About Starter WP
The Best Done-for-You Website Platform brings over 15 years of WordPress development experience from the enterprise to the small business community.
The foundation of Starter WP is in a dorm room at the University of North Texas. Like many technology startups, there was a laptop (PowerBook), a person (Drate Berry), and an idea (to develop websites for non-profit organizations). These humble beginnings led to over a decade of hockey stick growth, building and supporting custom WordPress websites, plugins, and mobile apps for enterprise clients.
A company is a vision informed by the life of its founder, so here's our story as told by Drate.
Growing Up an entrepreneur
On June 7, 1990, I was born in Tyler, Texas, a town of about 100,000 in East Texas between Dallas and the Louisiana border. I lived in Winnsboro, Texas, a city of 3,000 60 miles north of Tyler, until I went to college. When I was growing up, I was the kid always looking for a way to make a buck. In elementary school, I realized that many of the other kids would run out of writing paper or wouldn't have a pencil. If this happened to you at my school, you had to miss the first five minutes of recess. So when you're a kid, five minutes seems like forever. So while many kids my age (I was 6) wouldn't have thought a lot about their classmates not having supplies and missing out on the part of recess, I saw this as a way to make some money.
My school's PTA sold lollipops for a quarter, and this was the only candy we could have at school, so a lot of us always begged our parents for lollipop money. I realized that I could charge a quarter for two pieces of writing paper or a sharpened pencil, and some of my classmates would pay not to miss part of recess. At the end of the first week, I think I had made something like $1, but when you're 6, that feels like a ton of money. So I went from selling writing paper and pencils to selling Pokémon trading cards, geodes, and Magic the Gathering card decks. I still have quite a collection of mid-90s Power Rangers toys and Pokémon cards that I hope will be worth something one day. So I got an early start on entrepreneurship.
I learned people like people who make them money
While I continued my wheeling and dealing ways during Elementary school and Junior High, once I got to high school, I went through the time-honored tradition of the summer job. Then, starting when I was 14, I worked at Camp Pirtle, the Boy Scout summer camp I had attended since I was 11. During my first summer, I worked in the dining hall. Not the most glamorous job in the world, but I made a few extra dollars a week since I had to work from 5:30 in the morning until ten at night without A/C during a Texas summer. If you've never been in Texas during the summer, it's in the 90s at night.
One of the things I learned that summer was that making people money was a guaranteed way to get them to like you. At camp, our food was cooked by a food service company that was paid a fixed fee. Food costs and salaries were deducted from this amount, so controlling food waste was a huge priority to maintain their profit margins. So I learned during my first week that if you made the cooks happy, they would invite you to eat with them on Sunday. So when you live on summer camp food, this is a huge deal. So I made sure that I always had just the right amount of juice, silverware, plates, and cups available for each meal. This meant an additional profit of almost $400/week for the foodservice company. They were happy, and I was delighted to eat steak with them on Sunday. Two years later, I generated an extra $30,000 in profit over three weeks and eliminated product spoilage running the camp's trading post. Ask me about that summer sometime.
The First Site
Early one morning (or maybe it was afternoon, this was college, after all), I installed MAMP on my PowerBook and downloaded Drupal 6. At the time, it seemed that all the innovative and "cool" sites were being built with Drupal, so I decided that was what I needed to learn how to use. Before that day in my dorm room, I had never written HTML or CSS, much less PHP. I didn't even know what any of those acronyms meant. I was studying accounting and economics, not a computer science major. So how did I get the idea to create my first website?
Like many college students, I was involved in several organizations both on and off-campus, and one of those groups needed a new website. They had a website built in Microsoft Publisher that looked like it was from 1997. Not exactly what you want when you're trying to appeal to younger people. So I decided to try building the new website using many stock plugins and photos, a stock theme, and read everything I could about Drupal. Then, a couple of weeks after I started, the website was ready to launch, and I showed it to several group members to get feedback. After seeing the new site, they thought it was terrific, and they couldn't wait for it to go live.
The First Paying Client
A couple of weeks later, I was back in my hometown and met a friend for a cup of coffee. While I was talking to my friend about the site I had just built, the owner of the coffee shop overheard me and asked if I made websites for businesses. Being the entrepreneur I am, I immediately said yes and figured I could learn as I went along. We met the next day, and over a cinnamon roll and coffee, I landed my first client. I worked the rest of the week to design the site in Photoshop, and Monday morning, I sent her an email with the design.
A couple of rounds of revisions later, I was ready to start coding. I still didn't know what I was doing with PHP, but I had been reading about CSS and HTML, so I felt confident I could turn my design into a working theme. After about two weeks of reading CSS tutorials and then writing CSS between classes, I finally had a theme that looked like my design. With that website launched, I decided that this wouldn't be a bad "college job" where I could set my hours and make decent money. I started to get a lot of referral work from the coffee shop owner, and my business grew.
Graduation was looming
Fast forward a couple of years, and I'm entering my final semester of college. I've talked to friends that graduated before me, and they're working 80 hours a week jobs they can't wait to leave. I grew up with a father who always said the day he woke up and didn't want to go to work would be the last day he worked at that company. After 30 years with the same company, he retired, so being happy with your job was something I always saw growing up. I couldn't imagine taking a job that I would hate and where I would not feel motivated to do my best work. So I started thinking about my options.
By this point, I was averaging just under one new website client a month and had raised my rate 500% since my first few websites. So I decided to take the experience I had gained during college and turn that into a full-time career.
My first company was born
In 2012, I filed the paperwork with the Texas Secretary of State to legally create my first company, Oso Studio. Over the next decade, we had the opportunity to work with some incredible clients, including the Boy Scouts of America, Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, Marcus & Millichap, Conduit Global, The Sierra Club, and dozens of other businesses, including a startup from a former division president of JPMorgan. In addition, we helped drive tens of millions of dollars in revenue to our clients through innovative design and conversion optimization research. It's one of the benefits of having a business degree; you never leave behind a love of statistics, facts, and spreadsheets.
After years of never being able to take a vacation unless there was a strong cell signal and fast Wi-Fi, I realized it was time for Oso Studio to end. It introduced me to many incredible clients, allowed me to do what I love while still paying the bills, and resulted in work I'll always be proud of. But what I realized is that I'd lost what initially brought me happiness with web development – helping small businesses and non-profits grow.
Starter WP was the Spark I needed
Starter WP's logo is a spark. Because founding it has been the spark, I needed to come full circle in my web development journey and rediscover my purpose and passion. When working with huge clients, especially those with international operations, you learn a lot about project management and creating systems to deliver projects that work as expected and look beautiful quickly. Churning out project after project for clients, I never stopped to realize what I was building, but the platform I made over the years was the ideal starting point for small business websites.
Today, Starter WP is a service and products business that delivers enterprise-quality websites to small businesses at a price point they can afford.