WordPress community spotlight: An interview with Karin Christen
by: Birgit Olzem
We at Savvii are always curious about the people who are involved in making WordPress. Because of that, we want to shed the spotlight on inspiring community members. At WordCamp Europe in Belgrade, my colleague Robert-Jan had the opportunity to talk with Karin Christen. They spoke about how Gutenberg can be adopted by agencies, how to arise as a web-based company and what it means to be an independent remote worker within a bootstrapped agency.
WordPress.org biography of Karin Christen:
Karin is a co-founder at required GmbH, a Swiss-based web company with a focus on Interaction Design, Mobile Web, and WordPress. As an Interaction Designer, she is setting her focus on the user’s perspective. Clients hire her to either work on applications with usability issues or to integrate with teams where they start a project from scratch. In her free time, she loves to be in the Swiss Alps with her downhill mountain bike.
- What are the things we do not read in your public bio?
That is a difficult question because you probably read it all.
– Well, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
I love my job, and I really like to be on earth these times. I like what I’m able to do at work with my team at required! Especially building an agency is really interesting to me. First, I was more interested in working on interesting UX design projects. But then, as required got bigger, somehow my interests shifted to the business part. My priorities are now more about shaping the company and building a platform where all team members can express themselves at work.
– What do you like the most about the business part?
What I like most about it is just to see how the business is growing and working. The different interaction we have with each client of ours is very inspiring. With each project, we get better and are growing as a team. Which makes us more efficient and more experienced for the next project.
- What makes the business part so interesting for you?
The managing part. The challenge of building a culture on a remote team, where everyone can work and live wherever on earth they want to be and meanwhile getting Swiss enterprise clients and projects in the field of WordPress. We at required focus on people first and on finance second. This way, we all have the opportunity to have a great time at work and the lifestyle we want.
– Does that make your company different than other companies?
I guess so, yes. We have to give each team member space and trust. That’s why we try to keep the team as small as possible. We want to grow as a company. But not in terms of hiring more staff if not absolutely necessary.
- When you started required, what did you expect where it was going to lead you to?
Back then required was a completely different idea. We wanted to be an independent network of freelancers which teams up for bigger projects. Sometimes we would work together and sometimes we would work on our own. This is how the idea started. After a while, we realized that the network-idea was a bit too „loose“, especially from the perspective of potential Swiss clients.
– What do you mean by “ too loose”?
Everyone part of the network would work under the label „required“, but required was not a proper founded company. That’s why we had hard times getting bigger, more interesting projects. And that was initially our mission: „teaming up for bigger, more complex projects“. With the network, we weren‘t able to provide the trust potential Swiss clients needed. Especially for the case if things are going wrong, there wouldn‘t be someone to blame for. As a network, we were too loose for them „just a bunch of freelancer, not a real company“. That is what I meant by loose.
So we founded a „real“ company, the required gmbh. Although we never wanted to go down this path, it was a good compromise to reach our goal. From the outside perspective required was a real company now, but we held on to the idea of the network. A year later we realized that every member working independent, but nevertheless together, was really difficult in terms of accounting. So we changed things, everybody was employed with a salary.
To answer your answer, required is really different now. We wanted to be a loose collective and now we are an agency, which I did not plan in the beginning but now it is good how it is.
- Has there been a moment where you thought “I don’t want this anymore, I just want to be a freelancer again”?
Of course! There have been challenging times, mostly internal but also with clients. But overall there was never a moment where I wanted to give up.
Within required I can work with such a great team where I can shape things the way I want it to be. As a freelancer, I would never come this far.
And yes, I‘m questioning myself almost every day. This is how I grow!
- What do you want to achieve in the WordPress world in the next year?
That’s a good question. If you would have asked me this in the past, I would have told you that I want to achieve that WordPress is getting accepted in Switzerland as a proper content management tool and not only seen as a tool for blogs or low budget websites. Well, WordPress did well and I would say mission accomplished.
My mission for WordPress in the future is to hold on to this. WordPress should grow in Switzerland as a content managing tool, and to do so it would be good to have more Swiss agencies contributing to the WordPress community.
So my mission is getting more Swiss people involved in the WordPress community.
– Any idea how you are going to do this?
Well, by being an example WordPress agency based in Switzerland that contributes to WordPress. Our team is very active in contributing. We are speaking at international WordCamps, co-organise WordCamps and Meetups throughout Switzerland, and open source our plugins. If we continue doing so and share what we do, other agencies hopefully will get inspired and will follow by letting their employees contribute during office hours too.
- How do you feel about the current process of Gutenberg when you look at UX and design?
But, I must confess, my first impression was like: what is the actual benefit of a client using Gutenberg? What would be the sales pitch? Why should our clients who use already the „Classic“-Editor without severe issues invest money to change from „Classic“ to Gutenberg. I still don’t have a sales pitch answer yet. But what I do know is that once you start a project from scratch Gutenberg is the way to go. And this is what we will do, using Gutenberg for every new project.
– And as a UX and design specialist, do you have some thoughts about it?
As a user who is already very familiar with the way how the classic editor works, I struggle of course with Gutenberg because I have to change my mindset to adopt the new version. But from an expert perspective, I believe for sure that content managers will be more efficient when writing in Gutenberg. Because Gutenberg provides you with the needed tools such as text-formatting and inserting media based on the context a user is in. This way content editors can work faster, because they don‘t have an overload of unnecessary tools.
Everything new or different needs time to adapt. This also applies to Gutenberg. We should take on the Challenge.
- You travel a lot during your work, what are the benefits of having a business that does not work from one office?
We are able to work from anywhere! I think for me that is the most beneficial because I don’t really like the routine which I would have when I would have to go to the office day by day. This way I can manage my work anywhere anytime if I like.
But do not underestimate the effort! It is much harder if you have the choice of when to work, where to work, and what to work on. Every person needs a small amount of routine in his/her life to be efficient. Although I don‘t like it, it‘s the same for me.
- What do your clients think of this?
Well, once our clients are accustomed to working with us, they are really excited about how our team works. But it can be a challenge to bring our way of working over to potential clients. First they are a bit suspicious, since we are a distributed team and don’t have a classic office. From the outside perspective, we try to be as „normal“ as possible. We don’t hide that we are „different“ (a remote team), but try to transport professionality over coolness. So our potential clients feel safe and on the same level from the beginning.
- What is an unexpected benefit of working the way you do?
I never thought that we will be able to work with well known Swiss enterprise clients because we are a small team. I always had the impression that big clients look for big agencies to work with. But things have changed. Because we are small and agile, clients choose to work with us.
- How do you find a balance between your busy work life and your private life? With my sport. Once I’m on my mountain bike, I’m literally not working anymore. When mountain biking, there is no space for anything else to think of. It is just me focusing on the bike and the track. There is no room for problems or ideas.
That’s my balance.
Thank you very much for your time and insights, Karin!