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Cheers to 2010, Our Team and Community

I did an extended and more personal version of this post on my personal site called “What Matters to Me” but wanted to do a year-end “Thank You” post here as well.

This year has been especially great for our company (we’ve ended the year with our best month ever) … and I hope for our community as we’re released new products, enhanced existing ones adding more and more value to what you purchased, and brought on a number of new people to our team.

Here are some quick highlights:

  • Dustin Bolton, lead developer at PluginBuddy, started full-time with us last January, and Sridhar Katakam started doing iThemes Builder support for us as well part-time
  • Held our first live in-person two-day workshop in Dallas in mid-January
  • Dustin had no idea how quickly we’d put him to work as we launched a commercial plugin store and new brand at PluginBuddy in March; with it our hit plugin BackupBuddy (currently used on over 10,000 sites) – Note: he’s still busy now working on LoopBuddy and version 2 of BackupBuddy
  • Went to SXSW for the first time and now plan to take most of our team there every year (yes, you should go too!)
  • Benjamin Bradley held the first WordPress Developers Course at WebDesign.com in April
  • Held our second live in-person workshop – Builder Bootcamp – in mid-April
  • Brad Ulrich started full-time as our designer at iThemes in May-June-ish
  • Josh Benham started in a support role for us at PluginBuddy in June; and has now taken over the primary load of support for BackupBuddy
  • Somewhere in June, we announced that we’re writing WordPress All-in-One For Dummies with Lisa Sabin-Wilson and 3 others (should be out in the spring)
  • Benjamin Bradley started full-time in July at WebDesign.com (by the way, he was previously a long-time customer of ours)
  • We loaded up on an RV and took a roadtrip with Lisa to WordCamp Boulder (and she’s still talking to us)
  • In September, we launched WPShirts.com to giveaway free WordPress shirts to promote the name and fame of WordPress
  • Somewhere in October-November Nina East started with us to focus on building our affiliate program and take our marketing to the next level; and in 2010 at various points, we’ve also brought on Barbara, Char, and Ryan (am I forgetting anybody?) … see our brand-new About page for more details
  • This month as you know we celebrated the one-year anniversary of WebDesign.com and the one-year birthday of iThemes Builder
  • We also released over 10 other free and commercial plugins at PluginBuddy, numerous themes and child themes at iThemes, and ended the year with over 130+ hour of professional training at WebDesign.com – it was a busy year as always for our team!
  • Our support team led by Ronald van Weerd has been awesome as always — allowing our dev team to focus on new products and feature enhancements of existing ones. Thanks Ronald, Josh, Skyler and now Sridhar, who came on board full-time with us this month!
  • There is much more to say or recap for 2010 alone including people, places, products, inside jokes, whatever …. but suffice to say, again, it’s been an amazing year for our company!

So with these highlights in mind, I want to personally thank two important groups of people who make what we do at iThemes possible … my team and our community.

Below are some of my special thank you remarks to both of you (it’s long, but I don’t care) ….

FIRST — TO MY TEAM

Next month marks my three-year anniversary of starting iThemes.

I can safely say, this has been the hardest job I’ve ever had … but the most fun and fulfilling.

My favorite song — my life song — “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd says, “Be something you can love and understand.”

Along this journey, I have always felt I was living that lyric. I loved what I was doing and understood how it factored into life and the world and it gave me purpose.

But honestly, at times this year because of issues inside and outside of our little company, I have wanted to quit it all. Leave. Be done. Hang it up and go dig ditches.

I didn’t … because I was always reminded of all the people involved in our business (to date around 15 people).

The thing that matters MOST to me about our business is our team. They have committed their working lives to our shared vision that we call iThemes.

I consider them my extended family.

I feel a special responsibility and bond to them.

I love and care about them deeply. I work FOR them. And ultimately, as every leader should, I serve them (sometimes poorly).

I do seek as many opportunities as possible to give them the just limelight they deserve. And this year in particular they have shown their love and dedication to the life we’re building together at our fledgling startup.

(My theory has always been that you spend the most time around the people you work with … so why not enjoy them?!)

(Also, by the way …. being family doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Think about your dysfunctional family — yeah, we all have one — for a second and you will see the light. Being a family means we fight, we disagree, sometimes we can’t stand each other … but at the end of the day, we’re still family. We might not always like each other but we are building this thing together.)

This year, in particular, despite some of the most amazing things that have happened through our business, we have dealt with a lot of distractions, challenges, frustrations and obstacles. Some outside. Some inside. Some because of me.

The first part of the year in fact we were consumed with people and elements outside of our control. Sometimes admittedly it’s bled into the second half.

As I said, sometimes it was me, personally, that I was the problem … and I had to apologize, move on and earn your forgiveness through my actions. Your faith in me and your commitment to what we are doing here is inspiring.

A couple months ago at our retreat, I echoed what we had all agreed together to do but never really spoken out loud:

  • Ignore the noise.
  • Focus on what really matters.
  • What matters is each other, and our community.

We have to always ask ourselves often two primary questions:

  • Are we having fun?
  • Is our community supportive of us? (meaning: are we taking care of them?)

If we can’t answer “Yes” honestly and with conviction, something has to change and we need to seek out what must change and change it.

Yes, I have asked our team (and every new person we add to our team) to be committed to each other and our community. There are no exceptions. And we’ve gotten better at holding everyone, including me, to this standard.

That doesn’t mean forsaking family (I have never asked anyone to do so, nor will I ever do so, including asking them to put the team above their families) or working 100 hours a week (our team works well beyond 40 hours a week but not because I ask or demand them to. Loving what you do and being a part of something bigger than yourself can often produce such results).

(By the way, when others who have spent time around our team see this, I find extreme validation and confidence in making such bold statements.)

I’ve simply asked our team to be focused on what we’re doing while they are at work … do it to the best of your ability (give each other your all) …. and have a blast doing it.

I feel like if we do those things, we’ll be successful, and our community will continue to support us.

My hope is that they will see the results of having a great culture, awesome workplace, and passionate work can produce.

But I said this to them in person, and now share it here ….. they have been amazing this year to me personally. I could not have done it without them.

There have been (and probably will be more) moments where I have to “check out” to attend to other matters.

Each time I’ve had to do so, they have said, “Go. We got this.”

Few people in the world know about that. Few people realize how special that trust and commitment is to me.

But when I had to tend to other matters, the team we have assembled, who are responsible for creating the culture and the amazing business (and products, training and support) we have at iThemes (yes, I’m dang proud of what we’ve built together – no apologies, take it or leave it), have thrown their lives into building, maintaining, preserving and protecting what we do and the life we’ve built together.

Although I’d let them talk for themselves, I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are in 100% agreement with the above statement.

We’re proud of what we do, the products, services we offer, and, most of all — of each other. We are a team. There are no rockstars at iThemes.

Most of the people who know of our little team do not know 99% of what actually goes on just in our Oklahoma City office from day to day.

They have no clue about the lunches we share together. The inside jokes we create. How we meet tight deadlines and rally around each other. Or how often they pick fun at my expense.

OR … how immensely hard each of our team works FOR our community (often well before 8 and after 6 and yes, into the weekends!) … to make sure we’re helping our customers get what we promised them when they purchased our products.

In the highs and lows we experience together, we are there for each other.

I love my team. I cherish my team. I hope I honor them with my life, my work and my heart.

And they have shown their love for me — for which, again, I am humbled and so thankful.

They could probably make more money and have more personal fame elsewhere. But I’m so thankful they continue to choose our business and each other.

It makes life so much more fun.

That’s why when people attack our business, I take it personally. I probably always will.

Criticize and offer suggestions and we’ll always listen openly. We thrive on community input.

People can attack me if they want, and I’ll gladly defend myself.

But when people attack our business and the team who works their butts off each and every week for it and for you, our community, then … they have a problem.

Then … I stop ignoring the noise and decide to mute it.

My team is my family.

For those who have embraced the culture, philosophies and values we espouse (all for one and one for all), to them alone, I am most proud.

I count you as true friends who I do anything for – night or day.

Lastly, I am so appreciative of my business partners. You do not care for or want the limelight, so I will merely mention you generally but as I have said many times to you and others …. you have been and are the best partners I could ever have asked for.

Without you, this little startup could never have happened. You free me to do what I do best. And at the heart of it, before being even my business partners, you have been true friends to me.

To my team and my partners, I say:

Thank you for being just who you are — some of the most amazing, talented, supportive people on earth, who I am honored to call, my team and my friends.

In many years to come, I can’t wait to look back with you on the months and years we’ve spent with each other and see what we have done …. TOGETHER.

I leave you with this African proverb gleaned from a recent workshop I attended which says it all (and yes, we need a shirt for it):

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Let’s go even farther together in 2011, together. #BOOM

SECOND – TO OUR COMMUNITY

Throughout everything, I am thankful, each and every day, for the customers who make up the community at iThemes, PluginBuddy and WebDesign.com.

Fundamentally, our job is to build solutions to your problems … that may mean themes that help build sites quickly and easily, saving you time and money … plugins that help you do more with and extend WordPress … or training that provides you with the knowledge and confidence to use WordPress in your web design business.

Everything we offer comes out of this foundational statement that I’ll be expanding on in the weeks to come:

“We Create Tools that Empower Our Community to Build Rockin’ Websites”

[ If you want the big huge and possibly boring, Mind Mapped explanation of what we do and why we do it, you can download this PDF. ]

But as with everything in life, I know there will always be naysayers and people who oppose what we do and how we do it, who aren’t happy, and who willfully seek out our demise.

Those people are noise (and lighter fluid to our motivation and drive to be and do better for those who support us – you).

We know we’re not a “fit” for everybody and that’s simply ok with me and us. Our goal is to do our absolute best for the people who support our vision and benefit from what we do.

Our true community supports us with your hard-earned money, allowing us to do what we love, as we support you.

And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that.

If it was simply about money, I’d given up a long time ago. Yes, I’ve profited from our business. I’ve personally worked harder in the last 3 years of this startup than any previous job combined. But money has never, nor will it ever, rule me or what I do. It is simply a means to an end. (The people that truly matter know this already, so I’m merely preaching to the choir here.)

If it was simply about fame and my own glory, I wouldn’t seek you out personally at WordCamps and other venues to get to know you and what you do, chat with you on our webinars, respond to as many emails personally as I can, or do our weekly iThemesTV to let you meet our awesome team and to give credit where credit is rightly deserved. If it were about me, my partners — yes, I’m a minority business owner in iThemes — and my team would gladly kick me out of it and I hope they would. (My team and my partners are my counsel of elders so to speak. They keep me accountable. They keep me on the right track and have helped me not to make some miserable mistakes. On many occasions they’ve confronted me, to my dismay and despite my initial unhappy reactions to it, but I’ve been better for it. So has our company.)

What drives me is … living my passion and dream (I created the ideal job for myself, one that changes every day with new and harder challenges at every turn) … recruiting, developing and being around an incredible team of truly inspiring people … and seeing how high and how far we can climb together … for a community of awesome people who supports, loves and wants what we offer them.

I know we have to earn the trust of our community, each and every day. I know we have to keep innovating, keep providing great products and services and keep improving FOR YOU.

That has always been our pledge and our promise at iThemes.

But please understand … we won’t always be perfect. We have never promised that because, well, it wouldn’t be realistic. You might doubt some decisions or even disagree with ones we or even I make. You could in fact get so mad at our business model or pricing structure or at a dropped ball in what we do and decide to leave us.

While we’d rather than not be the case, of course, it’s also OK.

We will apologize when we’re wrong and seek to correct it wherever we can and wherever it’s appropriate.

I do hope you give us the opportunity to either make it right … or let us explain our position … before you leave.

Sometimes, input and constructive feedback are like cold water on our faces.

But we need to hear from you. We want to hear from you. We might not always like it. We might not always agree with it. But nonetheless, we want to hear it. I readily invite you to keep us in the loop! I do hope you will allow us the privilege of communicating our position  directly. Or at least reserve judgment until you’ve heard the whole story.

(We did our first-ever town hall this fall to get more of it and on daily and weekly occasion through iThemesTV chat, email and in the forum allow you to constructively offer your feedback — and I hope you feel we welcome it.)

But please hear me on this next point ….

At the root of what we do is the realization that if we don’t provide great solutions to our community’s problem and keep consistently improving, our customers will vote for our continued existence with their pocketbooks. Or not. We take this responsibility very seriously.

Like any startup, we’ve faced our share of competition, challenges and adversity ….

I compare entrepreneurship to a roller coaster. There are the highest of highs (like this month when you voted with your pocketbook to make this our best month in our history, or our inaugural launch day in Jan. 2008) and low lows (some of which I thought were the end of us or me) … but in the end …. it is you who makes all this possible.

To our community … I THANK YOU. We thank you.

You are amazing. Keep pushing us to be and do better … for you. Keep supporting us with your pocketbook and we promise to overdeliver as often and much as we possibly can.

If we don’t, please tell us how we can fix it.

So to you and yours I say … Merry Christmas (belated), Happy Holidays and here is cheers to walking with you in 2011!

Comments

  1. Always nice to read this practical wisdom from you cory. I cant believe this one year has passed with a blink of an eye. I still have printed copy your last year’s post on business laying around in our office.

    Gonna print this as well and read it thoroughly. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Cory, and the whole team.

    Thanks for a great product (Builder) that I have only started using from late in 2010 but find it amazing and easy to use. Keep up the enthusiasm and I look forward to many improvements and developments in 2011.

    Cheers.

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