If you were already getting impatient after a two months break since the last interview, then today we have a real treat for you. This time we are going to Romania to meet a beautiful girl and a dear friend, Alexandra Draghici. She is the product owner of CaptainForm, a WordPress form builder. She is also the founder of an English learning platform in Romania called RapidulDeEngleza.ro.
One of the best things about attending WordCamps is the opportunity to get to know people that share the same passion about WordPress. On one of the camps, I met Alexandra and we quickly became really good friends. So I already know how wonderful she is and I’m sure you’ll find that out soon as well. Let’s get to know her better.
First of all, thank you for taking your time for the interview. Let’s start with a peek into your life. Could you tell us a bit more about your background and how you started your journey with WordPress?
Firstly, thanks for the invitation and for the inspiring interview series that you are taking the time to put together! I’m a big fan of your themes and love spending time with you and Marko, even if that happens physically just a couple of times a year.
My first contact with WordPress was around the Duke & Ella era, when I was doing some blogging on dot com. Later on, I started blogging a bit more seriously, together with a friend, writing short and (presumably) funny stories about everyday things. At one point, we moved the blog to dot org and a whole new world revealed itself. I was amazed at how you could study and modify the code of different components. A few years later, I started freelancing in building websites (many of them on WordPress) and working on other web projects. In 2015, at 123FormBuilder, we launched our WordPress-dedicated product, CaptainForm, a very flexible and user-friendly plugin for building WordPress forms, which I’ve been happy to serve as a product manager. Apart from CaptainForm, I also do product management for our Salesforce-dedicated product and for our Enterprise vertical.
Did you know exactly what you wanted to be when you grow up ;)? When have you decided that WordPress will be your career?
I went with the flow most of the time. Even though I tend to be a control freak (currently trying to let go), I’ve never been too good at planning my life. Just kept an open mind, tried different things, gave 100% each time and it somehow turned out well. WordPress is just a part of what I do, I’d say that product development is my chosen path, at least for now. But WordPress is definitely the closest to my heart, thanks to the “ideology” that the product is built on and to the community. And to the swag at the events 🙂
What’s the story behind CaptainForm, how and when did you start this journey? What have you learned since then?
CaptainForm was launched two years ago, on the 5th of November 2015. At 123FormBuilder, we have different products derived for specific markets from the core product, which is a SaaS platform. In 2015, WordPress already had more than 20% market share, so launching a dedicated product was an obvious choice, strategically speaking. Even if CaptainForm is a child of 123FormBuilder, it is branded completely differently (with a superhero theme) and provides a lot of WordPress-specific functionality.
Probably the most important thing that I’ve learned is that the product is – or should be – a direct reflection of its community of users. I’ve always given great importance to user feedback and put myself in the user’s shoes, but the CaptainForm experience showed me first-hand what this really means. In short, we shouldn’t try to adapt our target users to a predefined product, but to adapt everything, from product UX to customer support, to the expectations of those users. We should be ready to have our own ideas and beliefs challenged to the core and to welcome change with an open heart. Let’s put it this way – the same level of temperature can be referred to as 25 Celsius degrees or as 77 Fahrenheit degrees and each can make little sense or perfect sense, depending on who you are addressing.
How important is customer support for your business? Can you share some advice on how to offer top-notch support to customers?
Customer support is crucial in my opinion. The resources invested in customer support vary a lot depending on how complex and how intuitive the product is. But there should always be somebody at the other end, to assist users or even to anticipate their needs. Most markets are very crowded, which makes it tough for a product to stand out. Also, the quick pace at which everything moves nowadays makes it so convenient to substitute human interaction with tech. Under these circumstances, good customer support can be a very powerful differentiator. And it is also a precious resource of user feedback.
I believe that top-notch customer support is based on two things: a strong product know-how and empathy. Try to imagine that the user’s issue, request or inquiry is your own and address it accordingly. But also prepare to scale this, so that volume doesn’t affect quality.
I am very interested in the story behind the English learning platform RapidulDeEngleza.ro. Let us know a bit more about that project?
Rapidul de Engleza (or The English Express) is a platform that I built for Romanian learners of English. It is the most popular resource of this type in my home country. I started this project after I quit teaching English in class, when I switched to IT, as I still wanted to teach somehow. Teaching is a very rewarding experience to me – seeing that students are happy to have understood something that they’ll be able to use themselves from that point on.
This project was my baby for a few years and it allowed me to put teaching, creativity, initiative, passion, different technologies and human interaction together, in a mix that I will always remember with great enthusiasm. Nowadays, the platform is still alive, has good traffic and generates revenue, but unfortunately I haven’t been working on it actively for a while.
If it’s not a secret, please tell us how your working day looks like? How do you balance work and free time?
In regular weeks, I spend my working day mostly at the office, where we do the usual stuff – research and analysis, planning, debates, the actual implementation and testing, deliveries, internal meetings, calls with other stakeholders and so on. In the evenings and at weekends, I focus on personal projects, but I also take more and more time for the simple life – going to the market and talking to people, learning how to cook something or taking an unexpected trip away from technology. I used to try to make every minute “count”, but I think that the meaning of this changes in time 🙂
How hard or easy is running your business in Romania?
There are good parts and bad parts. In what the bad parts are concerned, let’s say that Romania is unable to manage its resources responsibly. Both the public and the private sector are affected by poor management and personal interests. Of course, we all contribute to the perpetuation of this behaviour, but this goes deeper into how our nation ended up having an apathetic and malleable personality.
In what the good parts are concerned, as individuals, many of us are very capable people. We expect nothing from outside factors and learn to build a future for ourselves, in an honest, hard-working and efficient manner. From a business point of view and pragmatically speaking, the work force here is very skilled and it is cheap compared to Western countries.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere, but it is my alone time when I get to process it. Irrespective of how busy a day is, I usually find at least half an hour to just sit and think without distractions. It’s then when I see the most reasonable solutions for that day’s issues and when I also get the best ideas to be explored.
How did you become a part of the WordPress community & how did you start speaking at WordCamps? Do you have a stage fright and if so how do you deal with it?
I became a part of the WordPress community soon after we launched CaptainForm. We wanted to promote the product, but – more importantly – to get a real feel of the community and to gather feedback. We started sponsoring WordCamps and I started speaking from the first WordCamp we attended, which was WordCamp Bratislava 2016. We wanted to go all in and to make the most out of each experience.
Stage fright wears off gradually and you start focusing more on the actual experience than on your “meta”-feelings about it. But yes, I still get it. When it happens, I try to see the bigger picture – in the grand scheme of things, my potential failure literally means nothing. Apart from this, I think it’s important to believe in what you’re saying and to have a good knowledge of it, so that you feel comfortable about it. Also, you should try to keep it valuable, yet light – don’t squeeze in too much information and, if possible, make people laugh. They’ll remember the key takeaways easier.
What does the WordPress Community mean to you?
It’s a community of smart, enthusiastic, kind and straightforward people. You don’t find that too often nowadays. I feel that the community pushes you to become a better person in a safe and warm environment. Not only in what WordPress skills are concerned, but also generally speaking. The spirit of the community is very much present online as well, but the best vibe can be found at WordCamps. There’s so much to learn from the people that you meet there and so many friends to be made. To me, WordCamps are a home away from home and the friends that I’ve made are people that I know I can always rely on.
How hard was it to follow your dreams? What do you like the most about your way of living?
My biggest dreams are still ahead of me. Up to now, the journey has been quite diverse and fulfilling. I wouldn’t say there was something particularly difficult – I think it’s just about constantly getting out of your comfort zone, listening to what your mind and body are telling you and trusting your gut feeling.
About my way of living, what I like the most is the fact that I can find passion and purpose in most of the things that I do and that I get to do it together with some great people. I also like the fact that, when it feels like it’s not a good day for science, so to speak, I can skip that day’s schedule and do something else instead. And I like life’s little surprises – for instance, travelling to WordCamps, I got to see our national tennis player and the current number 1 WTA, Simona Halep, for my first and only time at the Miami Open, right across the pond.
What do you like to do in your free time except riding a bicycle ;)?
It depends on the season – I do more sports in summer and read more in winter. I get easily hooked on any type of puzzle anytime and I never miss singing a song when there’s some karaoke around 🙂 And yes, I love riding the bicycle! Other than that, my hobbies come and go. As I was mentioning before, I’m currently trying to take a step back and to just enjoy the simple things – cooking, nature, visiting friends and so on.
Is there anyone that you could name that had a major influence on your life?
I’ve been blessed with many people that I look up to. As the quickest examples that come to mind, I’ve only found out at WordCamp Bucharest this October what a great digital media professional and mother of three Ivana Cirkovic is or what a beautiful project, ShoeBox, Val Vesa has been working on for the past 11 years. Such examples are very inspiring to me.
In terms of major influence, there is one person that set me on my current path – Radu Ticiu, at that point director of the Software Business Incubator in Timisoara, Romania. I once took an internship at the incubator, mostly by accident (I was actually studying PR, not IT), and a few years later he put me in contact with Florin and Tudor, the co-founders of 123FormBuilder. Currently, among other things, Radu is helping children explore their creativity, enthusiasm and potential in the IT field.
Do you have a dream that you would love to apply to the real world?
I would love to open an English learning center. To create a cozy environment, craft the learning material and work with students creatively.
What are your plans for the future? Any new adventures planned in your life?
I plan to settle down a bit and focus more on my personal life. Professionally speaking, I’m not aware of any new adventure at the moment – they tend to come spontaneously 🙂
Finally, here’s your chance to freestyle :). Write anything you think could be interesting or useful to our readers.
I would like to suggest this tool for relaxation – Typing Club 🙂
Thanks, Ana, for being such a committed and warm-hearted person, and big hugs two both of you and to the community!