One thing the global pandemic taught us is we need to have a great online presence. This is especially true if you need to sell online – and let’s face it, we all do now. Well Patrick Garman of Mindsize has the knowledge and experience to help anyone launch and improve their eCommerce store. And he gives us some of his best stuff in today’s episode. Plus, Mindsize went through a bit of a rebrand, and we talk all about it in Build Something More.
- Patrick Garman
- Patrick on Twitter
- Mindsize on Twitter
- Lindsey Miller and Partnership Programs
- Post Status
- Laravel Valet
- Query Monitor
- Creator Crew
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Intro: Hey, everybody, and welcome to Episode 211 of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” The podcast offering actionable tech tips for small business owners. That’s the new tagline that I’m working with. Today our sponsors are TextExpander, Restrict Content Pro, and Mindsize. Mindsize being of note here because my guest today is the CEO of Mindsize. His name is Patrick Garman. Patrick, how are you today?
Patrick Garman: I am great today. It’s a little chilly in Texas. It’s not why I moved here. But we’re getting past that.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. As somebody who is born and raised in the northeast, what is a little chilly in Texas?
Patrick Garman: I think today it’s 60s-ish. It’s been bouncing between 40s and 60s. I grew up in Illinois, so I definitely know what cold is.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, you know what cold is.
Patrick Garman: And that’s why we don’t live in Illinois anymore.
Joe Casabona: Yes. It feels like 34 here right now. I haven’t tried to talk my wife into… because as we record this, we just got dumped on like 10 inches of snow. I’ve been trying to talk her into moving to Texas, as a matter of fact. And she was like, “What about California with all your California friends or whatever?” Or her brothers in the Navy. And I’m like, “We’ll get tax to oblivion in California.” It’s like too expensive out there.
Patrick Garman: I can summarize it very quickly for you how to decide where to move.
Joe Casabona: All right.
Patrick Garman: North half of the country, too cold. So you got to be lower half. Southeast, too humid. Southwest is either California or desert. You don’t want to live in California for taxes and all those reasons. You don’t want to live in a desert. Pretty much leaves Texas. So then within Texas and tech guys usually going to be near bigger cities. So you got DFW, Austin, San Antonio, Houston. Houston still got that humidity. San Antonio is a bit too far south. It gets a bit warmer than I care for. Austin is not much of a travel hub, but it’s still a kind of a great place for visiting. Would never live there. That leaves DFW.
Joe Casabona: All right.
Patrick Garman: Within DFW, Dallas is too busy. Fort Worth is really calm and relaxed. Now we live in Fort Worth.
Joe Casabona: All right. There you have. See, we can end the episode right here. Where do you live? Fort Worth. I am being pulled towards Houston of course because our friends, Chris Lemma and Shawn Hesketh both live there. Yeah. And my favorite cigar shop, Stogies, is there. Stogies, world-class cigars.
Patrick Garman: Three hour drive from Fort Worth. I’ll give it 10, 20 years. There’s that bullet trainer. Fast trainer button. So it’s not too far. Austin is right in the middle, too.
Joe Casabona: There you go. Three hours not too bad. That’s the drive to my parents’ house, from Near Philadelphia to an hour north of New York City.
Patrick Garman: At the end of the day, though, in the winter, Texas is about 20 degrees warmer than Illinois. In the summer, it’s 5 to 10 degrees warmer than Illinois. So during the winter, what that means is when you’re getting 10 inches of snow, it’s chilly here. During the summer, you’re really hot and you’re air conditioning on, in Texas, we’re really hot and air conditioning on. Exact same.
Joe Casabona: I like that. Here we go. I’m going to present the evidence again to my wife. The only problem—this will be the last thing and then we’ll talk eCommerce after this—is if I do move to Texas,
say I live near Houston, I am a die-hard Yankee fan and I will be in Houston Astros territory. That’ll be like me moving to Boston as far as I’m concerned now. So I don’t know.
Patrick Garman: It’s tough choices.
Joe Casabona: I know. I know. Baseball. I see you’re a baseball fan. You got the Cubs pennant in the background there.
Patrick Garman: I was a Cubs fan before they won the World Series. When they were losers. My family’s all Cubs fans. My mom I think has the little ID card from I think my great grandma or her great grandmother says, “Cubs fan for life.”
Joe Casabona: Nice.
Patrick Garman: So we’ve all been Cubs.
Joe Casabona: Very nice. Another thing I see in the background there is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Patrick Garman: Of course.
Joe Casabona: So we were introduced… You brought this up in the pre-show, so you can relay this story, but I remember it. Lindsey Miller, friend of the show, introduced us at Post Status publish, is that right?
Patrick Garman: Yeah. I forget which one it was or where we were. It was the big garage space and I was talking to Lindsay. I think I was telling her something about how my wife and I were married in Disney. She’s like, “Have you met Joe?” I knew who Joe was, but she brought me over and introduced us, and here we are. That was a couple of years ago. I made it sound like it was immediate.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Gosh, well, it feels like a lifetime ago now. The big garage one, that must have been at Atlanta, right?
Patrick Garman: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: Because the first one was cold and in Philadelphia. Actually, it was unseasonably warm for Philadelphia the year of that WordCamp US—the first year of WordCamp US. But not as warm as Atlanta in August. I’m really glad to have you on the show. Of course, Mindsize is a sponsor of the show. Mindsize is a full-service eCommerce shop. We know each other through the WordPress space. I know you do a lot of WooCommerce work, and you’ve worked for a few of our friends in the greater hosting space and things like that. But you don’t just do WooCommerce, right?
Patrick Garman: Yeah. We work with pretty much anything that our customers use. So even before Mindsize existed, I had worked on some of the largest WooCommerce and Shopify sites that had existed. And then Mindsize was basically built on top of that technical expertise. It’s very few people can walk into a room and talk eCommerce on multiple platforms that are running nine-figure stores. It’s a rare talent. It’s a rare thing to have any experience in. The people can run large sites, they can run load tests of, yeah, we can theoretically handle this amount of load and traffic. And then there’s actually taking in millions of dollars of sales in an hour. There’s a big difference between theory and real life. So we work on a variety of platforms. They’ve all got their pros and cons. We always look and see what platform is going to fit the need of that site.
Joe Casabona: That’s actually a great thing to think about, right? Because as we record this, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. That global pandemic drove eCommerce growth 77%. Patrick Rowland
was telling me 77% growth in 2020. That’s about as much as they expected it to grow in four to six years.
Patrick Garman: We saw stores doing, I mean, basically their year’s worth of sales in the first quarter last year.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Patrick Garman: I mean, doubling overnight effectively. Especially in the grocery space, I saw a lot of grocery chains that were quickly trying to turn digital and get to curbside. And then there were some shops that would literally turn their entire site off effectively and say we’re working on a new digital experience but they couldn’t take orders online. They had the platform and it just buckled under the stress. And that’s what we’re here to solve.
Joe Casabona: That’s super interesting, right? Because actually, you mentioned something that I also learned in my… I did a project called WordPress Year in Review, and I looked at WooCommerce and the eCommerce space in general. It sounds like BOPIS. Is that what it is? Buy online pickup curbside?
Patrick Garman: I hadn’t heard of that acronym but I’m sure it exists somewhere. If it didn’t exist before, it exists now.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. But I heard that that the biggest growth actually happened there. It wasn’t necessarily lots of people trying to fulfill and ship orders online. It was like people selling their wares and then people coming to pick it up.
Patrick Garman: That was true of stores big and small. Grocery was really picking up in the beginning and then other brick and mortar stores were adding it. I can remember vividly black Friday, Saturday right after Cyber Monday, my MacBook actually died right before that. So I needed a laptop to work. I placed an order on Best Buy. It was a deal because it was right. But I drove to Best Buy to pick it up, which Best Buy previously I don’t think they had pick up in their parking lot, but then they had it. I mean, it’s DFW sales all over. You imagine the lines that existed in the stores previously. The line was now outside. There was an hour wait to get curbside pickup at Best Buy.
Joe Casabona: Oh, gosh.
Patrick Garman: There were parking spots numbered up to around 100. So I found a parking spot in their parking and then we just sat there and waited for an hour for someone to bring our laptop out. The sales were still happening. And because of COVID, they were happening in the parking lot and people bringing stuff out. So logistics completely changed for all these stores. And I think they expected some of it since they did have parking spots numbered to the 90s and I think a hundreds but I wasn’t expecting that at all. It’s crazy.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. What were some of the things that you and your… Well, first of all, Mindsize, we were talking about – what? 11-ish people?
Patrick Garman: Yeah, including myself, 11 people. And only two people in that are nontechnical, non-developers. The rest of the company, including myself, are developers actively working on our client sites.
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And now let’s get back to it.
Joe Casabona: What did you guys see going into the pandemic? Was it a lot of businesses they’re like, “Oh man, I need to set up a website”? Or was it more like, “I’m online and I need to do something better because my logistics has completely changed.”
Patrick Garman: We focused a lot more on the digital for businesses. So they usually had a website and either had eCommerce or needed eCommerce added. We helped a lot with that transition and bringing people to digital and selling online where they weren’t before. One of the biggest things I learned though from it all, in a lot of meetings with people, I would almost sound like the crazy, paranoid person. Like, “We’re going to build this for scaling even though we’re probably not going to scale anytime soon. We’re going to build it the right way. You don’t need 20 web servers, but we’re going to build it to at least run on two so that if you ever need it, it’s there. We’re going to build it in a specific way where it’s scalable. We’re not going to take the shortcuts.” We lost some work because of it, because we wanted to take what we believed is the right path.
When COVID really hit and things really started blowing up, the sites that we were working on and built in that way, we didn’t have to go back and make it scalable, because it already was. We didn’t have to have that transition from “Okay, we built the site for x scale, now we’re at 3x. How do we go make it work?” We instead took all our efforts with our clients and put them into how to better serve their customers. Instead of figuring out how to sell online, we figured out how to better serve their customers.
We worked with clients to build programs for people to better get their grocery and other items from the curbside. Hotlines that people who normally wouldn’t order online, seniors, for example, being able to call a phone line and place their order and then pick it up at the store in the parking lot. Instead of having to have that 70-year-old person learn how to order online, they just talk to someone on the phone and place their order.
So by building it right, one, it was extremely validating because now I’m not the crazy person, I’m the person who just planned right. But we were better able to help people. And as a company, and as we’ve been changing what Mindsize is and what we do, that’s the thing I’m looking to get out of Mindsize. I [unintelligible 00:15:13] a CEO now. We want to help people. We want to make people’s lives better, make the world a better place. And when I talk to clients and I hear the stories of their customers, of the work that we’re doing impacting their lives, it makes everything worthwhile.
Joe Casabona: That’s truly fantastic. And that validation is always important. I mean, I’m a developer, too, right? Not quite at the scale that you do work. I do different kinds of development work. But I think about stuff like that, too. Even being overly paranoid, but not really. Even we were going to get together with some friends and I was like, “I don’t know if we should, blah. blah, blah, pandemic.” And it turns out that one of their moms got COVID. And I’m like, “I feel totally validated now.” It’s nice to not actually be the crazy person. But that’s great.
When it comes to kind of scaling, how much of that is coding versus the server’s stack? Can I set up a Shopify site and understand that they’re set up to scale so that I don’t get slammed if I’m getting like a thousand orders a minute or something? Maybe a thousand orders a minute is not a lot.
Patrick Garman: It’s different depending on the platform. So Shopify, scalability is usually handled for you. I’ve worked on sites where a single flash sale could bring more volume to the entire platform than their entire platform had in a previous Black Friday sale. I mean, a single site being able to handle that level of traffic broke stuff at the time. However, they took all their learnings there of caching in their database, sharding everything, and put it at the core platform level, where every store, in theory, should be able to handle that level of traffic immediately and succeed.
So for Shopify, scalability is not your problem. What your problem is, is that it’s very Apple versus Android when you look at Shopify versus WooCommerce. Shopify is polished. They are very opinionated. “This is how you sell this is how you’re going to do things.” And if you fit that model, you’re going to have the easiest time in the world selling. They integrate with pretty much everything because they’re so big. They’re going to get those integrations first. I think they were the first platform to have shopping on Instagram.
Joe Casabona: Oh, wow.
Patrick Garman: As a customer, I use shop pay all the time. I go to an eCommerce site I’ve never been to before I see the shop pay button, I click it, I type in my email, and away I go. I just paid securely. I didn’t have to enter anything else after that. WooCommerce, if you don’t fit the mold, you need something custom. You need that Android experience of being able to change anything and everything. But you have to think a bit more carefully about what you’re doing. And it’s less the server stack and it’s less… I mean, it is the code, but it’s knowing how to architect things.
To be honest, when we run servers for our clients, it is pretty much Vanilla. We like AWS server Google. But any other one, we use the Vanilla services they have. Very little customization. And the reason for that is it works. I’ve proven it works at very high scale. But then also, if our entire team, the Mindsize team has a trip and we’re all on a bus and that bus crashes and we’re no longer here, Vanilla means that anyone can pick it up that knows AWS and continue serving their customer. So complexity for the sake of milliseconds doesn’t actually gain you too much because you still have to pay for that in the back end of, “Okay, how do we actually support this?”
It’s 3am, our server is down. Do we call the one person in the world who actually knows how to fix it? Or do we call any sysadmin who can come in and fix that, and then it’ll set up? But really it’s summarized in two things in WooCommerce: database reads and database writes. Write less to your database, read less from your database and your site’s going to scale.
Joe Casabona: I love that. I love that philosophy. The server philosophy, I should say. I mean, naturally, the more static you can make your site, will say, the faster it’s going to be. You’re just serving up. It’s almost like you’re serving up flat files, right?
Patrick Garman: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: If you do it right. But the servers are Vanilla. That reminds me of a conversation I had early on in this show with Pippin Williamson, who I asked him what his development setup was like. And this was at a time where everybody was like grunting or golfing or whatever in Node JS ran everything or whatever. I didn’t see why people were doing it that way. And then Pippin really validated me. And Patrick, you just validated me more. He said, “If my laptop falls into a lake, I want to buy a new one and be up and running in less than an hour.” And if you like grunt and gulp everything, like it’s going to take forever. You got to install Homebrew and then figure things out and then update or whatever. Like whatever needs to happen to make all that magic stuff work. So I think you’re absolutely right.
Patrick Garman: When my laptop died actually and I bought that new laptop, I had to do the exact same thing. I have the same exact philosophy there. Git clone, run a few commands, import the database, I’m up and running. I mean, Laravel Valet does everything I need.
Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. Yeah, awesome. You’ve mentioned Laravel. Maybe in Build Something More, the members-only show, we can talk about Laravel, if the developers and the nerds want to hang out. So we’ve been talking for a while and we haven’t… I mean, we’ve gotten into kind of your experience a bit. For a lot of the people who are not developers who are listening, what should they look for? Let’s say in two situations. They don’t have an eCommerce shop and they want one, or they have an eCommerce shop and they want to improve it. Let’s look at those two people. Let’s start with I don’t have an eCommerce shop, what do I look for if I want to start one?
Patrick Garman: I speak a lot in analogies. It makes it very easy to talk to my clients and get complex scenarios described them in a way they understand. So I’ll use one here too. Building your eCommerce shop is not like buying a car. When you buy your car, if you don’t get that feature in the beginning, when you first buy it, you’re probably not going to get it later. Unless you own a Tesla and everything’s, you know, paywall and every feature.
If you don’t have air conditioning when you buy your car, you’re not going to have it later. If you don’t have leather seats now, you’re not going to get it later. Your eCommerce site or any WordPress site, or pretty much any site at all is not that. It’s something you can gradually build on. So we talked to a lot of people who want a site that’s everything in the kitchen sink, every feature possible, single sign on, have 20 different social networks. You’re doing two things there.
One, you’re adding a whole lot of bloat to your site. It’s just not going to help. And two, you’re losing focus of what you’re actually trying to do by adding so many bells and whistles. Just focus on what your business is, what’s the minimum that you can do to get this out and launch it. And then continue to make data-driven decisions based on what you add next. So that will ultimately give you a faster site because there’s less code and then also you’re going to have a cheaper build in upfront.
You don’t have to pay for 50 features if you can get by with three. And then you can get live faster, start making money faster, if it’s eCommerce, at least. And then use that to continually reinvest in the business, either in the business itself or the digital side of it. But if you already have a site, whether you added 50 bells and whistles or not, the simplest thing you could do, whether you’re a developer or not, is install Query Monitor. Just install Query monitor, browse around your site. Does it turn colors on you? Is it turning orange? Is it turning red? I think there’s like five different colors it can turn. If it’s turning a color in your admin bar, something’s wrong. If it’s red, there’s errors. If it’s orange, slow queries. So first, see if it’s turning colors. If it is, it’ll tell you why, and then you’ll probably need to talk to developer about fixing it.
If it’s just slow and not turning colors, look at the numbers at the very top. How many queries are there? How much time is it taking to run? On average, if your page is using over 100 database queries to build itself, find a way to get less. If your homepage takes more than 50 to 70 queries, get that number down. And just think of everything exponentially. It’s not if one user has a hundred queries to build a page. It’s if a hundred users or a thousand users get to it. If you can knock 20% of your queries off, that exponential savings is what will keep your site online when there’s a global pandemic and now you have five times the traffic.
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Joe Casabona: First of all, great analogy. I think it’s really important. Because you hear it all the time, right? “I want this, this, this, and this.” “All right, let’s just start with the first thing that you absolutely need. We’re just going to make it so that you can accept payments online.” When I recommend podcasting strategy to people who have very little money to spend, they probably don’t want that monthly hosting bill, I’ll usually say something like, “Start on Anchor. Have a plan to get off of Anchor fast.” I mean, just because it’s on your platform, right? And if the product is free, then you’re the product or whatever.
Is that a reasonable path to take with eCommerce too? Like start on something that’s cheaper and easier to spin up like Shopify or whatever, their Squarespace stores—I don’t really know the pricing off the top of my head—and then move to WooCommerce. Do you think that’s reasonable? Or should we just start on WooCommerce because the… non-technical debt, but the migration path is a bigger pain in the neck.
Patrick Garman: It depends on where you’re heading. If you are going to have a site and you know you’re going to have subscriptions in it but you don’t want to start with subscriptions out of the gate, I wouldn’t start on Shopify first because you will have to move off to get a good experience. Shopify and subscription sites, you can do it. If you want to have two completely different checkouts and have a customer that has to have two different wallets of cards and they can’t share them, that’s a terrible experience.
If you just want to get up online, cost wise, it’s probably negligible, about the cost, to build a site on one platform or the other depending on what you’re doing. I mean, small sites, if you’re just throwing up a site, I’m sure you can find the nickels and dimes that you can compare back and forth.
Joe Casabona: Sure.
Patrick Garman: For a reasonable size business, something that is large enough that it can be your sole income, at the end of the day, it’s not going to make that much difference. Shopify, you’re going to pay a monthly fee, but you don’t have to pay hosting on WooCommerce. WooCommerce, you have to pay more upfront for plugins. There’s usually an annual fee for support and updates. Shopify is lower monthly because you have to pay monthly, but then it ends up being the same. I think it actually ends up being more expensive on Shopify. I did a comparison. If you go back far enough in my Twitter feed, I did that comparison to someone on Twitter. And I think it ended up being Shopify was like 30% more expensive for a subscription site.
But start wherever you can. If you can get a site up on any platform, start on the one you think you’re going to end up long term, then you don’t have to worry about replatforming later. But if you can get up now on Shopify and will have to move later, everything’s exponential no matter what we’re doing. The sales you start now, just like your savings account will continue to build on each other and you’ll get more word of mouth, more marketing. Even SEO, you’ll have more age with your business. Start now. Start getting sales in the door so then later you can get even more sales. Any sales is better than no sales.
Joe Casabona: Any sales is better than no sales. That’s perfect. You mentioned subscription specifically. But even if you’re switching let’s say subscription plugins or membership plugins, you still might run into the issue of having to migrate users, right? Like if they’ve accepted auto payments monthly through one plug in and then you switch plugins, they’re going to have to redo that anyway in some cases, right? Unless maybe you use Stripe for everybody.
Patrick Garman: It is tricky. There’s a migration no matter what. Replatforming costs generally don’t benefit your customers much. It’s going to cost a fair bit for you to do it. Customers aren’t even going to care to notice. Sure, maybe it’s a slicker interface, your website is a little bit faster. They’re already paying you they don’t care. Avoid replatforming if you can, but not at the expense of just not even starting your business.
Joe Casabona: Right. Again, I think that’s great. I always wonder… this is a small tangent, before we get into, well, I guess what’s going to be like the tail end of this conversation, because we’ve been talking for a while. I always was kind of annoyed that WooCommerce memberships and WooCommerce subscriptions were two different plugins because it was double the cost for me. But then LearnDash, which is my online course platform, LMS rolled out memberships as part of the plugin and I could dump WooCommerce memberships because the only reason I was using WooCommerce memberships was to create access to all of my courses, which I needed custom code for anyway.
So I was able to replatform the membership part without messing up my monthly subscribers, because WooCommerce subscriptions was still at the root of that. I don’t know that I worded that right. Basically, I was able to replatform part of it because the subscriptions was decoupled from the memberships.
Patrick Garman: In this case, you couldn’t really plan ahead for that because they came out with a feature. But any planning you can do at the beginning of what gives you the best long-term roadmap and the most options will usually work out better in your favor. We do the same with data. When we’re building a large site, we have a lot of data involved. How do we plan this? Your data is going to grow exponentially. Do you need 20 metas to be saved on an order every single order to do these features that you don’t even know if you’re going to do? Then you think about the exponential side of it 20 metas per order times 1,000 orders a day times however many days you’re doing sales. Your database now is growing exponentially, and all your other costs continue to rise.
So we always try and look at the big picture. We generally don’t do individual tasks work for clients because that one little feature, if you’re not thinking about the big picture, you’re probably going to miss something. We had that experience recently with a client where they asked for a feature and we built something that achieved it. But we built it in a very specific way that ultimately gives them even more flexibility, more abilities in their site. And they actually asked a question in a call, like, why did you choose to do it this way? It’s a better result but we didn’t ask for this yet you gave us something that serves it and more. And that’s because we’ve been working with them for months, so we know where they’re headed and what the goals are. And we can take all that into account.
Joe Casabona: I think that’s great. You’ve mentioned a couple of times now planning for the future is so important. I tell people that I was always most successful at selling my security package to clients after they had some incident. Like they deleted their site accidentally or whatever and I happen to have like an early backup. Or their site got hacked. And then they saw the value in paying me to make sure it didn’t happen again. But planning on the front end, like you said, it’s insanely important not just for the unknown the kind of known unknowns or whatever. But you were able to spend your time servicing your clients, customers better because you took the right moves early on, you made the right investments. It is a bit easier for us compared to the typical WordPress agency.
If you think back five years ago or even further, they’re selling sites to businesses. And you’re always going to have that executive in the boardroom of, you know, we’ve been selling in our stores for 50 years. Why do we need a website now? The internet’s fad, it’s going to go away. So why are we building a website? For us, in the eCommerce side, we can sit there and say, “You know, we did this work. Here’s the data to show that that actually increased your sales by Y percent, plus that other work we did that increased it Z percent.” So you can show the value of the work being done. Whereas a landing page or a blog is harder to do that. There’s a lot easier calculations for ROI on eCommerce than there is before.
So we are benefiting a bit from that. And we can show in a project or two, here’s the ROI of the work we’ve done. So we can prove it and get more work going forward. I’ll gladly take that as my benefit over trying to sell normal sites, which I say as we’re trying to get into selling more normal sites. We’re known for eCommerce and 90% of our work is people saying, “I’ve got a site and it’s slow. Patrick, please save me.” What I keep telling people is if you build it right the first time you don’t have to be saved.
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Joe Casabona: Before we wrap up here, I do want to ask you about a couple of interesting services that you offer, and I’m wondering how you put them together. So this is like where the title question could be, right? How did you build it? One is the site audit, which is a two-week process where you audit an eCommerce site. And the other is kind of the white label agency service. So let’s talk about the site audit first. How did you kind of come up with that and what’s the process for it?
Patrick Garman: Sure. So we’ve been doing site audits, basically, since the beginning of Mindsize. It’s a process we’ve refined over the years. It’s a process I had before Mindsize existed of how to look at a site and really drill down at the high level what we’re trying to solve. In that two weeks, it’s not two weeks of hardcore diving into code, looking at every single thing. It’s not a line for line review with a site. It’s looking at the analytics, looking at the data, looking at where the site is, where they want to take it, and determining what issues we see for one at the high level. We’re not going to find every single security flaw, and that’s not what we’re looking for.
If you were to look at a chart of all the issues on a site, we’re looking for the mountain peaks. We’re looking for the big issues that we can solve, get those out of the way. You’re going to find more afterwards. But we look to beat up the site and make it more scalable as a business and as a website. If we do that right, at the end of the two weeks, we’re going to deliver a report that’s going to say, “Here’s all our findings. Here’s what we recommend.” And every report also includes, you know, “Here’s our prioritized list. If this were our business, this is the order in which we would solve things in the timeline we would solve them.” And usually, it’s “in this month, we do this, in the next three months, six months, twelve months.” However long we need to go out, depending on how many issues there are. So we’ll list it out.
Of course, we’re a business. At the very end, it’s going to say, “We also recommend a retainer of this size. This is how we can achieve everything we just said in the timeline we just said.” I tell everyone that we’re going to do that at the beginning so they’re not surprised. But this audit you can take anywhere. It’s a flat rate. It’s two weeks. We’ll dive into your site, we’ll figure out what’s wrong, and tell you how to make it better. And then we can do it. We’ve worked with companies who had their own internal development teams, and we assisted them to knock out the work. And others have just taken it straight to their own development teams.
Joe Casabona: I mean, that makes sense for situations like that. It’s like a discovery phase, right? Well, a paid discovery phase, where I will tell you everything that you need to do. “Here’s your whole plan. I can do it, because I just looked at the site, and I know how I’m going to do it. Or you could take it to another site, another agency who will do it may be cheaper or differently, or you’ve worked with them before.” It almost sounds like this is like the car inspection, right? Where you’re not going to fix like the stains on the seats or whatever. But if I need new brakes and rotors, that’s the thing that your site audit will uncover and you’ll mention in the report.
Patrick Garman: Exactly, yeah. And we have found things from API’s that didn’t need to exist. The absolute worst offender was…I think, as developers, sometimes we get specs that had buzzwords in them. And I think this one included REST API. So they found a way to use the REST API. But the way they did it, it needed to talk to an external database. So they made a REST API endpoint that served database credentials that were already hard coded into the site. The REST API endpoint had no authentication. So you could just get it for free.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Patrick Garman: And then code within the site. I’m pretty sure it’s in the same exact plugin actually would make a HTTP call to the REST API endpoint, which then bootstrap the site again to then get the database credentials to then put them into a SQL query.
Joe Casabona: Oh, my gosh.
Patrick Garman: We find some crazy stuff sometimes. We obviously fix that. We find security issues. Sometimes we flag it right away. We don’t wait for the end of the two weeks.
Joe Casabona: That’s what I was going to ask you. Do you like find it, and you are like, “Put it in the report.” Or you were like, “Uh, guys, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
Patrick Garman: We found a few cases like that where we had actually reached out… Usually, we start the audit and we ask questions along the way. But we try not to get too much bias. And at the end of the audit, we do a one-hour call just going over everything with the store owner. But in those cases, we reach out, we let them know. We’ll usually have some sort of fix ready or a recommended fix. So we do sometimes find the granular, but we’re usually not looking for it.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That’s story reminded me of a site that I was working on for some people I worked for at some point, where they were taking donations and the credit card information was stored in a plain text file on the server. I immediately brought it to the manager and I was like, “This is bad for a lot of reasons, but number one is you’re violating… this is not PCI compliant. This is a data security issue. This is really bad.”
Patrick Garman: Unfortunately, I think we’ve all got stories like that. We’ve run into it too. I’ve been running into those as long as I’ve been working on WooCommerce, which is starting around like version 1.1.
Joe Casabona: Wow. It’s just like crazy. Because the first time a client brought that to me, I was still in college. They said that they were like raffling off a house, like a million-dollar home, and PayPal view that as gambling, so we couldn’t use PayPal. So they’re like, “Well, why don’t we just save the credit card information then we could process it on our end on our machine.” And I’m like, “You can’t do that. We’re not allowed to do that. It’s bad. People’s credit cards will get stolen.” I knew that as a college kid. I just don’t understand how it gets to a point where, I mean, I guess it’s just like my nephew can make a site and he’s just going to do whatever I tell him to do.
Patrick Garman: Is that the guy I mentioned or referred to before, the executive in the boardroom that thinks the internet is a fad, yeah, let’s just get the credit cards, we’ll run them.
Joe Casabona: That’s a good point actually. The CEO of that company is the person who made that recommendation. Thankfully for them and me, I was like, “We can’t do that.” Which brings me to your next service, the White Label eCommerce. Because that project, to use an Italian term, gave me agita. Once I saw that it was going sideways, it made me actually sick to my stomach. It was like the highest stakes site I’d ever worked on, and I didn’t have like the breadth of experience I thought I needed. I really could have probably used your white label service. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.
Patrick Garman: I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but experience is what you needed when you didn’t have it. I’ve talked to a number of site owners, agency owners, I’ve talked to a lot of people in the eCommerce space. Mindsize, we’re 11 people. We’re not a tiny company but we’re not a huge company. We consider ourselves experts on the work we’re doing. So we charge accordingly. We’re not the cheapest, we’re not the most expensive either. But there’s a lot of work that other people can do with some simple guidance. Something where you can build it. Joe, you’ve got development skills. If I told you how to build something, you could build it. You just need the blueprint for how to build it, which you don’t have.
As a company and me personally, I try and give back a lot to the community. My entire career is built on the community effectively. I got a lot of information from it. I’m the developer I am today with a lot of the code reuse I got previously. So I try and get back to the community. I try and do a lot of talks just sharing information. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much I can share. Our agency support plan, though, it’s $499 a month and basically gets you direct access to the Mindsize architects. So in our projects, we have the project manager, we have an architect and a project lead and then the developers on it.
So an architect would be someone like myself. I can take the business needs and turn it into the architectural plans for a project or a task that we’re doing. Once we have that spec, we can then work with the project manager and project lead to turn it into what the tasks are and then have the developers do it. So with this plan, $500 bucks a month, you get five support hours with our architects. You could use those for asking, “Hey, I need to build this plugin. How do I make sure it’s scalable?” It could be “what kind of hosting should I look for this type of site?”
One of the first questions I ask when we’re hiring and I’m in second interviews is, “What is your recommended hosting.” And for 90% of people in our interviews, it’s usually a shared hosting. And there’s different levels. I get all the way from Bluehost, to GoDaddy, to Siteground, one on one, all the big names that popped up. That goes to show you even people who are getting to our second interviews of senior developers may not know what the best hosting for a different type of site is. And our architects do.
So, five hours a month, you can ask quite a few questions. If you were to ask me, What do I do to find out how the site is slow, and I tell you, “Install Query Monitor, look for pretty colors,” we’re going to have that conversation in five to 15 minutes. So you get that benefit of being able to ask questions to people you trust will get an answer to you within a day, you know, business days. I think, for most people will get a Slack channel set up to use. There’s quick and easy access.
But what I’ve learned the most from other business owners and agency owners is we have nowhere to turn for this stuff. We’ll try slack, we’ll try different communities, we’ll try online. And I wish I could just have these questions. $500, for some people, it’s too expensive. For small mom-and-pop shops, they’re probably not going to pay $500 for support. But for a decent-sized agency that just needs this extra level of support, it seems like the right price point.
And on top of that, I actually saw recently in some of the Facebook groups I’m in with different smaller freelancers and agency owners, how do you take vacation if you’re solo? Who do you give your clients off to? With our agency support plan, we also have an opportunity for getting our development hours at a discounted rate. So if you need to just have us do some work for you either for a large project or for someone who just wants someone to watch the ship while they’re away and having a vacation, they deserve to finally take, our teams available to help with that too.
So we think we’re experts in what we do and we’re trying to share that in a way that benefits everyone involved—as you’re probably not going to ask the same question multiple times. So once we answer something for you, you’re going to learn from that, continue to know it, it will better your business as well.
Joe Casabona: I think that’s great. There’s two points I want to just kind of drive home here. $500 a month you say might seem expensive to maybe freelancers or small mom and pop shops. But if you can sell an eCommerce site, right… I mean, I don’t want to anchor a price to an eCommerce site, but when people come to me, I say an eCommerce site sell at $10,000 for me to do the basics. Whatever, right?
One guy came to me and needed like 10,000 products, medical products on the site. And I was like, “That’s going to be $30,000.” He’s like, “That’s expensive.” And I’m like, “Like, “It is $3 per product. $3 per product is what I’m charging you.” But if you sell on eCommerce site, you’re probably selling it where you can add in that extra 500 bucks a month to get access to deliver an even better site. The value that you are going to add by paying that 500 bucks is going to be much more than 500 bucks to the client.
Patrick Garman: And if you think of the hourly rate, someone who’s going to be interested in this and is probably charging, it’s going to be somewhere…I’m assuming, $50 to $75 to like $100 $125 an hour. $500 monthly, that’s an hour to a week extra. If we can answer questions for you that can get you back an hour or two a week to better serve your own clients and immediately has ROI.
Joe Casabona: Right, exactly. Spend that hour, go on a podcast. That’s a little bit of marketing to maybe get more clients, right?
Patrick Garman: That’s what I’m doing.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. The other thing is you mentioned taking vacation time and getting people to cover for you. I think this is another important thing that it’s easy for solo shops to overlook. But find somebody like a friend or Mindsize. When I went on my honeymoon, two weeks in Italy did not even take my laptop. I barely had internet. I asked my friend Matt Pritchett, Fort Worth natives, right? I think he’s living in Tennessee now. I’m sorry, Matt, you’ve moved a lot and I’ve lost track. But I asked him, I’m like, “Hey, man, I’ll just forward my emails to you. If there’s a problem with one of my clients’ sites, do the work, “I’ll pay you when I get home.” There were shocker there were no insane emergencies. So I think it’s really important. It’s maybe hard for some people but take that time. Take that time to yourself.
Patrick Garman: We’re all working too hard. I mean, between the work I was doing prior to Mindsize, and then starting an agency, and then also just getting through a pandemic, I mean, as a business—not all businesses were as fortunate as we were to survive even in 2020—but I took my first vacation where I wasn’t working in 10 years last year.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Patrick Garman: I spent a week. I did have my laptop on me. So I didn’t go that far. I’m too paranoid to not bring it with, but I trusted the team we have. Over the course of 2020, we put a lot of processes and policies in place that enabled me to finally take a vacation. I mean, I had taken trips to Disney and I was sitting in our resort room working.
Joe Casabona: I worked from the Disney Vacation Club members lounge in Epcot one day. I had my laptop with me. It was kind of planned. It was like a half vacation day but I have my laptop with me. I’ll tell you. I mean, working at Disney World makes working a little less bad, but I’d still rather be.
Patrick Garman: Yeah. It’s better not to. But walking down Main Street with my phone out on slack trying to tell someone how to reboot a server, that’s not what I should be doing on Main Street.
Joe Casabona: Amazing. Well, this has been a fantastic conversation. I do need to ask you my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Patrick Garman: I’ve kind of given them away a little bit. But at the end of the day, for an eCommerce site or any site, keep it simple. I mean, that’s number one. Simplicity is going to make everything better. I run into that every week where someone’s trying to overthink a problem or clients building content had a scenario yesterday. One of our clients building content on a page and the page builders alert block that was there, when you click “dismiss,” it would throw the page out of whack a bit. So I have a question, “Do you need it dismissable?” “No. Okay, so don’t make a dismissable. It’s simpler content, and it’s not going to break.” We could spend five hours figuring out why the “dismiss” button is making the content go out of whack. But we have a problem now, so we solve it now with a simple solution.
And number two is just look at your database queries. If you have an eCommerce site and it’s on WooCommerce, install Query Monitor. It’s free. It’s not that hard to use. How many queries are you running? How much can you get rid of? The less you do by keeping it simple, your site’s going to go farther, and be faster.
Joe Casabona: Love it. And Query Monitor is fantastic. I think Brian Richards, friend of the show, recommended that plug in to me when I was having some issue. Well, this has been fantastic. What we haven’t touched on, which we’ll touch on in Build Something More, is you recently went through a rebrand and I would love to hear more about that because I just signed up as we record this for Design Pickle. So now I have a graphic designer who I love his work. I’m just so excited to have all of the things that I designed which is basically just like a font redesigned from a real person, a real graphic designer. So excited to talk about that in Build Something More. But first, Patrick, where can people find you?
Joe Casabona: All right. I will have links to those and everything we talked about in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/211. If you want to catch my discussion with Patrick on the rebrand and Build Something More, and you are not yet a member, you can sign up over at buildsomething.club. Thanks so much to our sponsors for this episode: TextExpander, Restrict Content Pro, and of course Mindsize. Thanks so much for listening. Patrick, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Patrick Garman: Yeah, no problem. Happy to be here.
Joe Casabona: And until next time, get out there and build something.