Miriam Schwab – WProfessional of the Month

Published in Community.

We continue with our series of interviews with WordPress people. This month, we interviewed a WordPress woman recommended by José Ramón Padrón who also hosted a panel discussion at the WCEU 2019. A person full of positive energy, with great business experience and who I had the pleasure of working within the same team during the Contributor Day of WordCamp London 2019. So, without further ado, let’s welcome Miriam Schwab.

Hi, Miriam. Thank you very much for giving us your time for this interview. I liked very much José Ramón recommended us to interview you here. Miriam, you live in Israel and founded and built a leading global open-source web development company. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional career up to the last company you founded?

Thanks for having me on your blog! About thirteen years ago I founded a WordPress development agency in Israel called illuminea. We were one of the first companies to offer WordPress as a business solution. At first, companies here viewed WordPress as a tool for amateur bloggers, but as time went on they started to realize that it is an ideal solution for their own website management needs. Because we got started early on, companies referred other companies to us and our business grew to be one of the leading agencies in Israel.

A few years I started to organize the local WordCamp conferences and did that five times. I also started to speak at international WordCamps, starting with the first WordCamp Europe, and eventually expanding to WordCamp US and London. 

You define Strattic, the last company you founded, as the “unhosting” platform that publishes Open Source CMSs as static and serverless, making them virtually unhackable, and exponentially faster. Could you describe in more detail what it means and how it differs from other hosting companies?

Sure! When you host your website on a standard hosting platform, they essentially just give you a “parking space” for your site so that it can be available via the web. Beyond that, the speed, security, and scalability of your site are mostly up to you.

Strattic hosts your site and also converts it to a static and serverless architecture in one click, which instantly makes your site significantly faster, and virtually unhackable. This is because the underlying architecture of your live site is no longer LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) which is where the performance and security issues generally lie. This means that Strattic users no longer have to be concerned with issues surrounding the performance, security and scalability of their sites, and can focus on doing their jobs instead.

Many of our readers are also founders or think about founding a startup. What do you think should be the main concerns when setting up a new company and what should we put more effort into?

I could spend hours answering this question but I’ll try to distill my answer into a few main points:

  1. Before you start, try to establish product-market fit: see if there are people out there who would use your product and pay for it. You can test this in various ways, like setting up a landing page and talking to people whom you think would be your users. But don’t ask them “would you use my product?”, rather ask them about their current workflows and pain points.
  2. It can take anywhere from three to five years before you are able to start pulling any kind of salary from your venture, assuming it starts to show some successes. Be ready for that. It can be good to not be fully aware of this timeline because it can be daunting and prevent people from taking the leap, but it is good to be aware of what lies ahead.
  3. A partner makes everything less painful, better and even more fun. Building a business has its painful and dark moments, so it’s good to have someone to get through that with you. Also, brainstorming with someone who shares your vision makes everything you do better. And finally, try to find someone who complements your abilities so you each bring different strengths to the table.
  4. If you decide to go the startup route, you will likely need to have fundraising in mind. This means that you need to learn to talk about your vision and be a pretty good storyteller since investors are investing in the future potential of what your startup can be. There’s a lot to say about fundraising that can’t fit into one bullet 🙂

When we heard about founders and CEOs of Digital startups, we usually have the image of someone whose only priority is to work every hour of the day on their startup. However, with 7 children, you’ve shown us that there can be other CEO models to follow. What has been the most difficult for you to get where you are and balance your personal and professional life? 

I had to learn to delegate early on and build a team that can take responsibility for time-sensitive aspects of the business. This was very important when the kids were all little since kids are very unpredictable 🙂 – they can get sick suddenly, or the school system would strike, or there would be school-related events I needed to attend. I was good at marketing and sales and would generate the leads for our business. I also was involved in a strategic level on how we built websites and managed projects, but my team did most of the execution on all that.

I also had to learn to say no to things. I get invited to speak at events and I really want to, but I recently made a decision to attend as few evening events as possible so I can be home with my kids. 

And maybe most importantly, I learned to not beat myself up when I didn’t do things perfectly, and even when I failed. Sometimes work took priority and the laundry would pile up at home, and sometimes the kids would take priority and I lost some projects because I couldn’t be responsive enough. That’s life. We do our best and that’s the best we can do.

Now I’m at a stage where my kids are bigger. My oldest is twenty-one for example. This means building a startup, which is very demanding, is realistic at this stage. The bigger kids’ needs are different, and I try to be there for them in whatever ways I can, but I’m no cookie-baking mom, if you know what I mean 🙂

Let’s now talk about WordPress. You’ve been a regular speaker at WordPress meetups and events including WordCamp Europe, WordCamp US, and WordCamp London. Could you please tell us how you got started with WordPress and what have been your main contributions?

I got started with WordPress after I gave birth to my fourth kid. I realized I needed more flexibility in terms of work hours and the ability to work from home, and I also needed more room to learn and grow and be creative.

I started out by providing freelance content services, but my heart always lay in tech. So I started to teach myself to build websites. I started with plain old HTML/CSS based sites, and people started to pay me for my site building services. I quickly realized I needed a CMS so that they didn’t have to come back to me to change every little letter on their site, and started researching the available options. I fell in love with WordPress: I loved the way the templating system worked, I loved the plugin ecosystem and I loved the community. Every time I encountered a challenge while building a WordPress site, I Googled the issue and found that some generous WordPresser had written a post about it and how they resolved the issue. To me, WordPress was about the best that the Internet could be: open, community-oriented, and powerful for everyone since it put publishing in the hands of the people.

One of the first ways I started to give back to WP was by creating a blog called WP Garage, where I documented everything I learned so that others could learn from it and fix issues too. I started organizing WordCamp in Israel and did that five times. I contributed to a plugin and started speaking at other WordCamps. 

When we met at the Contributor Day of the WordCamp London 2019, you led the Community Team and we addressed the topic of inclusion and diversity. I know that you’re an advocate for women in tech. Would you like to share with us any particular experience of this matter?

Throughout my career, I’ve been in situations where men with less experience and knowledge than me were given opportunities that I wasn’t. It would be annoying but it never got me down, since I would just pick myself up and keep going. I learned that if I wanted to be counted, I had to be better than the men around me, and I aimed for that. At the same time, I suffer tremendously from impostor syndrome, and while men tout their expertise I find myself belittling my abilities or not believing in myself. I’ve become better at recognizing my worth, but it’s something I still struggle with.

I became used to being the only woman in the room in many situations, but at a certain point, I realized I shouldn’t get used to that, and wondered why that is. My theory is that it starts when girls are in high school, and although they perform as well as boys in math and science they tend to be guided towards non-STEM professions. 

Another issue is that we’re in a vicious cycle. Let’s say there’s a table where an important meeting is taking place, and the organizers are three men. They will more likely invite other men to join this important meeting due to subconscious bias towards people they can identify with most (i.e. men), and the women will get left out. A terrible example of this was when Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, visited Israel. An event was organized to introduce her to Israeli tech innovations, and not one single woman was invited. Not one! And trust me when I say there are plenty of women that could have been invited.

In order to increase diversity and inclusion there first needs to be awareness that it’s an important goal; and then people (aka men) need to go outside of their comfort zones and always think: am I including women and other minorities or am I taking the easy, comfortable route?

And I do not want to take you any more time but, as I already told you, in our interviews we always ask the guest to “prove” his humanity by sharing some epic failures of the past. When did you make a mistake and what happened?

Omigosh I have made so many mistakes, it’s hard to pick one. I actually make mistakes or gaffs quite frequently, but I tend to not remember them since I just keep moving forward. In the bigger picture, I’ve messed up projects, made mistakes with billing and communication, forgotten key people’s names, and more. 

And to end this interview, who would you like us to interview in the future? Tell us 3 WProfessionals that you want to be on the blog.

  • Ben Pines from Elementor – he’s a genius marketing strategist.
  • The women from the Women in WP podcast – they’re all awesome.
  • Mika Epstein, who is an inspiration to all women in WP.

Thank you Miriam for this interview. As always, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you. And to you, dear reader, see you next week with another post on the blog and next month with another interview. Stay tuned for news!

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