There is so much clutter online. So many people claiming to provide the best and the edgiest information, but how do you know who to listen to?
We feel your pain! It’s one of the reasons we love interviews and are thrilled to introduce you to Robby McCullough. From the brief intro, Robby is the co-founder of a page builder solution Beaver Builder, WordPress geek, designer, developer, marketer and a live music junkie.
We also know that we can’t cover everything in one brief talk, so we’ve asked Robby to share any websites and resources that he thinks would be helpful in your quest to a better CMS.
For those who want to lead, read 😉
Thanks for joining us today, Robby. Please, tell us a bit more about your background, how long have you been working with WordPress and about your current ventures.
My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity. I’ve been working with WordPress and open source software for almost a decade. Prior to Beaver Builder, our parent company, FastLine Media, was a web design agency.
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
I’ve always had a passion for computers, coding, and technology. In all honesty, in my late teens/young twenties, the idea of a technology career wasn’t very enticing. I love the outdoors, hiking, fishing, biking, etc, and the idea of sitting in front of a computer as a career was a real turn off.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I was working at a non-profit, living with my folks, and scraping by financially, I realized I needed to get my act together and get a job with more opportunity. That was when I started building websites as “portfolio pieces” and pursuing a career in technology.
One of the times I can remember getting really excited about WordPress was back in 2011 when I had the opportunity to see Matt Mullenweg speak at the Zurb Headquarters in Campbell.
I love watching Matt speak. He’s so driven and the passion just pours out of him. I was very impressed with Matt! It made me take a closer look at WordPress and the surrounding community and really feel fondly towards the whole WordPress scene.
Where do you go first to get WordPress news, insights, and updates?
I have an RSS feed with a variety of WordPress news sites queued up. WP Tavern, Post Status are probably my main gotos for news. I also follow Chris Lema, Tom McCFarlin, and Matt’s blogs. There’s so much great content and great content creators in our space, it’s hard to keep up sometimes. I also try to catch the Matt Report, WP Chick, and Carrie Dills’ podcasts when I can.
What performance tips would you give to beginners (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Get MAMP or an equivalent and learn how to setup a local copy of your website and keep them in sync. Hosting companies like SiteGround, Pagely, or WP Engine also make it really easy to spin up staging sites.
Having an area where you can experiment with and test plugins/configurations is the best way to learn, and having the peace of mind to run experiments and testing without fear of breaking one’s site is huge. Just make sure to make sure you’re working on your staging site when making changes…
Specifically for performance, run your site through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool and follow it’s suggestions. Install one of the free caching plugins like Comet Cache. Cross your fingers that your site will get enough traffic that it forces you dive deeper into performance and optimization. Scaling problems are good problems to have! 🙂
Confess to us your biggest moment of WordPress fail?
Ha! That’s an easy one. I’ll add on a tip to my previous answer, once you setup a staging site, make sure you’re sure you’re on your staging site when making major changes!
I was trying to import/export all of the pages on the Beaver Builder website. I was importing them to a staging site (so I thought), and I was learning about the option in the WordPress Import tool to import all media and attachments. Long story short, I imported all our pages, but decided I needed to import all of the attachments, too. I went to the Pages area of the WordPress admin and hit select all, delete. Then, I had the heart drop moment when I realized I did that on our production site instead of my staging site! Ugh!
I was pretty quickly able to grab a database backup and restore everything, but gosh, I sure had one of those sweaty-palm, heart-sink moments when I realized what I had done.
I guess another tip would be to make sure you have a rock/solid, ongoing backup system in place. We use VaultPress. BackUpBuddy from iThemes is also good.
Have you ever faced the problem of website migration? If so, how did you manage to resolve it: by converting your website data manually or via an automated tool?
Call me old school, but I love the command line and WP-CLI.
Beaver Builder makes heavy use of serialized objects, and many search/replace tools don’t handle serialized data well.
I like to zip up the wp-content folder, install a fresh copy of WordPress, then replace the wp-content folder and import the database. Lastly, I use one of those two tools to search/replace the database and change the URLs.
You’re the co-founder of Beaver Builder. Can you share with us how the service was created and how you went about promoting it?
Well, we were in the client services business prior to Beaver Builder. We had a couple of clients that wanted us to use a visual builder to create a website so they didn’t “have to keep paying us” for updates/changes.
Both of those projects went off without a hitch and we realized neither of the two clients would ask us to make simple changes and updates for them.
We did an exhaustive search of all the builders on the market, and we didn’t find any that we were really impressed/happy with, so we decided to build our own.
In terms of promoting, it was a bit slow going at first. We tried to inject ourselves into as many conversations about page builders as we could. We didn’t originally launch with the name Beaver Builder, it was the FastLine Page Builder. On some advice from one of our first customers, we decided to rebrand to something a bit more memorable. Changing our name to Beaver Builder definitely helped us stand out in the crowd.
So what does Beaver Builder do? What do you think helps your solution stand out from other alternatives in the field?
Beaver Builder is a website builder for WordPress. Our page builder plugin and theme enable non-coders to create professional-looking landing and content pages or professionals to streamline their web development workflow.
We’ve always strived to have a simple and intuitive user interface. We’re also very adamant about data portability and the separation of data and design. If you ever disable Beaver Builder (but why would you want to do that!?) or switch themes, your content gets ported back into the WordPress editor in a usable form. No mess of shortcodes or anything like that.
What’s the coolest project you’ve ever worked on with WordPress?
I hate to sound self-involved here, but it’s Beaver Builder far and away! A friend from the high school era went through the Y-Combinator incubator program and started a very successful company. At that point, I tuned into the startup/silicon valley scene, and starting a company was always a dream of mine. I treated all my websites like little “startups.” Beaver Builder has given me the opportunity to live out that dream.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for WordPress to face in 2016?
The first answer that comes to mind is the competition from hosted platforms like Shopify or SquareSpace. WordPress still has a stigma for being prone to hacks and insecure. A lot of this stems from the vast ecosystem and thousands of extensions, themes, and plugins available, and that many users don’t realize the importance of updating. Especially as the WordPress ecosystem continues to grow so rapidly, I don’t think this problem is going to go away.
If you could change one thing about WordPress today, what would it be?
WordPress does some amazing things to maintain backward compatibility. One of WordPress’ strengths is its ability to run on just about any web hosting account you can find out there. But, there’s also a lot of bloat and legacy code. This strength is also a weakness.
jQuery suffered from this problem, too, and we started to see lots of modern, lean jQuery alternatives. Tools that basically did the same thing, but without the bloat. I think it would be awesome if there was a fork of WordPress that was lean and mean and re-engineered for modern web stacks.
That’s my technical answer.
On a more human level, I strongly support WordPress’ mission to democratize publishing. If I could wave a wand, I’d love to give everyone that doesn’t currently have it, access to WordPress, i.e., the ability and freedom to publish their thoughts.
What new features would you like to see in upcoming versions of WordPress?
Haha, well, I hope we don’t see a front end builder. 🙂 Just kidding. There was some talk recently about a WordPress notification center. I like that idea. Similar to how the WordPress Customizer provides a standard interface for theme authors, I think it would be great if there were more established standards for theme and plugin authors to communicate and build interfaces for their users. To elaborate, a lot of themes and plugins have their own custom interfaces. If a user switches to a new theme with an entirely new options panel, I think that learning curve stifles adoptions and growth.
If you were interviewing a WordPress developer or designer for a job, what question would you ask first and why?
This might be cliche at this point, but I think personal/side projects are a great start. A formal education or degree are also great, but having side projects shows that you’re passionate about your craft. I also believe real-world side projects are the best way to learn something new.
Tell us a bit about your working setup (hardware + software). Could you shoot us a picture of your desk? 🙂
Oooh! I love this question. Thanks for asking!
I am using a mid-2014 Retina 13″ MacBook Pro with a maxed out processor and ram! I am a gamer, and prior to meeting Billy and Justin (my business partners) I was a die-hard PC. I built my own rigs for the last decade. While I really miss the ability to overclock my processor and continually upgrade my rig, Billy and Justin brought me over to the “Mac side” and I’ve never looked back. Between the Mac-only, web-specific tools and the Linux “bones,” I love my mac!
At home, I use this 27″ Asus Monitor. I’ve had my eye on a curved ultra-wide display, but I’m waiting to see if Apple releases a 4k pro monitor before I upgrade my monitor.
Finally, have we missed anything? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
Hmm. Well, in all honesty, I am typing this up while sitting on a plane ride to New Orleans for a conference.
When I was younger, I was a lot more reserved and a bit shy. Conferences/networking events were really intimidating. As I’ve grown older and wiser, and as I’ve made more and more virtual connections with people, I’ve come to realize the immense benefit of meeting people face to face. Conferences and WordCamps are great ways to meet the people you work with and follow online in person, and it’s been one of the most beneficial and enjoyable activities I’ve found since starting Beaver Builder.
Thanks, Robby and good luck with Beaver Builder! 😉
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