One on One With James Laws, Co-Creator of Ninja Forms

James Laws was gracious enough to take part in an Ask Them Anything series in which he basically answered every question we threw at him. Since the forums are going away, for the time being, I am publishing his interview on the site to archive it.

On behalf of Chris Lema, what is your favorite conference?

I feel like this is a leading question, but I’ll still answer it honestly. CaboPress is hands down my favorite conference. Amazing location and people. It’s equal parts vacation and business intensive.

On behalf of David Bisset what was the biggest product fail (relatively speaking) of Ninja Forms? Any leanings toward Saas w/ NF? What are the biggest opportunities you see in the WP space/market today?

1. I don’t think we had any big failures from a product within Ninja Forms really. We’ve made a ton of naive mistakes early on with things like renewals and pricing. There isn’t a single product, but some of our biggest mistakes were spending way more time on certain integrations than they deserved just to say we had the integration. Basically not seeing if the integration would actually be valuable for our customers.

2. We have dabbled, discussed, and dabbled some more. All I can say is maybe.

3. WordPress has been obviously making more and more of a shift towards the commerce space. I think that’s where the most future potential is. How to help people make money on their WordPress websites. I kind of wonder how long the space allows WooCommerce to dominate the e-commerce side of that.

When was the point when you looked at your business and thought “Hey, this is WORKING!” ?

April 2013. Up until then, 22 months in total, Ninja Forms was pretty flat from a growth perspective. I think we are averaging $1,200 a month. In January of 2013 we started offering add-ons and while January didn’t jump, February doubled. March and April doubled again and that’s when we realized this could get much bigger.

But we believed we could make something happen from the beginning. It was only until then that we realized that we had.

What is it about a deck of playing cards that intrigues you to collect them? Could you show us a picture of your collection?

Oh man! Everything. Each deck is like 52+ pieces of art. They tell a story. The smell when you crack open a fresh deck. They can be fun or refined. There are just so many layers to playing cards.

Here is a tweet with 1% of my collection.

I have a lot more on my Instagram like this one.

What is your favorite thing about living in Tennessee? Would you want to live anywhere else?

Cleveland, Tennessee is just beautiful. It’s a great place to have a family and yet is close enough to larger cities like Atlanta or Nashville.

I also love Colorado and have said plenty of times that if I wasn’t in Tennessee, I would live there.

So, you’ve been around the block a few times in WordPress land. What are some of the highs and lows you’ve experienced on your journey?

I hate to say this because I know there are plenty of people who have experienced plenty of lows, but I’ve not had that many. The hardest time was near the end of 2013. I had just bought a house, was quitting my job to focus on Ninja Forms, and was expecting my first and only child. I didn’t feel like I was stressed, but I landed in the ICU for three days with a heart issue.

Everything else has been golden. Great people that have become my friends, a business that has given me my perfect life, the ability to employ others and attempt to do the same for them.

WordPress specifically, sometimes I hate the fighting and critical nature of a small part of the community tearing others down. Luckily the highest point of WordPress is the larger number of super nice people who try and always lift each other up. I hope to always be numbered among that latter group.

Where do you think you’d be today without your co-founder?

I would likely still be working at my local credit union. I’m not actually sure. I would have created something, but it wouldn’t be in software most likely. I also probably wouldn’t be enjoying it as much.

Having the knowledge and experience of 10 years of Ninja Forms under your belt, if you could go back and sit down with 2011’s James Laws, what advice or warnings would you feel most compelled to inform him of?

I would simply have explained all of the decisions that worked and didn’t so I would have gotten here a lot faster, but where’s the fun in that? I would likely tell myself: Dream…Wonder…Experiment…Learn…Repeat.

How integral has the third-party marketplace been to the success of Ninja Forms? It seems like allowing developers to build add-ons is a great way to provide additional functionality without bundling everything into the core plugin.

In the early days it was huge. It gave us more functionality and exposure to a larger audience when we were relatively unknown.

As we got larger it was more challenging. Holding others to a standard and not being able to control what and how features got implemented into those solutions made things less effective. Not being able to fully control our pricing tiers was also an issue. These are some of the reasons why we finally had to let it go.

Who came up with the name Saturday Drive to be the parent company of Ninja Forms? Any inspiration behind the name?

I think Kevin, my business partner, came up with it. It might have been a collaborative thing, but I’m pretty sure it was his idea. Most of our naming of things has been.

Saturday Drive also has a story. When Kevin and I were starting out, even before we had Ninja Forms, we would drive around town on Saturdays and dream about the what if’s and ideas we would come up with. Felt like a natural name for us.

Is there anything you did or went through during 2020 that you’ve taken into 2021 and will keep doing? How did the pandemic affect you mentally and business-wise?

Obviously the pandemic has impacted all of us. I’m a bit of an introvert so I have been training for this pandemic my whole life. It also just so happened that our company went distributed just a few months before the pandemic hit us hard.

I love an on-site experience with a team, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to an office. That is likely to stick.

I’m actually starting to think about the stuff I stopped doing during the pandemic. I read a lot less, I communicated with people a lot less. Those are things I am hoping to not take with me into this and coming years.

I wonder, ten years later after Ninja Forms was released, is there room in the WordPress ecosystem for a new forms solution? You can be biased if you want lol. To me, I think there’s always room for new ideas or ways of doing things, despite how many players there may be in the space.

Absolutely! There are new form solutions that are small and are doing some really cool things. There is always room for someone to challenge the state of the market and make it big. It may be a little harder now, but absolutely still possible. I just hope we can be one of the ones doing it as well.

I’ll ask an obvious question or at least obvious to me. Has the introduction of the block editor in WordPress changed things for Ninja Forms? If so, how? For better or for worse? I imagine it has opened doors to accomplish things in new ways.

Mostly, not really. We have implemented a basic form block for the display of forms and we have other plans that are possible because of the block editor, but all in all, Ninja Forms is a complex application that lives mostly independent of the block editor.

Is there a current or past extension that offers functionality that made you scratch your head and wonder why you guys didn’t think of it? If so, what is/was it?

Probably too many to list. Look at Gravity View as an example. It would be an add-on for us, but it’s a great business all on its own. There are plenty of examples like that. Some we’ll develop when the time is right and some we let go by because they are amazing ideas, but not right for our customers.

Let’s say I’m vaguely familiar with WordPress but I’ve never heard of Ninja Forms. How would you explain your product and what it does?

Ha! I’m likely no longer the best person to attempt to answer this question. There are plenty of people on our team that could do this better than myself. Here is my feeble attempt at it.

When it comes to user input, Ninja Forms is a jack of all trades and a master of none but is always better than a master of one. I kid.

Saturday Drive acquired Caldera Forms on August 1, 2019. What influences has Josh Pollock had on the product/business and are there any features or business practices that can be attributed to him?

Josh is an amazing engineer and thinker. He tried so hard to implement certain best practices and standards that were different from our own, but admittedly better. It’s taken us some time, but we are making some great strides in that direction because of him and will continue to do so. He’s such a great guy.