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Zao: A Look Back at 2016

After a decade of work, 2016 was the best year Zao has had thus far.

Our small team more than doubled, we worked on several amazing projects, and we contributed back to open source, of course. Here’s a rundown of what we did and what we’re excited about moving forward.

A 2016 Retrospective

The Zao Team

Team Zao grew considerably in 2016 – we more than doubled our staff size and even found some incredible contractors who have been an integral part of our success.

Full-time Staff

Mihai

In February, we hired Mihai Joldis as a full-time developer. Hailing from Romania, he leads the charge with many of our enhancements to WP eCommerce and is an invaluable engineer on many of our client projects as well. To top it all off, he provides excellent support to our growing customer base at wpecommerce.org.  He is also one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet–humble, kind, and generous, too! All fantastic qualities that he’ll be putting to good use as he becomes a first-time dad in a few short months.

The Other Justin

In May, we hired Justin Sternberg as a lead developer, staff sergeant, managing partner, and all around excellent human being. He leads many of our agency projects; clients pretty much love him the moment they start working with him. After less than a year on our team, we can’t imagine life without him.

Contractors

Lizz

Late last year, we had the good fortune of finding Lizz Ehrenpreis. Lizz is the only reason you’re aware of who we are and can read these words without wanting to stab your eyes out. She’s an absolute wizard with content, incredibly disciplined, and pretty much the bee’s knees. Did I mention she plays the ukulele?

Jon

If you don’t know Jon, you should DEFINITELY know Jon. He’s a rock-solid developer who has been a massive help to Zao since Q4 last year. He’s been an integral part of helping us launch our own projects on budget, on time. If you’ve ever been tasked with finding GOOD developer contractors, you know how difficult it can be. If they’re solid engineers, they never communicate. If they communicate well, you’re constantly fixing code. Jon is the exception to that rule; he’s the real deal and we’re lucky to have him around.


Our work with Cancer Tutor

Cancer Tutor Logo

If you’ve been poking around our site for the last few weeks, you’ve already learned a little bit about Cancer Tutor and the work we’ve done for them already.

A brief synopsis of the work we did for them, from our portfolio:

Cancer Tutor worked with Zao on several different aspects of improving their site, ranging from eCommerce to solving complex technical hurdles. They wanted the ability to have member profiles that allowed their users to track and follow content from different authors, as well as create a notification center inside of WordPress without the overhead of something like BuddyPress.

Zao created a custom notification system built on a notifications component found in BuddyPress; we cribbed the component and integrated it with the REST API in WordPress. Now, users can follow categories and authors, and will get notified every time there is new content. This JavaScript intensive update also allows greater communication from Cancer Tutor admins, allowing them to send a notification to everyone in the system as desired.


The Cancer Tutor project was challenging and exciting to our team particularly because of how we utilized WordPress REST API.

The REST API and what it can do in WordPress are going to be a huge area of growth for us. It’s in WordPress core, and will become the primary way to solve a lot of technical problems. The custom notification system we built for Cancer Tutor required digging into how the REST API works.

The REST API touched almost everything we did on the Cancer Tutor site, from templating, to the way the notification system works, to the way that users are able to follow certain authors and forum posts or different categories. The site we built for Cancer Tutor is a user-centric, member-centric website, and all of that functionality is built on the REST API.

We dug into the internals to find best way for authentication, as well as how to manage users and notifications in a way that scales. We had to figure out how to build the site so that 50,000 users liking the same thing at the same time or sending out 100,000 notifications wouldn’t crash the server.


Working with the WordPress REST API

Working with the REST API fits nicely in our wheelhouse. Zao focuses on advanced problem solving with our clients; it’s something we enjoy and it’s where we really shine. Plus, it’s at an intersection with our specialty. Since we focus on eCommerce, there are loads of cool possibilities that come into play when sites can utilize the REST API.

Since the REST API is a major part of WordPress moving forward, we’ll see it utilized in a few different ways by many:

Single page applications

Instead of going to an eCommerce site that feels sluggish, we predict we’ll see more sites using an eCommerce theme with the REST API, which makes the site feel way faster. Obviously, anything that can make a site load faster is better for business; it’s a common vanity metric. Faster sites convert better.

Advanced technology for mom & pop shops

This is also going to provide opportunities for advanced technology to be utilized by smaller businesses. Maybe we’ll see programmable drones delivering from mom and pop shops, where the delivery address for an order that just came in can go through their site and directly to their delivery drone. Piece of cake.


Our work with Brooklyn Tweed

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Cancer Tutor was our hare. Brooklyn Tweed is our tortoise.

Brooklyn Tweed is another excellent client of ours (we’re biased–all of our clients are excellent!). Zao is doing month to month work with them, which we love. Having long-lasting, ongoing relationships with our clients is satisfying. It may not be a gigantic project from the start (who doesn’t love landing a big check?), but it means that we get to work with them and steadily grow their business.

Longevity in our relationships gives us the opportunity to be a technical partner, rather than a one-off vendor. It requires us putting in some hard work upfront to build a foundation to what we always hope will become a fruitful relationship. It allows us to add real, measurable value to their business.

When we build a long term relationship with our clients, we have an impact on that business we’re not able to have otherwise. We can take their business to the next level, technically speaking, and work with their team to make sure their technology is scaling as it should, right alongside their sales.

Long-term clients allow us autonomy and creative license to do what we need to do. If we’re just a vendor pushing code, it turns into a different dynamic. Long-term partnership allows us to approach the relationship as a collaborative effort. We get to work alongside the client as their goals shift over time. We love that, and we’ll be looking for more of these kinds of opportunities in the future.


Open source efforts

Our open source efforts have been incremental, but solid, and you’ll see bigger changes to those things in 2017.

CMB2

Since Justin Sternberg joined us in June 2016, a few notable changes have been made to CMB2, including:

A significant change came with 2.2.2, allowing you to now show your meta fields in the admin columns (on the post-listing screens).

And 2.2.3 was a major release, marking the addition of the CMB2 REST API, to neatly complement the new WordPress REST API. That means when you use a site with the REST API, you now have a way to interact with CMB2 data as well. This update also included something that has been asked for over and over again, which is making the WYSIWYG editor work properly within repeatable groups.

You can see all of the updates for the year on the CMB2 Github page.

Although CMB2 is still a WebDevStudios property, Justin’s passion for working on CMB2, as well as the shared commitment that both Zao and WebDevStudios have made to open source, means it’s still Justin’s baby. You’ll be seeing more work from him on that moving forward.

CMB2 Group Map

We created this CMB2 add-on for Brian Krogsgard and PostStatus. It allows users to use CMB2 group fields to manage custom post type entries, and is used on PostStatus to associate footnotes with notes.

WP eCommerce

WP eCommerce got some love this year, with three minor releases and eight core contributors working on the plugin. We continued significant development efforts for an upcoming 4.0 release. The 4.0 release has been in the works for the last five years! WPEC also strengthened partnerships with strategic partners like Paypal, Amazon, and TSYS ProPay.

GatherContent

Zao worked with GatherContent to release a major rewrite and many improvements to their GC integration plugin. While GatherContent is not an open-source platform, their WordPress plugin is open-sourced, available for collaboration, and offers benefits to open source in its availability and transparency.

Since Zao started working on the GatherContent WordPress plugin, there have been sixteen releases. The plugin is benefiting from active development, bug fixes, and feature updates. You can see the work we’ve done from versions 3.0.0 and up right here.


Sweet, sweet numbers

Zao plugin downloads in 2016: A whopping 504,855

When compared with 2015:

  • Analytics for WordPress downloads went up 5%
  • GatherContent’s plugin downloads went up 88%
  • CMB2 downloads went up 511%
  • Dsgnwrks Instagram Importer downloads went up 39%

Our revenue increase: 121.7%

Wow! These are the kind of numbers that make us feel good; it means what we’re doing is working.


All in all, it was a productive year that showed a lot of growth and prosperity. And it laid fantastic groundwork for 2017. Things in the world may be challenging, but we believe staying true to our work and being productive is one way of being radical.

We’re looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings, and we hope to see you on the way.

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This is a Human Issue: Zao Stands with Refugees

We stand with our immigrant neighbors, our refugee neighbors–not because they have a positive effect on our bottom line, but because they are human and worth the inherent dignity of humanity

Like many of my fellow Americans, I’ve found myself a bit dumbstruck over the events that have unfolded from our nation’s executive branch over the recent weeks. An eternal optimist, I’ve done my best to find silver lining in it all.

The bright side of all of this? Americans all over our country are banding together in solidarity to show their support for their immigrant and refugee neighbors.

“What is a web development agency doing spouting political diatribes?”

That’s what you might be asking. It’s a fair question. This is not a political issue; this is not a “left” or “right” issue. This is a human issue.

Many business leaders have already come out in support of immigrants and refugees because they run companies who depend on those populations and their skills, or they run companies founded by immigrants.

This is all good and well, but at the risk of being repetitive: this is a human issue. 

We stand with our immigrant neighbors, our refugee neighbors–not because they have a positive effect on our bottom line, but because they are human and worth the inherent dignity of humanity.

None of this is (or should be) controversial. Many of us, in our dumbstruck state, are left asking ourselves, “What can I do?”

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if all of us do something, it will make a difference.

This is what we’re committing to:

Starting Local

To me, this is the most important part.

We may not all be able to go protest, or go to the ends of the earth and alleviate suffering, but we can all do something right where we are.

Zao Supports Refugees

Locally, Zao is committed to serving an organization who has been committed to serving Portland’s local refugee population.

Refugee Care Collective equips refugees to adapt to life within their first year of entry through partnering with local resettlement agencies and mobilizing the city of Portland.

We’re doing a matching campaign for RCC.

That means we’ll match anyone’s donation to RCC, dollar for dollar, in their name.

matching donations, refugee

If you hate these matching campaigns as much as I do (I mean, seriously, you want me to RT you and you’ll give a dollar? Come on. Just give the dollar.), fret not.

We’re giving $1,000 (to start) no matter what. We’d just love to be able to give it in your name, instead of ours. Just email your donation receipt to justin@zao.is, and I’ll hit you back with the matching donation in your name.

Other Pacific Northwest Organizations That Need Help

Latino Network

Latino Network is a non-profit that serves Latino youth, families, and communities. The news of the election has hit their community hard, and the support they offer the Portland-area is invaluable.

“At the same time, American voters made a choice to elect a President who has used harmful and divisive language that singles out Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, and other people of color.

I have heard from many of our staff members and community members about the deep fear that exists within our communities. Many of us, our families, and people we know came to this country as immigrants seeking a better life. Leaving one’s home to immigrate takes courage, strength, and a deep desire to seek something better for ourselves and our families.”

-Carmen Rubio, Latino Network Executive Director

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project fights for immigrant justice by providing direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community education. Since the election, they have been doing a ton of work to continue to advocate for immigrants and educate social service providers in Washington.

IRCO

IRCO has spent the last forty-plus years working with Portland refugees and immigrants. Their goal is to “promote the integration of refugees, immigrants and the community at large into a self-sufficient, healthy and inclusive multi-ethnic society.”

Islamic Social Services of Oregon State (ISOS)

ISOS is a charitable organization that works with a network of non-profits and community service groups through financial and public assistance. They provide refugee services, as well as needy assistance, family crisis, and alliance support.

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

There are parallels to history in what has recently happened. We said never again. The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education is an extremely important resource, particularly right now.

Hollywood Theatre

The Hollywood Theatre is a non-profit that screens special social justice related films and works with local non-profits (like Latino Network) to host screenings, with talkbacks, and gives the proceeds back to the organizations they partner with. Art has been a well-documented medium of political resistance and education, and supporting that is vital.

Regional Arts & Culture Council

The Regional Arts & Culture Council is serves Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties with grants for artists, non profits, schools, as well as advocacy, community services, and arts education.

Once again, art is a well-documented medium of political resistance and education–as well as an excellent therapeutic tool and a huge contribution to the community. It has been suggested that the current administration may eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would drastically damage many arts organizations–this one included.

The President and CEO of Americans for the Arts, Robert L. Lynch, shared a few things he has done, as well as how the community can rally against this, in a blog post on their site.

“I don’t take anything for granted with the will of an elected body, whether it’s federal state or local. Anything can happen…[s]o it’s important for the arts community to voice its concerns as much as possible.”

Robert L. Lynch, Americans for the Arts President and CEO 

Beyond Local

National Organizations That Need Your Help

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

These folks help protect and fight for the rights of those who have been uprooted, based in Washington D.C. They’re doing vital work and a great central hub for supporting refugees and immigrants.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

You’ve heard of the ACLU, and we have them to thank for blocking the unconstitutional ban that the world is still reeling from. They’ve decided to keep fighting–and these lawsuits are expensive. Supporting them is crucial.

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

EFF has done important work for many years. Considering that Muslim Americans returning abroad were recently asked for their social media accounts for evaluation upon re-entry, the work they do is going to be more important than ever.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)

BAJI works with and on behave of African American and black immigrant communities by building coalitions and initiating campaigns to push for racial and social justice. They’ve released their official condemnation of the recent executive orders, and will need support for the people they serve moving forward as well.

Immigrant Legal Resource Center

ILRC trains attorneys, paralegals, and community advocates regarding how to work with immigrants, and work with many different groups to shape public policy regarding immigration.

National Immigration Law Center

NILC is dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants through impact litigation, policy advocacy, and strategic messaging about immigration issues.

What Else Can We Do?

Call your representatives and voice your opinion.

The Sixty Five makes it easy to find your reps, as well as provides a simple script for callers to use, which is especially great for those of us who get anxious regarding calling on the fly.


I’ve given a lot of thought to giving, and I want to make sure that we can have the best impact possible.

If you’re familiar with organizations that are having a significant positive impact for refugees and immigrants, or if there are other things you think we can do to help, I’d love to hear about them.