It’s time for another interview in our series, this time we have Amir Helzer with us. Amir is the founder of WPML, one of the very best Multilingual plugins for WordPress. Amir has been working on WPML for a number of years now, and has built a team of 15 people who are involved with this project. In the interview, Amir tells us how he got started with WordPress, some tips for building a company around WP, and also introduces two new plugins, Types and Views.
As a bonus, Amir is offering our readers 4 copies of WPML and 4 copies of Views! All you have to do is:
- Share this post (Twitter/Facebook/Website etc.)
- Post a link to your share in the comments section below, also telling us which plugin you really want and why you need it.
The winners will be selected randomly from all the entries.
Thanks for joining us today Amir, please tell us a bit more about your background, how long you’ve been working with WordPress and about your current ventures.
I was late-starter in the WordPress game. Started on 2007 at the age of 35, after a 10 years career in chip development (quite a different field). Our first project, WPML, actually intended as a vehicle for getting translation work for our service, ICanLocalize – http://www.icanlocalize.com. Then, we realized that 99% of the people just want to use WPML without our translation services and are plenty happy to pay for a commercial-grade plugin, so our focus shifted there.
Our new projects are Types and Views (http://wp-types.com). Together, these make it easy for anyone who’s a non-coder to build complex websites with WordPress.
Being your own boss is certainly something many of us aspire to. You’ve not only managed to fork out on your own but also manage a remote workforce. Tell us more about how all this fell into place, and maybe some tips for people who want to follow this route.
It’s fun, challenging and rewarding, but not easy. It certainly wasn’t easy to get started and get to where we are today and we still have a long way to go.
To create my own business, I had to work two jobs. One for the ASIC company (designing VLSI chips). This was from 8am to 6pm. Then, there was the middle shift, with the kids. When they went to sleep, started my night job creating my own business. It took 2 years of work to reach state where I could say goodbye to the office and dedicate 100% of my time to the business.
We’re 15 people now, living on organic sales, profitable and happy – but this didn’t happen overnight.
In this line of work I get to interact with peers who are in similar situation. Turns out, it’s a pretty popular model these days. Many companies work in remove, live in Skype and email and manage just fine.
At the moment you’re looking for people to join your team. What qualities do you look for when adding new personnel, and how do you communicate with people from different locations and timezones?
We have a permanent “we’re hiring” page – http://wpml.org/home/were-hiring/ that produces a constant flow of CVs. I prefer to hire when we can and not when we need. When we receive outstanding applicants, we find a position for them, even if it’s not pressing right now.
It’s been working out great. When you build your team on the best people around, results follow. Of course, we’re looking for talented individuals, who can be independent and also cooperate in teams. We have no one-man projects. All projects are built with some sort of team. Sometimes it’s 2 people and sometimes it’s 6.
I think that much of the success of any business is being able to attract and identify those few special people to work with. Sorry, but I don’t have a formula for that. We can just call it intuition.
Your flagship plugin is WPML, how do you feel it compares to other products in the multilanguage niche? Was it created specifically for WordPress or ported from another existing system?
When we built WPML, we were inspired by Drupal’s i18n module. The basic architecture uses individual posts for different languages. This architecture has proven to be very solid. The most important feature is to make it easily compatible with other major plugins, like cache, SEO and more recently e-commerce.
Charging payment for the plugin puts it in a different category than free plugins. Some people see only the payment part but neglect to see the obligation that this creates on our side. When someone pays money, it creates a bind. You really have to go out of your way to make everyone happy. This means, maintaining a polished product, building a support mechanism, obsessing over usability and performance.
You can’t do all this with free plugins, so we’re talking about completely different things.
Here on WPMayor we’ve recently had some readers report that they used a multisite installation of WordPress to handle different languages, instead of using a plugin. What are the pros and cons of such an approach when compared to using a plugin like WPML?
That works fine until the time when the end-user tries to maintain content. The web developer gets the feeling that all is done when he delivers a site with a home page, contact and a couple other placeholders. Then, the client needs to maintain several different sites in several languages.
For this reason, WPML includes a ‘Translation Management’ module. The sole purpose of this module is to help users maintain translations. This is one of the more popular modules in our CMS package.
For example, site admins can translate from within WordPress or send translation jobs as XLIFF files to external translation services. It’s an integrated translation workflow that isn’t possible with multiple WordPress installs or multisite.
You’ve recently created two other plugins, Views and Types. Before we talk about them, what are the secrets for identifying a good niche in the WordPress plugin market? There are so many plugins available, and sometimes it’s hard for new developers to deduce what are the most needed plugins in the community.
When you get several inquiries a day, asking for your recommendation to something that’s not available anywhere, you can tell that there’s a market for it. That’s what we got which pushed us to build Types and Views.
Tell us more about Views and Types, and how they make life easier for WordPress users and developers.
The idea is to be able to build complex sites without coding. I see this as natural evolution for WordPress.
A few years back, if you wanted to build any site, you’d have to write it in HTML and create your own scripts that automate things. Been there, done that.
Then, WordPress made it possible to write blogs. Then, static sites with pages.
The next obvious step is to allow dynamic sites, with interconnected data structures, but without the need to code each one from scratch in PHP. This is exactly what Types and Views offer.
Right now, you can build a lot with Types and Views. When they go out of Beta, in about 6 weeks, we’ll have a really complete solutions that lets you build virtually whatever you can dream of.
What do you think are the best ways of marketing yourself and creating your own niche within the WordPress community?
It’s a chicken and egg thing. If you already have a community and a voice, you can use that to introduce new things. Before you’re there, you need to work a lot harder (not that it’s easy now). I’d say that free giveaways are a great way to create a community around your company. People just need to be careful, so that there’s still room to sell something after they gave away the free stuff.
Can you mention some other plugins that you find yourself relying on when developing new WordPress sites?
That’s easy. We use these in all our sites:
- Relevanssi (search)
- W3TC (cache)
- WordPress SEO
- CMS Page Tree View (admin page organization)
- Gravity Forms
We have our own modified version of Shopp for payment processing, but today there are other great e-commerce solutions. Personally, I like WooCommerce.
Besides this, we get a lot done with Views, so we don’t need other ‘niche’ plugins for stuff like sliders and other fancy displays.
Tell us a bit about your development setup (hardware + software).
Me and about half of the guys use a desktop PC with Ubuntu Linux 11.10 64 bits. There’s one on a Mac and the rest prefer Windows. For LAMP setup, I find Linux to be the best choice. We use Virtual Machines for testing on different platforms.
Any other online tools or resources you use on a daily basis?
Skype, Basecamp and Google-based email, docs and calendar.
What new features would you like to see in upcoming versions of WordPress?
Role management. After that, better role management and when that’s done, even better role management.
Without an API for role management, there’s no solution for safe multi-user systems. Role management plugins are great, but there’s no one API that plugins and themes can use to declare their functionality and have it controlled.
By safe, I mean that people can’t damage parts of the website which are not under their responsibility. Today, that’s pretty easy to cause.
Role management plugins are great, but it’s impossible to know which / if-any people use. So plugin authors are basically stuck without role management.
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