Hey, everyone! It’s been a little while since our last interview, but that doesn’t mean we’re done chatting with inspiring people in the WordPress universe. Today, we’re back with a fascinating interview from WordCamp Europe 2018, where we met Hajj Flemings and discussed his ambitious Rebrand Cities project.
If you missed our other interviews, you can catch them all in their dedicated category.
Hajj and his partners saw a real pain point for these businesses and their lack of an online presence. By looking at his customers as humans rather than business opportunities, Hajj wants to help 10,000 local businesses get online, start connecting with customers over the Internet, and crush the digital divide. Yes – it’s a big goal, but Hajj and his partners are already making headway.
Chris and I had a pleasant conversation with Hajj at WordCamp Europe about his initiatives and the ways in which Rebrand Cities’ aspirations are put into practice with the help of WordPress.
Our interviewee even had a presentation on the second day of the conference, entitled “Rebrand Cities: Crushing the Digital Divide One Website at a Time”, which awakened our interest in getting to dig more into this story.
If you prefer watching the live interview instead of reading it, we have a video version available too, which we posted on Twitter during the conference.
We split the video into eight parts, so click on the embedded tweet to see the full talk.
Hajj Flemings interview: on bringing thousands of local businesses online
How did you start working with WordPress?
The WP community is a very nurturing community, of extremely passionate people, and I found it to be the perfect community to be able to work with entrepreneurs that don’t get that kind of love. These entrepreneurs work in the cities that we live and work in, but they’re not the shiny stories that everybody talks about. So having the right kind of community and culture around these entrepreneurs brings out the best of them and really keeps them energized to be able to tell their story.
Tell us about Rebrand Cities.
And what we found was that, if you have something that they understand as tangible and you make them a part of the process, then they can engage, really be involved, and get across the finish line.
We found that our co-creation process with the business owners is not only refreshing but it’s a learning opportunity for us because we learn more about cities, we learn more about the business owners and the industry that they’re in. And so we view this as almost like our own personal MBA program in terms of learning. Sometimes we look at learning as being one-way and we think that, if you’re bringing resources and opportunities, then the people and business owners that you’re working with should be grateful. But I think we should be just as grateful as well.
You want to get 10,000 businesses online. What’s the status?
So our goal is that we want to have an activation happening somewhere around the globe every single week. And it’s not just me being on the face of it, but identifying ambassadors and people who live and work in the community we’re going to.
Who is doing cutting-edge things in WordPress right now?
Describe the community in one word.
I know that’s a word that’s really overused, but when I interact with people (whether it’s the developers or the creatives), they love the work that they’re doing. And you can see that it’s not only about making money, but they really want to make a difference. And so it’s interesting working with people that are… real people. I’ve had the chance to interact with a lot of good, genuine people who really like what they do.
How important is accessibility to bridging the digital divide?
We’re trying to make our business owners understand that their sites might not get you millions of people at your door, but what they do is giving you an opportunity to be where your customers are so you can connect with them. We’re creating assets that they can use. For instance, photo-shoots, so that they can use photos for marketing materials. We are embedding all the digital breadcrumbs, all the things that are part of making them involved in the conversation that’s happening online, making them embedded into the ecosystem, understanding the players and the different things that can help them connect with their customers. Ultimately, it’s not just about crushing the digital divide but about making businesses more successful.
So what can we do to make them become sustainable and resilient in times like these? For instance, we have this young lady and, after we launched her site, she had an event, posted it and she generated $1000 in 4 days. That might not seem like a lot of money to a lot of people but to a small business… One thing that we talked about is predictable income, and so trying to thrive that kind of regular occurring activities, so that when the rent starts to rise in these communities, they will be able to maintain the space because they’re generating more money with websites. So it’s not only about the utility of a site, but about using it to drive revenue.
What are your recommendations for business owners looking to boost their business?
Also knowing your customer is important; talking to a real customer. We have an avatar of our customer. For example, we have a customer, a lady from New Jersey. We have a picture of her up, she’s an entrepreneur, a mother of four, she’s in her mid-30s, and we look at that profile which reminds us of the work that we’re doing and who we’re working for. And it’s not “we’re just doing it just to do it”, but this is the person that we’re targeting. A lot of our customers are not necessarily adapted to the technology and we know that. The solution we’re bringing to the table works perfectly to be able to get them to the first base and then we can look to help them to a better scale.
Could you share an inspiring story from the Detroit project?
We had a lot of businesses that we had to work with and that have been awesome. Brix… they were part of WordPress.com first ever TV commercials, and so being able to take this new business that had just gotten started and make them part of a TV commercial that was in six different markets. And now their business is successful, it’s growing.
So this kind of businesses that we had the chance to be able to take to a larger community is what really makes us proud of the work that we’re doing.
Hajj Flemings has set a high bar and what he’s trying to accomplish is far from easy. But he’s aware of that and he’s doing his best in following this direction no matter what. And WordPress will be his partner in helping small businesses around the world move into the digital age.
What do you think about Hajj’s initiative? If you find his projects valuable and want to know more about them, or maybe even need help with your own business, make sure to visit Rebrand Cities. Also, don’t forget to leave your questions, thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section below.
And while you’re at it, sharing this interview with your connections might help another aspiring entrepreneur put their work online.