From WooCommerce Store Developer to Store Owner with Michael Tieso

From WooCommerce Store Developer to Store Owner with Michael Tieso
WP eCommerce Show Archives

00:00 / 00:29:34

What happens when you have been developing stores for customers and clients and decide to become a store owner yourself? In episode 141, we dive into this topic with someone who has done just that.

Micheal Tieso worked at WooCommerce and Automattic on the developer side. While he was still working with clients, he made the decision to start his own online store. Store owners and developers alike will learn a lot in todays’s episode.

I asked Michael:

  • What were his reasons for wanting to start an online store?
  • Does he have more empathy for store owners since he made this move?
  • What was his previous experience in eCommerce and has his perspective changed?
  • What has he learned and what does he think store owners need to be on top of?
  • What are would be the benefits to developers running their own online stores?

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Bob: Hey, everyone, welcome to Episode 141. We have Michael Tieso with us today. Now, Michael is a developer. I like to just call him an all-around e-commerce kind of guy. How are you doing Michael?

Michael: Good, good. Thank you for having me here again.

Bob: Yeah, I believe this might be your third time on this show. I'm not sure.

Michael: Yeah! Yeah. It's always fun.

Bob: So we're getting up there. I keep telling somebody else that when it happens the fifth time it's going to have to be like Saturday Night Live used to do: the five-timer club. It'll have to be the five-timer something. I'm not sure what that is but … anyway, for people who don't know your background, let's talk about your recent transition from developer to store owner. To set the stage, tell us a little bit about what you'd been doing prior to this in the eCommerce space?

Michael: Yeah. So for four years I was working with WooCommerce. It was a combination of Woo things at the time, and then they and Automattic combined. For four years I worked in support and development— and business development. And then almost exactly a year ago today, I decided to go freelance doing just development work, and so this past year I've been just working mostly with clients in building their stores and consulting. So it's been mostly building sites for other people and supporting them, for roughly five years.

Bob: Now, somewhere along the line comes this decision that you've been building all these sites so why the heck shouldn't I just run an online store? Tell us the story behind this and what you've done lately.

Michael: Yeah. So it's actually been on my mind for a long time to run my own store. I just never got around to it. But what's different this time is that I'm doing a physical product, shipping a physical product. It's easy to create a digital product. Well, easy in a sense that there's not as many puzzle pieces or logistical issues that you have to think about with digital product versus physical.

So this was the first time I decided to try something physical. It's been in the back of my mind for a long time and I just decided now is the right time. In fact, I just remembered that the first time I was on your podcast and you asked me if I were to start a store what I would do. So this is how long I've been thinking about this. I said tea. And I was pretty broad about it then, but I knew this whole time that I wanted to start this, what is called the yerba mate. It's something related, it's like tea.

And so I've always wanted to do this. I just never did it. I knew it wasn't going to be easy and I had too many other things going on. I was working full-time, so it needed to be something that I would just do on the side. But I never took that leap. So now I finally did it.

Bob: Is this product that you're talking about, is this something you have a personal love for already, and that's part of the reason you decided to do the online store?

Michael: Yeah. Yerba mate is a tea-like drink, primarily from South America. And my family, I was born and raised in the States, but they are very Argentinian. So I went to Argentina every year, and we would always have this drink out there. I was raised with it.

So this tea-like drink was just around all the time. And I didn't really think much of it. But then later I would realize that, "Hey, this is not like a typical American thing that people would have around their house." And I started to grow a passion for the drink and started to realize it's about something that my family was into because we were Argentinian.

And it just kind of grew, and I still drink it often. I still drink coffee and other teas too. But I just had a passion for this drink. And I found it actually difficult to find really good quality organic yerba mate. But it's so big in South America. Why hasn't it picked up quite as much in the States, I thought.

So I thought I would try this out and see where this leads me. I might not become a millionaire off this, but that's quite all right. It's just something I'm passionate about, that I think has some potential.

Bob: You have me intrigued. I'm going to have to order some now. Yeah, it definitely sounds interesting. I'm just going to have to, just knowing you I'll just have to at least give it a try.

Once you've started this, and I know you probably have a lot of stories to tell through this whole process: like, okay, I was a developer, I was building sites. And now I'm a store owner. Do you find yourself empathizing with store owners more these days? I mean, before it was like, "Okay, I knew this." But now it's like, "Oh man. I feel your pain"?

Michael: I think it's hard to realize how many pieces to this puzzle there really are. As an example, I remember supporting WooCommerce customers or some clients who were just saying, "Oh, just turn on free shipping for everybody. What's the big deal? Why do you have to deal with all the shipping stuff. Everybody likes free shipping." But it's so much more complicated than that. You can't just say, "Free shipping all the time." It's going to depend on what you're selling and how much. And if you offer free shipping then that might cut your bottom line. And it's just, there's so much more to it than that.

And then trying to figure out the cost of all of it. As an example, there are all the extensions, right? It's 100 dollars here, 200 dollars there. Keep adding more and more extensions and it becomes something that might cost you a couple thousand a year, just for the extensions that you need to run your site. So things can get costly and just unexpected things come up more often than realize. I think I have a better understanding now that things may not be as simple as they appear.

And although e-commerce is obviously inexpensive to start, things can add up fast if you're not careful. I'm fortunate that I have experience in knowing what all the extensions do, so I don't need to go overboard. And I can also just make my own functionality if I don't want to use an extension.

But a lot of my clients don't have that ability. That's why they hire me to do that for them. And so costs can go up quite high because of that.

Bob: When you said about the cost of extensions, I thought, "My God, Michael is sounding like a store owner now, for sure." Because that is a constant struggle.

Michael: Yeah, it's tricky because if you were to develop those same functions... Say WooCommerce subscriptions. It's very inexpensive for what it does. It's amazing. Deployment is fantastic. But it only costs 200 dollars a year for updates and support. When I say only that's a good deal for what it is and it would be much more expensive to develop that on your own. But when you start to add up everything, subscriptions by itself is very inexpensive but then you've got like another 10 extensions that you're going to add, it really starts to add up.

So it made me think about what features I really need now. What can wait and what can I make myself? So I started holding back some of the things. Which actually helped because then it makes you just simplify the business a little bit before trying to go overboard with it all.

Bob: I'm hoping I'm not redundant here, but kind of segueing from that into being the developer again, and now being a store owner. Is there something that your perspective has done a complete 180 on? You've already talked a bit about like the free shipping. Anything else you were adamant about and now that you're in that store owner's shoes you're thinking, "Boy, I've totally gone 180 on this"?

Michael: I guess the free shipping is one example there. Sticking with the shipping, there's this whole process behind the scenes that store owners go through that doesn't necessarily touch WooCommerce, but needs to connect with it in some way.

I have a fulfillment company that ships out of New York, and to just organize our whole process of how to get all my packages from South America to the warehouse, make sure that all of that is sent in the perfect way to the warehouse, because otherwise the warehouse will charge me extra money because it's got like, I don't know, the wrong dimensions or something. And then making sure that that inventory and that fulfillment is sent with my WooCommerce store.

Basically just making sure that those two are connected. And then I have all of the shipping rates from that fulfillment company into WooCommerce. So for whatever reason, this fulfillment company, they have a WooCommerce extension, but they don't have it so that the shipping rates are automated. So they gave me like this huge spreadsheet and I had to implement, I had to get table rate shipping, and put all of the numbers in individually. It was like if something's like between zero and nine ounces is one rate, 10 ounces to 20 ounces is another rate...

So it was the tedious task of putting in all those shipping rates in because there's no like way to import all of that stuff. And then I had to do it for like standard shipping, expedited, and then for each individual country. So there's a lot of work that goes into this stuff. It just seems, there's no easy way to do it, but a lot of redundant tasks and a very tedious task. It's not quite as easy as what it seems. And I thought maybe there would be a way to just like import all these shipping rates. But there wasn't a way. Maybe that's something that should be known or something. I don't know if other developers or store owners know that—buy into it.

So that's another example. Other things? Another one is taxes.

Bob: I was going to ask you about that. I was curious.

Michael: I'm still pretty lost how that works. I really like integrations with, like, Avalara and TaxJar, where they've automated the whole thing. So I try not to even think about it. I think it's worth it to just pay someone else to just figure it out for me. And of course, that costs; it's a little bit more of my bottom line. Everyone is trying to take some of the profit I make on my product. But it's worth it to me for the peace of mind.

So that's taxes and shipping. Then there's the payment gateway. And figuring out the ROI. (If this product costs me 10 dollars and customers are buying it for 20, how much of all these things are cutting into the product. It can be hard to calculate.

For example, if the warehouse is costing me 100 dollars a month for 100 products, how do I figure the ROI? Just so many things I didn't realize before, when I was creating sites for clients. That there's more to it than putting up WooCommerce site and then turning it over to the client.

Before it was like, "Just sell it. Put the products as 10 dollars and you're good." There's quite a bit more.

Bob: That's interesting because I was just thinking as a developer you're so used to really pretty much doing everything yourself. I mean, you're building the site. And in a sense when you moved to a store owner you may take it on yourself to use that same method. Oh, you know, there's got to be a way to do this. But you gotta start letting some of that go and realizing… I mean, taxes is a perfect example. Even though you think with your developer hat on, that you want control over all this, as you do when you build a site. But now it's like, "Man, I just can't do it all."

Michael: Yeah. And that's probably why a lot of store owners hire developers. And for some companies they can do it themselves. It's really not that hard to build a WooCommerce site, right? We've made it pretty easy. There are a lot of wizards now for WooCommerce setup and WooCommerce itself has a wizard. And there are a lot of integrations. And page builders. It's not very difficult. I think the harder part is figuring out all of the logistics of products and serving customers.

Another thing I started to realize is that you need strong policies as well. Return policy, privacy policy, all this stuff I never had to make myself, because clients took care of it. But it's important to have a very very clear return policy on the site: who pays for shipping, how much time they have, etc.

These are things that may not come to mind right away, but as you start to publish your product on Google Shopping or Facebook Shop, and you try to put it the policies on there, your ads may be declined because they require all these things to be perfectly like on the site.

You'll notice on the yerba mate site I launched, on the very bottom, there's a phone number. I forgot what I had to do that for; I think it was for Google Shopping. They required a phone number to be displayed clearly on the website. I never would have thought about that. In fact, I tried to avoid having a phone number on there at all. It didn't seem like people would actually use it. But that is a requirement, I'm guessing for legitimacy, just making sure that this is a real business. Now I have a contact number there, which doesn't go to my phone luckily. It just goes into this ticketing system. But that's just one of the many things that you start to realize.

Bob: All those little details. Now, have you, and not even sure if you're at that point and I hadn't really planned on diving into this part it because it's another whole realm of it. But have you started touching on the marketing part of things? You were an independent developer for the last year, so you got to market yourself as a developer. Now you're stepping into the store owner role. Now you have to market your store. Any specific challenges you found there? Because obviously marketing services and marketing products, I mean there might be some crossover but are some differences, too.

Michael: That's the fun thing about being a store owner. You wear many hats. If you're not a developer, you almost have to become one. Even if you hire somebody, you still need to learn a little about the development side of things. Same with marketing.

I have some experience with marketing just through my time at Automattic and looking at what the marketing team was doing and being close with them. I'm actually looking forward to the marketing side. I haven't delved too much into it. I just started planning that aspect of it. I'll be probably heavy on the Facebook ads initially. And I'm going to try out Instagram and perhaps a few others. Google Shopping for sure.

I'll be starting off with ads and see where that leads me. I still need to do a lot of research and play with the numbers. But you have to put a bit of money down for this to all work. You can't start a store without putting something in there.

Bob: We'll have to have you back several months down the road because I'd love to hear about that next journey. Because I've talked to a lot of the marketing experts who try to help other people market their online stores, but I think it would be really interesting to hear your experiences over the next few months with Facebook, the Google Shopping.

Because, I mean, you can hear it from somebody that basically does it for a living. But actually hearing it from a store owner who has gone through it and found the things that work and things that haven't worked is a lot different. Maybe we need to have a part two of Michael Tieso.

Michael: That'd be great. I'm looking forward to it because I think there's something about the all-data aspects of the marketing side of things and trying to analyze what works and what doesn't and testing it. It seems like a fun thing to experiment with. I started this website because I felt like I needed to learn something, beyond what I was doing for clients. I wanted to, as they say, eat your own dog food. To dive into something outside of my day-to-day stuff, to give me a better understanding of my work for clients. I'm still primarily a developer, but also now a store owner.

Perhaps that will change and this will probably become really popular and that would be awesome. Now, because the amount of investment that this requires have to do a lot of the development stuff as well. In fact, I told my wife earlier today, "I hope my shipment has arrived at the warehouse and all." She was like, "So how much did you spend there?" And then I told her. Agh!

It's an investment. You've got to put something in. But you have to be careful, too. I've heard horror stories where people are putting thousands of dollars into something they don't know how to market. So they have hundreds or thousands of this product that they don't know how to sell. So I'm trying to be very cautious of that as well. I'm being pretty careful about it.

Because it can easily fail. I hope it doesn't. I don't think it will. But I if it does, it's not like I put my life's savings into it. It's been a wonderful learning experience for me. And has already paid itself off.

Bob: Right. You've created your store. You talked for years with store owners when you were at WooCommerce. Is there something we haven't touched on that you have learned by creating this store, something that you saw over and over again and, talking to other store owners, they never really got a grasp of it? Something, besides what we've talked about, that they should really be on top of?

Michael: I think it might be continuously updating your plugins. Some of of my clients have already had a process in place for updating plugins. But it seems to be difficult for many to keep them updated. If you have 30 plugins installed and 10 of them need to be updated...

So I have better understand the difficulty of having a process in place that works well to update your plugins, of testing everything, of making sure everything works well. And maybe you can't catch everything. But you need to make as sure of that as making sure that the main components of the website work well. Test the checking out, adding something to your cart, payment processing, stuff like that. I think it's a little more difficult trying to test every scenario. So I have a bit more empathy for those who are having a hard time continuous updates of plugins. It feels impossible to catch up with the amount of updates that all these plugins require.

Bob: All right. In a perfect world every developer who builds e-commerce sites would also be a store owner?

Michael: Oh, for sure. More developers should start up a hobby site, you know, something on the side. Just sell anything. Set up a store and, a live store, not just one that you're developing locally. Developers would learn a lot from just creating a site and putting it up there. Even if it's on something that just generates a product for you. Like Printful. Or drop shipping with AliExpress. Something that puts you through the process: from nothing to something. A site where somebody goes to your site and buys something. And receives something.

Digital is better than nothing. But physical will take it a step higher. Because there's so much more to a physical product than there is for a digital. But it depends on what you're selling digitally (if it's like a membership or something like that). It would be great if more developers created something on the side, launched a site and sell a product.

Bob: Now you (and everyone else) know why all those years I had WooCommerce on my site and I sold everything but physical products.

Michael: It really is difficult. That's also why I didn't do it for many years. I'm so nervous about this process, because right now I only have one product. And I hope it works well, but … it makes me nervous about it failing. It's not quite the same as a digital product, or committing to hundreds products. But I hope it works out in the end. And this is something that I think many store owners are going through as well. Many a startup with products they need to sell.

Bob: Well, how can we support Michael and where is this site? Why don't you tell us the URL of the site and where you are on Twitter, in case people want to follow your continuing saga of this.

Michael: Yeah. The site is called Matero. It's spelled M-A-T-E-R-O dot C-C. That's a Spanish word that means somebody who likes to drink mate. And cc was available so it seemed like a good domain. That's my actual store but you can follow me on Twitter where I'm tweeting quite a bit about this whole experience, and it's my full name, Michael Tieso. I plan on doing some articles. I think it would be fun to also write more in-depth articles about my whole experience with this, on my own personal website, which is

Bob: Excellent.

Michael: Those are the three places where you'll find everything.

Bob: All right. Well, I'd like to thank everybody for tuning in. Find our podcast on all the popular podcasting platforms or over on I enjoyed hearing this journey of yours, Michael. Thank you again for taking the time to join us on today's show.

Michael: Thank you so much.