Introducing Robert DeVore
Robert is the founder of WP Dispensary, an online menu management software for the cannabis industry. He says he also has a “healthy” obsession with open source, caffeine, pizza and building life on his own terms.
Liam: This is Hallway Chats, where we talk with some of the unique people in and around WordPress.
Tara: Together, we meet and chat with folks you may not know about in our community.
Liam: With our guests, we’ll explore stories of living – and of making a living with WordPress.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 23.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats, I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Robert Devore. Robert is the founder of WP Dispensary, an online menu management software for the cannabis industry. He says he also has a healthy obsession with open source, caffeine, pizza, and building life on his own terms. Hi, Robert.
Robert: Hello, how are you guys doing? Thank you for having me, and just so everyone’s clear, I do have a healthy obsession with all of those things. Some would call it unhealthy but I still think it’s in a healthy realm.
Liam: Robert, that’s fantastic. Welcome to the show. Tell us a little bit more about yourself beyond what we just heard, maybe tell us a little bit more about that obsession and some of the other things you’re doing?
Robert: When I started with the web development, I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager so it’s kind of always been a part of my life. I’ve worked online over the last 10 years now for myself and I’ve just kind of built a life that I can move day in and day out of and be happy with, and enjoy all the finer things like all the extra caffeine and extra pizzas and things like that. I’ve kind of just enjoyed this quiet little piece of the corner that I can call my own.
Liam: And when you’re in that quiet little corner of your own, share with us your favorite kind of pizza?
Robert: It’s got to be a Supreme Pizza, I can’t have not enough toppings. It has to have as many toppings as possible. Supreme Pizza for sure. There’s a couple of places here locally that I can get pizzas from and they’re really good too. I’ll either order out or I stock up the freezer on DiGiornos pretty much weekly.
Liam: [laughs] DiGiorno, it’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno. I’m originally from the Chicago area so I have to ask you, thick crust or thin crust?
Robert: Thick crust.
Liam: Nice, we can keep you on this show, we’ll keep going then. [laughter]
Tara: I love pizza too, I can probably eat pizza every single night and be happy. Because you can put different things on it and it makes it really different. It’s a diverse food and it has many food groups on it. That’s a good thing too.
Liam: Robert, you told us that you’ve been doing web development since you were a teenager. Tell us a little bit about that, how did that come about and how has that progressed? It sounds like you’re working in web development professionally now so walk us through that, how did you get started and where you at today?
Robert: When I started, the family got a computer so it was everybody’s until I decided– I was 13 maybe at the time, rebellious, and didn’t want to do the schooling how they wanted me to do it. I’d spend all my free time on the computer searching and browsing around. And then I’d get on message boards where you could make your own little forum signatures, and I started designing those. I found out about Photoshop through that. Then, eventually, I talked to a couple of people who were showing basic table-based layouts and I kind of jumped into that and was trying to learn from myself and build example pages for different things we were talking about on message boards. Over time, that turned into people saying, “Hey, can I pay you 50 bucks to do something for me?” And I’d say, “Yeah.” As a teenager, you’re not really that worried about it. After a while, it just picked up steam and I realized, hey, I can probably do this for a living, and I haven’t looked back since.
Liam: Then, what are you doing? You talked about in the intro, or Tara told us about WP Dispensary – now I screwed up the pronunciation! – I’m going to say, you go ahead and tell us the name of what you’re doing right now, Robert?
Robert: Now I’m working at WP Dispensary which is menu management plugin for WordPress and dispensaries and delivery services that want to display the different flowers and concentrates and edibles for their patients, they can do that through their website. Leading up to that, I was doing freelance work and then I also ran some affiliate sites over the last few years off and on. So I kind of just got to a point where WP Dispensary is taking off and to a point where I can make it full-time income, and I’ve set myself a goal over the next 90 days to kind of just built it as big as I can get it over this short of a period of time. And today is day 31 so everything’s going along good and I feel like I’ve made the right decision being able to jump into this more because more things have been able to get accomplished now and I can devote 100% of my time to it.
Tara: It’s really interesting, there’s so much talk these days in the freelance and small agency world that I travel in about specializing, and you sound like a perfect example of that because you’ve really niched down. How did you discover this niche and determine that there was enough business there for you to make a living from it?
Robert: It was actually by accident. When I started building some plugins, I wanted to release it to open source so everyone could get some use out of them. I was looking around and there was a website called Leafly and they let dispensaries have their own menus on the Leafly website, and then patients can go browse around the site and find one in their local area. And they have reviews down there, and their API that they had open at the time, you could grab the reviews from a different dispensary based on their ID number, and they could put it on their site. I built the Leafly reviews plugin so you could have a widget or a shortcut that would display your reviews right on your site. Leafly eventually closed their API down so the plugin no longer worked and I was kind of left wondering, “What can I do now for the industry?” I wanted to be able to jump in somehow and it just kind of let me to, “Well, if I can build my own menu system and setup that is separate from that, then the website owners can have menus directly on their site and not have to use some type of eye frame or integration somewhere else with another company. They can own it all themselves.” So I’ve built one and the original version wasn’t really nothing– I wouldn’t write a poem about it but it was something and I got it started and I just kind of kept going at it. And over time, it got picked up by other different websites would write reviews on it and then companies would be writing from now, Canada, Mexico, Italy. It’s just growing organically over time and it got to a point where it was pointless for me to spend time doing other things when this one definitely was showing me that it was worth putting more effort into it.
Tara: I’m keying in on your pun that it grew organically, by the way. I’m not going to let that slip by without mentioning it. [laughter] Can you tell us a little bit more about what menu management is? When you talk about the menu plugin and then you’re talking about menu in terms of how we think of it in WordPress development as the navigation, or a menu like at a restaurant type of menu, of the products?
Robert: More like a restaurant menu. They have different items, like concentrates would be one, waxes, and hashes, and they have the flowers so you can add in all the actual cannabis plants that you can smoke. Then there’s edibles and prerolls. A lot of dispensaries will give you prerolls for X amount of dollars, depending on where you’re getting it from. They’ll give you free ones if you order a certain amount of items. They have all these different things that they can just– like topicals for the different lotions and creams, and as a dispensary owner, you can go to WordPress and it works pretty much just like how blog posts work as its own section where you can add a new flower and then it has the meta boxes and the different taxonomies for things like aromas, what vendors the product might have came from, the process and things like that. Then it outputs it through shortcodes or widget that are built right into the plugin.
Liam: Robert, you have mentioned that this is really taking off for you. You’re on a 90-day focus. Can I ask you if most of your business is coming out of the new states in the United States where Cannabis distribution has been legalized locally?
Robert: Actually, I’ve noticed recently an uptick from Canada, a lot of mail order delivery services are signing up because they can set a website and then a patient can go on and then through one of our add-ons that we have, which connects to WooCommerce, the patient can place the order directly through the site. You get a notification on your phone once you’ve made a sale, and you can package it up and deliver it right to the person’s house form, right to the mail. Canada has it where I don’t believe it’s outspokenly, yes, we do approve of this, but it’s also they have, from what I’m gathering, from the people I’ve talked to, they have different sections that display to you how to package it and mail it properly. They’re pretty relaxed with this. I’ve seen an uptick in Canada mostly.
Liam: Okay, thank you. That’s really interesting. Let me ask you a little bit about why you chose WordPress and how you decided to go forward with that? Was that you were in WordPress and as you decided to progress this menu management system, WordPress was your preferred tool, or were you working generally as a developer and you liked what you saw in WordPress and wanted to go with it from that angle?
Robert: When I started working through getting past the table-based layouts, WordPress was the first content management system I found and I think they were using just the default Kubrick theme at the time. It was way back, and I think 2004, maybe early 2005, and it just progressed from there. I liked it enough to where I could learn and easily hack away at things and customize things. It’s just the one that I stuck with over the years. I’ve kind of toyed around with different ones but nothing really fit. Since I was able to build my life on top of open source and be able to work because of WordPress, I wanted to make sure that what I was doing was giving back to WordPress in one way or another. Because, even though I’m profiting off with add-ons and the themes, and additional support and things that I offer. I still give away the menu plugin because I want everyone to be able to use. If you want to set it up yourself and that’s all you need then you’re more than welcome to do that. I just appreciate the community so I appreciate the people that are going to use it as well.
Liam: Yeah, the community is really important when in WordPress. Speak a little bit about, if you would, your involvement with the community and how you first kind of found WordPress, maybe not as software but the wider WordPress community, and how you actively engaged with it aside from sharing your software for free?
Robert: I think Google searches was the main way that I found different things because I would– I’d have a problem, I can’t figure out how to change this up or that up. And I’d go to Google and I’d search for something, and somebody somewhere had already written a tutorial on how to do whatever it is I was looking for. You find different bloggers at the time, back then around 2005 blogging itself but on your own personal blog was way, I feel, bigger than it is now. Everybody had their own blog and were sharing a lot of things that they were learning. Now, over the years, as I’ve learned a lot through it, I’m trying to give back on my own personal blog and put different code snippets and tutorials together. This way I can make sure that I’m passing on the knowledge as well. I think that’s the best part about the community is a tutorial from 2007 is still pretty much just as relevant today as it was then. Even if you put a little bit out there now, it’ll still sit there and add on to the community over time.
Liam: Yeah, I think I’d agree with that. Obviously, some of the technology will march on but the basic approach, unless the code’s been deprecated, can– at least, if it doesn’t solve the problem, it points you in the right direction, which sometimes is all the push we need si where should I look for the answers. Robert, we’ve talked about pizza, we’ve talked about web development, we’ve talked about your business. Within all of these things, maybe you can share with us your definition of success, be it personal, professional, or a combination thereof?
Robert: I think overall, the business, personal, all of it, to me success is when you’re waking up happy every day to be able to do whatever it is you’re doing. If you’re working for a company remotely or you get up and get in your car every day and go somewhere, you work for yourself. To me, it doesn’t matter as long as at the end of the day, the people that you’re around, you’re happy with them and you’re having fun, and you don’t feel like a horrible bum every day you wake up because you’re kind of just dragging yourself to wherever it is you’re trying to go. I want people to be happy and excited when they get up in the mornings. That’s what I’m trying to do for myself every day. I’m trying to make sure that I can spread that around as much as possible. To me, that’s the gift.
Liam: Yeah, that’s a very simple and very satisfying definition. Wherever you are, be happy there, and if you’re not, work to get out of that. That’s very life-affirming. Within that definition then, what’s the single most important thing you do to either achieve success or sustain that success you’ve already achieved?
Robert: I consistently do work, in some way or another. Whether it’s sitting down for a day and doing nothing but coding, or it’s writing content, or the marketing through different social media outlets are interacting with people face to face. To me, I’m always trying to keep the pressure going and that’s the way I’m able to stay happy. If I sit for too long, I get kind of frustrated. I don’t like to be in a place if I’m not doing something productive. I’d rather just leave. I feel like as long as I’m doing something every day, I’m able to, at the end of the day, put the checklist together and say, “Okay, I knocked out five different things, I feel good about that, I’m happy, I can go to bed now and I’m comfortable.”
Liam: Do you work by yourself, Robert, or in a remote environment and where I’m going from that– go ahead?
Robert: I work by myself.
Liam: Excellent. Within that then, I wonder if you have any kind of tracking system around achieving the little bits of activity, and success, and momentum that you talk about that are so helpful to achieving that success. To give you a bit more context, it’s easy when we work for ourselves or by ourselves, to lose the forest for the trees and thinking, “We’re not getting anywhere.” Because we don’t have somebody to say, “Well, actually, you made this client happy, and remember you updated that code and what a challenge that was and you eventually figured it out. I wonder what you do, if anything, to track that and to document that, so as to help contribute to your success?
Robert: I do a few things actually, I would say. I’ve been using Trello a lot to keep track of different projects, and then I have the different boards inside of it for to-do items, or bug fixes, or different things like that. I’m able to track all that out and then I can see when I’ve knocked different items off the list. I’ll know, “Okay, I knocked all that off the list today and I’m good with that.” Then I’m also now with the 90-day pressure that I’m working on every day tweeting at the end of the day, “Here’s a list of what I’ve done.” With little emojis and things to kind of mark each of them. I’m keeping track publicly of what I’m– a brief overview anyways, not too much detail. But then on my blog, I’m blogging, I’ve blogged a couple of times now about the process and what I’ve been able to accomplish. Then I’m planning on blogging every, I’d say, a couple of weeks now, I’m looking at and doing some type of, again, another public way of saying, “Here’s all the different things that I’ve done.” And then I think that to me is more than enough, I have too many things going on in my head during the day that I’m focused on, to spend too much soaking in my accomplishment. But I see them and I’m able to feel good about them and then move on and try to do the next one. I’m always trying to one-up myself and improve things and make things better. I could sit now and leave everything alone and say, “Great, I did enough.” Then two years go by and it’s completely forgotten about because some things came along that are better, and done things in a better way, and fixed things that I might not have fixed because I’ve just let it go. I’m just always trying to push forward and I think the little things, just seeing them and being able to accept that for a couple seconds and then move on is the best approach for me personally.
Tara: Yeah, it sounds like you have a good handle on your process, documenting what you’re doing and sharing that, which helps you keep track of it. It goes to marketing what you do, but it also shares your process for others to learn from. I think you’re covering a lot of bases there, it’s just great and really interesting. It sounds like you’re focused on these 90 days, can you tell us a little bit about what that 90 days is about and what your end goal is and is this all marketing-based? What is that?
Robert: I think it’s a mixture. It’s a little bit marketing, and then it’s accountability as well to make sure that every day, I don’t want to let a day go by and say, “Oh, I did nothing today because I wasn’t able to.” Or I screwed around and went and did something else. It’s kind of an accountability thing, that’s marketing too because then the people that I’m interacting with on Twitter can kind of keep up to date with what I’m doing, maybe build some anticipation for new addons that I’m working on. Overall, at the end of the 90 days when I started, the amount of money that it was making every month was under what I would personally need and consider full-time income. To meet that goal, I’m trying to exceed that within these 90 days, even though I kind of jumpstarted before I even hit the mark that most people would feel comfortable with. I kind of just took the risk and said, “Okay, in 90 days, I know if I put my head down to it and do it all, I’ll be able to get through it just fine. And hit all the dollar amounts and the traffic amounts and things like that, that I have kind of tucked away to the side.”
Liam: I love the multifaceted, multitiered approach there, it’s all-around business growth. But it sounds like you have some very specific targets that you’re working on, not only end goals but around accountability and day-to-day activity. That’s great. Within that 90-day plan, what’s your favorite thing to do within your work environment?
Robert: Code. It’s weird because a few years back, if someone had asked me, “What’s your favorite day-to-day activity as a freelancer?” I would say, “It would be designing.” Now, it’s more I’m finding the challenges and if there’s a bug that gets reported from a customer or I’m trying to figure out a way to improve something and make it better, I get to sit and just study the code for a little bit and figure it out. It’s almost like a mental chess game for myself. That’s really where I find the most relaxation. Also, I think it’s because I get to put headphones in, the rest of the world’s blocked out and it’s just me and the computer screen. I feel like that’s where I can get my best work done and that’s really what I find the most joy in because I know doing those things, everything else springboards from that. I don’t have new add-on releases, or updates to a plugin or a theme, then nothing can get talked about as new features. There’s really nothing for me to do but just kind of sit around and I don’t want that. I’m always trying to improve and I think doing the code work first, everything else can just springboard off of it. From documentation to marketing and everything else.
Tara: Robert, tell us then on the other side of that, what is your least favorite thing? It sounds like you work by yourself and you cover a lot of different bases, what do you least enjoy?
Robert: I would say the code work as well, [laughter] because sometimes it’s a challenge past beyond what I want to deal with that day, or there’s a semicolon that just kind of got lost in the shuffle in 30,000 lines of code. It can be a headache at the same time. I think that’s also why I love it because it’s always a challenge but sometimes I just want an easier day than that. That’s why I think with the marketing and other– social media marketing, and content writing, and going to the documentation and writing more documentation, and taking new screenshots of things that have been updated in the back-end. It allows me to kind of take a break from the code, too, and there’s a healthy balance of all the different things, that I think that’s because I’m doing everything as a solo founder, that I have to juggle everything at once. I don’t really have time to get too lost in one specific item.
Liam: Yeah, that can be really helpful, especially when you’re running the business yourself, to be able to jump around a little bit and give different parts of your brain a chance to rest. Let me ask you one more question about your preference on coding and your emphasis on how you much like it, and though at the same time are depending on the day. Within that environment of coding, are you more excited to write a new add-on and think about the functionality and think about the best way to code it, or do you find bug fixes and trying to get something to work when it’s broken more challenging, more engaging? Where does the real enjoyment come from you?
Robert: I think out of the two of them, doing the new add-ons or the new enhancements to the WP Dispensary plugin itself, those are the more enjoyable overall. But then I also do get the enjoyment from when I get someone that writes me and says, “Hey, I found a bug. This isn’t working.” And I can sit down and come sit at the desk at that moment and I’m able to, in less than 20 minutes, get a fix to him. That, to me, is enjoyable because then I’m making their experience better as a customer, they can feel happy knowing that, “Okay, I paid for this product and the person behind the product isn’t just a building with 30 different people answering phones and not really being attentive, but it’s the face of the company.” And I’m also handling all the support requests. They have that little bit of human interaction. I feel like that would overall be my favorite side of things is the bug fixes and just the mental challenge of trying to figure out, “I need this to work for a payment processing through WooCommerce.” I’m trying to figure out one day and I can’t get it so I spend four or five hours on it and then I finally figure it out, I get to jump up and I might be the only one in the room at the time jumping up but I’m still excited about it. The big win.
Liam: We all know that victory code dance, right? It works, it works, it works, it works. Robert, we’ve talked a lot about your 90-day plan so I’m going to stay here for the next question. What’s been your biggest challenge within the 90-day plan? What’s given you the most grief or the hardest to get moving ahead on?
Robert: I would say managing personal life outside of wanting to just be able to– I would personally love at times to just sit for 12 to 15 hours in a room with the computer and just do a bunch of work because I know that that’s where the business is going to excel the most. But anybody with the family and people who love them and friends, things like that, is going to know you can’t always get all those hours every day without something coming up or you have to run here and do this or help this person with that. Just trying to manage, I think, the personal side of things. The business side falls in and gets the main attention, and then everything else is kind of just puppeteered, I would guess. I would say that would be the best way to say it but just trying to manage that would be probably the hardest aspect of it all.
Liam: Growing at the rate you want without sacrificing the friends and the family and the loved ones around you, that’s difficult.
Robert: Yeah, I don’t want to lock myself up in the corner for 37 days, not see a soul and never shave and see the outside sun. I’m putting myself in a prison at that point, I don’t want to do that. Just trying to find the balance of it all, I think, has been the most challenging part.
Tara: We’re going to talk a little bit about advice but I want to start with the question about what advice you would give to somebody who is just starting out?
Robert: Learn every day something new, there’s too many websites out there right now that you can go to that have free courses to learn pretty much any kind of code language you want or design skill you want. Or you can go to websites that allow you to create different graphics right on their site, and just learn that enough to where you can get an idea of what you like to do the best. But just learn something every day and as you’re learning, give back and teach other people so this way, someone coming up under you might not feel like they can do it, but then they see you doing it and they say, “Okay, I think I can do it now because so and so is making something great. I want to make something great too. You never know who you’re going to inspire so just keep learning and keep inspiring other people at the same time.”
Tara: Yeah, that’s great advice. Do you have people who advised you, mentored you as you were coming up through the ranks?
Robert: Everybody that ever wrote a tutorial and put it up on their website, or a Stack Overflow comment that has seven years behind it but it still works. Anybody that’s put that– because that’s how I’ve learned throughout the years is just reading code, reading other people’s open source code if it’s comment, if I can see certain things and how they work. I’ve never personally taken schooling for it so I’ve learned through the internet. I appreciate everybody on the internet that put a tutorial out there, even if I haven’t learned specifically from you, it’s still appreciated because it’s helping someone somewhere.
Liam: Robert, have you been to WordCamps before? Are you active in your local WordPress community?
Robert: No, I haven’t been to a WordCamp. I was trying to go to WordCamp Ann Arbor just past two weeks ago and I was trying to go, but everything with the personal life, trying to juggle it all, I didn’t have the ability to get there but I’ve already talked to the people that are kind of working it and let them know that I will be there next year. I’m trying to get more active in those things as well, plus with the business growing, I want to be able to put the business out there because not everybody’s heard about it or knows, or cares about the industry itself, so they might not have searched and seen something for this industry that’s been built with WordPress like this. I feel like the face to face and interacting with people is to me the next logical step and that’s what I’m planning on doing over the course of the next year or so.
Liam: Fantastic. That 90-day plan expanded out to 365, I love it. We’re going to circle around to that advice question. Tara had referenced advice that you would like to give, but I’m going to ask you what’s the single most valuable piece of advice, and it can be either professional or personal, that you have ever received and implemented and benefited from in your own life?
Robert: I’d say again, never stop learning. As long as you’re learning something, you can apply it and do something with it. Just learn something every day because the things I’m doing now, I didn’t know how to do some of them six months ago or even six weeks ago. As long as you’re learning, you can always grow, prevented you’re not learning something– and I don’t mean pick up a book and read a whole book that’s 400 pages in a week, and do that every week for your whole entire life, but you can learn something, there’s too much out there not too. So as long as you’re learning something every day, I think that’s the best thing that you can do for yourself.
Liam: Aside from code, which you’re actively learning every day, what do you like to learn about when you’ve left that dark room where you’ve been coding for the last eight hours and you’re reengaging with your family and friends? What do you learn about?
Robert: Actually, I stay away from politics and things like that, so I try to just listen to music and talk about new artists that are out, hang out and build something. Build a shed or work with my hands, because if I’m on the computer all day, I’m kind of just sitting at a desk so I try to just get out and do more outside activities so I’m not cooped up in the house all day and feeling like I’m caged in.
Liam: Make a shed? It sounds like you’re allowed to own a hammer, I am not. [laughter]
Robert: I have a couple.
Liam: I had a hammer but I put a hole in a pipe and the bathroom leaked and my hammer got taken away from me with just cause, I suppose.
Robert: It happens to the best of us so you should put in a request for your hammer back at some point, I think it might have been long enough now. [laughter]
Liam: I’ll take some online hammer training.
Robert: There you go, a couple Youtube videos, you’ll be all set.
Liam: Robert, let me ask you one more question if I can as I try to mess with my headphone cable here. I got myself all tripped up a little bit. We’ve talked about least favorite and most favorite things to do but tell us a little bit about within these 90 days, what are you finding that you’re the best at and does that surprise you that you’re so good at it?
Robert: That’s a good question. I would say the thing that I’m finding the most, I guess, easy stride through would be the marketing side of things. Beyond just marketing and saying, “Okay, here’s some documentation.” And showing off the new stuff that’s happened but just putting out different content and content marketing and things like that. It’s probably from the affiliate marketing and things I’ve done throughout the year that I kind of find rhythm in that, being able to put the right keywords in the right places without making it look too spammy or put images the right way and just kind of applying that knowledge that I’ve gained over into the marketing side of things, the content marketing and a little bit of social media. I use social media more as just the way to just talk to people. I have an Instagram account for both WP Dispensary and myself but I use them mainly just sporadically. I don’t really share day-to-day activities on Instagram how some people do, or I don’t use it for just pushing Instagram quotes or things like that. But I just interact with people on those and keep them more social, but I like the marketing side of things. Content marketing is probably the best.
Liam: Well, then we’ll have to be sure to keep an eye out for the content that you’re putting out on social media. And I’ll ask you now to let us know where we can find you online because we’ve run out of time with this conversation, it’s been fantastic. Before we say goodbye to you, can you just tell people where they can find you online and keep track of what you’re doing and what you’re building?
Robert: My personal site is Robertdevore.com and you can find the Instagram and the Twitter account on there as well. WP Dispensary site is wpdispensary.com. You can also find the Twitter and the Instagram account for that on there also.
Liam: Excellent, WP Dispensary. I said it right that time.
Tara: You said it right.
Liam: [laughs] Robert, thank you so much for joining us, absolute pleasure getting to know you, really, really appreciate your time this afternoon.
Tara: Thanks, Robert. Thank you.
Robert: Thank you for having me. Bye, bye.
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