Introducing Evan Scheingross and Daniella Knelman
Evan has been creating websites since the last century. Daniella has a 14-year background in higher education. Together, they’re now trying to grow Evan’s business into something that can sustainably support their family of four.
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 86.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re joined by Evan Scheingross and Daniella Knelman. Evan has been creating websites since the last century. Daniella has a 14-year background in higher education. Together, they’re now trying to grow Evan’s business into something that can sustainably support their family of four. Hi, Evan. Hi, Daniella.
Tara: Hello. Welcome. So glad that you’re here today. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourselves?
Evan: Sure. I guess I will go first. I am Evan and I’ve been making websites since the Dinosaur days of the late ’90s. And working professionally, running my own business, doing so for over 10 years now.
Daniella: Hi, I’m Daniella. I’m Evan’s wife. I guess you can put that out there.
Evan: Sure, that’s helpful.
Daniella: [laughter] Yeah, Evan’s wife. The WordPress community and the web development community is pretty new for me. I’ve always watched Evan. I’ve been in the background watching Evan run his business and build websites for over 10 years, but I actually had a separate career in higher education, working in student affairs at a local university for almost 14 years, I guess. Wow, that makes me feel kind of old. But recently, I left my position and we decided to give it a go and really see what we can do together working towards one goal and growing Evan’s business. So here we are, trying to make it all happen.
Tara: Wow. Can you tell us a little bit more about that decision and how long it took you to come to it and what was involved and sort of more about your plans, what role you’re going to be playing in this new venture, Daniella?
Daniella: Absolutely. In some ways, I would say we’ve always thought about doing this probably since Evan actually went 100% out on his own. He had worked for some companies in the early days, but then I think starting in 2009, he was doing his own business completely. We’ve always thrown around like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we worked together? I think we’d be a good team. We’re doing it in other ways in life pretty well so maybe we can bring that to a business.” But it really financially didn’t make sense. I had a career that I really enjoyed but I would say 2015 was the first time we really thought hard about doing this and actually sat down and looked at the numbers and started talking about strategy. That was probably when our first son was about six months old. We were starting to feel those effects of being first-time parents and juggling me being back to work and kind of the chaos that goes along with having a small child. But after looking at the numbers and really thinking it through, we said, “No, this isn’t a good time for us.” So we kind of kept talking about it every now and then but I stayed at my position. Then our second son was born in November of 2017 and I would say that for us was a big shift. We were managing with one and then we brought a second one in and it was like, “What did we do to our lives?” And the funny thing is he’s the easy one.
Evan: We know what we did. He’s wonderful, but it’s a lot.
Liam: [laughter] He may listen to this in future years, good cover, good cover.
Daniella: Yeah. He really is the easier one, too, but it just became a lot to balance two. Once I went back to work when he was about four months old, we just felt like we could not keep our heads above water. It was just a runaround of, “Okay, this kid goes to daycare. This kid goes to preschool.” Anything we try to do outside of our normal schedule was just a push and a pull. Evan felt like he wasn’t getting any work done because I had to be out of the house every day at my job, and between working eight hours and a commute, and picking up and dropping off a kid to preschool, that was 10 hours a day pretty much, almost 10 hours a day. Then any time I needed to work late or do something or had to go in early, Evan had to flex his schedule because he was the flexible schedule. After doing this for about six months, we said, “This is insanity. No one’s happy.” I felt like I was being a not great parent, just really frustrated all the time. Didn’t have good quality time with my kids, wasn’t seeing them a lot. We said there has to be a better way and we really started to put the wheels in motion to make this happen.
Tara: That’s really interesting that you took really a couple of years to come to this but you finally just pulled the plug. Tell us more about this business that you’re starting?
Evan: Well, the business has a new business name. It’s called Minimal Chaos and it’s really a reflective of our personal lives and funny enough, it didn’t occur to me to use this as our actual business name until Daniella said, “Hey, let’s think of the obvious. We make websites less chaotic, too.” As far as the business itself, we make websites for other small businesses, entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations with a real focus on communication and messaging. Because for too many years, when I was doing this on my own. I was neglecting that portion of my projects. And the websites were being launched without very good content. I knew when I put them out there that I was doing my clients a disservice because I could have our should have helped them more, but maybe I didn’t feel able or I wasn’t experienced enough. Over the last probably one to two years, I really made that a much stronger focus in my work. With Daniella who brings in a wealth of written communication, management, talking skills. [laughter] The works. I knew that we can really play up that angle. We work with people who value effective communication on the web.
Tara: Where are you located?
Evan: We are in San Diego, California. More specifically, in La Mesa which, oddly enough, is where I grew up. Our house is less than a mile away from my high school and I’m strangely cool with it because the truth is– and I’m not bragging but maybe I am a little bit here but when you live in San Diego, nobody really leaves. All my friends are still here and for good reason. Nobody could afford to live by the beach. We did that back in our younger days, we rented an apartment. But all my friends, they’ve found houses and places to live somewhere within the county. And I don’t get to see them as often as I want because everybody has kids now, but it’s good to have like a group of kind of natives here that I see and associate with, it’s kind of like my crew.
Tara: I think the weather there is amazing. I’ve been there once but I know probably nobody ever leaves because isn’t it ideal weather?
Daniella: It’s absolutely ideal weather and I think, the truth is once you’ve lived here, it’s really hard to live somewhere else. I think, for Evan, it’s like, he’s thought about leaving several times, and then it’s like, but why? Why would I go? There has to be a really compelling reason, so far there hasn’t been.
Liam: Where are you from, Daniella?
Daniella: I am from, I like to say Southern California. I was born in Los Angeles, kind of grew up in Orange County, and then came down to San Diego for college and that was 18 years ago. I haven’t left so I kind of got sucked into the San Diego vibe down here. And then, of course, Evan wasn’t going to go anywhere, so if I wanted to hang out with Evan, I had to stick around, too.
Evan: Yeah, and I think it should be noted for all the listeners. Important piece of this puzzle or story I don’t think we covered was that we met that first year at college. We’ve actually– and we were friends all throughout college and we didn’t get together as a couple until after that. We basically have 18 years of friendship/partners together. And that kind of strong relationship is really what propelled us into this decision as well.
Daniella: But if we’re going to go personal here, there’s one other piece missing, which is that actually, in between, “Okay, we’re friends but we’re not dating.” We were actually roommates for three years.
Evan: Well, housemates. We didn’t share a room.
Liam: Thank you for clarifying for the parents that are listening.
Daniella: But he was the best housemate that I’ve ever had. And I think we worked really well as a team even back then. I feel like we were always the ones who took control over cleaning the house and making sure that things are running effectively.
Evan: We would definitely be responsible people in the house. Yeah. And we kind of ran that ship together. In some ways, that was like our first job together maybe. I don’t know.
Tara: We’ve had a couple of other couples on before and it does– I don’t want to say, impress me. That’s not the right word, but I am sort of fascinated by the idea of couples working together. Speaking personally, my husband and I do almost nothing together. [laughs] I mean, I can’t imagine. We divide and conquer, we don’t work together. It sounds like you guys have a history of that. I wonder if translating that into business thinking and all of the stuff that you have to do for business when, up until now, all of your partnerships have been sort of related to household management. How that transitions going for you and your schedule, are you working out of your home, I assume?
Daniella: We are.
Tara: So all of those adjustments, tell us a little bit about how that’s going. You’ve got big smiles on your faces and I can tell you–
Daniella: I’m actually laughing because you just used a term that we talk about a lot, that we both think we need to do more, which is to divide and conquer. I think because we do work well as a team and to joke, that we actually enjoy each other’s company, we tend to not divide and conquer so much and that was fine when our livelihood didn’t really depend on it. I think in our past lives, we didn’t get that much time together during the week. So if we had an opportunity to do something together, it was nice and we would take that opportunity, or on the weekends, it was like, “Well, you can go to the store and I can go do this but we could just do it together because that’s nice, we get to spend time together.” But now that we are spending a lot more time together, we actually need to learn how to divide and conquer better, and realize that we can do things separately because this isn’t like a one-time shot. This is every day now.
Evan: and to add to that, I would say, you ask how is it going? Not as well as it could be because I am learning how to be– I’ve never had to delegate before, my business was just me. I’m sort of trying to be a boss with no formal training.
Daniella: Yeah, no.
Evan: Do you notice, she was like, “Yeah, no.” [laughter]
Tara: Do you have like a formal employee review and all that kind of stuff?
Daniella: I think during my first week, I was like, “So how are you going to onboard me?” He was like, “I don’t know how I’m going onboard you.” We’re definitely figuring it out and I think one of the challenges, too, is that I’ve been closely tied to the business for so long. I’m Evan’s website reviewer. I’m the person who gives him feedback on a new proposal, or a new contract. If he had a not great phone call with a prospective client, I debrief that with him. I know a lot but what I’m realizing is that I don’t really know enough– I don’t know as much as I thought I knew, I guess, I don’t know enough to just sit down and get going. There’s still so much for me to learn. We’re trying to balance this onboarding me. We’re trying to balance that piece. And then the other challenge, too, is that I’m only part-time. Currently, at least for now, I’m three days a week with Evan and then I actually have our kids full-time with me two days a week. We’re finding, too, that I just don’t have a lot of time during the week either, that’s been a challenge I think.
Evan: Yeah. To start like, we had to be realistic with the business plan to start. And with Daniella going in full time to start and having the kids in school and daycare full time, financially, it just wasn’t going to work. So we were going to have to change something. The kids are in school less, Daniella is working. We’re shooting for 20-ish hours a week and we’re going to see how it goes. We’re in this early phase where we’re really taking it month by month. We made this decision probably in October, November. Daniella officially left her job in early mid-December. And now here we are at the end of January. It hasn’t been that long. In our minds, it wasn’t really even official work time until the start of this year. Daniella quit her job and we had a week or two enrolled right into the holidays. And that’s when kids are home from school and you see family and it’s kind of crazy anyway. We’re kind of in early struggles of getting all the wheels spinning and kind of working out the kinks. It’s exciting because I see so much opportunity and it’s super scary and frustrating because I realize how much work is still in front of us, too.
Liam: It’s interesting. As you two start your business life together here, I want to ask you about your definition or your definitions of success? And maybe you can share those and whether you have a single definition or you have individual definitions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you define success?
Evan: Daniella’s looking at me. For me, this year, what we’re doing. This is really kind of the ultimate test of success. To me, if we can make what we’re working towards work and make it sustainable, and bring in enough revenue our family doing what we do, running our business, working together, and live comfortably doing so, to me, that would feel very successful. We’re not expecting to have that happen right away in month one, two, or three. But hopefully, within year one, we’re going to be at a place where we say, “Hey, we’re doing it.” And that’s going to feel awesome if we could get there. Or maybe more positively when we get there.
Liam: Nice, nice. And how about you, Daniella?
Daniella: I would agree with all of that. I think just if we can come out at the end of this year and if we can say like, “Hey, this is working and we can go a second year and we haven’t completely drained our savings account and I don’t have to start looking for a new job, then I think that is success.” But the thing I would add to what Evan said is our quality of life, I think, in the home. Our family quality of life, that was a big motivator behind making this change. I don’t really think we would have made it had we felt like every day we were coming home and feeling pretty happy and balanced, and if we felt like we were getting good family time. I think that was really lacking for us and we saw the effects it was taking on us and taking on our kids. In some ways, I feel like even if the business piece of this doesn’t work out for us, at least we’ve tried it and at least we’ve had a year to really focus on the things that are most important to us. That, to me, is– if we can kind of get our family life back to a place where we’re all just a little bit happier, and healthier, and more balanced, and feeling better, that is a success right there.
Liam: I like that, that priority of not work and not overly attaching success to professional endeavors, whether it’s joining your husband in trying to grow that business, or even building a career. It strikes me as a very healthy perspective to make individual and family happiness the priority. And to some extent, how that happens, “Well, let’s try this for a while, let’s try that for a while, let’s try something else for a while but make the goal, make the success the personal family joy.” I like that a lot.
Tara: You’ve talked about some of the steps that you’re taking and why you’ve made this decision and maybe some of the challenges that led to that decision. What would you say are the biggest challenges, not the obvious ones, a start of business, but the biggest challenge of this change that you’re making, that you’re facing?
Evan: The biggest challenge in this change I think is, for me, learning how to operate my business differently and learning how to account for another individual involved. When it was just me, I had everything in my brain and I didn’t have to write it down or delegate or make it known, I could jump from task to task because I knew what I was doing, but that doesn’t really fly anymore. That’s kind of, I knew it was coming but that’s a rude awakening, that’s a big challenge and a change for somebody who’s like a creature of habit and has been sort of doing the same thing for 10+ years because it was working well enough, so why change it? Any other big challenges, Daniella?
Daniella: I think for me, the biggest thing right now is kind of my professional identity and who am I right now. Because I’m coming from a place where I was– I don’t want to say that I was an expert in my field, that’s probably too strong, but successful and accomplished in the work I was doing, knew what I was doing, really understood my job, and gained a lot of satisfaction and feeling of accomplishments from that. And now coming into this new role, I kind of don’t know what I’m doing half of the time. That’s humbling and it’s a new experience. I’m questioning kind of everything that I say to Evan and everything that I do, and kind of feeling like, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing the right thing?” And on top of it, knowing that I’m not full time and so much of my weekday experience is also being a full-time mom for my two boys, that’s very new too. I’m balancing two new identities for myself that really weren’t in the forefront before this year.
Evan: I just want to add to that. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time either, for the record. Together, I guess that’s 100% of the time.
Daniella: Recipe for success.
Evan: You know, hire us to make your website. [laughter]
Liam: I love that candor, right? Life is one big busk and we all just kind of busk it and try to convince people we know what we’re doing. Daniella, I’m interested to know what your role and responsibility is within the company. What assets in work are you leaning on given your professional background and skill set?
Daniella: Yeah, I know. It’s a great question and I thought about answering that with, “Well, yeah. I’d like to know, too.” [laughter]
Evan: We have talked about this.
Daniella: We have. We didn’t go into this completely blind. The things that we talked about for me, I think for starters, is really just helping Evan get a handle on all the things he hates about his work, which is the administrative stuff. Stuff that really takes a lot of his time, but he’s not necessarily getting paid to do it, and he doesn’t enjoy doing it. He also probably, as we’ve learned, doesn’t have the best methods for doing some of it. My role is to really kind of come in and take some of that off his plate, but also hopefully streamline some of the processes that he’s created, make them better, make them more efficient so that we’re starting to really develop something that’s sustainable in terms of business processes, so that he’s not rewriting the same email 12 times and he can just go to his template folder and pull it out, which you were doing before, so that was a bad example.
Evan: Okay, thank you.
Daniella: You do a few things right. [laughter] And then I think beyond that, as we’re moving towards this place of really wanting to work on content and messaging, and supporting clients in that way. I’m hopeful to be doing a lot of content writing and a lot of editing and working on messaging with clients. It is new for me but I’ve done so much, so much of my old job was communication, and it was writing. And it wasn’t necessarily writing for the web but I think it’s going to be a pretty smooth transition for me. And again, just having that background of knowing Evan’s work and knowing his clients pretty well, I think I’ll be able to transition into that. And then, ultimately project management, really keeping things moving. I think one of the things that I’ve seen as an outsider is that a lot of Evan’s projects get hung up kind of in that, ‘we’re almost ready to launch but’ phase. So how can we keep moving things forward and how can I support that by just having that time to send an extra email, give a call to a client, help lay out the groundwork for, “Here’s what we hope to accomplish with this project and here’s the timeline we hope to accomplish it in.”
Tara: Sounds like your job description is ever-expanding. That’s a lot of stuff to take on. You’re ambitious, that’s good. I’d like to ask you guys about advice and if you think about advice that you’ve received, each of you, that has made a difference for you and that you take to heart and implement in your life, whether it’s personal life, professional life, both. If you could talk about that a little bit with your advice?
Evan: Sure, yeah. One really good piece of advice, it actually came from Daniella. She told this to me many years ago now but I still keep it in the back of my mind. I’m paraphrasing but essentially, she said, your client’s failure to plan is not your emergency. And you know this happens all the time in our world, somebody comes to you, urgent request, something’s on fire. My inclination, because I’m a nice, very giving person, my inclination is to want to help them and drop what I’m doing and say, “Hey, I can do this.” But the truth is, if you’re running a business, their failure to plan is not my emergency and I often have to remind myself of that and talk to them diplomatically and matter-of-factly and say, “Hey, this is how it’s going to go.” That was really good advice that I’m sure has saved my sanity multiple times. Yeah, what about you?
Daniella: Before I left my job, but I guess before we had made the decision even for me to leave my job, my former supervisor had said to me during a really good conversation, she had said, “You know, your tendency towards perfectionism, it can stand in the way of you being successful.” And I really took that to heart because it’s absolutely true. I have the tendency to want it all to be perfect and organized, and beautiful, and to not show anybody until it looks that way. And I think especially in this current world that we’re living in and our current lives, that’s just not possible. Nothing can be perfect right now. It just has to be good enough a lot of times and that’s a really hard thing for me because I want to always do my best and put my best work out there. But sometimes, especially when you’re trying to get something off the ground, you just kind of have to go for it and adjust on the fly and adjust as you go along. I think we’re both learning that and starting to do that more.
Liam: And that’s a learning process, it’s learning to trust what is good enough that doesn’t turn around and bite you, or slap you, or anything like that. That’s definitely a learning curve there.
Tara: Yeah, I say often to clients especially, don’t let perfect be the ending of the good because you have clients who sometimes won’t pull the trigger because they are trying to fine-tune every single word on their website and you just say, if you’re waiting for perfect, you’re never going to have a website or much of anything else. I think that is good advice to rein in the perfectionism now and then.
Liam: Daniella, earlier in the conversation, you mentioned how all things and WordPress and WordPress community are new to you. Would you and Evan talk about your involvement and engagement with your local WordPress community?
Evan: She’s looking at me so I’ll start.
Daniella: You should start. Can I note that I’m drinking my coffee out of a WordCamp Orange County mug right now?
Evan: You are.
Liam: Duly noted.
Evan: Yes, I have some product placement as well. My Givewp.com mug from the local guys here, Give, they make an awesome plugin. They’re cool guys, they get a shoutout. I like all of them.
Tara: I like them, too.
Liam: They’re good people.
Evan: But yeah, my involvement in the WordPress community here is– let me be the first to say it’s not as active as I’d like it to be because I don’t– especially, since having kids, I don’t really have the time and I haven’t made the time to get out in that community as much as I’d like. But I will say my track record of attendance at WordCamp San Diego is perfect, it means that I’ve been to every single one. And I’ve spoken, I think at three of them. And we do have a local AWP Meetup here that I tried to go to but realistically, I show up maybe twice a year, just because of life, and it’s at night, and it’s tough with kids. But I really value the spirit of the community and the people involved in it and how it’s so open and accepting and progressive, it values freely sharing knowledge. Those are the things that turn me on, to begin with. You’re smiling. Daniella’s looking at me with this weird smile.
Daniella: No, I’m listening.
Evan: Oh, you’re listening, okay.
Daniella: And for myself, like I said, the WordPress community is very new but back in 2016 when we were contemplating me joining Evan’s business, the first round or maybe the second round, I’m not sure. I did attend WordCamp San Diego, like a dinner with Evan. I’ve dabbled a little bit but I’m sure that’s going to change a lot this year as we move forward.
Tara: Yeah, WordCamps are pretty impactful for people as you start working in this space. I’m sure that will be the same for you. And you guys will be a couple. There are some notable couples in the WordPress space. You can be one of those WordPress couple, there aren’t that many.
Evan: One day! I think we’re not so notable now, but goals.
Daniella: Something to aspire to, exactly.
Tara: Awesome. Well, I look forward to following you guys. We are out of time for today but it’s been so lovely getting to know you and hearing about what you’re doing and seeing how well you work together and share the podcast microphone together. Thanks for joining us today, where can people find you online?
Evan: We are online at Minimalchaosweb.com and we are actually blogging about this big transition in our lives from Daniella’s work to working together at Minimalchaos.blog.
Liam: Excellent. Thank you both so much for joining us here. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you and getting to know you a little bit.
Tara: Thanks. Bye-bye.
Evan: Likewise, thank you.
Daniella: Thank you. Bye.
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