Introducing Hans Skillrud
Preferred Pronouns | He/Him
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 140.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Hans: Thanks for having me.
Tara: Hey glad to see you here today virtually Hans. Thanks so much for joining us. I would love for you to share more of your story here. Tell us more about yourself.
Hans: Absolutely. So, I like starting, I have to pick a divide somewhere. So, I am going to start it when I found WordPress. I should date myself. Pre WordPress and post WordPress because that’s really been a big determiner of my career.
Tara: Yeah. We all have that demarcation point, I think. You can start wherever you want though. If you want to go back further, that’s fine too.
Hans: Well maybe a good example is how I got to WordPress, you know?
Hans: Yeah. We work from home now and we run Termageddon together and the rest is history.
Tara: Great. Great story. There’s a lot there to unpack and talk about. So, I am going to go back to the beginning part because I’m curious about Groupon as somebody who used it and hasn’t really seen much of it. It’s sounds like, and I don’t know when that was, that Groupon became a thing, but was that before small businesses had websites? Is that what you’re saying?
Hans: No. So, websites were definitely a thing.
Hans: It was 2009 when Groupon, which was previously called The Point, which I love that website name, thepoint.com because someone would just say what’s the point? You’re like ah is this some kind of joke? But The Point became Groupon. I surely joined Groupon. But websites were still around. That was 2010 and I was uh, it was a wild ride watching a company go from 100 employees to 30,000 in two years. My career went along with it because of its growth. I was put in a position to manage people which was a wonderful opportunity. I love sales. I love sales. I love sales because I think a lot of people think of sales as bad. I always try to say no, no, no, no, no. People are bad or people are good. It is sales is just a communication channel. So, I only want to do good things with sales. That’s how I trained my sales team. That’s something I really appreciated at Groupon. They gave me the ability to do that for a while. I felt like once the company went public, priorities had changed. Now all of a sudden, we need to be focused on taking additional margins from small business owners. That sounds good and all, but when you’re talking to a small business owner, asking them to discount themselves more than 50%, and then you’re taking more than…well…it’s pubic knowledge… you’re taking more than 50% of the cut revenue raised. I don’t know, something didn’t feel right. So, that’s when I decided it was no longer a fit. At least if you look at the stock market, how Groupon’s performed over the last 10 years, I think I was correct. But who knows?
Tara: Well it’s interesting that you made a change based on sort of an ethical feeling that you had and that you were strong enough or competent enough to do that. Because it sounds like you were doing well there. This was when you were probably quite young, I’m imagining. You said maybe it was your first or second job out of school. So, you know a lot of people would ride that along and wouldn’t really think about what you’re describing. So, I think that’s really admirable and I’m glad to hear it and thanks for sharing that with us.
Hans: Yeah, absolutely. My thought is if you’re going to spend 8 to 10 hours a day of your life toward something, why would you do it towards something that doesn’t make you feel good? Like that is almost half of your life goes to something you’re not proud of. I don’t know if you remember this, but when Groupon first started, it was a 24-hour flash sale and it only went if like a 1000 or more people bought. So, it was special. It was so special because yes, the business was discounting themselves, but it wasn’t permanent. It was like a flash sale and it was meant to be that extra push to having all the people who been saying oh, I’ve been meaning to try that place to finally taking out their card and making a purchase and now committing to coming and trying a place. That’s what I loved about it.
Liam: It was small enough…
Liam: It was small enough that you didn’t have a cupcake shop getting a 100,000 orders.
Hans: That’s exactly correct.
Liam: How are they ever going to deliver that at three weeks and try to sell on top of that kind of thing?
Hans: The thought is just painful. But there were so many success stories during those first couple of months and years, the first year I would say. And that’s what I loved. That’s what I fell in love with. As Groupon started to turn that one day 24-hour flash sale into one week, two months, six months, ongoing…I was just like this isn’t special to me anymore. That’s when I decided to leave.
Tara: Yeah, interesting.
Liam: So, after you left and started to think about Web design and getting into supporting those smaller businesses in different ways, why WordPress?
Hans: Well, it was a phone call. I was offering social media at the time, social media services. As you all know, the barrier to entry social media marketing, to web design, they are all very low. So, me, being naïve and not really understanding everything I had my low barrier to entry. I had a lot of time on my hands and a lot of work ethic in my heart I guess. And it was a phone call from a guy. I called him. I said hey! Do you need social media services? He was like no, but can you build websites? I am sitting there with my phone against my shoulder to my ear and I am Google searching how do you build websites? I am telling him on the phone of course I can build websites as I’m Google searching how do you build websites? I remember it was…I closed in on I think it was Drupal and WordPress. I just happened to pick WordPress. At the time, it was a 50-50 I could have watched the YouTube video that talked about Drupal. So, I thank my lucky stars that I clicked the WordPress video instead of Drupal. And I was just hooked. I was just hooked. You know? When I was kid, I felt like websites were created by the warlocks or wizards of our times. You know? The magicians of our times. So, it was an extremely liberating feeling inside of me. I felt like I could really provide a service to this world and that was…it was over after that website. I was absolutely hooked from there on out. So, that’s when I used to clock in like 16-hour workdays, happily. I would put in the time because it was so exciting to learn things, like Envato. Remember? Or ThemeForest and stuff? Those were the days.
Tara: Yeah. Well how did that website turn out? It sounds like you totally did the fake it until you make it kind of thing with that guy.
Hans: Yeah. You know, at the time it wasn’t…it wasn’t fake it until you make it in my mentality. It was like I’m going to figure this out.
Hans: This guy’s going to get a great service. I think he paid me like $400 dollars. I probably put 400 hours in.
Hans: You’re right though. It was fake it ‘til you make it. But at the time, it was just I’m not going to stop until this guy has a working website. I had a lot riding on that mentally at least. Actually, the site came out great. I really liked it. It’s a 7-year-old site so I don’t think it’s around anymore. But it was for a bar in Lincoln Park in Chicago. It’s kind or your neighborhood bar and it was very well received. They were very happy with it.
Liam: That was long enough ago in WordPress that you still had to do a fair amount of kicking to the theme to get it to do what you wanted to do, especially if your default position is not to write code or to try to get some code from somewhere and see if the works. It doesn’t have the drag-and-drop and all-powerful things that are around today.
Hans: Very quickly finding myself using something called Photoshop. I got very acclimated with that platform as well. Yes. Certainly, over the years, there were quite a few things I went through. I had 75 websites get hacked overnight when Heartbleed hit. You remember Heartbleed? It was the revolution slider. They had that vulnerability and that’s when I learned that paying for cheap hosting gets you cheap support. Cheap hosting as well, so that’s when I started to think about, you know, you get what you pay for in life. That’s one of the best lessons you can learn in web development. You get what you pay for.
Liam: That’s a lot of cleanup work too. That’s not the two sites. 75?
Hans: Yeah. 75 websites. I worked 28 straight hours. 28 straight hours fixing it all. But it was extremely liberating too. I had never managed the WordPress database before. I figured that out real quick and I figured out a rhythm. Like how to identify where the hacks are and how to fix it. You know, as stressful as it was, it was also exhilarating. You know having to figure things out and everything is riding on you. You know? I loved it. I loved it. I lost all my hair because of it, but I loved it.
Tara: Well it’s interesting because what you’re describing so far in your trajectory, I’ll describe the way I am seeing it as reactive. Like you’re learning reactively. Somebody says I need this. I mean we all do this. I certainly have done it. That’s how you learn. Something says I need this, and you say I can do it and then you learn how to do it. Now transitioning to what you doing now, it’s the other way around, right? You are actually proactively going after an opportunity that you see and growing this business that you developed with your wife. I love to hear more about it. I have seen on social media about Termageddon but what you described in just in the opening is more than what I knew about it already. So, I’d love to hear little bit more about the process and working as a team with your new wife. So, tell us about that.
Hans: I love would love to. If you wouldn’t mind, I would love to talk about a very important transition while running my agency.
Hans: It’s what really turned the reactive to proactive; before we jump into Termageddon if that’s ok?
Tara: Yeah. Of course.
Hans: When you say reactive, you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly how I started the agency but the fundamental shift, the fundamental shift in my agency was when I was able to start scaling it. It was when I learned how to say no. When I learned how to say no to prospects and say I’m not doing that because that’s a good fit for what I want to do and I want to offer this world, everything changed. I know I had some staff at a time. When I said no, I’m not building that website or I’m not solving that. I’m not doing another Heartbleed, you’re going to figure it out. That was the moment everything shifted. I started truly running a business in my opinion. We started generating, we created standard operating procedures, we created best practices within our space and what we also did is we got rid of social media. We got rid of email marketing, we got rid of AdWords, we got rid of Facebook ads. We just did web design and hosting and maintenance. It was crazy because in my mind I’m like oh. We are doing so much less. Things are so much worse. The opposite happened. We took on projects we loved. We started charging way more money than we would’ve ever guessed someone would pay for it. And you know, that was really when I realized I’m running a business here and I have to look out for what’s best to run this business. I need to be run a profitable company. The only way I thought I could do it was by closing in, and rather than trying to be good at everything, getting really good at one thing. That was the “aha” moment.
Tara: What was the catalyst for that? Was that like a process in and of itself? Did you have someone advising you?
Liam: That’s a tough bridge to cross isn’t it? Because as the owner you’re the leader. I’ll do it. I won’t ask you to do what I won’t do kind of thing, but I couldn’t agree with you more. Unless you step back and allow others the space to learn and to grow and to fail and to support them in their failure, and not throw them over the edge and see if they can swim. But you know, throw them out into the water with a life vest on kind of thing. That’s really interesting the way that you were able to do that and how that led to an increase in, at least worldly success of your company. It sounds like, you know the kind of psychological and emotional success. You seemed like you were a lot happier once you made that transition from what I’m gathering.
Hans: Very much so. I went from stressed and poor to making money and not stressed.
Liam: Not stressed in the same way, right?
Hans: Certainly not. New levels of stress that’s for sure, but better.
Liam: Yeah. Well stress never goes away, it just changes shape.
Hans: That’s right.
Liam: The ultimate change. Let me ask you about success, Hans, if I can. One of our signature questions is focused on exactly that. How would you define success? Maybe it’s a personal definition, maybe a professional definition, maybe for you it’s a combination of both. What’s your definition of success?
Hans: My definition of success is the moment you realize that you dictate your reality and you control your future. Stoicism has been a very important part of my development as a boy to a man, I would say. Realizing that you can’t control what other people do. You can only control your perceptions of things. That is something I wish all people to experience. I hope people kind of get off social media maybe a little bit more and kind of think a bit more. Maybe they reflect a little bit more and they realize that you are in control your own destiny. No matter where you are, in any situation, you are in control of your destiny. Because it is your perception of your reality that dictates everything.
Tara: Yeah, I love that. I heard that early on in your talking about being a salesperson. I was actually going to say something about that. You can define how you view something. It does not have to be how other people view it, like you are talking about sales being something that people think negatively about, or people say they don’t like to do, and you viewed it in a completely different way. You chose to view it in a positive way, as a growth opportunity. So, I noticed that approach that you have to life early-on. So, it fits right into your definition of success. Thanks for sharing that with us. I appreciate it.
Hans: It reminds me actually right before we started recording. We were talking about the virtual wedding I just had.
Hans: I think a lot of people would just be upset and mad. Like I don’t get to see my family. Of course, we were upset. We’re sad that we didn’t get to see our family but what we did do is we looked at the pros. We found so many pros and so many wonderful things that came with it. I said this so many times. In life there are pros and cons. Whenever looking at a situation there are pros and cons to everything. Or it’s fact. So, why not just focus on the pros because that’s what you’re your mind is going to focus on. If you have your mind focused on positive things, then you’re going to have a positive light. I would put money on that one.
Tara: Yeah. That’s awesome. Thanks.
Hans: That was hard earned. It was something that like you come by easily. When I say success and how I define it, I’m not saying this is just something where you can turn on Hallway Chats and then all of a sudden enlightened.
Tara: Yeah, darn.
Hans: A little bit more than that.
Tara: Yeah. Do you think that you learned that? Was that something that you grew up with or do you think that you learned that on your own as an adult as you were going through these different phases of your career?
Hans: I learned it on my own for sure. The fact is the web industry is a low barrier to entry business, meaning that there’s a lot of competition that comes in. The next day they’re a web developer. That creates, well probably a whole separate Hallway chats type discussion, but it creates a very competitive environment where people feel like they need to offer low pricing to get business done. And through the struggles of finances and figuring things out, how to build websites, came a lot of reflection and thinking about what I want. Like I always want to take care of the other people, but then I realize I have to take care of myself too. That’s actually a longer-term way to take care of other people. That was kind of the start to it and everything. Then I went vegan too. That was another experience. I never would have saw it coming. I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy and I had my guard down. I thought it was like a UFO adopting cows and some government conspiracy. I thought Cowspiracy was just like a short word for that. So, I had my guard down. I was cooking a pot roast when I watched it. I watched this thing and it just knocked my socks off. I decided to go vegan. I’ve been vegan for four years now.
Hans: This is not a become a vegan agenda by any such stretch of the word. What it was like the first time I realized like, just because I’m fed information doesn’t mean I have to think that way. I can think things differently than what the main stream thinks and there’s a lot of liberation that comes in to when you start doing things that are maybe a little bit against the grain. Or maybe you do it because inside your heart you feel a way. And you want to practice that. I would say that was another part of me kind of coming to the conclusions that I’ve come to.
Liam: An increase sense of awareness.
Hans: I would say that’s a very good description. If fact maybe another definition of success would be the ability to be in the present as much as possible.
Liam: Yeah. That’s cool. Thank you. I want to go back to one of the questions that Tara asked, and you didn’t answer. Because like Tara, I have heard of your business. I’ve heard of what you’re doing over there at Termageddon. It’s on my radar of things that…oh! I should check that out. Then then life. Then life again. Then COVID 19 in all the world. This isn’t a sales pitch or a sales podcast by any means but tell us about the product. What does it work? What’s in it for folks and how do you support them?
Hans: Go ahead.
Liam: Hans? I feel like we could go on like this for hours and hours and hours.
Hans: I don’t know, it’s privacy policies. It’s pretty boring stuff.
Liam: (laughs) Tara’s enthralled. Let me slide in with one last question if I can. It’s really one another on of our signature ones, and it’s about advice. What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given, received, come across, read and successfully implemented in your life?
Hans: You dictate your reality. And I know that this is same answer as what you define as success, but is it is been the hallmark to my life. It has transformed my perception of how to look at things and it is by far the most influential in my life. I can put this to an example. I realize that one day I hope to have kids. I was thinking about this when I met Donata because I fell in love with her from the moment I met her. I started thinking about like long term what I want to do. When I had to come to decide do I want to sell my agency? It became a lot easier of a decision to make. It was still difficult, but it was a lot easier of a decision to make because I thought my future…I see my reality being able to raise children in my own house running a company with my wife. When we’re together and we can create an environment that nurtures our children far better than me working 12-hour days in downtown Chicago and then moving to a tiny apartment. So, that’s where I was like, you know what? I see my reality being this and that’s how I dictated it.
Liam: Yeah. I love that! That’s fantastic. What a way to take us out. Over to you Tara.
Tara: Yeah. That’s great. You’re forward thinking. You’re no longer reactive.
Hans: No longer reactive.
Tara: Completely flipped. I love seeing that. It’s great. Thank you so much for sharing all this. I could like…I just put in Slack to Liam I am engrossed. You have to ask the question. It’s been great chatting with you. I am sorry that we’re out of time. Where can people find online?
Hans: DeepSpaceHans on Twitter. My handle is @DeepSpaceHans. I hang out on Twitter when I am on social media, but you can always go to Termageddon and fill out a form submission. I am happy to talk if you haven’t noticed. So, if ever want to chat, I would love to chat.
Tara: Sounds great. Thanks so much.
Hans: Absolutely. Thank you both.
Liam and Tara: Bye for now.
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