135-beka-rice

What can I say about Beka apart from “cool”. Her and team at SkyVerge have built a great reputation not only for their great work 70 + Woo-Commerce plugins but also in the way they generally do business! In this interview we cover quite a large landscape of different topics however, we mostly focus on eCommerce and what Beka has learned about this large subject over the past 5 years.

About Beka

Hi there! I’m a movie buff, writer, music lover, perfectionist, eCommerce enthusiast, avid reader, and a sarcastic, dry-witted goofball. This is starting to sound like an Alanis Morissette song, huh?

What I do

I currently manage operations and product development for SkyVerge, and frequently write at Sell with WP, which is an “eCommerce for WordPress” news site.

My path towards these jobs was a bit winding. I trained as a chemist, dabbled in sports journalism, and I’m also a former high school teacher and coach. I’ve been married since 2010 to my husband, Max Rice who’s a travel partner, fellow Halo player, and general associate in nonsense.

Full Transcript of Episode 135

Transcript for Episode 135 – Beka Rice

John:

Welcome to WP Tonic, episode 135. Today, we’ve got the immense pleasure of having WooCommerce developer Beka Rice with us. Beka, introduce yourself. Please let our listeners know who you are, what you do.

 

Beka:

All right, great. Thanks, John. For those of you not familiar with the things I’ve written, I write a lot at SkyVerge.com where I am our WooCommerce team lead. I manage our plugin development schedule, testing, website administration, all the stuff that comes around owning your own products. And I write at SellWithWP.com where I try to give tips and advice and tutorials for merchants and developers writing e-commerce stores with WordPress.

 

John:

Very good. I would also like to introduce my beloved co-host, Jonathan Denwood. Jonathan?

 

Jonathan:

I was a little bit early. Hi, there, folks. It’s Jonathan here. I’m the founder of WP Tonic where I WordPress merchants, security, small job fix company. We also help agencies, small agencies, petite agency with overflow and we help bloggers, small business owners keep their websites up, secure, and keep them happy.

 

John:

Excellent, and I am John Locke. I run a small WordPress consultancy in Sacramento, California called Lockedown Design and my areas of expertise are putting together WooCommerce stores and helping people with local SEO. First question I want to ask you, Beka, is how did you first get into web development?

 

Beka:

That is a great one. I did not get into development very early. I know a lot of people that, I feel like, have been doing this since they were 12 years old, and for me that wasn’t the case. I trained as a chemist. I went to college for chemistry and then pivoted while I was in college to education since I was tutoring, probably, more than half of my Calculus class at that point and some of my chemistry class, as well, and was enjoying it.

 

 

I taught high school chemistry for 4 years and at that point, my husband, Max, and his co-founder Justin had founded SkyVerge and we in need of a lot of help, in terms of writing documentation for plug ins, testing, answering basic support questions. Since I had worked with WordPress websites in the past, in college and while I was teaching, that was something I fell into doing part time for them, which just continued to escalate more and more and more as time went on.

 

 

Probably about 4 months later, I was doing two jobs, essentially and decided at that point, despite the fact that it felt risky having two people working for the same new company, we decided that, as that point, it was, kind of, taking off and that we should just jump in with both feet. I, kind of, shifted full time into the web and WordPress sphere after having been a user for so long.

 

John:

Excellent. What were the early days of SkyVerge like and how does it compare to where SkyVerge is now?

 

Beka:

Sure, so at that point, with Max, Justin, and myself, we were doing a lot of building in the early days. As many people familiar with products can attest, you have so much time to build in the beginning. As you have support, but still more minimal than usual and your maintenance board isn’t very big. There’s a lot of building going on in the early days of Sky Verge. It was the three of us for a little while, then we brought on a full time new developer to help us with WooCommerce development and support.

 

 

As our plugin catalog started to expand, we stepped away from doing builds for stores and helping merchant with customization and set up and really focused a lot more on the product side of things, since that revenue was now supporting the business itself. As it grew into WooCommerce more as a whole, so we’ve done a ton of WooCommerce stuff, but we also have Shopify apps as well and we acquired an app for Shopify called Jilt. It was for abandoned carts that we’ve revamped and also made available for e-commerce and will soon be available for easy digital downloads as well. It’s grown from just a small shop focused on e-commerce to a shop focused on providing e-commerce solutions.

 

John:

Most definitely. All right, tell me a little bit more about Jilt. Where do you see SkyVerge taking that app from here until now and what’s the opportunity?

 

Beka:

Sure, that one is definitely one we’re very excited about. The abandoned cart problem is a huge one for e-commerce stores. A lot of merchants familiar with the fact that 68% of carts are abandoned. That means, not only people that just came to your store, but people that actually added something to the cart and left the store before completing the purchase, which is a ton of lost revenue.

 

 

In the Shopify sphere, they had offered a very light weight abandoned cart solution as part of their core platform. For Shopify, I think it was a big deal and many merchants became aware of it because of that. Jilt has already covered $14,000,000 in revenue for merchants with Shopify and so what we did is took Jilt. We’re very excited about that possibility, even though there was already an offering for Shopify, and said, “Hey, there’s not really much here in the WordPress space for is and it’s a great tool for merchants to boost revenue and recover these lost sales.

 

 

We deconstructed the app and rebuilt it to make it a little more friendly for other platforms as well. We launched, self-launched, a WooCommerce integration for that recently. We’ve had a small set of merchants on it who are loving it already. We’re getting them ramped up with recovering their carts. We’ve been working with Pippin and his team at easy digital downloads to put together an integration for that so that we can help merchants with digital stores to recover their lost sales as well. We’re seeing that take off so far.

 

 

We haven’t done a big push in WordPress space yet since we were trying to gather a lot of early feedback, but it’s fully functional. It’s available and we’re having great results so far with the merchants in WordPress that are using it, just like we have in Shopify.

 

John:

Very good. In SkyVerge, you’re a third-party developer for WooCommerce and for Shopify. How important is third party development to the growth and the health of a platform or an ecosystem?

 

Beka:

I think that’s one of the major reasons we’ve seen some of these platforms take off. For a lot of merchants, it’s pretty straightforward to find a solution that will let you set up a t-shirt shop or pretty simple shop selling a very straightforward product. Right? You have an abundance of choices to do stuff like that, Shopify, Squarespace, Equid, Wix, all sorts of things. Actually, I’m not sure if Wix is launched their ecommerce solution. I know they’re working on them as well as Weebly.

 

 

There’s tons of options for you to sell a simple product and what there are is not a ton of ecommerce stores that are just simple products, right? There’s merchants that are selling all sorts of crazy stuff, things that require measurements online, things that require digital or downloadable products, things that require content protection. That ability to expand what the platform is offering and to do it quickly with the help of several third-party developers, I think is why you see merchants flock to one platform because they can say, “Well, I want to be able to do this,” or “This is what my ideal setup would look like in my mind.”

 

 

While WooCommerce may not offer it, there are all these extensions that I can use that do and I can do that for a pretty reasonable price and that was something that Max, who is one of our co-founders had evaluated before he got involved with SkyVerge. He was running an e-commerce store and went through that process of should I use WooCommerce, Shopify, I think Spreedly was 1 of the ones they evaluated at that point and Spreedly was going to cost, I think, $25,000 to get up and running.

 

 

He looked at WooCommerce and said, “For $1,000 in extensions and a couple $1,000 in customer development, I can have exactly what I want.” I think that third party ecosystem along with the development ecosystem is really what brings some of those merchants into the fold.

 

John:

Great. Something that you touched on in that statement that I want to come back to, how important is it to approach WooCommerce or Shopify as a merchant first before you look at it as a developer?

 

Beka:

It’s hugely helpful and so many of have experience with e-commerce stores in some way, either a family member that runs one. When I was in college I worked in a warehouse for a women’s sporting goods supplier that had an ecommerce store so I got to see the fulfillment side of things on my end. Max got to see things running an ecommerce store. Justin was their custom development partner for that which is how to company got started.

 

 

That ability to see the problems first-hand the merchants are having I think really hammers home where pain points are for you, and so a lot of plugin ideas and a lot of development came out of that. Seeing where there are gaps in the platform offering and where plugins can step in and do a better job for merchants.

 

John:

I think that’s paramount understanding the client needs to get ideas for plugins.

 

Beka:

Absolutely.

 

John:

One thing I want to ask you is how did the Automattic acquisition of WooCommerce affect the WooCommerce development ecosystem?

 

Beka:

For many of us who were involved in WooCommerce that was definitely a big wild card when it happened since there weren’t too many third-party developers that had any advance notice really that that was occurring. The kept it very hush hush until the time it was announced. At first the ambiguity of it is a little unsettling because you’re wondering, okay, is this going to be something that is going to continue? Are they going to remove the extension marketplace and do everything hosted in the close system like WordPress.com is? What’s this going to look like?

 

 

Over time, I think that the increase in developers in the WooCommerce core system for people that follow WooCommerce, there have been several people from automatic that have rotated into WooCommerce and done development sprint on the core plug in. I think seeing that boost in the development ecosystem has been great to see and very inspiring and grounding for many of us that work with WooCommerce. Seeing the investment the Automattic is making into the space and into the ecosystem.

 

John:

Do you see WooCommerce becoming part of the WordPress.com at some point?

 

Beka:

At some point I think so. There’s a very real cost to trying to set up a hosted ecosystem like that even though WooCommerce itself is free. It’s primarily in support. Hardware you can deal with and the stacked they have a lot of experience with, but automatic excels and providing support for that software as they have with WordPress.com and Jetpack. I definitely think they have the great tools and capability to that, but at that point they’re also competing head to head with the Shopify’s of the world which is definitely tough and definitely WooCommerce has a little bit of a ways to go, I think, before it’s usability that Shopify is at, but I definitely think that that would be in the future plans for Automattic because we’ve seen with WooCommerce Connect, it’s taking steps towards that.

 

John:

Definitely. I’m want to ask you as well, when SkyVerge releases a plugin, is there a science, is there a methodology, to figuring out what the price is going to be? Is that something that you have to talk with WooCommerce about? How does that process work?

 

Beka:

Right, so that’s a good question. Pricing is always a tricky one. With Woocommerce.com, they have a lot of input into that, obviously, with it being a marketplace so there are several tiers at which plug ins are typically available. A very small selection of plug ins is available $29 and then $49 and $79 and so for us, if we rolled a payment gateway integration, the vast majority of those are going to be at $79. We know that going into it, unless, of course, there is some weird things about it.

 

 

There’s a couple that are at a much higher price point, but for functionality based plugins it’s a process we’ll go through with our team. We’ll say, “Okay, here’s our anticipated features set. Here’s what competing plug ins in the WordPress ecosystem are doing, what ours will do. Here’s what they’re priced at. Most of the time, we want to go upstream of that and offer at a higher price point because we’re trying to provide a much better product. We’ll go through those factors and then it’s a collaborative process with their team to determine which tier it sits it based on that.

 

John:

Excellent, excellent. I want to ask you before we go to our break, recently there is a major update to the Memberships plugin. Tell me, tell our listeners a little bit about some of the new things that they’re going to find in Memberships.

 

Beka:

Yeah, so Memberships is one of the plugins we’re very excited about. We have one full time person basically on that at all times building, supporting, improving Memberships. We ran into an issue with Memberships where when we built it, we were very opinionated and we tried to make as many decisions as we could so that set up would be very simple for people and if they needed to make changes we try to make it very developer friendly and we also provided a lot of code snippets and support around how to do those things.

 

 

The one thing that we were probably too opinionated on at first, although I think it worked out for us to launch at least an MVP, was the concept of tying membership access to recurring billing. We made the decision that you should only have access while you’re paying for it and when you stop paying, you stop getting access. That didn’t fit the model that some people needed where payments should be decoupled from access period. You might want to offer a plan where you have free membership, but it lasts for a year.

 

 

What we had to do with Memberships 1.7 is kind of do a lot of refactoring around that process and to kind of change that concept of how Memberships works with billing and with the Subscriptions plug in itself. With Memberships 1.7, we added the ability to decouple that and since we were having to tinker very deeply with the access methods and how access is controlled it opened up the opportunity for us as well to add new access methods.

 

 

What we did is we provided support for installment plans so you can now say, “I don’t want the membership to be as long as the billing. I want it to be for a set year no matter what.” Then since we were tinkering with that we also added fixed state memberships. You can say, “I want this membership to run from January 1 to December 31.” No matter when the person purchases, if they purchased before it starts they have a delayed access it won’t start until that date. If they purchase after that, they have access immediately, but everybody ends on that date.

 

 

Then we also added an access control for registration, which was another big ask. If you sign up for an account on 1 site, now you can have a membership, which is good for sites that have free or trial type memberships. Tons and tons of updates around access controls, which was, I think, a huge step forward for us and it was great to take the internals of the plug in that we had made so many decisions with and retool them.

 

 

Then we added some other small things like the ability to send member emails so that, since we were very heavily focused on access, you really want to make sure you can inform people when their access ends since it may not always be, depending on the subscription itself. Lots and lots is the answer basically.

 

John:

Yeah, definitely. All those features are really great. In particular, I think the reminder emails is something that’s useful. I think decoupling the pricing for the membership to where you can … People can pay for a few … Get all the payments done at the beginning and then have access for a year. I think that’s really, super useful.

 

 

We’re going to go to our first break and then when we come back, we’re going to talk more with Beka Rice, the lead WooCommerce developer at Sky Verge. We’ll see you after the break.

 

 

We’re coming back from the break. We’re talking with Beka Rice, lead WooCommerce developer at SkyVerge. One of the things that I wanted to ask you, Beka, is recently, you had your own real-life Oregon Trail where you were traveling across the country while working remotely. What are some of the challenges that you faced during that journey and what were some of the highlights of that trip?

 

Beka:

Yeah, that was something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I think a lot of people, in my age range, at least, are very familiar with Oregon Trail having played it in elementary school on the Apple II in the computer lab, right? When we got involved with SkyVerge, remote work was one of the great benefits, obviously, working with a software company, but we weren’t very good at it at first. I think it’s something that, like anything, takes practice to be good at being productive while you’re on the move.

 

 

We did much longer travel, like 6 months, 9 months in different places at that point, basically moving, full on moves between places each time. Over time, I wanted to shorten that so I could spend 1, 2 months in different cities and different places. For us, we needed a lot of practice to be able to do that and that’s one of the things when you’re traveling like that that I always try to encourage people to do, is make sure you practice working while you travel and getting into that mindset, getting into your mental workspace.

 

 

Then, we started going across country. We picked out a bunch of cities we wanted to hit and Portland, Oregon was 1 of the destinations, so we decided to do real-life Oregon Trail. Drove through Independence, Missouri. Made sure we started there. Didn’t quite follow the proper trail, which would have gone further north, but I wanted to stop in Denver for a little while. Truth be told, it wasn’t exactly real-life Oregon Trail, but still a lot of fun to go across country working during the day, driving either in the evening or on weekends and had an absolute blast doing it. Loved it.

 

John:

Very good. Jonathan, do you have a question for Beka?

 

Jonathan:

Yeah, it’s just the house joke, folks, that I thought I’d share with you. Where we do the pre-show talk, John and Beka started talking Oregon. I thought they said organ. I was getting a big worried. I know it can get a bit bloody in the WordPress community, but I didn’t know it was getting that far. There we go. I thought you might find that a bit amusing, my beloved listeners.

 

 

Beka, you touched, obviously you’re straddling two worlds now. You got Shopify and your core foundation experience was in WordPress, so I figured you’re in a very unique place now to comment on the two worlds of Shopify and WordPress. I’m notorious for asking multilevel questions, Beka, so prepare yourself.

 

 

What do you think are the differences in culture and in outlook that you need to have dealing with these two platforms? Can you give us a … Do you think they’re ideal for almost every circumstance or is there definitely a stage where you might be best to look at one of the other platforms compared to the other one?

 

Beka:

Yeah. Multilevel, indeed, right?

 

Jonathan:

Well, yeah.

 

Beka:

All right, so let’s start with the culture one first and then I’ll circle back to the other questions on fit. They both have completely different development philosophies which is certainly interesting to see as a third party in the ecosystem. With WordPress having complete open source everything. All GPL code you can look at it, modify it, do what you want with it. Whereas with Shopify, it’s a closed system. You can only interact with certain APIs and Shopify also provides different APIs depending on what kind of store you’re looking at.

 

 

For example, with the Shopify plus store or enterprise level stores, you have access to more API’s than you would with a beginning store. As a result, it gives you some interesting perspectives in development where with Shopify, on the plus side, we as developers don’t have to worry about hosting environments and weirdness going on there and plug ins really modifying things at the server level, whereas in WordPress, we’ve run into some very strange things with servers not being set in UTC time or plugins modifying that day time. Doing all sorts of crazy things. [inaudible] which is a PHP extension is the bane of my existence when we were doing support, right?

 

 

Things like that that from a WordPress support perspective that you really have to dive into the server level on and can be just teeth pulling, essentially. You don’t have that in Shopify, but you also don’t have access to the tools you have with WordPress WooCommerce which is a downside. Is that if I want a program adequately create coupons in Shopify, I can’t do it unless the merchant has a plus store because the discounts API is not open for the majority of their stores, right?

 

 

Those kind of things as a developer, while there are benefits to having a closed system, in terms of more givens and definites from a development perspective that you can depend on, it definitely can make your job harder because you have much more limited development tools. Things like the discount API or the fact that there is no fees API, which just blows my mind. If you want to add a cost to the cart, we have to do all sorts of trickery to be able to do that with a fake product.

 

 

Definitely, from the culture perspective you have to be willing to work with a more limited skill set in Shopify to gain that dependability that you get from the server in hosted space. Both are very welcoming to third party developers and want to encourage you to build things for the platform so that merchants have more tools. Culture is definitely an interesting one, which leads you, then, into the fit for merchants.

 

 

I think that that philosophy and that set up really influences which platform is a good fit for which merchant. For merchants that have very simple products or don’t need a ton of customization around the way they sell things. A good example might be t-shirts, selling coffee, right? Selling simple products online. Shopify excels at that and especially for people that are on their own. They don’t have a high technical competency. You don’t really know how servers or how FTP access and things like that work, right? You need to have a higher technical competency or at least be willing to learn that to work with WordPress, right?

 

 

Because it’s a closed ecosystem customization in Shopify is much more difficult. If you’re selling configurable products or products with unique requirements like selling things by weight, right? You want to sell coffee now per pound or you want to sell subscriptions. There’s some subscription apps available for Shopify, but I far prefer WooCommerce for that. The type of product, I feel like very strongly dictates which platform is going to be the best and also the merchants willingness to either gain a high technical competency or to work with someone like John who is willing to help them do that. Definitely the development culture, I feel like, leads into which platform is the best fit for which kind of merchant.

 

Jonathan:

Thanks, Beka, you handled that well. I was very impressed you handled one of my long-winded questions. You did it …

 

Beka:

With a long-winded answer.

 

Jonathan:

No, I know. You kept on talking. I feel sorry sometimes for my beloved interviewees. They have to … I’m trying to get a more focused, folks.

 

Beka:

Well, thanks for that.

 

Jonathan:

I was going … I just lost track, actually.  Got a question, John? I just find myself …

 

John:

Yes, I have a question. I want to ask you, Beka, where do you see ecommerce headed, just overall? Not specially WooCommerce or Shopify, but just ecommerce in general, but where do you see it going and how do you anticipate where SkyVerge is going in relation to that?

 

Beka:

Yeah, so even though ecommerce has been around for quite some time, I think we’re just getting a tipping point over the past couple years where it’s much more accessible for people. When people first started buying things on the internet, you have the Amazons and the Macy’s of the internet that are setting up shop and you need to have a team of developers, basically, right? There weren’t standardized payment gateway integrations. Someone how to connect your site manually to your payment processor. Same thing with fulfillment services. You know you had to have these developers on hand and you’re paying out for custom development for every single thing you did.

 

 

I think with the rise of ecommerce platforms, even though Shopify has been around for a very long time its popularity has really taken off the past few years and then, obviously, the same thing with WooCommerce and other smaller platforms like EDD. I think that we’re seeing now that generalization of ecommerce and it becoming more accessible for more entrepreneurs and as a result I think we’re seeing a lot more tools public in the ecommerce space. From a development perspective I think this is a great opportunity in a great time period to start offering those tools which is why we’ve invested so heavily in things like Jilt. We were at a point now where we feel like that’s a very valuable investment for us to make since there is such an influx of new merchants who now have access to these tools, whereas previously they couldn’t afford to hire a developer to build everything themselves.

 

 

From the merchants perspective I think that selling in different channels and arenas is going to become something that’s bigger, so as a new merchant marketing your store is the hard thing an a lot of merchants are working with social media platforms and other channels to try and sell their products. If you’re doing custom jewelry design you’re probably having your own store but you’re also probably on Etsy and other marketplaces. I think connecting those channels and being able to sell more of your things like Facebook or Twitter on in the jewelry case you’re probably using Instagram, right? Being able to sell through those channels now that some of the social media platforms are opening up API’s for that and letting you connect your products to their marketplace I think is definitely to be a hugely powerful thing. I’ll be interested to see more platforms get involved in that.

 

Jonathan:

Thanks for that. My original question has come back into my mind actually…surprise! I actually think WooCommerce doesn’t do itself any favors by saying it’s free, because I’ve never, when I’ve been actively involved in consultation …

 

Beka:

Never set up a shop for free.

 

Jonathan:

I’ve never known one ever to be free. More likely $1,000 plus when you start adding up all the extensions, the other bits and pieces and continues as … Especially if you’re in the consultation period, the specification of the shopping cart just increases, increases. Great news if you’re a third party developer. But get back to the originality of the question. I don’t think it does itself a favor by saying that really. What’s your feelings about that?

 

Beka:

Yeah, definitely, it’s not going to be free, obviously, and while you may be able to set up a very simple shop using PayPal standard, you’re always going to have some kind of costs associated with it but I also think that if you came into expecting to start a business from absolutely nothing, that we’re probably not going to be on the right trajectory there. I look at WooCommerce’s cost and for a merchant just starting out, it can certainly be 1 of the more cost effective options if you’re using, my favorite for small stores is Siteground. If you’re using, let’s say, a Siteground Go Geek plan and then a small subset of extensions, it could be running for pretty cheap per year. I think that $1,000 is probably a reasonable benchmarks for that.

 

 

If you’re trying to run a more serious business and you’re trying to only spend $100 a month on your business, I feel it’s just not going to go well and I don’t know that WooCommerce saying it’s free is necessarily how I would personally choose to market it, because I think it’s an excellent tool and I don’t think people necessarily expect it to be purely free. Yeah, definitely, something that I think, as a third party developer sometimes can be detrimental, but I also think that we work with enough good merchants who are very serious about their businesses that they don’t have that expectation.

 

Jonathan:

Now I think that’s very well put. Thank you for that, but on the flip side, what you seen as the enterprise…I’ve even had the experience of a certain, how shall I put it, slightly sniffy developer that when the mention of WooCommerce was being a bit dismissive. What do you think it can cope with … I feel it can, if it’s properly set up and hosting is provided and you got developers that really know, it can handle a lot of the circumstances, even high up into the enterprise level. Would you agree with that and what’s been your experiences?

 

Beka:

I’ve fortunately had the opportunity to talk with and work with someone who has managed extremely large WooCommerce stores and so I have found as well that some people think, well, it’s not going to scale. It’s for small stores. One, size of your store isn’t really the criteria I use, as we talked about earlier. The type of product you have, I think, is more important than that for which platform is right for you. With WooCommerce, we do see a real limit based on the WordPress infrastructure and that’s basically how many orders are coming in in a given time period because the number of products isn’t necessarily an issue. Right?

 

 

That’s pretty much static content. You can update products but they’re not dynamically changing constantly, whereas with orders, you’re constantly writing that information to the database and as such you hit a very real limit on how many database rights can be done in a given time period. With WooCommerce, I think the theoretical limit of that is 10,000 orders an hour or something. I could probably that of that number with more certainty but you will see a real limit at a very high level.

 

 

There’s enterprise and then there’s mega stores and for many enterprise stores, especially if you have larger order values and you’re not doing that many consecutive orders in a given time period, with a proper hosting it certainly will work out well. You will hit a limit some point; Nike is not going to use WooCommerce right now. They have too many orders in that time period to be able to use that and that’s true of almost any platform, though. They’re using, I think Nike uses a platform built by Oracle, maybe, for their ecommerce.

 

 

There’s a couple a couple platforms that really cater to that and they’re marketing to it and selling, right? I feel bad for those developers, but for enterprise, yes, it’s definitely a good tool. Like you said though, Jonathan, you need to make sure you have your environment in order and your whole stack is ready for that but WooCommerce itself won’t limit that. WordPress itself will limit that at a certain point.

 

Jonathan:

That’s a big point. I’m losing it.

 

Beka:

Yeah, it is a very big point and one that …

 

Jonathan:

It must be a lovely problem to have.

 

Beka:

Right, exactly and I think that at that point, you’re probably making enough money that, while a switches is going to be a pain for you, if you had to switch away from it, it’s not going to be business breaking either.

 

Jonathan:

I wouldn’t have thought so. They’re the kind of problems that you dream about.

 

Beka:

Right. They are champagne problems, aren’t they?

 

Jonathan:

I don’t classify them though, as problems, really? Do you?

 

Beka:

Exactly. The ever popular first world problems.

 

Jonathan:

They’re not problems really, are they? Take over, John.

 

John:

Okay. I think we got time for one more question in the regular podcast and then we’re going to go to our bonus content, which you can find on the WP-Tonic website, but I want to close the regular podcast by asking you, Beka, how is the REST API transforming how people can use WooCommerce and what sorts of possibilities are being opened up by having the REST API in play now?

 

Beka:

With the addition of the REST API, in version 2.1, I feel like that really opened WooCommerce up for developers and we saw that ourselves with that coming into play and that was something our team was heavily involved and, Max, who’s our co-founder worked on version 1 of the REST API and also contributed to its version 2 of it. The reason we did that was because we had built the original IOS app through WooCommerce as a partnership with WooThemes at the time. We then sold our share of it to them later just because it wasn’t our focus and once they were acquired they also have access to an IOS development team that we felt like gave them a better position for it, since we weren’t making enough money and it felt like it was dividing our focus.

 

 

For us, we had a very real use case obviously for the API was that IOS app. It really opened up WooCommerce stores for us to be able to interact with them, to be able to have an external service or external app that can use that. Over time, we’ve seen that coverage of the REST API and what it can do, grow so that now they even have a brand new version of it that’s based on the WordPress API that shipped with WooCommerce 2.6.

 

 

As we’ve seen that, we’ve seen more and more external services being able to leverage that API and work with WooCommerce in ways that they either ability to or want ability to do in the past. The example is that I know some people that have built Ruby On Rails apps that work with WooCommerce and so they previously couldn’t work with WooCommerce because you need to know PHP to write WordPress plug ins, right? You need to be good at it to write good WordPress plugins. I think it’s opened up WooCommerce to all sorts of developers that couldn’t necessarily get involved with it and as a result of that merchants are getting apps they wouldn’t have had before.

 

 

The REST API has completely it opened up as a platform for both developers and for merchants to get apps for things that shouldn’t necessarily sit in their site. Other example of that is Jilt which we talked about earlier. The reason we did abandoned cart as an app versus a plug in is just it generates such tremendous amount of data to track literally every person visiting your check out, which is, as we said, if you have 68% of your orders that are abandoned, that means that whatever you have in orders multiply that by at least 2 and a half and that’s how many cart abandonment records you’re going to have to keep track of.

 

 

That level data isn’t something you want stored in your database. We’ll take that and put it into a hosted app, so it’s off your site, keeping your site quick and there’s a lot of services like that just aren’t really possible or shouldn’t necessarily be possible inside of your site that having a REST API opens up for people to use.

 

John:

Yeah, excellent comprehensive answer. I definitely think …

 

Beka:

A little long winded, but there’s a lot to know.

 

John:

That’s okay. That’s all good. I definitely think one of the the major things with having the REST API is you will get developers from outside the WordPress ecosystem contributing to WooCommerce and contributing to WordPress in ways that they maybe wouldn’t have thought … They wouldn’t have been inclined to do so before. I think that’s good for everybody.

 

 

With that we’re going to close down the regular part of the podcast. Remember, you can find bonus content on the WP-Tonic website up for this episode and if you’re getting value from our podcast, we encourage you to go over to iTunes, subscribe. Leave us a 5 star review. Those reviews really help other people find the podcast with that, Beka, how do people get a hold of you if they want to find out more?

 

Beka:

If you want to learn more about me, you can visit SkyVerge.com. S-K-Y-V-E-R-G-E. You can also visit SellWithWP.com where we write about ecommerce with WordPress. If you want to connect with me on Twitter, you can connect with @Beka, B-E-K-A, _Rice, R-I-C-E.

 

John:

Very good. Jonathan, how do the listeners get a hold of you?

 

Jonathan:

It’s easy folks. I’m a virtual rash. You can either email me at [email protected] and I do answer my email … No, probably the same day, but the next day. I’m on Twitter @JonathanDenwood. You can go to the Twitter handle for WP Tonic and that’s the way to get a hold of us, folks.

 

John:

Very good. You can get a hold of me at my website, which is LockeDownDesign.com. You can find me on Twitter. @Lockedown_. With that, we will say adios.

 

Jonathan:

Good bye.

 

Beka:

Cheers.

 

John:

Okay, now it’s time for the bonus content.

 

Jonathan:

The organ transplants.

 

Beka:

Oh, my God.

 

John:

Beautiful.

 

Jonathan:

That was a typical Jonathan thing.

 

Beka:

Yeah, your face was probably something we should screenshotted in retrospect.

 

Jonathan:

I thought it was going to get really interesting, really … John wasn’t telling me something that was obviously. How long have you and your husband been running the company, Beka?

 

Beka:

When it started in 2013. Yeah, it was mostly Max and Justin. I hadn’t joined up until about six months or so into the company. That was later in 2013 for me. Since probably about July, September 2013, I’ve been involved with it. Then it kind of became a full-time thing for me a little bit after that. Yeah, just a little over 3 years now.

 

Jonathan:

What was Max’s and Justin’s backgrounds?

 

Beka:

Max was working with a pharmaceutical company who … They’re quite famous. They have the best baby rash cream available. That’s …

 

Jonathan:

I use it every day.

 

Beka:

Yeah right? They … When they brought Max on, they were trying to get into direct to consumer sales since they wer3e selling through Target and other distributors at that time. They were trying to set up their own store and so Max owned that project and was also doing their IT and infrastructure, but then also managing the website and direct to consumer sales with the store. Since they already had the distribution in place, it was just a matter of getting the selling part set up. On his end, he was more so an IT background, but came into web development, but had also done it as a freelancer for a long time.

 

 

Justin was more of the classically trained guy. He was a computer science major in college and was doing development for different companies. He was … The one he was working on previous to SkyVerge was a company that was a health care consultant company online. He would get in touch with and find doctors close to you and stuff like that.

 

 

He struck out on his own and was doing freelance development for Magento and then got involved with WooCommerce and Jigoshop at that point. He went ahead and worked with both and then got involved with WooCommerce with Max because Max had hired him to do some custom development for their ecommerce site. They went from there because they had built a couple projects together and they were like, “Hey, we’re pretty good at this. Maybe we should do that as a job.”

 

Jonathan:

That’s great.

 

Beka:

Which is not a bad way to start, I guess.

 

Jonathan:

No, but why WooCommerce and why that particular marketplace? What attracted you and Justin and … What was the attraction?

 

Beka:

Yeah, from Justin’s end, having worked with Magento, I know he felt like it was unwieldy at times and also pretty saturated, since they had been a premature platform at that point, whereas with WooCommerce, he got involved with it. They were both making contributions to WooCommerce core pretty regularly and I think it’s also motivating to see that accepted and to see that you can help shape that, but it’s also a new thing and you have a much higher competency with it than a lot of people do at that point.

 

 

For Justin, I know, it was seeing the success of Magento, but feeling like WooCommerce was going to be more developer friendly, while still pretty easy to use. For Justin, that was why he gravitated to it.

 

 

On Max’s side, it came from merchant’s side, which was evaluating your Magento’s and Spreedly’s and your Shopify’s. I was saying no one ever got fired for picking Magento, right? That point was probably true, but for him, he felt like it was going to be more of a maintenance overhead than he would have liked to manage and didn’t want to have to bring on someone full time in addition to him just to keep the lights on basically.

 

 

It was an interesting start for us because we had someone coming at it from the merchant perspective and coming at it from the development perspective and then the two of them meeting in the middle which has also dictated our development practices. Trying to make sure that we’re building things that are finally for developers but also easy for merchants to use.

 

Jonathan:

Yeah, it’s great.

 

John:

Excellent. I know we didn’t even get into this in the podcast, but how did Sell With WP come about and how was that contributing to your guy’s success right now?

 

Beka:

That’s a good one. When Max was getting started with looking for which platform he should use and how he should set things up, one thing he noticed is that he found a lot of advice online that was generic. How you can improve your average order value, how you can do this, how you can do that. A lot of those weren’t actionable. They didn’t tell you, okay, if this is what you’re using, here’s how you do it.

 

 

If you want to set up a free shipping threshold that only kicks in for orders over $60 you should do it. Okay, great, how? There wasn’t a lot of actionable advice out there which would require someone to be more consistently looking at platforms and using them and keeping up with them and no one was really doing that time. He was frustrated by that. Justin was more so focused on writing about development and how to modify WooCommerce and stuff like that.

 

 

At that point, for me, I was using our plug ins a lot and solving those problems for merchants when they were asking them. It came from the three of us workings in that, saying, “Well, these merchants are asking us these questions. You guys are passing me. I’m solving them. I know Max had problems with this in the past.” Then they were like, you know, we should put this into a content site because there’s a lot of evergreen content there and not only will it centralize knowledge for us and make it publicly accessible but it’s also a good way to build our band and build trust in it and to also show that we’re willing to help people solve these problems and that we’ll help you solve them the right way.

 

 

It was born out of that. Wanting to share that knowledge and help people get very actionable advice and very specific tutorials and to also, for us save ourselves a bit of trouble by trying to recommend things that we knew would be good solutions for people because as I’m sure you guys know the nature of WordPress is that when something goes wrong on a site you might end up trouble shooting someone else’s code and it’s always a pain and so we felt that if we could be steering merchants in what we felt like was a good direction we were only going to help ourselves in the long run.

 

John:

Definitely. Any advice for our listeners for holiday sales?

 

Beka:

Man, there are actually a couple things I would recommend checking out first; both WooCommerce and MailChimp do a series on holiday sale that I think are great. They’ll do a lot of information around where you can be setting up. They’ll focus more on the email marketing side of things but both are great for getting a lot of holiday tips.

 

 

If you are a small merchant, I think it depends on where you’re at. Let’s see it’s you or maybe 1 or 2 other people for your store, I would say keep it simple because there’s so much advice out there, so many strategies you can take, that I feel like it gets overwhelming. What you should do is try to focus on a couple marketing strategies and just knock those out of the park.

 

 

If, let’s say that’s going to be a gift giving guide for you and put together a gift book. Great presents for dad. Great presents for mom. He’s how you put together some of our products in an interesting way. Focus on that and knock it out of the park. If you’re going to be doing Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, test every single component of that. Make sure it works. Knock it out of the park. Don’t try to do everything at once. Try to do one thing really, really, really well. Then the next year, add something else. Try to do that really, really well.

 

 

The worst thing that can happen is that you implement something and it’s not at 100%. You implement, let’s say, a tier discount with the WooCommerce dynamic pricing extension and you haven’t configured all the rules for that or you have a blind spot where you missed 1, you don’t want to wait until Black Friday to see that. Definitely, I would say while reviewing those guys is great I wouldn’t say any particular strategy that I feel like would help all merchants. I would say look at some of those guides but pick one. That would be my advice, is more so on the implementation side of things I guess.

 

John:

That’s excellent. That’s excellent. Find one thing, give it 100% and then next year, add another layer. Jonathan?

 

Beka:

I mean, it’s just so sad when I see that. When someone implements something and it’s a great idea and it just doesn’t work well and you’re just like, just focus on it. Make that one thing good.

 

Jonathan:

Yeah, to kind of wrap it up, I just got kind of a couple questions. Okay, if you could go back 3, 4 years at the start of this journey and you could talk to yourself, what would you advise yourself?

 

Beka:

Mean, this is always a hard question, no matter what context it’s in.

 

Jonathan:

I promised no originality in my questions, Beka.

 

Beka:

A lot of people, it’s like what could you do if you’re in college and stuff like that and for me, I would be tempted to save myself some of the mistakes I made, but I feel like they … At some point I always realize they helped me. A good example of that is when I was in college and working in that warehouse for the sporting goods store that I’d mentioned. The only reason I took that job was because I got overtime pay on weekends to go to softball tournaments and sell stuff at games and I thought that was just the best thing in the world, because I was playing softball in college and so I was spending my time outside and getting paid $12 an hour. That’s really high roller stuff.

 

 

I never thought I would ever use that and then when we were building plugins for performance services and invoicing plugins and pick lists for warehouses I got to use all that knowledge that I never thought was going to be beneficial in my life.

 

 

I would be tempted to go back and tell myself, “Hey, you should really try to get into actually developing stuff earlier.” I feel like that gave me a unique perspective when I was writing on not having as high of a technical competency as developers sometimes expect you to have and I also think that benefit our products. I’d probably just leave myself alone and just say no matter how many mistakes you make it you’ll probably find a use for it as some point, so it’s all going to be good.

 

Jonathan:

Yeah, and anybody you would recommend for us to come on the show?

 

Beka:

There’s so many great people.

 

John:

Doesn’t have to WordPress. Anybody.

 

Beka:

One of the first people that comes to my mind actually is probably Bryce Adams. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bryce, but he used to work at Automattic. He was initially in ecommerce support. That was one of the people leading the Woocommerce.com team in terms of building out new features for the site, redesign, stuff like that.

 

 

Bryce recently went out on his own and left Automattic. He wanted to just get in buildings and different things, so Bryce has been working on some apps for WooCommerce, one of which is a reporting dashboard, so that would take everything you have in your site, pull it out and be the REST API and give you all sorts of different report on revenue over time and stuff. Way more detailed than what you can find in WooCommerce itself. That’s something that I’ve been reviewing and I’m giving him feedback on lately so that’s just one of the ones that’s front of mind. There’s so many good people but I think that what Bryce is doing these is kind of cool and exciting.

 

Jonathan:

He sounds like an interesting guy. We’ll see if he’s up for an integrational talk there. I was going to say the elephant. That’d be too English. All right, you’ve been a fantastic guest. Thank you for coming on the show. I think you’ve given some really clear insight about some of the choices between Shopify and WooCommerce and given a bit of background about your company. It’s always really interesting. I think it’s one of the great things about WordPress, talking to people that are running their own business that are truly entrepreneurs. They are really trying to build a future for themselves. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

 

Beka:

Yeah, thank you guys so much for having me. It was great conversation. Some really great questions. Definitely some wrinkles there that I haven’t heard myself, so cool to explore some of those things, especially with developer culture is an interesting one. Not something you think about a lot between WooCommerce and Shopify, but …

 

Jonathan:

It is definitely a difference. I have been involved in Shopify projects and they normally say with a Shopify problem on JavaScript.

 

Beka:

Everything’s JavaScript. That is so true. Justin is great with that so fortunately we have a JavaScript heavy guy on our team but yeah, absolutely right.

 

Jonathan:

They always say that quote.

 

Beka:

Well there’s a lot of people that think they’re JavaScript heavy, that maybe aren’t, but yeah, Shopify is definitely … You get very good, very fast, I think.

 

Jonathan:

Thanks Beka.

 

John:

Thank you very much. You’ve been an excellent guest. This show will probably go out this weekend and we’ll give you a heads up when it’s out and we will definitely promote it to the high heavens on Twitter. We’ll let you know when it’s out.

 

Beka:

Yeah, that would be great. I’ll do the same from my end as well.

 

Jonathan:

Thanks.

 

John:

Thanks, Beka. Thank you so much.

 

Beka:

All right, enjoy, guy.

 

Jonathan:

Watch out for those organs.

 

Beka:

Jonathan, you’re making me wish I had a cup of coffee for this man. I was like I’ll be fine. I’m awake. Now I need that cup of coffee.

 

Jonathan:

This is going to be really interesting.

 

Beka:

Good thing I’m in Portland which is coffee haven.

 

John:

That’s true. Okay, we’ll let you get on with your day. Thank you again.

 

Jonathan:

Bye.

 

Beka:

Cheers, you all. See you later.

 

John:

See you.

 

 

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