James Farmer – CEO of Incsub

[quote style=”boxed”]Really simple, you need to feel so passionate about something, work on it and think about it so much that there’s really no other option.[/quote]

James Farmer is CEO of Incsub, based in Melbourne, Australia but with staff around the world. Incsub is primarily made up of Edublogs, hosting over 2 million blogs for teachers, students and institutions and WPMU DEV, a provider of premium WordPress plugins, themes and support with over 160,000 members. James co-founded both companies and built them their current position (40+ staff and growing quickly) with no investment or experience as an entrepreneur. The company is to meet in person for the for time in NYC this June.

What are you working on right now?

It’s a funny position, having two startups rather than one, you often get torn between them, and between tasks within them. I’m not a great multi-tasker though (apart from when it comes to email, I’m a World Champion gmailer!) so I like to have a focus point… right now that’s taking on the WordPress theme / design market with a new product we’re launching later this year.

Where did the ideas for Edublogs and WPMU DEV come from?

From exactly the same place, a passion for the area and a heap of hard work in it, pre-Edublogs I was a lecturer and researcher helping academics use technology, pre-WPMU DEV I was developing insanely large and complex WordPress MultiUser sites for companies all over the place. The idea for both was simple, how do I scale this up beyond the limitations of time available.

How do you make money?

At Edublogs users can pay to get ‘pro’ accounts with more storage, their own domain name, extra theme sand all that jazz, we have over 10,000 of them, and institutions can get their own Edublogs managed installations, we look after 250+ of them ranging from Cornell to Ohio to the Victorian Department of Education right here in Melbourne.

With WPMU DEV we provide access to over 350 WordPress plugins and themes we’ve developed, from just $19, members can then stay and pay monthly, quarterly or annually for great WordPress support, updates and new releases, we’ve got over 10,000 paying members too (out of the 160k basic userbase, most of whom have been a member at some point, and hopefully will again in the future :).

What does your typical day look like?

I’m a pretty straightforward person, pretty much 8AM – 5.30PM and then I’m super strict in terms of not working at home or on holidays (although on weekends I do get back to the email a bit).

Probably my greatest luxury is that I live 5 minutes walk from the office, so I have no commute to eat up time… I’m super efficient in that way 🙂 I’d like to think that in a proper day I can manage as much as most folk would in a couple… but I do have a couple of things I fit in, personal training a few times a week and a weekly night football (soccer) training (I’m a very average gaolkeeper) followed by a few beers.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Really simple, you need to feel so passionate about something, work on it and think about it so much that there’s really no other option. Just cos it’s a good market, or a cool opportunity or a perceived threat isn’t enough… you’ve got to live it, and then it’ll happen.

That and being lucky enough to have a pretty massive audience through both companies… it’s great to be able to throw stuff at them and see if it sticks.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Longform writing – I’m really enjoying it as a reader and writer myself (and an English lit grad) – and I think that companies like medium and svtle are super exciting too.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

There are almost too many to mention – from portering work to car park attendants and up to working in horrid political and stressful contexts as a professional. The main thing I learnt from all of these though was that I am absolutely, utterly not a great employee… I’m much happier as the boss. I barely came down for a year after leaving employment in 2007 and since then I’ve turned down acquisition and investment option because I just can’t see myself ‘working for’ anyone ever again… it never really suited me.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’d not have gone in 50:50 with someone I didn’t need to, I’d have valued myself and my contribution better and I’d have been a bit less intense, at times 🙂

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Interesting question, as you’re talking about doing rather than principles. I think in that case it’s just get up, get to work and get on with it. Everyday, like it’s a ‘real’ job… lots of lists, lots of things to do, very few meetings and a lot of nose to the grindstone. It gets things done.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had so, so many 🙂 From complete flops (blogs.mu – Multisite Multisite blogs!) to ones that did ‘ok’ but nothing stella (wpplugins.com, buddydress.com, wp.mu… and others) – and I have to say, the absolute best way to overcome these disappointments and essentially failures is to accept that, can them, and move on… it’s so refreshing.

You might think all that time you spent has been lost, that it’s a travesty and all that… but it’s not really, it just didn’t work out, kil it, move on, learn from it and you’ll feel a whole heap better.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

For years I’ve been saying 3d scanning and printing of people a la photobooths… but now the Japanese are onto that so it’s not much use any more 😉

OK, I think there’s a buig opportunity online right now in the area of content marketing… there are more and more great writers and journalists who can’t find work with traditional / crumbling media, who are available for great rates, and I’m certain there’s a way to set up a membership site that teaches people how to do great content marketing, allows and encourages them to share each others content and provides them with content services as required.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I could go on about poverty, inequality, war and suffering for ever – and I certainly couldn’t pick one of them, so I’m gonna go for something completely trivial instead.

I’d like to get rid of trolling and shitty nasty comments online… I think a simple ID for comments system, where you need to actually be certified that you are who you are, would fix that pretty quickly… Facebook comments are a good start, but this would be heaps better.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

For 10 years I was a Jim, not a James, as it was the only way to get people at school to stop calling me ‘Farmer’ – one syllable was far better – and then having got profoundly sick of my family and new people calling me James, and a select crew calling me Jim, I figured I needed to choose one.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Gmail – I spend 80% of most days on gmail
Asana – Amazingly good, easy, powerful task management across a tream
Helpscout – Super simple, straightforward and easy to use email support tool

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I don’t really read business / startup books, so I’m going to recommend my favourite book, Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Cat’s Cradle‘.

I have a bunch of Vonnegut/Bokonistic quotes behind my desk – we are here on earth to fart around.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Again, I don’t use twitter much for work so, for fun @GusTheFox @TheBig_Sam – oh, and one work, @ev

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Everyday, I hope, annoys the heck outta my teenage step-daughter 🙂 I definitely had a good chuckle last night at listening to Leni Mayo and Collis Ta’eed at Lean Melbourne.

Who is your hero?

I don’t really have one – I used to, and then every time I kept meeting them and realising they weren’t heroic at all. I don’t know if this makes me cynical and sad, or realistic and free of delusions 🙂

What’s the most important thing about running a startup?

Marketing to an audience, getting people to actually see your stuff, if a great product is born in a wood and nobody uses it is it really great at all? It’s the first thing I ask everyone interested in starting their own online business ‘How are you gonna market it?’ – they often get a bit upset, they want to talk about the great idea.

What’s most important to you, tomorrow or today?

Today, I’ll deal with tomorrow when it comes around.


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James Farmer on Twitter: @jamesfarmer