Devin Walker, Founder of WordImpress
We interview Devin Walker, Founder of WordImpress, the makers of the GiveWP plugin. GiveWP is, to our minds, the premier WordPress donation plugin on the market at the present moment. Devin is also an experienced WordCamp speaker, mediocre golfer (these are his own words), cat lover and aspiring world traveler.
We have been really looking forward to this interview with Devin because he has developed, along with his business partners Jason Knill and Matt Cromwell, a great group of commercial plugins. Plus, they still manage to do a lot in the WordPress community.
We also feel that most independent WordPress plugin observers would say that the real star of this library of great plugins would be GiveWP, which has really shaken-up the WordPress donation plugin market over the last 18 months. The WordImpress offices are based in the beautiful city of San Diego.
We discuss how Devin got involved in the world of WordPress and we also discuss how hard it was to build GiveWP and at the same time maintain all the other high quality plugins that Wordimpress produces. On top of all that, Wordimpress does a lot of agency client work on a regular basis. These guys are busy!!
Devin tells us that his company is also now hiring a couple of new in-house full-time WordPress developers.
We then talk about three business books that have strongly influenced Devin and some basic management principals that he uses to help him run his company with his partners.
Here’s The Three Books That Devin Recommends:
Some more info about Devin:
Devin Walker is the Co-Founder and Creative Technologist at Thought House, a San Diego based research, creative and advertising agency. His experience includes building award-winning web properties for businesses in a variety of industries including franchising and Fortune 500.
Walker has extensive experience creating free and premium WordPress products with his WordPress company WordImpress. Popular plugins include Google Maps Builder, Yelp Widget Pro and WooCommerce Quick Checkout. In total, his plugins on WordPress.org have been downloaded nearly 100,000 times.
Outside of work, Devin enjoys traveling the world, going to concerts and playing a leisurely round of disc golf. Here’s a link to Devin’s personal Blog.
Full Show Transcript
Jonathan: Oh hi there folks, it’s WP-Tonic Episode 98 and we’ve got a great guest in this show, Devin Walker. Introduce yourself, Devin.
Devin: Hey guys, I’m Devin Walker and I’m really happy to be on WP-Tonic today. Thanks for having me, guys.
Jonathan: I’ve got my great co-host. Introduce yourself, John.
John: Hello. I’m John Locke. I run a Sacramento web design company called Lockedown Design.
Jonathan: He’s gone to “hello” folks. I’d just like to introduce Devin. Devin Walker, the founder of WordImpress, the creator of the Give WP plug-in. A donation plugin for WordPress. He’s also an experienced WordCamp speaker, a fantastic golfer, cat lover, and aspiring world traveler. That’s not a bad introduction, Devin. Thanks for coming on the show.
Devin: I appreciate it.
Jonathan: No problem. I’ll be looking forward to the interview. Any new developments with WordImpress? Obviously your most famous, I think, I don’t know if you would agree, with your Give WP plug-in, which is excellent. Any news and developments on the plug-in front?
Devin: I mean, we’re just really plugging away at developing further on our Give platform. We’re having a lot of new enhancements come out in the next version, which is version 1.5. Some cool UI updates. Then we’re also working on some neat stuff with the recurring donations add-on. As well, we just are going through a hiring process too, so getting some more developers on board, so that’s exciting for us here. My partner Matt Cromwell just had his 4th child which is really exciting as well. We’re excited for him. He’s been on paternity leave for the last 2.5 weeks. He’ll be back next week, so we’re excited to have him back in the office as well.
Jonathan: Is he trying to produce his own developers?
Devin: I think that’s the goal in the end, but he might have to wait a couple years to get them up and running, you know.
Jonathan: I’m a great believe in child labor. I’m only kidding, folks. Don’t email me. That’s just English humor. It’s dark. Go on, John, got a question for Devin?
John: Yeah, sure. It’s obvious that you are heavily invested in local businesses who are trying to improve their visibility on the web because you have a whole suite of plug-ins: Facebook Reviews Pro, Yelp Widget, Google Places Reviews, Yellow Pages. How are small businesses receiving those plug-ins and how do you see those expanding in the future?
Devin: We kind of looked at the market a couple years ago and it started with Yelp. We didn’t see any plug-ins that were doing a good job of tying in to the Yelp API. We saw how popular Yelp was with the different restaurants and businesses around here. We’re located in downtown San Diego, so we’re always using Yelp. We thought it’d be a good idea, a lot of these restaurants and different websites are using WordPress to allow them to easily tie in to the Yelp API via our plug-in. Unfortunately, Yelp doesn’t have a very good widget themselves so a lot of people were interested in this type of thing. That’s kind of what started it.
Then it kind of built out from there. We saw a rise in Google’s API and their reviews, they really started getting a lot more reviews, a lot more integration into their search, so we decided to do a Google one. Facebook, as well, started increasing their reviews. The adoption from the businesses has been for the most part very positive. Some of these local businesses are do-it-yourself-ers, and their technical expertise can vary from person to person. We try to have the most thorough documentation as possible, but it’s difficult a lot of the time because Yelp, for instance, has made a number of significant changes to their API, some good, some bad. Makes it difficult for someone with less technical experience to go in and request an API key. A lot of the times when you even say “API key,” they can get lost just in translation there.
We’re doing things like, for instance, with Facebook, you don’t even need an API key. All you need to do is connect via our app, which we created for Facebook which allows one click set-up process, so they don’t even need to create the app themselves. A lot of times when you install Facebook plug-in, and for instance if you want to allow people to log-in to your site via Facebook, WordPress website, you’ll need to set up the application yourself. With Facebook, that can get really complex really quickly. We want to minimize that as much, but still that being said, there is a lot of support that we have to provide for just getting folks up and running sometimes if they’re less technical.
John: Yeah. I imagine it. I think you got into that side before you started developing the Give plug-in, is that correct, Devin?
Devin: Yeah, a couple years before, actually. That was the first plug-in I ever really developed and released is called Yelp Widget Pro, and that was back in, I believe it was released in late 2012 or early 2013. It’s around 3 years old now. From there I built out some of the other plug-ins. I really had a thing for APIs when I was first developing because I would just look for popular APIs that hadn’t had a plug-in developed yet and know there was a potential market for it right there.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think that’s … What’s led to the Give plug-in? Why did you decide to slightly change direction? I’d like to say, folks, that all the plug-ins, I’ve used most of them, and they’re all great. The Give plug-in is fantastic. What led you to change? A slightly different direction, isn’t it?
Devin: Yeah, definitely. I think it is a pivot, but let me explain how we kind of got to that point. Back in 2013 when I was still on my own as a freelance developer, wanting to start my own plug-in shop, I was doing a lot of freelance work and a lot of the projects I’d get would be for church websites or various non-profits. They’d always have a need to accept donations, and their needs would be very particular to the way they wanted to accept donations. Typically, we’d be using an e-commerce platform like WooCommerce or we’d be using Gravity Forms to create these donation forms.
The problem with both of those are a lot of time our clients would want an e-commerce interface for accepting donations. For instance, they don’t want to see the word “product” anywhere throughout the entire platform. They didn’t want a cart system. They didn’t want the users to be taken to a separate screen in order to actually donate, which would be the checkout page in WooCommerce. They wanted the ability to select through multi-level donation options, so $5, $10, $15, but then also have the ability to give a custom amount if needed. They wanted to do that all on a single page.
We got WooCommerce to work pretty close to that, which is one of the reasons why we developed our other plug-in called “Quick Checkout,” which is a WooCommerce extension. That allowed us to put the checkout page on one screen with your various giving options but still, we were running into different hassles with trying to allow for custom amounts, modifying the emails that went out and sent to different admin notifications and donor notifications. It was kind of wrestling this big beast that would change with every update, and it was never the way we wanted.
We took a step back, and we said “Hey, there’s a real opportunity here to create a platform that really isn’t in the space that’s carved out yet.” We did a couple weeks of analysis and couple weeks more of devising a product plan, a road map if you will, to develop this. I think in the last WordCamp San Francisco, which was December 2014, we really had the idea to move forward with it. It took 6 months of development for the beta release and then we were up and running.
Jonathan: Has it been a much bigger challenge than you initially envisioned?
Devin: I knew it would be a challenge. It is a lot of development and there is a lot of particular requests that we get on a day-to-day basis that we aren’t fulfilling. I feel like that’s a common thing between different platforms. We try our best to fulfill 90% of all needs that non-profits or anyone looking to accept donations want but it’s hard to please everyone.
Jonathan: Well it must be really very difficult. Have you any observations about, now I think Pippin Williamson has discussed this on a couple podcasts, about which functionality you do choose to add and which you don’t. Have you come to any insights about how that should be managed?
Devin: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned Pippin. He’s a great guy. We work closely together. I take a lot of notes from what he’s done in the industry, especially how he’s kind of in the last year taken a step back from trying to make EDD into something it’s not. Really, we’re following the same path. We’re not going to make Give into something it’s not. For instance, if you want to start shipping products, or if somebody donates you want to have them have a physical product attached to that that sends out all this shipping information, we’re not going to be that platform. Now, that being said, we might tie into WooCommerce or another platform that handles that very well, but we’re a donation platform, we’re not an e-commerce engine. We like it that way.
Jonathan: I can see the sense. Have you got a question, John, you’d like to add on?
John: No, I didn’t even realize that the Quick Checkout was a plug-in. This seems like this would solve a problem that exists where a lot of people want the ability to checkout from a single page without having to go through the cart and the checkout, but no I just think it’s really brilliant. Was this based on a need that you were seeing people asking for doing your agency work?
Devin: Exactly, yeah. We created it to fulfill that Give on one page type of landing page experience. Once we developed it, we thought a lot of other folks could benefit from this, whether they’re a membership site and they have different membership options and you want the ability to sign up for your membership right there on the landing page rather than being taken through to another page. For the most part, that’s kind of what people have been using it for, for different landing pages and optimizing the conversion rates through their single product pages.
Jonathan: I think that’s a good spot to go for our break, folks. When we come back we’re going to find out more about the Give plug-in and some of the others, and also go through some of the books that have influenced Devin in his business career. We’ll be back in a minute.
We’re coming back and we’re going to find out more about Give, some of the other plug-ins and something about some of the things that have influenced Devin. Devin, technically has the Give plug-in been your biggest in-house project so far compared to some of the other plug-ins or is it pretty equal to some of the others?
Devin: Absolutely, it’s our biggest project. It’s the one we’re putting the most effort behind. Not saying we aren’t working on the other ones, but by far the Give plug-in is our flagship product and we’re really proud of it. That’s why it is its own brand entirely. We don’t sell any add-ons through our WordImpress.com website, it’s all on Give WP, including the documentation and everything.
Jonathan: You just mentioned documentation. That’s the other thing, I think documentation is pretty good but it’s always, I was going to say the elephant in the room but that’s not the right way to put it. It’s something that a lot of developers don’t really concentrate on. Do you have any insights about the importance of on onboarding and the documentation that you’ve had to produce for the plug-in?
Devin: I would say it was very pivotal for the success of our launch that we did have thoroughly written documentation and getting-started guides for the newer folks that were getting started with it. A lot of these users who are installing our plug-in for the first time aren’t very experienced with setting up specific donation forms and integrating with Pay Pal or some other gateway like Stripe. We really wanted to provide all the documentation we can for them. The difficulty with documentation is your plug-in progresses and you update the interfaces, a lot of the screenshots might be no longer accurate as well. If you’re writing documentation for PayPal, for instance, they updated their interface from a classic interface to this new one. Just today I was going back through and updating screenshots, making sure that a lot of it’s as accurate as possible.
One thing we really want to do more of are videos. Videos especially take a little bit longer to create. You have to edit them down. If something is tweaked or there’s something changed in it, the whole video could be inaccurate after a certain update.
Jonathan: It’s funny you mention the PayPal API. I’ve been dealing with that recently, Devin. It’s a glorious experience, I must say.
Devin: It’s getting better, but it’s got miles to go I think, still.
Jonathan: The documentation is breathtaking to say the least. Their support is quite interesting, really. Go on and have a question, John.
John: With the Give plug-in, were you surprised at the success of it after following-up Map Builders Pro? Which arguably, before Give rocketed to the top, was your flagship plug-in. Did you kind of expect it to be as successful as it’s been?
Devin: You know, I wasn’t sure how big the market or the niche was for non-profits but I had a general idea from working with a lot of these agencies and seeing the demand that they were experiencing, their ability to sell WordPress to these non-profits with ease. A lot of the churches that use it, politicians, really there’s a lot of need to accept donations online and we really have other plans too to get into crowdfunding with Give and some other avenues as well. I knew there was a lot of room there, that a lot of the big guys like WooCommerce and even EDD were kind of fulfilling, but not doing it in a much more tailored way. I wasn’t super surprised but I was very happy to see it happen.
Jonathan: Obviously I’ve listened to you on some other podcasts, and you said the one area that you’d been working hard on is the recurring payment functionality. I get the impression you’ve making great progress. It technically is quite challenging. Has it been more challenging than even you thought it was going to be?
Devin: Oh yeah, I mean before I hopped on this podcast, I was doing some different development dealing with expiration dates and how all the various gateways like PayPal, WePay, Stripe handle expiration dates. It can get extremely complex with the different recurring periods that people want to accept donations, with calculating dates based on Leap Years, accounting for expiration date drift for instance. PayPal handles … if a renewal date lands on a certain day of the month, they might push it to the next day of the month, whereas if a certain other gateway might not even handle it a similar way. There’s a lot of complexities that go into it. That was just one example. It’s a fun challenge as well, as long as you’re in the mood for it, you know?
Jonathan: What led you into the world of WordPress development, Devin? Did you have some formal training or did you go into it initially as a hobby and are you self-taught? What’s your background?
Devin: I didn’t go to school for computer science. I went to University of Arizona. Go Wildcats! I graduated with a journalism major, not a very typical degree you see a lot in the development world but it kind of helped me land my first job out of college, which was as a technical writer in the IT department of a large enterprise here in San Diego. I was writing basically instruction manuals, documentation if you will, on how to use software. Eventually, that led to, well first you have to find out how the software works and then write according to the step-by-step process to get a certain objective done.
Eventually that led me down the road to actually figuring out how this software is built. At the time I was at a Microsoft Enterprise company, so they were doing a lot of .NET technologies. I dabbled in that for a while. My first CMS that I developed was called SharePoint, it’s still around. It’s the Microsoft Enterprise internet CMS platform. That was a beast. I got kind of scared of that, and then started moving on looking at some other things. I was turned on to the open-source world by Joomla. I just was investigating for a while, I wanted to start my own website, build my own website, and I started first using Joomla. Figured I really liked PHP compared to .NET. I played around with ActionScript 3 and Flash for a while but I saw the writing on the wall with Flash, so I got out of that quickly.
After a couple months of using Joomla, eventually you progress over to WordPress, it seems. You find out about it somewhere. I think I found out about it by setting up another site, and when you first create a site in cPanel, it asks you if you want to start it with an application and then WordPress was at the top of the list. I was like “Okay, let’s install with WordPress.” Compared to the interface of Joomla, I was already kind of sold on it. Then I saw the documentation, the Codex, and I was really getting excited. Then I went to some Meetups and really started building with some themes and was sold after that, basically.
Jonathan: Just shows you what you can determine, just shows you what you can end up making doesn’t it?
Jonathan: It does, doesn’t it, really. Let’s talk about some of your influences, Devin. You were kind enough to fill in some information. Let’s look at, quickly, some of the things you said. Some of your favorite business books, you gave 3. Let’s start off with “Start with Why.” Why do you like that one, Devin?
Devin: I think it’s … Simon Sinek is a really well-spoken author and thought leader for businesses and different business-minded people turn to him to get inspired and find direction. “Start with Why” is really, I think, a good reason to build a product. You never want to start with “How” or “Why should I?” “Why” was a reason why we started Give and I attribute that to its success. I think that’s an important thing to remember.
Jonathan: Next one “Leaders Eat Last.” Love the title. Haven’t read it myself, actually.
Devin: That’s another Simon Sinek book. It’s basically putting your team before you. I think a lot of times when you’re in a start-up environment, people are tempted to kind of put themselves before the pack. A lot of times that leads to a crash and burn. I like to lead by doing, lead by example, and I’ll put the needs of my employees or my partners before my personal needs any day.
Jonathan: Great. Then, to finish off, “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” What do you like about that?
Devin: I like that one because it’s all about setting “SMART goals,” they call them. You set goals that are … SMART is an acronym. I can’t tell you what each letter stands for, but it’s basically setting goals that are realistic and attainable. I like to think of myself as a realist. I’ve been in a lot of circles where people have a lot of “Pie in the Sky” ideas, where they talk about “In 2 years, we’re going to be $50 million.” Sure you can do that if you have a path for success, and you set those milestones and goals along the way, and you meet those, and you achieve your bite-sized chunks first. That was one of the strongest takeaways I had from that book.
Jonathan: Then you kind of gave some of your leadership principles, but before we quickly go through those, running your own business and I’ve been running my own business since I was 23, Devin, and that was a few years ago regrettably. What have you learned in the process, reflecting back? Is there any particular thing that you’ve learned that comes to your mind that you would like to share?
Devin: I think the one biggest thing and the big difference maker is having good partners. I’ve tried to start businesses in the past by myself. Failed. I’ve tried to start a business with another partner in the past. Failed. Then also got into a bit of litigation which was a big headache and a mess. Then finally, going around, I vetted these partners very well and they’re taking it to the next level with me. My partner Jason, he’s very financial, analytical, and kind of a sales guy. You have me which I’m kind of the heads-down programmer technical guy, and then you have Matt Cromwell, who’s the community leadership. He handles support, he handles a lot of the outreach that we do, and he puts our name into different people’s ears that have helped us out as well. Having good partners is great. I think that’s the most important takeaway.
Jonathan: Thanks, Devin. John, have you got a last question you like to ask Devin?
John: Sure. If you could boil down your personal philosophy for success into just a few sentences, what would that be?
Devin: Oh boy. My personal philosophy for success is, you know I always go back to “Leading by Doing.” Nobody’s going to do the hard work for you. You have to put in the time, you have to put in the effort, and you have to see it through until the end. Half-done won’t cut it. You have to pay attention to all the details. I’m very detail-oriented and analytical person, so even if a pixel’s off, it’ll bug me and I’ll want to fix it right away.
Jonathan: You know how to fix those pixels, haven’t you Devin?
Jonathan: They’re like cats, aren’t they, they’re hard to herd. To finish off, Devin’s also been gracious and pointed out a special offer that Give WP is offering. Basically if you go to GiveWP.com and you subscribe to their great newsletter you get 15% off all the add-on bundles, which is not bad, is it Devin?
Devin: Save you a good little chunk of money.
Jonathan: Yeah, that’s great. How can people get a hold of you if they want to sing you praises of your great plug-ins, Devin?
Devin: You can go to my personal website. It’s imdev.in. I’m also on twitter @innerwebs, and Facebook as well, I’m always in the events Facebook group. If you’re a local San Diego resident, I go to pretty much all the WordPress meet-ups down here.
Jonathan: That’s great, Devin. John, how can people get a hold of you?
John: You can find me at my website, which is LockedowndDesign.com, and on Twitter, I am @Lockedown_.
Jonathan: He’s easy to find.
John: How can people find you, Jonathan?
Jonathan: I’m quite easy to find on the internet. I’m all over the place. I’m a marketing machine. One-man marketing machine.
John: You can’t hold him back.
John: You can’t hold him back.
Jonathan: Basically I just do a Google search: Jonathan Denwood or you go, I’m normally pretty active on Twitter and that’s @jonathandenwood, or you go to the WP-Tonic website. We normally have a lot of additional information, posts, and extra content, links to the podcasts. One thing you can do for us, folks, is if you do go to iTunes to subscribe, please give us a review. Even if it’s just clicking the 5 stars. It really does help the show and it kind of motivates us. I love people emailing me and giving us suggestions through Twitter. It’s always great to hear the audience and what you think of the show.
Devin, you’ve been a great guest. We really appreciate you. You’re a great member of the WordPress community. Give our regards to Bridget. It’s sad news. She was a fantastic find. How do you find these fantastic people to work for you? This is what I want to know?
Devin: All being part of the community, that’s the thing. We go to Meetups. She came to a WordCamp, I think the first one was WordCamp LA and we saw what a beautiful job she was doing with social media and we knew we had something there.
Jonathan: You bagged her.
Devin: Yup. I’m not sure I’d put it that way but yeah, we got her.
Jonathan: The English are flippant, okay. You seem to quite enjoy it. John seems to come with it. It does get me into a little bit of trouble. I’m a hybrid now, but I was brought up in England so it is what it is. Thanks so much, Devin, it’s been a great show. Say goodbye, folks! Goodbye!
Devin: Thank you, I appreciate it!