Interview with Mike Jolley, Lead Developer – WooCommerce

    Tahseen Kazi
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Guess who is Mike?? Psst he’s the One with the Super Silky Hair 😛

Some people are all about multitasking and that’s their USP. Mike Jolley, he’s different! He can be best identified as a WordPress developer and that’s precisely what his website header reads. He’s good at what he does. No, wait! He’s brilliant. 😀 To his credit he has WP Job Manager – an extremely popular job listings plugin – which he built on his own time while working as a Lead Developer for WooCommerce.

At first I was met with a “may be later” email from Mike in reply to my interview request. Reason – He had some important news regarding WP Job Manager. The news turned out to be about Automattic acquiring WP Job Manager after which he kept his word and entertained my request.

(The last time I got a “may be later” email, it was from Mark Forrester. Soon after, WooThemes was acquired by Automattic. Note to myself – Next time I get such an email it probably means there is some ‘acquiring’ going on in the Automattic world 😛 )

Mike describes himself as a video games buff who also enjoys adventuring ruined castles and playing the guitar. Let’s learn from the experiences of this first time WordCamp speaker, WooCommerce Ninja and recently knighted Automattician with a lustrous mane  😉

mike-jolley-interview-1Tell us about yourself and how you got involved with WordPress

I first got involved with WordPress back in 2005 when I was freelancing. It started with my blog and then I recall my first freelance WP project being a custom “NFL Draft” plugin. It was pretty bad but, I got the job done. This was before custom post types existed so everything was custom.

I found the WordPress codebase very easy to understand and work with, though and it was fun. I loved to tinker with the platform. This got me interested in doing more plugin development.

My first public plugin was a mailing list plugin back in 2006. After that, I made Download Monitor which is actually still going today (It has now been adopted by Barry Kooij). The praise I received for releasing plugins on was very motivational.

Since then I’ve worked on several themes and plugins; Sidebar Login, Jobroller, FaultPress, SupportPress, WP Job Manager, WooCommerce and some other smaller things.

Along with  freelancing, I spent a year at an agency which mostly did client stores (in Magento, WP E-commerce, and Shopp plugin) and this is how I got involved with eCommerce. Today I’m the lead developer of WooCommerce at WooThemes/Automattic, and I’m enjoying my work.

mike-jolley-interview-2What got you started off with WP Job Manager?

I was basically looking to expand into a new niche since Download Monitor wasn’t really generating revenue (it was mainly donations). I wanted to build something businesses would need, and something that could be expanded via extensions. The decision to go freemium was made before I’d even started – it was tried and tested, and is a good way to disrupt competitors who use traditional premium models of selling software.

A few ideas floated around, but Job listings seemed like a logical choice because I’d worked on similar projects in the past. Also, it’s something many businesses will need to use at some point when hiring, and of course, many small businesses run their sites on WordPress.

Developing and maintaining WP Job Manager while working for WooThemes. How did you manage it all in a day’s work?

WooThemes was and still is my day job, so I’d hit the support queues in the evening (and early morning) for Job Manager. Development was mainly done during weekends.

That may sound unworkable, but to keep the project from being overwhelming I purposely stunted its growth during the early months. I did no marketing, started with a simple payment solution, and added features slowly and steadily based on user feedback. This meant working on features during weekends was manageable, and the levels of support never became a problem.

It was only after around 6 months in when natural growth started making things slightly more tricky to manage, so I eventually hired a few people to help support the products which thankfully was covered by the revenues.

mike-jolley-interview-5With Automattic acquiring WP Job Manager, will you still be associated with the plugin? If yes, how?

For the short term at least, I’ll continue to be a developer on the project and may steer direction. Over time and as more people take on the project I’ll likely step back allowing me to focus my time on WooCommerce which is still my main responsibility at Automattic. I think WP Job Manager is in safe hands.

Plugin Development, Marketing or Support. Which do you find the most challenging and why?

I find support the most challenging. Don’t get me wrong, I find solving customer problems fairly easy and rewarding. But you get negativity in support occasionally, and sometimes customization requests can become tedious.


How would you rank the following in order of importance and why? Users, Revenue, Popularity, Quality

“Quality” and “users” go hand in hand. If you’re improving quality, you’re improving user experience. That leads naturally to increased popularity and revenue as people talk about your work.

“Revenue” and “users” for me are equally important. It sounds noble to want to put users first, but the reality is without some form of revenue, a product is not going to be well supported or maintained which does users a disservice anyway. Developers cannot work for free sustainably. That’s why the freemium model works – paid users subsidize core development.

So I’d rank them; Quality > Users/Revenue > Popularity.

mike-jolley-interview-4A coding practice you swear by?

Sticking to coding standards. If developers look at your code and it is formatted poorly or lacks comments, they will not trust it and look elsewhere.

Your first reaction to a disgruntled customer.

“Have a refund”. If I get abuse in support, instaban – those types of users are never going to be happy so it’s best to just refund and avoid future confrontation.

A Mike Jolley advice for someone starting out with the development of a WordPress plugin?

Keep things simple. A lightweight plugin will be easier to maintain and support and should do its core purpose well. If you try to do too much in a short space of time, quality will suffer and the features you do include will likely be lower quality and less thought through. Try not to spread yourself too thin.

So that was Mike Jolley with his views on all things WordPress. The best part about this interview is that Mike has been absolutely frank from the start. Be it his first WordPress project, his Freemium business model or his views on supporting a plugin. If you breeze through the interview without much thought you might not make out much of it. But, just in case someday you get serious about kickstarting a business around WordPress you should read his answers again. They’ll make a lot of sense when you’re in his shoes, that I can guarantee you!

Thanks Mike for taking out the time and making this worthwhile for our readers.

That’s all from my end. Until the next time, Adios 🙂

P.S. – Just in case you are interested his presentation on ‘Selling Premium Plugins‘ is worth your time!

Tahseen Kazi

Tahseen Kazi

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