It is always a pleasure to talk to an expert and today I will be interviewing a renowned personality from the web development industry Mr. Marius Vetrici.
Cloudways: Hello, Marius! Thank you for joining us. Please tell our readers a bit about yourself and share your story before you started working as a freelance web developer.
Marius: Hi, I’m Marius and thanks for having me on this interview series.
I am the founder and general manager of WPRiders agency. We provide back-end WordPress development, white-label plugin development, maintenance, and WordPress troubleshooting.
Before this, between 2003 and 2013 I have been running another software company that initially focused on developing ASP.NET controls, then on Document Management platforms and on Inventory Management software. On a professional side, I am a Software Engineer with a Ph.D. in Business Informatics and a Master in Project Management. On a personal note, I am living in Romania (Eastern Europe), I’m 38 years old, married and with two very creative and courageous boys.
Cloudways: How did you enter the world of programming and web development? Who inspired you and what resources did you refer to for learning and development?
Marius: My first encounter with programming was in 1988 when I was 7. As part of a music band, I was in charge of programming a percussion computer. Essentially, this computer was a replacement for the band’s drums and, once connected to an amplifier it will produce various drum sounds and rhythms.
When I was 14, my father bought me a ZX Spectrum and then I started to play around with Basic programming language. I didn’t have access to programming materials, so I had to learn and discover most of the Basic language by myself, which was challenging but very instructive.
At 16 I got in touch with Turbo Pascal, C, and Assembly language. The dialup Internet was already available, Netscape 2.0 was the BIG THING and this was a game-changer. My Informatics teachers and trainers played a very important role at that time because thanks to their help and assistance I won a couple of local programming contests and was one of the 4 kids to represent our country at the International Olympiad in Informatics. This was eye-opening!
I got into web development in 2011 and the way I’ve learned it was by reading the source code of other plugins and themes, and by referencing the Php.net and WordPress codex. Stack Overflow and books are fine, but I like to go “the source” from time to time to understand the fundamentals.
Cloudways: It is certainly an interesting way of learning a new skill. Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur over a conventional 9 – 5 job? How did you get your first project for WPRiders and could you please share your experience with your first client?
Marius: I started as an entrepreneur back in 2003 when I realized I wanted to do more than code writing. After 4 years working as a coder (between 1999 and 2003), I discovered I have several other skills, like selling, interviewing customers and writing specifications, public speaking and managing teams, so I wanted to further develop those skills.
The first projects for WPRiders I got from the former clients of my former software business. We already had a business relationship, we trusted each other, so the start was pretty smooth. Later, I continued with Elto and then with Codeable. Nowadays we have a network of partners that are referring new projects to us whenever they need to extend or build a new WordPress plugin.
Cloudways: I was looking at your LinkedIn profile and I found out that you did a Ph.D. in economy informatics. What is it about? How did your education help in your business?
Marius: My thesis is about how to estimate the duration of a software project. It took me 7 years to finish it and all the research and readings that I’ve done during that period comes very handily now in working with our customers. We work on highly challenging WordPress plugins and knowing how to properly budget the time and cost is of great help. This knowledge coupled with my Master in Project Management is helping us a lot in managing on average 30 ongoing projects.
To further upgrade my knowledge, this year, I decided to join the Advanced Management Program with the Institute of Management Development from Switzerland. It was a 3-week long transformational program on business and innovation. After this program, I am rewriting our business strategy and we are working on some software products of our own.
Cloudways: It’s great that you are again going back to school. Working with hundreds of clients means you have both sweet and sour experiences. Please share the most exciting and the most unpleasant projects you’ve worked on and the learnings you had from both.
Marius: I think my main learning is that everything is changing, everything is in flow as life unfolds. A seemingly pleasant experience or project might lead to a chain of issues and, something that appears as an issue might yield in the end to a very lucky outcome. For example, we had been working on a platform that would bring together patients and doctors, like an Airbnb for healthcare. There was a lot of scope creep (i.e. feature requests outside of the initially agreed set) and the project was dragging. In the end, the client accepted to pay for most of the extra requests and since the quality of the project was very good, he eventually decided to clone this project for a different industry.
On another project, we were building some interesting text processing features that would calculate various SEO metrics. Everything was fine until we realized that the client was using these tools to provide SEO services to the gambling industry. And since we avoid working on projects that are related to gambling, alcohol, adult websites or ammunition we decided to terminate the collaboration. It was a very profitable project, but sticking to our values is even more important.
Cloudways: Why do you work on Codeable given there are so many other freelancing platforms? Can you identify three distinct or favorite features/services it offers? Except for clients, of course.
Marius: Codeable’s focus is on gathering together high-quality WordPress experts. You get so many of them and they are both excellent developers, but they are also people of high quality, with healthy values. We are like a big family, that supports and coaches each-other.
To be able to attract the best WordPress developers in the world, Codeable is featuring higher hourly prices compared to the other marketplaces. Here the hourly rate ranges between $70 and $120 per hour which, in consequence, attracts better experts and higher paying customers. This is different compared to UpWork or Fiver.
Codeable will also let you chat directly with the client and with the other experts quoting for the project in the same workroom. Thanks to the communication rules and guidelines, this results in fruitful cooperation with the client and with the other experts because the client can see how multiple experts are complementing each other and providing multiple angles. From what I know, this different compared to Fiver, CodeMentor or Upwork.
Lastly, Codeable accepts agencies. Unlike TopTal, for example, that will only accept freelancers, here you can act as both a solo freelancer or an agency.
There are other marketplaces around, but I haven’t looked yet into them.
Cloudways: Thank you for sharing your experience at Codeable. You have completed 1000+ WordPress projects while running your agency. Can you tell our readers about how you estimate the cost of any WordPress project?
Marius: All our projects are custom-built, unique WordPress plugins. And since there is no way for us to standardize the estimation process, we had to develop an inhouse estimation methodology.
Essentially, we follow these steps:
- We ensure the requirements of the task are clearly written and readily translate-able into the code. If they are not, we
- Run a paid Discovery Session with the client where we interview the client, clarify the requirements and make all the architectural decisions before writing the code.
- If there are known unknowns (things we know are complex and we don’t know how to estimate), we provide visibility into the challenge by creating one or several Micro Prototypes. These have the goal of revealing the technical challenge by providing more visibility into the issue at hand.
- Once we are clear about what has to be done and how are we going to approach it technically, we break down the entire project to small 6-hour bite-sized tasks and estimate them. When doing this, it is important to be mindful, to be present in order to notice all the aspects, big and small requirements, explicit or implicit.
- In the end, we adjust the estimate using our average estimate error coefficient for the last 6 months.
More info and details about this methodology can be found in my WordCamp Lausanne talk.
Cloudways: Besides delivering projects on time, what other tips would you give to freelancers who want 5 stars rating from their clients?
Marius: Our golden promise is we will treat our clients as we’d like to be treated ourselves. This means, to keep your promises, to be honest, to be professional.
Second, set and manage client expectations. A client will perceive a project as successful if you will attain and eventually go over their expectations. You can equally set those expectations up front and calibrate them as you go.
Third, be prepared, do your homework.
Fourth, qualify your clients: choose your clients and work with those that are a good fit for you and that pass your qualification criteria. Spend time with those clients that are an opportunity for you to deliver great work. Some clients are just not right for you and then, maybe, you can pass them on because there’s certainly somebody else that will make a great fit for them.
Cloudways: Let’s talk a little about WPRiders. How did you start this company? What were the motivations behind starting this project?
Marius: I started as a Freelancer on now the defunct Elto marketplace. After a couple of months, I got accepted on Codeable and after one year on Codeable, a couple of things happened.
I reached a point where I had prepaid projects for 1-2 months in advance. Then, I accessed some European Union funds for start-ups and got some working capital. Next, I hired two developers and later a Project Manager, a Business Analyst and a Tester.
The reason I scaled up from a freelancer is best illustrated by the mushroom analogy. If you are like a mushroom, you have only one leg and your stability is very limited. For example, if you are not working during a vacation or because you are, God forbid, sick, that leg is temporarily cut and the entire workflow stops. By hiring 3 more people, I converted myself from a mushroom standing on one leg into a chair with 4 legs. Now, even if one of the “legs” is out of activity due to various reasons, the chair is still useful even with 3 legs.
Cloudways: I’m sure it must be challenging for you and your team to manage the workload. What tools and techniques do you use to overcome the workload and streamline all the work?
Marius: We manage on average 30 simultaneous projects per month. Our approach is based on clarity. We do our best to properly set our clients’ expectations and then to manage them.
Once a project has been broken down to max 6 hours tasks, we plan all the tasks in a calendar. We use either Harvest Forecast or, more recently, Asana, for managing the workload.
Cloudways: WPRiders offers a variety of quality services around WordPress. In your opinion, how does WordPress help individuals and businesses move forward and how does it enhance the end-user experience?
Marius: In my opinion, WordPress is excellent when you need to build a Minimum Viable Product, in order to quickly test a new business idea. In as little as 60 days you can have a full-fledged marketplace like Airbnb or Upwork, an e-learning platform like Udemy or a job website like monster.com. Besides that, WordPress is great for publishing and blogging.
When it comes to user experience, I’m seeing more and more headless websites and, together with the Gutenberg move, we are creating a better user experience.
Cloudways: What is your advice for freelancers who want to scale their business to a full-service WordPress agency?
Marius: The first thing I would focus on is my business strategy. That is, what kind of services I want to provide, for whom, and how I am going to win this game, i.e. how I am going to become a sought after expert in my domain of choice. You can focus on Speed Optimisation, on building PSD2WordPress, on troubleshooting, on maintenance, etc. But please, don’t do all of those for everybody because you will be just one of many. And people need to know you for something, otherwise, you’ll be known for nothing.
Next, think about how you can repeatedly generate 60 new leads per month (3 new leads per day). And if you’ve nailed down the first point, about the business strategy, you’ll lose at least 1 in 3 leads. You need to own the lead generation process, be on top of it. Relying merely on word of the mouth is not a process; it is relying on pure luck and luck is not scalable.
Then, once you have more leads than you can handle, ask your clients to make a money deposit in exchange for booking their project to your calendar. This is what I did and when I started to hire my first team members, I had projects in advance for 1-2 months.
Last but not least, set aside money and build a buffer of at least 3 months of all your expenses.
Besides that, work on standardizing the work, write Operating Procedures, checklists and ensure people do follow them.
Cloudways: WordPress is a community-driven platform. How do you think WordCamps contribute to the WordPress community, and why should anyone attend it? How many WordCamps have you attended yet?
Marius: I’ve attended 4 WordCamps Europe and a bunch of regional WordCamps. The reason I keep going to WordCamps is to keep myself updated, to shake hands and reconnect with a new plugin or theme developers, new business people, new industry influencers.
The reason is best explained by this thousand-year-old saying: people buy people. Everything I will achieve in life will be through the acceptance and support of other people. Therefore, it’s important to learn what are their concerns and challenges, what are they working and focusing on. This way I can help them and contribute; they can help me, we can do business together or just contribute to the greater good.
After my first WordCamp EU from Sofia, myself and a bunch of volunteers came back to Bucharest and set up a local WordPress meetup. During the next four years, the meetup has grown into more than 1200 members and has helped many-many people learn new things, get jobs or launch new businesses. I’ve been the event host and lead organizer throughout this period and I think this was time well spent.
Cloudways: How do you think of Gutenberg? What kind of changes it will bring to the WordPress ecosystem?
Marius: In my opinion, WordPress has grown far and wide because it kept the entry barrier very low for wannabe developers and because it was open-sourced.
Gutenberg definitely brings in improved user experience for publishers and bloggers. But for developers, Gutenberg has a steep learning curve and I think with Gutenberg the WordPress eco-system is losing that low entry barrier for developers that has fuelled its growth. The upside will be, hopefully, better and more structured code.
Cloudways: What other local WordPress meetups do you like to attend? You started WordPress meetup Bucharest. How did you grow the meetup from 0 to 1000 attendees?
Marius: First, we secured the venue. We used the same venue, month by month, which created a sense of unity.
Next, the volunteers running the meetup are very important because they are the heart and soul of the meetup. So, choose wisely and ensure they are engaged.
Next comes the quality of the content and speakers. This is the challenging part because you need to secure the speakers in advance and to ensure you have content for the participants on a regular basis.
Lastly, promote your meetup. The mere fact that we used meetup.com was a self -promotion vehicle. But when we added Facebook ads on top of that, the meetup just “exploded” with participants.
I’m describing the full process in this article on our blog.
Cloudways: In one of the conversations with Cloudways team at WordCamp EU, you mentioned that you build Airbnb, Udemy like projects for your customers. How are you using WordPress to build such complex website architectures? Name some projects that you completed.
Marius: A project like this starts with some existing plugins. But then, because every marketplace and platform is unique, we create the bespoke features and we adapt the default business flow to the new processes that are needed.
This approach yields a very fast time to market because, in only 60 days, you can launch a clone of Uber, Airbnb, Upwork, Udemy or Monster.com
Here are some of the projects that we’ve finished.
Askademic.com is an online platform that connects teachers to students. It is an educational website that provides several services like homework help and online video courses for different disciplines. This one is like an Uber but for teachers and students.
Beautycoach.com is an online platform intended to educate make-up artists & stylists and answer beauty-related questions. It mainly consists of video content available via paid memberships but is also joined with an online magazine section that contains written content. This one is a clone of TeamTreeHouse.
Jobaltor.com is an online marketplace meant to reunite specialists from the most sought after professional areas and industries who are able to help you get one step closer to finding your dream job. This one is a clone of Fiver.com / Upwork.com.
agrarjobs.ch is a job board portal for Swiss companies from the agricultural sector.
The platform charges the employers a fee for every listing that is being posted. This is a clone of monster.com
Farrer’s Coffee is an English online shop that sells several varieties of coffees and teas. Their main intention is to provide a next-level experience to their customers by offering subscriptions for coffee delivery to match the tastes of all the coffee enthusiasts. This website is a great clone of dollarshaveclub.com.
You can read more about these case studies on our website here
Cloudways: You’ve been in the WordPress industry for many years. Who has inspired you or helped you excel the most in the WordPress world? Name 5 people.
Marius: Bogdan Dragomir – a very talented WordPress developer. He was the one who introduced me to the WordPress freelancing world.
Per Esbensen – the CEO and co-founder of Codeable.io, who supported my growth from being a freelancer to becoming an agency
Mario Peshev – the CEO of Devrix.com and my mentor
Dan Stefan – my mentor, he is the co-founder of Autonom Rentacar, the largest rental car company in Romania
Ionut Neagu – the CEO of ThemeIsle; he has a very fresh and interesting angle and he makes a very good sparring partner.
Cloudways: Just for fun, if you had the chance to change or improve one thing from the WordPress core, what feature would that be and what would you do to make it better?
Marius: I would improve database management by employing better database transaction usage. This will ensure the data is always consistent and will avoid problems like you delete a post, but just half of the attached custom fields get deleted and the other half remains orphaned.
Then I would add Foreign Key checks to the database. This will further ensure database integrity.
Then, I would store every Custom Post type to a dedicated custom table in order to have a better database/table lock management.
Lastly, many times people complain that WordPress is slow but in reality, the plugins that run on that website are of poor quality. Therefore, I would build a mechanism in the core that would scan and report the performance, quality, and issues of the plugins in a very user-friendly non-technical manner. Today we have Tide project which looks at the code and various profiling tools like Query Monitor that try to report some performance data. But these are tools for developers and what I’d build, instead, is a tool that would display in real-time the performance of a plugin for regular, non-technical users. As easy it is today to download and install a plugin, as easy it should be to see and tell if that plugin is behaving or misbehaving on your website.
Cloudways: What’s your usual day like and what projects are you actively involved in?
Marius: I usually start my day at 6 am with a 1-hour Vipassana meditation session. This helps with self-awareness and knowing myself better. Then I continue with 10 minutes of sport, to keep myself in good shape and tonus. It could be jogging in the parc, or push-ups or just 10 minutes of yoga postures.
We have breakfast together with my family and then I go to the office where I usually work between 10 am and 8 pm.
On a weekly basis, I have time booked with my family in my agenda and, therefore, I come home earlier. It’s like a “meeting”, just it’s with my family and this ensures I have at least 1 day per week when I come a bit earlier at home to spend more quality time with them.
On Sundays, we go and practice some sports with my kids. It could be ping pong, swimming, tennis or going for a one-day mountain hike. On Sunday afternoon we have some fun with them by building computer games using Swift Playgrounds, Scratch or Alice. These are super fun and entertaining because in only 30 minutes you can build a simple game and start playing it!
Some community projects I’m involved with are the WordPress meetup and a business Mastermind.
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Cloudways: Finally, who would you like to recommend for our next interview?
Marius: I’d like to hear from Ionut Neagu, from ThemeIsle because they are building interesting things.
But I would also like to learn from folks outside of the WordPress ecosystem, like Blair Enns, the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto; from Donald Miller, the author of Building a StoryBrand and from Mark Roberge from HubSpot.
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Ibad Ur Rehman is a WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. He likes to explore the latest open-source technologies and to interact with different communities. In his free time, he likes to read, watch a series or fly his favorite Cessna 172SP in X Plane 11 flight simulator.