Introducing Emily Hunkler
Emily is the director of growth at GoWP. She lives just outside Atlanta, Georgia with her two daughters and her husband. When not working, Emily loves running both on the road and trails. On weekends, she also loves hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Preferred Pronouns | She/Her
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 137.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Emily Hunkler. Emily is the director of growth at GoWP. She lives just outside Atlanta, Georgia with her two daughters and her husband. When not working, Emily loves running both on the road and trails. On weekends, she also loves hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Welcome, Emily. Glad to see you today.
Emily: Hi, happy to be here.
Liam: Really happy to have you join us. Thanks, Emily. How are you? And tell us a little bit more about yourself, please.
Emily: Thank you for having me. This is great. I am, like you said, live just outside Atlanta. I have two daughters. One will be turning four in November and the other one is 16 months. So that is a lot of what defines me these days I’d say. Apart from that, I am the director of growth at GoWP. I handle all the marketing stuff and community growth and customer success and that sort of thing.
I live here in Atlanta with my family, who’s my two girls and my husband, Mark, who is from a small town outside Barcelona, Spain, where we previously were living for the last six years up until 2018. I’m originally from Ohio. I mean, that sums me up at the moment, I’d say.
Tara: I was reminded of a guest we interviewed recently who is from the UK and he’s living in Spain as well. So I want to ask you a little bit about that experience. What sent you there and what it was like being an expat? Seems like maybe a more popular thing that I knew of with having two guests on our show who both were expats in Spain or at one time were.
Emily: Yeah, it’s super popular in Spain specifically, I think too because of the weather, I guess, and cost of living and those sorts of things. For me, I had previously been working at a newspaper up in the Adirondacks as a newspaper reporter. I worked there for a year and kind of just needed a change. I don’t know if it’s the extreme winters that there are up there or what, but I was looking for something new. I originally went to Spain as an English language assistant. In the public school system there, it’s a program that they’re government runs. You can apply and they’ll place you somewhere.
I had requested Barcelona and they gave me Igualada, which is a town just outside Barcelona. So not quite what you asked for, but it all ended up great in the end. I was there for one year doing that. Came back to the States and spent the next two years traveling through Central America and doing a travel blog on traveling Central American on $20 a day. Then decided that…I don’t know if I decided or kind of just got tired of living on $20 a day. Well, I should say that I had met Mark, my now husband the first year I was in Spain.
Two years later, I decided to follow my heart and pursue that relationship further. But at the same time, kind of listening to my brain and enrolling in a digital marketing master’s program there as well. So I had my bases covered in case things didn’t work out one way or the other. But luckily they both did. So I ended up staying there for six years and having one daughter and getting married. That worked out great. And I love Spain. I would go back in a second, although for me, it’s kind of the work thing. I’m able to get a more ideal work or job I should say here in the States that’s really in line with what I want to do as opposed to the kind of jobs I was finding over there. Which were great but not exactly in line with…they weren’t keeping me engaged as much as I would want I guess I could say,
Tara: You work remotely though, correct?
Emily: I do work remotely. So I guess in theory, I could just go back.
Tara: Maybe your husband can get a job there. I don’t know.
Tara: That’s really interesting. $20 a day. I lived in Europe for a year. I lived in France. And I remember also challenging myself out of necessity to live on even less than that. And also, how much of that was made up of alcohol.
Emily: That’s it. The travel blog I had, it was for $20 a day in Central America. So it’s much more feasible than doing that in Europe. But the $20 a day always included like one of those big beers that you can buy. That was always included in the $20 bill a day.
Tara: What an adventure. That’s really neat. Are you raising your children to speak Spanish and English, both?
Emily: Yeah. Actually, Spanish and Catalan.
Tara: Oh, yeah. Okay.
Emily: My husband is a proud Catalan and his family and friends, everyone, obviously they all know Spanish and can speak it. But at home, at work and everything like that they all speak Catalan. So it’s important to him and to me that they learn that as well. So he speaks to them in Catalan. I speak to them in English. As they’re so young right now, we have a nanny, and she’s Venezuelan. We prioritize that to have her speak to them in Spanish. So yes, it is something that we’re really prioritizing in their lives.
Liam: That’s a great gift to give your children the ability to have so many languages. And then inevitably, I imagine they will find picking up French and German and Italian or what other languages interests them as they grow much easier because their brain is used to. That’s a new word. I can learn that word. That’s a new structure. I can learn that. That’s fantastic.
Emily: Yeah. I think so. I think it’s really important. It’s so hard to learn a language when you’re older, so it’s good to learn it earlier.
Liam: When I moved back to the US, my family spent a number of years in the UK, my wife and I. And we had our two children there. When we moved back, my oldest was only going into kindergarten. So we went off to new parent’s night and that was very different for us because we never had experienced US educational systems as adults and as parents.
At the end of the kind of welcome to kindergarten, we went up to the teacher and said, “Hey, we just moved back. We’re from the US but our daughter has never lived here. She has an English accent and she will say words to you that you will understand the words but that phrase means nothing to you. And you will say words to her and she will understand those words, but the phrase doesn’t mean anything to her. Just you know, give her a second.” And the teacher looks at us and says, “Well, have you tried or tested for ESL, English as a second language?
Liam: Okay, I’m going to start this over. You just move back from England…
Emily: Oh, my gosh.
Liam: All right. Whatever. Moving on. The show is not about me. I love telling that story. Your daughters are learning different languages.
Tara: Your blog is the $20 day. Is that what started you into this sort of digital world? Is that how you then pursued your digital marketing certificate or degree?
Emily: It is, yeah. I didn’t say this, but my undergrad was in journalism and I worked at a newspaper, like I said. Working at the newspaper, I mean, I loved it. and I have the utmost respect for every journalist out there, but the pay is really low and the work is really hard. That just discouraged me, I guess. I wasn’t in it for the long haul. And I wanted to kind of explore other things. So yeah, I did the travel blog, and that was my first foray into WordPress and to building a website and trying to get it out there, trying to promote it, get people to contribute and engage, all that kind of stuff.
Emily: So through that I realized—I don’t know if it was a passion at that point—but an interest at the very least in digital marketing and those kinds of strategies, and wanting to be able to do more there. So through that, I was like, “Okay, you know, let’s…” I always saw myself getting a master’s degree in something, and that just felt right. So that’s what I went for.
Liam: Yeah, I like that. Were you able to earn $20 a day on your blog? You started writing and just to share and just to kind of learn, but were you able to garner any kind of sponsorship or…?
Emily: No. To be honest, I didn’t try too hard. I mean, I didn’t try hard. I didn’t do anything. The most I did in terms of marketing for that was putting stickers up in hostels, and doing partnerships, I guess you could say with hostels, and saying, “If you look through and say mention Border Tramp—Border Tramp is the name of the blog—if you mentioned Border Tramp, you’ll get 10% off your diving certificate or you’ll get 10% off this hostel or something like that.
But in terms of myself earning anything, I never got to that point with it. I did garner definitely a following. The blog still gets traffic and ranks for some things because nobody else has the bus schedule in Nicaragua for getting to the coast. So people still hit it up for that. It’s outdated. So if you’re listening to this do not trust that bus schedule. But yeah, I never figured out the monetization of that blog. It’s a passion project, I guess you could say.
Liam: Yeah, no, that’s perfectly fine. I just wasn’t sure where you took it now suggesting that you needed to take it in a single direction.
Emily: It’s still running though. I could do something with that.
Liam: What was the tech side of things in that? So if you’re on $20 a day, you’re moving a lot, you’re relying on other people’s internet. I don’t know exactly when you were doing this if the portable hotspots were a thing or at least reliable. So how did you manage that from a tech standpoint? You had a laptop and a cord but then what?
Emily: It was a lot of mostly when I knew I’d be going to a location that would have more reliable internet. So not an island. Somewhere that was more of a city setting. Although I didn’t go to any major cities. I didn’t stay long in any major cities. But bigger towns where you could have a hotel room instead of a hostel that had a desk where you could work. And I would say, “Okay, I’m going to spend three days in this town and just update the blog.”
Then I had a notebook where I would take all my notes, whenever I would get to a town, go grab all the hostels, get prices, get information on that, take my pictures out of my little SD cards. I was still using a digital camera then, plugging in you and all that kind of stuff. When was this? It would have been 2012 and 2013, I guess through those two years.
Liam: So you were taking very much a journalistic approach rather than just waiting for you to go? You were…
Emily: Yeah. I mean, it was a lot of work into it.
Liam: Yeah, that’s awesome. I love that. I love.
Emily: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Again, the main goal was me traveling. No two ways about that. But I wanted to also feel purposeful, I guess, in doing that. So that was the idea behind the blog.
Tara: And you were alone? You traveled alone?
Emily: I did some alone. I did a few trips with my dad actually who he loves it down there. He’s an old hippie from the 60s and 70s. So he spent a lot of time down there during those times. He kind of instilled that travel theory in me of taking local buses, doing it on the cheap, staying at hostels, getting to know people, not staying at the resorts, and that kind of thing. We never did that growing up. So yeah, I did a few trips with him. I did one trip with my sister.
So what I would do is go down for a couple two or three months at a time, come back home, work, save up money, go back down and do it again. You know, start where I left off the last time. I did a trip with an old neighbor of mine. So a childhood friend, we did a trip together because she was in between jobs. And she’s like, “Hey, are you doing this again?” I said, “Yeah, do you want to come again?” “She’s like, “Yeah, I’m coming.” She actually was in the process of getting her MBA and targeted to something she could get course credit for. So that worked out great for her as well.
Tara: Wow. That’s great. What a great adventure on…it’s not your youth. Young years you had. That’s great. You have that always in your life to build upon and instill in your kids too. Have you been traveling with them? I guess not right now during COVID.
Emily: Not right now. But yeah, it’s definitely something we try to do. So now our family situation, being that my husband’s family’s in Spain and my family’s here, our vacations, vacations like days off, paid time off or whatever you want to call it, right now we’re really limited to we go to Barcelona or when we were living in Barcelona, we go to Ohio. Those kinds of things. So we’re trying to as we kind of get settled and manage this better to do one trip that’s there.
My work is flexible, but he’s an engineer. So through Coronavirus, his job is realizing, “Oh, you don’t have to be in the office.” So we’re hoping that maybe that will make his job a little bit more flexible, where we could maybe go to Barcelona, visit family but still be working during that time, some of it, and not have to use all his time off. And then we can do a trip as a family somewhere else as well. So it’s definitely something we want to instill.
Liam: That’s definitely a challenge is when you live far away from family. Having done in the UK, you know, the vacation became travel to see family. And that’s wonderful. But at some point, we just want to go somewhere and just do us.
Liam: So I get that. That’s a tough thing.
Emily: It’s a big challenge.
Liam: To your point, COVID-19 might be really beneficial with your husband’s company in realizing, maybe you don’t need to be in the office five days a week and still do really valuable work. Maybe you can live six months in Barcelona and six months in Atlanta or something like that. A lot of opportunities there. So I’m excited to see where that all comes together.
Emily: Me too. Especially being in a relationship where one of us is fully remote—right now both of us are—but one of us is fully remote and one of us is very tied to the nine to five office situation. So it’s like, “Oh, there’s so much potential, but we can’t realize any of it.” So yeah.
Liam: Emily, I want to get into one of our signature questions with you if I can. And it’s around success. You’ve talked about your career a little bit, you shared with us about your family and your daughters and some of the things you’re doing there and your husband. I want to ask you about your definition of success. Maybe it’s a personal definition, maybe it’s professional, maybe it’s both for you. Can you define success for us in your own words?
Emily: Yeah. I actually learned about this…I think we all know it, but I learned the actual framework around it when I was doing my masters. And it’s kind of the flow theory. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the author Mihaly. That’s not how you spell it at all. He’s Hungarian. It’s like Mihaly and then 17 consonants all in a row. But he wrote the book. I think it’s just called Flow. It talks about the channel of productivity that is sandwiched in between anxiety and boredom.
So for me, success is kind of an ongoing definition where I’m constantly feeling challenged, but at the same time, I’m feeling capable of overcoming that challenge. And that applies to my personal life, it applies to work, anything. So where I’m kind of constantly feeling engaged, right? Like, I’m not just pressing buttons and pulling the levers and all of that. But actually, there’s a challenge, I know that I can figure out the solution, I can feel it inside me, but I have to figure it out. Obviously, you don’t have that all the time with every task in life, but making sure there’s some people going on, something that I’m working on somewhere in my life that has that kind of philosophy in it.
Liam: That’s an interesting approach. So it’s a stasis of sort or stasis of uncertainty. Let me ask you a question that immediately popped into my head. Maybe that’s two questions. How do you deal with when there’s not enough certainty? You talked about there’s kind of two ends. One is uncertainty and one is predictability, maybe you got the word from, but it’s kind of that somewhere in between. So how do you deal with when you’re drifting one way or the other? What does that look like? What does that feel like and what do you do to say, “I got to get closer to that balance?”
Emily: You can pull from everywhere in life, right? So when I’m feeling like anxious or uncertain or stressed at work and nothing’s coming and it just keeps getting harder and more frustrating, and I keep feeling more defeated or something, then maybe I’ll go for a run. I’ll put it aside and I go for a run. A lot of times for me that helps a lot. Or maybe I’ll go bake bread or something like that. Like go somewhere where there’s something I can control, I know that I’m good at it or I know it’ll make me feel good at the end. Maybe it won’t bring the solution but it’ll bring my mental state back to stasis, and then I can take it on again, I guess.
Tara: I think we met running. So talk a little bit about how that works for you. Because I find that to get out and run, to do that when I have a lot going on is really hard. Because it’s hard for me to stop and to go do that. Once I’m out there doing it, it helps me. So do you run harder? Do you challenge yourself more? How do you work that into this process?
Emily: I don’t think I ever necessarily run harder in that sort of situation. Whenever I run harder, it’s more so like a running challenge, like, “Oh, I want to get faster. So I’m going to focus on running.” But more so for me, running is kind of to refocus other parts. So I do run regularly. I try to go at least three times a week. Sometimes while I’m on that run, I don’t know if it’s a meditation or what, but thoughts come into your head, you start thinking. If the thoughts are going good, I’ll just keep running. And I’ll run longer. For me, it’s more of a distance thing. So if I feel like the run is being productive, I’ll run 10k instead of the usual 5k because I’m getting somewhere mentally with it, I guess.
Tara: Yeah, I’m glad to hear that. I know in your intro we talked about the fact that you enjoy running, so I wanted to have you talk about that a little bit too. Can you talk to us about what you do at GoWP and maybe how that also fits into this whole idea of being challenged and uncertainty and all of that?
Emily: Yeah. I’ve been with GoWP for almost two years now. I’m on the growth team. So that’s me and Brad, our founder, and Caylin White as well. It’s everything. It’s marketing, it’s customer success, and it’s sales. I don’t do a whole lot on the sales ends, but I’ve been involved there.
We have a big community of our target audience, kind of if you want to call it that. But we have a Facebook group and we have them as partners in our client portal. And it’s always coming up with ways and new ideas of how to engage them and how to help them. I mean, I know you probably always say this, but it really is the heart our marketing strategy is to help our agency owners and let them be our evangelists, I guess you could call it.
So coming up with new strategies of like, “What is it that could help them? What are some tools and resources that I feel capable of creating or figuring out how to create anyway or figure out who to ask to help me, that kind of thing, that could actually make a difference and help them out?” By that, then they say, you know, “Oh, we love GoWP. They help us with so many things. They have these great templates.” That kind of stuff.
On my runs, I guess bringing it back to that, a lot of times I’m thinking about that and thinking about, “Oh, what are some other things that we know that this would help them but I have no idea how to create that or where do you take that.” And then on my run, I might think, “Oh, you know, who knows about that?” Some thought that would never come into my head. And be like, “Oh, I’m going to reach out to them.” And it’s just when you’re outside of the computer screen desk situation, you have different thoughts. Different avenues open up and new solutions kind of present themselves.
Liam: Is running for you something you can do right from your home? I mean, I know you said you live in suburban Atlanta. So I know you can just run outside your house? Or are you the kind of person that wants to go and drive to the trail? What I’m getting at with this is when you need that mental shift, you need that break time, is that just running clothes on, shoes on, out the door, “mom will be back in whenever she’s back”? Or is it, you know, pack the bag, grab the water, get the keys, make sure I’ve got my cell phone? What does that escape approach look like for you or that rebalance approach look like?
Emily: For me, it’s really just throwing on my running clothes and shoes and getting out the door. I live in, like I said before, the heart of the suburbs. And it’s a big suburban neighborhood. I mean, if I wanted to run like every single sidewalk in this neighborhood, it would probably be marathon. If I ever did that, but I don’t. But there’s plenty of it.
We have a little trail system thing here. So sometimes I’ll run on the road and then come back on the trails, that kind of thing. I do love being able to jump in the car and go somewhere beautiful and really disconnect. That’s something that I don’t get to do as often. But I treasure those moments because they are something I did before having children and my husband and I would do it together and it’d be great. That’s something we don’t get to do too often now.
Tara: Do you have a running group or running friends that you go with?
Emily: Not here. Not here in Georgia. I still feel like we’re pretty new. But when I was living in Barcelona, I would run with friends there. I didn’t have an actual group, but I had some different friends here and there and I would say, “Hey, I’m going to go for a run. Do you want to join?” And we could go together. But here it’s kind of just when I see the opportunity, I grab it and go. No time to wait around.
Liam: Emily, what’s your involvement with the WordPress community? I know you said that your travel blog was the impetus to kind of get into WordPress and blogging and the software side of things. I know that you’re active now through your job in the WordPress community, but how did the technology or what was the journey from those initial blogging days to involvement with the community? What does that look like for you?
Emily: I would say I didn’t really get involved until starting with GoWP. I don’t think I realized there was such a community when I had my blog. I knew a little bit about it. I knew Matt Mullenweg. I listened to some of his interviews and stuff. I really admired the WordPress project, and I had an idea of what was going on. But I didn’t really know about WordCamp. I didn’t know about the thousands and thousands of people that are in this community and that are so wonderful.
My first WordCamp that I went to was WordCamp US and it was in Nashville. So WordCamp US 2018, I guess it would have been. I was just three months into the job with GoWP. So that was like just jump in the deep end of the pool. And I very much had that imposter syndrome feeling. When I got there, everybody was best friends. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t realize that if you’re there, you’re best friends with everybody. That’s just how it is, right? Like you just say hi, and everyone’s friendly and everybody’s welcoming. So I felt very much as an outsider to the community and didn’t want to impose myself.
So I wasn’t able to make the most of that first WordCamp experience. I knew it when I was there and I knew it when I got home, but I’ve been to many more now and I feel absolutely at home. I love that everybody’s just there and willing to help each other. It’s great. I mean, it’s really one of the best things I’ve gotten from working with GoWP.
Liam: WordCamp US or WordCamp Europe I’ve never been but I imagine these enormous WordCamps can be a bit much as a starting point. I could see you being overwhelmed by that and like, “How do all of you know each other?”
Emily: Exactly. That’s what it felt like. It felt like everybody knew each other, everybody went to high school together and I was the outsider.
Tara: Emily, I’m going to change gears and ask you another one of our signature questions, which is about advice. So if you can share with us, do you have any advice that you’ve received and implemented in your life that’s meant something to you that we can pass on to our listeners?
Emily: Yes. This one is would have to say that I got this when I was working at eDreams, which is an online travel agent in Europe. They’re the biggest one in Europe. So it’s kind of like the Priceline or Orbitz I guess of Europe. I was working there as a – what was I? I can’t remember my title. Content creator, copywriter. I was doing the content on the site and the app for them.
They had their own in house built CMS so everything was very specific to that company. So nothing I’d ever worked with before. You had to do everything via spreadsheets, all of the content on spreadsheets that was just very foreign to anything I’d done before. I remember one time I updated the content to the CMS and basically like a whole page crashed. And this is a page like literally millions of people look at.
Nobody knew that it happened except for me and my coworker, Roy, who had been working there for quite some time. It was right after I’d finished onboarding this happened. And it’s just because I put a comma somewhere that it didn’t belong or something. And I was like, “Oh, my God, Roy, I crashed the site. This is crazy.” He was just like, “Did you fix it?” Like, “Hey, it’s fixed. It’s fine now.” He’s like, “What’s big deal?” I was like, “Well, it was down for maybe an hour or something.” And he was like, “What’s the big deal?” He was like, “Did you fix it.” I was like, “Yeah.”
Just that concept of like, you’re working in this company, it’s a seven-story building, thousands of people working there, millions of people using the site, I did something that had a huge impact, but what’s the big deal? It’s fixed. Like, “Did anybody die? “No.” What happened? Nothing. It wasn’t like something that cost them money actually. It wasn’t like the order sheet was down or anything like that. And it was just that whole idea of like, “What’s the big deal? What’s the worst that can happen? Can you fix it, fix it and move on?” Like the stress, the worry, all of that is completely unnecessary and just hurting yourself and not helping anything.
So I have taken that and just applied it to whenever I’m feeling stressed. And it’s like, “No, not a big deal.” Then relax. Everything’s going to be okay.
Liam: That’s great advice. I think, especially when you’re working on a website. It’s easy to think that everybody’s paying attention to every little thing. To blow it out of proportion is easy to do.
Liam: There was no clock, like the clock ticks on our head when the website is down.
Emily: Yeah, it’s a hard one.
Tara: Yeah. Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. Thanks for sharing everything. It’s really been great job with you. We’re winding down on the end of our interview time today. It’s been great seeing you again. I hope to be able to run with you in person sometime again sometime soon.
Emily: I know. Me too.
Tara: Yeah, it’s a strange time. It’s a strange time. Thanks for sharing your exciting adventures. I hope you have many more. Where can people find you online, Emily?
Emily: The best place to find me is I guess on Twitter. I’m @emalihu. That’s Emily Alicia Hunkler. So like the first letters from each of those. Then other than that, on Facebook, I’m in the Niche Agency Owners Facebook group every day doing stuff there. That’s the community we’ve built with GoWP. So those are the best two places to find me.
Tara: Great. Thanks.
Liam: Emily, thanks so much for joining us. What a pleasure to get to know you a little bit! Thanks for your time.
Emily: Thank you, guys. This has been so much fun. Thank you so much.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.