In this new episode of Changing lives, we’ll meet with Elson Ponte a developer with a 10-year WordPress experience and co-founder of his agency called Sevenscope. Elson has specialized in different areas such as Site Migration, Maintenance, Speed optimization, Theme Development, Underscores, Custom Themes, Custom Post Type, just to name a few.
During the interview, he’ll share with us his insights and thoughts about:
- why he started to work as a freelance developer
- why and how he co-founded an agency with his current business partner
- what type of projects he works on
- how being a Codeable expert changed his life
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Want more stories from WordPress developers? Check them out here:
Changing lives #1: Spyros Vlachopoulos.
Changing lives #2: Nathan Reimnitz.
Changing lives #3: Alexandra Spalato.
Changing lives #4: Raleigh Leslie.
Changing lives #5: Alex Belov.
Changing lives #6: Bogdan Dragomir.
Changing lives #7: Ray Flores.
Changing lives #8: Zach Nicodemous.
Changing lives #9: Oliver Efremov.
Changing lives #10: Bruno Kos.
Changing lives #11: Surendra Shrestha.
Changing lives #12: Marius Vetrici.
Changing lives #13: Mitchell Callahan.
Changing lives #14: Puneet Sahalot.
Changing lives #15: Onur Demir.
Changing lives #16: Jonathan Bossenger.
Changing lives #17: Justin Frydman.
Changing lives #18: Robin Scott.
Changing lives #19: Mircea Sandu.
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Matteo: Hi everyone this is Matteo, your host from Codeable. Today we’re going to meet with Elson Ponte, a great guy who has been working with WordPress for the past 10 years and also who is running his own agency. We’ll get to that in a while. So, let’s begin and let’s hear about his story has a WordPress professional, how it’s like to run your agency and how working as a Codeable expert in a way changed his life.
Hey Elson, thank you for joining us in this episode of Changing Lives, we really appreciate it!
Elson: Hi and thank you for receiving me!
Matteo: So to get the ball rolling why don’t you start by telling us which part of the world you’re from, where you are now and most importantly how long have you been a freelancer?
Elson: I’m a Portuguese, from Portugal, not Brazil. I live on a small island in the Atlantic and it’s the home of the football player Cristiano Ronaldo that’s best known for…
Matteo: Nobody knows that name :)…
Elson: It’s a great place to live and spent most of the year and it’s relaxing and everything is close by. So that’s basically about where I live. I started reusing WordPress when I was still in school and I just kept working on it for side projects. Then, I got some clients and while I was still studying, I started doing my first side projects. When I finished university I got to a company, started working and continued using WordPress along with other frameworks. I kept with WordPress because it’s basically what most of the clients need, they don’t need more than WordPress can offer because it’s a great, great thing. After that, I just took a leap and started my own agency and Codeable was a vital part of it.
Matteo: Yeah we’ll get to that, I know. But let me ask you this first: would you mind telling us what do you like about freelance work? Why did you ditch the 9-5 jobs and enter the freelancing world?
Elson: Freelancing allows you for a type of freedom 9-5 jobs don’t offer. If you started your regular job at 9 am and you’re going to want to start freelancing at 9:30 your boss doesn’t yell at you because you’re late. Of course, you still have customers and you have deadlines and it’s a lot of work don’t get me wrong. Most of the time it’s harder than regular 9-5 jobs, it’s harder because it’s a lot on your shoulders, you’re independent, you are liable for actions and you have to make the clients happy. But it’s still better.
Matteo: So much better, right?
Elson: Yeah, so it’s like you’re not against the wall sometimes you learn a couple of things and that’s business. I love it basically. I love it.
Matteo: Let me just go with another question which is pretty related to this one. Let me state something like scope creepers, tight deadlines, unpaid revisions, time and resource planning what does it take to be a good freelancer and do you think anybody can be?
Matteo: Some scary keywords just to set the scene up. Now, go…
Elson: It’s part of everyday life, of course, some projects get delayed, some projects get underestimated, other projects even in more rare occasions get very better… they take less time, but most of the time you have to take into consideration a risk. The risk projects will get late, clients will take more time than expected to answer and to make revisions. They even may have this small little thing that needs to be fixed that’s not on the scope. So yeah that’s a small thing.
Matteo: Just a “small thing”, you know…
Elson: But of course you have to use your own judgment. That’s what I do: if I see something that takes me like a minute, or two, I’ll just go ahead and do it so the client is happier. It’s a minute or two but of course, I won’t be doing it 10 times. If you add those up you’re wasting a lot of…
Matteo: That’s the math.
Elson: Yeah, it also depends on the customer. Actually, the customers I have been getting on Codeable are pretty much amazing when it comes to that. Some of them even expect me to do whatever it takes because Codeable does this teaching overhead that, when the clients arrive, they expect a certain type of behavior and service and they don’t expect for something like freebies. They expect great quality work. That leaves us in a good position. Even if the client gets off scope, just gently telling him “okay, this is out of scope. Can we do it in a separate task?” Usually, the client understands, that’s from my experience. Of course, every case is a different case and it all depends on the chemistry between client and provider.
Matteo: Yeah but it’s also as you said, it’s about one thing, it’s about educating your customer, one thing is maybe sometimes it makes sense to over-deliver those 5 minutes for an actual tiny thing to fix. If you want to keep the relationship with that client on a good level, sometimes as you said if you add those 5 minutes up for the tiny things, you’re going to waste hours at the end of the month.
Elson: Yeah, that’s it.
Matteo: I know another thing about, you’re not just a freelancer, you’re not just a one band man you also run your own agency, a small agency called Sevenscope, right?
Elson: Yeah, it’s a very recent endeavor and this was something that Codeable allowed me to do to give me some economic stability so I could launch my agency slowly.
Matteo: What do guys do there as your core business?
Elson: We just do WordPress and, as a core business, we target viral blogs, I mean blogs with big amounts of traffic that get visitors.
Elson: They just do original content and get visitors to come in. Then we do consulting. We have even a customer that has a couple million visitors a month and we did the consulting even from the first stage of the brand to the designs and then implementation… some small marketing techniques to grow and we accompanied it to scaling the servers and getting…
Matteo: Also server-side…
Elson: Getting most of the websites, yeah, even when it came to optimization of the revenue which ads networks to use, which ad blocks to use and then optimizing speed also the Google page rank and all that. It’s quite rewarding to see your project go from an idea, a client’s head into a full production large scale website.
Matteo: Yes I bet it is. Would you mind sharing with us what lead you to the decision and take the leap from being a one-man band into being a cofounder?
Elson: You know the story of the duck. So a duck can fly, it can swim, it can walk and do a lot of things but it doesn’t do it that great, he’s not a runner, he’s not a big flyer…
Elson: What I did was essentially find someone that shared my passion for these types of projects and then we identified our strong suits. Mine was development and his was planning, content creation and all that. We divided tasks, we teamed up and started a small agency. Our quality started to grow. Our stress levels started going down because we depended on each other and we want to build something that lasts a long time. That’s basically the concept of the agency.
Matteo: Nice, nice story, yeah how were you able to scale from being a freelancer to an agency cofounder? What were the main challenges involved in the switch?
Elson: The main challenges were for us to build something we knew would be economically viable. So if we started from freelancers to a company it’s a different kind of economical endeavor. So, with a company you pay taxes in different ways, you have to get a different legal structure, you have to have an accountant maybe (we decided to go with that). We have like fixed costs perhaps on salaries and taxes and better utility expenses. It’s a leap you have to take in account if you have like a slow month in a couple of months or a slow couple months you have to have some money saved up for the bad times and being able to always spot what the client will want next, when it comes to learning new skills to providing something they need and value.
That’s the main challenge. So we do every day like 3 or 4 meetings, small meetings, standing up like in Scrum way. And we do balances of what we’ve done so far, we do weekly, we do daily and we do monthly. We do all types of balances and work hours versus profits. We also identify projects that went wrong and why so next time we would have a similar project we know the right route to go through and what to keep from.
We only take projects that suit our needs and not all projects that come up because that’s very important. You have to identify the projects, is it going to be something you’re going to achieve well to satisfy the customer. Those are some things when you have a small agency you have to take into account most of the time. Because it’s all in your head and it can’t fail… if it fails it cannot be disastrous.
Matteo: Yeah, right!
Elson: So prepare, always be prepared.
Matteo: Always be prepared; always assess your improvements and what you’ve done. As you said, on a daily basis, weekly basis, on a monthly basis and find your niche. So work with clients that understand your value, so you get paid.
Elson: Yes, at the end of the day…
Matteo: At the end of the day it’s this.
Elson: That’s what makes a good company or not.
Matteo: So back on track, what didn’t feel right or even seem wrong to you that made you look for something new in your business life like Codeable?
Elson: Okay when you work for someone else, first of all, as a company you can’t choose the types of projects you do, they just send you okay we have this project…
Matteo: You have to do this.
Elson: You have to deal with customer, if it’s a good customer or a bad one, you have to swallow frogs…
Elson: And so it’s like something when you have your own agency and you can make your own decisions, I can just say “okay I don’t like to work with this type of person because it’s hard to work with them”. Or “Okay sorry, I can’t work on this project with you” and then I find another customer that may have a better connection and then we do projects. That was something that made me want to switch. Also, because we want to grow and build our own projects, we then have the option to take some time from like the consulting jobs, gigs and do our own stuff. And it’s also very amusing for us to be doing the things we like.
Matteo: Of course!
Elson: Some things we want that other people want us to do.
Matteo: Yeah, the motivation really pushes you.
Elson: It also comes down to where you see yourself in 2 years or 10 years. If you’re working for someone else chances are you’re either going to change the person you’re working for a better company or for a better job. Yeah, but if you work for yourself you can see yourself like where is this thing I’m going in 10 years. And that’s a very powerful way of thinking that elevates your ability to work to harder. It motivates you a lot.
Matteo: Yeah also your own personal picture yeah, really your future even if we don’t know how what future will bring us this way we’re more in control of it.
Elson: Exactly: control that’s it.
Matteo: That’s it, yeah! Let me ask you how did you hear about Codeable?
Elson: I did a lot of WordPress research for my last company’s job and I ended up finding some Codeable WordPress-related articles. I was like this platform has very good content. So I started just going around the page and see what you did and see what type of customers you did and then I was like “okay so this can be a good opportunity to explore”, then I eventually prepared my… I prepared a website specifically to showcase my work.
Elson: And then I just sent it over to the email to apply for a position to be able to be part of the community. What happened was the first month no answer, second month no answer. I was like okay so never mind let’s go over… I saw…
Matteo: Let’s move on… but one day.
Elson: Yes, they were full of reviews, maybe they didn’t have time to review them all so I’m like “Okay, I tried” and I continued with my life and doing some other work. Then this funny thing happened. I went to Web Summit last year because I like to be involved with all types of web things and the day before going to Web Summit, as I was preparing for the trip, I got an email saying “Okay you can do a test.”
Matteo: Yeah, because you went through the first step!
Elson: So, like okay perfect timing…
Matteo: Like you…
Elson: I remember I received the scope of the project. I was like at the airport preparing a new repo for the project and then I coded while waiting for the plane…
Elson: I was going… I actually skip the first day of Web Summit to work on a demo project. And then I worked pretty much all night.
Matteo: Really?! Because you wanted to send it out.
Elson: I wanted to deliver something great. And then a couple of hours to Web Summit just took most of it, then came back, worked again and then I submit it… a couple days later I got an answer saying, “Okay so when are you available to have a chat?” So this while it was till out in a trip.
Elson: Then, I talked to Raleigh he’s a great guy.
Matteo: Yeah, he is.
Elson: Did a code test, verbal test communications and that’s it. As I was coming back from Web Summit on the plane again and the airport I received feedback that I got in.
Matteo: You got in!
Elson: I got my data I was waiting for the plane again so I was getting my login data and keys to the vault like awesome.
Matteo: You went to Web Summit before as a non-Codeable expert, then you come back in as a Codeable expert.
Elson: Yeah that’s like I have to make this work and then I went t my colleague which is now my business partner saying okay let’s go to this and take the most out of it. And then a couple of months later we started the agency and now Codeable is one of the main focuses here in the agency.
Matteo: What a story. Nice!
Elson: Funny story
Matteo: Yes, it is indeed!
Elson: Yeah 🙂
Matteo: How long have you been a Codeable expert? Just to give me some ideas…
Elson: Web Summit was in November, so I think…
Matteo: Around that time…
Elson: Yeah at the end of the November I think was when I started in Codeable. A couple of weeks were hard to get customers because I had no expertise, no finished projects. You have to grind and sort the customers. And then it started picking up and it went well. So then end of November till now.
Matteo: So roughly 6 months.
Matteo: Halfway mark for your first year at Codeable.
Matteo: First of all congrats. Second of all, since you started you just mentioned a client and at the beginning was a little bit rough, it was hard a little bit at the beginning because you did not have any street cred, any reviews, you were the new cool kid in town. What type of project do you see yourself strongest at? Quick projects, development, design because you guys do almost the full stack of services… so tell me.
Elson: Yeah, basically when I started doing websites my formal training is in Interactive Design so I did some graphic design and then when it came to doing websites people wanted the specific things. Some people just wanted to use a template and do something and then I realized that most of the customers I had, the local ones, didn’t need an over-bloated interface that was able to do a lot of different things they won’t use so… okay, I’ll just keep it simple, draw a simple interface and code it from there.
Eventually, I started… I didn’t start by using WordPress because I think at the time it was more than they needed, I started using Laravel with some basic specs. And then I eventually decided okay no more Laravel because the client eventually will need to add posts and will need to edit his content. So even if he doesn’t you better prepare a CMS for him incase in the future you want to add his own content you’ll safeguard our future together and WordPress all the way and from that point on. So the design was something our clients really started to like because, when I looked for example if I do a website for a restaurant, I go in and I know the building, I take some of my own pictures, I see what they have see the tiniest details.
Elson: So if I see something they use in the decoration or next to the windows or something like that I just use that on the website. When the client arrives they recognize that signal like “oh, I get this”.
Matteo: That is a smart move man!
Elson: So I pick up the color schemes and the small details and design a clean interface and that small one detail, like one or two details and then I show it to the customer…
Matteo: 99% I guess they are going to love it.
Elson: Yeah, beautiful pictures something every client loves to have so we sub-hired out that part to a good photographer.
Matteo: So you neither the two of you shoot photos you… you work with another photographer?
Elson: Yeah it’s like the whole duck story! In the beginning we did the photos and they were acceptable we’re doing some color editing and it’s got good but then we met some great photographers and like I don’t know if the clients would like to go with them, we’ll try them to get the great photos because, at the end of our work, it will make the work better.
Matteo: Yes, sure!
Elson: The client will get a better service if we have a pro photographer only doing the photography. That’s why we started to focus on what are our strong suits and leave that part to the experts. It ended up being a very good strategy because clients eventually understood our vision and why we wanted someone great to do the photos and they essentially started accepting it.
This is like aside from Codeable. Codeable we have clients that are far ways so we don’t have that option. We can still do a design interface to implement customer interface into WordPress and build them a great product. We still don’t have the chance to do a project like that in Codeable but I’m hoping we’ll have one soon.
Matteo: If you look at your past freelancing life and then you fast-forward to today, how have things changed for you since joining Codeable? Are there any differences?
Elson: Yes, very very different. I mean, work now is more efficient so I can just determine more accurately… how many… how many hours it will take to do a certain type of task. Since I make myself and the team record how many minutes we did on pretty much anything, I can then go back…
Matteo: You keep track, then?
Elson: Yeah keep track… I use basic Scrum just to determine how many points a project took, how many points it took us in a week that basically gives us like a perspective on how much work we can do a week. Then, by using the time tracker, based on our initial estimation how was the result of the outcome, was it more time than expected, less time than expected.
Elson: It allowed us to identify weak spots, improve on them and, yeah, become a better freelancer on top of that.
Matteo: Of course. We’re getting close to the end of this super nice talk but I have one last question for you, my friend. Were you able to do anything interesting you weren’t able to do before joining Codeable? An example that can fall under this is buying a motorcycle, booking a trip or actually flying to an exotic island or travel the world or buying, I don’t know, a super powerful latest Macbook Pro or anything a geek will ever desire? Did you do anything like that or are you planning to do anything like this?
Elson: I’m definitely planning. I still haven’t gotten the chance because now, as a business person, I’m trying to just keep the money in the business to protect ourselves from bad days, if they come into the company. I actually live on an exotic island you can consider it as…
Matteo: Yes, you can already mark one off the list!
Elson: Scratch that off the list. This is great because I was talking to my business partner and we’re saying that from now on till the Summer we have to make time to enjoy the island so we start our days earlier…
Elson: Then we go and enjoy a walk to the beach or something like that. We have amazing scenery and most of the times we spend our days in front of the computers working because that’s how life. We have to really enjoy it. Yeah, I do want to upgrade my wheels to get new Apple machines and… but yes a couple of months, if everything goes as expected, we’ll get there.
Matteo: Okay, nice so I see that you already… yeah, luckily for you, you live in an exotic island like that so really one item is already almost gone… you just need to walk out your office.
**Elson***: Yeah, literally I can just drive 10 minutes and be on the beach.
Matteo: Never been there but I’m planning to go.
Elson: Yeah, if you ever come by, just let me know.
Matteo: Of course, I’d love to! I think it’s enough for today, Elson. It was super interesting hearing your story; once again I’d like to thank you very much for spending your time with all of us. So wish you a great day and talk to you soon!
Elson: Thank you, bye!