Speaker Highlights: Tom Willmot

If you are following the business trends in WordPress, the terms “Remote agency” and “100% distributed” are something you’re probably quite familiar with. It’s a curious and growing phenomenon around the WordPress ecosystem – employees are all over the place, no fixed hours or office to go to. That allows agencies to hire talent all over the world and do excellent work for clients in all time zones. Running a remote agency is a fascinating and challenging task. For some though, it’s the only way to go.

Today we’d like you to meet Tom Willmot – the CEO of Human Made, one of Europe’s 100% distributed WordPress agencies. Tom is coming to Seville to share his experience on running a remote company, but before you go to see his talk in June, read on to learn a bit more about him and his Humans.


Tom Willmot. Photo by Margarit Ralev, Localancers.com

Hey Tom, could you introduce yourself in a few words?

I’m the founder and CEO of Human Made, I’ve been making a living on WordPress since 2007 and a user since sometime early 2005. I live in rural England with my wife Leanne and our cat McNulty (yep from The Wire).

How did you get started using WordPress?

I started freelancing at around 18 mostly as a front-end developer. I first started using WordPress to power my (now long dead) blog and then my business site (back then I called myself Edge Designs, no idea why :-). As a front-end developer I found WordPress far easier to get my head around than the other things out there, it really was the gateway drug that lead to my eventual addiction.

Why did you settle on WordPress?

After I’d built myself a the aforementioned blog and business site on WP I built a handful of sites for friends and family and then decided to call myself a WordPress developer. Turns out there weren’t a ton of people doing that back in 2007 and I quickly found my way into some pretty crazy (for me at the time) gigs. I built http://geek.com which was pretty cool.

How did Human Made get started?

My brother, Joe Hoyle started working with me; freelancing sometimes for his own clients and sometimes for clients we shared. By early 2010 we had some solid projects under our belt and things were going well. We decided to hire and realised we’d need a company, so we jointly founded Human Made and duly hired Matthew Haines-Young. We didn’t put a ton of thought into the name at the time, although I remember distinctly liking Made By Elephant at the time.

Glad you decided on humans instead of elephants! Can you tell us a bit more about HM as a company? What’s unique about it?

It’s somewhat clichéd, but I’ve always wanted Human Made to be the kind of company I want to work at. I didn’t spend a lot of time in “normal” jobs before going freelance but the time I did spend left me feeling that companies, even good ones, often approach employees from a position of distrust and ultimately that leads to frustration on the part of the employee and causes the company to miss out on a ton of things that person could offer if only they’d be given the freedom and support to pursue them. I try hard to ensure Human Made isn’t that. We’re 100% distributed, have a pretty flat structure and we try to optimise everything to ensure the good people we hire can do great work.

 What’s the secret of keeping everyone at the top of their game in a 100% distributed environment?

I actually think the answer to this is the same whether you’re distributed or not, although as with a lot of things, not all being in the same room makes it more important that you get it right. I’ve mostly found that people are at the top of their game when they are working on things they are passionate about and in a way which suits them. At Human Made we’re always striving for that. I think a lot about how we can structure the way we work to ensure people have the autonomy and support needed to do the great work they want to do.

Which are the most valuable tools HM uses in day to day communication?

We live in Slack, it replaces a lot of the features of being in the same physical location with the additional benefits of things like a searchable history of everything we’ve ever said, the ability to quickly catchup on conversations that happened whilst you were asleep (pretty useful with a team spread across the world) and integrations with nearly all the other tools and systems we use.

In addition to Slack we make liberal use of WordPress to run a bunch of internal blogs, we use Zoom for video calling (it can handle more people than Google Hangouts. We also use screenhero a bunch for 1-1 screensharing/co-working.)

A Human Made Company Hangout

A Human Made Company Hangout

Human Made has a huge chunk of people who contribute heavily to the project. How do you keep the balance between their company and community time?

Contributing back to the WordPress project and community is one of the highest value things we do, internally we treat contributing back as work and we plan it into future resource planning as such. Contributing back helps us hire better people, it helps us win better clients and it helps us charge more for our work, it’s a real no brainer. Even if all of those things weren’t true, we’ve built a business on-top of WordPress and so it would be silly not to invest heavily in it’s future success.

Everyone at Human Made is encouraged and empowered to dedicate some of their time to contributing back to the project, some dedicate more than others, some to the core code base, others to polyglots, organising WordCamps and meetups, documentation, BuddyPress etc.

Tell us a bit about yourself? Apart from running a WordPress business, what drives you?

Human Made certainly takes up a lot of my time and thought-space and at the moment it really embodies the things I care deeply about. I’m a huge believer in people and the idea that by treating people with respect and giving them support they can achieve great things.

When I step out of the day-to-day stresses of cashflow and clients I’m really driven to be a part of the amazing things that are happening in the world at the moment. I really believe we live in a pivotal time and there are so many amazing people striving for amazing things and concurrently so many huge challenges facing us, it’s really exciting. I also like to climb and read and hangout at home with Leanne. I’ll be a father soon 😅

What’s your wceu talk about? What should people expect?

I’m planning on talking about some of the things I’ve learned through the last few years growing and managing the team at Human Made, what management can look like in a distributed company, hiring, internal communication etc. I’m also interested to hear what other’s would like to hear me share, so if you have any thoughts, tweet me @tomwillmot!

Thanks Tom! Looking forward to your talk!

If you have any thoughts or questions on remote agency work for Tom, shoot him a question on Twitter. Don’t miss his talk Things I’ve Learned Managing a Team of 25 Humans Spread Across the Globe on Saturday afternoon. 

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