WooThemes Co-Founder Mark Forrester Unplugs From the Typical Questions

WooThemes Co-Founder Mark Forrester Unplugs From the Typical Questions
WP eCommerce Show Archives

00:00 / 00:33:32

In this podcast, I am taking our interview in a little different direction. I was going  to call it ‘Mark Forrester Unplugged,’  but that might have been a bit misleading. Instead, we are unplugging Mark from the typical interview questions he has answered in the past and getting to know Mark as a person, a shopper and yes, an entrepreneur. Listen in as I ask him some fun questions and propose a few interesting scenarios.

What I asked Mark:

  • Some basics, like his favorite color, band, move, book and more
  • A few fun scenarios that include his children, a unusual deserted island and a conflict with WooConf
  • What his biggest frustration is when shopping online, what he would never buy online and a few more insights
  • What he had wished he knew before going down the entrepreneurial road
  • Which entrepreneur he looks up to


Bob: Hi, everyone and welcome to episode 37. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. Today we are slipping into a bit of a different interview format. Typically, as you have experienced, we're bring in an eCommerce expert and ask him questions specifically around their expertise. But when I asked Mark Forrester, co-founder of WooThemes and WooCommerce to join, I thought about those dozens of interviews where Mark has shared his experiences around Woo and most currently Automatic.

We're going to change that today. Instead, we are unplugging Mark from the typical, hard-hitting Woo question to learn more about Mark, the guy, Mark the entrepreneur and Mark the shopper. That doesn't mean a bit of Woo won't be scattered in but heck, why ask the same questions? With that said, welcome to the show, Mark and are you ready to roll?

Mark: Thank you, Bob. I am ready to roll and I look forward to untypical questions.

Bob: Very cool. Mark, I already gave a spoiler of what you do for a living but tell us something about Mark that people might not know.

Mark: Despite my fixed South African accent, I was in fact born in the UK. I lived there close to nine years old. What else? I've only been employed twice. Once as a pizza deliverer and once as a team leader at Automatic. Family wise, I have two boys. Malakai and Max. Malakai doing seven months today. Maximilian is four years old.

The entrepreneurial spirit: 'only employed twice'

Bob: I'm intrigued at that 'only employed twice.' You obviously have other stuff between there but one time and then you moved from pizzas to Automatic but there's all those in between, right?

Mark: Yeah, pizzas and then my move into more of an entrepreneurial journey. I've started a few businesses. I was a wedding DJ when I was at university paying for my beer tab and my rent but yeah, it's been a long and winding journey until I found WordPress around 2005, 2006.

Bob: Okay. Yeah, so you've been an entrepreneur longer than you've actually been employed so to say.

Mark: Technically.

Favorite color

Bob: Very cool. Now, I have seven very basic and easy questions. The questions that come up over small talk when meeting someone for the first time and you're sipping on a beer and you just don't know what to say and then fill in the conversation. This is just going to tell us a little bit about Mark and  who is some of his favorite stuff. Let's start with a really easy one, what is your favorite color?

Mark: At a dinner table, I would say, blue but to a WordPress community, I'd say it was blue and now, it's magenta.

Bob: Because why?

Mark: Because, where commerce stuff from is all about magenta and ...

Favorite food

Bob: All right. Favorite food?

Mark: Anything on the braai. Braai being South African word for a barbecue and I'm quite a carnivorous South African stereotype. Biltong which is the South African equivalent of beef jerky, only much better.

Bob: We're all going to send Mark that for business.

Mark: Biltong.

Bob:Yeah, Biltong. Very cool. Now we know what to ...

Mark: I'll send you a good bucket, Bob.

Musical tastes: an international flair

Bob: Okay. Sounds good. I'm a vegetarian though but that will ... I'll smell it though.  Okay, who is your favorite band or singer that is still alive and performing?

Mark: I'll continue with the South African twist to expose the international audience to some South African music. A guy called Jeremy Loops, L-O-O-P-S. He's a loop pedal artist with folk-y influence. Available on Shopify, ummm I mean Spotify. I always do that.

Bob: That's a good slip. We're going to keep that one. What is a loop? Tell us a little bit about loop.

Mark: A loop pedal. I'm not a musical guy really. I like to listen to music but he's got his loop pedal where he mixes a whole bunch of different instruments that he can play amazingly together to create songs that some that have been put together by a big band but he can do it all himself with a bit of aid from a computer.

Favorite books

Bob: Interesting. I'm going to have to definitely check that out. I'm going to ... Just because I'm going to find a song and listen to that. That sounds really cool. Non-fiction or fiction, what's your favorite book?

Mark: I like my autobiographies. Richard Branson's book, Virgin I think it was called. He's working a few but I'm a big fan of him as an entrepreneur and his story and journey through life. I'd say Richard Branson is all about treats.

Tastes in film

Bob: Now we take to the big screen, what about your favorite movie?

Mark: I'm going to go quite different there. Into The Wild. It's a movie directed by Sean Penn and the soundtrack is by Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam so it is amazing and visual and audio piece and it's a movie all about wild adventure I guess.

Bob: Okay. Are you a fan of Pearl Jam too?

Mark: I love Pearl Jam.

Social platforms

Bob: Pearl Jam. Okay, cool. Now, this is a little bit different than the other questions. What's your favorite social platform and why is it your favorite?

Mark: It used to be Snapchat and I always get abused from everyone that we ... That I think Magnus and myself were the two users that bring up every judge of Snapchat. Not a good joke but I've since moved across to Instagram stories. I'm a huge fan of photography and follow a lot of amazing people and now, with stories, I get to hear the stories behind the photos. Yeah, I'm absolutely immersed in Instagram.

Bob: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I still haven't got into Instagram. I have an account. I know I need to do it but I think probably if I did, get more immersed in those stories, I will be hooked.

Mark: Yeah, you can join Magnus and me on Snapchat.

Dead dinner guests—and some living

Bob: Okay. That might be fun. You may see me once and never again, but no. Now, a question from our sponsor. He wants to know what three or four people would you love to have dinner with and be able to chat, ask questions, and they can be alive or dead.

Mark: I've had this question before. It is a difficult one. I would have to go with Elon Musk. I think most people would say that and then I'd go with Nelson Mandela and then the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. There's a book that has just come out about Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Desmond Tutu being a South African social rights activist retired Anglican bishop and someone who was a freedom fighter during the Apartheid.

His Anglican background and the Dalai Lama were of very different spiritual beliefs but the two recently met for the Dalai Lama's birthday and they had a journalist, I can't remember the guy's name, write a book about this meeting of these two incredible spiritual leaders and how much they shared in common. I think it's called the Book of Joy. Something I definitely want to read soon but yeah, I think it would be an incredible table to have those four minds around.

Bob: Really. I wonder what those three would ask Elon Musk. That's what I'd like to know. All three of them ...

Mark: Surely, he'd ask some questions for them.

The rear view window: what do you wish you had known before starting?

Bob: Yeah, really. That's quite a crowd. Yeah, that's a good. We're going to pull away from those basic questions. Now, we're going to pull a couple of entrepreneurial questions at ProsPress, who asked me to ask you. These may be ones you've already asked or I should say you were asked in other interviews, not sure but the first one is, what do you wish you had known before starting down this winding entrepreneurial road?

Mark: I'm not a big fan of these pickle questions. The mistakes and the crazy things we did along the way that led me to where I am , the things I wish we had done over our journey is, as WooThemes and WooCommerce go to Automatic, is just to track more, be better informed on the data side as to what customers are doing, how they're using our product. I think there's a general perception or there in the WordPress community that tracking is evil.

I think we would have been able to iterate a lot quicker and dumb things that would have truly benefited our customers in terms of the scalability of WooCommerce, which is a hot topic at the moment and getting that right, had we tracked more, and obviously doing that very tastefully and ensuring that we respect any previous laws but ensuring that we are  better informed on the metrics and data side.

Bob: Yeah. I think that's something I could probably ... I could say the same thing way back when I started a marketing company. Just not paying that much to that which I was really guilty of so that's something ... I think maybe a lot of people that even though they know it or they realize that, that' it's important stuff, they get so wound up in everything else when you're starting.

Then stuff that gets aside, you finally start doing and then you go, I should have been doing that. How many times have we said that?

Mark: I guess the directive of too much information is analysis paralysis and ...

Bob: Exactly.

Mark: As you grow, that becomes a bigger and bigger factor so the ignorance, the naiveté that we had as young entrepreneurs definitely aided us in a way.

Mark's entrepreneurial heros

Bob: Right. Now, on the second question around that subject, which entrepreneur do you look up to and can you safely call that person your hero?

Mark: I've mentioned Richard Branson, I've mentioned Elon Musk, but I'm probably going closer to home: my forefathers, if I can call them that. My great, great grandfather was quite an entrepreneur and I believe I've got his entrepreneurial spirit He was a very different type of entrepreneur. It was ... I think it was around 1890 in South Africa, a very hostile place.

He started farming in an area that was never known for farming and over the generations, that farm grew to 40,000 hectares and I think their biggest accolade, the notch on their belt, was I think they were the first mail order delivery of fresh produce in South Africa using the railway system. Yeah, it's a very different entrepreneurial journey to my own, but just an incredible story. My grandpa has written his autobiography. He's still alive, 95 years old, but a huge inspiration to me and to our family.

Bob: That is impressive. That's something especially at that time what he did and where he was. Amazing. Yeah, I can definitely see why that would be your hero. Now, we are going to move into some really different questions here. I'm going to put you in a scenario and I'm going to throw in a bit of Woo and we'll just see where this takes us.

Mark's dilemma

First one, imagine you're still doing what you're doing and one of your kids is now old enough to spend their evening time on the computer. One evening you slip in to say goodnight and see that one of them have started their own online store. You realize that it's on WordPress but they are using another eCommerce plugin.

Which do you think you would be more shocked about? The fact that they're actually starting an online store or that they are not using WooCommerce and would you question them in any case, why aren't you using WooCommerce? What do you think?

Mark: That's quite a scenario. I would be over the moon that my son has that entrepreneurial spirit in him and I would not care what tools he's using as long as he's experimenting with being a own business owner.

Bob: If he was sitting around, I'm going to add something to that. Let's say, you're sitting around dinner table and he says, dad, I feel bad because I'm not using WooCommerce. Do you think I should go through all the work of changing over to it or should I just stay as is? The pressure is on now.

Mark: Then of course I'd say, go to WooCommerce Suite and chat with some ninjas.

Entrepreneurs on a desert island

Bob: That's good. Now, we always have the deserted island question except this one is a bit different. You somehow end up on this deserted island off the waters of South Africa or you think it's deserted and you come across a group of about a hundred people. They've started this small civilization there and wonders of all wonders, they have electricity and they're hooked up to the internet. You're amazed.

Then you see that every single person has a computer and online store and they're selling downloadable music that they create from instruments they make on the island. Here you've got this community of entrepreneurs basically and they're doing well but none of them are using WooCommerce. Do you stick around a little bit longer and try and convert them or do you just say, where's the next boat? I'm out of here.

Mark: That is pretty funny. I have so many questions about these people but my short one would be, this is a pretty unique weird bunch of people. I think I'm going to get out of here.

Bob: Yeah. That's a good answer. Get that next boat out. The fact that they would all be actually selling the same thing and doing the same thing would be really odd wouldn't it?

Mark: I'd love to hear their music though.

Bob: Yeah. I knew you'd like that. Then you can go back home, get on the boat, get online, and find their music.

Mark: It's probably safe to connect online, I think.

An offer he can't refuse?

Bob: The final one now. I'm going to twist this around a little bit because it comes from one of your answers that you've already given me. People may or may not know about the annual conference that was started: WooConf. It's all about WooCommerce and I know that last year you were unable to attend because you and your wife were ready to bring a new life into the Forrester family, so you had your priorities all in order.

Let's say this happens. The next WooConf has been set and you're all ready to go. Then about a month before, you get a call from that singer you love so much, Jeremy Loops. He says ... He started talking to you and saying how much he really enjoys what you do. He found out you're a huge fan and him and Pearl Jam are going to be doing a concert. Now, you wonder ... Jeremy Loops, okay. How is he going to do it?

I'm not sure how he exactly would do a live performance or if you've seen him,  but he has it all figured out with Pearl Jam and they might even do some music together. They think it's so cool what you do and they're impressed with your entrepreneurial road and so they've got this concert going on in Paris and they're going to fly you in a private jet, you're going to be staying at the Four Seasons.

You get to attend the post-party with Pearl Jam and Jeremy. You get to hang out with them. You get a backstage pass. Front row seat, all VIP. Guess what? The concert is on the same day as the opening of WooConf. What does Mark do?

Mark: Another good scenario there. Seeing last year, I was at home like you said and the web feed worked perfectly. It would be definitely something I'll think quite hard about but I'm always family first and after my direct family, our team is my family so I think I would have to sacrifice that very unusual scenario for Woo and get to work on the conference 2017.

Bob: Okay. I was wondering what you would do on that. Would you let everybody know what you truly sacrificed to be there?

Mark: Of course.

Bob: Of course. Okay, so we know that. Family priority. Maybe I should have thrown in you would have your buffet of your favorite food and the other thing.

Mark: Biltong.

Mark the shopper: favorite online stores

Bob: Yeah. Okay, very cool. Now, we are going to move to our last set of questions with Mark. He's going to become Mark the shopper. Mark is sitting at his computer, beer and credit card in hand, ready to buy.  I'm not sure, are you much of an online shopper?

Mark: Of course. I always say it's market research to my wife. She doesn't quite believe that a lot of the time, based on what I'm buying.

Bob: That's a good one. I'm going to have to use that sometime too. I never thought of it that way. I know that sometimes when I ask these questions, even though I want you to be Mark the shopper, you're going to have that other experience that you're going to be thinking about as you go to shopping experiences, so some of that might be reflected as well. What's your favorite place to shop online?

Mark: I'd say for physical products, there's a site called Yuppiechef. It was started by some friends of mine here in South Africa out of their garage and it's growing to become South Africa's best eCommerce store, fantastic customer experience right from browsing to check out, all the way through to the actual delivery and they'll send you the postcard with handwritten notes. The attention to detail is really admirable.

Then I'd say, for digital products, recently I checked up on Creative Market buying ... I can't remember what I bought. I think it was Photoshop or a Lightroom Preset and it is actually incredible. The new user experience, their NUX flow checking out on their site. There's a little widget in the sidebar and you never leave that widget and before you know it, you've checked out, and immediately you can download those digital products.

I think digital and physical stores can have very different checkout funnels and I think we've got a lot to learn from companies like Creative Market. We use  woocommerce.com, but I think there's a lot of work we can do since we're selling digital products. We're in a position where we could tailor that experience even better.

Bob: Now, the first one, the one that's based in South Africa, can you spell that out for people?

Mark: Yeah, Yuppiechef, Y-U-P-P-I-E-C-H-E-F.

Bob: Okay. Interesting. I'm going to have to go look at that one. It intrigues me. I love looking at location-based and products that reflect that stuff so I'm going to have to check that out. Very cool.

Three online shopping questions

This is a three-part question, okay? Do you shop more on mobile or on desktop? Does that usually depend on when you get the urge to buy something and is there any reason you might prefer one over the other?

Mark: I'm still pretty old school, desktop much of the time. I think here in South Africa, we don't have apple pail and all the local eCommerce stores. It's still relatively tedious to checkout on mobile with WooCommerce but working on some of the extensions that do such innovative stuff on mobile checkout but I also like having that big screen real estate to really do my research before buying something and I find it a lot easier on a big screen than mobile.

What is your biggest frustration when shopping online?

Bob: Yeah, I'm with you there. Now, these next three are something that my other shows I always ask every guest and they seem to fit into this area as well. This is where you might actually be bringing in some of your experience for what you do for a living with WooCommerce and what you always tell your wife as you're doing research, buying things. What is the thing that frustrates you the most when you are shopping online?

Mark: I think post-checkout, it's usually the delivery. Maybe it's not such a big problem in other parts of the world but here in South Africa, we were lined with South African postal service which is getting better and better but it can be slow and if you're ordering from overseas on a big market purchase like Amazon, you are often hit with import duties and your stuff gets impounded before it even gets to you.

I think it can take weeks to actually arrive and that's usually for spreading. That's not necessarily the store owner's fault but just a logistical madness of certain third world countries.

What would you never buy online?

Bob: Now, if it's online, is there anything that is available that you would never buy online that you have to buy in person?

Mark: Probably art I would say. Art is such a tangible, emotional, and personal purchase and I think there are certain things that behind a computer screen you don't quite experience and you really need that emotional side when purchasing a piece of art, at least I believe so.

Bob: That's interesting because that is the first time anybody has ever said art and that makes a lot of sense too and I never even thought of that because I guess I haven't bought art online but if I was in that situation, I'd feel exactly the same way.

If you could sell anything online, what would it be?

Now, let's say you're on your next entrepreneurial journey and you are able to sell anything you possibly have dreamed of selling online and resources aren't even an issue with that point. Time or whatever, you're just able to do it. Is there something that you would sell online? What would that be?

Mark: That's a tricky one. I think what is desperately needed and a hot topic here at home in South Africa is education and online education is a hotbed at the moment yet there's such  huge opportunities still out there to offer even more and, yeah, to reach different people around the world. Education can truly change people's lives and economies. Yeah, I'd say, I don't know what education but online education has always interested me and I've got some close friends who are in that space, doing amazing things.

Bob: Okay. We know what to expect the next time then. I won't hold you to it but ...

Mark: No. Not at least.

What is the most unexpected use of WooCommerce you have ever seen?

Bob: Yeah, you'll do something else and I'll say, remember Mark, you said you're going to do this. Now, why are you doing that? I got it recorded. Okay, we have one last question and this comes from our sponsor. What is the most unexpected use of WooCommerce you've ever seen?

Mark: In my usual slide deck when I'm presenting, I include some crazy WooCommerce stories. I know a couple at hand. Things like, surveillance cameras in Russia dot dot dot. The robots in Turkey. I think socks in South Africa. I've seen free delivery in India but one that popped up the other day and I think it was actually on a WooCommerce blog post about wild and wacky WooCommerce stores was remote-controlled, Animatronic-designed tails like animal tails.

I found that quite bizarre. I'm not sure how big the market is for that but clearly, there is an interest because it sounds like this is quite a specific product that has been built. Animatronic tail sold with WooCommerce, true story.

Bob: That would be cool to see. I'm going to have to Google that and see if we can find that.

Mark: I'll send you the URL.

Bob: Okay, great. Great. Share that with everybody. Now we all know Mark just a little bit better, I think. We understand his shopping habits, a bit of his insights into the entrepreneurial world, what Mark might do in certain scenarios even though they may have been bizarre and, of course, the simple things that Mark likes. I really, really want to thank you so much for coming on this special show and sharing with us a side of Mark that some of us didn't know. Thanks again, Mark.

Mark: I've had lots of fun. Thank you so much, Bob.