Today we’re joined by Cory Miller. Cory is a former newspaper journalist turned full-time entrepreneur. In 2008, he started iThemes, which builds web design software and offers cutting-edge web design training for thousands of customers around the globe.
Cory is a passionate entrepreneur who believes in finding and maintaining work happiness (for himself and others) that aligns with your purpose and plays to your strengths, talents and ambitions, while challenging you to do great things with your life.
This episode is brought to you by StudioPress Sites.
In this 43-minute episode Brian Gardner, Lauren Mancke, and Cory Miller discuss:
- The founding of iThemes in 2008
- Comradery and Co-opetition in the WordPress community
- What lies beneath the surface of entrepreneurship
- The importance of talking openly about mental health
- How mental health can affect your business
- How to find lasting career happiness
Listen to StudioPress FM below ...
The Show Notes
- Follow Cory on Twitter
- Visit CoryMiller.com
- It’s Time To Start Talking Openly About Mental Health
- Leader.team: A Business Podcast by Cory Miller and Matt Danner
- The Div
The Importance of Entrepreneurial Mental Health
Voiceover: Rainmaker FM. StudioPress FM is designed to help creative entrepreneurs build the foundation of a powerful digital business. Tune in weekly as StudioPress founder, Brian Gardner, and VP of StudioPress, Lauren Mancke, share their expertise on web design, strategy, and building an online platform.
Lauren Mancke: On this week’s episode, Brian and I are joined by Cory Miller, the founder of iThemes, to discuss the importance of mental health in being an entrepreneur.
Brian Gardner: Hey, everyone. Welcome to StudioPress FM. I am your host, Brian Gardner. I am joined, as usual, with the Vice President of StudioPress, Lauren Mancke.
Lauren Mancke: Hello, everyone. We are starting a new series on the show this week, one that we’re very excited about. We’re taking a step outside of the Genesis community and talking with members of the WordPress community.
Brian Gardner: Today, we’re joined by Cory Miller. Cory is a former newspaper journalist turned full-time entrepreneur, like many of us — the entrepreneur part, not so much the journalist part. In 2008, he started iThemes, which builds web design software and offers cutting edge web design training for thousands of customers around the globe. Cory is a passionate entrepreneur who believes in finding and maintaining work happiness for himself and for others that aligns also with your purpose and plays to your strengths, talents, ambitions, while challenging you to do great things with your life. That’s a mouthful. That’s awesome. Cory, it’s a huge pleasure to have you here on the show, StudioPress FM. Welcome.
Cory Miller: Thanks, Brian and Lauren, for having me on the show.
Brian Gardner: This is going to be a good one. I’m excited about this, mainly because it’s a little bit of a departure from the stuff we had been talking about, which was general business practice. Covering a number of different things. And it’s something that I know is very important to you, as it is to me. In a way, I’ve almost become envious of the way that you’ve been able to communicate and — I wouldn’t say grow an audience around this, but talk to a very particular topic that I think is important to all of us.
I want to get this started by setting the foundation for you and I, going back to the beginning. You and I have known each other for almost 10 years, believe it or not. A time when we were both working normal 40 hour a week jobs. Back then, we were tinkering around with WordPress as a hobby. I think back to that time and remember all of the conversations you and I have had on Gmail chat.
I wish I would have somehow saved those, because those were groundbreaking and set the foundation of where we are here today. It’d be fun to look back — almost in a diary sense — to see what were the things and feelings and stuff like that we were talking about. I want to ask you, what stands out in those early years about our relationship, but more importantly, what we discussed and built and started back then? How did that lay the foundation of where you and iThemes and those who work for you — where that’s all at right now.
The Founding of iThemes in 2008
Cory Miller: Yeah, those were the glory days, right, Brian? Those were the fun days. How I originally met Brian was I needed a theme for my WordPress blog. I found one of his great themes. I was trying to think what the name of that was. I have to find that. Found this guy named Brian Gardner and decided to read his blog and thought, “Man, we have a lot in common.”
I reached out, and before you know it we struck up this great friendship. I think we knew each other probably over a year before we actually met in person. What strikes me about that time back then, Brian, and I hope this is resonating for you too, is comradery. We were one of the first to be doing what we’re doing back then. The theme market was pretty abysmal and you had already released a number of themes. I was behind you trying to do the same, going, “I just want to learn.”
You were a great help to me and a resource as I tried to learn WordPress, web design, HTML, CSS, and put out free themes. When I think back — it’s comradery. Our Gmail chats you’re talking about, it makes me smile thinking about those, because it was just another person going through the same or similar experiences I was. We could just go, “What do you think about this?” “Ah, this is what I think.” “Well, what do you think about this?” Being each other’s sidekicks, I guess, is the way I felt about the early days.
Of course, that laid the huge foundation for what would eventually become iThemes and StudioPress. You quit your job before me. I quit my job after you. But I think we started on the same date, if my history, my memory serves me correctly. That was just a fun experience of going … Two kids is how I thought of myself, trying to make business of this. Man, looking back, when you said 10 years it’s like, “Holy cow, it’s been 10 years.” It’s crazy to think back about all of that. It’s been an awesome ride. That was, of course, the foundation for everything I’ve done. The success that I’ve enjoyed at iThemes and WordPress.
Lauren Mancke: I think a lot of people have a similar story of when they’re starting out in WordPress. That’s a great thing about the community. They’ve teamed up with these other people and they’ve gotten to know people and have helped them along the way. What about WordPress drew you in, and why were you so willing to back then to hitch your wagon to WordPress?
Cory Miller: When I found WordPress — I had originally started out on Blogger. I’m one of those original story people that started out in Blogger then went to WordPress and saw the light. The organization I was working for, we were trying to rebuild our website. We were looking at a bunch of options and one of them was Joomla. I thought, “That looks like a helicopter dashboard. It’s so overwhelming.” Then I installed WordPress and I’m like, “This is just easy to use.” I think it was just easy to use software.
I think WordPress as a learning tool was the biggest help for me. WordPress is just awesome. I think it’s still a key foundational tool for learning web design and web development, because it’s an awesome platform. Being so easy to use and simple to use. I can write posts, click publish, and I’m going. The five-minute install back then, being able to quickly install WordPress. It helped me become a web designer. Now, I’m not a web designer today. My team keeps me away from code or anything that’s sensitive. It’s just a great tool for learning.
Brian Gardner: It’s funny. People could say now the same thing you said about Joomla, that WordPress in and of itself sometimes feels like a helicopter dashboard. That’s just to speak to the evolution over the last 7, or 8, or 10 years of stuff. It’s had to evolve because of the fact that it became more than just a blogging platform, so I say that somewhat tongue in cheek. But you’re right, WordPress back then was such an easy tool. Obviously you and I both learned our way through it.
Hundreds and thousands of other community members — both as users, developers, or designers — they’ve all been able to teach themselves that stuff. Yeah, I love that WordPress came into my life and has obviously changed it. The same thing can be said for you as well, Cory, and Lauren — all of us here. Most of those listening — probably the same thing. It’s safe to say we share the start of our entrepreneurial journey together. We talked about the Gmail chats. And in those chats we got really deep with each other. We shared our revenue numbers. We shared business plans. We were close. In fact, years ago — it’s probably been, gosh, 6 or 7 years since we took that cruise together.
Comradery and Co-opetition in the WordPress Community
Brian Gardner: In the WordPress space, our relationship was probably one of the first examples of what you call that comradery. In layman’s terms it’s called this co-opetition thing, a term that we now use to describe the beauty of the open source community where members who are competitors help each other work through this thing we call life. Talk to us about that. I wouldn’t call it a brotherhood, but how that co-opetiton back then helped start iThemes. More importantly, why it’s been so important for you to continue that over the years. I’ve seen that from the outside as you and I have gone our own ways to some degree. I can still see from where I’m at that that has been an important thing for you and that you’ve maintained that all this time.
Cory Miller: I think entrepreneurship is a lonely, tough job most times. In the beginning — you were a few steps ahead of me, of course. You were so gracious and generous to share what you were doing, what you were learning. That helped me tremendously. I think I took that example of being generous from you, and also the spirit of WordPress and open source software, and continued that. I try to help people as best I can going forward.
I get real touchy about … I don’t want to say competition or frenemies or anything like that. In my traditional — probably the way I was either built or whatever — is I think of competition and I want to squash competition. I want to beat them. I don’t like that when I have so many good friends that are technically my competitors. I don’t like thinking about people as my competition. That’s always been this hard thing. I think you set a great example in the beginning to say, “Hey, everybody can do good together.”
We shared pretty intimate, detailed stuff about what we were doing in the very beginning. I would say, I don’t get to that degree as far as now — business plans and financial stuff with people. I haven’t shared my revenue number, I don’t think, in a very long time. The principles of what are really good for you and I, being sidekicks even though we had separate businesses — trying to help each other and doing good together. What I’ve gotten the most out of the relationships I’ve had with you and going forward has been just knowing I’m not alone. That we can be technically competitors but there’s enough space for all of us to do good and do well.
The comradery — back to that — saying, “Hey, I remember …” I think you’re going to ask me about this at some point, but when I was going through my divorce in 2010 I had a good friend of mine named Grant Griffiths give me a call and go, “Hey man, what’s going on? You just don’t look good.” I shared everything that pretty much five people on the planet knew about at that point. That was just one example of saying that I think the most I’ve gotten out of the friendships I’ve had — who happened to be competitors too — has been the emotional support of knowing there’s people going through the same things I’m going through, the highs and the lows.
Brian Gardner: Some of these people, would you consider them friends first and then either competitors or business acquaintances second?
Cory Miller: I think I’ve tended to always think of them as friends first. Then sometimes I realize that not everyone values that friendship as much as I do. At some point you realize, “If I’m not in the business, are we going to be talking as much and doing all these things?” It’s a reminder. We had some friends in Oklahoma City in July, about 25 people. I realized it was really special that we were able to have our friends come into town and roll out the red carpet for them.
But then the question hit the back of my mind, to be honest with you. It was like, “If I’m not the CEO of iThemes and doing this stuff in WordPress …” Those people are amazing people, like you, Brian. I’m like, “We probably won’t have as much in common if I’m not a part of the WordPress community or iThemes.” I don’t know. That was probably a little refresher.
I tend to think friend first because I’m a very loyal person. Then realize, “Okay, this is how we met.” Brian, you introduced me to Jason Schuller 00:12:01 back in the day, I think 2008. I count him as one of my most dear friends in life. He lives in Seattle thousands of miles away and isn’t even in the WordPress community anymore, but I value that friendship. I think there are those that have transcended the business competition, partnership — whatever you want to call it. They’ve become really dear friends that I care about and want to keep in touch with.
Brian Gardner: We’re going to take a quick break, but we’ll be right back with StudioPress FM.
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What Lies Beneath the Surface of Entrepreneurship
Lauren Mancke: Aside from iThemes, you are involved in a number of other projects. You maintain a personal blog at CoryMiller.com. A few years ago you started an organization called The Div, and recently, a business podcast at Leader.Team. Can you share a little bit about each one of those?
Cory Miller: I think I’m like Brian, if I don’t continue to do new projects I get bored. I subscribe to those newsletters and this podcast and stuff. That’s what we shared a long time ago. “Hey, here’s a new project I’m doing.” “Okay, that’s awesome. I’m going to do this project too.” It’s always having to have a project in front of you, I think. My personal blog is just to share experiences and expertise that I’ve learned that might not fit our iThemes audience. It’s more focused on entrepreneurship and leadership.
The Div is something I’m very proud of. It’s our nonprofit we started five years ago. The mission of The Div is basically to teach kids technology, help kids learn code, light the spark that Brian and I began learning 10 years ago or whatever — that lit our fire. Helping do that for kids earlier on. I’m excited about The Div. I’m glad you asked me about it today, because we just got accepted to be a regional partner for Oklahoma for Code.org. Next week, our Executive Director, McKaylan Danner, and I and my partner Jay will be at the White House learning about next steps at Code.org. We’re super excited about that partnership. It’s just trying to do good for the last couple years and then realizing Code.org has everything that we wanted to do here in Oklahoma to help kids learn technology.
The last you asked about, Leader.Team, was essentially — one of my best friends, my sidekick, my COO Matt Danner and I just realized we’ve made a lot of mistakes in eight and a half years. We want to share those experiences and what we learned, and let people take the truth or the things that they need from those stories. Again, I think Brian and I are a lot alike. If we don’t have a project in front of us we get bored.
Brian Gardner: You said mistakes. This was not on the agenda, but it made me think of last week when I was in Dallas at Circles Conference. I was on a panel onstage and we were asked, “What were the reasons you may have rebranded your company?” I immediately raised my hand and mentioned that for me it was a cease and desist letter that I had gotten way back in the day. That’s why I rebranded to StudioPress. This idea of entrepreneurs and business and making mistakes is fresh in my mind and you just brought it up. I’m going to ask an impromptu question, if you don’t mind. I’m sure you don’t, because you’re such a transparent guy. Give us a few examples of a few mistakes you’ve made over the years. Ultimately, these are probably things that at the core maybe have bubbled up into some of the stuff that we’re going to talk about a little bit later on with mental health and so on.
Cory Miller: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you asking the question too. I remember that cease and desist letter. I remember that chat. You going, “Hey, we just got hit with this.” I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I’m sorry.” All the emotions around that. I felt that empathetically because you were going through that and we were chatting quite a bit.
As far as mistakes goes, I try to stay as positive as I can. Mistakes are always learning lessons for me, or I at least try to make them learning lessons for me. I would say the biggest mistakes or learning lessons have been around people. We’ve had to part ways with team members in the past — with customers too. I think the biggest mistakes are probably just making sure we’re doing right by everybody, but thinking through the learning aspects of, “Okay, how do we do this different so we don’t replicate this?”
When we have to let someone go from the team or whatever, that’s a tremendously impactful thing — often negatively, but in the long haul positively for everyone involved. How do we get better as we do that? We’ve made some hiring mistakes, team mistakes over the years. We’ve really tried not to do that as much. We’ve made a number of product and brand mistakes.
I don’t know if that’s exactly where you wanted the question to go, Brian, but we pulled WebDesign.com into the iThemes brand and we thought, “Yeah, just turn on the domain name and it would go bezonkers,” and all that kind of stuff. It didn’t. We eventually let that go back. Some of the product mistakes have been obviously huge. I don’t know if you classify those as mistakes. Probably in 2008, 2009, exploring movable type themes — that was interesting and costly. I’m trying to think back some. It’s not that I don’t have a wealth of mistakes, by the way.
How Mental Health Can Affect Your Business
Brian Gardner: Yeah, right. I hear you. Okay, let’s get into the mental health element of it, because that’s really what this is all about and what I want to pick your brain about. It’s safe to say that we can all agree this is an issue we face as entrepreneurs. You mentioned that at the very beginning that being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely job. It’s something I’ve experienced a multitude of times in a number of different ways over the years.
Quite honestly, it’s had a significant impact on how we run our business. It’s hard to separate personal from business or mental health from business, because at some point they’re going to intersect. It happens daily and hourly. For me it’s almost every other hour. “Oh my gosh, should I do this or should I go do that?” It’s always at the top of my mind. It’s something that I’ve struggled with over the years. Something that I’ve allowed to affect the relationship we’ve had over the years. At what point did you encounter the initial wave of “it’s not just all peaches and roses”?
Cory Miller: Gosh, probably that first year as we had to let people go. The whole thing in the background about WordPress and the GPO controversy that was going on around themes. That was the first wave of, “This isn’t all peaches and cream. It’s a tough job. It’s a tough sport. It’s a tough game to play.” Having played it for eight and a half years, both of us, in the ups and downs, it’s a cold shower to say, “Okay, it’s just not going to be all good. There’s going to be some really trying times for that.”
I think that some of the ones along the way over the last eight and a half years — the biggest was when I went through my divorce in 2010. That affected the entire team, the business, and me, obviously, personally. Trying to get through that. That’s when personal life and business life — my personal affected business in a tremendous way. Gosh, looking back, Brian, to when we started themes back 10 years ago. Golly, 10 years. There were few people doing themes or even quality themes. Now today, you look and there are themes and premium theme companies all over the place. Not to mention StudioPress’s long tenure in the space. But also you’ve got ThemeForce, which has gotten substantially better. A lot of offerings there. It kind of commoditized that market in so many ways.
The constant competition, which is good, I think. I don’t like to admit that always. But the constant competition within WordPress makes everything better. That means we’ve always got to be a step ahead. We derive about two to three percent of our revenue from themes today. Eight years ago we derived 100 percent of our revenue from themes. How much that has changed in the few short years here and how it’s going to change in the future, too. We don’t know where that necessarily is always going to be taking us. To be ready for that.
The constant competition — it’s a resetting thing for me every single day almost. You’ll come in from a weekend and look at yourselves in the mirror and go, “Oh, gosh.” You’ll start feeling bad about yourself. You have a down week or whatever that is. I think it happens to everybody, by the way. There are some that are more open with it and honest about it. We all have the down days. That first day probably that happened in the first year, second year, when you’re like, “Is the server down? Are sales not happening today?” You think the sky is falling.
When team members leave — either voluntarily or involuntarily — that’s always a down moment in business. I think preparing myself to be resilient. Each issue I’ve gone through over the last few years — trying to build more and more resilient muscle to myself, knowing that it’s only a matter of time when there’s going to be another dip.
Lauren Mancke: Being an entrepreneur is definitely a difficult job. It’s really something you put your whole self into, like you said. It’s only natural for that to spill out into other aspects of your life. Your personal life can spill back into your business life. That can happen when you work remotely. Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, if you work remotely. You said that someone saw you and they said, “What’s going on with you? You don’t look well.” When you work remotely, you don’t have people who can actually see you and see what’s going on with you. What do you think is so difficult for entrepreneurs to deal with, and what major contributions do you see?
The Importance of Talking Openly About Mental Health
Cory Miller: The way I look at being an entrepreneur is when you guys have been asking me about experiences and stories, the down and the highs, I always think about an iceberg sitting out in the middle of an ocean. That’s the way I think most of us entrepreneurs live our lives. At the top is everything you see. That’s the success. That’s the happiness. That’s the, “Hey everything is awesome, going great.” It’s the Tweets, it’s the Instagram posts with cute kids, and being on exotic vacations, or whatever it is. That’s all that success stuff that most of us only see.
The other 70% that you don’t see is the suffering below it. How I’ve been able to look at my life as an entrepreneur and deal with it better is thinking of the iceberg and going, “There’s stuff underneath the surface that I’m not sharing that I’m suffering with, struggling with.” Not every single day do I feel depression or do I have some particular pain that’s just killing me. There’s things under the surface that affects the top of the surface.
I think the more we can share those things that are happening with trusted like-minded people, the healthier we’re going to be. I talk a lot about having a professional counselor that I see, on average, four times a year. I put it on my calendar every quarter to make an appointment with Kyle, my counselor, to talk through the issues. Just knowing that I needed some outside perspective, a professional that’s trained and licensed to help me walk through some of the things that I deal with on a day to day basis. Even if I think there are not many things underneath the surface, I still try to do that. Going back and knowing that I was very unhealthy in the early part of our business, consumed with jealousy and envy, anger, frustration — all those things.
Now I go, “If I’m going to live a healthy life and continue to do this job for the next 10 years, then I’ve got to be healthy.” And I want to be healthy and happy doing that. I think to your question, Lauren, is why don’t we do that? Why don’t we share the issues? There was about a six month period where I was going through a lot of personal pain and didn’t share it with hardly anyone that actually cared about me, that loved me, that wanted the best for me. I kept that in for about six months. I think the reason why is there’s a healthy sense of pride, a healthy sense of ego, and a healthy sense of fear. I think those things get in our way. We don’t want to ask for help but we know we need it.
These things of fear, pride, ego, or whatever, they get in the way to be willing to say, “I’m hurting. I need some help.” It took me being on my face and being dragged across gravel to realize I needed to go reach out for help. The first people I asked help for were my parents, then eventually counselors and other friends that rushed into my life as other people were running out of my life.
I’m trying to get down to it because I still do it today, let things get in the way so that I don’t share what I’m really going through. I trace it back to fear. “Am I going to be embarrassed? Are people going to use this against me? Will people really know the real me?” Those things that are obstacles to sharing the stuff underneath the surface are the things that I try to work on. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I’m trying to work on them so I can be healthier and happier as a result of it.
Brian Gardner: Yeah. Leo from Buffer set the trend, at least for me, to do the transparency thing more from a business and numbers standpoint. When I think of it in terms of who out there — and not even just the WordPress space, but the online entrepreneurial space — who has started to set that trend of the personal transparency, obviously you come to mind.
In fact, as I was preparing for all this I thought it would be fun to Google “Cory Miller mental health.” I know it’s kind of a funny phrase, but I have the ability to be able to find what I need to on Google. I’m like, “That’s perfectly phrased for what I was looking for.” It’s quite obvious how important this is to you, because I see results all over Google with that search term. There’s articles in Inc. Magazine, a podcast you did on Office Hours with Carrie Dills and Pippin Williamson, and a slew of other results that came in like that.
The one that stands out to me the most, though, is the piece you just published not too long ago on your own site titled, “It’s Time to Start Talking Openly about Mental Health.” You had just spoken at WordCamp Denver, and in your words, shared the most “personal, intimate, transparent, open, and perhaps the most impactful” talk you’ve ever given.
I followed that up with the one on your site. I wanted to read a little bit of that just for our listeners. Cory says, “It’s not too often that I cry, let alone cry in public, let alone cry on stage, but I did. Sharing some of the most personal stories of my life, many of which I’ve never shared publicly was intense to say the least. Thinking about the people who’ve made a difference in my life, often the life-saving difference, just opened up a part of me I don’t share too often … and I lost it.”
In that talk, you shared some intimate things you’ve alluded to a couple of times here already on the show with your divorce, the solitary confinement you put yourself in for six months, and your general insecurities, and as you’ve also said, fear. You have thousands of customers at iThemes, more than that who follow you through social media, and a slew of folks who look up to you — what was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Why did you finally break down and decide to go against the grain and set this trend, and just say, “It’s okay to be real and it’s okay to struggle?”
Cory Miller: I remember telling my wife Lindsay — we’ve been married 5 years in July — I said, “Hey I’m submitting this talk.” A lot of things I wanted to share earlier but couldn’t for a number of reasons. I said, “I’m submitting this talk and when I push publish here on this talk, I’m afraid they might actually want me to do it. But once I’m done I’m committed.” Sure enough, they did it. There was probably three talks I submitted. Sure enough, they said, “Yes, we want you to do that.” I was like, “Okay, now I got to do that.” Man, leading up to that week to being able to share the story publicly — that basically I had been through a divorce and all the things that you mentioned above. It was just time, I think.
I want to be clear. It wasn’t therapeutic. It wasn’t intended for my own therapy. It was intended to help others. I know as I’ve shared my struggles in the past with depression, struggles with divorce, struggles with being an entrepreneur like we talked about, it’s always resonated with people. It always seems to be the most impactful thing I’ve ever done in my life, to share simply my story and being open and honest about it.
It was just time. It had been a couple years since all those things had happened. I had put them to rest in my heart and soul. I thought, “It’s time now to share with other people.” Going through and just sharing this story, being on stage and my emotions coming through me, I said, “It’s time.” I’ve experienced more success than I ever could have dreamed of in my life. That doesn’t necessarily mean financial stuff, just more success in my life than I ever thought possible. I’m so thankful for where my life is now and what it would have been five, six, eight years ago. It’s gotten better even through some adversity.
I thought, “There needs to be more honesty and transparency and genuineness in entrepreneurship.” We always put these facades up. This mask of “everything is awesome.” And all that above surface stuff. I thought, “There’s a time for vulnerability to share stories that resonates and helps people.” For one day alone, to help somebody else by sharing my story, to go, “I’m not alone, there’s other people going through the same thing.” Pooling some of the impact and the influence we’ve been able to have through WordPress just saying, “Okay, well if someone that’s been in this business eight years and been in WordPress 10 can share their story, then I can go and get help and seek help.” That’s really what it was. It was time to share the story to help other people.
Lauren Mancke: It sounds like that speech in WordCamp Denver was very powerful. What kind of reaction did you get from people? Did they come up to you afterwards? Did they say, “You really touched me with this?”
Cory Miller: It’s pretty incredible. Not even expected. I’m sitting up there sharing the story, opening my soul to everybody there. I ended up crying, Brian mentioned this. I’m sitting there, trying to get myself together. My wife is in the audience. Our longest-tenured team member was in the audience. Another awesome team member was in the audience. Sharing all that in front of all them was pretty tough. What happened was I shared the story and I’m sitting there basically going, “I want to go in a hole and cry now.” I got a standing ovation, which I didn’t expect. The thing that I wanted to do is just say, “I don’t care what happens. I just want to get this out.” That was incredible to have people really affirm after you’re sitting up there crying at a WordCamp talking about nothing about really technology.
The other thing that was one of the most treasured things I’ll take in my life, was there was a Q&A session. I ended early, but people kept coming to the mic and not asking a question of me, just sharing their story, getting it out there. I thought, “Wow, there’s something magical about just sharing your story.” Doesn’t have to have my name attached to it. I don’t need to get credit for it. When you share your story authentically and genuinely, it opens up this humanness between people.
Four or five people got up and weren’t asking me questions at all. They would say, “Thanks for sharing your story, and here’s mine,” in front 150 people, whatever was in that room. That was pretty magical. After that was the realization for me that I’m not going to stop sharing my story. If my story helps somebody else, I’m going to keep doing it bigger and broader and better. That’s what I’ve done since Denver, over a year ago now.
Brian Gardner: Another quick impromptu question. Have you ever thought of writing a book that speaks very specifically to this? Not just feeling agnostic general business and entrepreneurial stuff, but an entire book either about your story or the importance of mental health through your story and what not?
Cory Miller: You’ve been reading my email again, Brian. I totally do want to do that. But I always give the disclaimer, “I’m not a professional licensed or trained counselor. I’m just an entrepreneur sharing my mental health stories.” I want to do something that says here are not just my stories, but other stories. Brian Gardner’s stories. Your challenges with the highs and lows of business.
I want to get a bunch of entrepreneurs and get their stories. Then I want to find a writing partner that could be that professional trained counselor to say, “Here are some things.” I don’t want to give advice. I’m not professionally trained, I’m just sharing my experiences and what helped me most. I’d like to have somebody to do that. I want that to happen. I just need a bigger … I need to kick my own pants here and get it going, because it’s a message that needs to get out there.
Brian Gardner: I know you’ve gone through a lot over the years. We’re all sorry to hear that in your story you’ve had to deal with those things. We all have our own stuff to deal with. I’m going to try to get through this question. I don’t know if I’m actually going to be able to.
More importantly, I’m sorry for anything — this is sort of impromptu. I don’t know. I’m sorry for anything I did back then that contributed to any part of your story that wasn’t happy. I know we talked about how in the early days the comradery was there, and at some point I think I let the bad side of entrepreneurialism and competition get the best of me. I think it ultimately affected where our friendship went. I knew that when I flew to Oklahoma City to talk to you about that and to apologize for that … Sorry, reality TV right here on the … Oh, gosh. Anyway, I think you know where I’m going with this, that I’m sorry.
Cory Miller: Absolutely.
Brian Gardner: I’m not a narcissist. I’m not going to take credit for all the pain you went through. But I do know that in your early stages, the fear and the competitive or the “I’m not good enough” stuff may have been derived from stuff that I did — whether it was on purpose or not. Anyway, I want to move through that a little bit and apologize for that.
I guess I can say that I went through my own seasons, many seasons of online immaturity. It affected our relationship. Moving through that, what I didn’t truly embrace back then was the idea that one plus one could equal three and how important working alongside our peers can be. I know that at the beginning of our relationship it was that way. It’s better to go with people than trying to outrun them, is something that, looking back in hindsight, I wish I would have — especially with you — embraced more.
Back to the idea of co-opetition, where do you see opportunities right now in the WordPress space? Things that aren’t happening, but looking outside — if you could play a marionette and say, “Gosh, I wish this person could go with that person.” Or, “I wish these people would get along better.” Our audience is Genesis-specific but also very WordPress-specific. There’s a lot of general WordPress community people who listen to the show. Where do you see those opportunities? Where do you wish things would be just a little bit different?
How to Find Lasting Career Happiness
Cory Miller: First and foremost, I got to go back to your comments. Thank you so much for that, Brian. But you and I put those things … Forgive and forget way back, a long time ago. I do appreciate that. I totally accept that, and I hope you’ll do the same for me. It takes two, brother. It takes two. I’m thankful that I get the opportunity to talk to you again and hopefully rekindle those things. Anything that happened — which is private between you and I — is all in the past. I so much appreciate you doing that in this venue, even if I feel like you didn’t have to. I do appreciate it. I know I can always be a better friend, better person, better leader.
Okay, back to your question. I think the biggest thing is emotional support and friendship, that comradery like you and I had back in 2007, 2008, and beyond. Maybe we don’t have to share numbers and business plans per say, but just going, “Hey, man, how are things? How are your kids?” Taking that cruise with you every so often. I’d pin you and go, “How’s Z, man?” You had children before I did. Seeing him grow up on Facebook and Instgram is pretty awesome. He’s a great kid — young man, excuse me.
I think it’s that emotional support and friendship. Along the way, I think there will be times when we can help each other out. Like, “Hey, Brian, I just saw” — just like we did back in the day — “I saw you did this. Would you mind sharing how you did that?” Being generous with those types of things but not feeling that … I’ve got a great business group here in Oklahoma City. We have different businesses. We don’t have anywhere like competitive-type businesses against each other or anything. It’s awesome to have that emotional friendship-type of support to go, “Hey, we’re going through the same stuff. We have the same problems just different names attached to those.”
That’s the same with any entrepreneur, I believe. Same problems, different name, whether it’s cash, people, conflict, communication — whatever it is. Same issues, different names. I think that opportunity in WordPress is pretty special because we get together at WordCamps or different venues online or offline. The opportunity to say, “Let’s just be humans” — we sit behind computers and type all day at a desk. We have the opportunity to also be — with the spirit of open source software and spirit of WordPress — to be human to each other too. I think that is the biggest key for the opportunities that happen in WordPress.
Brian Gardner: I’ll take that as a swift kick in the pants to go out there and to seek those opportunities. Not the opportunities to take, but the opportunities to give. Thank you for that.
Lauren Mancke: Cory, you’ve shared so many great points with us. I know it’s resonated with me and makes me recall a lot of the struggles I went through starting my business. I think that’s the beauty of what you’re doing. You’re letting people know that they aren’t alone, that you don’t have to be a rock. It’s okay to be open and vulnerable. Do you have any other final thoughts you want to discuss about anything we’ve covered? Any words of wisdom for those who are starting or thinking about starting or actually just in the bottoms of the entrepreneurial journey?
Cory Miller: There’s typically always a tomorrow. You hear the typical cliché thing, “this too shall pass.” I think trying to — as I’m going through the bad times, the dark times is — savor that for a moment. To say “I’m valuing what my life is. What I’m going through now helps me really truly understand the value of my experiences,” and all that. To be thankful for every moment in life, because even the bad times have shaped me profoundly into a positive thing.
I think that’s the key we miss. Number one like you said, “I’m not alone.” When you go through the bad times, you got to remind yourself, “I’m not alone.” The second is there’s something to learn here. There’s something to learn and grow and do and be better about to make sure your life can go on to bigger greatness, whatever that may be.
I think remembering those core things, like reaching out to find somebody else to help, whether that be your spouse, your significant other, a professional counselor, another business colleague. The second, to know that “there’s something I need to learn through this experience.” Make sure you savor that and everything that is part of your life. I think gratefulness has been an antidote for a lot of the tough times that I’ve had in my life. It’s hard to remember, but it’s key to do.
Brian Gardner: Well, we appreciate you being willing to open up and to share on the show. There’s so much more to you and your story and all the knowledge that you have outside of what you’ve shared here. We wanted to give people an opportunity to look deeper into that part of your life. Cory’s written a number of books on entrepreneurship and career-focused types of things. These cover topics such as young people trying to get hired all the way to the new rules for what you call entrepreneurship and how to find lasting career happiness, which is I think what we all are looking for.
If you’re looking for information about stuff like that, I definitely recommend the stuff that Cory writes. You can visit his website CoryMiller.com/Books to see all that he’s written. If you’re interested in interviewing Cory or having him speak at your workshop, seminar, or conference, he’s always open to that. You can hit him up at CoryMiller.com/Contact, I believe is his contact page. Like I said, we’re very thankful to have your story here on the show.
Cory Miller: Appreciate you guys being open to share this.
Lauren Mancke: If you like what you heard on today’s show, you can find more episodes of StudioPress FM at, you guessed it, StudioPress.FM. You can also help us hit the main stage by subscribing to the show in iTunes. It’s a great way to never ever miss an episode. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next week.