Today, we get the opportunity to interview Tom Willmot, the co-founder and CEO at Human Made Limited, a large WordPress development and consultancy agency for high-profile websites with big clients worldwide. Tom is serial technopreneur who likes adventures and some of them are: Happytables, Nomad Base, Market Realist, and Feeling Restful. In this interview with Cloudways, Tom discussed his journey, open source projects, building an agency and how to win big in life.
Cloudways: Hello Tom, I am very excited to conduct your interview, thank you for being here. 🙂 Please tell something about yourself to our readers?
Tom: Well in addition to the work stuff which I’m sure we’ll cover below, I’m currently taking a break from the UK and living in France for a few months with Leanne (my wife) and our two children. Moving to a new country with a young family whilst also running a fast-growing agency has meant life has certainly been pretty interesting these past couples of years!
Cloudways: You are the co-founder and CEO of Human Made. Could you please share some interesting stories, experiences, and projects that you are proud of?
Tom: I’m pretty biased, but it’s hard not to be proud of almost all the work everyone does at Human Made. I find it incredibly rewarding getting to work with such a diverse group of smart people each day and the work they do rarely fail to amaze me.
We actually just returned from our annual company retreat (HM Retreat 2017) and so that experience is pretty fresh in my mind. All 60 of us spent a week together in a beautiful castle in Italy, a mix of bonding together in-person and discussing and planning the future of the company that we’re all building.
Doing a large annual retreat is challenging for a remote agency, they’re expensive; we’re flying in people from all over the world and to add to that it’s a week or more away from billable client-work. But we’ve come to learn just how crucial they are in helping bond us all together. We’re already planning next years!
Cloudways: Tell me something about Happytables. What are your responsibilities there? Could you share any interesting stories?
Tom: I’m entirely hands-off from Happytables day-to-day now. It’s a product which grew up inside Human Made–quite a common agency/product story–before splitting off into its own company. I continue to sit on the board and Human Made is a shareholder but it’s now run by its own team completely separately to Human Made.
Cloudways: What are the initial challenges that you face in building an agency? What would you like to suggest to people who are willing to open their own agency?
Tom: The early challenges for us were quite usual I think. In the early days, agencies are usually fighting for survival, finding clients, learning how to work with them, how to charge enough, how to avoid scope creep, etc. Like most larger agencies I’m sure we’ve made most of the mistakes that can be made, but we’ve learned from them and persevered through.
I do think it’s a much harder time to start an agency now, especially at the lower end of the market where there’s now far more competition from SaaS competitors than there was when we started Human Made. The truth is a lot of small business which in the past would have hired a small agency are now just going to Facebook or Squarespace. I think the key to success today is about finding a niche that you can focus on becoming particularly good at. When you’re competing in a global market it’s crucial that you find a way to standout.
Cloudways: You’ve built a strong team overtime. What do you typically look for when you’re hiring a new team member and what sets them apart from the competition?
Tom: One of the most challenging aspects of building a company is making it somewhere great people want to work, I think that’s been one of our key advantages. Although we’ve grown fairly quickly, we’ve always placed a huge amount of emphasis on how we hire. I really believe that getting hiring right means we can avoid whole classes of organisational issues later on.
Our remote first culture currently relies on quite a bit of personal autonomy and so that’s a crucial trait we’re looking for when hiring. The complexity of the work we do with our clients also means we’re typically hiring at the more senior end of the spectrum. So we’re usually hiring people with existing experience either as part of an in-house team or another agency.
Cloudways: Since the Internet has evolved the shape of digital marketing in the recent years, what are the best trends to market your product and services?
Tom: When dealing with the kinds of large enterprise/corporate clients we look for we’ve definitely found that person-to-person relationships and networking are still kings. Identifying the right people to talk to in an organisation, understanding the challenges they’re facing and then pitching our products and services directly as solutions.
So most of our marketing actually ends up being on the hiring side rather than towards potential clients. We regularly sponsor WordCamps and other developer events in parts of the world where we’re looking to hire.
Cloudways: Have you ever had an experience with cloud hosting? If you’ve ever tried Cloudways, what would be your thoughts about it?
Tom: I haven’t yet had the chance to try Cloudways but I’d definitely love too. We definitely find that Cloud is becoming more and more acceptable and even desirable with the enterprise clients we deal with.
Cloudways: On the lighter side of life, human beings like us are full of life. You share your stuff a lot on social media which shows you are quite social in daily life. Do you have any interest in sports or food or traveling or anything else?
Tom: I’m a vegetarian and enjoy cooking a lot. I find it’s a really nice antidote to the pace of my work-day to come home and cook a meal. Leanne and I love to travel and although that’s definitely gotten harder with the arrival of children we still try to get away quite a bit.
Cloudways: Finally, here’s your chance to freestyle :). Write anything you think could be interesting or useful to our readers.
Tom: We actually recently made our entire company employee handbook publicly available and I’d love to make your readers aware of it, both because maybe it’s useful to them if they’re working on putting one together for their own company but also because we want to hear from people if they see things that we could be doing better. As we were working on putting it together for ourselves we naturally looked around to see how other people were doing things I was surprised to find that even in the open source communities this kind of stuff is rarely shared. I’d love to see that change. You can find ours at https://handbook.hmn.md
To accompany our employee handbook, we’ve also publicly shared our engineering resources handbook which covers best practices, processes, and core philosophies, as well as our open source projects. You can see this at https://engineering.hmn.md
Cloudways: Just to acknowledge our readers, can you please send us an image of your workspace? That would be all! 🙂
Tom: I’m currently working from a co-working space in northern France. These days I work exclusively on an iPad Pro, I haven’t used my laptop for months!
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