Joe Flacco

The Maturation of a Leader

Football has a striking resemblance to business sometimes.

Despite moving to Austin, my allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens remains as strong, and maybe stronger, than ever. It’s been an exciting offseason with lots of power moves and now training camp is in full swing.

For third year Quarterback Joe Flacco, this appears to be his coming out year. The Baltimore Sun ran a story about him the other day noting that this offense is now Joe’s offense. He’s taking command. He’s inheriting responsibility. He’s taking ownership.

He’s taking more command and making more adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He’s looking to become more effective in the red zone. And he’s tutoring new backup quarterback Marc Bulger when everyone thought it would be the other way around.

“I want to be able to just run the show and go up and down the field, blow out points on the board and come out successful,” Flacco said after a 75-minute practice featuring rookies and veterans coming off injuries. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s the mark of a leader and something that anyone who aspires to leadership is required to do at one point.

Since being in Austin, I’ve been exposed more and more to the startup life – something I used to live in as the Director of Technology at b5media, a company that used to be a blog network but now is something, well, frankly, unidentifiable.

As a result of my new exposure to a startup culture, I’ve already talked to a few companys to get a feel of how they do business. It reminds me of those early days at b5media. Four founders, making decisions by committee, and hoping for the best. Sometimes consensus was a blocker to real innovation.

This mode is common for early companies. Small group. Everyone needs to be on the same page to do anything. And they suffer from paralysis of no decisions. No one is willing to take charge and lead.

At b5media, once we took our first round of VC money, Jeremy Wright, became the CEO. He was forced into a role of trying to get consensus but not suffering from the paralysis of required consensus. Many times, those of us in those leadership roles diverged in opinions and advocated different directions. It was Jeremy’s role to distill this feedback, foster the discussion, and then ultimately take ownership of the situation and make his call.

Sometimes it was the right choice. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Imagine this. It’s a third and long situation. The Ravens offense is backed up on their own 10 yard line due to an unfortunate series of downs involving an incomplete pass and an offensive holding penalty. They are down by 13 points with 6 minutes left in the game. The safe call, and the one called in to Flacco by Cam Cameron on the sideline, would be a slant play down the middle to a slot receiver or tight end.

As the offense lines up, Flacco sees the defense showing blitz and crowding the middle. Understanding from experience that this is a situation fraught with disaster and the need for a big breakout play to energize his offense, he calls an audible. Ray Rice on a draw play – bait the offense to continue to see the pass, but then destroy them with an off tackle run. Rice runs for 24 yards and gets the first down and better field position.

If it wasn’t for the leader having the confidence and insight to see the minefield upon him, he might just go with common wisdom or, more naturally, the wisdom of his advisors. However, he decides that he has the information he needs to make a big play, owns the call and gets a win.

While it’s common for young startups to operate on consensus, sometimes it requires someone with enough balls to make a tough call and own it. A good team will support that and have their leaders back regardless. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be on your team.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

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copyblogger

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Copyblogger Brian Clark Leaves DIYThemes/Thesis Theme

A few weeks ago, Brian Clark of Copyblogger.com confided in me that he was leaving DIYThemes, and splitting paths from the embattled Thesis theme and lead developer Chris Pearson. He agreed to do an interview with me exclusively about this news. This is the entire transcript of that interview.

Technosailor.com: Brian, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Obviously, the timing of this announcement and interview are interesting considering the discussions that have been happening in the WordPress community as it pertains to licensing and DIYThemes, the creator of the Thesis theme. You’ve been with DIYThemes since its inception and have championed the theme. You’re leaving the company now. Can you describe the reasoning that has gone into this decision?

Brian: Chris Pearson and I have been discussing an amicable way to split for the last 3 months. The very public disagreements Chris recently had with Matt Mullenweg were ugly and embarrassing, but that’s beside the point.

The reason for the split is more fundamental than that one issue. For the last year Chris and I have had completely different opinions about the direction of the development of Thesis, the running of the company, and our relationship with the WordPress community. And there really hasn’t been any way to resolve those different opinions given that I’m the minority owner of the company and what he decides goes.

Technosailor.com: Well, when you say “our relationship with the WordPress community,” that’s got to mean the GPL issue, right?

Brian: That’s part of it, but also, fundamentally I think Chris really wants to build something new that has nothing to do with WordPress. Trying to force his development ideas into a WordPress framework creates a whole set of issues. I wanted him to go build his thing on a separate development track and simply be okay with Thesis being a great framework that extends the power of WordPress — because that’s what it was supposed to be.

As for the GPL, I took steps from the very beginning to make sure we never issued a license that was in contravention of the GPL. We used a membership concept since 2008 after I came on board. Our terms of service said you follow the rules of your Thesis plan and get the benefits of membership — support, updates, etc. If you don’t follow the rules, you get kicked out. It was never a problem, because most people are honest.

My last official act with DIYThemes was drafting the Thesis split GPL license after Matt Mullenweg publicly committed to suing Chris. I thought that was the right move for Thesis going forward, and Chris eventually saw the light. But we were going our separate ways no matter what.

Technosailor.com: There’s a lot more to the story than that regarding the GPL. I know the story because of our conversations over the years, but other people don’t. Can you elaborate?

Brian: Okay. At the very beginning, I was completely in the dark about the GPL. I’m a content guy — I’m busy writing and producing content, not following WordPress politics. But once Chris asked me to partner with him, I naturally had to educate myself. What I found out about the GPL didn’t make much sense, frankly, but it was the way things were with WordPress. So I made sure we never took an intellectual property position in our membership terms that opposed the GPL.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Matt Mullenweg made a big push for the major WordPress premium theme developers to expressly declare themselves GPL. I think Brian Gardner of StudioPress was the first to go along. About that time, I told Chris I saw no problem with going expressly GPL, since we’re selling way more than just code and again, most people in our particular market are honest.

Chris told me to go talk to Matt and Automattic CEO Toni Schneider about going GPL and being welcomed into the WordPress community with open arms. It’s important to remember that due to the Copyblogger audience and my personal relationships, we never needed the blessing of WordPress for marketing purposes. But Matt was offering prominent exposure on WordPress.org, so why not?

Long and short is, I spent a lot of time discussing things with Matt in the early summer of 2009. We had everything worked out. I went back to Chris and he said he had changed his mind and didn’t want to go GPL after all. I thought that was a mistake, and looking back, we started diverging on just about everything from that point forward.

Technosailor.com: Now, you’ve argued with Matt publicly about whether the GPL is even legally enforceable. How do you explain that?

Brian: Oh, don’t get me wrong – as a former attorney, I think the odds of the GPL being shot down in court in this context are pretty good. A lot of practicing attorneys think so too (if you’re interested in that kind of stuff, you can read this and this).

But the law is not the point. If you’re going to develop on a massive open source platform like WordPress, it makes sense to follow the rules of the community that’s developing it. If you don’t want to, go build on something else, or build your own thing. I see the point behind the philosophy of the GPL, and I’m fine with it. I don’t like people trying to assert that it is “the law” and that non-GPL developers are “breaking the law,” because that’s just not accurate.

The GPL is a license (a contract) that has never been judicially tested in the way WordPress says it applies, and that position probably wouldn’t survive a court case. But I got out of law because I hate litigation, so why would I want to fight about it? Just play according to the home court rules and you can still make money with a great offer.

Technosailor.com: So you’re selling your stake in DIYThemes or are you maintaining your interest and stepping away from daily operations and intervention? Is there an advisory role here or is the relationship done?

Brian: At first, around 3 months ago, we explored selling the whole company. Then I floated the idea of me buying Chris out along with some investors. Chris said he wasn’t interested. We finally settled on Chris buying me out over several months of installment payments. The paperwork was drawn up, Chris had a few minor questions, and he told me it was no problem getting it done by the end of July.

Apparently now Chris has changed his mind about that as well. So things are in limbo, but I no longer have any active role with DIYThemes, operational, advisory, or promotional. Like I said, my last official act was preventing him from getting sued by WordPress.

Technosailor.com: What’s the future then for Copyblogger? You have been running Thesis for as long as Thesis has been around. Do you continue doing that or move to a different framework?

Brian: We stopped using Thesis as a development platform for pending projects months ago. It’s perfectly fine for some people, but it doesn’t play well with WordPress enough for our needs. So I’m sure I’ll move Copyblogger to something else soon. And that was part of the reasoning for my departure — I can’t promote something I can’t use.

Technosailor.com: What about Scribe? Is that part of DIYThemes?

Brian: Scribe is a separate company with a different partner and has nothing to do with DIYThemes. It’s exceeding all my expectations after only 6 months and we’ll be releasing version 3.0 this month. So it’s not all doom and gloom. ;-)

Technosailor.com: Now that Thesis has gone Split GPL, do you feel like the damage that has already been done in the community can be fixed? Is it possible for Thesis to have the prominence and success it has had prior to the public “altercations”?

Brian: I don’t know. I just know I no longer have to wake up each morning worried about what “altercation” has broken out overnight. That’s a good feeling in itself. Life is too short to be involved in things that make you unhappy.

Photo Credit: Wendy Piersall

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welovewordpress

Back in Startup Mode… Announcing WP Engine!

Since I moved to Austin, I have been very coy about what I’ve been up to. There’s a reason for that and today I can tell you all about it. Especially since my good friend Marshall over at ReadWriteWeb already has. :-)

It was very interesting. Back in May, my friend Pete Jackson, who works for Intridea, started making a point of introducing me over to Twitter to one of his friends in whatever city I happened to be travelling in at that moment.

It was in this way that I met Sean Cook, the manager of mobile integrations at Twitter in San Francisco and, when I was in Austin visiting in May, he made sure that I met Aaron Scruggs of Other Inbox who has since become a pretty good friend.

It was after that meeting with Scruggs in May that he connected me to one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, Jason Cohen. Jason is one of the two founding partners at Capital Thought, an Austin-based incubator. Jason has also built several companies and parlayed two of those into healthy exits. I’ve come to have a tremendous amount of respect for his technical and business savvy.

Jason described to me the concept for a business that he was working on along with Cullen Wilson. A premium, WordPress platform that would cater specifically to the customers who want to make sure their blog is always taken care of from a maintenance and upgrade perspective, but also would offer significant value adds that nobody else is providing in a WordPress-optimized environment.

I’ll get to what all those buzzwords mean in a minute. Stick with me.

We started talking about me joining up with them to take this idea to the bank. Shortly after moving down here to Austin, I joined the team and we’ve been working hard over the last couple months to get to the point where we could reliably take on new customers and talk about our idea publicly.

Today is that day.

So, you’re still probably wondering what the hell WP Engine is and why it’s important, right?

Let’s talk security for a minute. There have been significant security “incidents” in recent months. Most people on the outside simply see “WordPress hacked! WordPress hacked!” – I’m looking at you Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble and Frank Gruber (Techcocktail). In the WordPress community, we know the real issues in these cases were not WordPress but the hosts that the blogs were on. Still, people saw WordPress hacked.

We take this very seriously and have partnered with a provider that has multiple levels of security including Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) outside of our boxes. We have gone to great lengths to keep our customers connecting to us in very secure ways and keep a close eye on the activity happening on our boxes. This is all very important because if an attacker could get through our outside defenses, chances are they couldn’t do anything malicious without us knowing about it.

Our infrastructure is also built with optimization and blazing, fast speed as a core expectation and deliverable. We don’t overload servers and have the means to see potential performance problems before they arrive. With our dual nginx-apache server configuration, we are able to handle sustained high-volume traffic as well as spikes that are the pain point for WordPress bloggers who suddenly get a story featured on a prominent site.

For the people who claim WordPress doesn’t scale… I call bullshit. We believe we know exactly how to make WordPress scale.

But we’re not just a hosting company. If we were that, we would be our competitors. We are also working on additional features such as “Curated Plugins” which are plugins that are entirely open source, that are popular or in demand from our customers and have been vetted from a security standpoint. These are plugins that we support 100%. This does not preclude customers from using other non-supported plugins, and we don’t dictate what bloggers can have on their blog as some of the other hosted WordPress solutions do. We just say, “Hey, if you use one of these, we’re gonna have your back”.

Other things that make WP Engine different:

  • 3 Smart guys supporting customers personally
  • A “Staging” area for one-click deployments and testing
  • We give back to the community. In fact, I made sure that I could work on the WordPress open source project, write the second edition of my book, and that much of our work will be returned to the community. Code is a commodity. The people and service behind the code is not.

We are not perfect yet, nor do we claim to be. We are a young company and have hundreds of things still to do and hopefully learn from. We are in an “invite only” mode at this time as much of the stuff we are doing and want to do is still not ready. But we are open for business and taking customers. And for $50/mo 1 for a dedicated WordPress environment that has optimization, speed and security plus the flexibility of you doing your own thing with a safety net… it’s a steal, really.

Photo used with permission by Donncha O Caoimh

Notes:

  1. For most customers

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