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My recent discovery of WordPress – #031

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Today we hear from Leo Mindel.

Leo has been working with technology and the internet since the early days, long before WordPress existed. During that time he’s experimented with multiple content management systems, some of them still exist, but many fell by the wayside.

Leo’s area of expertise is working with sports brands and governing bodies. Creating web solutions for them, solutions that work at scale and are always available. He works with some of the biggest names in the business and his current company Sotic work with some household names.

The journey, as you will hear, has not always been smooth, there have been many problems along the way. Trouble with the press, changing CMSs and personal bereavement. It’s a really interesting chat, touching on many topics.

We do touch on the topic of bereavement, and so this is a trigger warning should you choose to listen to the episode.

Interviewed by Nathan Wrigley.

We hope you enjoy the show, please do subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. We’re always looking for feedback, if you have any thoughts or comments, please do reach out.

And remember… Together we can #PressForward

Featured on this podcast:

Leo Mindel

Leo Mindel

Director at digital sports agency Sotic. They have world class staff and brilliant clients.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Nathan Wrigley: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 31 of the PressForward podcast. I’m Nathan Wrigley, and I’d like to thank you for joining us here again. And if this is your first time with us, well, I hope that you like it and that you find it useful. We’d love it if you added us to your list of podcasts, the ones that you consume regularly. You can do that by subscribing to us on your favorite podcast player. Go to WP and aap.org forward slash podcast dash feed. Today we’re going to be talking to Leo Mindel, but before that, let me tell you a little bit about why we’re making this podcast. The PressForward podcast is created by WP and UP. If you’ve heard this podcast before, then you’ll know all about their mission. But if you’re new around here, then let me explain. A little WP and UP are a nonprofit working in the WordPress space, they’re here to provide support and mentorship to anyone who feels that they may need it. The confines of that support. Oh, why didn’t you might expect. Along with supporting mental health related issues. You might not know who that WP and UP. Also tried to assist with other areas too. Broadly speaking, we have four health hubs, mental health, as I just mentioned, physical health, business, health and skills, health, but what does all that mean. Well, I think that the physical health is the most obvious, but what are business and skills health? Well, business is about supporting you and your business. You might be facing a new challenge with your business too much or maybe too little growth, working to create new processes. The list could be endless, but it’s likely that someone has been there before you and work through a similar problem and their mentorship might be just what you need to get yourself on the right path. Skills, health. It’s about the specific skills that you need to carry out your job. That could be a specific WordPress issue or finding out about how to keep up with the ever moving world of technology. At its core, it’s about sharing and linking you up with people who could support you at a time that you need it. Their support is free to use, but I’m sure that you’ll understand that WP and op have costs to bear. For that reason. We’re always on the lookout for people who are willing to donate to this important work. It doesn’t have to be a lot. We’ve been lucky to have supporters like WPM you, Devin, green geeks, but your donation would be most welcome to. If you’re able to help WP and UP, then please visit WP and aap.org forward slash. Donate. Thank you. The PressForward podcast is brought to you today by green geeks. Green geeks offers an awesome managed web hosting platform that’s built for speed, security, and scalability whilst being environmentally friendly. Enjoy a better web hosting experience for your WordPress website, backed by 24 seven expert support, and we thank green geeks for helping us to put on the PressForward podcast. So as I said, today we’re going to be hearing from Leo Mindel. Leo has been working with technology in the internet since the early days, long before WordPress even existed. During that time, he’s experimented with multiple content management systems. Some of them still exist, but many of them fell by the wayside. Leo’s area of expertise is working with sports brands and sports governing bodies, creating web solutions for them, solutions that work at scale and are always available. His company. Sotic work with some of the biggest names in the business. His journey, as you will hear, has not always been smooth. There have been many problems along the way. Trouble with the press changing CMSs and personal bereavement. It’s a really interesting chat though, touching on many topics and as I just said, we do touch on the topic of bereavement and so this is a trigger warning. So without further ado, here’s Leo Mindel.
Leo Mindel: [00:04:38] Hi, my name is Leo Mindel. I am the founder of a company, Sotic that I set up in 2002 we help large. Governing bodies and federations deliver their websites online. I actually got involved in the internet in around about 1995, when I used to work at a company called in Mac, who some of you may remember as the catalog company that used to put these catalogs through your door, selling you a computer spares and they wanted to go online. It was an interesting experience learning about these things back in 1995 this is pre all the things that we have nowadays, like even ISD. And it was then, it was just all dial up. and then around about 1997, I used to work at what for football club on match days. And they turn around to me one day and said, do you know how to make money out of this thing called the internet? And I went, as any entrepreneur does say yes. And then solve the problem afterwards. And that was to set up a company that sold the advertising sponsorship for a number of football clubs online. set that up in 97.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:05:44] So clearly Leo has been playing around with tech for many years, a variety of jobs and seeing the evolution of the internet from a technology which was barely usable due to the hardware required, as well as the speeds available to the super fast, always on web that we now have. I don’t know if you caught it, but Leo just said that he had a job at Watford football club on match days. That sounds like fun, but I wondered what kind of work that was.
Leo Mindel: [00:06:14] So from about the age of about 16 I used to work on a match day and ended up working from a match day, which is a very, very good way to get in for free. Well, you had no money. I then ended up working in the hospitality boxes and I used to get involved in the promotions that they used to do there, and so I got to know a lot of the people at the club or as I do a Saturday selling to the people that used to come to the game there, half time lottery tickets and their programs and all of those sorts of things. So around about 1996, I think it was, there was a thing called the Wharf of mailing lists, and this was a list of fans that could communicate to each other across the world. it was very new. there was about 130 people on it. I got involved. And like a, lots of other things that I ended up getting involved in. I ended up the person running it stepped away and I ended up taking over running it. I then approached the local newspapers and the local radio station to get them involved in this whole thing about the internet and. At the peak, there was just over a thousand people on there. all talking about the club and the club we’re using this as an Avenue to talk to the fans and really enjoying it. There is a bad side to this story where I’ll get to, but they were using it as a vehicle to talk to the fans. And then that was how I started get involved. In the meantime, what ended up happening, we had a manager at the time called a, you may remember him, Graham Taylor. He had a very bad experience with news and media. I am still a shareholder in the, in the football club, so I would a, I was able to attend the shareholders meetings and the shareholders meeting at Watford was a very private affair. Around about 600 people in a room or less, and the manager would normally tell a few stories that really weren’t for public consumption. One year he, at the shareholders meeting, he told a story about a player, how he followed this player on the what for during road and watched him meet two Mars bars. By the time he got to the . Needless to say, I’m sitting in the room listening to this story. There was also another member of the what for mailing list, listening to this story, and that member decided to post that story on the mailing list. As I’ve just said, we’ve hired, managed to get the local newspaper on and the local radio station, et cetera, et cetera. The no-call newspaper went live with that story Friday morning to say, as reported on the Watford mailing list, grey and Taylor says, this. Needless to say, the club went absolutely ballistic. And they said, who runs this thing called this? What for bailing list? A finger is pointed directly at me, and not surprisingly, I didn’t work for the club much longer. After that time, I basically got sacked for leaking news, which wasn’t fake for the next two years. Every time Graham Taylor did an interview with things he would always talk about, and I don’t want this going live on the internet and you can’t believe everything on the internet and all this sort of stuff, and. You ended up starting things that you didn’t mean or didn’t realize the the consequences are.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:09:22] So we rarely are going right back to the beginnings of the internet in terms of broad adoption. In 1997 the two universes of sport and internet collided for Leo, and he decided that this was the niche that he was most interested in. So he set up a company called LS sport to see if he could turn sport on the internet into a profitable company.
Leo Mindel: [00:09:47] Yes, it was LS sports. So it was set up with two business partners, Julian and John, and we were selling the advertising. On the internet too, to a club websites and governing bodies, websites. It was a great time. You know, we would have sales people that would say to people, well, you pay us for this much for a black and white advert and this much for a Colorado online, which obviously doesn’t really work, but their background of selling data, we would send to some football clubs for the proof of the advert. We would have to fax them the animated GIF. For them to see how their advert would look on their website or you look back at these times with bliss.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:10:31] Wow. The internet has certainly moved on a lot since those days. Faxing images for inspection almost seems like something that could never have happened and yet it did. And not that long ago either. I wanted to dwell a little longer on LS Sport and how it sold online advertising, given that we were faxing images. I’m guessing that selling ads was a very manual process back then.
Leo Mindel: [00:10:58] That’s absolutely the case. So we were using software, which is now things that people are familiar with, which is DoubleClick, but it wasn’t then. It was owned by another company before Google bought it, and you were literally selling people. The adverts, and these were in the days talk about 99 when everything was done on CPM rates. You are able to sit there and say, sell adverts £100 CPM, that’s a hundred pounds for a thousand impressions. I think you’ll be lucky to get. Less than pennies for that these days. And it was very, very successful. People are experiencing a new environment and they were thinking, this is a great business and this is a great world, and we’re talking to people we didn’t know you were dealing with the major agencies, the major sales agencies in London that’s selling them advertising for their clients to put on these very popular websites. And we worked in, at the time, we were working for virtually all of the football premiership. in one way or another, selling their adverts. So that came to an end from two things. The first thing that killed it was a sky NTL at the time of Granada decided that the TV rights were coming up and they wanted to control the clubs or control their voting. And so sky paid 40 million pounds to man United. A six similar figure, I believe it was to Chelsea. In fact, it was 40 million to Chelsea. Granada paid the same to arsenal and to Liverpool to run their websites. This is what they were paying to run their websites. I think it’s quite great. Yeah. All these big clubs went for 40 million and spurs went for, I think five and Westham for two and they all sold their rights to their website. I mean, the best one was, we were working for Chelsea at the time and they rang up and said, we’ve been offered 40 million from sky. Can you match it? Thank you. It’s really nice to know you guys. And that’s not where we’re going. They were taking over their website and they were taking over the commercial or the new media rights for the clubs, and they were called new media rights then because they were lining themselves up for the next round of the TV deals and, and where that would go. And it was a very rapid. Movement at that time, you know, by the time we got to about 2000 2001 the world was moving in a much faster price and there’s new media rights as they were called, were were a really important part for the clubs and governing bodies, or they were perceived to be an easy way to control and manage them. Was this at the time, there’s an interesting thing. That leads to the last bit that happened with that is that at the time there was a company called sports internet group. SIG SIG consisted of planet football. It consisted of a company called Opta that did stats and it consisted of a bookmaker called Surrey and sky decided to buy the whole SIG group for 330 million pounds. Out of that, they then then now owned half of the football premiership websites because the cause sports internet group built them. They owned up to the stats provider and the thing that they at the time thought was not going to happen was this thing called, sorry, bookmakers, sorry. Bookmakers is now a sky bet. So that turned into a massively profitable business. They sold off and closed down the whole of the football website business and the Opta parts. The stats collection, which you see on everything of collecting stats are brought to you by Opta. Eventually they sold out of, they sold that for 330 million. We then had a meeting in our office. Our office at the time was in new Kings road in Fullam. We had this company come in called sportle. Sportle came in and the chief executive sat in our office and told us that his IPO would be the biggest the internet has ever seen. On Friday, he got offered somewhere in the region of 350 million pounds and from France telecom. He turned it down that Friday, Sunday, that Sunday, bu.com went bust, and that was the dotcom bubble bursting. And seven days later, sportle followed. He set up some other businesses since and he’s done all right. The football clubs, they were then, the rights had been taken back off them, so we couldn’t sell those rights anymore. And. When you started talking to the agencies in London, the sales agencies who are selling or who are buying advertising space, they told you that, but the internet is broken. It’s not going to work because the.com bubble burst and you’re going yet, but people are still using it and they’re like, well, we don’t use it. It’s a classic misunderstanding of it. And, and if anything, that was why and how it was so easy for somebody like Google to walk in because that market got. Literally obliterated. Everything went from what was normally around about 10 or 12 pounds CPM price. That’s cost per thousand. We’re dropping down to a pound and you just couldn’t, it was just not worth it. You had to have volume and the only people have volume with the search engines, so they came in and we sat there and went, this business isn’t working anymore for us, and we were able to sell out of it.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:16:27] Rise and fall up and down. So we’re the fortunes of companies trying to figure out what the internet could be. In those years, a few businesses survived, but many did not. Leo suddenly found himself in an industry that was turned upside down. The profitability wiped out. He needed to pivot and figure out a new way to work online and new direction, and so he founded Sotic
At the time
Leo Mindel: [00:16:58] we were getting a lot of questions about how to do things. It really was the blind leading the blind on certain things. Same as how Watford had asked me how to make money on the internet. People were saying, how do we do things? And two things came out of that. The first one is that we were working for Celtic football club or they wanted to do a live broadcast. So nobody had done live broadcasts online yet. So we partnered with a number of companies, including Setanta to do a live stream of Celtic in the UAE for cup against June NSS, and it was the first live broadcast. The live broadcast went alive. Bear in mind, we’re talking about a good connection was a 56K modem. A number of people signed up. They were all supposedly watching it using real player. If you remember real player on windows media player, if anybody got to see that game, I’d be surprised. I think it was a, it was a Woodstock era sort of thing. You know, lots of people said they watched it, but you know, if you counted them all up, it was so hard to do anything at the time. To give you some figures, it costs us 10,000 pounds just to get the game taken out on satellite from the stadium. So in compare that to where we are today in doing the live broadcast that you do, the costs were just horrific. So that led to a number of conferences where I was talking about how we were doing live streaming and how we are doing this and where the world is going. And it was quite interesting. I remember at the time, standing there in front of a, a conference and saying. The mobile rights are going to be really interesting. Don’t think about your mobile phone as the delivery mechanism or the thing that you’d watch it on. Because at the time we were all on knockers with a tiny screen, but it will be transferred over that what’s actually ended up happening is that the screens have increased on their mobile phones, and now we’re watching the information on it. So I ended up at another conference and it’s that classic moment, and they said, well, can you save your PowerPoint presentation? So I sat there and I typed in sport on the internet. S O T I. And I went, Oh and I literally spent half of the time, guy, I need to get out of here cause I’ve got to register a domain name. I left the conference, rushed out sot eyes gone. So I put a C on there and consultancy and that’s how the name came out.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:19:22] So this all happened in 2002. I wanted to know if Sotic has been working primarily or exclusively with sports brands since then.
Leo Mindel: [00:19:35] Up until recently, I would say it’s been exclusively, we found that that was a niche market and we were the GoTo people to deliver on sport, so it was a really good way of doing it, and we were winning a lot of business at the time when there weren’t other competitors out there. Yeah, it was all. Different areas to deliver online. One of the brands that I set up was match day live, so match day live is actually another.com and they use that match day for every one of our naming of our brands and we ended up doing a lot of games, audio and video, but primarily audio for a number of football clubs.What then ended up happening is the football league decided to do a deal for all of the clubs together. Well, it’s called football league interactive. It had some other names along the way, where they brought all the rights for all the clubs together to market and monetize them in one place. So things that we had pioneered ended up being pulled into the football league interactive deal under the name premium TV, which is now a company called perform, which is now the brand that you may be familiar with, is designed, is the, trading brand, which buys a lot of rights. So we were delivering all of that, and that then pushed us out of football, pushed us into other markets, and we went, started doing a lot of work in rugby.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:20:55] During this time of very consistent growth, Leo managed to get the SoTech team up to 30 now, although this is a podcast which focuses upon the WordPress community, Leo had not yet discovered it. It was still very young, and adoption was just beginning. Instead, they made use of a wide variety of other systems.
Leo Mindel: [00:21:19] So when we started with a little C at the end of the name, we were consulting and we were working for all clubs and governing bodies and choosing the content management system for them to use. We were working with two or three at the time. Many of those have gone. To the walls wall. A lot of them are bespoke, and eventually we sat there and go, well, this doesn’t meet our club’s requirements or our client’s requirements. So we started having a look and we looked at a number of different content management systems. The one we ended up choosing was a product called red dots. Red.is a.net. Or then it was even, even then, it was a thing. It was just ASP. I don’t even think it was.net at the time, if you will, trying to compare it to where we are today. It’s based on a publishing environment, so it’s fits very similar to how people are familiar with headless CMS is now, but it was the idea that you create pages and you publish them and you publish out static pages. There were lots of clients using red dots. That are big, big, big names, including TFL, transport for London. We’re using air, the New York times. it’s a German company, so I had a big following in Germany and it was very good. It was very, very good at what it did. But being a publishing system, if you press publish and it wasn’t set up correctly, it could take 30 minutes for all the pages to sort songs out. yeah, it was perfectly serviceable. We, I wouldn’t say we had no problems. You, you always have issues with every content management system. And, and, and I found with a lot of these, it’s, you know, I, I do remember interviewing one guy for a job for world sailing. I was going to work internally for world sailing. And the question was, well, what content management system would you use? And his answer was, well, I built it all myself. Okay. I said, well, there’s a lot of people. I said, yeah, in two weeks I can build something better than WordPress. And you’re like, ah. Right. Okay. So the thing is, what what he means is he can build something that works for this little part of the problem, the bit that he perceives as the issue. And I think that’s the same with all content management systems. They start by by solving a problem that another product has. But they may not actually deal with all the heavy work behind. But what ended up happening is there was a lot of consolidation in the market and OpenText, which is a really large company, red dot had been sold to hummingbird and hummingbird thing got bought by open text and it became quiet. Obvious that open tech stoned a number of other content management systems. There’s some big names in there. Vignette is another one that they owned and it seemed that they were just interested in the licensing model and to continue paying for the licenses, which we were still paying a lot of money every year for the licenses and not massively improving the product. And we decided that after trying and trying and trying, we woke up one morning feeling we’re in the wrong place. And it’s not going forward. And that’s their issue.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:24:17] So the software they were using incurred significant license fees and had been bought and sold a number of times. Leo felt that the new custodians were not keeping it up to date, and so they started looking around for a more suitable CMS. Before we get into that, though, I wanted to know if moving to a new CMS was a simple thing or a more significant challenge.
Leo Mindel: [00:24:43] It is a significant challenge. And actually we still have two sites still running with it. it’s taken this long from when we started in 2015 to move off. It takes a long time because what you can do easily, what you can do without thinking the things that make you feel comfortable all suddenly are not there. So I give you a simple example for us to do. A redirect, redirect this page to this page, you know, is something that you can do. Without even thinking about it is now something that we can do without even thinking about on WordPress. But when you start doing these things and you suddenly realize you haven’t got all the tools that you used to doing to solve those problems, it adds a massive amount of stress. There’s other ways, and as I said before, that sometimes a content management system is built to solve a problem. Or to solve a particular problem, and it doesn’t take into account all the things that the old thing did really, really well, which you can get referred to as the hygiene factor. So the volume of sites, I think we’re up to about 45 sites, but our sites are quite large. So that’s the, that’s the big difference. You know, we will run sites with 200,000 pages on them and all of the content that relates to it, and it is complex. One of the big problems with sports. Well, the two big problems with sport. One is that it happens seven days a week, so the weekend is actually work days for our customers. You then come off or a heavy weekend and you can’t really put your feet up because somebody else’s is needing it, and we’re on permanent deadlines and deadlines that are immovable as of yet. I haven’t found a phone number to call the up the Olympics and ask them to move him back a week. Know that just doesn’t happen. So we sit there. When you launch a website and you try and try and test and test and test and something like the Olympics, the last Olympics being in Rio, it’s trying to, you know your, you’re doing everything you can. It’s got to be live for when this, when the sailing events happen and the sailing beds get moved and you’ve got to move everything. And when people look at it and go, Oh well it’s just, they’re just moving the a game from this day to this day. It’s like, yes, I know. If you, if they move a rugby game from a Saturday to a Monday because of weather or something or some other reasons, you’re ending up having to work both days, cause it just, you have to do it.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:27:06] So Leo needed a new CMS and there are certainly many to choose from. I wondered which other CMS is they had looked at as possible solutions to their problems.
Leo Mindel: [00:27:19] So the obvious one that we were courting and they were courting us was cycle because it had some similarities. It was a.net environment. It had a similar approaches to delivering pages, and it made some sense there. However, I fundamentally always had believed in, we were always a PHP house on the front, and it was just how we felt. And we looked at it and we looked at it and we looked at it and we were going, it just doesn’t make sense. Some of the stuff on there, we looked at some others at the time, but what ended up happening is a customer came to us who had a WordPress website and they had had a shocking experience. The site had been built. The site looks. Beautiful. It works. The minute any traffic hits it, the site’s in pieces. It just couldn’t cope. And we look to this and went, but it doesn’t have all the things in it that we will put in by default or the ways that we build sites. And so we approached it very, very different angle than most WordPress people built at the time. so we had always, and we have always published out pages on WordPress. So nobody actually hits the backend of our WordPress websites. They’re always, now, it’s all called headless and it’s called jam stack. But that’s how we started. That’s how we built our very first WordPress website from the get go, because we needed to do high load and we started looking at this and when this tool works for our customers. The editor looks nice, they feel comfortable. There’s a lot of high turnover of employees in sport. People will come out of university, get a job in the press department or at a sports club, governing body, mature in there, and then go on to a bigger career somewhere else. So you’ve always got this high turnover of people coming in to that environment, and when you present them with WordPress, they’re going. Oh, is what I did my college blog on. No, this is what I did, this, that. And they said they really happy with it. And that has paid evidence for us.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:29:25] So the move to WordPress felt like a good fit. Sotic, we’re able to use the platform in their own unique way, and their clients were familiar and happy with the WordPress editing experience. It sounds like a match made in heaven. Perhaps they are now using WordPress as their platform of choice for all new projects.
Leo Mindel: [00:29:47] Yeah. We stopped being an open text partner about three years ago. It come to the end of the natural progression for us. The sites that are on it are just on our on migration mode at the moment. They’re going through at the moment, and it’s just been timing of the client and yeah, it was just moving forward and it’s. Legacy with anything. Technology. Legacy is the thing that, yeah, as you, as you well know, the minute you build it yesterday, it’s, it’s legacy today, but we particularly found that some of this stuff is, it was time to replace it, and there’s new ways of doing things that didn’t exist. What ended up happening. I mean, you know, an example I always give, is about climbing and they always tell you if you ever do climbing that you should ever move, remove more than one limb from the wall. You know, it should, you should only ever remove one limb from the wall, one leg, you never, never, never. Two. And taking that analogy forward, obviously we decided to move to WordPress. We decided to stop hosting the. Ourselves. We had our own platform. We had a number of racks in the data center. We decided to move to cloud. We also decided it was time to move offices and we moved our team from London to Cardiff. All of this happened at the same time, and it wasn’t intentional in a way, but some of it actually looking back had to happen together. So we found that our old platform, our legacy platform, just didn’t work very well with WordPress. It wasn’t structured in the right format. It wasn’t powered in the right way and it was much easier to move to AWS and to or to the cloud. And to start deploying that way. Whoa. Did we find some, some things that they told you you could do that you can’t do? That there’s a whole, we could spend an hour talking about things like Cuban Etix and why they may work for enormous companies, but for the rest of the mere mortals, they don’t. And we ended up moving, it turned out them the move and the migration to Cardiff wasn’t necessarily intentional. But we were finding as we were bringing on new people with the skills in WordPress, that as people were leaving with the old skills we were in bringing in new people with the new skills, and we were just bringing them in in Cardiff,
Nathan Wrigley: [00:32:07] WordPress has been around for a little over 15 years now, and during that time, it has experienced incredible growth with even greater growth to come in the future. I was curious as to whether the perceived permanence of WordPress was one of the key reasons for choosing WordPress over other rivals. CMS
Leo Mindel: [00:32:26] says, well, that’s a really good question that I sometimes get asked by some of the managers in the company, and my feeling is there’s never ever permanency in anything. I believe. Permanently at the moment. I believe at the moment that we’re presses the best thing that we can have. Why their WordPress will be the best thing in five years time, 10 years time. I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s likely that if something comes along to replace WordPress, the first tool that they will build for the migration will be from WordPress. So if you think about it on your mobile phone now, you may move between Android and iPhone. Now that you are an Android or an iPhone, you probably will never sit there and reenter your contacts again like you used to do every time you change phone five years ago or 10 years ago, because the migration tools are there between it and you will always just. Keep migrating your contacts and migrating your email. That pain level has gone, so it makes it very easy to migrate forward. And I have an iPhone and when I have unfortunately broken it and gone into the Apple store and they’ve given me a new one, a new way to about an hour and a half, and then it’s back where you were before you broke it. That’s the world that we’re in now. So it’s the 2015 I had a number of personal things that happened around about the same time. unfortunately my mother passed away from cancer, and it was one of those times where you just said, you looked at some of these things and go, would this just isn’t working? We used to sit there. We’ve always been very proud of our level of support for our customers. We’ve always been really proud that we are communicative and that we are there and that if a customer puts in what we call a task a, now it’s a ticket, but it was then a task into there. We would answer it as quickly as possible. But you sat there and we were doing the analysis all the time. That says the task called, I have a publishing problem. Or something related was just literally more and more, more. And even though you were sitting there going, are soft go, but we’re answering our tasks really quickly. You’re going, yeah, but that means that the customer is fed up with us. Cause they’re actually are raising it by the time they’ve raised the task. They’re already fed up. And then you get a couple of comments from customers of like, this thing does not do what they’re expecting it to do. And that really was the moment that we went, we can’t use this system anymore. We need to move. And we chose WordPress.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:35:01] Thus far in the conversation. We’ve chatted about the technology mostly, but I wanted to pivot the conversation over to more personal matters. Prior to recording podcast episodes, the guests and I exchange notes. And from that I get a hint about some of the other topics that they want to talk about. In Leo’s case, it was about some personal bereavements.
Leo Mindel: [00:35:26] So. My mother had breast cancer about five years before she passed away, and then she then had leukemia as a secondary, and that lasted, it was about 18 months, and it was. The thing that I’ve now realized about cancer, when people tell you that they are cancer free or they’re this, that and the other, they put it on pause. And sometimes that pause literally can last a few weeks because there doesn’t seem to be, I’m sure there is with certain ones, but with others it’s like you’re just putting on pause and it almost gives you hope for the briefest of times and it was very stressful. I grew up in a family where my mother was very, very heavily involved with my children. She would pick them up from school. She would, although she lived, my parents lived in Spain, but when they were over, they were stay with her a lot. They would stay a lot. They would spend holidays with them. It was a very much a part of the family environment and. It really hit. My son had just gone to university. He was in his first year at university. It hits us all fight badly because when we going through, you know, as I said, we had started to go through this process. We’d already been thinking about this process. We started going through this process of the change. You want to come away from work to relax, and then you are thrown into this. You say your spare time is taken up by. Something that’s is almost as stressful as work. And that’s not not intentional. And actually one of the wonderful things about my mother, she, she, she never complained about any of it, and she wasn’t one of these people who sat there and was negative. She ended up in one of the hospitals in London, and she used to say she, she had the best view of the whole, of the whole of London from Mike, the 19th floor. But it wasn’t a great reason to be there. You know, she, she’d watch the sunrise at five in the morning across London, and it does add stress. And, and you realize that a lot of these things are all happening at once. You don’t at the time realize this, but you’re just sitting there realizing these are all happening. So she passed away. We then went through or this migration, and then in 2016 we had just migrated. It’s just how things happen. You end up having to migrate a certain amount of sites. And as I said to you, working in sports. Yeah. The season starts and when the season started in the 2016 17 season, we had migrated a number of clubs and two governing bodies all starting at the same time. In September. I had booked to go on holiday a year before to the most magical place in the world in America, which gives no names, but I’m sure you know where I mean, we were going on holiday there. The best bit of that holiday was normally around about, if I get it right, about six o’clock in the evening, the U S time when everybody in the UK was asleep, because up until that point, I spent the whole of that holiday on the phone. Every weekend and as, as a, as you know, sport is at weekends with things just not working. In hindsight, they weren’t working because they were massively broken. It was just back to that bit that we talked about before that we just didn’t know how to do things that we used to know how to do to fix things in seconds. And as we’re a very responsive company and as we talk to our customers and our customers have always, always, always expected a response, pretty much. 24 seven within 30 seconds when you can’t meet, they’re the targets you make. You become very stressed. And so we were sitting there. You know, I was getting calls from chief executives of clubs calling me when I’m on holiday, and it all became very, very stressed that it was hard. What can I say? It’s very hard. You know, you’re making this decision and you know that it’s the right decision long term, you know it’s going to play out, you know, things are going to work, and in the most cases it did. Unfortunately, the migration cost us around about five out of about 35 clients, massive chunk, and it costs us some friendships. and that’s really hard. You know, people that I’ve known. Yeah. So tic has never been a company that wins a client, and at the end of that relationship, or they end that contract, says goodbye. We genuinely renew contracts three to four times minimum, you know. So most of our clients have been with us. About 80% of our clients have been with us over 10 years. Yeah, we were very, very loyal clients because we do what they ask. We knew we had to do this migration, but it was pain and yes, probably we didn’t know enough about how to do stuff on WordPress press at the time, and also things that we were very good at. Have become commoditized. Things like CDNs and you know, we’ve been using CDNs for 10 years. Most people have just pressed a tick button in the annual dashboard and the CDN gets turned on. You know, having to do all of these things and knowing what they all mean. We know what they all Maine, and how they work is a big difference. But our clients had always bought into our services because we could do that. That costs us a lot.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:40:46] I wondered if despite the fact that Leo had worked very hard to get Soticed to where it was, if he’d ever had moments where he just wanted to walk away to throw the towel in and do something else.
Leo Mindel: [00:41:02] yeah, absolutely. I know that I am somebody who wants to get things done and who is very proactive in communication. whether you can turn that round this out, I talk too much or that I get involved in things that I shouldn’t get involved in. that’s true. I got to the point with all of these things and, and I are still also. On, outside of this, just because obviously I had no spare time. You know, I need to fill my time, as you can probably imagine. I took over running a Cub scout group. I then ended up being the district commissioner for the area, which culminated in taking over 300 to Switzerland. for our ANOVA, our Centene route, we’d never done anything like that before. And I, you know, I was doing all these things. I also ended up being, the vice chair of our residents association is apt for today, managed to get 2 million pounds after then, London mayor, who’s. You may have heard of, I think his name is called Boris. I’ve got 2 million pounds out of Boris with the chair to rejuvenate the local area, and we now have, our center of our shops is a treeline Boulevard, and we went from somewhere around about 60% shop Hopkins C to 95% of our shops are occupied. So it’s a massive change around. So I’m doing all of these, these things in the limited spare time that I have in looking back, I crashed. I crashed. Maybe not physically, maybe not outwardly perceived, but you know, if you talk to my wife, she’ll say that it just was spent. I spent, I was just, I was absolutely that holiday going to the, the most wonderful place in the world. And I was, I was out on my feet. I just couldn’t enjoy something. I just couldn’t react. One of the other managers in the company used to refer to the fact that he would say that I’m the, the boy with a finger in the dike and that on the Saturday it will be me sticking my finger in. And while that was really good, in a way, and maybe I am proactive, you end up realizing you by assisting, you’re not, you’re not enabling other people to be able to. work to their full potential. And as I think you may be aware, Nathan, this wasn’t the bottom of the roller coaster. and that’s still to come. And you know, I was realizing I was just working too hard and that we need to step back. And then. In 2017 myself and John, my business partner, we decided to bring in some people to give us some advice about where we’re going and how hard we’re working in. You know, John was doing know, was working just as hard as I was. The net result of that. Meeting was that we did some analysis of the people in the company and how we were and we decided to appoint two of the other managers as directors and to spread the load to, there’ll be four of us as directors. So we put this all in place and we’re starting their process off, and we had to explain to them that they’re going to become directors, well explained, or are invited them to become that. And massively, massively fortunate. The two people involved, Kate on the operation side, and Lindsey on the marketing sales side are just brilliant people. You know, they’re really, really good, really, really enthusiastic and understood where and how to drive the business. So the plans were that the four of us would go forward and that was what we were going to do. Late 2017 John was coming home and he hadn’t got his keys on him, and he put a ladder up by the side of the house. He went through the window and the whole window window frame, the whole of that part of the house fell away with him on it, and he landed and was killed. So in 2017 after just going through all of the stuff that I said to you about the migrations and all this, that and the other. I get a phone call to tell me that my business partners died. You know, just lying on the floor. I was just lying on the floor gang. You know what? Yeah. It’s just another thing that’s happened that was basically just over two years ago. so how did I pick myself up? As I say, fortunately, the best decision that John and I had made to appoint Lindsey and Kate. We let the public area settled down and then we announced that the two of them were taking over. We changed it so that Kate became the operations director and she is running the day to day business and she’s dealing with the structure and a lot of the processes and practices that John and I had thought about or it started the thoughts about in conjunction with the other managers. She has taken and either kept the ones that made sense or improved or found better processes to deliver. And that’s been key because we are now building websites. And solutions, which are a million times better than we were in the past. On the other side, on Lindsey, she’s taken on all the responsibility for the marketing and the sales and has changed our brand dramatically. She’s changed our brand beyond recognition and, really, really happy with that. And it’s, it’s made a big difference. So I’ve talked about the fact that that happened, and I talked about earlier about how we were migrating. We also just after this has happened, one of the last other decisions John and I had made was that we were going to close down our London office as when you were talking, you asked me about whether I thought WordPress was the thing for the future. I think the same happens about where you are located geographically. Things move, things change. We took on one employee in Cardiff about 10 years ago. From there we’re slowly grown. We had ended up with an office in there. What was then the millennium stadium. We were box 17 that was our office, which has great, great view on some days of the week. It wasn’t a great view in a, I think it was Madonna came into concert cause they kicked us out and we were finding that we were sitting in a university town. Our office is now based. About 300 yards from the universities, a student union bar, and all these people literally walking past our door are students who want to work in our industry and who are interested in sports. It has turned into a great opportunity. So we made that move there. And that with the change to the new directors has completely changed. And sitting there last week at our company Christmas party, you know, the view in the buzz in the staff and how things are happening is great. And what’s even better from my own perspective is, is not reliant on me. I’m not saying it ever was. But you know, you feel that you’re actually not needing to be the center of every single thing that happens and that decisions are being made by people who are really good decisions are being made by people who are younger and have got some more enthusiastic ways of doing things. And that really works out well. And that’s where it has been brilliant.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:48:34] That was a lot. Many overlapping pressures and sat events happening in such a short space of time. This led me to ask Leo what support mechanisms he has in place or discovered, which could act as a support a crutch during this testing time.
Leo Mindel: [00:48:56] Unfortunately, no, and I say unfortunately, no, because actually it’s something that I recognized a number of times I should have, and I think that it isn’t a pride issue. it isn’t something cause I’m not one of these people who believes that, Oh, you have to step up a lift and get through it. I don’t believe that, but I didn’t and I regret not doing it. I think it would have been a lot better for me if I had, I think that if you break your leg tomorrow. Then everybody expects you to be walking around with a crutch on or with a, with a brace on and walking with crutches because it’s expected. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think with mental health, we get this stigma that feels like you shouldn’t be asking for help. And I think it’s wrong. I think the world we’re in. The experiences we have, the fact that we are running a a thousand miles an hour, even when we’re turned off, it’s a different world. I think one of the things that I ended up doing, and I have done and I’ve stayed doing, I will not take my phone upstairs at nighttime. I don’t have it by the side of my bed. There are exceptions when I’m traveling or when I’m, when my wife’s away, but genuinely I stay away from that because I was finding with our old platform, I was literally sitting there checking my phone at four in the morning. I was waking up to go and check something because I was just panicking all the time. And you realize that the stress level that you’re getting to, you know, and if I had hair, it will be as great as yours. .
Nathan Wrigley: [00:50:26] So in 2018 Leo decided that he wanted to take a more active part in the WordPress community, and I wanted to hear all about that.
Leo Mindel: [00:50:38] A long time ago, I used to chair one of Microsoft’s user groups for messaging WhatsApp. Now we would refer to exchange. It was then called ms mail. So I’ve always been an advocate for getting involved in those sort of things. But. I wasn’t really involved as my guys were doing all the stuff with WordPress. I also was the UK contact for the, for the red dot user group as well. So I was involved in that. So in around 2017 2018 I can’t remember exactly when I start. I went to a couple of web press, London meetups. Never been before that. I met this quiet six foot five guy called damn Alby. I’m looking at this and thinking, I’m really interested in what everybody’s talking about. Everybody seems to be in the same boat that they’re trying to do various things with this technology and making it happen. I offered to Dan, I said, Oh, my background’s also been involved in things like live streaming. Do you want some help? Have no clue if I could have done it. And he goes, yeah, you can start live streaming. And as of next meetup. What? Okay. So I ended up helping Dan with that, and then he was talking about WordCamp London for 2019 and I said, well, I don’t mind. I’ll just do the help out with the streaming there. And I got involved. I had not been involved in the time before, and all of a sudden I was down as a organizer for WordCamp London for 2019 which was the first word camp. I actually went to. So I started as an organizer or an assistant organizer. I think, let’s put this into perspective. There are two brilliant organizers for WordCamp London, which is Dan and Babs. I think the rest of us just are there to make the excellent, even better. And I got involved in help town. So I helped out on the live streaming of that, helped out on the video editing and met all these people of which some people turn out to me and said, but you’ve met X, Y, Zed, and they’re really important in the word press community and you don’t realize it. And I went. Yeah. And didn’t really realize because to me, they just were other people wearing different color tee shirts on a, you know, on a Saturday when they could be sitting there relaxing. So I met all these people and then I started talking to various people about what we do and how we do it. And there’s a lot of interest in some of the stuff that we do because we’re doing quite high profile sites and really, really enjoyed it. I think it’s been said by many people before, so I can’t coin this as a phrase of mine, but you know, you, we definitely started for the technology and we stayed for the community in exactly. That was the case. from there, after having a great time at London, I then S, Dan said, are you going to Europe? No. Okay. Yes, I am now. This is the flight number and this is the, this is the hotel. And I came to Europe and met a lot of really nice people and yourself. I was hanging out. Dan suddenly pulled out of a suitcase, a whole load of podcast equipment, of which we were sitting in a bar and I think he threw it all at you. And it’s like make it work and you’re sitting there going, I need somebody to talk into this microphone. So I started talking to this microphone. I have no idea why. I don’t even think any of it ever got recorded. And met all of these people and I met a lot of the other agency owners at WordCamp in Europe and really enjoyed it and really found that while everybody’s on a different part of their journey and everybody’s of a different age and a different experience, there is a comradery, which I had also found very similar to when, my time involved in scouting, where actually the objective that everybody has got very similar objective. What I found. With WordPress is that although some of these people are my competitors. Reality is the competitors are people who are building sites on other environments, and I’m very happy to help out with other people who are trying to do something and move things forward because ultimately my feeling is that benefits all of us. If we make the product better, we make the experience of our customers better than it works for all of us. From Europe. I went to Brighton, Brighton. I was down as an attendee, which got upgraded. I think it’s a free upgrade to volunteer. so as down, as I said, I help out as a volunteer, and before you know it, I was assisting Sarah and she was down to doing all the live streaming and the recording, and I ended up. Doing all the help for her, for all of the videoing of Brighton. And the next one I was down to do is, is Dublin Dublin. I have a number of clients in Dublin and in Ireland, and I went from, again, supposedly downers, attending, volunteering to then effectively indirectly doing all the live stream or the streaming of that and the recording of that. In fact, I streamed. And recorded every single talk in one of the rooms by one, and that was the one I was in. I, if I remember rightly, Nathan, I brought you in, live into the room, into, into Dublin.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:56:09] One of the purposes. The PressForward podcast is to lift the lid on topics that don’t get talked about often enough to allow people to share their stories so that others might listen, and by listening, they may gain an understanding that they’re not alone. There are other people out there who have been faced with the same situations that you are facing. They have found a way through and can offer support to you on your journey. Maybe that person is already in your life, but they might not be. And that’s what WP and UP is here for to connect you with the support that you need. So if you are able to please help us so that we can continue to support the WordPress community, you can [email protected] forward slash. Donate. The PressForward podcast is brought to you today by green geeks. Green geeks offers a specially engineered platform that gives WordPress users web hosting that is designed to be the fastest, most secure and scalable hosting available in multiple data centers. Their WordPress hosting makes deploying and managing WordPress websites easy with automatic one click install managed updates, real time security protection, SSD raid 10 storage arrays, power casher and expert support 24 seven. To make for the best web hosting experience, and we thank green geeks for helping us to put on the PressForward podcast. okay. That’s it for this week. Please let us know if you’re enjoying this podcast. Perhaps you’re finding it useful or helpful. You can reach out to us at wp and up.org forward slash contact. There’s a serious point to all of this though, and that is that WP and UP is here to provide help and support that help is available to you or people you know and can be easily [email protected] website. Please spread the word about this podcast. Tell your friends and subscribe on your favorite podcast player and remember that together we can hashtag. PressForward.

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