I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Alex Panagis, CEO of digital growth agency Scalemath, on my podcast The WP Minute+. As a leader in the WordPress space with deep roots in the ecosystem, Alex had plenty of insightful perspectives to share.

A big topic we dug into was WordPress vs. closed platforms like Webflow. As you might expect, Alex is firmly in the open source WordPress camp. He sees the flexibility of WordPress as superior for most uses, allowing users to control more of their site without getting locked into a proprietary ecosystem.

That said, Alex doesn’t believe Webflow is necessarily bad if it enables someone to build a better site than they could with WordPress. The choice comes down to what works best for each user and their goals. The concern is more about avoiding vendor lock-in down the road.

We also discussed the impact of AI on digital marketing and content creation. While useful in certain applications, Alex believes AI raises the bar in terms of the quality and originality needed from human creators and strategists. Essentially, it forces everyone to up their game, which is ultimately a good thing.

Several other highlights that WordPress professionals may find interesting:

  1. How Scalemath builds deep, long-term partnerships vs. the typical agency/client relationship
  2. The importance of product development in scaling a services agency
  3. Why most smaller WordPress firms don’t make economic sense for an agency to work with
  4. Alex’s take on Basecamp’s upcoming Slack competitor and “pay once” software model

It was a wide-ranging and insightful chat with Alex!

Chapter Markers

  • [00:00:00] Introduction
  • [00:02:00] Alex’s background and Scalemath
  • [00:05:00] Working with clients and pricing
  • [00:10:00] Ideal client criteria
  • [00:15:00] Building the Scalemath brand
  • [00:19:00] Pricing and value
  • [00:25:00] Open source vs closed source CMS
  • [00:30:00] SaaS pricing models
  • [00:35:00] Basecamp’s new “pay once” model
  • [00:37:00] The impact of AI
  • [00:42:00] Disclosing AI written content

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[00:01:18] Matt: com. That’s OmniSend. com. O M N I S E N D. com. OmniSend. Hey,

[00:01:39] Alex: Alex, welcome to the program. Thank you

[00:01:41] Matt: for having me. First time, uh, you and I have chatted, saw you tweet something that’s, uh, that’s always been on my mind about, uh, open source WordPress versus the world, especially Webflow. Um, you know, just looking at the rise and potentially fall of no code [00:02:00] tooling, uh, and how pricing Is going up across the board.

[00:02:04] Matt: Well, maybe we’ll even talk about this. Seeing pricing going up in the WordPress world as well. Elementor, other builders, um, that have recently announced price increases. So I’m happy to talk about that stuff today. We’ll bury the lead a little bit. Tell us what you do

[00:02:17] Alex: at scale math. So in short, we work with software companies, uh, mainly B2B SaaS, but we kind of started out in the WordPress space and we still have a lot of deep roots there where heart is clearly very close to the WordPress community.

[00:02:29] Alex: And we still use WordPress as a part of, uh, I’d say almost all, if not really every single company that we work with uses WordPress as some part of their marketing stack, essentially.

[00:02:40] Matt: ScaleMath, not to be confused with RankMath. Yes. What’s the math all about? Well,

[00:02:46] Alex: so we actually, the name comes from, uh, the fact that, uh, RankMath was one of the first companies we worked with, um, before ScaleMath is what it is today.

[00:02:54] Alex: And at the time, it was, was really just, uh. Me and a couple other people, so yeah, they helped me [00:03:00] settle on the name. The concept of the math in the name is that we back what we do with data and we try, although marketing attribution continues to get harder and harder in a, in a privacy regulation heavy world, but we try to attribute as much of the work that we can do and track that we are actually driving positive ROI essentially.

[00:03:18] Matt: The last time I actually had to care about, um, marketing, uh, uh, marketing attribution was when I was working at an old gig many years ago, many years ago, where it was like critical to like my day to day strategy and now at Gravity Forms, uh, a part of the marketing team. So it’s something we talk about quite often.

[00:03:37] Matt: And wow, I was like, 10 years, this didn’t get any better, did it? Like, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do this stuff. It was impossible a decade ago. And now you’re just like, what do I do with this stuff? Uh, it’s, it’s quite challenging. Talk to me about starting Rank Math and Spending a lot of time in the WordPress world, but then broadening your horizons.

[00:03:58] Matt: Do you remember why you [00:04:00] said, okay, WordPress is great, but I need to get bigger. I need to go for bigger companies. Let me just read the tagline, uh, for those that are just listening on your website. We operate and advise industry leading software companies that don’t mean WordPress, uh, you know, all the time.

[00:04:15] Matt: So many of us are just used to living in the WordPress bubble. Why go beyond WordPress in your case?

[00:04:21] Alex: Um, I think, so WordPress was a natural shooting off point and I don’t, I think it comes across as wrong when you say like, grow when, and it’s not just you, but the whole concept that it’s us growing out of WordPress or growing beyond just working with companies in the WordPress space.

[00:04:36] Alex: Because I mean, there’s clearly credit to, Gravity Forms is in, and I say this sarcastically, just a WordPress form plugin or just a company in the WordPress space. And it’s by no means, um, a small company. It’s not like. WordPress itself is boxing yourself in. For us, it was just natural in the sense of from broadening our market as a company and the type of companies that we can work with, but also mostly at the [00:05:00] time, and this is, as you say, changing slightly with prices going up in WordPress, um, the fact that in B2B SaaS, you had a higher customer lifetime value, which made the work that we’re doing a lot easier to justify.

[00:05:11] Alex: It’s, it’s quite difficult unless you’re already at a significant scale from organic, like natural growth over time. And you’ve already. built a pretty good distribution mechanism to work with a company like us. If your average lifetime value is like a 50 a year subscription, and you keep customers on average for two years, you can’t really hire a team like us to build out SEO as a channel or build out outbound sales or do a paid acquisition because the math just generally doesn’t work out again, unless you, you already have enough built out revenue to justify doing it anyway.

[00:05:42] Alex: Do

[00:05:42] Matt: you still get a lot of folks coming to you from the WordPress space saying, Hey, help me grow this thing. But then you have to educate, educate them on the economics of WordPress freemium. You know, if they’re not at scale yet, it doesn’t really make sense. Do you have like a whole education mechanism for folks to level up [00:06:00] to eventually work with you?

[00:06:00] Matt: Uh,

[00:06:01] Alex: so the answer twofold, I think we have. The education mechanism I’ve always wanted to do. And we, we launched something two years ago, which we didn’t end up sticking around with, which is essentially was called Scale Math Academy. Now we’re planning to sort of, uh, rejig that and redo a lot of the content in it and package it up as the, the vault.

[00:06:19] Alex: Uh, and that will essentially not only just for WordPress companies, but also kind of put together all of the learnings and the things that we learn from our experience of operating the companies that we work with, um, into. Something that people can learn from without necessarily hiring us. But on the other side of like companies approaching us to work with us, I think there’s always some way.

[00:06:39] Alex: Um, it’s difficult because if it’s a super small company, which definitely has not enough revenue to justify working with an agency, the, the like. Agency mindset, which if you want to box us into, you know, agency, which in a sense we are as a service based business, when we partner with companies is you have to turn away the clients that are too small.

[00:06:57] Alex: Um, I have a soft spot for [00:07:00] companies in WordPress, and I think that there is a happy medium because we’re not a super big team. We’re not like 50 plus people that we can still choose to work with companies and sort of justify. We have to be a bit careful with it, but essentially the logic is if a company comes to us.

[00:07:14] Alex: Um, that isn’t super big, but we know that we can grow it. Then we justify like, okay, we’ll collect the, like a smaller fee from them now, um, just to cover the costs or maybe not even cover the costs of the work that we’re doing. Uh, but we have the capacity cause we have the people full time and they’re not, you know, they’re not filling their hours in theory.

[00:07:32] Alex: So we kind of justify that we can fill their hours with work for a specific company. We grow it and then. Ideally, we reap the benefits of when we do grow it together and we develop a super long term, uh, partnership with the companies that we work with.

[00:07:44] Matt: Is there, when you look at it, is it as easy as assessing, um, annual revenue or is it profitability that is the first, like, hurdle someone has to get over?

[00:07:54] Matt: Like, do I have to be a million dollar a year business to, to work with you or a quarter million dollar a year business? Or does it [00:08:00] then drill down into what’s the profitability per, per user or, or account, uh, depending on if they’re SaaS or, or

[00:08:08] Alex: Uh, it definitely depends a bit on both. I’d also say business model.

[00:08:12] Alex: So like the, how long the buyer journey is as well is kind of plays a big role in what we do. So if it’s something where you don’t have a self serve signup process and it’s really only sales led, those tend to be the type of companies that we don’t. We can work with them and we can do like strategy, positioning, website, copy work, and we, we have success in that element of it, but it just ends up not being as effective of a growth mechanism, I guess, uh, to bring us in because we can’t sort of amplify what we do with all the channels that we’re able to tap into.

[00:08:44] Alex: Ideal ones are definitely over 500K in annual recurring revenue. Um, we do work with companies that are under this, but I think at that point it becomes, I guess, similar to what you’re seeing at Gravity Forms now, which is much bigger than 500K ARR from my understanding, although I don’t have actual numbers, [00:09:00] is that yes, you’re trying to attribute the marketing work that you’re doing, but also you’re kind of in this luxury position where you have to attribute it, but you can also operate based on gut and what you think is right for the company.

[00:09:11] Alex: And I think Ahrefs, Tim Sulo talks about this a lot. Sure. We, if we measure just direct conversions from content, I could argue that there’s pretty much no impact of writing content, um, for the Ahrefs blog at this point, because everybody already knows them, but they realize there’s so many downstream effects of doing it and they choose to still do it because it’s just what they believe in as a company and they have the revenue to justify it.

[00:09:34] Matt: Talk to me about the process, or at least the early day process, uh, a customer, and I promise, listener, we’re going to get to talk about, like, uh, pricing in the WordPress world and, and, and the, uh, uh, no code SaaS world and stuff like that. That’s, that’s, you know, the, the, The genesis of this conversation, but I’m very interested in this agency side of things as well.

[00:09:54] Matt: Talk to me about the early steps one goes through when they first sign with you. [00:10:00] And even actually more specifically, let me hold that question for a moment. This is a terrible way to frame this question, but I think you had mentioned before. Companies that you work best with companies that have a sales led approach.

[00:10:10] Matt: Did I hear that? I don’t have. So if they’re, if

[00:10:12] Alex: it’s like a company which doesn’t have pricing on their site that has like, you have to get on a call with a salesperson that can be part of the approach. So there are like SAS companies when it’s once, even with like notion is a great example. We don’t work with them, but that’s a great example of a company which does this.

[00:10:25] Alex: They don’t, you don’t have to get on a call to sign up with them, but if you want to, you can book a demo with a salesperson. If your org is big enough, that’s kind of the. The model that works best for companies.

[00:10:35] Matt: Got it. And that’s, that’s what works best with you, right? Company comes to you and they say, Hey, we sell this thing, but you have to book a call and a demo.

[00:10:43] Matt: Chances are, it’s not. Not what you’re going to advise on. Yeah,

[00:10:47] Alex: it’s not that that ends up, uh, we, we do work with companies that have this type of model, but it ends up not being where we do like our full service engagement, where we do various things or we do content SEO, um, uh, essentially and paid ads because it’s [00:11:00] not as effective to do that in my.

[00:11:02] Alex: view and my experience and what I’ve seen for companies that just have this sort of closed off process.

[00:11:08] Matt: Got it. Which now leads into that question. As the person signs with you, sort of day one, month one, week one, however you see it, what are the first things you’re getting them, uh, set up with or how should they be thinking when they’ve, you know, first entered into a contract with you?

[00:11:25] Alex: I love to say the age old answer that you’ll get from people in SEO, which is it depends on what we’re entering the engagement into. So depending on what the company needs, um, at the moment, content is definitely still a foundational aspect of the work that we do. Although how we do it is shifting. No doubt.

[00:11:41] Alex: Of course, that’s kind of on the top of everybody’s mind, understanding the product and what they do if we don’t already. So a lot of the companies like RankMath, for example, when we started working with them, um, I actually reached out to them and I had been using the product for, I think maybe six, seven months before, um, we started working together for that.

[00:11:57] Alex: That’s been the case for a lot of the companies which we’ve kept for like four [00:12:00] plus years was I actually, I use the product and I thought this was a. really good product, um, that we could scale and we could acquire users for. And it deserves to have more users cause it’s actually a good product that I could stand behind.

[00:12:11] Alex: And that was sort of the shooting off point. So, but if that’s not the case and it’s a, let’s say it’s an industry where we don’t really have a strong footing. Like it’s a, it’s a FinTech product where we actually don’t. Like I’m not an expert in, in, in that side of things, I wouldn’t give a talk about funding, about investing, about this side of like how EMI share agreements work.

[00:12:29] Alex: But let’s say it’s a platform that does something related to this. Um, yeah, the early part of the process is definitely getting as clear of an understanding as we can, um, for me and for the rest of our team of what it is that they do, the market they serve, the customer profile. So I guess establishing the customer profile and.

[00:12:44] Alex: Trying to mold ourselves into that customer profile to become a part of it so that we can think in the customer’s shoes is basically the, the, the, definitely the step one for every company. Yeah. Here’s something

[00:12:56] Matt: I’m, I’m interested in this sort of meta conversation of being an [00:13:00] agency owner and being an agency owner in the SEO world.

[00:13:03] Matt: And I don’t want to just bucket you as like an SEOist unless that’s what you want. But I love to sort of just get your thoughts. I have my thoughts, but I just want to hear yours. I promise I won’t try to say mine, but, uh, when you’re an agency owner and you’re trying to scale the business and you’re trying to grow, like, what are you thinking about when you’re competing with other agencies?

[00:13:23] Matt: How do you think about growing the agency? I’ll preface it just a little bit. Like, do you start to think, okay, we need to get better at SEO and that’ll make, that’ll get us better clients or better results, which hopefully leads to better clients. Is it some other technology or product piece to sort of scale the organization horizontally and then hopefully lift off a little bit higher?

[00:13:42] Matt: How do you think about growing an agency, SEO agency amongst so much competition in the space?

[00:13:49] Alex: Amazing question. So I, the answer is multifaceted. The, the first is product is definitely a part of it. So we are when we, the, and that kind of, I think our tagline hopefully does a pretty good job [00:14:00] of communicating that is while we work with companies in our group, which are clients, um, and pay us to do a service, um, which inherently that description makes us an agency on the other side.

[00:14:12] Alex: And that’s our long term vision as a company is we don’t. Treat any of the companies that we work with as agency clients. I think that’s not to talk down on how other agencies treat clients at all. Um, but in, in our sense, we just view them as if they were a company in our sort of portfolio and that’s how we try to treat them.

[00:14:28] Alex: That’s how we try to dedicate resources to them. So we only work with a company where. Meaning if we grow and we have another person that joins the team, even if it doesn’t mean we can directly or immediately bill more for our work and we can get a better result for a company that we have in our sort of group of companies, we will deliver that whatever service it is or do whatever it is that we can do with the new team member that we have on our team, for example.

[00:14:52] Alex: And I think the result of that is it’s very dangerous. It’s a very. I will be the first to admit it’s probably the stupidest concept in terms of us [00:15:00] growing our business and to trying to just drive as much profit for ourselves as possible. Uh, but for me, it’s like, I don’t want to say that money doesn’t matter, but an element of it is definitely we have to scale slowly and we have to bring on the right type of clients for it to work a, but B is also, we have to do work that we’re proud of every day.

[00:15:18] Alex: And then the comes the third part, which is because we are also. building our own product, um, products. Uh, the intention is to build essentially the world leading team that we can on every aspect. So that’s like design, engineering, product marketing. So bring that sort of experience all together, and we can apply that to the companies that we work with to extend their existing teams, uh, most of which are internal to them.

[00:15:39] Alex: So they have their own design and engineering teams at the moment. The most of the work we do for the clients we work with is growth focused. But on the other side, we are building our own stuff, which I think gives us a unique angle on how we work, which is not just, Oh, we’re coming in and we’re doing X, Y, Z service, X, Y, D, Z deliverables.

[00:15:55] Alex: And then we call it a day is we look at the entire stack as much as possible. [00:16:00] And the fact that we’re building our own things as well. hopefully to launch relatively soon. That gives us another angle on, okay, we have to be really good because we’re, the people we’re hiring aren’t just doing deliverables that we get paid for.

[00:16:11] Alex: We’re investing in building our own product and we’re putting money and spending their time on that. So it has to be really good essentially.

[00:16:19] Matt: Yeah. One of the most fascinating things that I enjoyed, I’m not an agency owner anymore, ran an agency for a decade, uh, ran it for a decade, a decade ago. So it’s been quite some time.

[00:16:29] Matt: Uh, but one of the most fascinating things agency, in my opinion, is the fascination of branding and branding as the agency. And I’m curious, your thoughts, like when you look at the sea of competitors, let’s say you were at a WordCamp of, of, I don’t know what industry events in your field are aside from, let’s say WordCamps, but let’s say you’re at a WordCamp, there’s a hundred other agencies in the room.

[00:16:54] Matt: I feel like 98 percent of them can all do the same things. They’re all delivering the same things, but one [00:17:00] person is better at marketing themselves than the other. And that’s how people are winning, which then leads into bigger contracts because it’s the name brand. Like you. Like the old saying of you can’t, you can’t get fired for hiring IBM or what, you know, that old saying from many, many, many years ago.

[00:17:17] Matt: That is a fascinating aspect of the services business of the agency business. Um, I don’t know if you, I don’t have a direct question, but I, you know, a Don Draper, you know, mad men, like you. Think about how you can, uh, build up and grow this respect for, uh, in the, in the industry, for customers, for other SEO ists.

[00:17:36] Matt: And you’re like, yeah, I can raise my prices just because we’re bad ass. And I didn’t add a new team member. I didn’t add a new product. I just said, we’re the best. And I went in and I pitched a hundred K higher, you know. Talk to me about that. Do you ever think about the branding and the sales process

[00:17:54] Alex: in the company?

[00:17:55] Alex: Um, yeah, I mean, I think the point you make is like super valid. I mean, if you look at like the big [00:18:00] five accounting firms or the big, you know, like in any, in the agency world, the biggest. agencies there are in the world. I don’t think any of them really win because they put the output of the work that they do, building the best possible team first.

[00:18:13] Alex: And they wouldn’t have grown as big if they did, because that’s not a scalable model by any means. Um, so yeah, 100%. I think it’s, it’s entirely a positioning and marketing yourself angle. And you kind of earn the right ones. You have a big enough name to charge the money and turn clients away because If they don’t, if they say no to paying your like exorbitant fees, then you just turn them away and you don’t really care because you have enough revenue already.

[00:18:34] Alex: I’d like to think so. I mean, we’re all in this at the end of the day in business to make money. We wouldn’t be working so hard otherwise. So like we, we wouldn’t work like in the early days, 18 hours, and now still long, long days in order to, to. Get our work done, but we are passionate about it. At least I speak for myself.

[00:18:50] Alex: I’m passionate about what I do. And I think I love it. Uh, I say, I think it almost sounds as if I’m uncertain. I am certain I do love what I do. And I, [00:19:00] I don’t think that I would charge just because I could. Like let’s say a company approaches us and I’ve always felt that pricing should be fair to what it costs us.

[00:19:09] Alex: Like we deserve to have our margin. So I can put a bit, a bit of a example, maybe to the picture of how it works. So like we’ve started working with companies where we charge a few thousand dollars and that’s basically consulting strategy style of work. And then they come to us and they realize, Oh, you can actually do a lot more than this.

[00:19:24] Alex: You have a team and we don’t want to hire in house, but we want to do X, Y, Z. And. Can you find people to do it? And I’m like, yeah, it will cost us probably about this, but you already pay us the existing two, three K for strategy and basically planning the work. So now if we just want to do it as well, it will cost us a little bit more.

[00:19:39] Alex: And we sort of price within that. So they know their pricing is like matched to what they try to do it in house. It would cost. probably most of the times more, depending on what is done. Sometimes it would cost less to do it in house, but we just can do it better than they would if they would hire one person to do it in house.

[00:19:54] Alex: So I think that’s what our pricing revolves around at the moment. Um, that’s not to say I hope I don’t come. I mean, [00:20:00] maybe I do like three years down the line and listen. I remember this interview and I think we, we’ve changed our model and now we’re just like sending out. Seven figure proposals or, you know, RFPs for really big fortune 500 companies.

[00:20:13] Alex: If that, that ends up being the direction that we take, then I would, I would like to think there’s a way to split it into two like divisions of the company where you have one which operates in this way and one that can still serve the SAS companies that are like 500 K to 5 million ARR versus just the ones that are way bigger and would, you know, easily not even blink to sign a much bigger contract.

[00:20:34] Matt: Yeah. I mean, I, I’m not here to, to give you any advice cause you’re way smarter than I am in this, uh, in this realm, but I think of like your field as being much more, uh, you have to be much more reactionary and thinking on your toes than like when I was running my web agency, which was intake a project.

[00:20:54] Matt: We know what this project is. We scope it out, we plan it, we build it. That process takes time. There’s no, [00:21:00] there’s no way around it. We have to build out the, the, yeah. whatever the wireframes, the designs, we have to show it to everybody. Then we have to educate. We have to on, we have to launch this website, all the things, right?

[00:21:09] Matt: There’s a big piece of infrastructure when you’re building a website and trying to launch it to the, to the client. I feel there’s a premium that can be paid to an agency like yours for the sake of, Oh my God, the algorithm just changed. Uh, what do we do like midstream, right? All of a sudden another platform changes the way they do things or AI all of a sudden launches.

[00:21:31] Matt: And that like 3, 6, 9 month, 12 month plan that you had now has to adjust because of some other entity that is out of your control. Versus like a web agency where it’s like HTML, it’s not changing. Like, not yet, and like we have some time while we build the site, whereas yours I feel like is more reactionary.

[00:21:50] Matt: And that’s where these bigger agencies, at least from what I’ve seen, when I went up against bigger agencies, they just had I don’t know, luxury [00:22:00] resources. Like, oh, you want somebody to talk to? Oh, when we come to the meeting, we’re bringing you coffee. We’re bringing you breakfast. Where do you want to go?

[00:22:06] Matt: Like, it’s like, it’s all this like experience. And then like 20 percent of it is work that they actually do. Right. And I think there’s like a lot of people that want that experience and who pay for it. Big dollars for it. Because it’s a comfort zone, right? And it’s like less tech. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s what I saw when I was going up to buy them outside of Boston.

[00:22:27] Matt: So when I would pitch clients from other like Boston agencies, it was just like no chance. Like who’s this guy who drove an hour to get here?

[00:22:35] Alex: You know? Yeah, no, a hundred percent. And I think. Yeah, I think I, I don’t know, I don’t wanna misquote, but it’s like another, like McKinsey or, or, you know, uh, what’s the other big firm?

[00:22:43] Alex: I can’t even think of the name now. Uh, Deloitte quote. It’s like, you don’t hire like one of these firms because they’re really good at what you do. You hire them because they’re a good fall guy for the situation, which is like a hundred percent one of the other things. But yeah, I, I think there, there’s definitely like a lot, a lot of credit to [00:23:00] both sides.

[00:23:00] Alex: Like at the end of the day, there we’re businesses. I think, uh, speaking of SEO, there’s like, um. This current topic on Twitter, which is always funny to see people criticizing Neil Patel. I think he gets a lot of criticism in the SEO space and he’s kind of died down and he’s quieted down if you’ve probably realized in the last few years.

[00:23:17] Alex: I almost

[00:23:18] Matt: did that this morning, Alex. I’ll tell you, I saw a tweet from him and I almost did it.

[00:23:22] Alex: Uh, and yeah, there’s a lot of split opinions and there’s also in the WordPress space, I can think of a couple of people that people have split opinions on as well. And it’s like, at the end of the day, he’s shifted his focus to do his agency in a certain way.

[00:23:35] Alex: He’s building a successful business. If he, if, I mean, I hope, I don’t know much I hear. Some rumblings about how happy his clients are, but I won’t comment on that. And as long as the clients are happy and they continue to pay him, if they continue to pay him and they’re not happy with the service or they don’t get good results, then I would blame that process on the company and not having the according process to determine that the agency they’re working with is not successful.

[00:23:56] Alex: And I think with the companies that we work with, we kind of don’t have that luxury because we’re [00:24:00] not working with non savvy customers or big businesses where it’s kind of kind of like delegated to some marketing manager who doesn’t really have the ability to just decide whether to let go of an agency because they can.

[00:24:10] Alex: Clearly tell the work is not good. So we’re working with people that are really, really good at what they’re doing, but they just want that certain aspects of their work off of their plate or done by us, because we kind of take that burden of growing the team, managing the whole process. And like you said, with AI and everything kind of forcing us to be a little bit more reactive, or I would say proactive, we have the luck of like, or the benefit of working with multiple companies.

[00:24:33] Alex: It’s like, would you rather as a software company that’s impacted by an algorithm update or by. AI content. How do we take advantage of it? Work with like two in house people that you have that are fully dedicated and sure they might be spending in total 80 hours a week working on. Or would you rather work with us, which we’re working with like a dozen or so other companies, uh, doing this and we see the impact that it’s had.

[00:24:54] Alex: We’ve tested, we’ve had the ability to experiment with permission when we can be a bit more experimental to see how [00:25:00] things work. Um, and then make decisions based on actually doing things as opposed to just, okay, we’re going to try something on a smaller scale and it takes way longer to see any sort of result from it.

[00:25:08] Alex: I’m going to, I found the tweet.

[00:25:12] Matt: Now we’ll talk about this pricing thing. I promised the listeners. Uh, here’s the tweet. Welcome back to WordPress folks. I know a few Webflow agencies that are already making plans. What can I say? You were warned. Uh, now here’s your 13th reason not to build on platforms that you have zero control over.

[00:25:28] Matt: Uh, and this tweet is showing off, um, a screenshot where somebody posted. 35 per month per locale and saying the expensive 12 us plan wouldn’t translate. I’ve seen other people posting things like their web flow pricing went up to like 50, 000, you know, and they’re like, I just have this website, but you’re charging me for records.

[00:25:47] Matt: You’re charging me for users and none of this stuff exists, uh, in the WordPress or, or WooCommerce world. Um, I remember writing a post about Elementor versus web flow. On the [00:26:00] Matt Report blog, talking about when people were up in arms, the first element to our price increase, which was, I don’t know, I don’t have in front of me a few years ago, and people are like exploding.

[00:26:09] Matt: And I was so all you have to do is look at Webflow. If you stack in everything that Webflow has as like a builder component, and then the CMS side of it, that WordPress gives you your and a simple e commerce site, you’re talking like 1, 000 a month at Webflow. That was then that was years ago. Now it’s probably like 000 just to get into that base level.

[00:26:29] Matt: How do you see the landscape? Are you advising folks? Hey, switch to WordPress. Like if you come to across a company, you say, Hey, switch to WordPress. Are you wrestling with Webflow or other proprietary CMSs? Give me your lay of the land of open source versus closed source. So I,

[00:26:42] Alex: I think I. We both have come from like a definitely a place of natural bias when it comes to the conversation.

[00:26:48] Alex: There’s no doubt of that. Um, so yeah, it goes without saying I personally don’t prefer the flexibility webflow offers or lack thereof. Um, their CMS product and much of the suite really over WordPress, whether standard or [00:27:00] you go with the, you know, next JS front end or something like this, uh, for the majority of the work that we do, that’s what we see work best.

[00:27:05] Alex: And then if you use a, you know, if you want to build headless, uh, whether you then say, go with a different CMS. That is more suited to headless like sanity is I’ve seen a lot of great sites built with it. Um, and it’s a great experience to work with it as well. I think that it’s personal preference. My personal preference is no, uh, not to turn to Webflow, uh, price aside, because if you can, you know, build great sites with WordPress.

[00:27:28] Alex: Um, and you can build great sites with Webflow as well. I think both of us have probably seen terrible sites built on both platforms. So it’s not a matter of like, Oh, one platform can build an empirically better site. But I would argue that the flexibility WordPress offers means that you can control more of your site.

[00:27:45] Alex: And as you say, you aren’t tied into their ecosystem. I think that to kind of. put a pin in that side of it. Um, in terms of the end user being able to do what they want. Um, I don’t have a, like a force cause like the, the tweet was taken out of context. It was basically saying, Oh, [00:28:00] I’m advising. I was warning people not to switch to Webflow by no means.

[00:28:04] Alex: If you can build a better site with Webflow than you can with WordPress, build it with Webflow. I’d rather you build your site with Webflow than you build a, you know, half. Uh, WordPress site that doesn’t get you good results. Uh, you can always move to WordPress or a custom front end or rebuild when you have budget to hire a company to do it or hire a great developer in house to do it.

[00:28:22] Alex: But if you yourself or your company is currently able to do it with Webflow. And can’t do it with WordPress and Elementor or WordPress and full site editing, then do it with Webflow. I have no opposition to that. I think it’s not great to build on a closed source platform though. The same way, the same argument goes back to the age old discussion of like, oh, running a newsletter instead of just having all of your audience on YouTube and social media.

[00:28:44] Alex: I think it’s, to me, that whole discussion is in the same vein. Yeah.

[00:28:50] Matt: There’s also, there’s, I mean, we kind of made the argument, we, we kind of made the argument for Webflow for a particular client in the first half of this conversation. Look, if you have the [00:29:00] money and there’s a lot of organizations out there, you know, use the Neil Patel, uh, example, like, Hey, I don’t like what he’s doing.

[00:29:07] Matt: I don’t like, you know, the market he’s going, I don’t like it, but it doesn’t matter. He’s, he’s building a business. Right. And I’ve said this about, you know, WordPress his favorite punching bag, which is awesome motive. You know, look, you might not like it. I get it. There’s things I don’t like about it and I’m friends with Syed, but he’s got 400 plus people.

[00:29:23] Matt: He continues to grow and acquire and what can you do unless the products are really bad? People aren’t buying them anymore. And that’s what’s going to bring down the business. I don’t know what you want me to say. Same thing with Webflow. Hey, there are organizations out there where like million bucks a year, Webflow, fine, better, better than Microsoft, better than Adobe, better than, uh, Oracle, right.

[00:29:41] Matt: And going into these other bigger, you know, things. And we only see it from that open source. Looking up right of the WordPress world, which is usually just lesser dollars But there are plenty of agencies that are building massive WordPress sites It’s not to say and then I think maybe it becomes the issue of okay Maybe you throw a price aside [00:30:00] it becomes about being vendor lock in Flexibility of the platform and that’s maybe what security issues Publishing workflow.

[00:30:09] Matt: These are things that the bigger the bigger organizations are probably evaluating on and, and less about price. Um, yeah,

[00:30:16] Alex: because if you’re, if we’re being honest, like 35 per locale, if you’re actually translating your entire site, you’re going to be spending more than 35 a month to maintain multiple languages of your site in multiple languages.

[00:30:26] Alex: There’s no doubt about that in my opinion. So I think it was, it came across like, Oh, the price is the reason to move away. For me, it’s more of the eco. It’s definitely more the ecosystem. I prefer. trying to eliminate as much vendor lock in as possible. Um, if we switch gears from outside of, uh, outside of WordPress, you could argue in, in some ways, uh, people in Next.

[00:30:47] Alex: js are saying that a lot of the stuff that they’re pushing forward with front end technology is kind of limited, or at least much more difficult to do outside of Vercel, their deployment platform. I think this is a great example as well. Now, in, in there, I think they’re [00:31:00] not intentionally doing it. It’s just taking a, a while for the other deployment platforms to catch up a little bit.

[00:31:04] Alex: But yeah, in general, like you don’t want to. choose a platform that limits you. So if we switch out of WordPress to apply more context, so like I can think of, um, Calendly versus cal. com, or there’s actually two other, there’s, uh, plugins in the WordPress space. Um, there’s the one from Brainstorm Forest, Latepoint, and there’s also the WP Manage Ninja guys have the other one, which is called Fluent Booking or Fluent Schedule.

[00:31:28] Alex: So if you, if you use that example, and then you take WordPress versus. Whatever your favorite closed source website building platform is as platform number two. And then in the third example, you take project management and then you say Asana, Atrium, Basecamp, and then I can’t even think of an open source project management platform probably for better, uh, for a good reason.

[00:31:47] Alex: And I think in two of those, it’s pretty easy that you would probably want to choose an open source alternative. But in the third one, project management, you wouldn’t want to self host. Now with WordPress, I think it’s quite a clear example where for us and our [00:32:00] natural bias and experience, and just preferring the workflow with WordPress, we do want the control.

[00:32:04] Alex: We do want WordPress. We want to host it with a specific hosting providers that we trust, um, and own as much of the stack as possible. And then beyond that, we can control the plugins that we run. We can run our own plugins easily without being charged extra to do all this stuff, basically.

[00:32:17] Matt: Yeah. You know, another, another piece of this, and this is getting a little bit in.

[00:32:21] Matt: deeper into the rabbit hole of like sass pricing and business models, but again, at an old job, we transitioned from one, from one devil to the next, and it was HubSpot to ClickUp. And, uh, you know, and you go from HubSpot’s local business to me and, you know, have actually known them for years, having traveled to Boston and being in that, selling in that space for quite some time.

[00:32:45] Matt: It’s funny to see how large they’ve gotten. But anyway, the point is you sign up with ClickUp and you’re like, Oh. It’s 50 bucks a user. That’s not bad. It’s better than HubSpot, blah, blah, blah, and you start going into it and then, you know, as you get into the platform, their, uh, sales specialist or whatever their titles are [00:33:00] contacting you and it’s like, Oh, Hey, did you know about this module?

[00:33:02] Matt: And you’re going to need this module to enable that. And you’re like, Oh damn, I didn’t know that. And then it’s 99 a user. And you’re like, Oh, okay. Now it’s 99 a user. And then they say, and then we’ll, you know, we’ll set it all up for you for 10, 000 literally. Right. They have their professional network or their professional services side of it.

[00:33:18] Matt: And you’re like, I thought software was supposed to be better than this. Like I thought the reason why you charge so much is to be better than this. That’s not the question though. I was recently watching David Henmeyer, Hanson, DHH, uh, from Basecamp. I don’t know if you caught it with Jason Calacanis. He was talking about their.

[00:33:36] Matt: Upcoming once. com product sounds like it’s going to be a slack competitor, uh, which I kind of guessed, uh, early days. What do you think about that model moving forward? Do you think that’s, do you think they’re going to be able to survive? Uh, well, I mean, of course, I’m able to survive. That’s not a really good question, but what do you think about the pay once model for these larger software

[00:33:56] Alex: companies?

[00:33:57] Alex: Yeah, so I think Basecamp is like, Basecamp can justify it [00:34:00] because they’re a hundred million, I think, a year or more, but I don’t think it’s a great model for new software companies to try to break into. So if you’re like looking at a space, let’s say you want to build a HubSpot competitor and you think I’ve, I’ve nailed it.

[00:34:11] Alex: I’m going to build an amazing HubSpot competitor and launch it. And it’s just going to be a thousand per license per user, but you pay once and never again. And I don’t think that, I don’t think that you. I would be, I would love it if someone proves me wrong at some point, but I don’t think anyone can build a sustainable business model like that.

[00:34:28] Alex: I think the choice for it to be a Slack, I was also a bit confused. And I’m very curious to see how Basecamp launches it. Cause we, we used Basecamp for a really long time. Um, only recently we, now we switched to Asana for most of our internal stuff, except visual projects for which we use Atrium, of course.

[00:34:41] Alex: Um, and I think. Yeah, because chat used to be a core part of Basecamp itself, and they kind of intentionally didn’t make instant messaging more of a center of attention in Basecamp, and that was an intentional product decision. So for the first once. com product to be a chat product, I wonder whether it will be [00:35:00] completely separate from Basecamp, what the whole intention of doing it that way is, essentially.

[00:35:06] Alex: Yeah,

[00:35:06] Matt: I mean, I listened to that episode, uh, of course, and. You know, DHH is a character himself, right? I mean, he’s, uh, you know, you can’t be polarizing or whatever, but it’s funny for him to talk about like the exorbitant profits that these, you know, mega corporations make, uh, you know, like the ones we’ve mentioned before, Oracle, Microsoft, Adobe, et cetera.

[00:35:28] Matt: And, uh, but also Soda Space Camp, right? Like they’ve made. Tons and tons of profits. In fact, I saw Jason Freed like post his Chicago house for sale on Twitter the other day and it was like 7. 8 million in the, in the, in the, you know, in the heart of Chicago, taking up three city blocks. And I’m just like, Oh yeah, you guys are doing all right.

[00:35:48] Matt: I guess it’s okay to launch this once product because this is probably like the final chapter of your, uh, of your online business career. I think they’re

[00:35:56] Alex: planning to launch a lot more. I’m super curious. And I think their like [00:36:00] execution of it will kind of, I think they’ve gotten to this stage Basecamp where they hadn’t changed their pricing model for a really long time.

[00:36:06] Alex: Like they were, they were at 99 a month for unlimited users for the longest time. So you could argue that for the project management space, arguably not the greatest pricing model, considering that you have the best expansion model revenue that when a company grows and hires a new full time employee or contractor, they pay additional money to you.

[00:36:24] Alex: Um, and they kind of nuked that with having 99 a month. experimented for a while, switching away from it. I don’t know what it is now exactly. And now they’re becoming even more expanded, experimental. They’re pushing the product forward as well. Ever since we moved away, they’ve shipped a bunch of improvements, some of which we were waiting for years that they would make.

[00:36:41] Alex: So, yeah, I think. I’m very interested to see, I wonder like whether they turned the ones. com stuff into a portfolio of companies, which is what it sounded like. They want to build multiple things. I, I thought that what they would launch was their deployment platform or deployment script that they were talking about as an open source developer tool.

[00:36:59] Alex: Cause they [00:37:00] ever since moving away from the cloud, which was sort of this big thing that again, DHH was so opinionated about, um, was that they would show how they deploy with. in Rails, their Rails application to their own homegrown cloud solution that they, you know, pay instead of going to AWS.

[00:37:17] Matt: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:37:18] Matt: It’d be interesting to see obviously what they do. Uh, wrapping up here real quick, real quick. What’s your take on, uh, the impact of AI in your space? Uh, you know, I, again, am a novice in this. I, I have my chat GPT account. I’ve made a GPT for Matt report. Like you can go and search the 350 plus episodes that I, uh, that I recorded over the years.

[00:37:41] Matt: I use it as a, an ideation tool for blog writing, but I don’t trust it. I don’t use it. I still feel it, uh, kind of cumbersome to actually craft long form content. Um, it’s not the dooms. day kind of thing that I see on Twitter, uh, what are your thoughts?

[00:37:59] Alex: [00:38:00] Um, I think there’s, there’s good applications, like similar, my experience with it is very similar to yours.

[00:38:04] Alex: Like I found it great for certain things. I find it great for like when I really have no inspiration for email subject lines and I want to make a joke. It’s ironically, I’m not able to like incorporate a pun into something. Then I find it funny to turn to. chat GPT and useful because it saves me the time of just sitting at a blank screen for a long time.

[00:38:21] Alex: Um, yeah, I think it’s becoming more and more useful. What I will say is the biggest shift that it’s had is in hiring. And I think that that’s across the board in customer support, in content and everything is that the type of people that it actually. And this sounds insensitive, but it actually makes sense to hire has gone up.

[00:38:37] Alex: Like you need people that are original thinkers, that are doers, that are actually able to come to a topic and bring some original thought. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to hire them in content. In customer support, you don’t need somebody anymore who can answer the question that’s already in your documentation because that will, you know, intercom help scout now as well.

[00:38:53] Alex: They acquired another AI company, uh, to build that into their platform. They all do it really well. Um, so yeah, I [00:39:00] think it’s raised the bar. which makes it more difficult to find people that are very good at the moment. But I think longterm, what it will do is it will just force everybody to become a lot better, which I like because I think it’s done it for our work.

[00:39:10] Alex: It’s made a lot of the work that companies like us, and I would say I’m not going to exclude us from it. I would say like the bottom 10 percent of the work that we do, the types of content that we created, like the listicles and the stuff like this, it’s made all of this pretty redundant, pretty easy to create.

[00:39:23] Alex: So it’s leveled that playing field and it makes us focus more on the actually. interesting things to do, which long term is more enjoyable, creating more value for the internet, as opposed to just spitting out a bunch of junk. I don’t know if you saw, I think it was The Verge, the article that was like, SEOs have ruined the internet.

[00:39:39] Alex: Uh, that was like a couple of weeks ago and it was basically like, Oh, every, uh, article is an affiliate article. But then people pointed out that like a significant amount of traffic to sites like The Verge, uh, The New York Times are. affiliate posts on their Wirecutter, you know, affiliate sites and stuff like that.

[00:39:54] Alex: So yeah, I think overall it’s raised, raised the bar. So I hope it continues to be a positive thing and not [00:40:00] a negative thing. Is

[00:40:02] Matt: there a general sentiment in your space where if content was created by AI, like you have to, like, you know, you know, you’re informing the customer, like, Hey, we, yeah, I don’t know, 20 percent of this was made by AI.

[00:40:14] Matt: 80 percent was checked, fact checked by a human or whatever the number is. Like, do you see AI content working, but then also now we have to disclose this as a, as the mechanism of source. So

[00:40:26] Alex: I, I had the opinion in the very beginning, I was quite opinionated that companies should openly disclose on their website and almost be forced to disclose that they’re using AI.

[00:40:33] Alex: Obviously it’s not as simple any, it’s anymore. It wasn’t at the time, really that black and white. And I, I, it takes the same opinion as I used to with. just low quality human written content, or just not low quality, but just low effort human written content. So something was quick to put together. And I think one of the experiments early on, and there’s a case study of this recently, which is really funny, is this, uh, finance, uh, financial planning software company.

[00:40:56] Alex: I don’t know if that’s the category they would box themselves into, but that’s kind of what comes to [00:41:00] mind for me called. causal or casual. Um, I don’t know how you pronounce it. Um, they did a bunch of glossary definitions in their space. So like, what is investing, what is like stock options, all of this.

[00:41:11] Alex: And like, I don’t know if those were specific examples, but things like this, and they created all the content with AI, no original thought, no original images, nothing. Um, and of course quickly because they spun up, um, Thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of pages, they drove a lot of traffic and somebody posted, posted, uh, the person who did it wrote bragging about what they did and that they automated the hell out of it and they didn’t actually do it without saying the company name, but because they said the category they did it in, everybody knew quite quickly who it was.

[00:41:37] Alex: And then people were saying how this is just unethical and it’s low quality, it doesn’t add value. Um, and quite quickly after the traffic started to the site started tanking and people were posting about it. So yeah, I think that’s the angle that we take. If it’s something that’s so. And it comes back to if it’s something that’s so easy to create that there’s very little value in it, uh, then we question whether we, we did enough.

[00:41:58] Alex: Um, and we try to [00:42:00] judge because let’s say you are writing a best WordPress form plugin post. You don’t need to write a 10, 000 word post about that topic, even if you are Gravity Forms and you have tons of opinions to bring to the table. So you don’t, you, I wouldn’t use AI if I were Gravity Forms to write that post because it’s clearly.

[00:42:15] Alex: The highest, most important posts to write and rank for, but there’s a limited amount of original thinking that you can bring to a post like this. You can bring your take and then you can sort of like introduce alternate alternative options, free alternatives and things like this and kind of leave it at that because the end user already knows that you’re writing about.

[00:42:32] Alex: Your own product and going to put yourself first anyway. So yeah, I think it kind of comes to a decision of what you’re writing about. Can you actually bring original thought to it? If not, then you don’t force yourself to, and then you can use AI to accelerate and improve parts of it. There are ethical ways to do that.

[00:42:46] Alex: I think that’s kind of where I see it at the moment.

[00:42:50] Matt: Man, I want to have you back in six months. We can talk about, uh, how this stuff has changed. Alex, uh, thanks for hanging out today. Fantastic conversation. Um, probably going to [00:43:00] go down as one of the best conversations of the year. Uh, there’s not much time left for anyone to take that slot from you.

[00:43:05] Matt: So thanks for hanging out today. Where can folks go to

[00:43:07] Alex: say, uh, you can, uh, say hi to me on Twitter at Alex J Penias or just, uh, check us out at scale math. com. Yeah. And it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

[00:43:17] Matt: That’s it for today’s episode. Get the weekly newsletter at the WP minute. com slash subscribe.

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