John Saddington Interview
Meet John Saddington, father, husband, entrepreneur. You may have seen his byline over at WP Daily, or some of his work with 8BIT. He began working with WordPress way back at version 1.0.1, and has never looked back.
Tell me how you got started working with WordPress and why you’ve stuck with it?
I first got started with WordPress version 1.0.1, “Miles,” (released on Jan. 25th, 2004) and began using it experimentally as a blogging system. Things really took off with “Strayhorn” in version 1.5 where the first true theming system came into play. I remember how delighted I was that I could easily start customizing the look and feel of my blog as well as the blogs that I was creating for my clients. Of course, the fact that WordPress was free was highly attractive — I could keep costs low and my margins high as a new WordPress developer starting a very new business.
I stuck with it initially because I began to see the incredibly rich community that surrounded it and the desire of many to see this technology grow way beyond the boundaries of just “normal” blog users. The amount of time and sweat that people poured into the plugins, the themes, and core features with zero direct financial return was inspiring, to say the least.
But the fact was that I was profiting from it and as I mentioned in a recent post, WordPress has financed my marriage, the birth and growth of two kids, two graduate degrees, a roof over my head, and more. I couldn’t be more grateful for the community and the technology!
I continue to work with it because it is simply the best publishing platform on the planet today and as I’ve matured as an individual publisher and business person things naturally fell into place where I could build an even bigger company around WordPress than my own personal consulting business. The power of momentum has kept us going as we’ve built a WordPress theme called Standard, which is a theme built specifically for professional publishers — a product that’s been given a lot of visibility. We also become a partner of Automattic earlier in 2012.
You recently started WP Daily — what inspired you to being the magazine and what will it become when it achieves your wildest dreams for it?
My team at 8BIT is insanely passionate about online publishing and the future of digital communication. We believe that WordPress is a part of a “Black Swan,” a term author and investor Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularized in 2007 which describes large events that are both unexpected and highly consequential. We never really see black swans coming, but when they arrive, they profoundly change our perspective and our world. Think about the World Wars, 9/11, the rise of Google and Twitter, etc.
We believe that WordPress is a black swan event or at least a part of a much larger occurrence and we are excited to be a part of it. We started WP Daily because we believe that we can help accelerate that movement, in part, by bringing consistent, effective, and ultimately valuable reporting to the WordPress community and the much larger community that is currently ignorant of this wonderful technology. If we can provide that value, continue to extol and evangelize the incredible value that’s created via WordPress, then everyone benefits from the event.
We’ve already seen it happening now with WordPress powering over 17% of the top 1MM sites in the world. Isn’t it an honor and privilege to have front-row seats to such a neat benevolent takeover? We love being a part of it and giving back because it’s given so much to us in return.
In terms of “success” we haven’t actually figured that out yet to be honest. Since WordPress is community-driven we want the community to help dictate part of the direction of the blog and site. We have already seen that happen as we’ve had 20+ authors sign up to contribute and they’ve begun suggesting incredible ideas on how to make it better. We’re listening intently and have already adjusted our strategic and tactical plans for the site accordingly. We want to maintain this culture of contribution (and many other ideals via Our Manifesto) because that’s the only way that we will stay positively relevant.
But if I were to “land the plane” in any context of success it would be that the brand and community around WP Daily would be able to say, 10 years from now, that we contributed positively and beneficially to the rise and adoption of WordPress around the world. And if you have any ideas of how we’d calculate that I’m all ears!
What do you like to do in your spare time — away from the computer?
Personally I have little time for much else other than leading my company 8BIT, writing and doing editorial work for WP Daily, and managing some personal properties that keep me going. But one of my long-standing passions (away from the actual notebook computer) is professional coaching where I assist individuals, teams, and leaders in making better personal and professional decisions. I also advise and counsel other companies (I’m on the board of a few and have equity positions with others) and have even had the pleasure of mentoring companies through local incubator and technology startup organizations.
What a joy it is to give back out of my own experiences, which aren’t perfect, but can serve as lessons and guideposts for others so that they don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Occasionally I’ll also lead local meetups.
Finally, I have a beautiful wife and two incredible girls who keep the passion flowing and the motivation needed to create great work. I couldn’t do what I do without them.
Tell us about a favorite project — why is it your favorite, what was most challenging about it, and what did you learn that you’ve taken with you to other projects?
I haven’t spoken publicly about this yet but one of the most influential experiences and projects I’ve ever had was my very first partnership-based startup. This certainly doesn’t mark it as a “favorite” but with it, I learned a very important lesson that I’m so thankful I absorbed very early on in my career.
I was right out of college and had built up a small independent shop — I specialized in Flash development because interactive media was the hot thing at that time. I had a few guy friends I was very close with and we went to the same school, the same church, and were pretty much in the same social circles. We decided to launch a small agency instead where I could do the development, one of the guys could do the operations, and the other could do sales. It seemed like a perfect trifecta.
Things went well until we hit our very first big payday — we landed a project that was five times what we had typically billed and we were on cloud nine until the payment was in our hot little hands — that’s where everything fell apart. You see, my father had told me that “money changes people,” and I understood it philosophically but I hadn’t learned that lesson firsthand. This was my primer and things spiraled fast.
The moment we had serious cash on our hands we argued over who deserved more, even though we had contractually agreed to firm equity portions. Long story short, the company disintegrated, harsh words were exchanged, and our relationships were broken. Years later I still haven’t heard from them or spoken with them — these were guys that participated in my wedding!
I learned a valuable truth at that time — that money does indeed change people and that regardless of the quality of your relationship money can be the thing that tears it apart. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was that it set my course to look for a more “collaborative” environment where money was not the chief motivator — and the open source community is where I found that zeal and worldview. WordPress came shortly after the the rest, as they say, is history.