Jason is the founder of unicorn WP Engine (200,000 customers, 1200 employees). Previously founder of bootstrapped Smart Bear (sold 2008; re-sold in 2021 at ~$2B) and ITWatchDogs (sold 2004). Original mentor and angel investor with Austin-based Capital Factory since 2009.

Main Questions For Interview With Jason Cohen

#1 – Can you tell us what lead you to see the clear opportunities in the WordPress hosting space when you were thinking of starting WP-Engine?

#2 – What were a couple of the biggest challenges you faced connected to the early days of WP-Engine and how did you and the team overcome them?

#3 – What do you see as some of the biggest changes you see in hosting and WordPress in general in the next couple of years?

#4 – What are some of your thoughts and personal insights connected to the VC industry after what has happened to SVB Silicon Valley Bank?

#5 – If you go back to a time machine at the beginning of your career, what key advice would you give yourself?

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:13.040] – Jonathan Denwood

Welcome back, folks, to the WP Tonic This Week in WordPress and SaaS. This is Episode 753. Got a great guest, should be a great interview. We got Jason Cohen, the founder of WP Engine with us. We’re going to be discussing all things about how Jason decided that there was a space in WordPress hosting, what led to the decision to start WP engine, what are some of the major challenges. We’re also going to discuss a bit of the wider tech world. The term we faced in the last week with SVP, Silicon Valley Bank, Bitcoin, whatever Jason is prepared to discuss with us. He’s always got insightful things to say and he’s one of the deeper thinkers, in my opinion, in the WordPress space. I also got my co host with me. So, Jason, would you like to quickly give introduction of yourself to the listeners and viewers?

[00:01:18.490] – Jason Cohen

Sure. First of all, 753? Wow, that is a lot. I don’t know if I should say congratulations or condolences or something, but that sounds amazing. That’s really great.

[00:01:31.760] – Jonathan Denwood

I’ve just about learned how to do podcasting there. I’m a slow learner. I don’t give up nobody, Jason, but we’re extremely slow learners.

[00:01:42.430] – Jason Cohen

Well, that’s persistence is at least half the battle, right? So WPNG is my fourth company, and I’ve done a hardware startup with a co-founder that was bootstrapped, which by the way, that’s hard to do. You don’t raise money and you do have hardware expenses. Also bootstrapped a company called Smart Bear, which is where my online handle, a Smart Bear comes from. Also, in a weird sense, an origin of WPNG, which I’ll explain. Then WPNG for the last 13 years, we started in early 2010. P robably, everyone who listens to this show knows what it is. But nevertheless, like you said, we can talk a lot about what the opportunity looked like, why I did it, what happened in the early days and what we think is happening next and so forth. Then I’ve been writing about startups and from a geek engineer perspective on blog. Asmartb oard. Com. I checked the other day, 16 years, which is again hard to imagine. I still write sporadically. I try to write long things and only maybe 5 to 10 times a year, but try to make them real good. T hat’s what it is. So the opposite of Twitter.

[00:02:57.210] – Jonathan Denwood

You said it, not me. All right, we’ve got my great co host, Kurt. Kurt, would you like to introduce yourself to the listeners and some views?


[00:03:08.080] – Kurt von Ahnen

Absolutely. Thanks, Jonathan. My name is Kurt von Ahnen. I own an agency called Manyana no Mas. I specialize in membership and learning websites and I love working with Jonathan and the WP Tonic team.


[00:03:19.350] – Jonathan Denwood

Thanks, Kurt. Before we go into the meat and potatoes of this great interview, we got a couple of messages from our major sponsors. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks. Are you.


[00:03:29.960] – Jason Cohen

Looking for ways to.


[00:03:31.030] – Jonathan Denwood



[00:03:31.300] – Jason Cohen

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[00:03:48.590] – Jonathan Denwood

Forms, surveys, and more.


[00:03:50.630] – Jason Cohen

For a 20 % off discount for the tribe, just use the code WP Tonic, all one word, when checking out and give Sensei a try today.


[00:04:02.290] – Jonathan Denwood

Hi there, folks. It’s Jonathan Denwood here, and I want to tell you about one of our great sponsors, and that’s Zolo. Com. If you got a WordPress website, membership website, and you’re looking to link it with a great financial management package, Zolo can provide this solution. So all your bookkeeping needs are done through Zolo. If you need new inbox email functionality and you don’t want to pay the high charges that Google will charge you, Zolo offers a great email inbox platform. They’ve got over 50 apps and services that all integrate fantastic with WordPress at great value levels, and they almost always offer a fully functioning free product as well. So it’s just amazing value. Also, if you’re a WordPress developer or agency owner, Zolo are looking for great partnerships in the WordPress space. To get all this information, all you have to do, folks, is just go over to Zolo. Com and they have the product that you’re looking for. Thank you so much, Zolo, for supporting WP Tonic and the Machine Membership Shows. It’s much appreciated. We’re coming back, folks. Just want to point out that we got some great deals from some of the major sponsors, plus a curated list of the best plug ins in the WordPress space for any of the key functions or jobs that you’re looking for yourself or for your clients.


[00:05:49.010] – Jonathan Denwood

You can get all these goodies by going over to WP Tonic Deals, WP Tonic Deals, and consume all the goodies there. The little child that we all are, are we not? So let’s go straight into it. So I know it’s amazing where time goes, isn’t it? It’s a bit frightening, really. But can you go back to the days? Because I don’t know what your connection to WordPress was when you were looking at the opportunity to start WP engine. But why WordPress? Why Manage Hosting? And what was the thoughts around the opportunities that you saw in that space?


[00:06:43.200] – Jason Cohen

Yeah. So at Smart Bear, I started a blog because in the mid 2000s, blogging was cool. My thought was, we’ll all write on the blog, the whole company will, and it’ll become the voice of the company, like how 37 Signals did. So I set up the blog, I set up on WordPress. I don’t even remember why. Maybe it’s clear because WordPress was even then one of the main ways to do a blog. But anyway, it was probably not that thoughtful. No one ever wrote on it but me. So it became my blog. Then I sold Smart Bear in 2007 and I left in 2009 after a total of seven years there. So this wasn’t like, Start up and get out of there. It was a pretty good run. Also, my wife was pregnant, and so there’s this like, Okay, I sold the company. I’ve been around for another 18 months, beyond where I had to, according to the terms of the sale. And now I’m going to be a father. This would be a good time to just turn the page, have a new chapter of life and all that. And so that was the reason why I left.


[00:07:52.460] – Jason Cohen

And in that first year of being a stay at home dad, which I loved, but it’s very hard. I mean, anyone with kids knows that that’s way harder than making a company. And writing was a great way to stay in contact with the rest of the world, have something intellectual to do, but also no deadlines, no expectations, doesn’t have to make money. In other words, a project that was intellectual but actually fits the requirements of those early days, which is I don’t know when I’m going to be able to even think straight. So blogging was a good way to have that a hobby. But then it took off as well. I would get on Hacker News every Monday and get a lot of traffic and so forth. It started to become popular. But often when I get on Hacker News, the site would crash. When you get on the front page of Hacker News then, so call it 2009, you’d get about 15 hits per second for 15 minutes at peak. There’s obviously a lot of traffic outside of the peak as well, but that’s what would happen when you hit the front page. And that was enough to take down the little server that I was running WordPress on.


[00:09:09.180] – Jason Cohen

I would talk to other WordPress bloggers and say, Hey, what do you use to keep WordPress up when you get a lot of traffic? T he answer was, I don’t know, but I need that too. So if you find it, let me know what you find. So it was one of those. Now, me, this is like a classic story of like, Oh, I had the problem myself, so I made a company. The difference is I have lots of problems I’ve had myself and made little things and it didn’t turn into a company because just finding a pain point or just having an idea, even a good pain point, a good idea does not make a company. All these other things have to be in place. I think of it like a drake equation. All kinds of other things have to all be in place for it to be a company. O ther people have to have the problem, enough other people have to have the problem. They have to agree that they have the problem. They have to maybe already be searching for solution to the problem. They have to afford to pay to solve the problem.


[00:10:01.550] – Jason Cohen

So for example, in WordPress, there’s a lot of people with sites where, sure, if they got a lot of traffic, the site would go down, but they don’t get a lot of traffic and they don’t really care. And anyway, they’re not going to spend money on it. So they’d rather spend two dollars a month at Go Daddy and rather than $30 a month at Do You Think? And they’re not wrong because their pain isn’t great enough. The need isn’t great enough. So it may be a great idea, but not for them. And you have to be able to, of course, make the product and keep people around. And there’s a lot of things that have to happen for the company to be a whole company. So what I did is I interviewed 50 people, and that took four months because anyone who has gone and tried to interview people aren’t customers yet know how long it takes to schedule things and try to do it. But in those interviews, I did figure out that indeed, this was a pain that a lot of people had and already identified with. And there were four things in particular that if we did them, then at least one would resonate with a lot of people.


[00:10:59.660] – Jason Cohen

The four things which are not mysterious or surprising are speed, so make the site fast, scale, so continue to be fast and stay up when you get traffic, security, goes without saying, and service for WordPress, because you could go pay rack space at the time. It was expensive and they had great service. They answer the phone on the first ring on Sunday at 2 AM. But the service is the servers have power and they’re on the internet. So if that’s the case, the service is over because that’s what they sell. So they have fantastic service just not for the application, WordPress. They have fantastic service for the hardware. So if we had that rack space level of service, but for the application, for WordPress, that’s something people would pay for. Again, a lot of people have sites they don’t care that much about. Okay, that’s fine. But if you care about it even a little bit, then at least one of those will resonate with you, I discover. So for example, your site got hacked recently, so you’re mad. You’re like, That has to never happen again. I’ll pay more just for that to not happen, or have it be someone else’s responsibility.


[00:12:10.730] – Jason Cohen

Or maybe their site went down like me because a lot of traffic. They’re like, No, that’s where we would have gotten most of our traffic. No, I’ll pay more for that to never happen again. Or maybe their SEO person tells them, Hey, slow sites get less traffic in the first place. They rank lower on Google. People don’t continue as much. They bounce more often. You need to make your site faster to do better at SEO. They’re like, Okay, I got to get a faster site. So maybe that’s impetus. So there’s these different ways that you could come to one of these conclusions. But essentially those four things together, at least one of those things would resonate with most people. T hat was the original thing. In fact, if you look at all our competitors today, you’ll see exactly that on everyone’s homepage. I think that observation of those four things are still true today, which indicates something of deep truth, something important and real. And that’s what people claim. And of course, they do. I’m not saying that in a bad way, by the way. I’m just saying it just shows that it’s a deep truth, that that’s what people want.


[00:13:16.060] – Jason Cohen

Now, they want other things, too, but that’s the core of what is now managed WordPress hosting, I think, even just the term of it. But that was the original process that I came to it. I needed it and found through customer interviews that this thing that’s defined by those four things, service is defined by that, that would be interesting. Even then, though, I also identified that an important person is the developer of the website. So the marketer or the site owner writes you the check every month. But the developer has a lot to do with things as well. And so if the developer is happy with it, then maybe everybody’s happy. And so even in that very first early time, we had a staging area, which was new, that was not a thing that you could get anywhere. And it wasn’t even very good. Now, we have great stuff. And in fact, even just a few years after that, we had much better stuff. But at first it was pretty bad. But even a bad staging area is better than no staging area. Of course, that was more for the developers as opposed to the site owner.


[00:14:24.850] – Jason Cohen

E arly on, we also saw, oh, yeah, we got to make tools and workflows and things for developers, even if they weren’t very good 13 years ago. That’s important. T hat’s another theme that’s still true today, I think, in general and with the WPN engine in particular.


[00:14:41.550] – Jonathan Denwood

That’s fantastic. Over to you, Kurt.


[00:14:45.480] – Kurt von Ahnen

Great. Great. Jason, I love that you mentioned that drape equation because honestly, I think I’m a walking case study on missing something, either missing the customer willingness to write the check, the timing, being ahead of market, things like that. In your case, when you think about WP engine in the early days, what do you think, personally, as you think back, what were some of the challenges that you guys faced and how did your team overcome those?


[00:15:14.320] – Jason Cohen

Well, one challenge is one that I think every startup has, which is no one knows who we are. How do you get attention? Then after you get attention, maybe how do you earn… You could say trust, that’s a big word, but I guess start establishing a relationship or start establishing a brand, start establishing trust, let’s say, if not actually establish it. Those are all challenges and not unique to us, of course. One of the things in retrospect that really worked, because we tried lots of stuff, right? It’s not like I could see the future and know what would work. But in retrospect, what worked really well was word camps. The fact that you could go there and just have a face to face with someone and now they connected with the human being, that was a big deal. That’s something I think no advertisement can do and no really great homepage design can do. WordPress, I think, is a very communal ecosystem and we like to know each other and we like to support each other. I remember when I was starting out, there was a lot of support from people going, Oh, welcome. That’s great that you’re doing stuff here.


[00:16:27.010] – Jason Cohen

We welcome all the stuff. And as other even competitors of ours came in, it was reciprocated. Everyone was like, Okay, more. More is good because it’s a big world. There’s a lot of space for everyone. Everyone’s welcome, which is interesting. A lot of markets are just the opposite where competition is bitter and people hate each other and whatever. WordPress tends to be very… I mean, if you look at the lifter guys and how do they interact with other LMSs in WordPress, the answer is super friendly. They’re mean to anybody. I’m not saying 100 % of every human is like that in WordPress because that’s not true of any group of humans. But just in general, it’s surprisingly inviting and everything. So by going to the word camps and establishing the human interface, you might say, and also people just seem like, Are you an asshole or are you nice? Do you seem like you know what you’re doing or not? Do you seem like you’re just doing this to have a company and extract money from this ecosystem? Or are you here to be part of this community, really? What’s going on here? When they just see you there and just simply interact with you, then they form an opinion about those questions.


[00:17:38.190] – Jason Cohen

So if that’s positive, then that goes a long way. Maybe they have find an excuse to put a client on you soon. Then if that’s good, maybe they’ll put another one and so on. You start building up that business relationship on the basis of something genuine. Now, of course, it’s not impossible to build trust online and over Zoom and even through things like tech support. So it’s not in lieu of that, but it was a really powerful mechanism. So in the post COVID world, one of the sad things is that we don’t have that, or not nearly as much, let’s say. And that’s too bad. I think it’s powerful, and I think in particular in WordPress, it’s powerful. So that’s one. I think another thing is you can create that through support. And what I’m about to say is not something you probably haven’t seen before, but it’s so true, which is it’s almost better if someone has a problem and you fix it than if they have no problems. You could argue whether that’s really the case. You certainly don’t want to put trip wires in a product to make it worse on purpose to make them call support.


[00:18:43.560] – Jason Cohen

That would be bad. But the fact is that if you have an opportunity to interact with someone and make something better or fix something or help or whatever, and you do so really well and they realize that, oh, my gosh, it just transforms. Oh, this is the company I can work with. Now I’m not afraid if there’s a problem because I know it will happen. They’ll be all over it. Few people expect zero problems ever. If they do, that really is unreasonable. You may expect it to be rare. That’s reasonable. But never, over a long enough time scale, that’s simply unreasonable. The question is, well, what is this company going to do? Do they care? Are they going to act fast? Will they be honest and open and transparent about what’s going on? Will they talk to me about it, etc? That’s the question is, what is it going to be like? Or if I’m an agency, is the hosting company going to throw me under the bus when something is wrong? Or are they going to call me, the host, the agency, and say, Hey, man, we see this, we see that. What do you see?


[00:19:42.020] – Jason Cohen

Let’s work together to decide how to handle this and how we want to go together with the client and say… Because it doesn’t behoove any of us to point fingers, regardless of where the problem may or may not be. In fact, maybe we’re still figuring it out. It could be. But let’s just solve it together for your client. Because I think that’s what we both want. Again, when that happens, they’re like, Wow, that’s what… They may not say this out loud, but they might. That’s what a partner looks like as opposed to just a vendor who’s whatever. A gain, I’m not saying we’re the only ones who do that. I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that is something that, in fact, anyone could do if they choose to have a great relationship with their stakeholders, etc. That develops that trust. B esides work, these are ways to establish trust and that long term relationship. Anyway, we did those things, not that others cannot, but we did. I think that genuine care about the marketing, the site owners, and also the developers, the freelancers, the agencies, and going to word camps, these are ways that we really built that.


[00:20:56.620] – Jason Cohen

You might say then you maybe earn some advocacy from your customers. Maybe you have people on your side who want to bring things to you or want to tell other people to do it simply because they genuinely do want to say that because you’ve generated that feeling. That’s the right reason to generate that help. And so that was it. I would say one other thing, I can pause there if you want to talk about more stuff, but I would say early pricing was another thing. So I think that’s one of the things we could chat about.


[00:21:27.740] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, pricing.


[00:21:30.060] – Kurt von Ahnen

Sorry. It’s okay. I was just going to say so far, my big takeaways were proactive relationships. And it sounds like patience. You really just had to… As a business owner, you want to force things into a perfect revenue model, but maybe you had to be patient and wait for things to grow.


[00:21:48.170] – Jason Cohen

Well, you don’t have a choice but to see what happens, whether you’re patient or not. But yeah, I don’t think any of the WordPress platforms got to 1,000 customers in under two years. I don’t think anybody did, ever. It just takes time to build up some stuff. Every once in a while, you read about something in Techcrunch about how they blah, blah, blah. Okay, I get it. Now for the other 1,000… For every one of those, the other 10,000 companies that where that’s not the case, comma, it’s not the case, comma. It’s just not an example. It’s interesting, I guess, exactly because it’s an outlier, but it’s not something you can replicate. So in that sense, yes, steady, deliberate growth is, of course, more sustainable as well. But yeah, just genuinely caring about the customer and what they care about. And I guess making that plain in interactions. That’s the thing that builds trust in a professional environment. And that’s something you can choose to do. You could also choose not to. You can say, I don’t want tech support. That’s expensive and I don’t want to hire for that. I don’t want people to expect me to be on the phone in the morning.


[00:22:59.760] – Jason Cohen

So I’m not going to have it. And that’s a perfectly valid stance, especially for a less expensive product. Perfectly valid. I’m just saying our way is a way.


[00:23:09.620] – Kurt von Ahnen



[00:23:10.280] – Jason Cohen

Jonathan, back to you.


[00:23:12.820] – Jonathan Denwood

Thanks. Just a quick follow through question. What was the discussion internally when you decided to buy Studio Press? What decision making do you and your team make when you’re going to buy external plug in a service and try and merge it with the core product of WP engine. So maybe you could discuss Studio Press specifically, what led you to want to buy it and maybe the broader question.


[00:23:51.120] – Jason Cohen

Yeah. So that’s a great question, and it’s useful for anyone to know, why does a company buy something? What I would say is companies have a strategy they want to execute, and then buying another company is one of the choices for how to execute it. When you’re thinking about, Oh, I might want to sell my business to so and so or whatever. What you have to ask is, what is their strategy that they’re trying to execute, and do you help that? What does help mean specifically? It means the following. Do you either de risk it, make it less risky, or accelerate it? It would take them a lot longer to get to a place versus if they bought you, they could get to the place faster. Just buying you doesn’t get them to the place because to your point, it depends on what they’re trying to do with it. With Studio Press, we did not merge it with our core platform. To this very day, people buy Genesis and put it wherever they want. Does it work really well at WP engine? Of course. But does it only work there because it’s merged in? No, because one of the important things about it is that it’s open and that people can use it in the way that they’ve been using it for more than a decade.


[00:25:06.310] – Jason Cohen

The question is, does it de risk the strategy, make it more likely that whatever the strategy is will come to pass, or does it accelerate? Let’s say you did want to fold it into your main product. Let’s suppose that. Okay, well, you buy the company, but then you have to fold it into your main product and that can take a long time. It can easily take over a year, especially because you can make some basic thing, but it’s not very good. To really fold it and then make it a great experience probably takes a lot longer. There may be existing customers that you have to migrate or somehow bring along, and that takes a lot of work. So it could be a year or two and certainly millions, if not loads, tens of millions of dollars to get to that point, quote unquote. And so the question is that buying the company and then continuing to invest in it, does that get you to some point in time of amount of revenue, amount of customers, etc. Faster than alternatives. Alternatives are things like partnering with another company. So it’s still a third party, but you have a formal agreement.


[00:26:09.850] – Jason Cohen

And the third usual alternative is you build it yourself, which has a lot of risk and still takes a lot of time. I guess you get exactly what you want because you built it, but it takes a lot of time, a lot of risk. It still probably takes a year or two. It still takes million dollars. Then you still got to get customers, although you have your own customers to sell into, so that might not be as hard as it sounds. So the typical build by partner are the usual three ways to execute a thing. And so a company, going back to the top, has some strategy. We’re trying to achieve X, we’re trying to do Y, we’re trying to enter a new market Z, we’re trying to beat a competitor in a specific way. Whatever those things are that’s currently in their strategy, like, this is how we’re going to win by doing these main lines. The question is always, what do we build? What do we buy? How do we partner? And then what specifically happens in there. So if buying a company and the follow on work, which might be forever, but it certainly will be special in the initial months, is that a faster or less risky way to execute the strategy we already have?


[00:27:17.700] – Jason Cohen

If yes, then that’s interesting. A lot of times I think people think a different way. They think stuff like, Well, I know that big company X isn’t doing this right now, but if they bought us, they could. That’s not how a big company thinks. If the big company wants to do X, if they’re like, Gosh, we got to enter market X. We’re not there. We got to enter it. Then you’re exactly right. You might be the best way for them to enter that market. Just hit the ground running with existing customers and brand and existing product. That’s the best way for them to enter that market. If they want to already, you might be right. If they don’t want to, it’s just a non starter. That’s not what happens. What you don’t do is say, hey, I found this company for sale. It’s not a market we want to enter, but we could buy them anyway and maybe enter it anyway, even though we didn’t want to. That’s not how it works. That’s the general answer. Then to Studio Press, part of our strategy and actually part of our values is giving back. Being open source, being active in the open source community is part of how we think one needs to act to win in WordPress, both because it’s the right thing to do to contribute to the community.


[00:28:35.740] – Jason Cohen

In terms of building trust and all this other stuff, it helps. We have agencies who tell us that they use us because some of our competitors don’t contribute back to the community, and that matters to them. It doesn’t matter to everyone. That’s not a hard and fast rule. But there are people for whom that matters. Okay, well, we will win. We and other people who… I should say we and other people who contribute because obviously there are many. We will win. We’re in the competitive set for those folks who care about that and other competitors who choose not to. They’re not in that. They won’t be competing for that deal. Great. That’s an example where giving back to the community is good anyway, and it’s good for sales and growth and stuff like that. So perfect. That’s a good example of a good strategy, something that’s good in the whole world and is good, you could say selfishly, I guess. That was the case. In particular, in Studio Press, we saw lots and lots of our customers use Genesis, and yet it was being disinvested. There was less and less investment in it over time.


[00:29:37.010] – Jason Cohen

We felt like this was an opportunity to have some software higher up in the WordPress stack. In other words, the infrastructure is you might say lower than WordPress in the stack, then there’s WordPress and then higher is things like streams and plug ins. Here would be a way for us to have something to play with there in that area of the stack, which a lot of our customers already like and which the project is waning, but only because of disinvestment, not because of disinterest. And so if we just invested in, you might say, a normal amount in the product and team and community, then we could reverse that, which, of course, we did. And we did invest in that and we made things like the Genesis Council, which is people from around the world who come together once a month and discuss things like how should we build this? What should the Genesis strategy or product roadmap be about X, Y, or Z thing? Of course, blocks are usually on the discussion list, of course, but this stuff. That’s just an example of what I mean by involving the community more in what is this and where should it go?


[00:30:41.460] – Jason Cohen

That’s just an example. We knew we could do these kinds of things, have people working on it at all and then doing things like that. That will just be… We’ll follow our nose, but that will already make.


[00:30:53.440] – Jonathan Denwood

It better. I was very impressed with you buying it because for cultural reasons, I personally thought the way that the two Brian, Brian Clark and Brian Gartner, both really fantastic individuals, really smart people. The culture of studio press really fitted in with the culture of WP engine really well. And some of your other purchases, the culture or the way that WP engine tries to represent itself in the market. I followed the logic myself. I’m not the sharpest tool in the toolbox, but I follow the logic. And I got to be truth, I’m not going to name any names. Some of the other companies’ purchases, I haven’t really followed the logic that well, it just seems to be… But somebody has said to me they’re just buying it because it buys audience. And they did the math, how much they’re going to have to spend on Facebook or Google adverts. And it was just cheaper to buy that plug in for the eyeballs, which I follow. I follow the logic, but I always felt that WP engine had a deeper… There was a bit more thought in the purchase.


[00:32:18.430] – Jason Cohen

Well, you might say that there’s perhaps an equal amount of thought, but just maybe different motivations or really just different strategies, different goals, different cultures, different ways of doing business, which on the one hand, whichever ones you personally align with, you’ll say that’s good. And the other ones you’ll say that’s not good. On the other hand, I would say there are people who certainly feel just the opposite and want to be the company that’s like a killer and wants to go do stuff and will stop at nothing to do whatever. And that’s really fun. And so in the end, obviously, there’s an ethical line that’s outside of what I’m about to say. But as long as the company is not wholly unethical, I would say it’s good that there’s different kinds of cultures. That way, employees and people can go, oh, this is for me. And that’s good. Everyone should find a home in a place that they feel is like them or is compatible with what the ow they are. That’s good. I think there could be ethical lines where that, okay, I’m glad you like that, but that’s not okay. Of course, you still argue about what those are, but I feel like those are different kind.


[00:33:27.180] – Jason Cohen

But if it’s like, look, they didn’t do anything unethical, they bought a company and then they used their Facebook ads. It’s not unethical. I just wish they wouldn’t do it. It’s like, oh, well, that’s just to me. That’s now an opinion. It’s good opinion. But I’m glad that there’s a lot of different stuff. And also, what about the founder of that company who got paid? And the fact that that person sold, presumably means they wanted to. And if it weren’t for that buyer, maybe they wouldn’t have. Maybe they would be unhappy or have a waning product. Who knows? Because I don’t know any details of that. I’m just saying it could be great for the founder. Even from the outside of it’s like, but they did this. It’s like, right, but maybe it was going downhill or maybe the founder was really burned out or maybe the founder and two other people. It’s not unethical. I’m fine with it personally.


[00:34:22.470] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, it’s all very tricky, isn’t it? Business is tricky. The two Brian’s, they invested a lot of money and energy in building Rainmaker and it didn’t pan out for them. And these are two really bright people that knew a lot. And Rainmaker didn’t pan out for them, not because they weren’t competent. It’s just tricky. If it works out how bright you are, it just doesn’t work out.


[00:34:57.470] – Jonathan Denwood

Well, we’re going to go for our break.


[00:35:01.060] – Jason Cohen



[00:35:01.300] – Jonathan Denwood

Been a fabulous interview so far. I’ve really enjoyed it. But so we’re going for a break, folks. We’ll be back in a.


[00:35:07.990] – Jason Cohen

Few moments. Hey, it’s Vince from launchflows. Com. If you’ve been looking for a fast and easy way to create powerful sales funnels on WordPress, then look no further than Launch Flows. In just minutes, you can easily create instant registration, upsell, downsell, order bumps, one click checkouts, one time offers, custom thank you pages, and best of all, no coding is required. For as little as $50 per year, you can own and control your entire sales funnel machine with Launch Flows. Get your copy today. This podcast episode is brought to you by Lifter LMS, the leading learning management system solution for WordPress. If you or your client are creating any online course, training based membership website, or any type of eLearning project, Lifter LMS is the most secure, stable, well supported solution on the market. Go to lifterlms. Com and save 20 % at checkout with coupon code podcast 20. That’s podcast 20. Enjoy the rest of your show.


[00:36:19.450] – Jonathan Denwood

We’re coming back. It’s been a great discussion with one of the more interesting people in the WordPress space. I just want to point out we got a great Facebook group. We’d love you to go over. It’s linked to my other podcast, the membership machine show. Go over there to Facebook and we got a great community of membership owners and developers. So go over there and be part of the discussion. That’d be great. Over to you, Kurt.


[00:36:56.840] – Kurt von Ahnen

Hey, I think I’m going to.


[00:36:57.660] – Jason Cohen

Switch gears.


[00:36:58.700] – Kurt von Ahnen

A bit, Jason. I’m going to ask you to be a futurist or maybe use some of your inside knowledge. What do you think is the opportunities or the changes that we see coming in hosting and in WordPress over the next couple.


[00:37:15.570] – Jason Cohen

Of years? There’s some obvious ones in that they’re just happening and people talk about it all the time. I think headless is one. We talk about it a lot because we have a product at list. I’m not going to sit here and just plug the product over and over and over again, but let’s just say we wouldn’t be investing all of this effort if we didn’t think that was part of the future, if it wasn’t part of the answer to your question. So it’s fair enough to say, see, that’s almost evidence that we think that that’s a big deal. Headless right now is… Headless websites are about 3 % of the top million, but that’s bigger than Drupple. It’s about the same size as Wix. Now that’s distributed across many hosts. There’s not like one host that has them all. I’m just trying to generally size it. So it’s easy in WordPress for us to say, but we’re 43, so three is nothing. And you’d say, yeah, I understand that. But WordPress is 20 years old and this is not, and it’s growing really fast. So if it’s already at normal WordPress rival size and growing really fast, which PS Wix is not, they grew 9 % year over year for two years.


[00:38:26.700] – Jason Cohen

I mean revenue, too. So t’ll quickly be Shopify size, and then it’ll be the second biggest type of CMS outside of WordPress. And that the rate it’s growing, that’s going to happen. So if you want to be futuristic, you got to look at that and say, oh, does that mean it kills WordPress or everyone’s got to do this? Everyone’s got to do that? Of course, it does not mean that. It does mean it’s this big opportunity and this big thing that’s happening. We’ve chosen to take a bet on that. We can talk more about it. I’m not trying to talk your ear off on it, but I think it’s a fact or mathematical fact, and so it’s interesting. I also think that WordPress properly configured, and this is, of course, part of what Atlas is all about. But all the stuff we build at Atlas, other than infrastructure, is open source. So even if you want to believe me that our tools are great for headless WordPress, but you don’t want to be a dive engine, they’re open source. Again, we’re back to our strategy of giving back. Here we are living that out. In the JavaScript side and in the WordPress side, by the way, both sides are open source and that’s called Faust JS.


[00:39:42.940] – Jason Cohen

Anyway, we feel like with helper code, with libraries and frameworks on the JavaScript and WordPress side, that WordPress can be the best headless CMS because it’s certainly best at long form. The Guttenberg stuff is amazing. No other headless CMS has that. So bringing that to the front end, which we’ve done with Faust, so that you can just use Guttenberg for content editing and pretty soon full site editing, but still have that natively in React on the front end, bring that specialness of WordPress to headless. These are the kinds of things that are really powerful are using ACF for custom fields so that you have the custom field stuff in ACF and you have the long form stuff and things like Guttenberg where the layout stuff and things like full site editing. That combination, that doesn’t exist anywhere else. So if we make that good, then this should be the best solution. So this helps WordPress live and grow more because here’s this architectural trend, web architectural trend, which is I don’t think in the control of anyone in WordPress or maybe even outside of it. This is what people seem to want. I think WordPress is fantastic there and we’re trying to make that…


[00:40:55.520] – Jason Cohen

We’re investing in that idea. So I think that’s a big trend. Whether you consider that a plug or not, it’s what we think. So what else? Another thing that’s really common is talking about serverless. Once you’re serverless, you got to talk about Edge functions because it’s a serverless but even worse in a way because serverless but still in a data center means you’re close to the database, close to MySQL. But serverless and at the Edge means you’re not even close to MySQL and so what are you going to do about that? WordPress is simply not architected for that. A typical WordPress homepage hits MySQL 100 times more. So being at the edge and MySQL somewhere else, and PS, the Edge is scaling but MySQL is not, that just doesn’t work. D oes that mean that’s impossible? Never say impossible, especially when it comes to tech and how fast it changes. But WordPress isn’t architected for that. So more needs to happen for that to make sense for a lot of sites. What is architected for that is headless. And so, again, I don’t want to beat that too much. But having headless stuff at the edge and caching things in a certain way or doing ISR and so forth, that is a way of doing stuff at the edge and so on.


[00:42:07.830] – Jason Cohen

And again, in Atlas, we do that automatically, blah, blah, blah. So headless is a way to tap into that serverless and Edge way. But again, now you’ve had to change your architecture, but that’s the point. WordPress’s architecture isn’t made for that. So that makes sense. But is headless the only way to do that? No. There’s other kinds of things that might need to be in place. Is the database being replicated? Are there certain kinds of things you need to do? But what happens if you have e-commerce and there’s a lot of rights to the database? Those are complicated questions, but the kinds of questions you would tackle if you wanted to go after that trend, which is a very real one. You can’t not mention AI because AI… I think in terms of the infrastructure that’s not really relevant. I think in terms of the people making content, it’s very, very relevant. Now, is that something that a hosting vendor should worry about? I guess it depends on what areas of the stack the platform thinks that it should participate in. There’s obviously lots of stuff just at the most basic level, and even today, ideation, give me 10 ideas for this repurposing content.


[00:43:22.230] – Jason Cohen

Hey, read in this article I wrote and give me some tweets, give me some this, give me some follow on article ideas. That’s the thing where the AI is assisting ideation where a human being is still doing the final edits and everything or drafting 10 articles about something. Again, a human being can edit it, especially because it’ll be wrong about stuff and whatever. But of course, it’s so much faster to edit a thing than to write it from scratch. So even those things, even today, these are ways to support a human editor to create stuff, maybe easier, maybe more content than before. Even now, even not trying to cast into the future where… I just read this morning, Reid Hoffman wrote a whole book using GPT4 by just giving it a prompt, and then it wrote a book. And the book’s pretty good, said someone who probably did not read all 230 pages of the book. And also, if that book is as good as most business books, is that a good commentary on GPT4 or is that a bad commentary on most business books? P robably could have been a blog post thing. Clearly, who knows what’s coming.


[00:44:32.160] – Jason Cohen

But even today, you might say human support systems that you could imagine. Nice. I also feel like when we started WP engine, I felt very much like there’s Dev tools and then there’s the hosting, the infrastructure out there, and they weren’t in any way integrated or anything. So if you wanted to use Git, you figure out how to use Git, maybe use GitHub, and then you figure out how to get the code to wherever your site is hosted and you figure out what deployment means. You figure out post deployment hooks and so on. Today, I feel like that’s not the case and people want all that to be completely fluid. I make my site in local and then I want to just click a button and have it go to a staging area for the client can see or click a button and have it go to the end grok type thing for the client to see, or click another button and have it actually be published, or maybe more sophisticated, I want a CI CD system so that my developers that automatically pulls from GitHub with PRs and stuff and tests things, and I can look at it and then it goes to production when I click the button in GitHub, that workflow.


[00:45:53.860] – Jason Cohen

These are still pretty basic ideas, but testing. Are there unit tests I can run locally, but is that also runnable on the server? Because after all, the pHP modules could be different. There are things that could be different in the server environment. So if the testing were well understood, then you could run it in these different environments even automatically. I guess you could say an infinite cone of stuff that you could list. It’s not that they’re the same thing. I mean, one’s in the cloud and might have to scale. So your development tools don’t have to scale with traffic, but the server does. So they’re not the same. But can there be a big interlink in terms of workflow and moving data around and how you work, whether you’re an individual and you want that to be real fast and easy, like I push a button in local or you’re on a team and so you want more process and things. One person can’t just push a button on a team. That could be a bad thing. When you’re solo, that’s a feature. So let’s just say right tools, right workflow for the team, let’s say.


[00:46:59.590] – Jason Cohen

To have that be more integrated with this hosting or infrastructure, I think that is powerful. I think that’s important. You’ve seen whether things that we’ve purchased or things that we’ve built and things that we’ve made, you can see that we are doing that. A gain, we’re not necessarily the only of our competitors who think that way. So again, not trying to say no one else is as smart as us, but you can see us doing that anyway. I think that’s the thing that will continue to be true. In other words, I think it will continue to be true that more of that is smart and good for the people making the sites and more than just a VM in the cloud.


[00:47:39.070] – Kurt von Ahnen

Or something. As you were talking, you spurred a follow up question in my mind. I apologize because I’m not knowledgeable really on server space and stuff like that.


[00:47:47.820] – Jason Cohen

So this.


[00:47:48.200] – Kurt von Ahnen

Question might seem really stupid to some people listening. But you mentioned AI and people generating more content, and I’m starting to think, I know a lot of my clients sites in retrospect, I mean, they’re just small files, right? But they have server space, right? If people start using AI, you know, infectiously, and they just start.


[00:48:07.400] – Jason Cohen

Pumping out content.


[00:48:08.810] – Kurt von Ahnen

And that happens at volume at scale, what stress does that put on a host like WP engine? If everyone just quadruples the size of their package, that’s an.


[00:48:22.680] – Jason Cohen

Issue, right? Well, there’s some good news there, which is that content is in a language and languages compress really well. So it may not be as much space as it sounds. And then things like disk space is cheap and easy. So it’s probably not the worst. Getting lots of browser traffic simultaneously is 100 times more difficult to scale because you have stuff coming in, it’s real time, and there’s processors that have to wake up somehow and do that. Whereas just more disk is you can pay on the cloud and then get more disk. Now, I’m being a little facetious there. It’s not quite so simple because what is? For example, let’s say we have a client with 100,000 or a million pieces of content, which we definitely do and more. One of the strange things that happens there that’s not obvious, but if you ask someone like Yoast, he’ll tell you immediately like, Oh, yeah. Oh, my God. People who study this know this for sure. But otherwise, it’s not obvious. If you have a ton of content, the majority of your traffic is typically bots, not humans. Even with your big spikes and your big whatever, it’s bots.


[00:49:37.400] – Jason Cohen

The reason is that you have all these URLs and the bots look at them. So if they’re trawling around and there’s a lot of them, there’s Googlebot, Bingbot, Yandex, Bido, and many more because there’s all these products online. Even like the Maz stuff, there’s products everywhere that’s looking around. That’s not even malicious. There’s also malicious traffic and there’s a big surface area for them to attack, so they do. If they want to run a script on everything on your site, that’s a lot of running. But even ignoring the malicious stuff, there’s a lot of spiders, you could say. And so if you have a lot of content, you have a lot of traffic, and that traffic may even compete with normal server resources besides disk with regular people. And another thing about that traffic, which again is obvious in retrospect, is that none of it’s cashed. If I have a popular article, it’ll be cashed wherever on the Edge and near WordPress, whatever. It’ll be cashed in places. It’ll be pretty good. But the article from four years ago that no human has looked at in however long. That’s not cashed anywhere. So when the spider hits it, no caching.


[00:50:52.460] – Jason Cohen

Everything comes off of disk and through WordPress. Whatever things have to warm up and get it, they all have to do it. So this majority of traffic is also un cashed and therefore in a sense, you might say very expensive. You could say that in terms of money or in terms of CPU time or whatever unit, but it’s expensive in this sense that’s difficult or whatever. So in that sense, making a lot of content actually can be difficult and something to scale. So just having it and story on this, not so bad. The spider issue. Again, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s not good.


[00:51:32.740] – Kurt von Ahnen



[00:51:33.340] – Jason Cohen

Thank you. Jonathan?


[00:51:34.090] – Jonathan Denwood

Yeah, just a response to some of the things. I got the impression for understandable reasons that some of the changes and I was going to use the word improvements, but I think just fundamental changes in the way WordPress is used, your response was very developer focused and application focused. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit and my observation is this, I just want to put this to you and get your response. This ticket, because WP engines in the membership education part of hosting and support. We have a SaaS competitors. We have many SaaS competitors. One of them is Kajabi. Kajabi is very good in their marketing. The founders are extremely good marketers, and they’re very good at propagating the notion that Kajabi is really easy to set up and run. And to some elements, to some some element is easier to set up than maybe WordPress. Not as quite as easy as they make out, probably, in my opinion. Now, other people in the WordPress space, and I’m just going to point one out, who, thrive themes, Shane. I’ve interviewed Shane over the years a couple of times, and he’s a really smart individual, a really great CEO, and a really smart individual.


[00:53:22.080] – Jonathan Denwood

Very impressed with Shane. Their attempt to deal with what I call the flea market of WordPress was to build what I call a WordPress enclosed garden. The problem with that, in my mind, is you get the worst of WordPress and you get the worst of SaaS combined. To my mind, it’s the worst solution possible, but understandable because people in the WordPress market, that’s how they’ve tried to deal with the flea market. So to get to the question, I’ve laid out some landscape there. Is there a way of keeping the flexibility and ownership of WordPress, but also reduce the flea marketness of WordPress?


[00:54:21.700] – Jason Cohen

I think this is a good question for lots of folks in WordPress who have some vertical focus like that. You could easily make the same case in e-commerce, for example. The Shopify versus WooCommerce things.


[00:54:36.560] – Jonathan Denwood

Same arguments.


[00:54:37.280] – Jason Cohen

Some general thoughts on that are this. When you have a generic platform, the good news is everyone’s your customer, so you potentially have a big market. Bad news is if someone focuses on a vertical and just makes those use cases better, it’s going to be a better experience. If you only care about people who do a very specific thing, of course, you’re going to build an experience that’s better because you’ll only build for one person. It’ll be the best experience for them. So to me, that’s like this fundamental thing. So then what do you do with that? So I think this. So as you say, of course, the first five minutes of a SaaS is going to be easier to set up because it’s just going to be there. Whatever it does will be easy. Whatever features are built in, those features will be easy to use, I guess, unless they’re bad at making the UX, but let’s suppose they’re not bad at it. It’s what happens six months later when you’re like, But I need to do X and it won’t let me and I’m screwed. And on WordPress, if I want to do X, I can choose whether to invest in that or not.


[00:55:55.300] – Jason Cohen

It may be easy because there’s a plug in. It may be hard because I have to hire someone to make that thing, but I can do it. The only question is what will it cost? But it’s not a question of whether I can. The answer is always, yes, you can. Now, let’s see how hard or easy it is. Whereas with the SaaS, the answer is you cannot. What you can do is, I don’t know, send your request into their support black hole. I don’t know. Good luck. That’s the difference. First of all, I would say, if you have exactly as you said, Jonathan, one of the advantages of it being WordPress is that you can customize it. So if you were to throw away that advantage, and this is what you just said, if you were to throw that away, you’ve thrown away one of the few advantages there is to using a general platform versus a specific closed SaaS product. You’ve thrown away your advantage. So that doesn’t sound like a good idea. You should use it. You should say… In fact, I would say the positioning should be, on day one, both we, the WordPress thing, and the SaaS tool, do the same thing on day one.


[00:57:02.150] – Jason Cohen

The difference is on day 100 when you realize you actually need this other thing, WordPress can always do it and the only question is how. And for the SaaS tool, it’s, I just hope you’re just rolling the dice and I hope it comes up a number that they do it. I just hope. I don’t know. And that doesn’t feel like a good long term answer. That doesn’t feel like me, the customer is in control and that I’ll be able to do it. So to me, that’s the pitch is that WordPress isn’t a dead end. And if it’s not a dead end, there may be more to manage, but it’s because you can get what you actually want. And so to throw that away feels like, yeah, I mean, if you throw it away, then as you said, well, this has probably pretty decent for whatever they’ve chosen to do. Yeah, I don’t know that there’s a great answer to that. Fair enough. Now, another thing you could do is say, okay, I could probably make that first five minutes, that first hour, the first 90 days even better, even in WordPress because it could be pre set up.


[00:58:02.630] – Jason Cohen

Like, if the whole point is they have things set up already, well, shoot, I can have things set up already in WordPress. That I can do. Or I could have certain things hidden because they’re not relevant to that. Or I could have an easy mode and you could switch into an advanced mode, but I could start with an easy mode so it looks easy so that people get started easy. I could have that experience be better. That I could do. O ne answer is you could probably match them in terms of the startup mode. And then the long term argument is you’re not stuck. Stuck about what? I don’t know and neither do you. That’s the point. You don’t even know what you’re going to get stuck on. You can’t even plan for what that will be. You don’t even know what to ask the other SaaS, whether it’s on their roadmap. You don’t even know what to ask for yet. That’s the whole point. So with WordPress, you don’t have to know. And that’s beautiful that when their future is less certain, having control and flexibility is the antid. It’s like, well, I’ll need to react to whatever happens.


[00:59:05.580] – Jason Cohen

And this is a platform where I can do that. And that’s a platform where I can’t. And people experience that with Wix and Squarespace and Webflow all the time. And that’s why people come from there to WordPress all the time. Can I get a site going fast at Wix? Of course. And then you want to do X? Too bad. Crap. Maybe I’ll have to come to WordPress so I could do the thing. Right. So it’s the same thing. Shopify, same thing. Why do people use Wix? omers instead of Shopify when they have a choice? Isn’t it faster to set up a shop with Shopify? Of course. But then I want to do this one thing with my inventory. Oh, Shopify doesn’t do that. Oh, well, what do I do about that? I don’t know. I guess you’re not doing that with your business. No. With Woow, I can do anything with my business, whether it’s flows in the purchase or things in the back office. I can do anything that my business needs. Shouldn’t the website serve my business and customers? Shouldn’t the back office serve my needs of whatever that is of fulfillment? Yes, these are tools that should fulfill your needs.


[01:00:06.180] – Jason Cohen

You should be changing your business to match the tools. So that’s the sales pitch I would be. I’m just like saying a sales pitch out loud of like flexibility over ease. But you still could say, Fair enough, but okay, wink. I still should do a better job on that first hour, first five minutes, first 90 minutes. That’s fair enough. I could do better there and take some of the edge off of the, Oh, man, it took me three hours to get your crap set up, but I was set up in five minutes. I guess that tool is easier. And it’s like, Well, that’s just the first five minutes. Okay, but it’s still a fair observation on the part of the customer.


[01:00:41.580] – Jonathan Denwood

So okay. I think there’s a lot of people thinking like this because, let’s face it, this is just my opinion, Jason. The people in automatic, they’ve got some really fabulous, really bright people in automatic, their way of dealing with this question was jet pack. And in my opinion, I understand it, but it’s been a failure for as I’m concerned. I understand why they went down that route because I think it’s linked to what we’ve just discussed. A really bright person like Sean, with R ight Femes, they decided to build a walled garden to deal with the flea market, dealing with that first onboarding experience. It’s been an ongoing discussion at WP Tonic, what should be the boundaries? What can we do to get people over the hump? I don’t think anybody has found… I think there’s a lot of people discussing this, but I don’t think there’s any clear answers, really. Would you agree with what I’ve just said? And is it been ongoing discussion.


[01:02:00.860] – Jason Cohen

At WP Engine? Yes, because we have a general WordPress platform, and yet we have people who are in different verticals. And so it’s a good question for us also, should we have a platform that specializes in one or another vertical? So for example, today, we do have a special package for Woocomers. It’s not just, oh, there’s plug ins in there. What we do is different, how we cash things is different. We have special things for carts and things. We have special things for checkout. We have a really cool search where it’s with product and content and all this stuff. The reason I call out the search is this, this is interesting just in general. A gain, one of these things that sounds obvious in retrospect, but it’s still an insight anyway, which is when someone goes to search in an e-commerce site, they are three times more likely to buy. Of course, they’re showing intent and maybe they even have a skew they’re looking for, etc. Okay, makes sense. But having said that, how good is your search? Because what we just said is there is no better customer that will ever show up on your site as the one who clicks in that box and begins typing.


[01:03:16.550] – Jason Cohen

So what experience should you have there? A shitty generic out of the box one or a really great one? Which one do you think will convert better? And is it worth your time and money even to make that experience really good? And the answer is yes, because there are three times where like, this is the perfect yes, it’s worth it. So if I say all that, it may be it sounds obvious, but that’s not what almost anyone does. So it’s not that obvious till you hear it. That makes it an insight. So when I say we have a search in there, that’s why that’s a big deal to do. So that’s just a long way of saying we see that e-commerce is a vertical that’s worth us specializing in, in addition to having a general platform. And so we are. And that answers your question. Is that something we think about? Yes. And then, of course, what other verticals are there? There are others. And so it’s always a good question. I would also say it’s very hard for a company of any size, and that includes WPNG, but it also includes WPNG 13 years ago, and it includes me at Smart Beard and everything.


[01:04:22.600] – Jason Cohen

It’s hard to recognize this customer is in our target audience and this one is not. And we’re going to be okay if this one who’s not doesn’t choose us or chooses us and cancels right away or even goes on Twitter and complains about how we suck because we don’t do X and Y. We don’t care because that’s not our target customer. It’s so hard to decide who the target customer is and then to actually act accordingly when all that stuff happens, I just said. It’s so hard because you’re like, no, I want to keep every customer and I need the revenue. And if I focus on a little thing, it’s a smaller market. It’s so hard. But nevertheless, I think it’s one of the answers to what we’re talking about. If it’s all people who need an LMS, then that’s hard to do. But if it’s people who need a customized LMS, this is better than SaaS for real. Not a sales pitch. It just is. We just have to get the customer to just have to show the truth to the customer in the best way possible. But we’re right. Whereas if it’s just a general customer, we may be wrong.


[01:05:25.760] – Jason Cohen

We may be saying this, that, and that thing, and we may be incorrect. It’s actually not better for the customer. Or it’s just as well. They pick another thing. We’re not even right. We want to win the customer. Honestly, it’s fine if they pick the other thing for some customers. That’s true of WP engine. What about a person who has a small site that gets no traffic and they don’t care about it very much? Should they pay us 30 bucks a month or should they go to Go Daddy and pay two bucks a month? It’s probably paid two bucks a month. We could say, but it’s secure, isn’t that? And we’re right. And if you care about those things, then okay, well, then you should pay for them and get them. But if you genuinely don’t care, well, we’re not right to say you should pay twice the 10 times as much. It’s not true. We’ll make the case anyway, I guess, but it’s okay. It’s not for everyone and nothing’s for everyone. So I think it’s a long way of saying, if you can say, here’s where we really are the best. True. And those are the customers we’re going to go for.


[01:06:24.270] – Jason Cohen

That’s where our marketing has to be aimed at. That’s where our sales has to be aimed at. That’s where our products and features have to be aimed at. And we won’t get a lot of the other customers. We’ll get some by accident or by whatever, and that’s fine. We’ll take them. But if they churn out and they’re asking for features we don’t want or that are not aligned with that target, we won’t do it. And if they churn as a result, we’re like, I know, but you weren’t our customer. So we won’t just dis allow them from signing up. We’ll take it. But we’ll just be super clear. These are the customers that matter to us. And definitionally, that’s a smaller market. Of course, if you’re more specific about who it is, that’s fewer people. But if you’re really the right thing, then you should be able to get more of it and you should be able to get when more of those sales and so forth. And perhaps you can charge more. A product that in which you can is more customizable should cost more than something that’s out of the box and does less, fewer things.


[01:07:21.960] – Jason Cohen

You upload your own code to is going to cost more to support. So support has to cost more and so on. And if the person is like, No, I want to write all my own code and break it in all these ways and not pay for it, that’s not your target customer. Again, I think figuring out this target customer who wants to do stuff, but can’t afford to do stuff. Again, I’m recognizing right off the bat how hard that is. And ultimately, people just don’t do it because they’re like, I just want the money and I don’t blame anybody for that, really. I don’t blame people. The advice.


[01:07:57.680] – Jonathan Denwood

Is correct. Yeah, we’re going to have to wrap it up in the next couple of minutes because I’m very respectful of your time. So we probably have to drop some of the other questions. But I just want to put this to you as a final, for understandable reasons. I’m not having a go at anybody, Jason, honestly. But the consequence of Guttenberg and the peripheralisation of page builders and the consequence, the understandable need for Guttenberg, some people had a pop at Matt and this whole concept. I actually totally understand why it was necessary totally understand and totally supportive of his vision because he was right. But the consequences of how it all panned out, this flea market aspect to WordPress in the last three years, I just think it’s just even got even worse. Well, do you think I’m right about that?


[01:09:11.090] – Jason Cohen

Well, let me take those two things separately. The flea market aspect has been true for a while, and I don’t know if it’s better or worse now. I wouldn’t argue that it’s not worse, but we’ve had tens of thousands of plug ins of all shapes and sizes in the repository for a long time, and it’s always been one of these, like, the good news is there’s tens of thousands of plug ins. The bad one is which one do I pick? And that’s been true for a long time.


[01:09:37.680] – Jonathan Denwood

So should that be better?


[01:09:38.780] – Jason Cohen

Could that be better? It’s a good question. There’s value in having a big community of things, but there’s also value in curation. Is there some way to do both with things like reviews and in a sense, SEO? Yes, and you could do more of that. So I think that’s a whole track of like, what do you do with the fact that it’s a big community with lots of participants, but also curation matters? Really good question. I do think it’s separate from the blocks question. Now you might say, but blocks is another thing that needs that, and I would agree with that. I would agree with that. Still, just in terms of analyzing and asking what shall we do? What could make it better? I would still segregate the… There’s tons of stuff which has pluses and minuses. What shall we do to make that whole thing a little better conversation, which I think is a good one and a valid one. I would separate that from blocks versus not blocks and people’s… The classic editor is still the most popular plugin, which shows you how people think about that. I think that’s a wholly separate conversation.


[01:10:38.410] – Jason Cohen

So on that topic, I would say WordPress is 20 years old. It’s hard to imagine that you can be a tech knowledge and be 20 years old and not do some disruptive things sometimes and still be relevant at all. One could argue that WordPress shouldn’t be on MySQL or at least should be supporting other kinds of things so that it could be run at the Edge. One could argue that the database should be off limits completely in terms of direct access only through API so that via the API, one could do all these different kinds of configurations, bringing WordPress architecturally forward, whether it’s one hosting company or another. I’m just saying just the architecture of things so that more things are possible because that’s how modern apps are built, period. That would be very disruptive also, very disruptive. Various plugins wouldn’t work and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’d be very disruptive and it would probably be good net good for WordPress. So the block editor is that level of disruption just at a different part of the application. I could argue the whole WP admin system could use.


[01:11:48.720] – Jonathan Denwood

An overhaul.


[01:11:50.070] – Jason Cohen

Just a bit. There’s stuff everywhere. Some of the stuff is not really relevant anymore or could be put away. Plugins go everywhere. That can.


[01:11:58.340] – Jonathan Denwood



[01:11:58.900] – Jason Cohen

Hard. There’s a standard in design, but people do their own thing. That makes it very hard for people to use a product. The whole point of WordPress… Well, the whole point. One of the points of WordPress clearly is that I have 20 plugins doing stuff. That’s the point. And yet that makes this menagerie weird crazy zoo of things in WP Admin. So that’s a hard problem. How do you preserve people’s individual control and brands, but also don’t make a big mess for the end users is an interesting hard problem. Also could be disruptive to try to solve it, but also could be wonderful for the end user to solve it. So you could pick different areas of WordPress, not infinite, but there’s probably like 5, maybe 10 areas where you could say this would really be a lot better net for the project, but it would also be disruptive for some subset of people. Should you do that? Yeah, you should do that sometimes. Not all at once. That’s too disruptive. But one at a time? Hell, yes. Otherwise, how does WordPress stay relevant in modern? I think you have to. Given that, then the question is, Well, what shall we disrupt?


[01:13:04.150] – Jason Cohen

What’s worth disrupting? The editor is where people spend most of their time. So making that modern, making that better, making it more pluggable, turning from short codes, which is like ack Central. Not in a bad way. It’s just they don’t have enough power to be blocks and so they have to be a hack. I’m not casting shade on that. I’m just saying if short code hell is a symptom, blocks are a solution. Then the fact that it could be laid out as well as presentation as well as… Also, there’s such a great answer to things like, Oh, a mobile, the layout needs to do this other thing. Okay, do that with short codes and get back to me. What are you crazy? No, you need units that they know how to do that. Like, oh, it’s columns, but of course, on a mobile, they won’t be a column. It’s just such an obvious way to do that. Then you look at anything else in the web, other SaaS things, other Dev things like React and Vue and Angular and that stuff, and 100 % of them use blocks. Dropbox did paper, it’s blocks. Notion, it’s blocks.


[01:14:12.570] – Jason Cohen

All the React Vue, it’s all components, which is what we call blocks. Everything is like, this is the right way to do it. I think everyone’s about right. Yes, reusable components that you can test, that you can compose, that have attributes. Yeah, that’s probably right. It’s not even that surprising. It’s like, oop, but for visual stuff, it just makes sense to have this. So you put all that together and it’s like, should WordPress dramatically get better in the editor, even if it’s disruptive? Yes, I think that’s got to be on the short list of disruptions that are worthwhile. Are blocks the right metaphor? Yes, or at least that’s what everyone in the world seems to agree. I mean, if you have a better idea, let me know, but it certainly seems like a good idea. Now, now you can start arguing about details. Should it have been internationalisable earlier? Should we still be waiting two years to have a good multi language support in blocks, given that we’re this far into the blocks project? That I think is a good argument. Yeah, that should be sooner or something. Now, you can argue against it, too.


[01:15:16.860] – Jason Cohen

I think there’s both sides to that, but it’s a good argument. I think that’s a valid debate to have of what is the relative importance or ordering in time of having localization in blocks? Why are we still waiting for that? Okay, should we have done full site editing before internationalization or should it have been the other way around? Again, arguments for both sides, good debate, though. Fair enough. And if you’re saying right now I’m not using blocks because my sites in six languages and this makes it too hard. I think that’s a pretty reasonable statement. Then with full site editing, of course, it’s disruptive to themes. But I would also say, well, as opposed to what should we do? Not give marketers the power to move crap around the screen because freelancers want to be paid by the hour to move crap around the screen. It’s a bad argument in my mind. Empowering the customer to do stuff the customer wants to do is probably what technology should do. Why is Elementor popular? Because people can do what they want and not open a Jira ticket to move an image three pixels to the right.


[01:16:30.710] – Jason Cohen

Now, I think there’s interesting things in the middle of that. Well, if you let the end user do literally anything, they’ll just make hideous sites. The colors won’t be on brand and it won’t line up. So is there this nice medium? And I think this is actually a great idea. And Guttenberg is going like this. And I think more of this would be great, which is designers should be able to set up the boundaries and controls. You can pick a color, but from this palette, which, of course, you can do in Guttenberg now. You can have designs, but from this set of blocks, which, again, you can pretty much do that now. But of course, as always, there’s more features you could add that. I mean, it’s always the case. But I think more of that where designers can set up the criteria, the limits, the things, but then the site owners can do stuff so that the designer can make sure you’re always on brand, but the marketer can make 20 different landing pages in an afternoon and start testing them. That is great. The argument of like, No, that’s terrible. Theme makers should just do that.


[01:17:25.530] – Jason Cohen

It should take three weeks to set up all those things and get approvals from the market. No, that’s not better. Sorry, it’s not. And technology should be enabling that stuff. So high level, I think, is that disruption good? Yes. The end. Could you argue about some of the details of what things we did in what order? Sure. I think that’s a reasonable debate. I get that. I think internationalization is important. I think most people use WordPress don’t speak English, for example. A lot of sites that are not in English support multiple languages, sometimes including English, sometimes not. But that’s most of the sites, most of them. So if we want WordPress to be 51 % of the internet, then we need to make most people happy, which means multi language. So why is that so far down the line when that’s like the mission almost is 51 %? So I think that’s a pretty good argument for like, hey, man, let’s do that already. Okay. There’s also accessibility concerns with the block editor. I think that’s also an interesting set of concerns. Again, not that there’s no concerns or no things to say against it.


[01:18:32.040] – Jason Cohen

There are, certainly. But at a high level, so we shouldn’t mess with the editor? No, I think this is a good disruption. I think there’s others that could come that would be good. Not at the same time. There’s only so much change you can manage, especially as you are a site owner or agency or freelancer where you’ve got stuff to do besides like moving to the block editor. You’ve got client sites to make and you’re getting paid by the hour and you got crap to do. You’ve got to make some progress in life. But if I had to make three major changes simultaneously, I might say, Look, I’ve got a job to do. I got to make a living over here. Stop it. So that I would also agree with. That’s all the more reason to do a disruption, get through it, and then pick up the next one. That a pace. That’s probably good. Evolution is a good thing.


[01:19:27.120] – Jonathan Denwood

I’m going to wrap it up. Thanks, Jason. We had about four other questions.


[01:19:33.640] – Jason Cohen

Lined up. We’ll do it again sometime.

[01:19:36.120] – Jonathan Denwood

What’s the best way for people to learn more about your thoughts and what you’re up.

[01:19:43.450] – Jason Cohen

To, Jason? My personal site is longf orm. Asmartbear. Com, and I’m on Twitter, asmartbear, and on the Mastodon, which I noticed a lot of WordPress people now are. I’m on there. And it links to that on that website. There’s links to the Mastodon thing. And of course, WPNG, we talked about a lot, so you.

[01:20:06.690] – Jonathan Denwood

Know that. What’s the best way for people to find you, Kurt?

[01:20:11.610] – Kurt von Ahnen

One of the best ways, honestly, is just on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn almost every day. I’m the only Kurt von Annen on LinkedIn, so.

[01:20:19.750] – Jason Cohen

I’m easy to find.


[01:20:20.650] – Kurt von Ahnen

Consequently, Jason found me on Twitter.

[01:20:22.190] – Jason Cohen

I was thrilled when he reached out to.

[01:20:24.160] – Kurt von Ahnen

Me on Twitter. That was cool. And that’s it. Everything with Monano no Mas on the internet generally leads to me. So I’m well branded and I’d love to see you there.

[01:20:33.480] – Jonathan Denwood

Right, we’re going to wrap it now. We’ll see you next week, folks, for another great interview. We’ll see you soon. Bye. 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.


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#753 WP-Tonic This Week in WordPress & SaaS: With Special Guest Jason Cohen The Founder of WP-Engine was last modified: by