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Ever heard of Sidekick?

I got a note today from a company updating me about their upcoming launch. It had tons of information in it, including a launch date. I’m so happy for them.

Especially because I recall the first time we got on a phone call (years ago).

We were talking about their new service when I said something like, “I would be more than happy to help you navigate your entry into the community – because it’s a dynamic that you want to get right.” While they debated the merits of having me help them, things went crazy.

I tweeted out that they were up and comers, right after I got off a call with them. Only, I did it without looking at their website, which had some issues on it.

And almost immediately, those issues came to light – on twitter.

Go Slow!

It was exactly the kind of snafu that happens – because there are so many different dynamics to consider when stepping into the WordPress community.

  • Is the copy on your website all original and owned by you?
  • Is the design “on brand”? Or are you using a Mac to produce a Windows commercial?
  • Are you obfuscating your code?
  • Are you pricing the support, or the code?
  • Do you understand the GPL?
  • Are you promoting yourself in a talk, or helping others?

The list goes on.

And while it may be similar in other open source communities, I can tell you that it’s not the same dynamic at all in other industries (or even closed-source software communities).

The reason?

Because many of those industries aren’t “communities” in the same way.

I spent a long time in the Microsoft developer community, building hosted SaaS solutions with .NET technology. I’ve been to the conferences, events and know the authors of the books. And those folks – the speakers, authors, and other developers – knew each other (or knew their names).

But it wasn’t the same thing.

Everybody was doing their own thing, their own way, for their own objectives.

The WordPress community is a bit different (for better or worse, mostly better).

It feels more like an extended family where every WordCamp is like a mini reunion. And while people are running their own company, it’s nothing like my other experiences. Pippin Williamson, author of EDD (a hugely successful eCommerce plugin), contributes code to WP eCommerce (a direct competitor). Where else do you see that?

Others, like Curtis McHale, give away tons of insider secrets on running a freelance business – from pricing to tools to email templates and more. Where else do you see that?

So if you’re coming from the outside, from another space, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when stepping into this community. Because while everyone has their own objectives, they also have some shared community objectives.

I keep saying “they” but it’s “me” and “us” too. Here’s my take on some of what’s important to me, and my sense is that it’s important to those around me.

Education is just as important as profit.

Because we understand that our success is driven by the acceptance and success of a platform (WordPress), it’s important that we all help it succeed. Because if it struggles, we all struggle.

This is why you see us focus on creating great experiences at WordCamps – because we want new adopters engaged and educated.

This is why you see us protect trademarks on Twitter, not because we’re lawyers but because we want to make sure you don’t start off on the wrong foot.

This is why we help one another by open sourcing process, tool, and management best practices.

What do I mean that education is just as important as profit? Simply this – we want to make sure we’re educating clients about open source, about the GPL, about WordPress and more.

Sustainability is just as important as education.

If we all go out of business, nothing else will matter. This is why we talk about pricing. This is why we raise rates. This is why we are starting to create more expensive educational opportunities for more advanced learning.

Because if we don’t get better, and if we don’t run our business to last, then we’ll be out of here. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself, but I would rather “Apple” and “Microsoft” tenures than those of “CompuServe” and “Palm”.

Collaboration is more than a buzzword.

By embracing open source, most of our companies have embraced cultures of collaboration. It’s a natural way that software evolves, so it makes sense that it would impact how the companies involved in the community work.

This is why you see Pippin and Justin Sainton answering each other’s questions. Because beyond a superficial sense of competition, they understand that all our boats may rise and fall together.

Go Slow! I mean it.

Andrea Rennick shared some of this last year in New York. See, she spoke at the first WordCamp I attended. I was no one in this community – no reason to take note of or remember me. We met and talked briefly (she was very kind). And then she didn’t see or hear of me again for at least a year.

But in the year between my visit to WordCamp Chicago and my initial effort to write every day, I did one thing more than anything else. I watched. I read. I observed.

I spent a year understanding who the players were. Understanding the different dynamics. Learning about the GPL. And paying attention to lessons learned from others’ mistakes.

I stepped into the community not by selling anything, but simply by writing about and directing people to other’s products and services. And I didn’t make big promises. I didn’t do anything except try to help others by steering them to the right folks. To folks I knew about but who didn’t know me.

In terms of speaking at WordCamps, again, I spent two years only contributing locally – never speaking more than 2 hours from my home.

What do I mean by go slow?

I simply mean that most of the mistakes people make come from moving too quickly. They try too hard, too quickly, taking shortcuts, and then see that it is the speed that causes everyone else to distrust and fear what may be new and different.

So spend time observing. Spend time learning. Spend time helping and giving back.

And if you need some help, you can always schedule a call with me on Clarity.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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