Bronson Quick and Lachlan MacPherson are the pioneers behind Sennza, a WordPress development agency based in Brisbane, Australia. In addition to building effective websites for clients across Australia, they are actively involved in the country’s growing WordPress community. In 2011, they co-organized WordCamp Gold Coast, an Australian WordCamp.
How did you get your start in web design?
Bronson: I took a keen interest in web design and development when I studied a web design module during a diploma in Applications Programming. I enjoyed making websites more than I enjoyed traditional software programming and I also loved how quickly the web was evolving.
Lachlan: For me it started with a passion for technology. I’ve worked in several business development roles in tech and finance companies but always had an underlying passion for the web.
Where did the idea for Sennza come from?
Bronson: Lachlan was talking to one of our mutual friends about potentially changing industries and moving into business development and sales in web design and development. I wasn’t aware that Lachlan was interested in the tech scene so we had a chat and found out that we read a lot of the same blogs. I was freelancing at the time and was spending too much time emailing clients and wasn’t getting to code as much as I’d have liked, so we discussed starting a business together doing web design. I was using WordPress and Joomla at the time but I really preferred WordPress because it’s so easy for clients to use and I was faster at developing in WordPress as well. I also preferred WordPress because of the community behind it. The Joomla community was good but the WordPress community was amazing. WordPress was rolling out more releases and better features in my opinion so we decided to be a ‘Powered By WordPress’ digital agency.
What challenges did you face in starting a new business?
Lachlan: I think hiring has been our biggest challenge to date. It’s very hard to find someone that can see things from a practical side as well as a development side. We have a small team of A Grade designers and developers at Sennza and for now we’re content to keep it at that size. Quality matters more to us than growth.
Bronson: Another one of our challenges has been hosting. It’s hard to find reliable and speedy hosting especially in Australia. We’ve been through half-a-dozen hosts since we started business and we’ve finally found a great Australian host with servers in Australia. Given the amount of files we’re pushing and pulling on a daily basis, we needed an Aussie data center. I think all web designers and developers know that you have to have stable and easy-to-use hosting, because when something happens with your host, you can easily end up with a nightmare.
Do you each have a clear role within the business?
Lachlan: One of the big pitfalls of being a freelancer is that you have to do all of the “other business stuff” if you want to practice your craft. Often designers and developers understand that this is a necessary evil of being a freelancer, but even still would much prefer to get on with the job. My role at Sennza is to manage projects and clients effectively so that our designers and developers can get on with what they prefer to do.
As well as managing the project, I need to advocate for the client and our team. I advocate for our team when talking to the clients about how we work and what we feel will get them the best results. Likewise, I advocate for the client when communicating their goals to our team and to make sure they understand what the project needs to make it a success for the client.
Bronson: I’m the code monkey for Sennza. I spend most of my days slicing up Photoshop files and turning them into WordPress websites. I create bespoke plugins when required as well. I do a little bit of sys admin work on our VPS when required as well. I’m not much of a people person so I like staying behind the scenes and focusing on making sites that are easy to maintain and update. I’m a firm believer in keeping things as much like the WordPress core as possible and because of that I’m always reading blog posts about WordPress to keep an eye on developers who come up with new ways to manage custom content types.
Do you have specific criteria for the types of projects you take on?
Lachlan: All of our websites are custom designed and developed based on the client’s needs. We don’t have a bias as to which companies we work with, but as all of our work is customized to suit the client, it therefore generally comes down to budget. We typically find ourselves working with mid- to large-sized companies.
For example we recently redesigned and developed www.data3.com.au. Data#3 is an ASX listed company with a market cap of over $170 million. Prior to approaching us they were using a WordPress theme that was cobbled together in a strange way. For example, all the pages were set up as either a list of tags or categories. In our initial meeting we explained to them that WordPress should not be this difficult to use. For example, a page should be set up as, well, a page. Judging by their feedback we think we have more than proven WordPress easy to use.
The redesign also does a lot of other things. It integrates their contact form with Salesforce, and we’ve added extra custom post types to better handle content such as case studies, awards showcase, and location details for their offices around Australia.
How has the company evolved since it opened its doors two years ago?
Bronson: When we first started we made a couple of sites that were based on WordPress themes we had purchased. At the time we thought that this might be a good way to provide clients with affordable websites, however we soon found out that we really didn’t like many of the options that these themes came with. Many of them had terrible code.
I used to create the designs in Photoshop when we first started, but we’ve partnered with an amazing web designer so he looks after all our designs now. By getting Kenny to look after design I had the time to refine my coding process to increase my development speed. One of the best things I did was to start keeping track of my frequently-used code snippets so I that could reuse them in projects. Over the last couple of months I’ve started working on making my code as extensible as possible which also helps decrease the time it takes me to develop bespoke themes.
We’ve also gone from working from home for 18 months to shared office space and now we have our own office! We started with the traditional bootstrapping methodologies so renting office space seemed like too much of an expense for us until we refined our costing and business plan. We grew as our business grew.
How is Sennza different to other web design agencies or consultancies?
Lachlan: I would say we are different in two very specific ways:
1. We’re not afraid to stick with what we do best and say no to the everything else. Being 110% focused on our niche (WordPress design and development) means we can be really awesome at a few things, instead of being really average at a lot of things. For us, this has paid off in spades.
2. We have a passion for making things as easy to use for the non-tech person as much as possible. We understand WordPress and we understand how to make it as easy to use as possible for clients to use both now and into the future as WordPress grows.
Sennza attended SXSW this past March, what was that experience like?
Lachlan: It was a fantastic experience. The scale of the event is massive in the US, let alone any events in Australia. SXSW had very high level topics and we got the chance to meet a variety of different people that we otherwise wouldn’t have met. We have WordCamp San Francisco on the agenda for this year and looking forward getting to a more WordPress-centric event in the States.
Bronson: SXSW was absolutely amazing! I hadn’t been overseas before (unless you count a trip to New Zealand) so just being in another country was a fabulous experience. I enjoyed the networking side of things more than the conference itself. We made sure we did our best to meet as many WordPress people as possible. I really enjoyed meeting people like Evan Solomon, Jane Wells (who was nice enough to let me help out with the official WordPress SXSW party), Andrea Middleton, Ron Rennick, and Chelsea Otakan. We bumped into (read: stalked on Twitter) Mark Jaquith, Daryl Koopersmith, Evan, Chelsea, and Sara Cannon while they were waiting in an epic queue to get their SXSW badges.
Out of all the WordPress people we were lucky enough to meet my favourite people—the iThemes crew: Cory and Lindsey Miller and Matt Danner! They’re all amazingly passionate and genuine people. I loved having a couple of beers with Cory and talking about our businesses and the similarities we share. Cory and I talked about the challenges we face and what we’re both trying to create thanks to the wonder that is WordPress. I’m very much looking forward to catching up with him at a WordCamp either in America or in Australia.
We were also lucky enough to have Pete Nelson from BaconIpsum.com take us both out shooting which was an unforgetable experience seeing we don’t have guns in Australia.
You both play a huge role in the Australian WordPress community. How did this start?
Lachlan: To be honest, it really started out of necessity. Just over two years ago when we started Sennza, there was only one WordPress meetup in AUS that I know of and that was in Melbourne. We started the Brisbane meetup and then soon after that we flew to Sydney to kick start that meetup as well. We’ve helped the WordPress community in Australia grow by getting all the WordPress meetups on meetup.com and all of the different states have fantastic volunteers who keep the meetups running on a month-to-month basis.
While we did help start some of the meet ups, they wouldn’t be running today without the help of these volunteers.
Bronson: As we haven’t yet contributed code back to core we did want to contribute in some capacity so starting the meetups was one of our ways of giving back to the WordPress community. We also organized WordCamp Gold Coast (with the help of Brent Shepherd and Dion Hulse) so that Aussies had a way of meeting other WordPress developers. WordCamp Gold Coast happened because we attended WordCamp Melbourne which was fabulous and decided Australia needed another WordCamp. In turn, WordCamp Gold Coast inspired some Sydneysiders to start WordCamp Sydney which will be happening this month.
What challenges do Australian web professionals face that might be unique to the rest of the world?
Bronson: I’d have to to say hosting again. We really don’t have the range of cloud-based hosting companies over here because of the bandwidth costs in Australia. Hopefully that’s something that we get better at once our National Broadband Network (NBN) is rolled out.
I also think that it’s harder to learn from other WordPress developers in Australia. Because our country is so large, all the awesome developers in Australia can hardly ever catch up face to face to share ideas and knowledge. A lot of us keep in touch on Twitter and Skype however you can learn so much more when you’re sitting next to another WordPress developer.
What does the future hold for Sennza?
Lachlan: We typically work with larger clients, but in the near future I would like to release tools that small businesses can afford. We have a lot of plugins and knowledge that we’ve created to solve problems that we see time and time again for client-facing websites. I dare say there are a lot of other developers that have hit the same problems that we have over the years. This will include things such as themes, plugins, and code snippets among other stuff. All of this will embody the same Sennza thinking (keep it simple) that we’ve used with all of our clients to date.