A quick interview with Shawn Hesketh (WP101)

Hi could you tell us a little about yourself and background?

My name is Shawn Hesketh, and I’m the creator of the WordPress 101 video tutorial series for beginners. Before I launched WP101.com, I was a freelance designer for 26 years, creating identity systems and branding strategies for my clients in and around the Houston area.

When did you first stumble upon WordPress?

I started designing websites in 1994, using designer-friendly tools like Adobe PageMill. As my skills and the complexity of my clients’ sites increased, I began using Dreamweaver and coding sites in PHP. But by the mid-2000s, clients began to request the ability to edit their own content without hiring a ‘webmaster’ for every tiny change. I explored all the popular content management solutions at the time, but they were clunky and quite difficult to use. So I was overjoyed when I finally discovered WordPress 2.0 in June 2006. Compared to Joomla, Drupal, and Expression Engine, I found the WordPress UI to be super-intuitive, and thankfully, so did my clients. So I began recommending WordPress for nearly all my web design projects, and have never looked back.

What product / website of yours are you most proud of and why?

When I recorded my first series of WordPress 101 tutorial videos in 2008, I had no idea that they would go on to help more than a million beginners learn how to create their own website using WordPress. And I’m extremely proud of our partnerships with GoDaddy, Media Temple, and more than 300 other WordPress companies that have put our WordPress tutorial videos to work for their customers. That speaks volumes about the quality of our videos and the training we provide. Since that first set of videos, I’ve updated and re-recorded the WordPress 101 video series with every major release — a total of 21 times!

If you begin with a people-first approach, asking questions and learning what pain points your audience struggles with on a daily basis, you’ll be in the best place to create meaningful solutions to those problems.

Have you had any epic fails so far that you’d like to share with us?

My biggest fail to date continues to haunt me to this day. When we released the WP101 Plugin in 2011, we integrated it with Cart66 Pro to handle the subscription payments. Sadly, that product only supports subscriptions via PayPal. Fast forward to present day, and we’re stuck using PayPal, since all of our recurring subscriptions are tied to the original PayPal IPN. Replacing the underlying subscription platform without affecting our current customer base will be a tricky, drawn-out process. So, learn from my mistake, and carefully consider your payment gateway before launching your product. If I were rebuilding it today, we’d integrate with Stripe instead of PayPal.

In your opinion, is the premium themes / plugins market saturated? Are there any opportunities out there?

If you’re just getting started building a WordPress site today, you could find yourself shopping thousands of plugins and themes. How do you know which ones are reputable? Which ones will continue to offer support a couple of years down the road? And one of the most popular questions we receive is, “How do I make my WordPress site look like the gorgeous theme demo I was shown when I bought the theme?” It’s a confusing mess. And that’s why I believe the biggest opportunity might be found not in themes — but in ‘site builder’ solutions that enable the site owner to create their own website from the ground up via a simple and intuitive GUI. I love the work being done by the Beaver Builder team, and I think they’re uniquely positioned to serve this growing need.

Check out the entire library of 98 WordPress tutorials to start learning WordPress today

What’s your advice to new theme / plugin authors?

Stop answering questions that aren’t being asked. Every day, I receive emails from new plugin or theme authors, asking me to give feedback on their hot new product. That’s the exact opposite approach they should be taking. “Build it and they will come,” only works in the movies. If you begin with a people-first approach, asking questions and learning what pain points your audience struggles with on a daily basis, you’ll be in the best place to create meaningful solutions to those problems. Remember, “Advertising is the price companies pay for being unoriginal.” Create a solution that solves real-world problems, and you won’t have to work hard at all to spread the word.

If you had the chance to add a single feature in WordPress core, what would it be?

One of the first concepts we have to teach new WordPress users is this idea that you have to edit your content in one place, then preview those changes in another. The Customizer has gone a long way toward minimizing this confusion, but it doesn’t work for everything a site owners sees in the Preview. So now we highlight the items they can edit in the Customizer, leaving them to figure out when and how to edit the rest. Front-end, in-place editing (like Squarespace) would offer a more intuitive, WYSIWYG approach that would all but eliminate the biggest area of confusion for new WordPress users.

Is the inclusion of the REST API a decision in the right direction and why?

Sure. The REST API could pave the way for more intuitive interfaces for site owners like custom dashboards and more. It seems to be very much in its infancy, so I’m excited to see where it goes in the coming months and years.

What’s your current hardware / software setup. Any apps you can’t live without?

I use a 27-inch iMac with a 5k Retina display, with a second 27-inch display, which is invaluable for recording screencasts. Audio quality is one of the biggest differentiators when creating high-quality training videos. So I’m currently using a Rode Procaster XLR mic, a Grace Design M101 pre-amp, ART Voice Channel vocal pre-processor, and a Duet D/A converter by Apogee. This chain helps me record very clean voiceovers. And of course, I couldn’t live without ScreenFlow for recording screencasts. Love that app!

What’s your typical day like?

I start most days with a 30-minute ‘Zen run,’ which really helps set the tone for the rest of my day. I spend most of my day answering WordPress questions and planning new courses for WP101 members. I participate in several mastermind groups, which really helps me stay connected to others in our community and overcome that sense of isolation that can easily happen when you work as a ‘solopreneur.’ When I’m not in front of the computer, you can usually find me playing with our three kids and our new beagle puppy. Or on the back porch, enjoying a nice cigar and a glass of whiskey. Slàinte!

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