Matt Cromwell is the founder and CEO of Kinsta, a managed WordPress hosting provider. He has been in the web hosting industry for over 10 years and has a wealth of experience in the field. In this interview, we discuss his journey to founding Kinsta, the challenges he faced, and his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. We also discuss the future of Kinsta and the WordPress hosting industry.
You can find him on Twitter as well. This is our recent interview with him, as part of our Kinsta Kingpin series.
Q1: What is your background, and how did you first get involved in WordPress?
I have degrees in Music Education, Theology, and U.S. Religious History. I’ve always been drawn to education and lifelong learning particularly with others. I ended up doing a lot with WordPress in a way that many others did as well: Church. Being a young guy in a faith-based nonprofit meant that when the church decided they needed a website they looked to me. I taught myself HTML/CSS in the late 90’s and was addicted to CSS Zen Garden and A List Apart.
Then I stumbled on this thing everyone was raving about: Kubrick. I thought it was gorgeous but it was built on this weird thing called WordPress. So I dug into that. From there pretty much anywhere I lived or worked I ended up helping out with websites.
But it wasn’t until 2011 that I started thinking I could generate some income building websites. My friend Adam McLane needed some help with his clients and I decided to build sites full-time. Since then, I got involved with the AdvancedWP Facebook group, was first hired at FooPlugin as Support Guru, then moved into my current role as Head of Support and Community Wrangler at WordImpress.
Q2: How is WordImpress different from other plugin/theme shops?
We try to hit just the right balance of having all the right elements in our products and services. Some shops are really good at coding, but severely lack support and/or marketing. Those shops end up being excellent products that very few people actually use or know about. Other shops are all marketing built on cheap labor. Those are products that are everywhere but don’t necessarily code the “WordPress Way”, or are buggy or just plain bad.
For us, we try to have top quality code that is very well supported and we brand it and market it really well. A mix of all the important parts. But everyone says “top quality code”. For us we know it’s good code because we get validated on that through the broader WordPress community, through our customers via support, through our 85 5-star reviews for Give. That’s why all the things matter. It’s like a checks and balances system. Support is the feedback loop for the quality of the code. Marketing is easier when the product is actually good. Our marketing looks shallow and fake if our support is lacking.
Some shops might know this intuitively, but I think we know it through our experience and our dedication on making that a reality in all that we do.
Q3: How did the Give plugin come about?
Devin Walker — Founder and Lead Developer of WordImpress — and I both worked a lot as freelancers for non-profit institutions before working together at WordImpress. He and I both knew that online donations in WordPress were a real headache. You don’t want a cart system for donation like what WooCommerce and EDD can provide. You also don’t just want a form that doesn’t allow you to manage your donors robustly.
Shortly after I came on, Devin and I said: “Let’s solve a really big problem in WordPress” and agreed on online donations. We also wanted to solidify our product development methodology on a big product. So Give became our flagship product very quickly, and it also became the roadmap that we use for all our new product releases and how we evaluate the success or failure of a product release.
Q4: What is Advanced WordPress all about?
The AdvancedWP Facebook group started as the brain-child of Michael Bastos — a local full-stack developer here in San Diego. He knew there was a nucleus of highly-skilled WordPress developers in San Diego (and everywhere really) that needed a place to “talk shop” and benefit each other. He kicked off our local Meetup by calling it AdvancedWP and created the Facebook group to be a 24/7 public space for that group of people (note that the group is no longer “public” though). I have a detailed history of the group here.
Q5: What do you look for in a managed WordPress hosting company?
Full Disclosure: We are the WordPress Community Consultants for Media Temple which has its own managed WordPress product.
My mantra with hosting — whether managed or not — is that it should be invisible. Hosting should be doing it’s 24/7 job for you without you ever having to think about it at all.
With managed hosting, many developers are looking for a couple main priorities:
- The ability to spin up a new site quickly
- Speed and Security
- Staging environment
Those are my main concerns as well. For all the hubub around “managed WordPress hosting” nowadays, the needs of agencies and freelancers remains fairly known and straight-forward. Of course, what makes a host excellent though is not only delivering on those needs really well, but when there is a hiccup that makes hosting visible suddenly — the host can step in immediately, professionally, and resolve the issue and quickly become invisible again.
Q6: What’s one area WordPress could improve, and how?
I honestly don’t fret over how WordPress can improve too much. Sure, I’d love to see WordPress ditch backwards compatibility to make Core the fastest, leanest thing on the planet. Sure, I think the REST API and Fields API are musts that needed to happen years ago. But at the end of the day, WordPress drives this economy not because of these Core features but because of the gigantic community surrounding this project. For me, the improvements that matter the most are not in the Code, but in improving relations and that feedback loop between Automattic, the Core Team, and the Foundation.
Q7: What’s the WordPress community in San Diego like?
I love San Diego and this WordPress community. We’re all friends here, we love to hang out and talk shop and learn from each other. Because I’m the lead organizer of our Meetup now, I do some comparisons of our local community against others. Have you seen Lahore’s Meetup numbers!? Do you know that Austin has SEVEN Meetups!? Obviously, no matter how many influencers and market leaders we do have in San Diego, there’s always room for growth and improvement.
So for now, I’m focused primarily on enhancing and growing our local Meetup with some new blood. We’re just starting to get some good momentum there and I’m really expecting great things for our San Diego community in 2016.
Q8: In your opinion, how has the general WordPress community changed over the years?
It’s grown exponentially. It’s become truly global. But it’s also gotten a little more fractured. The success of WordPress as an Open Source project and community has propelled it to every place where there’s internet. It’s really staggering to see what’s going on with WordPress around the world — I absolutely love it!
But I alluded to the rift between the community and the leadership earlier. To me, it’s a real concern. The REST API “drama” is just the latest reflection of this disconnect. Developers LOVE WordPress and are physically and financially invested in its future. So when they say “We need a REST API” it’s because they LOVE WordPress. But when that feedback gets pushed back with very little explanation the rift widens.
Personally, I believe when Matt Mullenweg said that the REST API (read our REST API basics article here) needs to do all the things that wp-admin does in order to be ready, he said that for the good of the project. But I don’t understand why that’s good for the project — I don’t think anyone else does really either. If that is the case, I’d love Mullenweg to make his case perfectly clear. Some might still disagree with that, but at least, they’d understand, and understanding reduces the rift rather than widens it.
Q9: What’s your main business goal for 2016?
You mean I have to choose ONE? We’re planning on serious growth this year. For me personally, that means expanding my Support team, and it means a lot of my ideological positions and experiences with Support have to start scaling with a team. So, my goal is to really buckle down and grow this Support team in a way that is excellent, and that scales with our products.
Q10: Who should we consider interviewing next and why?
Mason James of Valet.io. Mason has built an amazing team of high-quality WordPress developers and problem solvers. He has such a high rate of employee satisfaction, and client satisfaction — it’s really impressive. He also leads philosophically. He’s very committed to a flat leadership structure and solving his client problems with an agile approach. And he executes on all of that. Definitely, interview Mason James.
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