Indy tech writer and WordPress specialist

From “Mad Max” to web building

My name is Seth Shoultes. I’m the co-founder of a successful, open source, event ticketing platform based on WordPress, called Event Espresso.

I’ve been a website developer and programmer for over 14 years, but I have always been a person who likes to figure out how things work. As a kid, I was always tearing things apart to see how stuff worked. Sometimes, I liked to try and take parts from a bunch of different toys and put them all back together in some way to form a new toy that looked like something out of a 1980s “Mad Max” movie. Every single one of my Atari or Nintendo systems was dismantled and then reassembled a number of different times.

As I got older, I spent less time trying to re-create scenes from “Mad Max” and more time learning about airplanes, model cars, and rocketry.

As an adult, I discovered that learning about how websites work was very similar to tearing apart toys as a kid. Just by viewing the source code of any website, using built in web browser tools, and a little Google searching, the basic programming language behind websites was easy to figure out. Needless to say, I found a new hobby.

Self-help books and scaling up with open source software

At this point, I started collecting a ton of the self-help books to get me through life. You know, classics like the “HTML Handbook” and the “PHP Bible“, which I carried everywhere (I didn’t have blazing fast mobile internet at the time). I carried HTML cheat sheets in my back pocket so I could quiz myself on all of the different HTML tags in my downtime.

When asked by friends or family what I was doing with my free time—acting “anti-social” as my wife would call it—I had a hard time explaining it.

Hmm. What is it that I am actually doing?

“I’m learning PHP & MySQL because it’s going to change the world,” I would say to blank stares—and sometimes even more questions about my well-being—until the subject changed to someone telling me, “Why don’t you do something productive?”

After a while, I realized it was time to start taking my friends and family’s advice. I needed to put these new skills to good use. So I started scaling myself up. I started taking on small projects here and there, like building small websites for family, friends, and local small businesses. It wasn’t until a friend introduced me to WordPress that I saw the potential of this wonderful Content Management System that some kid named Matt Mullenweg had created in the basement of his parents’ house in Houston.

This system was amazing! I found that WordPress included free extensions—called plugins—that allow to you transform your WordPress website to fit almost any online business model you’ve ever seen and do just about anything you can think of. Better yet, you could download and install these plugins for days. If you had a hard time finding the exact plugin, you just created the one you needed on your own website. Everything you ever needed in a website project was already close at hand—or could be developed in a short period of time. It was like being a kid again!

So I scaled up and told people I was a WordPress developer. I still got those same blank stares, but at least now I had a full-time gig doing something I love, right?

Over time, I became more involved in WordPress, and people took notice. Especially my wife.

One day, she asked me if I could build a plugin for her own WordPress website that would allow her friends to RSVP or pre-register for her scrapbooking classes. I was fairly new to WordPress at the time, so instead of trying to build something myself this time around, I figured would try to find a WordPress plugin that could do most of the work for me.

This is what’s so wonderful about WordPress; it’s an open source platform for website development. This means that anything built on top of—and publicly released for—WordPress can be customized, re-branded, and re-released publicly without legal repercussions, provided you give credit to the original author.

Unfortunately, in 2009, a free event ticketing and registration system wasn’t out there, so I figured I would build my own system based on another very simple plugin someone had already started development on but never implemented a payment system for.

Since this was an open source platform, I decided to go ahead and modify this person’s system and give him the code, because I could see that other people could probably use what I had created. Then I released the code I created and started supporting it. Eventually, since the other developer wasn’t maintaining his code anymore, he figured it was easier to start sending all of his users to my plugin.

Winning the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge

After about a year of developing, maintaining, and supporting this open source event ticketing software for WordPress, I figured it was time to start making some money off this project. I built a business around my ticketing plugin for WordPress, and in just a few years, my co-founder and I established a team of remote developers and support technicians and a customer base of over 10,000 international users.

In 2011, we entered the business into the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge and walked away with $40,000 from Zions Bank to use however we wanted toward the business I started in my basement just two years earlier. It was amazing.

Writing for The Independent

You’re probably asking why I’m writing articles for a local news publication, especially if I have a successful business, right? Well, now that I have a great team of developers and support technicians, I am now in more of a leadership role and am looking for a way to keep myself from becoming lost in the day-to-day business life. So I figured it would be a fun to take some time off here and there to start sharing my business experiences, technical knowledge about WordPress, and other technology-related ideas I have in a public forum.

My goal here is to help people in southern Utah get more involved with technology, grow the local tech scene, and show you how to succeed online. I may throw in a movie or gadget review occasionally, but my ultimate goal is to help others.

If you have a topic you would like me to consider for a future column, email me at seth@smartwebutah.com.

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