[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Hello there and welcome once again to the WP Builds podcast, you have reached episode number 350. Well, that's a bit of a milestone, entitled, Ymir the future of serverless WordPress hosting with Carl Alexander. It was published on Thursday, the 16th of November, 2023.
My name's Nathan Wrigley, and in a few short moments, we'll be joined by Carl to have our chats, but before that a few bits of housekeeping. The first thing to mention, as I have mentioned before, is that the Black Friday sales are nearly upon us. If you're in the market for anything WordPressy look no further than the WP Builds Black Friday deals page it's at the very easy to remember URL. WP Builds.com forward slash and black. I'm going to say that one more time to get it into your head. WP Builds.com forward slash black. Over there you're going to find over 220, and that number is sure to grow, wordPress product services, hosting blocks, themes, plugins, the lot.
It's all searchable and filterable. Just click the little yellow button. And you'll be able to get yourself a whole ton of savings in the run-up to black Friday. If you fancy adding your deal, there's a button there next to the yellow one, but you have to look on a desktop to see it.
And also if you want to sponsor that page, you'll notice that there are a few sponsors such as Gravity Forms, WS Form, and CheckoutWC. They're all sponsoring that page, and if you fancy joining them, you can see a get pride of place button now on a fake ad beneath those. So, yeah. WP Builds .com forward slash black. I think I've probably said that enough. Okay, let's move on.
We are doing a whole bunch of webinars. We've got some coming up with Leo Losoviz, but we're also doing a new weekly show with Sabrina Zeidan. You can submit your site at WP Builds.com forward slash speed. And Sabrina will be taking a look at user submitted sites in terms of optimization. We've had four so far and they have been very, very interesting.
You can find those episodes, if you go to the WP Builds.com website, click on the archives button in the main menu and go to the speed it up archive. You'll be able to find those shows there. Really interesting and a load of nuggets of useful information coming from Sabrina.
Another quick thing to say would be that if you fancy making a comment about this particular episode, please do go and look for episode number 350, and leave us a comment that it seems awfully sensible, given that we have comments inside of WordPress, to use them rather than spreading the whole conversation out over some disparate social networks.
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Okay, what have we got in the podcast for you today? Well, it's Carl Alexander talking about Ymir. I have to say, this is one of those episodes where things go slightly over my head. It's a really interesting subject. It's all about serverless and WordPress. And as I said, the product that he's got called Ymir.
We cover a lot of ground. We talk about what the advantages are of WordPress. What exactly is it a definition of that? We talk about Ymir and Carl's experience putting that service together. How he's decided to do his pricing and how his business has succeeded, and failed.
We talk about the product development and use of WordPress. The transparency that he's creating around his product, and the financial challenges that he's faced. We talk about hosting, AWS, all sorts of different things. And I hope. That you enjoy it.
I am joined on the podcast today by Carl Alexander. Hello, Carl.
[00:05:25] Carl Alexander: Hi, how are you doing, Nathan?
[00:05:27] Nathan Wrigley: great, thank you. First of all, thanks for sticking with me, Carl. What any listener to this podcast will not know, but I'm about to tell you, is that Carl and I tried to record a podcast episode, I don't know, a couple of weeks ago and it was an audio disaster.
Carl's back, and we feel like we've got a nice balance now. Firstly, Carl, thank you for staying the course. I really appreciate it.
[00:05:51] Carl Alexander: It's my pleasure. I'm as frustrated, or even more than you are, because I've never had this audio
[00:05:56] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Yeah. We're going to try and make it sound as nice as possible. You never know. We might even get into podcasting and audio and things later. Carl's on the podcast to talk about honestly, who knows where this conversation is going. There's a few topics that we want to cover that we will cover, but there's also.
Who knows what else we're going to cover because it feels like Karl is a very open book and we may very well stray
[00:06:17] Carl Alexander: I'm also the master of tangents. That's why we'll never know where it goes, because we'll start somewhere and we'll be like, how did we get
[00:06:25] Nathan Wrigley: Where? Where did this? Yeah,
[00:06:27] Carl Alexander: after tangents.
[00:06:28] Nathan Wrigley: four hours from now we're both absolutely
[00:06:31] Carl Alexander: Bob gets really frustrated when he has to edit podcasts with me because it's please, Carl.
[00:06:38] Nathan Wrigley: It'll be fine. We'll get through it. So I want to get everybody's attention on a couple of URLs to begin with. Carl is, I guess I'm, am I right in saying you're the founder? You're the developer of Ymir, which
[00:06:51] Carl Alexander: Yeah, Ymir.
[00:06:52] Nathan Wrigley: It's hard for me to say that Ymir the spelling of
[00:06:56] Carl Alexander: think that Y is an E.
[00:06:58] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. Ymir.
Okay. Got it. That's easy then. Okay. But the spelling is Y M I M. I R A P, so emirapp. com. That's one of the things that we're going to talk about today. It's all tied up with WordPress, obviously, and serverless WordPress in particular. So let's kick off the conversation there. First of all, Carl, I suspect there's going to be a lot of people listening to this podcast because we have a fairly broad audience.
I think there'll be a quite a few people who do not even know what serverless means. So let's begin there. What is serverless WordPress?
[00:07:30] Carl Alexander: wish my WordCamp Asia talk was available on WordPress. tv. They have a YouTube cause I, I gave a talk on this at WordCamp Asia this year. So the idea of serverless basically. So first of all, the first question I always get is, are there no servers with serverless? And I will say that is, there are still
[00:07:55] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:07:56] Carl Alexander: the I didn't choose the marketing term, some marketing department. Picked it. I get very, I tell people we're stuck with the term now because that's what's a marketing department decided somewhere, but the idea with serverless is that normally when you think of WordPress and you have a server that you have to manage or that basically you have, if you're using spin up WP or grid pane or just doing it yourself, you have a server you have to manage, you have to do updates, security updates worry about all those things.
And basically the idea of serverless is that it puts that management outside your sphere of concern. A bit like... Manage WordPress hosting company would do, you can just upload your WordPress site and then you don't really have to worry about server things. So it's a bit in that similar vein.
[00:08:52] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. So how does that work? Why? What? What is it that's going on that means that you don't have to worry about it? Because obviously, I guess the, yeah, simply the question people have been scratching their head thinking okay, he's explained that you don't have to worry about it, but why? What's the difference?
js app and you deployed to Vercel. Nobody's going to ask you, oh, how many CPU cores do you want? Like how much RAM? Like, how, like, how do you want this to scale? You just deploy it and then it scales. Like you, as a developer, you don't have to worry about those server things. So serverless gets you. Basically, Vercel runs on serverless as well, but basically the idea is to bring that kind of worry free aspect to WordPress developers so that they can just deploy their WordPress site and not worry about anything else.
If it ran yesterday, it'll keep running tomorrow because you don't have to do anything else with it. The code is locked in. It brings also some security benefits. And some struggles for some WordPress developers as well, because it's more of an enterprise y workflow to work with this. So for example, one of the common questions I get is Why can't I install a plugin or a theme?
And I'm, and that's because everything is read only, and you have to install it before and then redeploy it. Things like that can be a struggle for some WordPress developers, but the benefits are... Right now the main benefit is the scaling and creating WordPress products. That's a lot of what my customers are using it for.
Also they just use it to not have to worry about servers. I'm a sysadmin. I've been a sysadmin since I'm 16. I've just turned 40. I should be the last person. I should be the last person making this product. But I... And so I don't want to have to worry about anything like with this stuff, like the only time my site goes down is if AWS goes down.
And if AWS goes down, basically
[00:11:54] Nathan Wrigley: time to pack up and all go home. Yeah. Yeah. Go
[00:11:57] Carl Alexander: yeah, no, but that's what happened. There was a, there was an outage, I think a month ago. And even Vercel was down and the region that was. Like, it's just when AWS goes down, half the internet goes out. I'm more comfortable having my site go down when half the internet goes down than for other reasons, randomly at other
[00:12:22] Nathan Wrigley: Okay let's keep exploring this though, because I feel there's still a piece of the puzzle which people won't be understanding. You mentioned that, in fact one word that you used locked down, it's locked down. You were talking about why can't I install a plugin, why can't I install a theme.
Because it's locked down. Describe, describe what, so let's imagine that we have deployed a WordPress website with EMEA. How do we interact with those websites? What's the process? How do we create content, modify content? What is actually going on and how does EMEA make it all happen?
Is it like a command line thing? Is it a GUI that we click buttons with? What's going on?
[00:13:03] Carl Alexander: By lockdown, what I mean is that it's not exactly lockdown. The best example that I can come up with is if, let's say you're 10 up and you built JoeBiden'sWhiteHouse. gov. You can't go and install a plugin or Joe Biden can't go and install a team or a new plugin on those sites that they're locked down from from a, not from a content perspective, but from a file modification perspective, because in an enterprise setting, and that's where I do most of my consulting, you don't want to necessarily have a your users installing things, the WordPress sites been worked on extensively.
It's been calibrated. It's been, like for performance for various reasons. And you can't just arrive and be Joe Biden can't just arrive and be, okay, I want to install, hello, Dolly. Now on this WordPress site, you just need it to basically. just stay the same. And no, but it's true, right?
[00:14:12] Nathan Wrigley: yeah, I just, I've just got a mental image of Joe Biden walking in and saying, can I install Hello Dolly? And it's not an image I'm going to forget quickly.
[00:14:21] Carl Alexander: Yeah, exactly. But it's true. And this is really important in the enterprise environment. But because a lot of WordPress developers, one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses of the WordPress ecosystem is just that breadth of technical skill. So you can be somebody that's just picking up programming for the first time and you can get into WordPress, but you can also be somebody like me, who's been working with WordPress for a long time and has like a computer engineering degree and worked with Java and all these like more advanced not any more advanced, but but a lot of these more advanced concepts.
And that's a different skill set. So when you have somebody with a lower skill set that's used to being able to just have a website where they can install a plugin, install a team, just modify code, all these things that really make sure that your site might get hacked eventually, those things are locked down.
So by its nature, serverless does that because there's no alternative to make it. not do that. That's how it gets the scaling done. Because you package the entire application, the entire WordPress site code. And that's what allows it to scale to very like ridiculous levels, basically.
[00:15:45] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. And so you chose AWS as the sort of backbone for all of this, presumably just because of its massive size and its ability to scale. More or less infinitely, there is literally no limit to which your website could scale, should that be required.
[00:16:03] Carl Alexander: Yeah, the reason I picked AWS is simple. One, most of the mindshare and developers and documentation and writing is around AWS. There is, there's like a fraction less for Azure or GCP. And also the technologies, even though they have the similar services, they're not interchangeable. So I get asked pretty regularly, are you going to support like Azure or GCP?
And I would say no very unlikely. It's always going to be AWS.
[00:16:37] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. And how popular is the product? We'll get into the whole doing things in the open, so you don't have to give me the numbers. What I'm meaning more is, what kind of a client base do you have? Is it like large agencies that are coming to you to take advantage of EMEA? I'm guessing you don't have many, freelancers particularly.
Maybe you do, I don't know.
[00:16:58] Carl Alexander: Actually, I do have, I'd say it's mostly freelancer. We'll talk about it. I just changed the pricing. So there's a couple of agencies that signed up cause I just. Up to my pricing a lot. I guess we'll get into it right now. So here we go. First tangent. So Ymir itself is built. It was inspired by this product that Taylor Otwell built.
So Taylor Twell, for those who don't know, is the creator of Laravel, which is like one of the most popular frameworks in developer frameworks out there, but it's also a PHP framework. And he built this product called Laravel Vapor, which does exactly this. Now there's differences between the product, but basically conceptually they're the same thing.
He lets you deploy a Laravel application. To aws using serverless. And I was there when he announced the product and I was like, I was sitting next to ba probably some listeners know about him. He's still in the WordPress community, but less active. Josh Pollock. I was
like sitting next to
[00:18:10] Nathan Wrigley: Oh
[00:18:10] Carl Alexander: Pollock.
Yeah. So I was sitting right next to Josh Pollock and I was saying I'm building this. That was in 2019. So I started working on this in 2019. I started basically proof of concepting it, seeing if. WordPress could even work, because WordPress versus Laravel is a very different beast in terms of applications, but he basically marketed it to everyone. So that's what I was trying to do until recently. So he had just one pricing for 39, and it applied to everyone, and I just changed that recently, because... The reality is that while WordPress has a much larger market share, I really thought that there'd be enough developers to make this sustainable for me.
And there hasn't been, so I'm going in a bit slightly, I'm trying on a different direction now. Like this just happened. We talked about Bill and we're going to talk about building public. Like I changed the pricing like a month ago.
[00:19:13] Nathan Wrigley: yeah, I see that actually. I remember not seeing the 39 box and only
[00:19:20] Carl Alexander: Yeah, no, now there's three boxes. Yeah, there's three boxes. There was two boxes. Yeah, there was two. There was Carl as a service, which was like a kind of like tongue in cheek thing that I was doing. But yeah, now the agency pricing is a lot higher. Because I think the agencies that can use this need to be higher caliber like the 10ups and the ImpSnyde and XWP and those ones, but there's challenges to that as well.
And then the other thing that's interesting that I'm exploring right now is just licensing the technology. Or, and that I got a lot of interest when I was after my WordCamp Asia talk, because we haven't really talked about where this technology is especially useful, but after I talked about it and WordCamp Asia, and I had a lot of smaller hosting operators that were like, I would love to be able to use this.
[00:20:18] Nathan Wrigley: right,
[00:20:19] Carl Alexander: my hosting my hosting products that I offer. And
[00:20:26] Nathan Wrigley: licensing it out. Okay. That's interesting.
[00:20:30] Carl Alexander: yeah because this is, I don't. I don't do hosting. This was a very intense decision because every time I have investment, people want to invest and they're like, but why aren't you doing hosting is because I don't want to do hosting because hosting the best description I had for hosting. And it's so true as it's, you're basically a customer service. That happens to have data centers. Like I don't to do I don't want to specialize in customer service. Like I want to specialize in technology. I still want to do I still like helping developers, but I think one of the important things, if you're going to small, start a small business. For me anyways, was thinking about who I want my customers to be.
And I'd rather my customers to be developers or technical people than just people that are like, why isn't my site working? Or things like that. I'll still get some of those, but I want it to be more developerly than than just a supportive for hosting. So that was an intentional
[00:21:36] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. So back to the pricing then. So you've got this 39, this is what it says now. You're obviously open to amend, amendations here, but currently you've got three plans, one of which is enterprise. Let's talk. So we'll just leave that one to one side. People can phone you off if they need to, but you've got the personal plan at 39 a month, which includes three projects.
And then you've got the agency, which is basically a thousand dollars. It's 999. Dollars a month. Obviously there's going to be quite some difference there, but what is the difference?
[00:22:09] Carl Alexander: Yeah, this one, I've been talking, I don't know if it'll work out, but basically the idea when I was talking with I have some partnerships in the work and talking with partnerships and people that I consider a bit more coaching is that those larger agencies is that those larger agencies Like, XWP or 10UP, paying 12, 000 a year for a piece of software isn't, it's an expensive thing, but it's not like a huge budgetary thing.
For a smaller agency, so I had friends in smaller agencies, and I have some agencies that signed up before, so I grandfathered. The previous plan, which was unlimited everything. And one of the challenges with the unlimited everything and that prompted this change is that for 39 a month, you could build a hosting company with this.
And I know because I have one customer that was trying to build a hosting company with this. So if you're trying to partner with me, and somebody is basically can copy what you're building and you're paying me, thousands of dollars a month, and then somebody else can just arrive and pay 39 to just do it.
They don't feel safe. So that was the idea it, I wrote a whole, I wrote a whole thing about it. Like I, I just had, the product wasn't growing very fast, like you can see it on the open page, and I just didn't know I, I wanted to change something and I had to find the thing that I was most comfortable or most willing to maybe sacrifice.
And one of the things that I really wanted with this was to make it available to
[00:24:03] Nathan Wrigley: right.
[00:24:04] Carl Alexander: To give an idea, I'm pretty sure Laravel Vapor makes a couple of million a year. And I'm making 18, 000 so there's
[00:24:17] Nathan Wrigley: thought you were gonna say 18 million then.
[00:24:18] Carl Alexander: million. Yeah, but no, I see 18, 000. I left the pause intentionally.
Like I left the pause intentionally. I make 18, 000 after over a bit over two years. And it's the reality is that I wanted this to be something that everybody could use. I even did a kind of like open source. GitHub support campaign at some point. And that's another story in itself. But a lot of what Ymir is open source, but the platform to manage everything isn't.
That was how I was trying to sustain my open source work. Essentially, but I realized that this wasn't gonna happen like I'm not on track to have 1000. I wasn't on track to have 1, 039 a month customers. So what were my options like either I could keep going or I needed to Think about what I was willing to sacrifice.
So I could have just taken investment money. And I decided that I really don't want to do investment. I'm still very anti investment. I'm not sure I will ever take any investment. I've been offered multiple times and I just. I don't like being on somebody else's time schedule like I just want to I want to just be Because at that point you need they need returns, right?
Like i'm trying to build more of a lifestyle business than something else so i'd rather like my role model is more till cruz who does object cash pro like Just be one or two people or three people or I forget his name from me to meteoric also, like they're just a really small companies.
So I just want to stay intentionally very small. So I'm trying to focus on where I can leverage that. So the pricing change came from that. So I was thinking for the agencies it's a steep price, but it's also. A really critical technology. So we haven't really talked too much about what this does and why it's really powerful, but affects
[00:26:33] Nathan Wrigley: on
[00:26:33] Carl Alexander: we're going to go for it, but yeah, but that's why I priced it high for agencies.
So what this technology is good. So right now I've been, again, I've been a system since I'm 16. I gave a talk at WordCamp San Diego in 2016 on the more modern WordPress software stack that had a companion article. That got republished on Smashing Mag. It was incredibly popular. But basically, most hosting companies, I have 95% of hosting companies right now, solve WordPress hosting for content sites.
So if you're like a news site or blog or things like that they solve it. They solve it very well. I always say like everybody has their own thing, but it's like like different flavors of vanilla, right? Do you like French vanilla? Or do you like the soft serve vanilla? But it's all vanilla.
They have their own kind of take on the vanilla but it's all vanilla. But what's going to happen over the next decade and already started is that a lot more people are using WordPress as an application. So I'm thinking WooCommerce. I'm talking BuddyBoss sites. I'm talking LearnDash sites like e learning, e commerce.
I have one of my customers that's building like a site builder, like building products. Like one, one of yeah, why do you you don't, if you build something. So one of the examples I gave my talk at WordCamp Asia is like gravity forms. Like, why can Gravity Forms just compete with Typeform, right?
Like, why couldn't they have an application that lets you create a Gravity Forms site? And and it's just Gravity Forms. They have a great user experience and all that stuff. But the customer doesn't need to know it's WordPress underneath. They're just, they're paying Gravity Forms to just host a form, right?
But those are applications. And scaling an application is very different than scaling a content site. It's what, it requires a lot more compute, right? If you go the, if you go on the pricing pages, that's where they talk about PHP workers, right? Like, how many PHP workers can you have? And that's something, again, when I was talking about like the Vercel people, they don't want to know about how many PHP workers they have.
They don't want to care about that. And this is where the technology is really powerful because it basically lets you have infinite PHP workers. You can have thousands, you can have in the span of a minute, you can go from zero to having thousands of them. And this is really important when you're dealing with e commerce sites, for example, like sales.
And the only reason I did. 4000 was that was the 1500 was the limit of the load testing software that
[00:30:07] Nathan Wrigley: right,
[00:30:08] Carl Alexander: It wasn't actually, it was actually a limit. And I've talked to like larger hosting CTOs and director of operations. And they've told me like, we can't do this. Like it's there's a couple of hosting players that are trying to do it, but can't do it to that scale at that speed, essentially and that is really important because a lot of like I did a lunch and learn with AWS because AWS reached out to me one of their solutions engineer and they had a lunch and learn for the education center sector because there's e learning for LearnDash, but there's WordPress is used extensively in universities and colleges
[00:30:53] Nathan Wrigley: that's true yeah.
[00:30:55] Carl Alexander: and they basically deal what serverless is really good at is like these irregular traffic spikes Oh I'm my site's getting no traffic.
And then I sent a newsletter, I'm having a sale right now, or it's the beginning of the semester, everybody's trying to register or check
Okay, yeah, makes sense
[00:31:15] Nathan Wrigley: yeah.
[00:31:16] Carl Alexander: or sign up for this course, or you're doing A webinar and everybody's logging in at the same time, right? You're doing a LearnDash webinar, everybody's logging in at the same time, but then the rest of the time, the site does nothing or does very little.
Like WooCommerce, if you're a WooCommerce store owner, you don't care whether your site's up 99% of the time. It just needs to be up when you do that sale because that's when most of your revenue comes in. So when the site comes over I've looked I've helped try to migrate or audit sites that run on 128 core servers, and they still topple over
[00:32:01] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, there is a ceiling isn't there? There's a glass ceiling that you can't
[00:32:05] Carl Alexander: Yeah, there's a glass ceiling for what a server can do. And having a scaling infrastructure. That can adapt that quickly is very hard and most hosting companies don't do it They just ask you to like upscale before the sale or like they have a rep or things like that But with serverless you just you don't worry about it
[00:32:28] Nathan Wrigley: Can I just ask a bit about the, about how frequently those kind of things are happening? So let's say that I send out my email and I am super popular and famous and suddenly, within the space of several seconds, There's just this flood of traffic. How quickly does the reshaping of the server, if you like, how quickly does that ramp up?
Is it more or less instantaneous? Does it pull every kind of minute or does it sort of auto detect? Okay, we're getting hit. Ramp up. Okay, we're
[00:33:00] Carl Alexander: regular server it
[00:33:04] Nathan Wrigley: No.
[00:33:05] Carl Alexander: you're
[00:33:05] Nathan Wrigley: The AWS offering that you're using.
[00:33:09] Carl Alexander: It just knows like I, it's built on, I just, yeah, it's built on this tech open source technology called firecracker. There's way more things going on behind the scenes because every time it's like somebody like, couldn't I install just firecracker on a machine and make it work?
One of the things that I feel like AWS a lot of, at least I hear a lot in WordPress circles because we're a lot more price sensitive, but I feel like AWS abstracted away a lot of complexity of infrastructure to API calls and people take it a bit for granted like
[00:33:42] Nathan Wrigley: right.
[00:33:43] Carl Alexander: with this, you don't even have to.
It doesn't even matter for example, they reroute traffics. So again, I'm getting a bit
[00:33:52] Nathan Wrigley: No, it's good, I'm
[00:33:53] Carl Alexander: let's say so let's say you're in an AWS region. So for example, one, the one that's the most popular, that's like a bit more critical than others is called us east 1.
[00:34:04] Nathan Wrigley: Okay
[00:34:05] Carl Alexander: So us east 1, if you have a data center region, you have multiple data centers in that region that are close by, but separated enough.
And that's really important because I don't know if you remember a couple of years ago, but OVH had a
[00:34:19] Nathan Wrigley: it's a big fire!
[00:34:20] Carl Alexander: and their data centers were exactly next to each other. And basically the fire contained contaminated both multiple data centers because of that. So you want them geographically dispersed.
But with this technology, you... Like normally with if you spin up a server, that server is going to be in one of those data centers, right? And if there's a problem with that data center, your server is going to go down unless you do some replication or things like that. But this is all handled automatically for you.
If there's some latency issues or things like that, it just gets rerouted. Your code runs anyways, so it's automagical.
[00:34:58] Nathan Wrigley: It's remarkable!
[00:34:59] Carl Alexander: yeah, no, it is remarkable. And... And honestly one of the things that I closed off my talk at WordCamp Asia on is just trying to think about hosting like this, I'm very early.
And this technology, like we talk a lot like in startups and technology there's always like the question of timing. I'm definitely early, but it's, I like to think about, there's been eras of kind of computing and let's say you're in your early WordPress, right? Like you can actually see. What the hosting companies are by when they were founded, because let's say you were in the early 2000s.
Like I'm basically the guy in the early 2000 talking about the cloud
[00:35:50] Nathan Wrigley: No
[00:35:50] Carl Alexander: like,
[00:35:50] Nathan Wrigley: okay,
[00:35:51] Carl Alexander: like in the early 2000s. And you come to a CTO. And they're like, you're like, The cloud, they're like, no, you're crazy. Like you built your own data centers, you put them in a bunker, you have some redundancy and failovers and things like that.
But like the cloud, no, you're crazy. Like I wouldn't build a hosting company on the cloud. I build a hosting company with data centers. There's also a cost aspect to it, but like mainly that was the issue. But in the 2010s. You arrive to somebody and you say Oh, I want to start a hosting company. I'm thinking of building my own data center.
So they're like, are you crazy? No
build it in the cloud. Like you're in the cloud, right? Like you don't actually go and build data centers. A couple of them did, but if you look at it you don't do that. And right now I'm at the phase where. Basically, I'm like, have you heard of serverless? And they're like, no, you're crazy.
But in WordPress, you can really see it, like the automatics, GoDaddy the new fold, they all run data centers, but they're the oldest hosting companies. But if you look at, if you look at the newer ones, the Pageleys, the WP Engines, the Pantheons, they don't run data centers. They're all on either Pantheon's on GCP WP Engine is a mix of Pagedly was AWS only.
And, GoDaddy actually bought them partially because they wanted AWS expertise. Although they fired a lot of people but, they fired a lot of them, but but that was initially, I think, an idea of them, is to just bring in that kind of expertise, because... It's different, right? Running data centers is completely different from running a cloud infrastructure, and that's the idea, right?
Let's say you're call Hancock and you're like, I want to build that, that it's not the best example because he has basically infinity money, but let's say you're a smaller yeah but like you, you're a smaller host, a plugin provider. And you're like, I would like to host, have a paid hosted version of my.
product. If you want to do that, you have to hire like cloud engineers, like systems, all this stuff to build out the infrastructure, or you could just deploy it and it runs. And then you can just worry about building that product. And that's how I finished my WordCamp Asia talk. I'm just a technologist, like I'm an like, I'm not the best at making products, as we can see I've been the most successful at it yet.
But I can't imagine the things necessarily that you can build with this with wordpress But more and more people are building actual platforms and products Where WordPress is like the operating system, like you remember when Matt said that, like you wanted like WordPress to be like the operating system of the web, but it's a bit closer to that now because it's more of an application framework.
And, like I said, I have one customer building a landing site builder do you know card like it's C A R D, I
[00:39:21] Nathan Wrigley: No, I
[00:39:21] Carl Alexander: I But it's like a single site builder, but they basically built a single page site builder with the full site editor and then each person signs up and they're like, they're a single page site that they built with Gutenberg and the full site editor and that's it.
And right. But those are products, right? They're products. And that but they don't want to have to worry about system y things, right? They want to have to just basically... I had that conversation too with Elementor at WordCamp Asia. I was talking with, I think he was engineer number one, but he was saying like, Oh, they use Kubernetes and stuff like that, and I was like that, that's really hard to calibrate really well.
And he's yeah, like your stuff's way easier. Like they have three or four engineers, like cloud engineers, just for their Black Friday sale to just like plan for that. Like it's a lot, right? But
[00:40:17] Nathan Wrigley: Huh.
[00:40:18] Carl Alexander: they have they're on a different scale, but for people that are just starting off or trying to build a product and can't afford necessarily to hire a cloud engineer or.
or things like that, this lets them start playing around with it. So that's where the enterprise thing is too. That's why on the enterprise thing I have if you want to build products because I have people building products with this right now and, or using it as like the key technology for their product, because.
That's what it lets you do and and that's a lot more difficult to do if I was hosting two, right? Because then it's like my infrastructure. Now they pay their AWS bill. Like I, I'm not in charge of their AWS
[00:41:06] Nathan Wrigley: that's interesting. That is a question I had. I was wondering who was paying that bill. Is it always, it doesn't matter which plan you're on, whether you've got the
[00:41:14] Carl Alexander: no, it doesn't matter.
[00:41:15] Nathan Wrigley: always paying it. And so is there a chance that you could end up with some just like gigantic DDoS bill because some malicious actor somewhere just decided I am going to take your site to the cleaners and,
[00:41:27] Carl Alexander: It is possible. One of my favorite examples, do you know FATM analytics?
[00:41:33] Nathan Wrigley: yeah,
[00:41:34] Carl Alexander: Yeah. Do you know FATM analytics
[00:41:37] Nathan Wrigley: Not intimately I know of it. I've seen their
[00:41:39] Carl Alexander: No, but FATM Analytics runs on this, like they're a Laravel application that runs on this and they handle billions of queries a
[00:41:47] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, no kidding. Yeah
[00:41:48] Carl Alexander: with this, and it's all just serverless that Jack Ellis was the only developer, like they were two, it was Paul Jarvis and Jack Ellis, Paul Jarvis, just a marketer it was Jack Ellis for years.
running this just with this technology, and he could sleep at night. So you can build an analytics company with this that's how good this is. So I'm very bullish on the whole thing. It's just, like I said, timing's a thing.
[00:42:27] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it's a new frontier. Got it.
[00:42:29] Carl Alexander: it's a new frontier, right? But right. Think about it this way.
Would you rather just, even if you were like. Hosting like a WooCommerce site. Like, why do I have to know how many PHP workers there are?
[00:42:42] Nathan Wrigley: I get it.
They just deployed a Vercel and it just works. Obviously, there's still calibration and performance. You have to worry about the scaling of the actual code, like performance, right? If you make a query, if you loop through a million items, it's going to take, a long time to do it if you don't think about it that way.
But it's a very different Problem than having to worry whether like my server is going to blow up when I have a sale, right? Like they're different. One is a code problem where you can think through the code and like how your code scaling with an increasing amount of data and the other one is just will my server keel over the minute I have a sale or like I do a webinar or something like that completely, or.
They're very different problems, right? And one of them is just very developer focused. And the other one is you need an entire different skill set. That's not core to your business, right? Like you, like managing servers is not what a plugin business or a team business or a product business really wants to do.
Like they want to work on their product. And the marketing and all that stuff. So this is what it lets you do.
[00:44:08] Nathan Wrigley: I'm going to link in the show notes to a variety of different pages that that Carl has got up. So for example, there's a comparison page for deploying a managed WordPress hosting website. There's, running a server and so on and so forth, but never really got into that conversation, but I think probably time has passed, but I'll certainly link to that page where you can see Carl's take on how managed WordPress hosting compares
[00:44:34] Carl Alexander: I'd like to do a marketing page more for the application. Like what I've just been talking a lot about, like just about thinking about applications. I've just been trying really hard to think about like how I want to like present that
[00:44:46] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I feel like presenting the WordPress angle is certainly from my point of view, that's really useful because I get to see, you
[00:44:53] Carl Alexander: Yeah so this is one angle. So the other angle that I don't know how many finance types listen to this, but the other angle that's very interesting. So is that normally when you think about, this is both scary and powerful. So normally when you think about a server, you pay a fixed cost per month, right?
With this technology, you pay per use. So when your code runs. You pay. If your code doesn't run, you don't
[00:45:26] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It's
[00:45:27] Carl Alexander: So this can be, this is nice, but it can be scary because bill is, can be, can vary wildly and it's hard to necessarily plan for it, or it's a different way of financial planning.
But what's really interesting is, for example, so we talked earlier about that load testing that I did. 4, 000 custom, 4, 000 orders. in 15 minutes, right? I know that I did 4, 000 orders, and I also know that it cost me 10 to process those 10, 000 or those 4, 000 order. I actually know that it cost me 0.
0025 cents, I think it is.
[00:46:13] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that sounds right. Yep. Yep.
[00:46:15] Carl Alexander: so you can now rethink how you do pricing, right? Like you could do a hosting company that charges per order
[00:46:26] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Interesting.
[00:46:28] Carl Alexander: opposed per month
[00:46:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:46:30] Carl Alexander: obviously you'd have to bake in like More like you wouldn't charge 0. 225 because you need to take in like the regular traffic like just visiting the site and things like that but and like the cdn costs, but you could like even let's say you charge like I think we were at a fraction of a cent per order.
Let's say you charge five cents per order Let's say you know you can that's a that's something right like it's different. I'm
[00:47:00] Nathan Wrigley: just,
[00:47:00] Carl Alexander: So
[00:47:01] Nathan Wrigley: it's imagine that you own a bricks and mortar shop. Imagine if you could have a completely free, you don't have to pay electricity or ground rent or anything like that when there's nobody in the shop. It's just totally free. And then as soon as customers walk in and start picking things up and browsing things and looking and potentially buying, now you're paying.
It's a little bit like
[00:47:23] Carl Alexander: there's a bit. Yeah, it's a bit like that Yeah, it's, there's a bit of a fixed cost. For
[00:47:29] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.
yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:47:30] Carl Alexander: right? You can't keep the database offline, so it's a bit like you would still have to pay for the electricity. But but basically your cashier, let's say you, let's continue with the brick and mortar store, right?
Let's say you have a brick and mortar store, you have to pay for the electricity for the lights to stay on. You can't take them off and turn them on. But, imagine your cashiers could just appear. out
[00:47:54] Nathan Wrigley: that's neat. I like that. Yeah, that's
[00:47:56] Carl Alexander: process, process it, and then they're gone. Or like those self checkout things that's basically what it is.
So your cashiers, and not only can you have it's not just one cashier, imagine you had the matrix style you could have like infinity cashiers show up at just spread out all of a sudden, and then process everybody's order checkout with all their items. And then they're gone poof, a bit like an Rick and Morty with Mr.
Mixy they're basically, they're done and they just disappear out of
[00:48:37] Nathan Wrigley: That's such a compelling argument, isn't it? I know that you said that there's some background costs which you can't avoid, and that's inevitable in business. You can't run any business without some basic cost. But if you can mitigate... Lots of the other costs, like the invisible cashier who's simply not there until is required, and then, oh, there they are.
[00:48:59] Carl Alexander: That's, that is a neat argument, and I Yeah. That was an argument I made too with AWS when I had to launch and learn, right? Because if you are paying for these really high capacity servers for the three times of the year, like beginning of the semester, midterms and finals. Or you have to bring them up and down yourself, right?
You have to remember, okay I brought it down. Let's say you, you do that with NextS or something. You say, okay give me the high capacity thing. But then you forget about it. You're paying for that.
[00:49:34] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.
[00:49:34] Carl Alexander: Until you remember to bring it down. They're not gonna bring it down for you.
It's really powerful, but like you said, there's a DDoS. I kind of forgot about that. We went on a tangent. But the DDoS thing is interesting, too, because it is... And Jack Ellis actually wrote an article at some point where he was getting DDoS and how he mitigated that and how he dealt with it.
And I took a lot of the knowledge that he shared from that and I built it into emir, but there's, there AWS. to mitigate DDoS.
[00:50:17] Nathan Wrigley: Is it things like CloudFront and things like that?
[00:50:20] Carl Alexander: CloudFront runs automatically but you would need like a web application firewall, like a firewall to block requests. You can do rate limiting, right? You can rate limit requests. Standard things that you would do on a WordPress site is just, it's a bit more scary.
[00:50:36] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, there's, there is no glass ceiling. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:50:39] Carl Alexander: right, well, There's a glass ceiling. I don't let you scale to infinity by default.
[00:50:45] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, okay.
[00:50:46] Carl Alexander: have to actually you have to actually change the setting, like the configuration option, to do it. So it's a security, it's a safety feature because I would rather be safe than sorry than be the cause of a massive bill because like you left the site running.
And by default, it can scale to like stupid amounts and somebody was like brute forcing you or something like that and you end up paying a huge bill because of that. So I'd rather have that in place, but there's mitigation solutions to that. But what's scary versus a regular server is if you get DDoS with a regular server your server breaks,
[00:51:26] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, collapses and
[00:51:27] Carl Alexander: happens, like the site did, but it, this is a bit different because the site but. now paying a lot of money because all these requests are basically garbage and you're paying for them.
[00:51:40] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.
[00:51:42] Carl Alexander: So it's so it is tricky. But so far I haven't had any customers that have had that issue, but it's always, those are always risks. And I acknowledge them. I acknowledge them and I.
I'm aware of them and that's why emir doesn't let you, this is a difference with the Laravel version, by the way, the Laravel version actually gives you doesn't cap your scaling by default. If you don't do it, that's actually like in Jack Ellis did a serverless Laravel course, and that's one of the things he says to do in the course is set a limit.
So that something like that doesn't happen and causes you like a lot of financial hardship. But one of the things I will tell you about AWS that it, AWS and pricing is always a bit tricky. But one thing I will tell you is that if you make a mistake, if something happens and you contact them, if you wake up one day and your bill was normally like 50 bucks and you wake up one day and you have a 10, 000 bill. Usually, I have not heard yet of anybody that did not get that build voided the first time around they will, they are very, they will, they are very lenient about it. I have larger concerns around it, which is basically, I think they should be more proactive at making sure this doesn't happen, because I still think that one day somebody will a student or something like that will wake up, they have a 50, 000 AWS bill and think their life's over and like off themselves and they won't know and they won't know That they could have done that.
So I would rather if they were more proactive, but I always warn people that I take This really seriously, but also if something does happen they can talk to AWS, but so far in my Three years of working on this. I have not had anybody that this has happened to. And even I'm very involved in the Lyrabel and the larger PHP initiative around this, and I have not heard of one story.
The closest story was Jack Ellis's story, which he documented online in an article where he was trying to get DDoS by a competitor. But that was the only time that I've heard of somebody. Having this kind of like situation in the entire PHP ecosystem.
[00:54:14] Nathan Wrigley: I guess a nice thing about what you've just told us though Is you're going in with your eyes open a bit because you know with great power comes great responsibility if you are aware that could happen and you see a sudden spike in your bill clearly Something's gone wrong.
It may not be your fault. It may be somebody else out there on the internet who's just decided they're going to really throw the mud at you. And you can act against that. And presumably you can work with AWS to figure that out. That's interesting. It's just, I've just looked at the time, Carl.
We've done 50 minutes already. So I want to
[00:54:46] Carl Alexander: Oh my God. We didn't even do the
[00:54:48] Nathan Wrigley: I know, but let's do that quickly, right? Let's just pivot to that. So that's EMEA. I'm going to link to all of the pages that I've found on the EMEA website. Once more EMEA app. com. You can go there and have a look about what Carl has just been talking about.
But there's a curious side to Carl's life that we wanted to explore quickly, and we will have to do this fairly quickly. So if you go to EMEA app. com forward slash open, I have never seen this in my life. I don't know what to make of it, it's fascinating. Karl has decided that he's basically going to tell you everything about himself.
Everything. Not everything, he's going to reveal the stats about Ymir, how much money it's making, what the churn is, how much his costs are. Literally, it's all there. What the heck? What are you doing?
[00:55:44] Carl Alexander: Okay. So this comes from, there's a whole kind of bootstrapper build in public thing. Some people thought it's good marketing. I'm not convinced it's especially good marketing. Most of the people that do it. Aren't really convinced that it's good marketing. I've always been very transparent.
So on carlalexander. ca, I do a year in review. I also did a talk at Pressonomics that was called Following Your Passion, where I talk about very candidly about a lot of the things that I've done. Actually we even talked I'm going to drop, I'm going to drop it in just because we talked about it before.
The podcast recording, but nobody wants to talk about how much money they make. So last year I made about 40, 000 us, which for somebody at my caliber is basically I'm underpaid by a factor of at least five, basically. And. That's just I just share a lot of that stuff publicly because for a couple reasons one I think it's really I talked about it in the following my passion thing But I find that there's a lot and this is increasing a lot on twitter and linkedin.
There's just a lot of people just shoving a lot of feel good entrepreneurial stuff and
[00:57:04] Nathan Wrigley: it's we're
[00:57:05] Carl Alexander: to fight.
[00:57:05] Nathan Wrigley: aren't we? Yeah, this is more real.
[00:57:07] Carl Alexander: Yeah,
[00:57:07] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah.
[00:57:08] Carl Alexander: but I wanted to do something that fights against what you call survivorship bias. So sir, I talked a lot about it in my talk for press nominates, but survivorship bias is basically, you only hear about the successful people because the people that fail You, they don't really write about it.
So it gives you an idea. It gives you this idea that it's really easy to do a business. And I wanted to fight against that. Like I wanted to basically show the ups and downs and the rough things because. Success, everybody feels it's always an overnight success. And then you realize that it was not for 99% of people.
It was never an overnight success, but you'd never get to see what happened before. So I really wanted to show that that was really important. Actually, this building in public thing, when I changed my pricing, I got a lot of emails from my customers that were like, basically. One of the reasons I feel confident with this pricing change is you've just really always been transparent about
[00:58:11] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, no kidding. Yeah
[00:58:12] Carl Alexander: and I like so they really appreciated that. And I but for me, it was making it public was basically sharing the journey. So making sure that people saw what was happening, how this hasn't been easy. Like I talk a few times how I thought, like I didn't think I'd make. Like millions, like Taylor Otwell, but I definitely didn't think I'd be making 18, 000 after two and a half years.
I thought I'd probably be closer to a hundred. And that's been hard, right? Because I still have to do consulting. I still have to do, I still have to find ways to survive, even though I live off like 40, 000 us, which not a lot of people, this is a, this could be an entire talk in itself. And. But the second part of it was just, it helps with accountability.
So there's one of the pages, not the open page, but there's another page called reports.
[00:59:14] Nathan Wrigley: Is that
[00:59:14] Carl Alexander: And I send a report every, yeah. So for its last reports, I send a report every two weeks. About what I've been
[00:59:23] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I get these. I get your email.
[00:59:26] Carl Alexander: Yeah. So what I've been doing, what's happening. What I've been working on, like how much I'm struggling with marketing right now.
We talked a bit about it before the podcast, like I'm not marketing enough, but it's a hard product to market. I, I'm used to marketing weird. Hard niche things. But this one's really hard as well. But it keeps me accountable because I know that I want to show something every two weeks and it makes me continue working on it.
And it builds like this habit of like continually improving the product, working on things, thinking about things, trying to solve how to grow this thing into something. Because like I said, I really. I really screwed up the timing, but I there's no question in my mind that in 10 years people will be like, Hey aren't you going to spin up a droplet on digital ocean?
They're like, No, you're freaking crazy. I'm going to deploy my code and it's just going to run. That's going to be what people are going to be saying in 10 years. I'm 100% convinced of that. And so it's just how do I bridge that gap in time is like the challenge right
[01:00:41] Nathan Wrigley: yeah, it's really interesting because one of the first things that you hit with is the number of subscribers. To me, I'm back on the open page, by the way, and then the annual run rate. And then you've got this graph, which at the very beginning, so that the product launched in January, 2021, or at least it was available, to purchase because that's the first
[01:01:01] Carl Alexander: No, I started in February, but I just decided I'd start in January
[01:01:04] Nathan Wrigley: I see. So that you had a nought. Yeah, you had a zero. Yeah. Okay, so it began in February and it looked like for the first, let's say, six months of 2021, you were on a quite a clip, especially between June and July. Things look really good. It was almost like a 45 degree curve on the axis in the way that I'm viewing it.
So impressive. Then it levels right out for the next probably
[01:01:29] Carl Alexander: 2022 was rough. 2022 was flat, essentially, like it,
[01:01:35] Nathan Wrigley: a little bit of growth, but
[01:01:36] Carl Alexander: the end.
[01:01:38] Nathan Wrigley: and in fact at some points it drops down, but then now May 2023, April, May 2023 to Ju July You look like you're getting back in the swing of things. It looks good.
[01:01:50] Carl Alexander: but now I changed the pricing.
[01:01:52] Nathan Wrigley: Oh no, it's gonna go down
[01:01:53] Carl Alexander: it. So no, I don't know if it's gonna go down again, because if you cancel, you lose the grandfathered plan, right? So I think it's gonna make this more or less a baseline. I just don't know how many people are going to sign up for personal, which is interesting, but for me I want to try to find a couple of agencies, basically, because if I can find a couple of agencies,
[01:02:18] Nathan Wrigley: you get, yeah,
[01:02:19] Carl Alexander: then it good, then I'm good, because they're billed annually, and I think there'll be better customers anyways.
But yeah, no that's been the build in public. Like I told you, it'd be hard to keep it at a 45 minutes with me. It's okay.
[01:02:40] Nathan Wrigley: Honestly,
[01:02:41] Carl Alexander: but.
[01:02:42] Nathan Wrigley: I think it's really refreshing. I love the open source nature of things, but it's not, I was saying to you before we hit record, that in the UK, probably more broadly Europe, but certainly in the UK money is not something that people talk about. In fact, quite the opposite.
It would be the height of rudeness to, to ask somebody what they
[01:03:01] Carl Alexander: Especially for a Brit. Especially for a
[01:03:04] Nathan Wrigley: It's that question that, your infant child will say to somebody and you'll be like, Oh, don't ask that, you rude little child! You know, you sort of,
[01:03:13] Carl Alexander: I find that it's still the same way here. I just volunteer the information,
[01:03:19] Nathan Wrigley: think it's wonderful, it's so refreshing.
But also the fact that
[01:03:23] Carl Alexander: To continue with that,
[01:03:25] Nathan Wrigley: Sorry, go on, say again.
[01:03:27] Carl Alexander: yeah, just to continue with that I also did a Twitter tread. That's pinned to my profile that talks about when I was trying to get GitHub sponsors to help me fill in a bit of income.
And that's been a journey in itself, like that just went up and then people started canceling and that's it. But but I talk candidly about money on that one too, basically, because it. A lot of what you do in WordPress is done for free and that's like another topic I want to talk about a lot at WordCamps like in the next decade is like the cost of open source and contributing
[01:04:05] Nathan Wrigley: yeah,
[01:04:06] Carl Alexander: and the real cost to that because I organized WordCamp Montreal for 10 years like I've probably given like Multiple thousands of hours to WordPress of like free time.
And it's hard, right? Like it's hard. Like it was a choice, but it, not everybody can make that choice. And I talked about it in my Pressnomics talk it, my choice. is born of privilege. Like I have the privilege of being able to do that. Most people don't. And I feel like we need to acknowledge that and offer more opportunities to people to contribute to find financial stability in other ways.
And also make sure the ecosystem stays healthy. Like WordPress uses a lot of open source things that we don't financially contribute back to.
[01:04:57] Nathan Wrigley: Do you know what, Carl? We said at the beginning that we had no idea where this conversation was going to end up, and so it is proven to be. But, now that we've got to an hour, I think we should probably cap it off. Maybe
[01:05:08] Carl Alexander: Yeah, we'll kill
[01:05:09] Nathan Wrigley: conversation on another day in another different way. You never know, there might be some kind of video content that we could put out around what EMEA actually
[01:05:17] Carl Alexander: Yeah, for sure.
[01:05:18] Nathan Wrigley: that kind of stuff.
But, for now Carl Just drop the one or the two best places that people could get in touch with you Should they have listened to this and think actually Carl's somebody I want to speak to
[01:05:32] Carl Alexander: Yeah. I would say Twitter's always been good. Even though it's falling off a cliff, I really haven't found something else to replace Twitter. I'm just not posting a lot anymore, but if you contact me on that, it's usually good. I have a newsletter at carlexander. ca for coding, for learning object oriented programming, because I also self published a book which we didn't cover either.
And then eMirror has a the reports thing. So the reports is also a newsletter. If you want to just hear about eMirror itself, I would say sign up for the reports.
[01:06:12] Nathan Wrigley: I get, I this email every couple of weeks dropping into my inbox
[01:06:15] Carl Alexander: yeah, it's every two weeks unless I'm traveling for like work camp or something like that. And then they it might be, it might get a small gap, but I've been very regular I just did my 55th one, I think this week, or 56th, so it's still going, so yeah, those would be the ways to reach
[01:06:36] Nathan Wrigley: That's perfect. That's great. So I'll dig out your Twitter. I'll dig out your links to your reports and all of that, and I'll post them in the show notes. So head over to wpbuilds. com. Search for the episode with Carl Alexander in it. Carl with a C, by the way, just in case you were going to spell that wrong.
And Carl, thank you so much for chatting to me today. Honestly, what fun. Great.
[01:06:57] Carl Alexander: Yeah, I know, thanks thank you so much for having me.
[01:07:01] Nathan Wrigley: Well, I hope that you enjoyed that. It was a real pleasure chatting to Carl Alexander, all about Ymir and serverless in general. If you have any commentary about that, head over to WP Builds.com, search for episode number 350, and leave us a comment there.
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