The beauty of “smart simplicity”: Meet The Code Company

the code company (1) The Code Company founder Ben May talks at an industry event ©

The Code Company, a specialist agency that focuses on digital publishing, is one of Memberful’s preferred partners. They are WordPress experts and work on large-scale redesigns, migrations and integrations, building hundreds of tech stacks for hundreds of publishers.

The company has just replatformed Substack giant The Dispatch, a publication for reporting and commentary on politics, policy and culture worth $1.9 million and with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. I spoke to Stacey Astley-Clark, in the communications and partnerships team, about the company and its services:

“Our founder Ben May has been using technology to solve problems since grade 10,” starts Stacey. “He made his first website for a local company in year 12, and made $400.” Ben noticed that there was an emerging opportunity and a potential profession in all of this and so launched his first agency at the age of 22.

The Code Company didn't deliberately get into publishing, but did win a couple of publishing clients initially. Stacey explains: “We've carved out a niche in building technology for digital publishers and migrating from other platforms to WordPress, building membership functionality, and ad tech. We were initially platform agnostic, but then realized that nearly all of them sucked! Now we work exclusively with WordPress; there were too many ‘rescue operations’ from some of the other platforms.”

“The critically important engineering stuff, that goes into publishing websites, is what we do,” Stacey continues. They help publishers solve complex problems using WordPress and find ways to use technology to “increase their revenue, create greater efficiencies within the business and minimize tech-related business risk”.

Stacey and I agree that ‘tech is becoming less techie’ and this is really important for publishing. “Sometimes you have journalists, content creators and marketers using tech and they need to be able to use it without ringing a developer every five minutes.These are ‘words people’, not ‘tech people’.”

The Code Company helps these people create or migrate to tech stacks that make them self-sufficient: “They need something that's going to do everything it did before but in a much more streamlined way. We often work with publishers that have websites that are creaking with tech debt. Often a plugin won't give them everything that they want so we find it more efficient to build a custom integration, so they get everything they want, and none of the stuff they don't.”


The Code Company works with content businesses of all kinds, ranging from independent publishers to large entertainment groups. Recently they have completed the high-profile launch of Wondermind, a mental health content hub backed by celebrity Selena Gomez and Newsette CEO Daniella Pierson. Speaking of the launch, Bhavik Trivedi, Chief Operating Officer of Wondermind, commented: “I’ve never had a smooth launch. Until now. The website went live, scaled up with traffic spikes and all of our integrations worked perfectly.”

thecodeco wondermind The new Wondermind content hub ©

They also work with Nine, the biggest entertainment group in Australia. “We built their corporate site, plus publications, the country’s leading auto site, as well as Future Women, a membership community for professional women.” The Code Company also launched eBay’s local ads website. “That was a big one because they never had regional leads before and they started getting Australian leads as a result of that site,” Stacey confirms. “We recently built a new website Science Alert, which is a leading science publication in the US. It’s run from Australia, but most of its audience is in the US. We worked on that project for a year and a half!” she remembers.

But it seems the company’s sweet spot is working with slightly smaller established publishers that are looking to scale. “We ask, ‘How do you prove that you can publish? How do we get your business and your tech stack in the right shape for you to scale your business?’” Stacey says. This is probably where most of The Code Co’s clients lie; this might include independent media groups such as news website Crikey and Her Campus, a female college students media organization in the US (that The Code Company moved from Drupal to WordPress).

thecodeco hercampus The content hub across multiple devices ©

“We help smart and ambitious creators that are feeling frustrated or hamstrung by their existing platform or CMS (content management system),” Stacey adds. “They're coming to us looking for alternatives because they’re finding their existing platform is limiting in terms of what they can do. It's not very flexible and they take a massive chunk of the revenue.” In addition, it's getting more and more important for creators of any level to collect first-party data. “They're just not able to get that from platforms like Substack. We are building custom creator stacks that allow them to own their own audience,” she explains.

Solutions and services

The Code Company’s clientele might have built their website themselves, or might have asked somebody to build it. Either way, they're working with a lot of plugins. “As they've progressed, things are starting to break and they can't fix things themselves. It's creating a load of inefficiencies, complaints from readers, and they can't do what they want to do. Sometimes they can't do things as simple as adding something to the menu,” she confirms.

Mike McPhate at the California Sun confirms: "The biggest problem with my old membership site was that it was riddled with errors and confusing prompts about how to navigate it. I'd get emails almost every day from frustrated readers. After developing the site with The Code Company and Memberful, I no longer get those emails from readers, so that's just wonderful!" California Sun
The California Sun ©

As we all know, performance is critically important for publishers: “If the performance drops, they can lose thousands of dollars,” Stacey continues. “And they keep hacking out one plugin and sticking on another. Their performance keeps dropping until their business just isn't effective anymore. Then they'll come with us, with this big creaking tech stack, aware of the risk of their site going down due to performance.”

More publishers are wanting to diversify their revenue so more of them are looking at subscriptions and memberships. “We need to find a solution that is efficient and secure. A large part of our job is researching tools that are going to be life-changing for publishers,” she says. The Code Company works specifically with membership solutions, to avoid what Stacey calls “leaky paywalls”. She explains: “We've worked with other membership solutions before and it’s really easy to get around the paywall. If your business model, as a publisher, is reliant on paid content, this presents a large problem.”

New projects and events on the horizon

“The creator economy has boomed,” Stacey notes. “Creators are realizing that SaaS platforms have limitations, so they’re wanting to explore other options. Diversification isn't going away for publishers, but neither is the need to kind of keep looking at new ways to engage and get closer to audiences with more personalized and targeted content. Subscription offerings don't just create revenue, they create an opportunity to get closer to audiences as well, increasing engagement.”

“There are still print publications out there that aren't yet on digital and we are still getting interest from those that are realizing that if they want to survive, they'll have to pivot in some way to digital – and that subscription offering would form part of that.”

On the note of recent events, “Ben is a familiar face on the conference circuit,” adds Stacey. Recently Ben spoke at the Mumbrella publisher conference in Australia, and WordCamp US in San Diego. The talks covered the creator economy; focusing on ‘the minimalist publisher’ and how publishers can do more with less. This includes taking lessons from creators for bigger publishing organizations, often using membership solutions.

the code company (2) Founder Ben May is a familiar face on the conference circuit ©

It seems the company founder knows the industry inside out. “Ben's been doing this all his life; there’s no question that he can't answer,” says Stacey. “The feedback I get from speaking to clients is that if they have a problem, they might have to pay another agency two weeks to go and investigate. The Code Company’s tech team can literally solve it in 20 minutes on the phone, because he's seen all of them. That's gold for a business to have that kind of troubleshooting.”

In conclusion, Stacey says: “Publishing or running a website doesn't need to be as complicated as people make it. Our whole ethos is anti-complexity.” She and I agree that it's easy to get distracted by the latest gadget or theme or plugins – “these flashing lights aren't going to move the needle in any meaningful way,” she smiles.

The Code Company revels in “smart simplicity” it seems. Stacey concludes: “We offer the chance to find a tech partner that can actually help you get the business results you want, in the simplest possible way that works, without just dropping the latest buzzword.”

More information

To read more about The Code Company, to read case studies about previous migration and integrations, and to look into working with them, go to their website

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