In 2015, Jonathan attended his first WordCamp. The experience was so great that he decided to retire his day job as a Senior PHP Developer and focused his passion on developing in WordPress. He resides in Durbanville with his wife and two boys, where he makes a living selling extension plugins and child themes. Jonathan has spent the past 12 years working in open source web and mobile application development.
Jonathan’s talk at WordCamp Cape Town 2016 was inspiring; CODECABIN_ just had to chat more with this great one!
1. Jonathan, you were at WordCamp last year?
Jonathan: “That’s correct.”
2. And now you are suddenly a speaker? How did that happen? What inspired that?
Jonathan: “So, WordCamp, and I’ve said this to a few people, WordCamp changed my life. The position I was in at the time, the job that I was doing at the time because of, not the company and not because of the people, but because of the code that I was working in, it was something that was almost killing my passion for development. There were some issues that I had, and I can’t blame anybody, but it just wasn’t where I wanted to be. And I kind of didn’t know where I wanted to be, and I have a very unique situation that I’m not available for development five days a week for a full-time job.
“The company that I was working for was awesomely flexibly. To say “Well, we can take the time that you have and use it”. But, just the code base wasn’t working for me. So I came to WordCamp purely because we were starting to do things in WordPress and I was going to be the WordPress guy at the company. I thought it would be great opportunity to get involved in WordPress as a community member and understand what it’s all about.
“Sitting in WordCamp last year and watching some of the speakers and some of the workshops, made me realize that I didn’t want to be at a company building sites in WordPress, I wanted to be involved in WordPress. I wanted to start contributing to core, I wanted to start organizing meetups, I wanted to start, because the ‘open sourceness’ of not only the software but the community as well, is what drew me. I vividly remember Pippin Williamson talking about the commitment of backwards compatibility, I vividly remember Drew James talking about “it takes a village to build WordPress” and how things are structured. At the end of WordCamp, I made some promises to myself. One of those promises was that I would leave the job and I’m at, and commit myself 100% to developing for WordPress. Either building, developing or whatever.
“The other one was that I would speak at WordCamp next year, be it a small talk, a 10 minute, 5 minute, I would. I would do something. As much as I had received those two days I would want to give something back, and that’s where I made that decision. When the speaker applications came up I probably spammed them with about 7 different topics. My workshop was accepted for the intermediate track, I was very happy.
“Two weeks later Hugh contacted me and said that one of the lightning talk speakers had dropped-out and wasn’t able to speak, would I be keen doing a lightning talk as well, and I’m the kind of guy that just goes, “Sure, let me give it a bash”.
So that’s where I am today. I’ve given my workshop this morning. I’m doing a lightning talk tomorrow. My plan next year, is to be part of the volunteer team and eventually I want to organize my own WordCamp.”
3. As an entrepreneur for WordPress, what would you say are the most valuable lessons you have learnt in your success?
Jonathan: “The biggest lesson I learnt, very early on, and I learnt it the hard way was, just because it’s WordPress, doesn’t mean you can’t apply the knowledge that you already have within WordPress. So my mindset was one of “I have all this PHP experience but WordPress it its own framework, and it’s gonna take me “too long” to become an expert in WordPress, to develop for WordPress.”
“So my plan was to build websites in WordPress. I had no experience building websites in WordPress but I had less experience developing for WordPress. So I just thought it would be easier to get into. Then I realized that there’s so many people doing it.There’s Genesis theme, and Divi theme, making it so easy, that the market is kind of saturated, but there is still a space for developers building plugins. And I went “Well, that’s the route I have to take”. I just kind of, there was a little bit of luck involved a little bit of good timing, but I realized that my skillset was in PHP development I should just take that, spend the time to learn, and that’s where we ended up now.”
4. You wrote an article called “Please, copy my ideas”. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Jonathan: “This one could take a while. So before I can answer that question, you need to understand the background a bit. So part my progression this year was becoming involved in a theme by Elegant Themes, called the “Divi” theme. Now, for those of you who don’t know the Divi theme, it’s sort of well received by and not well received by sort of, polarized parts of the WordPress community.
“It’s one of those themes that is a builder theme. So it does everything for you. It advertises itself as “You’re able to build websites with amazing functionality”. Amazing Animation & Styling, all these kinds of things, without knowing a line of code. But, where the market is, where I’m involved, is that they are certain pieces of functionality that the Divi theme doesn’t do. And people are wanting those pieces of functionality. So the plugins that I develop for Divi enable them to do those things. There are a few people in the space who are doing it. They kind of all started together, and a website called Elegant Marketplace was formed.
“They can sell their plugins and themes to other Divi users. Then there was a rift within that group because some people didn’t like the way that it was run and they had an issue with the way things were done. So a bunch of them went one way, and a bunch of people that I am interacting with went the other way.
“What happened was, one of the admins said to me there’s “this piece of functionality would be really cool to have for Divi theme.” And I went “Okay cool, let me check it out”. I played with it, and it was something that was a little bit outside of my experience. I started researching and then another developer release a plugin that did what was required. So I went “Well that’s fine, they have done their thing, I’m not going to worry about it”. Then somewhere along the line, through one of my clients, I was working on their website and they were using this plugin. I was a little bit curious so I went “Let’s see what this plugin does and how it works”. And in my personal opinion, the way they implemented and the way they did it was poor. I knew that my plan to do it was better and I knew in my heart if I didn’t do it I would be doing a disservice to the rest of the community by not building a competitive plugin, that did things better. So I built it!
“It released in the beginning of July, and I was getting fairly good sales from it. It was early August. The competitor announced their version 2 was coming out and the owner of Elegant Marketplace said to me “well, they are advertising their product, let’s advertise yours at the same time. A little bit of a competitive market space, and it happened and so they did an article on the website, and promoting my plugin, and the backlash that I received from these people was horrendous. An article was published on, not their site, but somebody who I know their collaborating with and it was titled “Copying Niche Plugins, Are you kidding me?”. And I was basically accused of being unethical.
“Because I had copied a plugin idea. Not copied the code, because I’d written my own code. Not taking their code and forked it and updated it. But my idea for the plugin was the same. And so I received massive backlash around doing that and I thought “You guys clearly don’t understand what the term monopoly means, and competition means. And you don’t understand the competition breeds innovation.”
“We live in a country with certain electrical companies and certain telephone companies, who have monopoly and that is bad for us, and we understand that if a competitor came in it would be better for everybody. That’s why I wrote that article, because if somebody else has an idea for a plugin, and my plugin is being developed, I’ve told people my plugin is being developed. Why should I have the right to tell that person to not release their plugin. If that were the case, WooCommerce wouldn’t exist.
“You know WooCommerce would’ve gone, “Oh well, WP Ecommerce is there, GeoShop is there, we won’t bother.” But they did, and did it better, and they showed that they could do it better than disrupted the market, and I said in that post you know, the whole point of developing in an open source space is that ideas can be developed and at the end of the day, if your plugin is better than mine, great! Then I know that everybody’s getting a great product. If it’s not? Then, okay! I’ll carry on with my plugin, but don’t feel like your ideas have to be stifled because I’ve done it. Because that’s their mentality, their mentality is that I’ve come up with the idea, I’ve developed the plugin. Nobody else is allowed to!
“I have a big problem with that. The best part is that their argument for why I shouldn’t be developing my plugin, is that their community size is so small. I’m thinking, someone actually said it in one of the groups, someone actually said are you saying that a community of 3000 people, is only allowed to have one plugin? No! It can have two, and mechanics will just work out what makes them unique and the clients will choose where to go, and that’s kind of the mentality they have. It’s small community, and when I say small, I’m talking about 350 000 people. They’re saying there can only be one person that develops one kind of plugin? I have a problem with that.”
5. On your blog you mention that you come from a time where there wasn’t such a thing as the ‘Internet’ How did you actually get into what you are doing?
Jonathan: “That’s a funny story. I matriculated in ‘95, and the internet came about in 94. So when I matriculated, we’re talking 144k modems, we’re talking HTML pages. I remember building an HTML site for someone and them saying to me wouldn’t it be cool if I could update the HTML for you but you wouldn’t have to update it every time I was working in some way of generating a script to read and text files, something like that. That kind of fell away because, I needed to earn money. And at the time I was working in retail and I kind of forgot about it.
“Then after five years of trying retail, I realized that this retail thing, wasn’t for me and I reminded myself that I had been fiddling around with computers since I was probably around 12. I studied a diploma in Programming. The idea was that I was going to be a game developer. That was my plan, I was going to make money making games. That didn’t happen. Then I was developing in Visual Fox Pro for Windows environment. Building administration systems for clients. A client came in and said “I’ve got this product that you developed for me, which took MP3 files and converted them but I have clients internationally, and I want them to be able to upload the file and then we can download it on our side, and FTP is too difficult, they just want a file upload button”. So we were sitting in the Team Meeting and the boss said, “Does anyone feel like learning PHP” And again, I went “I’ll do it”. Because I’m that kind of guy. That’s how I got into PHP originally. I’ve been doing it ever since. So it took me 11 years to get into WordPress, which is kind of scary.”