Sorry! Internet Explorer is not supported on this site. Please view on Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Having fun at Zao is one of our values. We’ve put limited animated flourishes throughout our site to communicate our love of levity. We also recognize that onscreen movement is not fun or possible for everyone. We've turned off all our animations for you per your browser's request to limit motion. That said, we don't want you to miss out on the party.

Here's a funny joke to enjoy!

What do you get when you cross a dyslexic, an insomniac, and an agnostic?

Someone who lays awake at night wondering if there is a dog.

Zao: A Look Back at 2017

Last year, we celebrated a huge 2016 with excitement and anticipation for what the future would bring.

We’re happy and humbled to report that 2017 didn’t disappoint. We added a Project Manager to our team, we posted some rad content, worked on some incredible projects, and learned a lot along the way.

Here are the highlights of what went down in Zao’s 2017:

A 2017 Retrospective

The Zao Team

Full time staff

We grew by one team member this year: Lizz Ehrenpreis joined Team Zao as a project manager! Early in 2017, we knew that our merry band of developers desperately needed a PM to help rein things in, and Lizz has done a brilliant job of doing exactly that. She’s naturally bent towards clear and consistent communication, a mix of detail and big picture thinking, and firm but kind boundary setting (all hallmarks of a great Project Manager). As she has been in the process of undergoing a digital apprenticeship program for project managers, our entire team has been benefiting immensely from all that she is bringing to the table.

Editor’s Note: Lizz did not write this herself, because that would be weird. 

Team Bonding

We wrote a little bit on how we’ve upped our team bonding this year.

We’ve included things like:

Weekly standups, with weekly questions

Our weekly standups started off as a touch-base with one another, face to face. We use, and would cover our highs and lows of the week. As our project load has increased, we also started integrating formal updates regarding what we worked on, reporting if anything is blocking our next steps, and what our focus will be for the next week. We usually ask and answer a team bonding question about our goals, our favorite memories, our fears, etc. It’s a small thing that provides a way to keep getting to know each other better each week.


Every single person on our team is committed to self-improvement, so when we aren’t overwhelmed with work, we’ve been doing workshops that help us understand each other’s roles more thoroughly, and bond us together as a team.

We started using a few months ago, with low expectations, and it has turned out to be an awesome tool we use all of the time. Our Slack rooms are filled with bonus points and recognition for our fellow team members when they do something rad. Appreciation is such a core part of how we work together, and this elevates it from merely verbal recognition to something that feels a little more “tangible.”

We’ve only recently started using This allows us to track how we’re feeling each week, as well as our week to week goals and accomplishments, and ask for direct support from our fearless leader (Justin) in the process. So far, it’s a great way to keep track of each team member’s feelings about work, keep an eye out for burnout, and communicate directly about what we need and where we’re at.


Jon Campbell

We brought Jon on in 2016, and we’re so glad for it! We had the opportunity to work with him throughout the majority of 2017, and had opportunities to bear witness to his skills, professionalism, and excellent attitude. He was an integral part of our success on a number of projects, and we’re grateful to have him as part of our network of partners.

We featured Jon on our blog just a few weeks ago; we highly recommend reading the post to learn more about him.

Stacy Kvernmo

If you’ve been paying attention in the WordPress world, you’ve probably heard of Stacy Kvernmo. She worked with WebDevStudios, where she met JT and Lizz, and has been successfully bringing her UX and design insights to make the WordPress world a better place for years. We had the distinct privilege of working with Stacy on two huge projects at the end of this year, and both the Zao team and the project itself were better for it. She brought her UX expertise, intelligence, and dedication to the table, and taught us a lot.

We featured Stacy on our blog just a few weeks ago; we highly recommend reading the post to learn more about her.

Ian Bixby

One of the things we’ve consistently struggled with is how to create the best blog images. We aren’t designers, and the ones we created ourselves were okay, but often up for debate (hands down, JT is the one person on the Zao team who can really make the best of the bunch). We’re so glad we found Ian, who is an amazing designer. If you look at our blog posts for the last few months (including the one on this post), you’ll see some of the work he’s done for us. His work is consistently thoughtful, charming, and done extremely promptly. Ian is one of the most prompt and communicative designers we’ve ever worked with, and is an all around impressive fellow who is also fun to work with.

We featured Ian on our blog just a few weeks ago; we highly recommend reading the post to learn more about him.

Projects we worked on

Note: We worked on more projects than the few highlighted below, with some awesome people. We specifically picked these based on the uniqueness of the work we’ve done, not the quality of the client!

Hornblower Niagara

One of our favorite projects in 2017 was for a small company called Niagara Cruises (a subsidiary of Hornblower Cruises). A small mom and pop outfit, they sold nearly three million tickets in 2017 for cruising the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. An incredible feat, and we’re elated that we’ve been able to play a part in modernizing their website for their next season.

We were able to work closely with their entire business and marketing department to completely rebuild their eCommerce integration with a new payment gateway, custom server-to-server integration with their ticketing provider’s API, and a completely custom Vue.js app for the entire checkout process. Bringing their website into the modern era with a deep understanding of their business goals paired with our ability to effectively build new technology to support them has been a huge win for us for 2017!

(Our work for them hasn’t quite launched yet, but will be very soon! Keep an eye out for more updates on that soon.)

Circle by Disney

We had the opportunity to partner with Disney this year on building an internal marketing intranet site for their global distributors for their parental device monitoring product, Circle.

Brooklyn Tweed Wholesale

In 2016, we did some pretty cool work with with Brooklyn Tweed, and we were all too excited to take on another project with them in 2017.

One of the things Brooklyn Tweed needed help with was improving their wholesale process. We did two major things that made the wholesale side of their business much easier to manage and maintain:

First, we built a custom wholesale order interface that allows them to create bulk sales orders. We created a way for the site admins to quickly navigate through Brooklyn Tweed’s wholesale product inventory and apply a large quantity of each item that needs to be ordered–without having to hunt through the WordPress dashboard or having to reference the front-end to track down product IDs, etc. We ensured this interface integrated with the Shipstation plugin, which makes the wholesale and shipping process much easier.

We also created the ability for them to freeze inventory and manually deduct the actual inventory from WooCommerce when they say so. This was extremely important for their process, and now they have full control over it for their wholesale orders.

Lastly, we created a way for them to split orders based on how many items of the order are in stock. For example, if there’s a wholesale order for 100 items, but only half of those are in stock, the order will split and generate a new order for the backlogged items.

The second big thing we created for Brooklyn Tweed’s wholesale project was an integration with Quickbooks, which allows them to tie in their wholesale orders with Quickbooks, and manage their orders between Quickbooks and WooCommerce. They handle their wholesale billing and payment through Quickbooks, as well as manage their customer relationships in Quickbooks as well, so being able to synchronize that data was important to them. Now, they can access the Quickbooks data and bill through WooCommerce with ease.

Before we took on this project, their wholesale ordering process was lengthy and unwieldy, adding a ton of time and effort to their team’s workflow. Now, the process is much more streamlined and controlled, allowing them to not only focus on more meaningful tasks and saving them time, but also setting the stage for future growth.

Ongoing retainers


In 2016, we built and released an awesome GatherContent plugin that we suggest you read about! This past year, we had a successful ongoing retainer with them to manage the WP forums, as well as helping supplement their support team. As a result, the GatherContent plugin had thirteen releases in 2017. We love long-term partnerships, and as WordPress nerds, we were happy to keep the forums clean and GatherContent customers happy.

Open source efforts


CMB2 broke huge news when we made it a formal collaboration with Human Made and WebDevStudios. In addition to that, we continued our commitment to maintaining CMB2 and improving it for all users. CMB2 received nine releases this year–four major, five minor, thanks to fifteen contributors in 2017.

WP eCommerce

WP eCommerce plowed forward this year with ten releases! This includes two major releases and eight minor releases. Over the course of the year, we had eight core contributors pushing code. Many significant UX enhancements were pushed to our new theme engine, slated for the upcoming 4.0 release, which is inching ever-closer.

Assorted Goodies


Community giving

We’ve said it time and time again: community is our jam. We did a few things to help give back to our local community here in Portland, Oregon.

At the beginning of last year, it became clear that taking a neutral stance was not an option. As a result, we started with a donation of $1000 to the Refugee Care Collective. We also shared a ton of resources for PNW and national organizations for organizations that are more than worthy of your support.

We capped off the year with holiday giving, where we adopted two families in the Portland metro area and provided their holiday gifts. We operated as a team to help identify deals, gift ideas, and then coordinate the drop off. It was a lot of fun, and most importantly, made a big impact for two families in need.

Internal education

We believe strongly in investing in ongoing education for our team. We believe strongly in hiring for the person, not the role, and aim to invest in our awesome folks to help them grow personally and professionally. We had several opportunities to do that in 2017:

Louder Than Ten

One of the big things we’ve talked about several times this year was Louder Than Ten, a Project Management Apprenticeship program Lizz joined in late May of 2017. Although Lizz had experience with managing small individual projects, she had not acted as a Project Manager for a whole company, and was excited to join the ranks of Louder Than Ten’s very first class of apprentices. She’s learned so much from the program, and has brought a wealth of information back to Zao in the process.

Team Treehouse

Liz knew she wanted to up her game in JavaScript and took some of Team Treehouse’s courses. This inspired her to build her own Yahtzee web app from scratch.

A Day of REST

JT and Justin flew out to Boston to experience the fantastic conference (put on by some of our heroes over at Human Made), a Day of REST. We learned tons about the latest changes to the WP REST API and what is possible with it, as well as some of the common challenges we all face with it. We were able to come back to work implementing some of what we learned immediately, #winning!

This event motivated us to clean up and release a new version of WP API Connect UI. As always, we love hanging out with our WordPress peeps, and appreciated the effort PostStatus and Human Made put in to make this incredible event happen.


In October, Justin had the opportunity to join many of his eCommerce community colleagues at WooConf in Seattle. It was two days of jam-packed WooCommerce information. We are especially excited about the upcoming changes to the WooCommerce marketplace and taking a more active role in the core contributor community for WooCommerce.

Cool story, Zao

One of the coolest things about 2017 was how much content we published. We really upped our game, not only in consistency, but also quality. We had the opportunity to share more insight on our work, as well as discuss changes in the WordPress community and technology, and share collaborations we’re proud of.

These were our top ten posts for 2017:

#1: The WordPress Economy is Changing and Zao is Ready For It

#2: My Thoughts on Gutenberg

#3: A Healthier Option Helps WordPress Users Improve the Options Table 

#4: How to Use wp.template, WordPress’ Underscore.js Template Method

#5: CMB2 Grows: Where Human Made, Zao, and WebDevStudios Meet

#6 – Using the WooCommerce API with wp-api.js

#7: Sublime Text 3: Tips and Tricks for Performing Editor Magic

#8: How to Troubleshoot Print Style Sheets

#9: Quickbooks and WooCommerce: It Was Only a Matter of Time

#10: WooConf 2017 Recap

Sweet, sweet numbers

Number of blog posts: 47

Compared with 2016: 12

That’s a content increase of 291.67%.

Site traffic: +94.49% from last year!

Overall commits of our team this year: Over 7,100 commits across all of our projects

Revenue increase: 55%

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *