One of the mantras of WebOps is to “fail fast” and iterate. Alex Vasquez is a prime example of that lesson. His first foray into freelance WordPress development was a quick and decisive failure. But he bounced back and ultimately co-founded DigiSavvy, a web development and marketing agency that is entering its 10th year, and is a partner at Ignitiondeck, a WordPress crowdfunding plugin.
Not only is Alex ahead of the curve on the convergence of marketing and technology, he’s an active member of the WordPress community. He regularly dedicates his time and effort to share his knowledge and elevate all of us.
We recently spoke with Alex about the WordPress community, the perils of being your own boss, and the continuing evolution of web development.
How did you get started with WordPress?
I started learning about WordPress in 2008. At that point, it was just an extension of the web design hobby I was already into. But I started to get sucked into the WordPress community down in Orange County, California. I met a lot of really awesome folks, many of whom were working as freelancers or running their own shops doing WordPress-focused development.
So I thought, “Hey, I could probably do that too.” But I didn’t really give it a go until I was laid off from a job and decided I would try freelancing. And I failed hard. I crashed within three months. I wasn’t charging enough and I worked myself ragged.
But then I picked up a job doing WordPress development at a university, and I learned a lot there. You know, higher education is a lot like enterprise development, only with less of a budget.
Eventually, I was able to strike back out on my own, and now I have my own marketing and web development agency, Digital Savvy.
How do you compare running your own shop to working for an enterprise?
I was making good money—like, a six-figure income without a college degree. That was nice, but I hated what I did. It was just mind-numbingly boring. I make a lot less now than when I was working for a big company. And there’s definitely more stress that comes along with working for yourself. One thing most people don’t think of is there’s no one to bounce ideas off, to check your bad ideas and praise your good ones.
But, the freedom that I have now is really, really nice.
I feel like your experience as a combination web developer/marketer is uniquely relevant to the environment right now. These two disciplines are converging in unexpected ways. Where do you think this technology-driven marketing trend is headed?
I think at the heart of it, marketing is still about human interaction. There are more and more tools that let us connect with folks in a more intelligent way. There are all kinds of automation available, but it can’t be about just blasting people with information.
Ultimately, it’s about getting people the right information at the right time. It’s trying to give someone something they will find valuable, make it convenient for them to receive it, and then get them to take action.
I think technology, AI and machine learning, all this automation, will ultimately lead to even more relevance for people. Instead of blasting my whole email list with one piece of content, I can press ‘send’ and know only the 30 most engaged people, who really care about what I’m doing, are going to get that email.
I think this kind of structure for automation and personalization is something we need to plan for upfront in the solutions we’re building for clients.
Is there a dream project you would love to work on?
A few years ago, a friend of mine did a nonprofit hackathon, where we connected volunteers with nonprofits, and they spent a weekend building out sites and projects. That was really neat and very satisfying. So, my dream project would be something similar: get a lot of my talented and smart friends—not just developers, but people with a variety of experiences—in a room together, and put a problem in front of them to solve.
You could have production people, project management people, copywriters, designers, developers, all working on some kind of social problem. It would start with a “What If?” Like, “What if we could solve homelessness?” And use all that diverse expertise, with support in place from local government, to solve some aspect of a really, really big problem. That would be amazing.
What did you learn through your experience failing, then ultimately succeeding, at entrepreneurship?
I think the biggest lesson is learning how to value yourself. It’s a trap that lots of folks get into, to think the only value you bring is the thing itself—the website or project or whatever deliverable you have.
You have to understand the value that you bring, your experience, and your know-how. Because a website isn’t a finished product; it’s more like getting someone to the starting line, so they can run the marathon. It’s more than a site; it’s a solution. It’s something that enables people to conduct business.
So, don’t undervalue your experience, your knowledge base, and your development skills. Don’t sell websites as a commodity and try to deliver the cheapest ones. That’s the key.
What draws you to the WordPress community?
It’s really the camaraderie you get, more than anything. A WordCamp is almost like a family dinner, like Thanksgiving. It’s a time you can get together with friends you only ever see online, and it’s a chance to get some in-person talk in and see how they’re doing.
I think the one thing that sets it apart from other communities is the ability to really have ownership of it. People put themselves into it, they give back. I’ve seen so many people who start out knowing nothing about WordPress and join the community, and then you get to watch them grow. They start adding, putting themselves into the community, giving something back that benefits everyone.
I’ve been doing a meetup in Pasadena for nine years now, and we’ve had the same people coming for the entire time. I’ve watched them start speaking at events, sharing their knowledge, and helping people who are just starting out. It’s just an amazing spirit of cooperation. That’s what keeps me involved.
Alex, we appreciate you. Thanks for being involved in the Heroes program.
Well, thanks to you folks, too. I’m a big believer in not just the platform that Pantheon provides, but also how it views itself within the community. You all respect the importance of the community. It’s a very personal choice to be involved with Pantheon and to endorse it. Even if the Hero program didn’t exist, I would still be a big-time fan of Pantheon, and I’ll tell that to anyone who will listen.
Read stories from more of our heroes:
Carl Alexander, WordPress Expert & DevOps Consultant
Michele Butcher-Jones, Founder of Can’t Speak Geek
James Tryon, Easily Amused Co-Founder and Wapuu Wrangler
Do you have what it takes to be a Pantheon Hero, or do you know someone who does? Check out our announcement post to learn more.