What Highly Successful WordPress Business Owners Were Doing at Age 25
Everybody has to start somewhere. And in business, this adage applies doubly so because the paths entrepreneurs and business owners take can be varied and unpredictable.
Some have that entrepreneurial spirit at a young age and make millions by the time they’re 30. Others are just getting started at 40. All paths are equally valid and all provide valuable lessons for those looking to launch their own businesses. That’s why we wanted to spend some time talking with successful WordPress business owners to see what they were doing when they were 25 years-old and how they used WordPress to get to where they are today.
The stories that follow are very different. These designers and developers come from all walks of life and have found success at different ages. No matter the details, I think you’ll find their stories inspiring.
When WPMU DEV CEO James Farmer was 25 years-old, he was working as a teacher and “struggling to make a living while supporting a 1-year-old daughter and my life was going to #$%!.”
“I was making AU$600 a week and living in a one-bedroom apartment, literally right next door to some heroin addicts,” James says.
“And the reason I knew they were addicts was because they didn’t have a phone and they were always overdosing.
“I had to call an ambulance on Boxing Day (an Australian holiday the day after Christmas) and there I was talking on the phone with, literally, a newborn child in the corner.”
He didn’t have a car and walked to the grocery store each week with a rucksack to do his shopping.
“I gave myself an allocation of one bottle of wine at $7.99. It was the soberest !@#$ing time of my life and I was twenty-!@#$ing-five.”
He says all this with a smile, of course.
These days, James runs Incsub, the parent company of WPMU DEV and Edublogs, the latter of which is the largest education blogging platform on the web. You can read more about his WordPress story in How an English Lit. Grad. Who Didn’t Know PHP from FTP Bootstrapped a Successful WordPress Company.
His rucksack is long gone and he says his weekly allocation of wine is “unspecified.”
He first got involved with WordPress in 2005, using it mostly for blogging.
“I was in college studying computer science at the time and I was using it as both a way to share what my experience was like at school as well as a public journal of sorts.”
He notes that this was before GitHub, so it helped having a blog presence when going to interviews for jobs.
“My first foray into doing any type of development with WordPress was taking the basic theme, Kubrick, and then making some customizations to its functionality,” he says. “Granted, this wasn’t done in ‘The WordPress Way’ — it was mainly editing a couple of PHP files, making some calls, and then getting the functionality out of it that I wanted,” but it got the job done and opened the door to more serious WordPress development.
From there he became self-employed full-time and started to work to understand and then “evangelize” coding standards, “because they are so important,” he adds. Following best practices is his motto now across all aspects of his work, “from taking practical software engineering techniques, to writing about it, and from implementing them in my own work, to talking about them in WordCamps.”
As for his views on success, McFarlin fully acknowledges that people’s views on the subject differ radically. “If ‘success’ means making lots of money and retiring early, I’m not there,” he admits, “I am however making a living, providing for my family (which now includes two daughters, and continuing to grow the business.”
What’s helped him the most along the way is his ability to interact with people. “I’m not really into solving problems for other people in order to just get to the money,” he says, “I’m more about genuinely understanding the needs of what clients want, providing it as best as possible, and forming a trustworthy relationship along the way.”
He also attributes his success to maintaining a regular blog. “I enjoy sharing information,” he says, adding, “the development community has a huge ‘copy/paste’ sub-culture and I’d love to see us move away from that and get into the why we do things versus just ‘what code do I need to make this happen?'”
“I worked my way up from Junior Developer to Director of IT in a fairly short amount of time,” he says, adding, “I learned a lot about developing and managing a large eCommerce website.”
The experience taught him a lot about other things, like what it takes to fully support technology at the small business level.
He first experimented with WordPress in 2006, when he launched his blog, Strangework.com. “I did a bit of research and decided WordPress seemed like the best platform for a blog,” he says, “I had no idea that decision would snowball into a long career in WordPress, including starting and growing a company like WebDevStudios and writing a series of WordPress development books for Wiley.”
He attributes his experience in the military to teaching him valuable qualities including “integrity, initiative, decisiveness, dependability, and a ‘never give up’ attitude,” that have translated well into his success as a WordPress business owner. “I joined the United States Marine Corps right out of High School and served in the military for 4-years,” he says, noting that during his enlistment he did one tour in Kuwait/Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, “which put a lot of things into perspective.”
“The best thing I learned in the military is that no matter how bad it is, it could always be worse,” he says, with a smile.
Software developer and consultant, Carrie Dils was working with a web consulting company in Dallas, TX when she was 25 and she was first introduced to WordPress by a guy she worked with in around 2012.
But what’s helped her find success, you ask? Her one-word answer sums it up: “Drive.”
Emily Journey was studying to be a social worker and counselor when she was 25.
“I had this idealized view of what it meant to help people,” she says, but, “it turns out I only like to help people who want my help!” And in her case, that meant launching a WordPress training business.
“I taught myself WordPress from scratch and it took me forever to get a strong grasp of it,” she says, but she was determined to get a few different business ideas launched, and “figured a strong website would make all the difference.”
A negative experience with web devs in the past also sent her out on the path toward becoming a trainer.
“It was a post written by Neil Patel that inspired me to give training a try,” she says. She knew she had a penchant for teaching but was uncertain if people would pay for her services. But she cast that uncertainty to the side and jumped in head first. “I leapt in and offered my first class through meetup.com for $20 per person […] I showed up completely unprepared for 13 people!”
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She wasn’t an overnight success (few people are) but a lot of what got her to where she is today is directly related to being a professional. For her, it comes down to “understanding how to run and market a business.” WordPress just so happens to be the focus of hers. However, she does make a point to note that even if she weren’t a WordPress trainer, the CMS would still be the “most powerful tool in my business toolbox.”
At 25, Pippin Williamson, founder of Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP, and Restrict Content Pro, was in his first year of building Easy Digital Downloads. Obviously, some people find success earlier than others.
“I had just begun to form a team of other developers and customer support agents around the project,” he says, adding, “I was working 12-18 hours a day and spending nearly every weekend and night trying to move the project (and several other projects) forward.”
He describes himself as being “obsessed” with building his WordPress plugin portfolio and making it a sustainable business.
He first got involved with WordPress when he was a freshman at the University of Kansas. “I was 18 and that was around WordPress 2.7, I believe.” He feels it’s his determination and dedication that have brought much success his way. “Those two things are required by anyone that’s going to build a successful business from the ground up,” he says, noting, “You have to be determined and crazy enough to keep going all night and then push on even further early the next morning, day after day.”
Allan Fuelling is the owner of Fuel Web Media, a digital marketing agency based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and had just earned a Webmaster Certificate and a BS in Network Security when he was 25. “I completed my certifications for the Microsoft MCSE and Cisco CCNA,” he says, “Yup, a hardware nerd.”
He had worked as a server jockey for five years while going to college so it helped with his job and he ended up moving and getting a job as an IT consultant.
“Our clients starting asking if we could do websites for their business and that’s when I got involved with CMS,” he says.
He tried Joomla and Drupal before finding that WordPress was the right fit for him in 2007.”Overall, I found it much easier to hand off to a client.” nThemes were just starting to become a thing. “I remember hacking template files back in the day. There were very few plugins to choose from,” he says, adding, “Good times, indeed.”
“Overall, I found it much easier to hand off to a client.”nThemes were just starting to become a thing. “I remember hacking template files back in the day. There were very few plugins to choose from,” he says, adding, “Good times, indeed.”
“I’ve been told that my ability to translate the technical info into something a business owner can understand has been my greatest asset,” he says. That along with project management skills and an eye for design have helped
When WordPress developer Jill Binder was 25, she worked for a small website agency as a Java programmer and Usability Specialist.
She didn’t get involved with WordPress until 10 years later in 2011.
She feels it’s her “soft people skills” that have contributed the most to her success.
“I’m very good at making people feel heard and understood,” she says.
Emily White, owner and designer at Emily White Designs, was a full-time stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old baby girl when she was 25. “Interestingly enough, having a new baby is what got me interested in design,” she says, “I began making scrapbooks which then led to ‘digital scrapbooking’ and eventually to web design.”
She first started using WordPress in 2010. “After a couple years of working exclusively with Blogger I was excited by the seemingly endless possibilities that WordPress offered,” she says.
As a business owner, being able to really listen and understand her clients has contributed largely to her success.
“The custom nature of my work means that I really need to understand a client’s goals before strategizing solutions and translating that into a visual design,” she says, then adds, “Without mastering those initial steps I don’t think that my finished work would be as good or that my business would have grown as it has.”
At 25, Chris Wiegman, “was flying Cessna Citation and Falcon jets as a first officer for a small charter operation near Chicago Illinois.” In other words, “nothing computer-related at all.”
Now a WordPress developer and teacher, he didn’t get involved with WordPress until he quit flying sometime in 2008. He was working for Southern Illinois University at the time and they needed a system to handle all the required websites for faculty members, staff, student groups, and others at the university.
“WordPress foot the bill perfectly,” he says.
He attributes much of his success to the combination of his determination and his willingness to change should the need arise. “I’m not afraid to change direction when something isn’t working,” he says. Those two qualities have been a sort of theme in his life, bringing him to where he is today with projects like Better WP Security.
When blogger and Internet marketer (and former WPMU DEV Blog contributor), Kevin Muldoon was 25, he was already working full-time online and was making most of his income in the gambling niche. It was 2004 and at the beginning of the year he was in Australia and Asia then traveled to Asia again at year’s end to explore several countries in South East Asia.
He first tried WordPress not too long after it was released.
“My WordPress account was registered in 2004, but I believe I downloaded it a long time before that,” he says, noting, “I had spent years using content management systems such as PHPNuke and PostNuke so I tried most of the PHP based content management scripts available at that time.”
Success with WordPress has largely been about passion. “I am passionate about what I do,” he says. “From a financial point of view, I have not made as much money as some affiliate marketers since I am not willing to lie to my readers in order to push some crappy affiliate product,” he says, but indicates maintaining this integrity has helped him grow a blog with a loyal following.
There are many, many other successful WordPress business owners out there right now totally rockin’ it, but hopefully this gives you a good look at what a segment of that group is doing and how they got to where they are. At the end of the day, what these business owners were doing when they were 25 doesn’t matter all that much. What does is how they’ve used WordPress and their own unique qualities (innate or learned) to find success.
Now I want to hear from you. If you’ve already carved out a spot for yourself in this WordPress world, how did you do it? What were you doing when you were 25? Also, did I miss your favorite WordPress pro here? Feel free to share below.