Episode 398: The Business of WordPress with Aaron Edwards

Show Summary

Rob Talks to Aaron Edwards about the business of WordPress.

Show Highlights:

  1. Aaron’s WordPress original story.
  2. AI in WordPress and Marketing.
  3. SASS products.

Show Notes

 Hey everybody, Rob Cairns here and today I’m here with my guest, Aaron Edwards. How are you?

Hi there, rob. Thanks for having me.

Ohh, always a pleasure. Let’s jump in real quickly. You’ve you’ve got a a multitude of experience in the WordPress space which is absolutely awesome. What’s your WordPress origin story? How did you find WordPress?

Yeah, gosh, I started with WordPress. I think it was like version 2.6 back in like 2007, 2008. UMI really found it because I was trying to kind of build my own like website as a service platform. Kind of like wordpress.com and so I discovered what was called WordPress multi user back then now multi site. And that was kind of my first like introduction to WordPress cause I I wasn’t really interested in like having a blog at that point. That started like launched my own like kind of multi site network and then started learning to. Do development, so plug in development and things like that specifically for that niche and. Yeah, that was kind of my introduction and then I became kind of full time WordPress developer. And was working with WPM, udev for gosh like 12 years or 13 years. I’ve been with them and eventually became CTO there for the last decade and yeah, so now more recently I’ve been kind of diving into more building my own. Products and and things like that. I launched a a plug-in SaaS for WordPress called Infinite Uploads, which is basically allows you to easily connect to cloud storage to have infinite storage space and CDN and stuff. That’s kind of my first like personal product and more recently been doing a lot of things building. Products and things with AI both for WordPress and for just general like software as a service you know.

Is there’s a big difference between doing client work between working for a company like WPM, udev, like that’s a home built and then jumping in and doing your own plug-in. So it’s like 3 separate real entities, right? Don’t they all have their own? And challenges a little bit.

Right for sure. Like I I first started doing just some projects, you know as a. As a freelancer for clients and really wasn’t a fan of that, so luckily pretty pretty early I was able to join WPM Dev as a developer and that was able to really focus on what I love which is like the building and coding part, not the interacting with customers part. Although I did have a lot of the. Had Technical Support in those early days when when we were such a small company then, but yeah, it’s definitely a very different world. And now the last few years stepping more into entrepreneurship and building my own products and all that, that’s a whole nother thing to learn for sure.

Yeah, it’s it’s no question like it’s it’s totally different and there’s a plug-in developer. What you’re doing now, unfortunately, one of the things you could be very careful of is security. Correct. Like that’s it. That’s a big issue. I know. You know, people have developed plugins with AI, and AI doesn’t seem to. Taking no effect, what best security practices are? I’m I’m big on security. That’s a big part of what I do. How do you answer that?

Well, I mean obviously like being CTO of WP ME Dev, we had a huge number of plugins and services and security was a really big part of my role at that level where it was like auditing our code. We we do static code analysis. Where you just like, run it, run it through and it could identify a lot of things if things were missed. You know you have your your code sniffer and things like that to help identify like that you’re following best practices and stuff like that and. I think a lot of those things, there’s a lot of those automated tools they could help in conjunction with. If you’re doing coding with AI. Using AI to help with your coding. It it does help to be a developer already I think for the most part my experience and the experience of people like I’ve talked to, who have like tried to code plugins or do development using AI. You you really do still need kind of those developer skills and the overall knowledge to be able to put everything together. What it really does is is it’s an accelerator. It’s not really a a replacement in and of itself. So I think having that overall knowledge and skills is still very important when it comes to coding with AI. But it can really accelerate your speed, you know.

What I would argue with it is there’s a lot of people are scared of AI, and we know those people out there and tons. Ohh, they play the doomsday effect. Old jobs are gonna disappear. This is gonna happen. That’s gonna happen. Well. Most of the people in WordPress use page builders or Gutenberg, and that’s replacement for doing hand coding and I haven’t seen development jobs disappear and there’s this wonderful device that came around in history called the printing press, and I think you know where I’m going to go with this is the printed. There’s just accelerated books being produced, right? We still have authors and writers. I don’t think AI’s gonna hurt jobs. I think it’s gonna shift the marketplace around. A little bit.

Yeah. I think with with any technology, it’s just disruption and shifting and what the key always comes to be, no matter what the new technology is, is your flexibility and ability to learn. There always be something for you as long as you’re able to be flexible and always be learning.

And your stroke.

Always be finding new ways to apply yourself and use these new tools to accelerate your own career and job rather than replacing it.

No, no question in that one. I’m, I’m still at my age of book a week. I am still a consumer of other podcasts besides my. They’re great learning tools and I think if you’re gonna play in the space, it’s changing so much and so rapidly that you’ve got just stay up to date kind of right. I mean, it’s not like the five years ago where things changed every six months and five years before that every year. And now we’re changing stuff like weekly and daily. It’s it’s crazy up there.

For sure.

Yeah, it does get stressful trying to. Keep up with. The pace. Ohh my gosh with this in this API world we have new models, new inventions, new techniques that are dropping every day. And it’s just like. Like having a business in that space is.

That’s great.


Definitely not an unstressful thing.

And then and then we’ve even got the leadership problems in AI, the head of open AI who got fired and rehired within a week. Like that’s gotta be record time. And I still think Microsoft had a lot to do with that because they are a big. Consumer and producer to open AI, which are big partner in that and I think they just went to them the board and said fix it or we’re out. I I have some sense that was kind. What happened and I don’t, I don’t know if I’ll ever know, but it’s just really interesting.

Yeah, it definitely was quite the story to follow there.

Yeah, bit of a bit of a soap opera AI. So you’re getting into the AI space. What type of use case are you using AI for?

Yeah. Gosh. Well, let’s start coding. I guess, I think it was about two years ago. I start. I subscribed to a GitHub copilot. Like right when it first launched and. When it came to just like plug-in development and things like that for WordPress that really accelerated it and it’s only gotten better since then. But. I would say it’s probably. Doubled my coding speed and again it’s not like a replacement doesn’t do all the work for you, it just does the busy work. You know, I kind of joke it’s replacing the.

The vision.

Googling Stack Overflow you know. Basically that’s it’s just replacing that that part of the developer workflow.

Central Copilots to Microsoft product, correct.

Yes. Yeah. And it’s powered by open AI models.

Yeah. Well, there’s the partnership right there. Yeah.

Exactly and and since then I’ve expanded like they have, they’ve had new copilot features they’ve just launched. Like chat based editing and interfaces and I also use a new IDE like a a code development environment and it’s called a cursor which is really interesting and that’s also powered by like GPD, floor and some custom models that they have. And I’m kind of switching back and forth depending on the project, which one I use the the cursor is definitely more. Advanced and a little bit further along and and experimenting with like how AI can can understand all your code and and index like your entire code base to help kind of custom train it for that specific project you’re working in.

It’s interesting, yeah.

Yeah. So there’s there’s a lot of different tools for that for the development side.

Yeah, there’s no. Christian no kidding. And now you’ve got Google jumped in the middle of it too. They have their own AI product. That one’s been interesting in Canada because I don’t know how. That you know, the Canadian Government and Google have been at each other over this dreaded thing called the Online News Act and Google finding.

Yeah, I’ve heard of that.

Yeah. And Australia is the other country, so it it’s it’s absolutely ludicrous from my standpoint. I think it’s just the government trying to control the narrative a little bit. We’re we’re back into that crap as far as I’m concerned. And it came down to Google agreed to pay publishers $100 million, but we all know the the news. Paper business is gonna be extinct soon by the dodo bird. I mean, it’s like done right?

No, right?

And when that happened, Google actually came out again and said we’re not going to allow our AI product to be used in Canada, even by page users. Or was there a revolt because at the time I’m not anymore? I was a Google Workspaces user for e-mail, and they’re like saying ohh we don’t care. You’re paying for our product. But because the crapping candle, we’re not gonna give you a product and it was just like, really. Yeah. So there’s been some salvos fired there. There. I know there’s been multiple companies that have prohibited AI to be used in their company for anything. I’ve heard that and then we and we all know there’s certainly a copyright picture issue with pictures and AI. Getting images is not a happy camper these days. From what they hear because they have a whole team of patent trolls and all they do is run around sending. Pay us some money and we’ll see you. So that hasn’t helped them. How do you think about all those issues?

Yeah, that’s definitely like something to consider. I think like I’m always of the mentality like move fast and break things, you know, and better to better to ask for forgiveness than permission. And and I think the companies that are like being overly cautious like that, they’re going to be falling behind. Quickly, you know, it’s the ones that are doing like I I let a WPA dev. We had kind of. AI everywhere kind of an issue and it was just like. All right, guys, let’s just have like, some hacking time and just just play with this, see how it can improve your workflows. You know, see if chat UT we actually spin up kind of like an internal like. Private ChatGPT interface for the for all employees so that they could use it for helping with. Translating support tickets, things like that. And and just different experiments like that like how how can it be used, you know, kind of like hosting hackathons, you know, maybe with the developer saying, OK, why don’t you try building like some proof of concepts and see if this could be something that could be productized or make the the business more efficient that kinds of things. And and there’s definitely obviously you have to be. Cautious when it comes to like IP. And things like that. But I think there’s a lot of protections. There like that that you can work around still and and be safe. As far as like the.

We’re seeing even hosting companies jump in Godaddy’s now got an AI product in conjunction with the Boost brand has an AI product right now for doing e-commerce stuff. It’s just really fascinating. The use cases that are coming out to handle this stuff. It really is.

Like yeah, I went to. 3rd Camp US a few months ago and it’s just funny. Every booth they have. Some big banner about AI that you know is just the latest hot keyword they have to have something, even if it’s some. Some some more boring integration, you know, but as far as like the legal stuff has been an interesting development has been a lot of these big companies like. Open AI, Microsoft. Google different different things they’ve actually introduced like legal, legal. Like shelter programs. So basically they say if you use our services that we will back you up legally if you sued for copyright infringement. And we will take on that legal responsibility for fighting that case for you. So that’s a really. Interesting development. I don’t think we’ve ever seen in. Tech before, but they’re definitely they’re thinking ahead. Like, OK, how do we get ahead of this regulatory thing and how do we get enterprises and stuff to feel OK, feel safe about onboarding and and trying out these new technologies. And so they’ve they’ve kind of put. Their money, where their mouth is to add some legal protections for their users, which is really interesting. So that’s something to consider too.

And copywriting is getting a lot of use from AI too. I know right now I’m as the holiday season comes at time of this record, I’m working on changing some content on my website, my own personal on my business agency site, and what I’m doing is I’m using AI to rough out some of the. Copy and then I go in and alter it and I’ll tell you like you do with coding. That puts me miles ahead from a time perspective cause I have a starter template right in front of me and then I can go adjust it as neatly.

Yeah, that’s I. I think it’s definitely better in those use cases. I’ve found it’s most valuable for like ideation, coming up with ideas, being kind of like your assistant in a back and forth process, rather like if I write A blog post. I’ll often use it to help me, like generate an outline, and then maybe I’ll write like certain paragraphs and then I’ll have it expand on that for me, or rewrite it so I’ve never really had success just having it completely do a writing job for me. But when it comes to like improving or giving ideas or alternatives to titles. Add copy things like that. It’s really excels as the at that right now I think and and a lot of people that like criticize the AI, this oh, I can tell it’s Pi written. Oh it’s it’s dumb shallow content and I think that they’re trying to use it wrong. The best use case is that that kind of back and forth process of. Of improving incrementally.

I agree with that. Any other really good use cases for AI come to your mind.

Yeah. Well, First off, like the products that I’ve built more recently and I started with Imagine AI, which was the basically I was watching when when Dolly two came out. I was just amazed at like the AI images that it could generate you. And back then, it was very restricted like you on a huge waiting list just to get access to try it, you know, and in opening eyes dashboard. And so I was following really closely when stability released their own like open source image model, stability, AI and the basically I was like I’ll subscribe to that. And I’m like. I am not going to miss this wave like the second it becomes feasible. I want to like build things with it. You know. So basically the they dropped the the model weights on the weekend, the open model weights for their image model and then. I just did like a hackathon over that weekend and I recorded kind of a screen share of like a demo of a Gutenberg widget where you could just type in, you know, and generate an image like right within the WordPress editor. And that kind of went viral on Twitter. And I was like, oh, wow, this is this is awesome, you know, because it was the first time anyone was able. To access these. Image generation thing. So over the next like week or two, I actually built the imagining I plug in, which was basically that’s how it works as a Gutenberg. Block where you can easily create an image. And of course since then as this become available like it’s in everything and jet pack and every theme they all. Their own AI text and image generation, you. Know. But that was kind of my first.

Yeah. And then you’ve got the guys over at Bertha dot AI. If you’ve played with that product that they’ve done a really good job there and then you’ve got Dustin Stout. He’s got an interesting project called Mad Mattie and Matty. I can’t remember how he pronounces it. Basically, it’s a front end.

Yes. Yeah.

Opening ice that allows you to. Save all your stuff in like folders and stuff, so it’s really cool from there. So there’s all kinds of cool stuff coming out in this space and every time I think I’ve said, seen it all, somebody comes out with something even more interesting. It’s just crazy.

That’s for sure. So I mean obviously that’s one use case. What I’ve been working on more recently is more of like a a business to business product and it’s called a doc doc spot AI. And so that allows you. To basically custom train ChatGPT, unlike your website on your company documentation, you can connect it to like Google Drive or notion or or all kinds of different data sources to custom train your chat bots and then you can embed that chat bot in your WordPress site. You can embed it like in your internal team slack. Basically anywhere where you can use your API to integrate it with your products and things like that. So. The idea is, like everyone knows, OK chat should be T like how useful it is, and it can do so many different things. But the idea is that what if you could custom train that and then integrate that easily into anywhere you can imagine you know whether it’s your WordPress plugin or your site for your customers. So.

That’s really that’s really.

Kind of.

Yeah, and notions already got AI built into it in the project themselves. Too, don’t they at?

This point, yeah, they’re playing catch up with me. Yeah, they are. Yeah, but. That is definitely the challenge in building like a business in the space is. You have all the incumbents that already have the customers and they’re building these features like built in to the product. And so that’s kind of scary at least I’m in the place where you can integrate all those different things into your own. Into your own book chat box. You know that you can use for different use cases. So we have businesses, we have a lot of WordPress businesses obviously because of my connections and network there that are using it for customer support. So the front end customer support, so whether it’s. Automatic or Dolly or extend defy. I mean there. There’s a lot of different companies that are using it either via like our chat widget or like they’re using it to automatically draft replies to like support emails and things like that. So it already knows all your documentation already knows everything about your product. And then it’s able to automatically draft those things and it really. Increases like your support speed. Yep. So like we’re seeing like like 80 to 90% deflection rate. So that’s that many fewer tickets that you have to have in the answering which is pretty maybe.

Yeah, yeah. That that. That’s awesome. One of the things I’ve used open AI ChatGPT for is I had a client who wanted an e-mail sequence and won like 8 emails and it was like a $4000 product and open AI did like. 80% of the work 85% and then I went in and customized it. But and and, you know, people would argue and say, why are we paying for that because you didn’t do the work. And my argument always is those who know how to use the tools are the most valuable people out there. Right. So. I’m not a I’m not against using tools to maximize my work. I use them all the time and this is just another big one.

Interesting. I think that kind of reminds me of. Like in the. Marketing world. You know you have personas. You try to like. Categorize your customers in the different groups so that you can target them with specific messaging. I think something that AI is unlocking and I don’t think many people have taken advantage of that, is the ability to, like, personalize things to like a persona of 1. So instead of like grouping people into a certain group, you can specifically target each.

Yeah, yeah, true.

User with custom messaging as if you had as if they had their own like full time like customer representative sales representative. That’s that’s dedicated to them. You can use AI to automate a lot of that in in more low ticket businesses. So like what I’ve been doing with with dock spot is.

Yes, Sir.

We have, of course, just like any like Sass. Like someone signs up for the trial and then they get like a welcome e-mail, right? But what I actually do is I have them kind of self categories when they sign up they say is this for business use? And if so, what’s your business website? So that’s part of like our sign up process and then I’ve trained one of our bots to actually go. And once they do that, it actually goes and it reads their website. So we crawl their website. And then we have. I have like a very like custom well tested like ChatGPT 4 prompt that actually says OK based on the description of their business from their website and what they do. And based on your training and what dot spot. Just write like a a custom e-mail that suggests give specific suggestions of how our product can can be used for their business and it’s the output is amazing. I’m like blown away every time and.

That’s true. I I I bet I bet. And and you mentioned marketing, so that’s a great Safeway cause one of the other things we wanted to talk about is some of these marketing experiments you’re doing so. I think we’ll. Take after you talk about this. What have you noticed? So the word marketing and.

Well, like I said, in the Persona one, I think that’s like a big untapped thing and obviously everyone’s using it to generate images. I use it for a lot of like creating images for ads and and posts and tweets and things like that, and even have gotten into video generation, so doing like image to video things with AI, now that there’s there’s runway ML that does that. There is something called pica. I think that’s another paid service. And now stability AI just launched a an open free model called stable video diffusion. And so that allows you to take an image and turn it into like a little kind of brief like video, which is kind of cool and that that kind of I’ve noticed that gets a lot more attention, like in like tweets or things like that to have, like, a little video clip. That’s that’s custom to whatever your post is. That’s that’s a basic idea.

Yeah, I will. I will. Yeah, I would argue with your video will always get clips. I mean, even in terms of things like podcasting, it’s funny because I started doing podcasting when I started. I did audio only and if I know better, I would started video long long time ago and. Video just seems it doesn’t matter if it’s your short clip, the longer clip, it just seems to generate better views and put more eyes and ears on stuff, so that’s a that’s a. Good thing actually.

Yeah, it’s interesting. And yeah, so so you have the person that personalization stuff like that with images and then of course people using it for. Copywriting, which is probably the most obvious use case. But my favorite is like that, that persona of one thing that that I’m experimenting with to wear. What I would love to do is like say I have like an e-mail flow like an onboarding e-mail flow for my sass. So you’re suggesting all these. Different things. You have a series of 510 emails, whatever that they go through to try to get them onboarded in your app, and the idea is to take like that stock, one that I’ve written and then with knowledge of the customer and their business, have AI rewrite it to be personalized and customized to them, you know. So I’ve started that process, kind of with our welcome e-mail and that’s working really well. Like the conversion rate on that is so much higher than the generic well. E-mail and it’s amazing. Like people even replied to me like most people don’t even realize that it’s AI. Occasionally people like reply like is. This was this written by AI. This is the. Best AI written e-mail I’ve ever seen, you know. And that’s because it’s it’s not just making stuff up. It’s actually grounded in training the bot from their business and from my business. So it knows all that information to be able to to custom write that bespoke e-mail and give them suggestions for how they could use it, you know. And it’s things that I would never think of, like even if I it’s better. Then I could do myself so.

Personalization goes a long way in marketing. Like people don’t realize that the more personally you make it, the more likely you’re gonna trigger somebody’s disruption. As we call it, because we all know marketing is all about disrupting the customer, the potential customer, right and. Personalizing seems to get it done. Better than not. That’s a big thing.

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s that’s a really cool use case.

Yeah, what a good use cases in marketing and AI have you found?

I I haven’t. I haven’t tried this yet, but I saw a product that really fascinated with me, fascinated me, and it was basically AI automated AB testing. So if you’re doing conversion rate optimization for your website. Yeah, which is classic, you know, and you like. Try different like designs or layouts or different headings. You know, stuff like that. But this actually like in your code. You like paste like just like a just a placeholder. You’re like. OK, here’s the thing. I wanna test. Right. I wanna test this heading or I wanna test this thing and it actually uses AI. To write new. Like versions and automatically test them like dynamically replace them on your website and then. And then so maybe it’s testing three different variations, right? And then once it gets statistical? You know, conclusion that OK, this one is winning. Then it will take that and pass that back to the AI model to generate more options based on the the ones that you’re using to keep continually optimizing it. So I think that’s kind of like a A. A future thing that I could imagine that like every website, every marketing campaign and things like that, instead of like creating these variations yourself and running these tests yourself, that’s something that I could easily handle and continually optimize the text, continually optimize the layout of your website to get better and better. You know on its own.

That’s a great use case. Thanks for talking about AI. What you do, what you’re working on? This somebody wants to talk more AI with your anything else to do with your SAS products? What’s the best way?

Yeah, you can find me on Twitter. That’s where I’m real active, and that’s at ugly robot Dev. And Mom was talking about like what I’m building and experimenting with and things like that there. And of course, if you are interested in using AI for your business or training custom chat bots, then Doc spot, that’s DOCSBOT dot AI is is what I’m working on full time there.


Thanks Aaron.

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