We have a great interview here with Dave Kiss founder of both Vimeography & WPLunchbox.We discuss Dave personal jouney into the world of WordPress premium plugin development and what he has learnt by developing two quality premium plugins: Vimeography & WPLunchbox.
We also discuss his new educational video course that he is developing which is almost finished on React.js and you can go here to learn more about the course and also be noticed when the courses is available.
Full Transcription Of The Interview
John: Welcome to the WP-Tonic episode 214. Today we’ve got an esteemed guest Premium Plugin author Dave Kiss.
Dave: How’s it going everybody?
John: Going great. I also want to introduce my co-host Jonathan Denwood.
Jonathan: Oh. Hi there folks. Looking forward to this interview.
John: Excellent. And jumping right into it. I want to ask Dave, how did you first get started in Web Development?
Dave: Oh man. I could go back to the days where I was building Kool-Aid fan sites in high school. It was always just a hobby for me. I actually have a video production background. And I liked making skate videos and stuff like that in high school and I needed somewhere to put them. So obviously the Internet was a great place to get started there. And so, I’m a broke high school kid and college kid. There’s no way to pay somebody else to help me out. That’s something I just wanted to get figuring out on my own. So yeah, I think I just spent enough time on the computer to understand how this stuff works at a pretty early age. And then I guess it wasn’t until after college that I realized that you could actually get paid to do that. It was just this natural evolution of what started off as an interest and a hobby and became a profession.
John: Definitely. And how did you first get introduced to WordPress?
Dave: That’s a really good question. I don’t have any sort of one way or one moment that clicked for me with WordPress. I think maybe the first client that I had that was using a WordPress site was already established and I just got thrown into their project and their tech. And I was like, “Okay. What’s this thing all about? And let’s see how to use it”. So a lot of times and I believe in that moving forward in that mantra is that I love to learn and I love to pull things apart and figure out how they work. And so, if I’m thrown into a project and I really don’t understand all the tech, I want I won’t make the client believe I do. I’ll let them know, “Hey. I’m willing to figure this out and do my best to make sure that the end result is something that you’re pleased with”. So a lot of times I’ll just jump right into these projects and try to figure out how are things working. And I think that was probably early on, maybe 2009 or something like that. And I came back around to it after a couple years. But that’s probably where I was first introduced to it.
John: Excellent. Did you set out to be a Web Developer? Because you have a degree in Film. Is that right?
Dave: I do. Yeah. I went to school for Video Production and Digital Media. I loved everything media. I loved the audio. I played guitar back in the day and made all my recordings on my own. And I loved Video Production and music videos and commercials and short films and documentaries. And I was just like, “Ahhh. I just love to see”, basically I just love to see things come to life. And so, I thought I was going to be the next super music video director or Scorsese or something. And after spending a couple days on set in production, I realized, man this is not for me. It was 16, 17 hour days where you’re just carrying around a bunch of different equipment. And it was exhausting. And I realized while I was on the side making a little bit of money from just making web projects, I was like, “I actually kind of like that”, where nobody’s bugging you and you can just work and get focused in. And it was a lot easier to find those sorts of clients too at the time. So yeah, I wasn’t planning on this route whatsoever. But the more that I was exposed to it, the more I continued to dig and kind of fell into it I guess.
John: Yeah. One thing that I saw on your site when you’re telling your story is, you had a series of full-time jobs, but you just didn’t seem to fit anywhere. And it wasn’t them, it was really you. And you had that drive to be your own boss and be your entrepreneur. And for our listeners at home, what are some of the reasons that went into that? And what were some of those discoveries that you made when you were figuring out you weren’t built to work for someone else, but really for yourself?
Dave: Sure. Yeah. A lot of that comes down to that I have a hard time being told what to do, not because I can’t listen or ever get feedback or anything like that, which I think is incredibly important. But I just don’t like being told like, “Okay. Today you’re going to do this, this and this. And your job is not done until those three things that I’ve assigned to you are accomplished”. And for me, I hear that kind of thing and I’m like, “That’s not why I got into this”. I got into building websites specifically because I like to see my ideas, my creations come to life. And it was the same for video production and music and when I was in the band and all that stuff. I just like to build things and see them come to life. production and music and when I was in the band all that’s where I just I just like to build things and see them come to life. And so, that was this reoccurring theme. Obviously, if you have a boss you don’t really have a choice in a lot of that matter. But yeah, so I would have jobs where I was just working on things that I wasn’t necessarily passionate about. And I’d come up with all these excuses of, “Maybe the commute is too far”, or maybe there was a certain coworker that I didn’t really get along with. But really ultimately, what it came down to was, when I moved to Chicago for a couple years, I had what I had thought was the perfect dream job. I was working with some really good friends. I was in a super cool West Loop, a Chicago studio. We had pinball machines in there. It was a great atmosphere. I could ride my bike to work. I mean I was really thrilled to have that opportunity, but there’s still something kind of gnawing at me that was like, “Is this how you want to be spending your time? Don’t have these bigger things that you want to do?”. And I always had these side projects that I wanted to spend more time on. But I didn’t want to be working my entire sunrise to sunset sort of thing.
Eventually, I think at that point where I was like, “Okay. There’s something else bigger that’s going on here”, where you are in this perfect situation, but you also have something that’s telling you that maybe you need to switch things up. So yeah, there was just all these little signs here and there that maybe the traditional full-time environment isn’t necessarily for me. I used to call that unemployable. But also that’s not perfectly true. If I was completely unemployable, then I wouldn’t even be able to employ myself. So there is some sort of mix that needs to work out for me. And I think that right now it’s going all right.
John: Yeah. Definitely. So, when you made the jump to being a full-time entrepreneur for yourself, how did that come about? Was it a gradual process? Or was it all at once?
Dave: I had a couple of attempts at that I guess. I should say I had two attempts at it. One was a failed attempt that I learned a lot from, where I went cold turkey and just quit my job to pursue an idea that I had. And that was a fun journey and a fun story that I learned a lot from. But the second time around, I thought maybe there was a better approach for me, where I didn’t feel like I was sacrificing a whole lot to make that transition. So the way that that worked was, the client that I was working for at the time had this need for a specific project on his site. And the way I can talk about this is when I’m writing code I don’t like to code into a corner. Or in other words, I don’t like to provide solutions that are only going to apply for one specific company or a client. I like to try to make it as broad as possible so that anybody else can take that same library or module or whatever and plug it into their own site and reuse a lot of that same functionality. Because we’re all human, right? We have these similar needs and business needs and all that. So that was the discussion that I had had with that particular client, where I said, “Hey. We might be better off doing this as an open source plugin thing so that in the future, maybe there’s other developers that could jump in and easily contribute to it or learn how all of this stuff works. It doesn’t feel so hacked together for your specific needs. But it’s polished. It has an admin and there are ways to easily manage this kind of thing. And when you describe it that way, there are all about it, which I think is a great business decision. And I’m a huge believer in open source software. So, yeah. That was how it started off. And then there was some premium functionality that I thought, maybe this open source project and specifically, it was for video portfolios for Vimeo or video galleries for Vimeo. There’s a couple of opportunities for premium functionality in that sort of set up.
So I tried to just slap a price tag on some premium features and eventually I’d notice that people would pay me $4 for it, which was awful pricing at the time. But at the time, it was super cool to think that I made $4 and I wasn’t trading it one to one for somebody. It was just on a website somewhere. So I kind of paid a little bit more attention to that in my free time and eventually it just snowballed into something that overcame what I was getting paid in my full-time job. And so, at that point, I think everything kind of came together and I was just ready to pursue it on my own full-time.
John: That one was Vimeography?
Dave: Yeah Vimeography. Yeah.
John: Cool. Cool. Cool. So, once you got a taste of building a premium plugin, as you said, it started with just getting $4 for that plugin. Were you then looking for the the next place where you could create a solution that would not be for just one person, but would be able to scale? And how did that evolves from there?
Dave: Yeah. I kind of pursued that for a while. That was the perfect opportunity for me to play around with pricing and play around with marketing and all of these things that I’ve always watched other people do, but I never had the opportunity to actually implement for myself and play around with. And it was so low risk because if I made these changes and it didn’t work, all I had to do was either change it back and I can go back to square one where I was with this thing. And I always had the opportunity to pick up on full-time work. And I think that’s probably another thing that a lot of folks that are thinking about maybe getting into their side project overlook or forgo is, if it doesn’t work out, you’ve cultivated your skill set and your talents for enough where you can easily pick up more work in the future. So that was like a no risk thing for me to always just be playing around and toying in with these things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. And I really just enjoyed that entire process. So along on the way, I think I kind of picked up on things that I liked to do and that I was good at after crafting or owning that craft a bit and figuring out where the market is. But I think ultimately the one thing that’s missing from that project for me is, where does this fall on the scale of importance to me personally, and to the world around me in the community that I’m involving myself in. So I think that’s where I started thinking about bigger projects that can continue to scale, not only for a bigger market, but based on the fact that it has a greater impact on those around me.
John: Excellent. Excellent. So I’ve noticed that you have a couple premium plugins that are part of other people’s ecosystems. For example the Vimeo uploader in Ninja Forms. And in the EDD world, you have the Mail Chimp add on. So, how did these partnerships come about? Did you just reach out to these people? Or did they approach you? How did that evolve?
Dave: Yeah. So that was kind of early on in terms of doing third party development for a lot of the other big plugins that you’re mentioning. But I think that’s where that happened. When I was selling this Vimeography product, when I first started out selling it, I actually had written my own store. And I always joked that it was probably the other EDD that could have existed. Personally, I’m glad that I didn’t continue to pursue that. It was about maybe 12 months, 6 to 12 months in development when I found Pippin’s project for easy digital downloads right alongside where I was building. And I was always frustrated because I didn’t want to spend time building the store. I wanted to spend time on my idea. And once I saw that happen, I was like, “Oh. This is a natural switch to go into the EDD”. And this was 2012 or whatever. So this was early on where the add ons model was still, at least Pippin was pursuing. I think still doing that kind of stuff. But it’s the same thing where I would just run into things along the way that I wanted to see in the store. And I realized that they didn’t have the add ons already built for that sort of thing. So I just opened up conversation with Pippin and with the folks at Ninja Form and said, “Hey. This is what I’m building for me. I think it could apply to other people as well, which is the approach that I take on most of the products that I work on. And is this something that is interesting to you?”. And a lot of that stuff where it’s just a natural fit. So back in 2012 a lot of that stuff just got adapted as third party plugins that we again just tried to work with a commission model and slap a price tag on it and see what happens. So, yeah. There was no real conversation behind it that was this whole structured thing. It just kind of naturally fit as, “Okay. Let’s give this a try”. And it’s had enough legs to continue to be effective here in 2017.
John: Perhaps your most famous plugin or your flagship plugin I should say is the Lunchbox where you have basically an LMS plugin. But it’s specifically geared toward hosting video content in video courses. Now how did this come about? Was this a long standing idea that you had?
John: Excellent. We’re going to go for our break. And then we come back we’re going to talk more with Premium Plugin author Dave Kiss. See you in just a second.
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John: We’re coming back from our break. And we’re talking more with Premium Plugin author Dave Kiss. And Jonathan, do you have a question for Dave?
Jonathan: No. It’s just been fascinating all the things. Do you ever sleep?
Dave: Yeah. I sleep. I do sleep. I advocate sleep. What happens ultimately is that I just like to share everything that I do. And so, everything that I work on, I’m always talking about it and I’m always sharing it and so it might sound like I’m just this super prolific thinker or whatever. But really I love to try new things and I love to see where I can take them. But yeah, I sleep. I go to bed early and I wake up. I wouldn’t say early. But I get plenty of sleep and I’d recommend that to other people as well.
Jonathan: Oh. That’s good to hear. Obviously, your background in film and video, as you were discussing things with John, the main things that you’re well known in the WordPress community seems to be around plugins, around video, using video for education. Do you think you’re going continue that kind of, or am I wrong? But there seems to be that kind of linkage that’s set around WordPress plugins, video, if you understand what I mean.
Dave: Sure. Yeah. Video is just this really fun, creative, important medium to me. I’m always just amazed by the way that a film or a video can just evoke emotion and provoke change and thought. And so, yeah, that’s always going to be important to me moving forward. Also, it’s just a lot of fun. You can be so creative with it. So, for example, when I was working on the Vimeography project, just getting that started, it was so cool to build galleries. So I would use Vimeo.com to have a channel, which is just a collection of videos. They have a collection called Staff Pics. So their staff would go through and choose their favorite films that are being uploaded to Vimeo. Not even films, but documentaries and what not. So when I was building the gallery plugin, I would use the Staff Pics as the source, as the where should this gallery pull videos from. And it automatically updates just constantly. So anytime a new video would be posted to Staff Pics, it would be thrown in front of me. And while I’m working, I see, “Oh. There’s this new video that’s available. Let’s watch it”. And it was such an awesome experience to be able to be exposed to all of the creativity while I was actually working on a product at the same time. So that was a lot of fun. Yeah. Video is extremely important to me. So the other interesting half of that question is, what about WordPress? So I just think Word Press, I am not a tech specific guy whatsoever. I think what it comes down to is what’s the right tool for the job. What do you know? What you know how to use? What do you think is going to be the easiest for your client to use? And it took a little while for me I think to figure that out. But I specifically use WordPress because, well it has the obvious business benefits because of how many people are actually using it. It’s what? Like a quarter of the web or whatever. So that’s hard to ignore.
It’s always had this really easy learning curve which made it easy for me to get involved in it and try to figure out how all this stuff worked. And yeah, I just think that I am taking advantage of the fact that it has just been a really natural process. So I think I’m going to continue to build on that moving forward. I have made some attempts at some Ruby on Rails projects and some Go stuff. And so again, it’s not really about the tech for me. It’s just what isn’t going to enable you to be able to move your project forward. And for right now that’s WordPress for me.
Jonathan: So with this React course, are you planning on developing more courses in the WordPress world of training? Is that also a plan?
Jonathan: Have you got any tips or insights for people trying to build a training course with video? Because I love your feedback. Because I’m in the middle of doing that myself actually.
Dave: Oh. Okay. Cool.
Jonathan: So it’s totally selfish question. But I thought you’d be the guy to ask for any tips or insights about how you should approach it, planning, anything like that?
Dave: Sure thing. Well, you’ve got two things going for you right now. You’re looking good. You’ve your professional microphone. You’ve got a little bit of lighting, nice lighting there. So all the visuals are very important. I’m sure you’ve come across this crummy YouTube video at some point while you were just learning something or stumbling across somebody else’s playlist. And you’re just kind of like, “This is almost unwatchable because I can’t really hear what you’re saying”. And maybe the lighting’s off. You don’t see the person’s face when they’re talking, which is huge. You want to know that you’re participating with somebody one and one and feels like they’re talking to you. So that is definitely a plus. Also keeping your videos shorter, rather than longer. There’s a lot of statistics on this. So I won’t go into too much detail. But right around the 2 minute mark is right where viewership starts going. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen at any moment. I have a door over here and maybe my dog figures out a way to knock it down. And so, as somebody that would be watching a video, that means I got to cancel this out and fix the door now. Or maybe the baby’s crying. Or maybe the Ramen noodles are boiling over or whatever. So, yeah. Keeping those in kind of these bite sized chunks, rather than doing a 30 minute tutorial on How to Mow the Grass or whatever, which hopefully it’s shorter than that. But these little bite size pieces are much easier to consume. And then pick back up at a later time, in case of any sort of interruption or short attention span.
Jonathan: So would you recommend, if you had a reasonably large subject that you could break up into chapters, but that chapter, you’d be better off having like breaking the videos up into 3 to 5-minute bits, rather than in a 20-minute video per chapter.
Dave: Yeah. I’m not sure I understand the question.
Jonathan: Well, you look like you were planning to have like, it’s part of the series and video 1 is 20 minutes in length because of material you’re covering. But you would be better off breaking that video 1 into 4 bits of 5 minutes each.
Dave: Yeah. Absolutely. I think breaking it down. And then, that’s part of the plan with the Lunchbox plugin for video moving forward is to be able to set chapter markers as well. So maybe you do have just one long recording, but it’s still in a way a chunked up. If you set Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and that way, once you hit that, it’s almost like a milestone in the video. You have now completed Chapter 1 of that 20- minute long video. And it’s still the same idea or the same method. Yeah. As long as there’s ways that provide these natural break points along the way where it’s easy to pick things back up. No. We’re not watching a Stranger Things episode where you want to just sit through all the way and regardless of what’s happening, or you could pause it and just play it back and you kind of remember what’s happened. A lot of times, this stuff is really in depth and in order to retain it, you need to be able to go back and watch and say, “Oh. What did he say again at 2:12?”, or whatever. So being able to chunk that into little bits and providing natural points for other people to jump in and pick back up is definitely a good idea.
Jonathan: So your course about React. You were hinting that it’s like a big jump and that’s from you, an experienced, it’s not many people that build commercial WordPress plugins. So what do you see some of the key challenges from somebody that’s reasonably experienced in WordPress development moving to Reach?
Jonathan: Oh. I thought you did a fantastic job Dave. And go to Dave’s website and learn some more about it. But I thought that was fantastic. I think we’re going to come in. I’m going to turn it over to John and see if he’s got one more question and then we’ll probably end the Podcast and go on for about 10 minutes with some bonus content. Over to you John.
John: Yeah. My final question for the regular Podcast Dave to you is, what’s on the horizon for Dave Kiss in the rest of 2017 and 2018? Any projects that we should be on the look out for?
John: Sweet. We will definitely have to check that out. It sounds like an excellent idea. And with that, where can we find you online Dave?
Dave: I am probably most active on Twitter, just davekiss, yeah, like the band, D – A – V – E – K – I – S – S. And you could always email me [email protected] and that’s my website as well.
John: Sweet. Jonathan, how do we get a hold of you?
Jonathan: It’s really easy folks. You can get me on Twitter @jonathandenwood. You can email me at [email protected] I always try and answer my email, probably not straight away. But if you’ve got a question or a suggestion for the show, it’s much appreciated. And how can people get a hold of you John?
John: Well they can find me at my website which is lockedowndesign.com. They can follow me on Twitter @Lockedown_. Or find my Facebook page, just go on there and search for Locke Down Design. For the WP-Tonic posse in effect, we’re saying peace out and get your dose.
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