At Cowork Frederick you can find professionals from a variety of backgrounds and enterprises. Members are freelancers, small business owners, work from home warriors, policy consultants and lawyers, and much more. Last time we talked to Matt Johnston about his work empowering local artists and musicians. Other members find their focus in the field of marketing and technology, like Derrick Miller who is a founding member of Cowork Frederick, and a burgeoning entrepreneur.
Derrick Miller is a Maryland native, growing up in Hagerstown before settling in Frederick. He came of age when the internet was more like the wild west, full of the unknown, but also full of possibility.
As a young person, he became fascinated with computer programming and networking. His interest led him to a job at the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, where he helped create their very first news website. He then worked at various ISPs (Internet Service Providers) before finally striking out on his own.
In 2001, Derrick founded Axis 80 Interactive, a full-service web development agency.
He recently spun off another brand called Commerce Components. Under this company, he created Faqtastic, an easy-to-use FAQ page app built to improve search engine optimization (SEO) for e-commerce store owners who use the Shopify platform. I sat down with him to learn more about the development of his new app.
You’re one of the founding members of Cowork Frederick, what drew you to coworking?
I saw an announcement that a coworking facility was going to open up downtown. At the time I had been working from home, had my office set up in the living room, it was kind of taking over the living room and I just would go day in and day out without seeing other people. It was isolating sitting in front of a keyboard and I just needed social contact. I think that’s the whole idea behind Cowork Frederick, so people aren’t isolated working from home. It has absolutely worked out as described, right?
Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of your company, Axis 80 Interactive. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?
Thank you. Axis 80 Interactive is a web design, development, and digital marketing agency. We started out in Hagerstown Maryland, serving small business clients. We focus on web design, back-end development, e-commerce, and so on.
Did you find that you had more e-commerce clients as the pandemic started to roll through?
I did see a spike in demand. People were scrambling to move things online and it wasn’t just e-commerce. Just anything that could be moved online people wanted to move it online. There is a huge demand for work, and it hasn’t let up either.
This pandemic forced people to realize that they had to change on a dime. They needed to pivot quickly or else they were going to lose a lot of business. Are you seeing more people pivot to creating e-commerce sites?
Yes. I had been using Shopify (an e-commerce platform) to develop websites for clients for many years. So I’ve seen its growth. It’s gotten really big. They have this app store which allows third-party developers to offer add-on apps and earn subscription revenue. They handle all the monthly billing and subscription management. It makes it easy on the back end of things.
What is the Faqtastic app, and what does it do?
This app was built specifically for Shopify. You can use Shopify to put up an online store, so it only works on that type of website. To simplify, this app helps companies build an FAQ page that will improve their customer service, reduce support costs, and boost their SEO.
How did you find the process of developing the app? Was there a learning curve or was it fairly easy to figure out?
I have a background in SEO, as well as development, so there wasn’t much of a learning curve for me. I already knew what I needed to do to build it. It was just a matter of finding the time to do it because you’re pouring time into this thing and nobody’s paying you to do it, right? I spent about 600 or 700 hours on it. Part of that time involved learning some new programming languages.
How did you get the idea to develop the app?
In the field of web development, you can either build a product, or you can do client work. I had been doing client work for a long time, and I wanted to try something new. I have seen many other developers find success with building a subscription product. Some subscription apps are used by tens of thousands, or even millions of people. I realized that I’ve never built a product so I was interested in giving that a try.
Can you give me some details about the process of developing the app?
I spent some time looking at the apps that were available on Shopify and trying to identify a market niche. I wanted to find an under-served market because I felt like it would be a good candidate for an introductory app. You want something that you know retailers are gonna find useful in their store and something that helps with SEO too.
What I ended up building is an app that allows store owners to add FAQs to their site – FAQ pages, product FAQs, etc. The FAQs are displayed on the site using something called Structured Data, which is a type of markup that makes the FAQ questions eligible for inclusion in Google’s rich results snippets. That can help make a store more visible in Google’s search results and drive traffic to their site through SEO.
The main goal is to help businesses streamline their FAQ sections. Can you tell me about the app’s features?
Yes. Faqtastic helps e-commerce shop owners on Shopify to create a clean, organized, and easy-to-use FAQ page with collapsible category headings. It’s built for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Faqtastic automatically makes your FAQ questions and answers eligible to be included in Google’s “rich results” snippets that appear above normal search results.
How is this different from your work at Axis 80 Interactive?
When you’re doing client work, you’re doing what the client asks you to do. They’re making every decision as to how you spend your time. This is a chance for me to make all those decisions and see how it goes. I loved having creative control over the whole project. I can watch it grow and progress in the long term. It’s a slow process but in the end, you really have something.
You can view and install Faqtastic here.
About the Author:
Bethany Good is a prolific poet, creative writer, author, and storyteller. In 2019 she finally found the role she was meant to play, when she became the Founder, CEO, and “Head Wordsmith” of Good Writing Co., which provides copywriting, brand voice consultation, digital marketing, creative storytelling, and other content writing services. She is also a wife and mother of two elementary-aged children. In her limited free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and telling neighborhood kids to get off her lawn.