. I see that, obviously, there are some enormous hosting companies, GoDaddy, WP Engine, Liquid Web; it’s a very fragmented market, though, when you, actually, look at the statistics, but I see it playing out, which is what WP-Tonic is. We’re a hosting boutique solution. And this is how I see it, I see you have your giants like GoDaddy, but I see there being a host of what I, in my own mind, call, Arthur, boutique hosting providers. And that, traditionally, has been there a little bit, but they’ve utilized multi-site to provide that.
And, in my mind, and I’m not having a go, you end up with a, kind of, SaaS, WordPress solution with all of the negative sides of a SaaS product of lack of ownership, not having any flexibility to utilize all of the power of all of those 60,000 plugins that are available out there. But I see that there’s a middle ground between boutique hosting providers and not utilizing multisite and the non-specialized hosting providers. What do you think of what I’ve just outlined? Do you think I’m on the right track, or do you think I’m deluding myself?
Artur Grabowski: I think it highlights what’s so cool about WordPress is you can do a little bit of everything. You can create a, kind of, WordPress as a service solution, specifically, targeting learning management or some, sort of, non-profit website sector, et cetera; you can do all of that. I think that’s, really, cool and it reflects the flexibility of WordPress, I think as long as users know what they’re signing up for, that’s great. To your point, I think it’s possible for someone to create an experience that’s not transparent to users about exactly what they’re getting, but I think one of our core beliefs with building so closely on top of core WordPress and not introducing separate components, et cetera, into the Extendify experience has been.
We want to get users every advantage in being successful in creating their WordPress website, but we don’t want to limit them in any way, which means, because we only use core components, Extendify websites are compatible with every WordPress website. And so, all of those 60,000 plugins that you describe, all of them work, as long as they work with the latest versions of WordPress they work with Extendify, and that’s important to us.
But what I will also say is, as much as the plugin repo of 60,000 plugins is an advantage of WordPress, it’s also an issue, and I’m not saying anything new, lots of people have said this too, right? The variability in quality in support levels, et cetera, is massive, and that’s very hard for new users to navigate.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, it’s a flea market, isn’t it?
Artur Grabowski: It is. It is. That’s right. You don’t know who’s working on it, where it came from, et cetera, whether it’s someone’s side project they just created for themselves and it happened to blow up, or if it’s a real company behind it. And I will say that is a place where we also believe it is our responsibility to guide users to better decisions around what functionality they use. And so, somebody uses Extendify, they can use any plugin they want in the repo, but we will also help them make some decisions along the way to make sure that they are using products that we know are supported, are backed by real teams, where the code is sound.
And we do so in a way, though, that is goal oriented. I think what’s lost, sometimes, in a community of developers who, really, have a deep understanding of how things work in WordPress, is that a brand new user coming to WordPress who wants, for example, to start-up a newsletter, they’re not thinking about the fact that they need a contact form to collect information, email addresses and names. Then they need some, sort of, CRM to manage all of those contacts and lists, et cetera, essentially, some, sort of, list management solution. And then they need some, sort of, email sending solution to, actually, send those out.
And there are multiple components associated with this. A new user coming to WordPress doesn’t know that, right? They just want to send a newsletter. And so, for us, we don’t ask a user if they want a contact form. We ask a user what their goal is, and if their goal is to build a newsletter email list, we will bring in the right components that together, solve that problem, based on the goal the user told us about. And the user can always swap out any of those components. It’s still all open-source, it’s still all flexible, but by focusing on, there’s this term often used in software and elsewhere, of jobs to be done.
We think about the job to be done, and if the job to be done is to help a user engage with their customers through email, we will solve that job to be done with the right components, with plugins that we know are scalable, backed by real companies, so the user doesn’t have to make that decision. And so, in doing this, we, kind of, leveraged the best of both worlds, we have this repo of 60,000 plugins to pick the best from that we know will solve the problem for our user, but we also get to curate and make sure that user is going to be successful.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s fantastic. I have a question, a followed question of what you just said, but we can leave that for the second half. We’re going for our break, folks. We’ll be back in a few moments.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. I just want to point out, you’ve just listened to some of our great sponsors. If you go to wp-tonic/deals, there are some exclusive offers only offered to you, the WP-Tonic listener and viewer from our sponsors, plus I have a list of recommendations of plugins for specific solutions that have all been tested by myself personally, and I think they’re the best. They’re all listed on that page. They are affiliate links as well, but they’re under my personal recommendation as well.
As I said, you can get all those goodies by going over to wp-tonic/deals, plus you can sign up for the WP-Tonic newsletter, which you get in your inbox every week, which is just a fabulous newsletter. And you can sample my insights around WordPress and tech. I, totally, agree and followed what you were saying in the first half of the show, but you also putting a, really, big target on your back, you and your company, because, obviously, recommending what you see, honestly, as the best solution means you are excluded somebody else.
And when they find out that you’re excluded them from that list, you become not their friend, they are somebody that doesn’t say hello to you at a WordCamp, they walk past you without saying hello, you’re no longer part of their WordPress community, Arthur. You seem like a very nice person, very businesslike, but I would imagine there’s been some conversations going your way, and as you build this business, I would imagine these conversations are going to get a bit more intense. Have you rationalized that in your own mind, not being very popular with a few people?
Artur Grabowski: Yeah, I think we will be quite popular with lots of folks. There’s, just, generally speaking, I think one of the things that’s been so energizing is how supportive the community has been of what we’re doing. Our goal, essentially, so our overarching goal is we want to make; our direct customer is a WordPress host, and we want to, through our partners, the WordPress host that we partner with, we want to make WordPress users more successful. If WordPress users are more successful, then they stay in WordPress, instead of turning to Wix or Shopify or Squarespace.
And so, our end goal, our North Star, our mission of making those users successful and thus making those host partners successful, keeps more users in the space so they can buy more plugins, spend more money on developer services, spend more money on hosting, and instead of those valuable users going elsewhere. And we know from our host partners that when users fail in WordPress, they then point their domains to Wix, and that’s where these users go, they’re not going to another WordPress host, they’re leaving the ecosystem.
And so, we’re very aligned, it’s why the community has been so supportive of what we’re doing, because we’re keeping people in WordPress and helping the WordPress ecosystem grow. Now, more specifically, to your question around plugins, there are, kind of, two ways to answer that, why we’re going to be supporting so many different plugins. One is, using the example of a newsletter, as I was saying before, we can recommend different newsletter solutions for different use cases, because every product has its strengths.
And so, potentially, a product has strength for someone who’s using a newsletter, is a writer and is doing a lot of, kind of, publishing, et cetera, versus, maybe, there’s another newsletter that’s better for sending deals and offers or something like that, who knows what the case may be. But, because of that, it doesn’t mean that we’re just picking one winner, and that is the only company that’s going to be recommended. The second part of this is, again, we work very closely with our host partners in making sure that they are successful in making their users successful.
And so, we’ve already had situations where we go to a host partner and say that for these types of goals, we recommend these plugins, these solutions. And a host will tell us, oh, well, we, actually, already work with this other solution; we already have a great partnership with them. We love working with them. And so we honor that. And so, we will recommend that solution in the situation so that that host can continue to build their business in the way that they want to. And so, I think it’s, actually, unlikely that we’re going to say, Hey, this plugin is the only one for all users in all use cases.
And what’s, really, powerful there is, the more granular and specific we can be around why we’re recommending a plugin in a certain situation, the higher quality leads we’re bringing to that plugin. Because if we bring some, whatever plugin, we keep talking about newsletters, some newsletter plugin to a user, because they, specifically, told us they’re in an industry and they have a goal and they’ve made certain decisions that we believe make them a, really, good fit for that plugin.
That is an extremely valuable user that we are bringing to that plugin developer, a user that is highly, highly qualified versus someone that just stumbled upon this plugin because they saw it on some listical somewhere on the internet. This is an extremely qualified lead that has told us, specifically, this is what they want. And so, because of that, we think we’re going to be very, very close partners of the plugin developers in addition to close partners of the WordPress hosts in building out their businesses as well.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, totally, follow it. The only comment I would say is that Automattic and their linkage with wordpress.org, they have been adamant about not going into the business or curation, they’ve refused to go down that path for some ways understandable reasons, which I think outlined to you, not becoming a target.
Artur Grabowski: Sure.
Jonathan Denwood: But that’s had consequences, and I think they felt that Jetpack and they got criticism around Jetpack because some commentators thought it was a total takeover play of the whole eco, but I could see why they were attempting it, as I think you agreed, I think that semi-failed for various reasons. So, I, totally, understand it and it does need to be improved, but how do you improve it without causing a lot of drama? And let’s face it; the WordPress community loves its drama, doesn’t it?
Artur Grabowski: You know what, what I’ll just say there, though, is. Whether you look at wordpress.com or other, really, high-quality WordPress hosts; they’ve attempted elements of this themselves.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes.
Artur Grabowski: Now, what you run into, in most cases, with most hosts is they’re not software companies, they are infrastructure companies, and so they try to build some, sort of, experience layer on top of WordPress and it’s not successful. And I think we can all think of examples where some WordPress host has created three or five iterations of some experience like this, and they keep moving onto the next iteration because it’s, really, hard. Infrastructure companies have certain core competencies, certain things they’re, really, good at, and trying to be a different type of company, a software service company at the same time, that’s, really, hard, right?
And so, you’ll see the same thing over and over again, where they’ll bring in a new team to build a new experience, but it’s still not successful. And so, to your comment around wordpress.org hasn’t taken a certain position around curation, I think that’s true, but hosts have. The problem is not all hosts, and, actually, most hosts, with the exception of, maybe, a handful or so, don’t have the resources to do this themselves for their users.
And, really, by Extendify becoming the service layer, this experience layer for the entire WordPress hosting community, we’re, essentially, democratizing great experiences for all WordPress hosts who don’t have the resources, the teams, et cetera, to build these experiences themselves.
Jonathan Denwood: No, that’s. When you did some outreach to me before we met at Porto, I quickly grasped what you were trying to do, and I’ve been impressed by what you and your founder and your team are trying to do, because this is not easy, if this was easy other people would’ve done it. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done; I am impressed with your ambition, because this isn’t easy, but the things that we’re, normally, doing aren’t easy. We’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show; Arthur’s agree to stay on.
You can watch all of the interview on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, please go over there to watch the rest of the interview. And please give us a thumbs up and subscribe to the channel because it does, really, help the podcast, the channel and WP-Tonic to produce content like this. So, Arthur, what’s the best way for people to find out more about you and Extendify?
Artur Grabowski: Yeah, absolutely. extendify.com is the best way to learn more about the product. @extendifyinc on Twitter is also a good way to keep up with us, and I love chatting with folks in the WordPress ecosystem. Certainly, hosts, that’s where we’re spending a ton of our time, but also, product developers or anyone else in the ecosystem, firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to reach out to me and we’d love to chat.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. As I said, we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. We’re not going to have a show next week because it’s Thanksgiving, but we have some fantastic guests in December and in the new year. Please join us. We’ll see you soon, folks. Bye.
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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