Mendel Kurland joined us to talk about being an evangelist and building community for GoDaddy.
Mendel defines an evangelist as someone who not only promotes the platform or company he represents but befriends and truly understands the community he supports.
His work includes supporting the WordPress community and other open source communities, like Drupal.
As a supporter of WordPress both as a business providing upgraded WordPress managed hosting, and as a sponsor of WordPress events, GoDaddy is working to develop products that the WordPress community is delighted with.
According to Mendel, one of the highlights of participating in WordCamps is that he sees an overall cooperative community. Since people are making money on WordPress, you might expect that there would be aggressive posturing and competition. He mainly experienced more cooperation than he has seen in other communities.
Here’s a Full Transcript of our Interview with Mendel Kurland
Jonathan: Hi there folks. Welcome back to the WP-Tonic. This is show 224. We’ve got a great guest. He’s been a regular on our panel recently, contributed a lot. Just a great person in general. Always makes me laugh. And that Mendel from GoDaddy. Would you like to give the audience a quick introduction Mendel?
Mendel: Yeah. I’m Mendel. I’ve been at GoDaddy for close to 8 years. Done a lot of things. Background in Engineering, but now I work on community stuff. Telling our story to the WordPress and broader technical community and pulling feedback back in from that community.
Jonathan: Thanks mate. And I’d like to introduce my co-guest Kim. Like to introduce yourself Kim?
Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I teach Business Communications and Technology.
Jonathan: And I’m your host, Jonathan Denwood, the founder of WP-Tonic. So all complaints, queries can come straight to me folks.
Mendel: Wait. Hold on. What’s the email address?
Jonathan: It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, God. So, Mendel, you’re the GoDaddy evangelist. I always thought that title for a company, evangelist, is quite an interesting title. Can you give some indication to the listeners and viewers what an evangelist actually does?
Mendel: Yeah. I think it varies broadly across organizations. One of the first super, so there’s Guy Kawasaki. There’s Scoble. There have been so pretty notable names that kind of helped to start off the whole evangelist idea. Back then, I really think that the classic evangelist was a person who taught somebody how to use an API or a technology or a platform with the things that they are working on. More broadly, you know it’s funny because a lot of people call themselves evangelists in the WordPress community and they call themselves WordPress evangelists. But then they work for a bigger company. And so those people have defined it in a slightly different way. Now we have evangelists for other organizations. By the way, I don’t agree with this title in this case, so I’m not going to name those organizations. But they consider an evangelist a sales role. And so what I would define modern evangelism as is a person or people that represent a company to a community for the purpose of creating education on both sides, delivering information on both sides without being tied to a sales or a revenue goal.
Jonathan: Yeah. I’m sorry about that folks. There was a little bit of background noise. Yeah. It is interesting what it is really. So how long have you been doing evangelism with GoDaddy then? How long has it been so far then?
Mendel: Yeah. So I took this job 4 years ago.
Mendel: That was around the time that GoDaddy was building a new managed WordPress product and kind of fixing that hosting situation and swearing off those advertising practices of the past and things like that. And kind of when the tide started to turn as far as the company’s objectives.
Jonathan: Right. So you’ve been doing it for a while. On reflection, what have you learned about being an evangelist? And secondly, what have you learned about the WordPress community in those 4 years?
Mendel: About being an evangelist. I’ve made more friends than I set out to make. When you start working on a project for a company, you work on a project. And you’re certainly not getting paid. Your boss doesn’t come to you and say, “Hey. Why don’t you go have some great friendships in a community all over the world?”. They say, “Hey. Why don’t you help get the word out about what we’re up to and get some feedback from the community?”. That was one of the most surprising and quite frankly rewarding thing that came with the job. The second was related to how, sorry, I forgot the second part.
Jonathan: What have you learned about the WordPress community in general?
Mendel: Oh. Yeah. I’ve got to apologize Jonathan. I flew from San Francisco to Austin Texas this morning. I got off the plane at 5 a.m. So I’m a little tired. So what have I learned? I’ve learned that the WordPress community is very anomalous. So there are a lot of open source communities that produce open source software. They have business ecosystems around that software. WordPress is enormous. And there a people making a ton of money. And when people go out into the community, you would think that there would be this aggressive posture to grab business at Word camps and at meet ups and online and in forums and things like that. And sometimes you see some of that from people posting links to their blogs or their new hosting companies or whatever it is. But for the most part, the people are very very respectful of the values and the principles of the WordPress community which I think is very very unique. You don’t see that in other open source communities.
Jonathan: Oh, right. It’s been the only open source community that I’ve been actively involved with actually. So having that insight about some others is really useful Mendel. Obviously, you’ve got a new CEO, Scott. One of the things, when I was reading the news story was that it was saying that GoDaddy has over 16 million clients. Is that roughly right actually Mendel?
Mendel: Oh, yeah. We wouldn’t joke about stuff that we put out in the media. So a lot of our clients are domain clients.
Mendel: I think now the largest of the WordPress hosts. We host WordPress sites at Media Temple and at GoDaddy and now with our HEG companies over in the UK, sorry in Europe. We host a lot of WordPress which is pretty awesome. So that’s a subset of other product holders. The majority of our customers are small businesses. So that kind of gives you an idea. If somebody has an idea, they want to go start a cupcake shop or something like that, they come to us because we’ve long been advocates for small businesses.
Jonathan: So with the new CEO, what would you hope to see in the next 18 months when it comes to GoDaddy’s relationship with the WordPress community? What would be your hope list of what might be achievable?
Mendel: The good part is, so I have one request. And I was just in Seattle and spent some time with Scott and asked him or gave him a piece of my mind. And I said, “Listen. Beyond all else, what I care about most is customer centric product development”. And it’s something that we have continued to excel at GoDaddy and I just want to see us continue to do that, especially when it comes to WordPress. That we’re building things that people are just freaking excited about, just delighted about, and that help people. And so basically, it was a reaffirmation saying to Scott, “Hey man. Are you in for this? Because Blake was”. Blake was all about and still is until he’s done with his job because he’s not done yet. We’re still putting his feet to the fire. But, “Are you down with this the same way Blake was?”. And he’s like, “Yep. In fact”, he’s like, “I’m down with it two times harder than you are”. And I’m like, “I’m really excited about it. So you must be super stoked”. So anyway, that’s my only, I think when we do that and you’ve seen us do that over the past couple years. When we do that and really build products for the community and our customers, everybody wins. The customers win. We make money. People are happy with our services. Yeah. That’s the only thing that I want to see.
Jonathan: Well. That’s great. Obviously, GoDaddy has had its ups and downs in the WordPress community. And you probably on a regular basis hear some of the downs and hopefully you hear some of the ups as well. On reflection, do you think that what I’ve just said about ups and downs and maybe until recently, I’m trying to find the right words here because I want to be totally fair. Some of the inconsistencies, do you think that was because GoDaddy didn’t really under the WordPress communities? Or was it that it’s dealing with such a large market that people don’t understand that WordPress is the important part for GoDaddy, but it’s also dealing with a lot of other things as well?
Mendel: Yeah. Respectfully, I don’t think it’s either of those. So I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few years. I’ve looked at other companies that have had gaffes in the past or done things that the community didn’t like, within a WordPress community, within the broader community. Looking at other larger organizations. And by the way, in the grand scheme of things, compared to some gargantuan companies, GoDaddy is quite small. So you have to keep that in the perspective that it’s large in the hosting industry and in the domains industry. Now all of the worlds huge companies have just vaporized from my mind.
Jonathan: Microsoft. Apple.
Mendel: Yeah. When you think about, I don’t know how many employees we have right now, but it’s in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands. So keeping that in mind. I used to think it was about us. And I used to think was, we did all of these bad things or things that gave people a bad taste in their mouth. And so because of that, we’ve kind of been on the wrong side the community. And that’s true. There was a lot of stuff that we just used to suck at. There was a lot of stuff that we didn’t do right or that people within the organization represented in a strange way. That the majority of the people in our company didn’t feel the same way. However, I think what I’ve learned is that really the issue was, there was no communication channel. And when you have no communication channel, so think about this. When you don’t know what’s going on in a situation, you’re freaked out. And if it’s your business, that you don’t know what’s going on with your technology provider and your livelihood relies on it, then you’re super freaked out. And so for the first time in the history of the company, people in the WordPress community and beyond have had a way how to channel to communicate directly with people within the organization. And I think that’s what changed things. Of course, we changed product. We changed marketing practices. We changed policy. We changed all of these different things. But to be truthful, those things weren’t things that we didn’t believe in. Those weren’t things that we didn’t want to change. We wanted to change all those things. Those changes were going to happen regardless of our work in the WordPress community. It’s been a function of creating a communications tool for the community and for us.
Jonathan: I think that’s a great point. We’re going to go for our break folks. When we come back, we’ve got some more question for Mendel Kurland. He’s a little bit jet lagged but he still was a champ coming on the show and it’s appreciated. We’ll be back in a minute folks.
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Jonathan: We’re coming back folks. We’re talking about all things GoDaddy and we’re talking about our great friend Mendel Kurland. I’m going to hand you over to Kimberly. She’s ready. Kim, got any questions?
Kim: I do have a few. Just as a funny background too. I was a technical evangelist back in the pre-2000s, late 90s, early 2000s. So in that day, what it meant and I was in Austin Texas by the way, with a company called Tivoli that’s owned by IBM.
Kim: And in those days, we were part of the sales organization sort of, but we weren’t a sales role as far as . . .
Mendel: You weren’t that way?
Kim: Yeah. We weren’t that way. So we were kind of the bridge between the Engineers and the sales team and the customers. So I could be called in to speak to customers or to go around and teach the sales teams what Engineering had coming up. And back then, that was my exposure to it.
Mendel: Yeah. Now they called that technical integration or something like that.
Kim: Yeah. The Marketers get a hold of these names and every changes or HR, whoever does it. I had a question for you that jumped out on the communication channel. It kind of made me think of, GoDaddy was part of the very early hosting and early definitely domain name companies. I wonder, how of much of that was a shift from, the way we all did business pre-2000 for companies was much more formal. We didn’t talk about things like building community etcetera. So communications channels, unless you were a large company or an enterprise type company, frequently weren’t there. How much do you think integrating that new communication channel and all is just a part of really connecting with the times of what people are looking for now and GoDaddy being on board with that?
Mendel: Yeah. That’s a super interesting question. So I remember I was around when we first set up the Twitter and the Facebook accounts for GoDaddy and every single post, every single time had to be approved by the high, well, most of time, had to be approved by the highest levels when this first started out. And it didn’t last long. But I think everybody in this world was kind of caught off guard by how quickly things like social media became real. This opportunity now to be able to speak directly to a big brand. I was on a United flight a few days ago and I just tweeted at them and I said, “Hey. People always beat you up for the negative. Just want to tell you thanks. I arrived 15 minutes early”. And they responded immediately. It was an employee of United. And I’ve had negative experiences do the same thing. And those things get handled. It’s a beautiful new time, but it’s very very scary for corporations. And what social media did is it forced corporations hands to start to snap out of that super formal, kind of the shield of the brand. The shield of the corporate identity because what the public said is, “We want to know who you are. We want to know the people that exist there. We want to know if you’re really good people or bad people”, or whatever. It was a struggle I think with us, in the same way there was a struggle with any other organization, really figuring out, “How do we do this?”. And this was kind of the evangelism or this part of things, the team that I work on is kind of the pinnacle of this effort that I can come on a Podcast and I can tell you things used to suck and now they don’t suck. And to be honest, that statement probably in a different time, I might not be as comfortable doing that. And the company might not be as comfortable hearing it.
Kim: You might have a little note from HR when you get back to your desk.
Mendel: There might be. Yeah. I hope that I never say crazy. There’s always a word because you’re representing a company. But, yeah.
Kim: And so, it seems like a lot of times with companies and again, most of my corporate work was in the days before where we are now. I’ve had to learn to loosen up even in my own business. How much of that makes just your legal department crazy? And do you ever have to run things through them?
Mendel: One of the more businessy aspects of my life is that I still work within a corporate structure. I work within the communications organization. So this is the team dedicated to disseminating information, making sure that the brand makes sense. Everywhere we talk about it. Different things like that, in charge of social media and stuff. So as a part of that, I communicate pretty often with leadership there and when I need to, the legal team. And I think unless you’re going off the rails a lot, then you freak people out. But we’ve talked. We’re all friendly. We all know what’s going on. And to be honest, I’m not the only evangelist out there. We try and dub other people within our company with that power as well to go out and speak. In fact, everybody in our company. The only difference between me and some others is that I went through this super boring and I say super boring because it was just scary and sad to look at myself on the screen, but you know, media training. But it’s basically, don’t say stupid things to people. It’s kind of like common sense stuff. I don’t think they stress out because we prepare for representing the interest of the organization and then bringing stuff back from the community.
Kim: Excellent. I love that you said that really all the employees are evangelists because I think that’s where corporate America has gone that’s changed a lot. Is there any formal acknowledgment of that? That we consider all of you evangelists for the company? Or is it just something that kind of naturally has happened?
Mendel: Yeah. It’s been encouraged from the highest levels. At a point, we kind of turned the corner on communicating and realized, “This is silly. We have thousands of people that could be talking about the great work that we’re doing”. Sometimes part of the issue is just that people don’t know what we’re up to. And so if we give everybody in the company the ability to talk about it or not the ability, but the permission. Before it was discouraged. Have you ever seen that thing on a Twitter profile that says, “These thoughts are my own”, or, “These words are my own”. There were a lot of rules around what you could do on social media, what you couldn’t. And because there were so many rules, it was discouraging. You’re like, “Screw it. I don’t even want to mess with it”. And now the message is, “Use all of our products. By the way, we get them for a very discounted rate. So use our products. Play with our products. Teach people about our products. Talk to people about it. Get their feedback and find out what’s going on that’s good and what’s bad and bring it back”. So, yeah. It’s now very actively encouraged.
Kim: Excellent. Thanks. I appreciate that because for me, I know it’s been an interesting journey in technology in business over the last 20 years watching the changes.
Kim: And I love where we’re going with business these days.
Mendel: Totally. Jonathan’s going to try and talk. It’s going to be funny though because you won’t be able to hear him.
Kim: He’s mute.
Jonathan: Sorry about that folks. I’ve just got a quick question. You might not want to answer it. Let’s see Mendel. Obviously, we’ve been discussing on the panel shows that you’ve also joined. There’s been a lot of talk in the WordPress community that Automatic are going to be entering the hosting sector more vigorously. I was going to say will enter but that’s obviously nonsense because they’ve in the hosting area from day 1, haven’t they? In some ways, I’m a bit surprised by the reaction from some elements of the WordPress community. Because like I said, Automatic have been in the hosting area from day 1 really. So have you been a little bit surprised by all the conversation that’s developed recently that they’re going to be entering hosting and they’re going to be kind of stepping on the toes of their hosting partners? What’s your thoughts about this?
Mendel: I think it’s always interesting how people react. And a lot of times people react with a lot of emotions very quickly again because this is a space where people are earning their livelihoods. All I’ll say is this and it’s the same thing I’ve said every single time there have been shifts in the industry as far as hosting goes, competition is good. We live a free society where companies can decide to do things, offer products, spend money in market places, whatever. I don’t think it affects how we’re looking at products which is we’re trying to build awesome products for our customers and for new customers. And that’s really what we’re focused on is just building awesome WordPress. We’re actively working on new managed WordPress or upgraded managed WordPress that is more modern with PHP 7.x and free SSL and stuff like that. It’s cool.
Jonathan: Actually funny enough, there were my own feelings because this whole discussion in the WordPress community in some ways, I’ve found a little bit bizarre actually because Automatic have been hosting from day1. They chose a very locked down kind of hosting solution and now they’re looking for a more less locked down solution. They’ve always been there so I did find that a little bit bizarre. We’re going to wrap up the actual Podcast part of the show. Hopefully, Mendel will stay on for another 10, 15 minutes which you’ll be able to listen and watch on our YouTube channel and on the WP-Tonic website. Thanks Mendel for coming on the Podcast part of the show. How can people get hold of you and learn more about you and what you’re up to Mendel?
Mendel: Yeah. So on Twitter, Facebook, on the web as well, you can just go to ifyouwillit.com or @ifyouwillit or ifyouwillit on Facebook. The other thing I want to offer at the end of this Podcast is my personal email address at GoDaddy. So if you have questions or concerns or just curious what we’ve been up to, just hit me up. It’s mendel, M – E – N – D – E – L @godaddy.com. Super easy email and super happy to answer any questions the people have. Give me the good or the bad, it doesn’t matter. Just really happy to talk.
Jonathan: Thank Mendel. And Kim, how can people find more about you Kim?
Kim: You can connect with me at Twitter @kimshivler and you can always find me at whiteglovewebtraining.com.
Jonathan: And folks, if you want to talk to me, I’m easy to find on the Internet, bit of an open book. You can use YouTube, YouTube channel I was going to say, my Twitter @jonathandenwood or you can email me. My personal email is email@example.com. I’m here to answer any queries, questions, and if you’ve got input about guests or topics that we should discuss, I’m always welcome to that input. We’ll be back on Friday for our great round table shows. Also, most of the panel are going to be at Sacremento Word camp. It should be great. I think that’s the 16th and 17th.
Mendel: Mendel: Yeah. But Kim’s talk is going to be better than mine.
Jonathan: Are you sure?
Kim: We don’t know that.
Jonathan: that already. And thank you for listening to the show. Like I said, we will be back on Friday and every Wednesday we interview a member of the WordPress community, either building something, contributing or an online expert on some skill that will help you grow your business. We’ll be back. See you later folks. Bye
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