Bringing Project Management to WordPress with Corey Maas

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I get to talk to Corey Maass, a WordPress develop who’s delved into several different products. His most popular plugin, Kanban for WordPress, turns WordPress into a project management system based on the popular Japanese method of displaying cards and showcasing progress. We discuss the challenges of pricing, updates, and staying focused.

Show Notes



Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Today’s episode is brought to you by two great sponsors. The first is Sucuri. Sucuri is a website security done right. They will protect, detect and respond quickly. That means you’re always protected from hackers and other breaches. They offer everything from website scanning to SSL setup, and mitigation of attacks like denial of service. If you want peace of mind for your website, head over to today. That’s, today.

Our second sponsor is WP Stagecoach. WP stagecoach provides easy WordPress staging sites. Create your staging site with one click and import your changes back to your live site with one click. This is great if you’re developing and you need to test, or even if you have new content you want to try out. Check out WP Stagecoach today. Head over to

And now, on with the show.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to How I Built It, a show that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, my guest is Corey Maass.  Corey, did I say your last name, right? I forgot to ask you before we started recording. 

Corey Maass: Yes, Corey Maass.

Joe Casabona: All right. Very nice. And you are here today to talk about Kanban. Is that something I, Kanban? Is that something I also said correctly?

Corey Maass: I actually had to look this up early on. I guess it is technically correct that in America, some people call it Kanban. For the most part, I’ve only ever heard it as Kanban.  And that’s usually what I would use. I think I don’t know. Maybe it just sounds cooler.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. Alright, Kanban. Well, that’s what we’ll go with cause you, this is a product that you have created. So, just to give our guests a little bit of background, who are you, what do you do and how did you come up with the idea for a Kanban?

Corey Maass:  Sure. So my background is as a Web Developer. I started in the late nineties, back before there was programming or there, before there were CMS like WordPress. And over the years, I actually built a CMS, back in the early two thousand as one of my first SaaS apps and online products. Cause all along I’ve also been interested in entrepreneurship and running my own business and I’ve launched many, many SaaS apps. And then about five years ago, I got turned onto this WordPress thing and put out a couple of plugins, just free in the repo. And actually was making a full-time living as a WordPress developer. But it had never really occurred to me to try to make a business out of it.

And then now, about a year and a half ago, two years ago, I went to the Atlanta WordCamp and met the guys from Ninja Forms. And met just a bunch of others,, you know, sort of what we think of as WordPress entrepreneurs, people who have built lifestyle businesses or full companies off of WordPress products and services. And something just clicked. I was like, “Wait, I could actually build SaaS apps on top of WordPress”. And also, you know, you can make more than $5 selling a plugin and code canyon. There’s some, you know, I think at that point I’d had a client and we’d bought, I don’t know, $2,000 worth of plugins for woo commerce. And it was like, “Oh, okay. There’s an actual business opportunity here.” So, I just started looking for the opportunity.

And then, about six months later at my day job at the time, we decided we wanted some new project management software. And doing my research, I found that Kanban was going to be probably the best solution for us. And so I looked at Trello and I looked at JIRA, and sort of all the established Kanban software out there. But by then I had developed that habit, you know, go to the, anytime I find out about a new piece of software or just out of curiosity, whenever I get an idea, go look in the plugin repo, see if there’s a plugin for it. And sure enough, there was not an active Kanban plugin. There really wasn’t any Kanban plugin at all, but there were a couple that alluded to it or kind of did it, but they hadn’t been active for a couple of years. And I said, “Aha! Here’s my opportunity.” so I dig in.

Joe Casabona: Nice. That’s awesome. And so you keep saying Kanban as kind of like the method that you’re using is that…so Kanban is not just the name of the product. It’s the name of a process? Is that right?

Corey Maass: Yes. So there’s, for better or worse, I’ve been doing this software development thing for a very long time. So I’ve actually gotten to see the arc of what used to be called capital-A Agile as Agile project management. And then, it is now, you know, I think beyond buzzwords, it is now just kind of what we all do and think, or I would like to hope so. But it’s now sort of lower case A agile. And so within the umbrella of agile, you’ve got a number of different project management styles or processes, scrum being a very popular one. 

And then one of the tools or methods used within that is called Kanban, which was actually invented by Toyota in Japan, in the fifties. But it’s, a lot of people are familiar with it without even really realizing what it is. Mostly I would say because of the popularity of Trello, which is, in fact, a Kanban board, and people just don’t even know it.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. That’s really interesting. I did not know that part. I did know like I went to, I was in software engineering in the mid two thousand and our teacher was telling us about a brand new thing called agile and showed us the agile manifesto. And me, being the,  you know, the cocky computer science student, I was like, this is stupid. Like, and then, you know, I think somebody brought it up to me a few years ago and I was like, “Yeah. That’s just the way I do things. So it was that’s being, I think that’s dead-on. If it started off as like this big movement, look at us. But that’s just kind of the way that we develop software now.

Corey Maass:  Yeah. In 2007 or eight, whenever I was introduced to it, same thing. Well, back then I was also very much the grumpy programmer, the, you know, anything sales says it’s stupid. Anything customers say is stupid. I am a genius. You know, any, I would reinvent the wheel, right. You know that never before, has there been a CMS. Never before have there been loops? And if statements and programming, I invented them. I am brilliant. And going along with that is why do we need a process? Why do I need input from customers? Why do I need, yada, yada, yada, all of it, obviously wrong. Very, very wrong. I’m glad to say that I’ve turned a corner. I went through years of therapy and emerged on the other side. A better person, I like to think. I hope so. 

But yeah. At the time now, you know, for me, eight or ten years ago, it really was revolutionary to introduce a process that made such a difference. And then there it was, it was still, it was a lot of process. But it wasn’t, what are the things that attracted me to Kanban? Just in general, I was drawn to it like I said, even before I started, building my version for WordPress. It’s just the simplicity. You know, here’s one thing per card and then move your card from status to status, to status, going to do it, doing it done, You know, it’s, I love that It’s it, it only usually takes, you know, 60 seconds to explain.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s awesome. So you touched on research a bit, which is what led us into this tangent. You know, you look to see what was out there and you kind of developed a habit into, as you developed a habit of going into the WordPress plugin repo. But I’ve, I’m also curious as to, you know, did you talk to anybody about features, business advice? You said you were developing this for your day job at the time. And then you kind of made this your own product. So can you tell us about that jump and what made you decide to do that?

Corey Maass: Sure. So I have been a student of 37 Signals and Eric Reese and Joel Spolsky and Rob Walling and sort of,  all of the the startup thought leaders, for, since, you know, I think I was trying, I was actually counting backward. I think I must’ve first heard about Joel Spolsky’s book that came out in 2004, so it couldn’t have been before then.  But right around then was when 37 Signals came out with,  the first PDF version of getting real,  which I still own somewhere. I actually printed it out. I remember when we printed things out. 

And, you know, and so for me, a lot of my and the other thing that goes along with this is, like I said, at the time I launched my first SaaS app, I think we weren’t calling it that yet. But, and then over the years I’ve launched dozens of others. That’s just my nature. That’s for better or worse, I’m one of those people whose hobby is also their day job. but I love building software. I love building web apps. You know, and, and most of them,  saw crickets and never got any users.  I had one moderate success,  where I got lots of users, but it made no money. And I sold that about five years ago. But for me, a lot of the research” has actually just been my own learning over the last decade of trying to build businesses off of a software.

Then when it came to Kanban, by then you know, I have, I now have a sense of red flags. I have a sense of what I think might work.  And, so again, when Kanban came along, I just kinda knew, I knew that this was an opportunity. I also felt like the two, there were sort of two, two other things, two rules that I felt proved this as a good idea. Onne is scratch your own itch. So I knew, you know, if I built something that I would love to use,  that other people might also.  and then the other is market validation by competition. And so looking around at the popularity of Trello at the popularity of JIRA,  and there’s a dozen others. And I knew that just even in general, because the true Kanban board is actually, a board on a wall. And you’re using post-it notes. It’s not even a software thing. So I knew that you know, as a process, it was already fairly popular, you know, I won’t say it’s lowercase agile popular. But, you know, a lot of people are familiar with it, use it as a method and whatnot. So I just felt good about putting that out there.

Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. Cool. So, I guess we’ll get into the title question then. How did you build it?  This could be, you know, the tools you used or, or your process, lowercase agile if you want. If you get any help from anybody, you know, it’s whatever you think is relevant.

Corey Maass: Sure. So, like I said, I’ve been building software for a long time. I’d been building for WordPress for five years. So the technical stuff, it was easy to get started, to just start writing a plugin.

The other thing was years ago, I actually built another app that I didn’t realize at the time, but was a Kanban board. So, what I hadn’t really gone through was the proper process of getting a plugin into the repo.

The other thing that I experienced a lot of was imposter syndrome, which a lot of people are talking about now. But I, you know, I always built software that really only I was going to see. And I’d built sites for clients. And I like to think that I write clean code and I try to follow best practices. But I had never actually put code out there like that. You know, the occasional library on Github. What have you? So I actually went through, if you join Pippin’s membership, so it’s Pippin’s plugins. He has a membership area of his website where he sends out content that is just for developers and just for members of this community. I think it’s like 50 or 60 bucks a year. In the small print, he actually says he’ll do a code review of your plugin or theme. And so I was like, “Oh great!” You know, like he’s, I view him as kind of the expert, right. He’s literally the guy who lets you, one of the guys obviously, and girls.  But you know, “The guy who lets your code into the repo.” So I was like, “Let’s have him actually look at my code.” So I did. He came back in with like one little warning and I was like, “Okay. You know, good enough. “So that was one of the hurdles.

The other technical hurdle is just the sheer complexity that I hadn’t thought about of WordPress plugins. Because generally again, building single purpose, single-use WordPress plugins for clients, you just kind of make it work and test it a little bit. But it only ever had to live on that server, on that site. And you knew what other plugins it was going to run next to and off you’d go as opposed to actually building something that hundreds, thousands of people are going to use on different environments with different WordPress setups alongside different plugins. And then also to build something that’s a fairly large “App inside WordPress.” It’s just, it’s a lot of code. It’s a lot of different people, pieces talking to each other. Also, I’d never done anything with the add-ons. So it was like, “Okay, here’s your core plugin. Here’s your add-ons. All of your add-ons have to talk to each other, and talk to the core, and check for the core. And then you’ve got to test, you’ve got to test for the core. You’ve got to test each add-on that works with the other add-on. But not the plugins and yada yada, yada, you get my point. Yeah. So those two things have been sort of the biggest technical hurdles. 

One of the things that I knew I wanted was the Kanban namespace, so to speak in WordPress. There were a couple of other plugins that were slash, you know, I don’t even remember what they were called, but, you know, agile dash project management or something. But nobody actually had a plugin called Kanban and there was no slash Kanban in a URL. And I was like, “I want that. I think that’s gonna make a difference.” You know, both for simplicity and for branding and to just kind of own the name. And so early on, I just had to crank out the code as fast as I could just some working version. Because you know, in order to get a plugin in the repo, you’ve got to actually send them code for them to look at. And then it’s just been a lot of iteration from there. The other thing, like I said, is there’s a lot of code. There’s a lot of testing. There’s add-ons. I’ll often say we, because at various points there is more than me. But for the most part, it’s my solopreneur journey. So most of the time it’s just me. But I just recently put out two more plug-ins. Ones in the repo and one is pending approval alongside the core plugin. Plus all of the add-ons, plus the website.

I also made a very stupid mistake. So anybody out there listening who has not yet started selling add-ons or selling their own products on their websites, don’t build it yourself. Just go buy Pippins, EDD, Easy Digital Downloads and save yourself hours. I’m, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m obviously the type of guy who likes to build it himself. ‘m still that, that might be the last, hopefully, the last remnants of like my developer ego, which is, I feel compelled to build it myself. My justification early on was, again, have tried to launch a number of businesses before I made a deal with my wife, who is the financial advisor of our family, obviously. She’s also actually a finance person professionally. But the deal I made with her, you know, I could pursue this as much as I want, but unlike my previous ventures, I’m not allowed to just keep throwing money at it. I’m only allowed to write, and I loved this. I loved the experiment of this, which was, I’m only allowed to spend the money that I make. So early on, I hadn’t made any money. And so looking at all the EDD add-ons that I would need, it was going to be two or 300 bucks. And I was like, “You know what? I’m not allowed to spend that yet. I’m going to build it.” And I did and it works. But now I have to maintain it.  And I just wish I hadn’t. So, there’s a little life lesson. 

Joe Casabona: Man, I understand that completely. Because I used to, I also was very, well, I’m a developer. I’m a front-end developer. I should do this myself. And so I would build the sites along with my side projects. Well, for the last two WP in one month and How I Built It, I found a template for WP in one month, I’m using Beaver Builder. And like other plugins, I can totally relate to that. I actually have a follow-up question for you on that, which is, how are you doing the add-ons? Is it, you know, I see the pricing here? It’s, you know, about 25 bucks a year for unlimited sites.  So you’re doing,  do you do, like a license or subscription key validation? Or, is it per year for support and updates? Or, what’s kind of your model for that?

Corey Maass: Sure. So I decided to go with licenses for updates and support. Technically, I might answer a little bit slower, but I love doing support. So technically I say, I think you only get the year of support while your subscription is up to date and paid. But I haven’t run into a case yet where I’ve had to shut somebody down.

But yeah. So when you buy an add-on, you get the plugin, you install it. It works even without adding a license. But it’s not going to update itself until you’ve plugged in a license. And over time, the release for better or worse, my background as a non-WordPress software developer, go runs, I still haven’t figured this out. If you have a SaaS app, right? If there’s just a website that people go to, you can release updates to your software every 20 minutes and nobody’s going to know because it’s your software on your website and all they care about is interacting with it. I tend to release often. Sometimes I’ll have releases, you know, every day. I still haven’t figured it out. Nobody yet has complained that I put out too many updates.  But I have a feeling that it’s going to get annoying. Anyway, that’s a little aside. But yeah. So if you have a paid add-on and you’ve got a license there, when it pings my website to check for updates, it also checks that license. If that license expires, you’re going to stop being able to update. 

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. Okay. That’s a little bit for me because I’m working on a plugin that will hopefully have add-ons. So I’m just curious to see how other people do it.

Corey Maass: Yeah. So a couple of things. One, early on when I got the idea, I guess I lied too. I did validate the idea a little bit by going to an advanced WordPress Facebook group and posting in there that I was working on a Kanban for WordPress plugin, and would anybody be interested, and to ask them to sign up for a mailing list to basically be beta testers. And what was very cool was within the two hours that that post was on there, because it’s actually a rule on that forum that you’re only allowed to link to active software, which I should’ve read, but didn’t. So they shut down the post which is fine. I deserved it. I didn’t follow the rules. But so the post was up there for about two hours and I got like 80 beta testers. So I was like, “Okay. That tells me a lot that people are interested in this.” But, boy, I, what did I tell you then?

Joe Casabona: Add-ons validation.

Corey Maass: I don’t remember. I lost my train of thought.

Joe Casabona: It happens. It’s pretty…

Corey Maass: I don’t know. It’ll come back to me in a minute.

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. Well, in the meantime, you know, we’re approaching the end and I have a couple of…Oh, you got it.

Corey Maass: I got it. Sorry. So from that posting there, I also met a guy named Ronnel, who lives in Bangladesh. And we worked together for the first month or two where he does support for other companies and whatnot. And so just, he was this tremendous help in getting, telling me basically all of the things I was doing wrong in getting the plugin, and the repo, and all that kind of stuff.

So early on, I was talking with him and I was building my own version of EDD basically. And we talked about it. And one of the few things that I don’t like about EDD selling software is the site limits like, that That still just doesn’t for a lot of plugins that doesn’t make sense to me. And also in conjunction with building my own version of the shopping cart, I was like, “You know what? Let me just keep it simple. Unlimited users, unlimited sites, one price.” And to me, that resonated just that simplicity. So that was one of the big differences in the way that I sell, versus a lot of the other sites that use EDD. And the same with, you know, Pippin obviously uses his own plugin. There’s three different price points, you know, one site, five sites, unlimited sites or something like that.

That’s just an interesting difference that I see around WordPress. I bring that up because like you said, you’re going to start looking at this stuff. it’s something that I just hadn’t considered before.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s very interesting. And definitely, something to consider, like I’ve been talking to other people who have mentioned various site limits is an interesting model because most people are probably not going to need it. Like if they’re given the choice between one site and unlimited sites, most people will probably take the one site. So, it’s interesting that you’re offering,  you know, kind of unlimited everything. And that seems to be a really great model that works for you.

Corey Maass: Yeah. It’s simplicity.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, that helps as you work towards a minimum viable product. And obviously, you’re beyond that now. And, as we come up against the time limit here, the self-set time limit, I guess, what are your plans for the future of Kanban?

Corey Maass: It’s a good question.  I obviously have a long list of other add-ons that I want to build. I have a long list of features and other add-ons that customers have requested that’s mostly technical. I’m actually now almost a year into having, you know, a year from having launched this. And I gave myself a year to kind of lockdown the software itself to feel good about to concentrate really only on updating the code as needed and adding features and all that kind of stuff.

I also gave myself a year to really consider everything that I do, and experiment. And one of the things that I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on is the pricing. And WordPress as an ecosystem has a lot of challenges around pricing. Half the people want it free, half the people are trying to run businesses off of it. And so understand that software costs money, you know, and these two sides are forever at conflict, in conflict. But I, and so sometimes it’s hard to recognize the signal from the noise. You know, when people just go, everything should be free. I don’t…to me, there’s not much I can learn from that.

But so over time, the signal that I’ve been hearing is that my plugin generally feels a little too expensive. But also that charging by site doesn’t really make sense. But, which is the very WordPress way to do things. But that, again, like you look at Trello or you look at JIRA, they charged by user, which does make a lot more sense for project management software. And so I keep sort of playing with the idea of like, well, how would I do that in a WordPress context? Cause I don’t, I’ve never seen anybody do that before. And also what would keep you from just opening up the plugin code, commenting out the part that checks for the number of users, and then you’ve got it for free anyway. So, I haven’t gotten there yet. But I think that it’s those kinds of questions and those kinds of changes that I foresee making in the future. 

And then personally, I’m excited to see this year of experimentation end and start trying to double down on marketing which also has me going to a lot more WordCamps and getting a lot of, getting involved with a lot more events. And just the WordPress community in general, which is really fun and interesting.  Cause that, from a sort of observing for a year, that seems to be one of the best ways to market a WordPress plugin is just to do good and participate in the community. And I can definitely get down with that. Also because I find online ads annoying and confusing. And who has time to write blog posts for proper inbound content marketing. So, if I have to go drink beer with other WordPress nerds, so be it.

Joe Casabona: That’s, not a bad way to live. All right. Well, with the last minute or so here, I want to ask you the final question. Do you have any trade secrets for us?

Corey Maass: I’ll give you an abridged version, hopefully, of my, the lecture that I give almost everybody that I talked to. One of the things that drew me as an entrepreneur to the WordPress ecosystem is this amazing Walled garden that has no barrier to entry other than code. So it’s like, you know, years ago everybody jumped on iPhone apps and to a degree Android apps, I know I’m going to get tomatoes thrown at me for that comment. But in my world, I’m an Apple nerd. And so, here’s this walled garden. But the cost of entry, you know, did actually cost a developer’s license. 

And then also, you had to learn separate languages and whatnot to get an app into the app store. WordPress has this amazing free plugin repo that again, doesn’t cost anything to get into. You can write a one-line plugin and get it in there. it’s getting a little saturated, but there’s always room for better plugins that do some of the same features as some of the other, you know, older plugins and whatnot.

The other little “secret” that I discovered a few years ago that also made me really interested in this was, I was watching my clients, so I was building websites for clients and some of them would be web apps and some of them would be blogs and some of them were just brochure sites. But I saw this behavior in these clients. So all of these people who own WordPress Websites, which now is in the billions and are 20%, 26% of the internet, right. Are all these WordPress website owners and they’ve all got blogs or they’ve all got these websites that they’re supposed to be working on most of them now, or at least in my world, most of them having these websites to try to make money off of them. And instead of producing content, instead of doing whatever it was, they were actually supposed to be doing to try to move their businesses along. They would procrastinate like everybody else. But the way they would procrastinate, but still pretend to be productive is they would go into the plugin repo and just start trying out plugins. And like, “Oh well, to make my website better, I need, you know, a different slider.” And so they would download all the sliders. So I need, you know, project management, so they would download Kanban or they would download whatever else instead of writing the blog posts that they’re supposed to be writing. And I saw this procrastination and the fact that you know, there’s all these eyes on this repo,  just downloading everything for free, cause it’s all free.  And going wait, all I have to do is get a plugin into the repo and people will just try it. And that’s been pretty much all of my marketing so far for the first year. I’ve done a little bit of ads just to try it. I’ve presented here and there, I’ve written some blog posts.  But primarily like 90% of my traffic just comes from having a free core plugin in the repo where I know people are sometimes legitimately looking, but often just procrastinating writing the blog posts that they’re supposed to be writing. 

And instead are like, “You know what? I need to get organized. And in order to get organized, I need a project management plugin and I’m going to go download all of them and try them instead of just writing the blog posts that I’m supposed to be writing.” So that’s kind of the way that I encourage most people who lean entrepreneurial. To get involved with the WordPress community. There’s still a ton of opportunity here. And you know, and that repo, you know, while it exists in the state that it exists is, is a phenomenal opportunity for promotion.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. I think that’s really great advice. take all the free advertising you can get. So, Awesome. Corey, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Corey Maass: Sure. Thank you so much for having me.

Joe Casabona: No problem. I had a great conversation.

And, thanks to everybody for listening, and thanks to our sponsors, WP Stagecoach, and Sucuri.

Until next week. Get out there and build something.

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