Codeable.io is the brainchild of Tomaž Zaman and Per Esbensen. The duo envisioned an agency that would connect WordPress talent to the right people in the WordPress community.
At Codeable, Zaman handles product development and promotion. In this role, he is the public face of the agency at workshops and conferences. Per Esbensen is the guy who handles the business aspects of the agency. Together they make a formidable team who has taken Codeable.io to new heights.
In this interview, the duo discusses the freelance business model in the backdrop of WordPress and how Codeable has evolved over the years. Let’s begin!
Cloudways: Hello Per and Tomaž! Thank you for taking out some time for this interview with Cloudways. Tell a bit about yourself to our audience. When and how did you start your career with WordPress? Is there any interesting story behind this?
Per: I didn’t know much about WordPress before Codeable. I was running an agency together with some old friends and all websites we did at that time were made in TYPO3. We had in-house developers working and back in the days freelancing wasn’t something you said out loud. Being an agency meant you had all resources under the same roof. We ran into some problems with a huge website, and the client was about to give up on us. We couldn’t find a solution, and we were running out of ideas. Luckily, my colleague suggested we should try Elance and a long story short that’s how I meet Tomaz. Tomaz solved our problem in less than a day, saved the client, and we became instant friends. A lot later when we decided to work together, and we had our first talks about making better and more quality driven version of Elance, we very fast realized we should spin it around WordPress.
Tomaž: Much like Per, I too had a very vague knowledge of WordPress – I was a self-taught TYPO3 developer, which I became purely by chance. When I started to learn about web development (I was 19 or so), I offered the university I studied at to develop their website as an opportunity to learn and turn their static HTML website into a CMS-powered portal. They agreed but demanded to be built in TYPO3 because that’s what they used for their intranet. I continued to develop TYPO3 websites for various small businesses in my home area until I got kids, which is when I moved out of the city. This resulted in having less and less work, so I had to look online, and quickly discovered the ups and downs of online outsourcing. The biggest up, of course, was meeting Per, who thankfully fell in love with the idea of a “managed” online outsourcing service immediately. We chose WordPress because we felt the biggest opportunity lied there – and five years after launching Codeable, we can say it definitely was!
Cloudways: In 2012, you both started Codeable.io with the aim to contribute to the WordPress Community? Would you like to tell us about your contributions? What do you think about the role of community in WordPress success?
Tomaž: I think the biggest contribution we’re making (it’s an ongoing, and most likely a never-ending effort) is educating freelancers how not only to communicate with clients properly but also how to organize their time, prioritize their activities and most importantly how to price their work. We sincerely believe we are changing lives and the community of our 300+ developers (at the time of writing) can confirm that. Through changing freelancers’ mindsets and behaviours we’re also indirectly (and sometimes directly, through customer support) educating clients on how to treat the freelancers they are hiring and how to manage their own expectations. I think that the community played the most important role in WordPress’s success. It’s not the code that matters, it’s the problems, and the people behind those problems and the people who can solve them, using WordPress.
Per: The experts working via our service are more than “just” freelancers they are family. We have over the years grown some extraordinary bonds. We are incredibly proud of our community, and our experts are not competitors but colleagues who all are helping and sharing knowledge with one and another making our platform better and better. We have met lots of them on many WordCamps over the years, and the number of Codeable people meeting is growing year by year. Last WordCamp in Paris we were more than 55 people!
Our next mission is to “educate” clients to become even better clients on Codeable, and we have ambition creating a Codeable Academy for both experts and clients. If we can succeed in helping/educating clients to be better prepared when working with freelancers, then we’ll not only keep the healthy working environment on Codeable intact, but it will blossom making happier working relationships, increasing conversions and hopefully grow Codeable to become the go-to place for everything WordPress. Saying this then I know it’s a big challenge to educate clients on making better and more useful briefs and almost an impossible challenge to get them to estimate tasks and projects realistically.
Cloudways: Codeable.io is an online outsourcing company for WordPress, which believes “quality and customer service comes first.” How do you define these two? Do you have a specific set of ideas to satisfy your customers’ needs?
Per: We just wanted to bring in old values like a word is a word, and a deadline is a deadline into the world of online outsourcing. We wanted to build a service with a healthy working environment for both our customers and experts so we shouldn’t use all the energy in getting new users all the time but creating long-lasting working relations. The only way you can do this is having a set of rules which is all about minimizing risks, practices on how to engage with clients and only accepting WordPress developers/freelancers with a lot of experience. On top of this, we have amazing people working in our Customer Service and they are doing great work in helping our users. We simply care about our customers and we are on it. It’s not rocket science – it just takes a lot of heart and work.
Tomaž: I must admit, I wasn’t very good at freelancing, not code-wise but business-wise. I would develop good solutions for my clients, but when it came to properly communicating with them, I failed a lot. And more importantly, I learned a lot. These failures and learnings allowed us to develop what today we call a “black book”, which is an ever-evolving document of do’s and don’ts that all our experts get once they start working on Codeable because most of them are facing the same challenges I faced when I got started.
And both, customer service and quality in this context are all about communication; Business is people, not computers and it’s our mission to ensure that communication is at the highest level. Once you achieve that, the rest follows easily.
Cloudways: Tomaž, I have got to know that you had been working in the freelancing industry for a long time. Doing work as a freelancer, getting and executing projects is not a piece of cake. Would you like to share your experience as a freelancer? Some tips to become a successful freelancer?
Tomaž: I guess the biggest lie about being a freelancer — and thus your own boss — is that you’ll get to work less. But as it turned out, being my own boss resulted in working more, sometimes much more. But it wasn’t a problem for me because I enjoyed most of the work I did at the time, and what I appreciated the most, was flexibility. As I was becoming an expert in my field (TYPO3), I got to charge more and I got to pick the projects I would work on. The power of saying no is something not everyone will experience in their lives, but it’s just…liberating.
As I mentioned in the previous answer, the best tip I could give someone is: Talk to your client. If you think you’re doing it enough, do it some more. And what’s even more important: Listen. With more than 60.000 projects published on Codeable, I can now with 100% confidence say that when things go wrong, it’s not about the code, copy or design. It’s about mismanaged expectations, which are always a result of not communicating (well) enough.
Cloudways: Per, just like Tomaž, you have been working in the web agency business since long and some time you get your work done by freelancers. In fact, this is how you met Tomaž, right? How is your working experience in web agency?
Per: Yes, as I explained before then Tomaz and I meet on Elance of all places :). Looking back then I always think about how expensive it was to build websites and how much work it required from the client. We kind of reinvented the wheel over and over again and didn’t think much about speed, performance and SEO was a city in Russia. We had to explain everything on the front page with lot’s of Flash Player created elements and scrolling on a website was not an option. I was the one selling our ideas and concepts and getting an overview of the internal costs building these monsters was something we did horrible wrong and honestly, we never good at it. After too many mistakes I decided to multiply our in-house developers estimate with Pi and all of a sudden we started to make money. That move plus saying no to projects that just didn’t sound appealing made the difference. Making estimates is very difficult, but experience makes this easier. That’s why we on Codeable only work with senior developers, and why we are in fact turn down 30% of all projects. Most of the rules and guidelines we have on Codeable are coming from all the mistakes Tomaz, and I did when we were worked together as freelancer/ client.
Cloudways: You both have built many websites and applications from clients all over the world. Would you tell us about your big projects? How did you manage difficulties that came from a client or from projects? Any memorable encounter(s) you would like to mention?
Per: We have quite a few accounts on Codeable spending above $100,000 a year, and we have a ton of smaller to medium size projects completed on Codeable. We have — since we launched our service almost five years ago — done more than 60,000 WordPress related projects and 98% of these got completed with highest rates. I think these numbers are something we should be tremendously proud of and it seems our rules and guidelines are working. Saying this then we have 2% of projects where our Customer Service has to interfere and get the project back on track or even replacing one expert with another. Looking back at all these projects then over 90% of all problems are coming from a lack of communication and not getting projects adequately scoped out. We use a lot of time helping and educating our experts to improve in these areas, and it’s part of an everlasting process.
Cloudways: What is your secret of productivity and creativity? Would you like to suggest any secret to becoming a productive member of a team? How do you think it is important to balance your professional and personal life?
Tomaž: There’s no secret really, it’s all about setting a goal for yourself and then persevering through the good, the bad and the ugly, to get there. And there’s plenty of it all. What it took for me is not just finding the best co-founder (I guess there is some luck with it) but most importantly, having a loving family and friends to support you throughout the journey.
And the most difficult thing to learn for me personally was to not think about business while I’m away from the computer. Not working is just as important, because it’s usually out of the office when you get best ideas, and we all need plenty of rest to be as productive as possible.
Per: I think we all have something we are good at but in not all of us who has the luck finding out what that is. Building Codeable has been and is still a lot of hard work. I cannot describe how much work it takes, but when you love doing what you do then work becomes like playing and when you play you always want to win or properly more important you don’t want to lose.
So, I think it’s a matter of finding out what you are good at then trusting people. That’s at least what we are trying to do with the people working at Codeable. Most of them start one place but move to different areas they find interesting and with a small guidance from our side.
For me, it’s an everlasting challenge balancing work with my personal life, and I believe the next five years will tip more toward the latter.
Cloudways: It is a well-known fact that WordPress websites often get hacked from vulnerabilities in plugins, themes, and even from latest versions. Do you think there is still a room for improvement in its core? What sort of changes would you like to suggest?
Per: I’ll let Tomaz answer this one 🙂
Tomaž: To be completely honest, I don’t know enough when it comes to WordPress core – I’ve never spent any significant time reading it’s code, as I’m always more focused in day to day business of running Codeable. But what I can say is this: there’s no software without bugs, security or otherwise. Luckily, WordPress has this amazing community of contributors that have spent literally countless hours of discussing, writing and testing the core, and while they don’t always agree on things, they must have been doing something right, otherwise, WordPress wouldn’t be where it is today!
Cloudways: Being professionals in your fields, how do you people spend your weekends or free time to stress out? Where would you like to go? What are your favorite hobbies?
Tomaž: Skydiving. I love warm weekends because that means I can take my family to a nearby airport, spend time with them and do the thing I love the most: jumping out of airplanes at 4000m. During the winter, when the weather is not as favorable, I like to see a good movie and play with Arduino-controlled electronics. I’m hoping my kids will pick some of my love for technology because I believe that’s where the future is.
Per: I had one jump out of an airplane with Tomaz, and that’s also the last one. No, I’m a bit more old-school kind of guy and likes to play golf, fly fishing, and skiing but most of my spare time is spent with my three daughters and my beautiful wife.
Cloudways: To secure a WordPress website, it is often suggested to opt for WordPress hosting that provides powerful firewalls and protection against DDoS attacks. Do you think that managed hosting provider like Cloudways is the best solution right now?
Tomaž: Absolutely. This is especially important for site owners who depend on their website to make money. While infrastructure is relatively cheap this day and age, most site owners don’t realize how much effort and know-how is required in order to properly run all the “behind the scenes” parts, and I know there’s a lot of them – I’ve set up all of the Codeable’s infrastructure.
Cloudways: Recently Cloudways and Codeable.io have become partners, which will benefit the WordPress community. Would you like to give your two cents on the partnership with Cloudways?
Tomaž: We couldn’t be more excited – I think Codeable and Cloudways can accomplish great things together.
Per: I’m super happy for our partnership with Cloudways and I’m certain we can help lots of your clients with customizations issues and other WordPress related tasks and projects outside what Cloudways support can handle. On the other hand, we hope to see lots of our clients and experts getting to know and use Cloudways awesome hosting service.
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Cloudways: Last but not the least! Just to acknowledge our readers, could you please share the images of your workplaces? That’s all! Thank you once again for your time. ☺
Per: We’re all working remotely on Codeable and last time the entire group was together we counted 11 different languages. So, I’m working from almost everywhere and I don’t have a real office. As long as I have wifi, I’m happy 🙂 This picture is from a workspace somewhere in Europe.
Tomaž: Same 🙂
Mustaasam is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. Where he actively works and loves sharing his knowledge with the WordPress Community. When he is not working, you can find him playing squash with his friends, or defending in Football, and listening to music.