INTERVIEW: Brian Krogsgard on building a boutique news source

I caught up with Brian Krogsgard recently in Vienna, and he and I chatted about building Post Status, a trusted boutique industry news source for WordPress. Enjoy!

Brian Krogsgard:  Hello.  My name is Brian Krogsgard and I am privileged to sit next to Mendel Kurland today.  We are in Vienna, Austria.  A beautiful country that’s blowing this cool breeze right now, which I welcome because it’s about 90 degrees.  And we’re sitting in the courtyard outside of WordCamp Europe 2016.  And it’s the afternoon of the first day.

Mendel Kurland: That was a good intro.

Brian Krogsgard: thank you.

Mendel Kurland:  That was a solid intro.

Brian Krogsgard:  Thank you.  Cheers.

Mendel Kurland:  Cheers.

Brian Krogsgard:  To WordPress.

Mendel Kurland:  To WordPress.  To Open Source.

Mendel Kurland:  To Open Source.  But you don’t have to give me the entire story, but I am curious how you got into WordPress or Open Source or how you just got excited about technology in general.

Brian Krogsgard: Well, I was born December 30th, 1985. And from there I had a life long journey that led me straight to WordPress.

Mendel Kurland: Straight to WordPress?

Brian Krogsgard:  Well…straight, meaning different times.  So you end up curving.

Mendel Kurland:  Yea, yeah.

Brian Krogsgard:  No I got into the web because I had ideas about websites in college and I found out that my ideas were not very good.  But making a website was within reach, even for someone like me, who doesn’t have programming experience, because I was able to find solutions on the internet about how to make a website.  I wanted to create essentially a culture website or something like that, at my school and then later actually, in the town that I lived in.  Because I felt like the websites that existed weren’t very good.  And I had this desire to create something and then put contact on it that other people would read.

Mendel Kurland:  So like a lifestyle magazine or something like that?

Brian Krogsgard:  Yea, something like that, but for my university.  You know who majored in industrial engineering at Auburn?  Tim Cook.

Mendel Kurland:  Ah, no kidding.

Brian Krogsgard:  Do you know who that is?

Mendel Kurland:  I’ve heard, I’ve heard of him.

Brian Krogsgard:  He’s pretty successful.

Mendel Kurland:  I’ve heard of him.

Brian Krogsgard K:  He was in my department, we had the same statistics teacher, I’m pretty sure.

Mendel Kurland:  Really?  So you’re saying that you are set up for world domination?

Brian Krogsgard:  No, I’m not saying that.

Mendel Kurland:  You’re implying it, but you’re not saying it.

Brian Krogsgard:  I didn’t say that.  But yeah, Auburn was a great school.  But I was interested in writing stuff.  I don’t why, at some point in life, I got a bug that I wanted to write stuff.  I hate English, reading, and writing when I was younger.  And that’s why I did more of a math based education.

Mendel Kurland:  Was there a particular type of writing that you enjoyed?

Brian Krogsgard:  I didn’t know yet.  Like I said, these were ideas, like most bad plans, they started with the technical implementation instead of the concept and actually doing some writing and figuring out it if was sustainable and those types of things.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, unfortunately for the sites, but fortunately it kind of led me down this path of discovering websites was pretty cool.  And then I started writing about WordPress because I had this bug to write. I didn’t really have anything to write about these other topics.  I started writing about WordPress and I was learning and I kind of slowly kind of got more and more into that space. And that’s how I got into both writing and developing.

Mendel Kurland:  What types of things were you writing, was it tutorials and things like that?

Brian Krogsgard:  The first WordPress articles I wrote about were on my personal blog.  Because I didn’t know where else to put stuff like that.  And I think, one of them, was right around WordPress 3.0, and I think I said something like, “WordPress 3.0 rocks!” or something.  And I just wrote a little about what I was doing at WordPress.  I think one of them, was my first release post, which I now do around every release.   And so two weeks later, I was writing something and the blaze was on WordPress and I thought that was really cool. And I wrote the little thing about it and I emailed it to Ryan Imel and I said, “Hey, I don’t know if you’d be interested din this, but I just wrote it, and have no idea where I would put it, and [inaudible 04:38].

Mendel Kurland:  So you want an audience?

Brian Krogsgard:  Yeah.  So I think that was the first one that I published on WordPress Candy.  I can’t remember exactly, but that definitely happened though.  And then kind of started writing this newsy type of stuff.  And that’s where some of the relationships started for me, of getting to know the people I was writing about.

Mendel Kurland:  How did you get to know somebody? Did you just call them up, or send them an email, or go to their contact?

Brian Krogsgard:  Well, back then, Twitter was started, and most press people were on Twitter and that might start some conversations but eventually it was usually through getting someone’s Skype contact.  And then you might maintain some form of relationship through Skype.  It was pre Slack.   IRC existed, but IRC was used mainly by core people.  Whereas Slack now, is more ubiquitous, more people are using Slack for all things.  So if you want to message somebody, you’ll probably just go message them and then add them to your Slack book then.

Mendel Kurland:  So were people in the community pretty willing to talk to you?  Were they excited about the fact that you were writing about it, were they a little apprehensive, or a little nervous, or anything like that?
Brian Krogsgard:  You know similar to today, except there was less news and less going on.  So you would write about what are more mundane things today, like you might write about a new theme release or a new update to a theme, or smaller, smaller business ideas that exist today.  Now the business things that exist today are much bigger.  So covering every theme release is ridiculous because there is hundreds of them a week.  The community has grown a ton over the years but because I started to get involved at a relatively early stage for the WordPress commercial ecosystem, I was able to get to know a lot of contacts.

Mendel Kurland:  Some of the content you created on your personal blog, and you were blogging about things that were happening in the WordPress community.  Did any of those articles make their way to post status?

Brian Krogsgard:  No, I think the articles I wrote on my personal blog are still there.

Mendel Kurland:  Oh, okay.

Brian Krogsgard:  I may have forwarded one or two technical articles to something else, because they were bad, or something.  But actually, the fist article, the first blogging that I ever did that got any traction was about Alabama politics.  And I started my own blog, this was prior to, or around the same time as the WordPress blogging stuff.  But I was just like, I need an avenue to get my frustration out.  And I blogged about Alabama politics and it got a little bit of attention.  And then I…

Mendel Kurland:  What kind of attention?

Brian Krogsgard:  Raw search results for our gubernatorial race or something like that.

Mendel Kurland:  Oh cool.

Brian Krogsgard:  Just straight up search results.  And you see the stats go up for the first time.  And when I say attention, I mean I probably had a hundred page views that day, instead of like three.  And it was people…

Mendel Kurland: That’s exciting!

Brian Krogsgard:  It was super exciting and similar to emailing Ryan about WordPress Candy, I was just saying, hey, I’ll write stuff for you, I’ve got a little bit of a writing bug here.  And so there was a local political blog that was amazing, called Political Parlor.  And it was on this old school WordPress theme, and I actually wrote posts for him, about Alabama elections.  And it was a pretty well-known site in Alabama politics. Local congressmen would read his site.  And I was writing these kind of campaign updates, what people were doing, like compare the gubernatorial candidates and things like that.  I don’t know why I did all of this.

Mendel Kurland:  Did you make any money on it, or …

Brian Krogsgard:  No, it was just for the fun of it.

Mendel Kurland:  Just for the fun of it.

Brian Krogsgard:  Yea, just for the fun of it.  Same with Ryan, Ryan offered to pay me several times, I’m sure.  But I never wanted money for those types of thing.  This was just a side job, or a side hobby.  IT wasn’t a job.

Mendel Kurland:  So, your day job was being an engineer?

Brian Krogsgard: Yeah. I was in engineering, and this was for fun.

Mendel Kurland: Now Post Status is a major departure from this idea of not making any money, just writing to write.. .

Brian Krogsgard:  Let’s make all the money.

Mendel Kurland:  Made to make all the money, right?  And if people look at Post Status, they see that Post Status has been seen as having mediocre rise in popularity as a Boutique news site for WordPress.  So, a couple of question.  Why did you decided to do the for profit thing for Post Status and what was the genesis of that idea?

Brian Krogsgard:  Sure.  So I did what I was talking about, for probably two years.  Wrote on WordPress candy, probably over 130 blog posts over a two year period, about every week or so. And then I started Post Status because now this site, once again, idled a bit.  And Ryan had some other things that he was building on too.  So I was working full time as a developer by this point and still had this weird inner need to write about WordPress.  So I was like, okay, well I’m going to start my own thing and I’m going to change the format a little bit.  It’s going to be more like a link log sell thing.  And I was able to share more of that web, links, and less long forum.  But I was still able to distribute what it thought was the valuable things that other people should read.  So they had a small readership in that format.  And the, WP daily, if you remember, came and went.  Kind of a flash in the pan, very hot and then cold, type of moment.  And when they went cold, was when I was redesigning because I can’t limit my words to these small link format type of things or type of posts. SO I transitioned Post Status which was now about a year old to more of a traditional WordPress news site where I was doing motor long form, but not just long form stuff, trying to go in-depth, trying to go deeper .  And get me on this, just get me on newspaper stuff, and on more analysis.      Because I was working on the redesign at the same time that WP daily went kaput.  I saw that happen, they put up a flash space and it was gone.  And I was like, I’ve gotta resign tonight.  And at the same time, I’d had Drew Strojny from the Theme Foundry contact me and say, ‘Hey man, I love what you’re doing and I want to figure out some way to support what you’re doing’.  And he offered to advertise on the site. So we struck a deal where he gave me a monthly amount of money for a year and it was several hundred dollars that helped cover costs and what was becoming a significant time investment, where I was enjoying but also felt like, I need to keep this resource up.  Because of a personal need, but also if I felt like it was helpful in the community.  So I had to make a decision of do I want to go all in of what I’m doing a range, or do I want to take a chance and is it possible to monetize Post Status in a way that someone can make a living off of it.  No one was doing that with WordPress news unless they were sponsored by a company or someone, or some type of backer.  And I thought there was a real way to do it.  So, I made a tough decision, leave people that I’m working with and I left range and decided to take a month to rebuild Post Status to be a subscription format.  And that’s when I went full time.  So it was exhilarating, it was the first time I had ever worked for myself.  A lot of people in our space, they have been freelancing off and on, since they got out of school, and they don’t know a different life.  And for me, full time employment was stability.  And I was saying, not only am I going to go to self-employment, I’m also going to go with a completely untested business model, that makes very little sense, in a super-niche environment like WordPress news.

Mendel Kurland: So it has been very successful and you’ve been very open about showing the financials and showing what goes into it, the cost, the subscriptions, and who’s supported you and I think that’s really cool.  Something that you haven’t been super open about, and something that you haven’t mentioned this at all during our conversation, and that is WP Tavern.  Now many would regard WP Tavern and Post Status as the two most well-known news sources, industry news sources in the press.  How do you distinguish Post Status from WP Tavern?

Brian Krogsgard:  Yea, I mean, Post Status I consider geared more towards WordPress professionals.  So people who make their living in some form or fashion where WordPress is a primary tool.  I want to provide content to people making their living with WordPress in some form or fashion, it’s going to be valuable.  So it tends to be more focused, more analysis driven, what this means to you and your profession.  And WP Tavern tends to be more user focused and tries to fit the 80% rule, like interesting to 80% of people out there.  And I don’t really want to target 80 percent of the WordPress users out there.  I’d much rather target the, probably, far much less than 20 percent.

Mendel Kurland:  So is Automatic or any member company of Automatic a significant investor in Post Status?

Brian Krogsgard:  No, I have no investors.  So I own 100% of the company.  The only monetary input is that I have 12 partners.  And the first year, each of those 12, they’re all invited.  In the first year, I think, two of the 12 I invited, said “no”, so out of 14 total, I got 12. But I was limiting it 12, so then I brought two more on.  Then I had 2 that didn’t renew for the second year.  And so now I’ve got 2 more, so total I’ve got 14 people that have been “partners”.  The first year, they paid $2,500 a piece, so that’s $30,000, and the second year, the new partners paid $3,000, and the others paid $2,500.  So that’s the biggest single investment, since 2500 or 3000 from partners.  And I have 12 partners because I have to cover those people as well, they’re part of the news and they’re funding the news.  But if I make one of them angry, it’s one of 12.  And if they say, or try to give some sort of editorial oversight, then I don’t have to care because someone else can take that place and I can just segregate myself from them.   And fortunately I haven’t had to do that.  But Automatic owns   WooThemes and before the WooThemes acquisition, WooThemes was one of the partners, and they still are.  So technically Automatic sponsors Post Status.

Mendel Kurland:  Thanks.  So what was the most significant lesion that you learned when you built Post Status.

Brian Krogsgard:  I screw stuff up ALL the time.  And I have done so, since I launched it.  I would say that one of the biggest lessons that I learned was promising something that I wanted to do, but yet not been able to do.  And then setting an expectation that that should exist.  The one that people love to give me a hard time about now is the job board.

Mendel Kurland: Yeah.

Brian Krogsgard:  Because I’ve been saying that there’s going to be a job board for about a year, but it’s not launched yet.

Mendel Kurland:  Do we know when that’s gonna launch?

Brian Krogsgard:  Ahh, I mean…oh I don’t have my watch on.  Soon.

Mendel Kurland:  Okay

Brian Krogsgard:  So it is finally going to launch.  But you know, promising something like that, it’s not great for your credibility, and also you just want to be able to deliver that to your customers as a resource.  Another promise that I made, that I haven’t done very well on, is properly categorizing resources to be more evergreen.  So a lot of my content is topical and event driven.  And one of the things that I say you get with Post Status is more ever green resources.  Except that it’s not very well categorized to pull those ever green resources forward, so as new people join, those more ever green resources are available to easily find for them.  Obviously they can go to the archives, but they are not as easy to find.

Mendel Kurland:  Separating that out…

Brian Krogsgard:  Separating that out… but there’s a lot of things that I screw up.  And I screw up daily.

Mendel Kurland:  So if you could use one to two sentences to give a piece of advice, to the thousands and thousands of people listening to this video, what is the advice that you give?

Brian Krogsgard:  I would advise people, whether they’re into their career or not, to take it slow, and work hard, but don’t work too much.  And let those small accomplishments add up.  And over the years, they will become a big accomplishment.

Mendel Kurland:  I like it.

Brian Krogsgard:  Did that make any sense?

Mendel Kurland:  Yeah.

Brian Krogsgard:  Okay, good.

Mendel Kurland:  Alright, well, that’s it.  That’s all we got.

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