Introducing Mike Demo
A former MousePlanet MouseStation Podcast co-host, Mike Demo is a lover of open source first, specific tools later. Before joining BoldGrid as a community evangelist, Mike spent years in the financial and insurance industries. He believes in sharing his business acumen and marketing insight. He presents regularly on open source topics like WordPress and Joomla! – where he was a board member of that project.
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions, and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 107.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Mike Demo, a former Mouseplanet, MouseStation podcast co-host. Mike Demo is a lover of open source first, specific tools later. Before joining BoldGrid as a community evangelist, Mike spent years in the financial and insurance industries. He believes in sharing his business acumen and marketing insight. He presents regularly on open source topics like WordPress and Joomla, where he was a board member of that project. Welcome, Mike. We’re glad to have you here today.
Mike: My pleasure.
Liam: Mike, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
Mike: Yeah. My name is Mike Demo, and I am open source evangelist. So I travel around the world and I go to things like WordCamps and hosting conferences, and just connect with community. I’ve been in making websites ever since middle school. I used to code all my papers in HTML.
Tara: Wow. Let’s ask a little bit about the Disney because I can see behind you some Disney stuff, Disney posters, and it sounds like you are involved in some Disney podcast stuff. So tell us a little bit about your Disney.
Mike: I’m a huge Disney fanatic probably more so than most anyone else in the WordPress community. And I am including Roy in that. My wife and I, live in Minnesota but we have annual passes to both Disney World and Disneyland. We go about once a month. I used to work for the company. I learned a lot. I ended up becoming friends and get to know some of the executives that are in the company.
And then I started a podcast with my really good friend Mark Goldhaber who used to write for a mouseplanet.com. And we did that for years and years. So if you want to listen to a five straight months of my voice, you can go to mouseplanet.com/podcast. But I still love it and we go all the time.
Tara: Wow. What’s your favorite thing to do at Disney World?
Mike: At Disney World, it would probably go to the Polynesian Resort to go to Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto which is their kind of hit in a way Interactive Tiki Bar.
Tara: So you do the adulting stuff?
Mike: I do everything. I ask your character breakfast. But the thing that we have to do every time is go to Trader Sam’s.
Tara: All right. And do you have a preference of Disneyland over Disney World or vice versa?
Mike: You can’t really compare it two. Disneyland is the original. It’s small. It’s intimate. But there’s something special there because that was the part that Walt actually saw in operation. The best analogy I’ve ever heard between Disneyland and Disney World is Disneyland is like the Museum of Natural History. You can do it in a day or two and has lots of classic things to see. And it’s something that’s worth going to. Whereas Disney World is like the Smithsonian where you could spend a week but not even scratched the surface.
Tara: All right. That’s helpful. That’s helpful.
Liam: So to clarify, land in California, world in Florida?
Mike: Correct, if you’re talking about the US domestic parks. Some of them still have the international parks a lot and still use the land for the rest of those. But yeah.
Tara: I think people get them confused. I’ve only ever been to Disney World, and not that often. But it amazes me how well run it is and how they just seem to plan for everything.
Mike: I mean, they have a lot of contingencies all about the guest experience and the fact they don’t call customers but they call them guests, you know, just really changes the mindset. And I would kind of latch on to that. In fact, my wife and I were just at Disneyland a few weeks ago to see the new Star Wars land that just opened up.
Tara: I think I’ve heard this before or read it somewhere that the sort of translating that philosophy that they have to other parts of life and other businesses, this whole idea of guests and planning for everything. Have you seen that applied in your business life?
Mike: Yes. There’s actually two books I really recommend on this topic. One of them is called “Be Our Guest,” which is published by the Disney Institute. Disney actually has a professional development arm that you can, you know, go to classes and things for. And they travel around, and they have conferences. Then the other one I think it’s called “Creating Magic.” And that’s by Lee Cockerell. And he’s the former Executive Vice President of Walt Disney World.
When I was an intern, I sent him an email saying, “Hey, I would love to have lunch with you,” and he replied back, “Sure.” There’s 55,000 cast members at Disney World. So the fact I went from intern to the executive vice president ruffled a few feathers, but I got to know Lee. And him and I still communicate to this day, even though he’s in retirement. But it’s all about, you know, how do you make the guest experience better, and how do you try to deal with contingency?
A good example of that is actually the new Star Wars Galaxies that just opened in Disneyland. So Pandora, when the Pandora land opened at Disney World, the wait to get into the land, when it first opened was like seven hours to even get into the land, to get into line for the rides. So a lot of people complained about that. But it has business effects too. Because if you’re in line, what are you not doing? You’re not shopping, you’re not eating, you’re not spending that money, which Disney loves to get. Full disclosure, I also am a shareholder of the company.
So for the new Star Wars land, they’re like, “Well, Star Wars is bigger than Avatar, what are we going to do?” So now you grab your phone, and you can get into a board, or you get a boarding pass. And then you can experience the rest of the resort, not stand in line, and your phone will buzz when it’s your time to enter the land. But what are you doing during that time, you’re spending money by shopping, dining, and you’re having a great experience because you are not in line and you get to go on other rides and things like that.
And you guess, satisfaction goes up and the revenue for the company goes up. And it’s just a win-win overall. So they always are looking for things like that. And I was lucky to work on a couple of those projects for the resort arm when I was working at the corporate office.
Liam: Tell me about Lee Cockerell. I stumbled on him as a podcast listener a few years ago. And while I don’t listen to his show, as often as I did, I really enjoyed hearing him speak. It was very much that could be anybody’s grandfather there. Usually professionally accomplished. But his tone, his demeanor, the choice of words, his intonation struck me as very welcoming, and very kind and very down to earth despite the fact that he ran an enormously successful and enormous business. What was that like sitting down with him for the first time?
Mike: Sitting down with him for the first time was a little scary because I was just an intern. But I saw him speak a couple of times before then. He is just like a grandfather. I’ve been able to interview him in the past when we had our podcast. He’s very down to earth. He could be wearing a cowboy hat and he looks like that old classic, just like, you know, teddy bear of a guy. But he has so much knowledge.
He started in Marriott and become a GM at Marriott. He has some amazing stories from his time in hospitality there. He opened Euro Disneyland. When that first opened, it was a huge failure. They were losing about a million euros a day in operations because they expected like, oh, the French will want French type of food and all of this stuff. And everyone was expecting an American experience. And so they had to make a lot of changes. Now it’s called Disneyland Paris, etc. But he did so much for the company.
He really cared about cast members. He really cared about the frontline employee. He would meet with anybody. It wasn’t just, “Oh, I have an open door policy.” He would literally meet with anybody. Even after I left the company, he stayed in touch with me. He still runs consulting, like talks and things through different events. If you get a chance to see him speak, I highly recommend it. He is retired.
I was talking to his son, who actually used to be the, I believe the President of Magic Kingdom. Now he’s also doing consulting too, and they kind of a tag team thing. I was talking to his son last year because we’re both speaking at the same conference. He’s like, “Yeah, I walked in and dad was taking a nap, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You supposed to be productive.'” He’s like, “But I scheduled it. I scheduled the nap.” And the best thing that Lee’s probably known for in the company and for cast members is this time management course.
So he actually has made that online. He sells it as a time management course. And he has a book called “Time Management Magic.” It’s the best time management thing I’ve ever seen. So if you are needing help to manage your time or your calendar, that is probably his best professional product that I’ve seen he released quite frankly,
Tara: Ooh, shiny object for Tara. Looking it up right now.
Liam: Mike, tell me about your road into open source. And particularly it sounds like you went to Joomla first if you’re a board member there.
Mike: I actually went to PHP-Nuke first. And that was a funny story. So started on PHP-Nuke, was making websites. I did a couple of sites in OsCommerce and then CRE Loaded for the e-commerce side. I was looking for a new CMS, so I loaded up MyHost and I loaded up Fantastico, if you’ll remember that before Soft Techless came out. I just started installing CMSs.
Then I found this thing called Mambo and I was like, “Oh, this is cool.” Made some sites in Mambo. This was one month before the fall. And I was not in the community. And then I’m like, “This thing’s not getting a lot of updates.” And then I started looking for another CMS.” And then I found Joomla and I’m like, “This looks a lot like Mambo.” It wasn’t until like a year later that I realized it was just the fork when all the developers went off to do Joomla. And that is really my first major open source project that I started getting involved in.
I started to work at an agency, contributing. I ended up on the finance team. And then I was on to Joomla World Conference team, which is their annual conference. I ran JoomlaDay in Minnesota, which is like a WordCamp, but for Joomla stuff. That did pretty well. Our second year, we had about 500 tickets sold, which is not bad.
I ended up becoming the treasurer due to just different circumstances. I was the treasurer for about a term and a half because I joined halfway through one person’s term who had to leave early due to personal reasons. And then I had another full term of myself. I got to see how a project like that can work from a governance standpoint. I just really fell in love with the community.
Then I started looking for evangelist jobs. When I was working the Joomla booth as a volunteer at HostingCon in New Orleans two years ago, I ran into Todd, who is a co-owner of BoldGrid, and we knew each other from some other Joomla stuff. He was like, “I got this WordPress thing. Would you consider working at WordPress?” I said the stereotypical khaki, you know, tribalism “no, but maybe let me look at it.” I fell in love with BoldGrid. Then that got me to look at WordPress.
Now I speak on open source about of tribalism because I see in every open source community I participate in WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc., that there is this weird “my team is better than any other team,” when really it’s not WordPress versus Joomla versus Drupal versus whatever. It’s open source versus proprietary. And all these close source SAS solutions. The projects aren’t fighting. The leadership of the projects aren’t fighting. And that’s what I think a lot of end-users who want to feel like they’re part of a winning team forget. And that’s something I give a lot of those talks about now.
Tara: Tell us a little bit about BoldGrid.
Mike: Sure. BoldGrid is a suite of plugins that tries to make your WordPress experience easier. It’s about eight different plugins right now. It’s all modular. So you can use one or seven or whatever you want to do. The thing we’re probably best known for is our Post and Page Builder. Then we also have something called BoldGrid Inspirations which is kind of like a Wizard experience onboard ramp into WordPress, if you’ve never used it before. Think like that Wix or Weebly, like click-through wizard, we kind of bring that into the WordPress space. But then at the end of the day, it’s still WordPress, do what you want.
We have a backup plugin, which is growing pretty well. We have different things like a gallery. We integrate into Stock images inside the media manager so you can search for free Stock images or paid stock images that are about 70% off retail if found that same image like in Shutterstock or something. And we’re just trying to help people kind of move the bar forward. We have some cloud services. So you can spin up a free sandbox WordPress account. No credit card needed at any time. Just to test stuff out. We’re just trying to give back to the community and provide different services that people may find useful.
Liam: Who’s a typical client for BoldGrid.
Mike: It really depends on the product we’re talking about. Inspirations, it’s a lot of DIYers, first-time people that haven’t used WordPress before. But we also have a Theme Framework, and agencies use that. A lot of agencies like our custom block builders so they can build their own blocks and share them to their clients. A lot of developers like our backup and quick note Sandbox so they can test something, you know, without having to deal with local. So it’s really kind of the whole swath, but it really depends on what product you’re talking about. So we’re best known, I think, for the DIY market, but we really appeal to the whole thing, if people kind of look at all of our products and not just think of us as a page builder.
Tara: Cool. I’ve seen your team or people, I don’t know if I’ve met you in person, but I think I have a BoldGrid T-shirt. So I’m familiar a little bit with what you do. And I imagine with the emphasis on blocks, and not just talk about that it makes a lot more sense to people now, too. So thanks for explaining that.
I want to switch over to a question that we ask all of our guests, which is how you define success. And I’ve loved hearing about your implementation of some Disney philosophies and the open source thoughts that you have. So that may come into play here. But if you can share with us how you define success, that would be great.
Mike: I know it’s a candid answer to say, “Oh, so that you can do what you love every day,” and all that stuff. But for me, what is kind of hit me like a ton of bricks is when I first started in this open source community, I really had a hard time just making ends meet at all. Now I have a talk where I lay out all the lessons that I made mistakes on so that people can hopefully not do that when they freelance.
For me, it’s to be able to go to a Disney park and buy a piece of art that, you know, five years ago, I would never be able to comprehend. And some of this art can be fairly expensive, but we plan for it, and we budget for it. But just to have that freedom is really nice, and not have it be a big deal. We don’t have that money pressure that we did maybe five, ten years ago when we were just living paycheck to paycheck, and “Oh, my God, I got $1,000 contract on…Yaay, we can pay off some bills now and things like that.” So that’s how it affects me.
Also just being able to make a bunch of friendships. I have met so many people in most every major city, not in the world, quite frankly, and being able to connect with those people and hang out with them. My wife always makes jokes that we hang out with our friends more when we’re not in where we live in Minnesota. If we traveled to this city or that city, there’s always people we are meeting up with. But we have no friends locally. Or the friends we have locally, I never see them in Minnesota. I always see them at a WordCamp or hosting event or something else in another state or city. It’s not a firm answer, but that’s kind of how it works for me.
Liam: Yeah, I like that. I think the stress and pressure of financial constraints particularly where bills aren’t being paid in a timely fashion can’t be understated. That’s an enormous, enormous stress. And it’s difficult to focus on the important things when the rent is due, and the refrigerator is empty and something else on the car breaks. So I’m delighted to hear that you’re in a position where you have the flexibility to enjoy the things that make life more meaningful for you.
Let me ask you. Did your wife do WordPress? Is she involved in the community? It sounds like she might travel to some of the WordCamps with you.
Mike: She does do WordPress and Joomla, not by choice. I have a few freelance clients that I still had before I took the BoldGrid job. I haven’t added any more or whatever since then. But there are times when I am in another country, and there’s something that comes up and I’m like, “Hey, honey, can you do X, Y, Z?” And she knows enough to do basic management of all the sites. And she does. I always just say, “Hey, you’re spending the money too.”
So she’s really learned Joomla not by choice, WordPress a little bit. But now she has her own freelance clients, believe it or not. And she’s doing WordPress stuff on her own that, you know, not at all involved with me or any of my recommendations. And that’s exciting. She used to volunteer at a bunch of Joomla events. She hasn’t been to any WordPress things yet, mainly because she prefers to save the miles for a time she can spend time with me. Because if it’s a WordCamp, that’s just not going to happen.
She’s going to go to our first WordCamp in Orlando next month though. We’re doing a week vacation in California for Disneyland and Universal. And then we’re taking a red eye over to Florida for a WordCamp Orlando. And then if we add a couple of days to go to Disney World, that may happen. I can’t make any promises.
Liam: That’s awesome. That is awesome.
Tara: I wanted to ask you another question that we ask everyone, which is about advice. So we ask you to share with us a piece of advice that you’ve implemented in your life and that you’d share with us – something that’s been important to you.
Mike: This came from John Rampton. He was rated like one of the top online influencers on the internet by Time Magazine. He writes for all bunch of big publications. He used to own host.com. Now he owns due.com, which is just a payment service. But he told me that he tries to help everybody he comes in contact with as much as possible. Because he said, “I’ve done the math, Demo.” And these are paraphrase. They are not the exact numbers.
He’s like, “Every 10 people I come in contact with, it’s going to equal X number of dollars in my pocket. Every hundred dollars’ people I help, it’s going to equal X dollars, every thousand people I help, it’s going to equal X dollars.” And the thousands of really, you know, it’s like a seven-figure number. So he doesn’t go to a community event to say, “Let me tell you about my business, and why it’s great and why you should buy my stuff.” He tries to honestly generally help people. And I’ve tried to mimic that as much as I can.
For example, I met a speaker just this weekend at WordCamp Ottawa. She was a first time speaking at a WordCamp, but she has a lot of just general entrepreneurship topics for people that are just starting out. I’m like, “Oh, my goodness. This is an amazing conference that’s all about turning what you love into what you do. It’s in Florida, and the call for speakers ends on Monday. You should definitely apply.” And then she emailed me on Sunday night, and said, “I applied, hope for the best.” I try to connect people as much as I can. Because most time when I go to these events, I’m just trying to figure out how I can help. And it does come back in multiples down the line.
Tara: Thanks for sharing that. I wanted to ask you going back to your comment when you were an intern, that you reached out and asked for this meeting, and people were sort of flabbergasted by that concept. Where did that come from, that sort of chutzpah to reach out to somebody high up when you were an intern? Did you expect a response or were you surprised by that? And is that how you were raised? Where did that come from?
Mike: I expected a response. Because Lee Cockerell, there was an internal Career Day where he could like to talk to people in different departments, because obviously, Disney has lots of different moving parts from hospitality to engineering, to etc., to creative and merchandising and all that. So they had an inner office Career Day where you could come and listen to different departments, learn about different roles, maybe sign up for what they call Cross-U where you can do a day in someone else’s shoes. And Lee gave a talk. And he’s like, “My email is right there. If you ever want to talk or whatever, I’m here all the time. I’m going to talk to any cast member.”
When he was the Executive Vice President and Alan Weiss was the Executive President and they both gave a talk, but Lee Cockerell was the only one who gave an active, like, saying, “Hey, you can reach out to me.” So I did. I just shot him an email in his email address. He replied with a day. And then he replied, “And I’ll make sure your leadership that you have that time off.” So that’s when he went down to say, “Hey, this cast member needs this time blah, blah, blah.”
It was a little scary. I had my manager pull me apart and say, “Why did you reach out to Lee. What are we doing? What’s wrong? Blah, blah, blah.” And I’m like, “Nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to get an opportunity to meet him and talk to him. But because of that, I think I had different opportunities. Because I was at Pop Century in the resort track for interns, to begin with, I was one of like 200 cast members just at the front desk. Just the front desk of this resort there’s 200 cast members. Not the resort, just the front desk.
It went from me being fairly unknown to then me, when I applied to be a trainer, I was accepted as a trainer as an intern, which is very rare. Then I ended up to be able to work in the back office as an intern, which was not done before. Then I had opportunity to go to Team Disney, which as a basic intern, I wasn’t a professional intern, never was done before. It was me and one other person in our resort. And I just had a lot of good opportunities. And I think, because I marked myself, that kind of gave me those opportunities. I don’t think it was Lee doing anything. It was just because Lee was meeting with me that people started paying attention. And I had great managers as well.
And because I met with him at that lunch, when he went into retirement, and I’ve seen him socially in some other things, we’ve been able to keep that relationship alive. I knew him when he was my vice president. I don’t know, I just really have a lot of respect for the man.
Liam: Yeah, I can tell. That shows. That shows. So you might have said it, and it might have been a blip in my headset. Did you say that he responded to your email within a day?
Mike: Yeah, it was like few hours.
Liam: That’s pretty impressive. And that he had the wherewithal to make sure that you had the time off as well, knowing that as an intern you probably didn’t have a lot of control over your schedule and that he wouldn’t make sure. But I suppose to give your immediate manager a little bit of understanding. I can totally get that. “Hey, the head of the company just said I got to give you Tuesday off. What is going on?” I could see how that would be a little disconcerting.
Mike: Oh, I mean, yeah. When I went into management and stuff too, I mean, I get it. Because, yeah, 55,000 cast members, and I was at the bottom of that totem pole.
Liam: When you say cast members, you mean employee, right? You weren’t in a costume dressed up as anybody? You just mean anybody on the payroll, right?
Mike: Yeah, anyone that works at Disney is a cast member and at Disney World. Just at the Disney World location, they have 55,000 cast members just at that location. Disney is the largest single site employer in the US.
Tara: So you did not wear a costume? Were you ever a character?
Mike: I did wear a costume.
Tara: All right.
Mike: But you would probably call it a uniform.
Tara: Okay. So not as a character.
Mike: Mickey is Mickey. Mickey is Mickey. There’s only one of them.
Tara: There’s only one that works all the time.
Mike: You’ll never hear me say otherwise. Now, I do have lots of friends who are close personal friends with certain characters like Mickey and Tinkerbell. But they were just close friends. There’s only one Mickey.
Tara: Yes. And Buzz Lightyear.
Mike: There’s only one of them. But there’s lots of really close friends with those characters. And I’m friends with lots of their close personal friends.
Liam: Mike, let me ask you. You’ve been to a lot of WordCamps. What was your experience of your very first WordCamp? And talk about it also in the context – Were you on the clock with BoldGrid by then? Were you just exploring? Talk about that.
Mike: I was “CMS curious.” Actually, I’ve stolen a quote from Jessica Dunbar, the concrete5 Evangelist that I’m not married to a CMS. I’m in open source relationship. Actually, BoldGrid sent me as my last step of my interview to a WordCamp Salt Lake City to see if I would, I don’t know, burn when I walk in the door or something – if I’d shoot into flames. And so yeah, I went there not involved, but to kind of hang out with the team at WordCamp and just to kind of get to know people. And I had a great experience in Salt Lake City.
But I’ve also had weird experiences too where I still had to this day when people heard I was a board member, which I’m not an anymore, they would come up to me and be like, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t be here or Joomla sucks and all that.” I’m like, “Tools are tools. Don’t be one.” And that’s kind of become my catchphrase. If you want to use WordPress, it’s an amazing CMS, use WordPress. If you want to use concrete5, or papaya or Joomla or Drupal or whatever, that’s cool too. I’m just a fan of open source and giving people the freedom and the tools to do what they want. And I love WordPress. It’s now my default CMS. But I have a soft spot for kind of how I got here.
Liam: I think I support that position. Use whatever tool you know and you like and works. If it doesn’t work, find a new one. Ultimately, they’re all just tools. They are hammers, they are screwdrivers, they are the wrenches. And if you don’t know how to use a monkey wrench, pick up a crescent wrench. I totally agree with that.
Tara: What’s your biggest challenge day to day?
Mike: Honestly probably just logistics. It’s really hard to be on the road as much as I am. My biggest travel year I did 157 days on the road. And being able to still try to connect with the team at the office and the team that’s making our Grid product. I’m fortunate enough to connect with our users. But there’s a whole team behind us that are building it and doing the support and the marketing and everything else. So I would say that’s my biggest challenge to try to be connected with the community but also still trying to connect with the wonderful people that make BoldGrid what it is. Stop me, I just I’m lucky enough to talk to people about it.
Liam: So let me ask you about that. How do you organize and pass back constructive feedback? You know, things like, “Hey, team, this is the fourth time in the last six weeks that I’ve heard x, or this is the ninth time that people have praised Y?” How do you put that in a way so that you’re not emailing them at 3 in the morning four times a week? That it feeds into a system? What does that look for you and for your colleagues?
Mike: It started out just a lot of verbal stuff. But then it was like I felt like I was campaigning. Like I would talk to Person A about issue B and then I would have to talk to a Person C about issue B. And it felt a lot like I was just in politics. And it wasn’t like I had to be able to talk about it to all those people. It was just the conversations and talking about the opportunity I had.
We now have a system where we have another community manager who does more like online stuff. His name’s Jesse Owens. I usually talk to him. We have a system where we can record it officially and make tickets and things. And I am also recording. If I’m doing like a user’s journey test for somebody, I’ll record the audio and the video of it, and then just give that to the appropriate teams.
We have also hired good UX people. So when people have feedback, I have a little card that can give them say, “Hey, please fill it out here. That’s a special link, it will definitely get the eyes of it. And here’s my personal card if you feel like you’re not being heard.” And then yeah, there are times that there might be an urgent issue that I might need to get on Slack. But mostly it’s, “Oh, I didn’t know you did this” or, “I thought this was this.” No product’s perfect, and we just try to make it better each and every time we do release.
Liam: That is awesome. I feel like we could talk about this for a long, long time. But Mike, we are out of time, I’m afraid. It’s flown by between Disney and Joomla, and Lee Cockerell, and learning about sharing feedback. Before we say goodbye to you, where can people find you online, please?
Mike: Twitter’s probably the best place. I’m @mpmike, which used to stand for a MousePlanet Mike. Now it’s just MP Mike. I also do a podcast with BoldGrid called BoldGrid Bold Life that you can find wherever your favorite podcasts are sold.
Tara: Thanks so much for joining us. Really nice to meet you and hope to catch you at a WordCamp this year.
Mike: Likewise, thanks.
Liam: Thanks, Mike. We’ll see you soon. Bye-bye.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
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