CEO of Perfect Dashboard & VP of Joomla, Aleksander Kuczek, Answers Our Most Challenging Questions
The first time I met with Alexander Kuczek was through Adam Warner from FooPlugins, a common friend, who introduced us in a lunch we had during the last WordCamp US. Since then, Aleksander was in every event I had attended, so we had the chance to have a few more in-depth conversations and get to know each other. I got to know a super-sharp and very business-oriented guy.
Attending conferences & meetups, I get to meet many business owners in the WordPress ecosystem, but the business focus I see in Aleksander is unique and something that I very much appreciate. So, I thought it would be cool to “showcase” Aleksander, since not enough people know him yet, and also pick his brain with WordPress business oriented questions.
Aleksander, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. It’s interesting to get the take of a CEO of a company such as yours on the state of things!
Can we start by learning a little about you? Do you come from a technological background? How did you get into the field of web-development and websites management?
Web development at first was my passion and the way to express myself. Then I learned quickly that there are people willing to pay me money for what I was considering merely a hobby.
As the number of jobs was increasing, I started my freelance web development business in 2007. Back then, I was doing everything from coding to accounting by myself, but when the company started to grow pretty fast I brought more people on board, so eventually, I had to give up coding and focus on leading the team instead.
This gave me more of a strategic view on the company, which helped me to realized that website development is a one time project while all of my expenses were recurring. That what brought website management to the center of my attention.
I started to sell it to the people I had built websites for, and not long after — our team was managing over 600 websites!
What’s your WordPress story? When and how did you get involved?
I was using open source CMSs from the very beginning of my website building career. This allowed me to accelerate the development process and deliver better products faster.
When I first heard about WordCamps I felt like I owed something to the community, as WordPress has been helping me earn lots of money. I started to share my experience regarding running a successful web development business, and that’s how we have met.
Where are you and Perfect Dashboard based? Are all of the employees working from the company offices?
We are based in Cracow, Poland, where most of our team is located and we also have a branch office in San Francisco.
What is the background story behind ‘Perfect Dashboard’? How did it get started?
Perfect Dashboard evolved from a site project in our digital agency. As we were managing these 600 websites on a fixed monthly fee — optimizing the time spent on the maintenance was key to increase our margins.
After testing most of the tools available on the market we have seen that they are not addressing 2 most time-consuming aspects:
- Testing backup integrity
- Testing websites after an update
So we pull together a bunch of scripts to automate that. Thanks to this improvement, 1 full-time employee was able to manage almost 100 websites, which was a 5x increase.
When I shared information about that with other web professionals they implied that they would also like to use that kind of tool. That persuaded me to release Perfect Dashboard to the general public. Not long after it became so successful we have decided to close the agency and focus only on this project.
I get to speak with many WordPress plugins & themes developers that want to turn their hobby into a business and one of the repeating questions that I get is: “How to find the right idea when there’s already a plugin/theme for everything?” It’s not a secret that Perfect Dashboard lives in a market with multiple other players like ManageWP, MainWP, InfiniteWP. Besides the fact that your company’s name doesn’t end with “WP” :) what is your take on competition?
For me, it is always about listening to the people around you. If there are enough of them saying: “I have a problem with X” then definitely there is some space for a solution for X.
If enough people say: “I have a problem with X” then definitely there’s space for a solution for X.
That was also the way we have developed our competitive advantage. There is a reason why there is no WP in our name. We have learned that many web professionals manage websites based on multiple platforms. That is why Perfect Dashboard is a CMS agnostic tool and can automate management of every PHP based website.
I noticed that you recently became the VP of Joomla. That’s huge — congrats! Can you tell us, WordPress people, a little about your involvement in this big project? Where do you see it going within the market of CMS powered websites?
I don’t like mono-cultures of any kind and I firmly believe that diversity boosts creativity and is good for everyone. That is why I have been involved in both WordPress and Joomla communities for a long time. I hope that some diversity will help us all to create better software.
You seem to often travel and speak at many conferences all over the world.
From my experience, this kind of travel can be involved with some heavy financial expenses, not to mention the time investment! Why do you find it so important that you’re willing to make that investment, and are you somehow measuring your ROI from all those conferences?
It’s not about ROI. It’s about paying back to the community. I have received hundreds of hours of free mentorship from some amazing people. One of them, Ken Singer, who leads the school of entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley in Silicon Valley, always refused to take money and was telling me to “pay it forward” spreading the knowledge even further.
Also, events mean meeting a lot of new people, new ideas, and interesting concepts. I recruit teammates that way, I get inspired, and make friends. This is how we have met, haven’t we?
Many of your talks and the information you choose to share with others seem to revolve around good UX. Why is this topic so close to your heart?
I really believe that UX matters. Life is just too short to waste it finding your way through some badly designed interfaces. So I try to spread the awareness, as I believe that together we can make the Internet a better place, also UX wise.
Your Twitter bio line says: “I turn regular web dev businesses into money-making machines.”
That is an awesome way to introduce yourself, but it also must take some guts to do. How do people that don’t know you react to that?
“Are you some sort of a consultant?” is the most common reaction. But jokes aside, I feel privileged that I can help thousands of web professionals make their ends meet.
Can you share some of your go-to sources of wisdom when it comes to running a sustainable business/company? Whom do you consult when in doubt?
I’m mostly a self-made man, in terms of business education. I opened my first business when I was 15, I went bankrupt when I was 19, and I became a millionaire before turning 30.
That said, I wouldn’t have been where I am now if not for my mentors, so if I was to give one advice I would suggest to get yourself one. I often argue with them, but these are always beneficial conversations that drive my business forward.
Perfect Dashboard is among a tiny group of WordPress companies that raised money. After speaking with many WP influencers, there’s a very negative view around fundraising, even a fear, in the WordPress community. This is contradicting the startup mentality where fundraising is, in many cases, the way to go. Why did you choose to take external money? Was it helpful and how? Are you planning to raise additional rounds in the future?
We did raise money, but our goal wasn’t the money itself. It was about being able to grow faster. Getting investors on board opens a lot of doors that otherwise remain closed. It also gives access to their expertise and, most importantly, extends the circle of trust.
Getting investors on board opens a lot of doors that otherwise remain closed.
90% of businesses don’t survive their first 2 years. Thanks to the investment we have gained a lot of credibility. People are sure that we are not going anywhere and that they can vest their trust with us.
I also raised money for Freemius, and man, I can tell you that it’s tough! I’ve been involved in startups for the past 8 years, so it was not the first time I did it. What I noticed is that once you mention WordPress, you get an immediate pushback from investors regarding the market size. I think that the main reason for that is the rumor that WooCommerce was acquired by Automattic for only $30M (a ridiculously low figure for the most popular eCommerce online). Do you get similar pushbacks, and If so, how do you overcome them? Are you mentioning WordPress at all in your fundraising slides?
I do mention it, but usually in a sentence like “we support not only WordPress & Joomla, but also every other PHP based websites” :)
I think we both know the example of the million-dollar-companies in the WordPress ecosystem, but it is true that their valuation is often way below the value of similar companies in different sectors. I think it’s mostly because the website industry is not considered “sexy” anymore by the investors, and they don’t see the room for growth. That is why the valuation is based more on profits less on the dreams of the big future.
If you could start Perfect Dashboard from scratch, what would you have done differently and why?
I would try to get you on board :)
Your tip regarding visual testing improvements was brilliant. Thanks!
Based on your experience, what’s one good tip you can provide for developers/entrepreneurs who are looking to create a sustainable business around WordPress?
Go for products or services with a recurring subscription. Your bills are recurring, so should be your income!
Aleksander, thank you very much for agreeing to answer my questions, and for being so cooperative and willing to share your perspective with our readers. It seems like you and the Perfect Dashboard team are up to some great things!
Originally published at freemius.com on May 16, 2017.