Josh Strebel on Pagely and NorthStack

In this second episode of 2019, I talk with Robbie McCullough from Beaver Builder.

Robby is from Silicon Valley originally, and with his two co-founders he started the Beaver Builder plugin, which has half a million installs now and is one of the best-loved page builders in WordPress.

Although he's from Silicon Valley, he takes a very irreverent and relaxed approach to building the product. They have a irreverent name, Beaver Builder, with a very cute little mascot. Their whole approach to newsletters and to dealing with their customers is very friendly and warm.

Follow Robby via his Twitter account at @robbymccullough and his blog RobbyMccullough.com.

Subscribe to the OSTraining podcast on iTunes, or use the podcast player below. We're also on Stitcher, Overcast, and other popular podcast apps.


Transcript of the Interview with Robbie

  • Steve: Hello everyone, and welcome to Episode 33 of the OSTraining Podcast. I'm Steve Burge, and in this week's episode, I'm talking with Robby McCullough from Beaver Builder. Robby is from Silicon Valley originally, and with his two co-founders he started the Beaver Builder plugin, which has half a million installs now and is one of the best-loved page builders in WordPress.
  • Steve: Although he's from Silicon Valley, he takes a very irreverent and relaxed approach to building the product. They have a kind of irreverent name, Beaver Builder, with a very cute little mascot. Their whole approach to newsletters and to dealing with their customers is very friendly and warm.
  • Steve: Just before we started the podcast Robby told me that he's just hit the road to become a digital nomad. Even though he's running a large and successful business, he's gonna be on the road and traveling for the next year or so. We'll talk about that for a while and his approach to business, and we'll also talk about the elephant in the room toward the end. Gutenberg and how the Beaver Builder team are going to deal with it.
  • Steve: Hey Robby, welcome.
  • Robby: Hello. How are ya?
  • Steve: Oh, I'm doing great. Robby, I'm over in Florida. Where are you today?
  • Robby: I am in Lake Tahoe area. I'm right on the border of California and Nevada and doing a bit of an extended workcation out there. I'm trying to learn how to snowboard.
  • Steve: Oh really? You're from Silicon Valley originally?
  • Robby: Yeah, I am. I actually, I was in the Santa Cruz Mountains area for the last five years. I grew up in Silicon Valley, but I just gave up my place there this month. I'm gonna try a stint at doing the digital nomad lifestyle. I'm doing some traveling. I'm doing a few weeks up here in Tahoe, and then I'm heading down to Southern California for a couple weeks for a work event and then hoping to go abroad. Bounce around and do Southeast Asia and Europe and maybe South America. I haven't planned things out at all. I'm kind of free winging it, but yeah, that's the plan for the year or longer.
  • Steve: Literally a few weeks ago you packed up, you hit the road. You don't really have a clear plan on where you're going. Right now it's learning to snowboard. Next it could be something a little different, and then you're making it up as you go along?
  • Robby: Yep. Yeah, exactly. I just moved ... Gosh, moving is such a pain. There was a little while there while I was in the middle of the move where I was having a bit of a crisis existential like, "Oh my gosh, this is a horrible idea," when my life was ... This might sound silly, but I needed to trim my fingernails, and I couldn't for the life of me find my fingernail trimmer. And that was where my life felt super chaotic.
  • Robby: So I'm lucky enough, my folks have a place not too far from where I lived in the Bay Area. I've sold a bunch of stuff, got rid of a bunch of stuff, but I'm building a storage shed out in their yard. And I have a bed to sleep. So my home base is still gonna be Bay Area thanks to the generosity of my folks. I can do laundry there and reset between trips.
  • Robby: But yeah, now that I've finished the move and have that set up and I'm on the road, I'm enjoying it. I've been out snowboarding. I got a place, it's about two minutes away from a ski slope and got a season pass so I've been going out snowboarding just about every day for the last week and a half or so here.
  • Steve: Did you know how to snowboard before this? Or you just learning completely from scratch?
  • Robby: I went out once at the end of last season and ended up just sitting in the snow on my butt the whole time and falling over and over again. So I took a lesson at the beginning of this season. But no, I didn't really know what I was doing. Although I've been progressing now. I think the trick really is to get a lot of hours out there on the slopes. So I went from, they call it falling leafing, if you've snowboarded or known anyone that does. It's where you go back and forth like a falling leaf, so it's falling leafing on the bunny hill at the beginning of the season. But now, I actually hit my first black diamond yesterday, and I've been learning how to carve and ride switch, so things are starting to click finally.
  • Steve: That's the selling point of snowboarding, right? It's meant to be much easier to learn than skiing. You can be up and running on a black diamond in weeks rather than months or years.
  • Robby: You know, it's funny, my uncle's a really longtime fantastic skier. And then I have some friends that have been snowboarding. I think everyone thinks that their downhill method of choice, be it ski or snowboard, is the harder one to learn. Like one's harder to learn or the other's, it's easy to learn, hard to master. And to be honest, I'm not really sure. In my experience with snowboarding, one of the tricky parts when I was first starting was learning how to navigate when you're not on the hill. So just skating, they call it, from the bottom of the hill to the lift. I found that really, really awkward, and I fell a number of times just trying to get into the lift line. So I saw the guys with their skis and the ski poles being able to push themselves along with the ski poles. That looked way easier. And same thing, getting off of the lift was another challenge getting started. But I can't really speak to ... I think they're both probably difficult to master and have their own challenges when it comes to learning.
  • Steve: When I was younger, I lived in Japan for a few years and learned to snowboard a little bit. My expertise after about two weeks was rolling down the hill and knocking over lots of little Japanese kids. This is about 20 years ago. There's probably some Japanese kids 20 years later who are growing up now and think, "Who's that idiot? That idiot British guy doing knocking me over?" It's hard, especially when you're going slowly. It's probably easy when you're going fast, but when you're going slowly, you're hopping from the lift to the top of the slope, your feet are tied together on this board.
  • Robby: Yeah. I'm fortunate that I've been here all week, and I've been able to go hit the slopes on the weekdays when there aren't that many crowds. It's scary when there's a bunch of people out there 'cause not only are there guys that are really good that are going super fast and shooting by you, but then you have the beginner folks ... I just was a beginner so I was one of these people, but that don't really have the self awareness of where they are on the mountain and they're just trying not to fall so they're kind of veering all over the place. I found it more dangerous and frightening going down the bunny hill yesterday ... What is it, it's Monday today so it was Sunday, really busy out there ... than I did when I was just getting started, but I had the place almost to myself.
  • Steve: Like going on the highway with 20 learner drivers, 20 average people, and 20 people in Ferraris.
  • Robby: That are just trying to get by you. Yeah, exactly.
  • Steve: What inspired you to get out on the road and to leave the home you've lived in for 30+ years?
  • Robby: We are a distributed company. So I've been working remotely for about four or so years. Our company is Beaver Builder. We're a page builder for WordPress. Prior to doing software product, we were a web design agency. When we were a web agency, we all had an office. There was three of us, myself and my two business partners. We had an office in Campbell, California, and both of my business partners, their families grew. They had children, and at the same time the Bay Area housing market has just been getting extremely competitive and extremely expensive. So they both outgrew their places in the Bay Area and decided to look elsewhere and moved about two or three hours outside of town.
  • Robby: At that point when they moved, we decided to shift the company from being in office to being distributed. The distributed and remote lifestyle has been both ... It's bittersweet. I love it. There's immense freedom. I can work from anywhere. But I also find it a little isolating. So I was thinking about doing this travel stint for a while. I don't know what finally made me pull the trigger. But I found that I was doing a bunch of traveling, and I was paying rent in the Bay Area and it just didn't make sense. I probably spent two or three months away from the place that I was paying for, and I thought, "I should just get rid of this place and travel full time."
  • Steve: I remember you telling me that you had gone on at least one trip with Mendel Kurland, who was running trips overseas for Geeks, basically encouraging people to get out of their shell, to have a digital detox, to change up their environment. Where did you go with him?
  • Robby: Yeah. We went to Iceland. Mendel's company is called Geek Adventures, and I'm a huge fan of what he's doing for all the reasons I just mentioned. I think the premise or the motto of his company is that he takes people that he knows through his tech network and also he has another, it's called Hiking with Geeks. I'm not sure exactly ... I'm not sure if it's a company or some sort of a nonprofit or just an organization, maybe it's a meetup group. But the idea is that we spend all this time connected to our phones and to our computer screens and plugged in if you will, so he tries to host these trips where you disconnect and you're out either camping or traveling.
  • Robby: It's funny, so we went to Iceland together. It was myself and him, and I wanna say about 25 other people on that trip. The whole idea was it was the digital detox, and so we were going to this relatively remote area of Iceland. We got out there ... Everyone had perfect cell phone reception, and so Mendel was kinda like slapping himself on the forehead because he'd sold it as this digital detox. Interestingly, the country of Iceland and the community out there, after they had that big volcano ... I think it was in 2009 there was a giant volcano, it shut down air travel throughout Europe for a few days. They made a point to install cell phone infrastructure in the very remote areas of Iceland as kind of an advanced warning, emergency warning system. So they had fantastic coverage out there. I admit, I might have done some Instagramming from the top of the mountain. I think one guy got a couple games of Hearthstone in.
  • Steve: Mendel needs to come with a bucket or something for everyone to put their cell phone in.
  • Robby: Yeah, I think so.
  • Steve: You started doing a few of these and then decided to take the leap to do it full time. You feel as if you're working less? You feel as if you're slowing down when you become a digital nomad and on the road? I know certainly for me if I'm home and working in my home office, there's a tendency to put in 10, 12 hours a day without even thinking about it. You find as if your pace of work is changing now you're on the road?
  • Robby: It's a good question. Personally, I find I go through phases of very, very high productivity and phases of lower productivity. I think there's some things that lend themselves to having a full keyboard mouse and a big monitor setup. If I'm doing any kind of design or web development work, I find that a little bit harder to do on the road. But things like writing, I find that I'm a lot more productive when it comes to writing when I'm out on the road, especially working from coffee shops or things like that. Currently I'm in a very high productive mode ... It tends to happen too during the summertime. During the summer I do a lot of camping and music festivals and things where I actually am kinda off the grid. But during the winter is when I try and really buckle down and get a lot done. So there's that.
  • Robby: But also when I've done extended travel before, even when I had my place, there was almost this kind of feeling of guilt or responsibility. Everyone knows I was gonna be out doing this trip or that trip but I didn't wanna disappear off the map. There's almost more of a motivation to keep productive just to prove that I'm not slacking on my responsibilities. Even prove to myself that I'm able to do this. Yeah, it's interesting. It's different working on the road. I don't find that I lose productivity. I think it's just a different type of productivity.
  • Steve: You're one of the three co-founders of the company so to some extent you're setting the tone for everyone else. If you're constantly Instagramming trips or days on the snowboard, then you're setting a deliberate tone for the company, whether that's the one you want to or not. Do you feel as if perhaps as you get older and Beaver Builder gets more successful, that's almost the tone you want to set? I know there's a book out recently by the Basecamp guys advocating a very deliberate approach to having a more relaxed way to run your business to put less stress on your staff, to allow them to enjoy more of a personal life.
  • Robby: Yeah. That's a good question. That makes me think ... We've been fortunate that as the company's grown ... Beaver Builder's about to have its fifth birthday this year so we've been going for about five years. In the early days before we had a lot of employees and a lot of support from a team, it really was a lot more of the hustle and grind lifestyle. I think that kinda trend ... It used to be almost like a cliché in Silicon Valley or in the kind of startup scene, if you're not working 10, 12 hours a day and taking weekends off, are you really working? It's all about hustle and grind. I think we're starting to see a shift in just the ecosystem as a whole recognizing that, that's not necessarily a healthy way to live nor is it productive. Right?
  • Robby: I think our role as co-founders and business owners has shifted a lot. We've been able to bring on support and help from our team to help with the day-to-day responsibilities which gives us ... We've been doing some work on a new product right now. It's still very experimental. We don't have anything really particularly to share on what it is.
  • Robby: That's one of the goals for 2019 is to release a new product. Back when we were answering all the support tickets ourselves and doing all of the development ourselves and fixing all the bugs and doing all of the community outreach and evangelism, we didn't have time to go and build things, which is really I think where we ... It's the work we enjoy most is the creative part. You start from this creative space when you're running a business or starting a business. You're building something. It's new, it's growing .But then as it grows, it becomes almost more of a maintenance job that takes away from the time to create new things.
  • Steve: Once you get to a certain size, there's a limit to how creative you can be. You have a massive audience that expects certain things that maybe have been with you for five years doing things in a certain way, and every change has to become more incremental, perhaps a little less creative. It always struck me looking at Beaver Builder that creative is one word, perhaps whimsical. Certainly every time I look at the Beaver Builder logo, I get a smile, which is probably what you guys intended. The name puts a smile on your face. The logo is a cute little beaver. You seem to have a whole approach to building Beaver Builder that is very laid back, very designed to put a smile on people's faces?
  • Robby: Yeah. I think it's both unintentional and intentional in some ways. The three of us ... I love telling the story. So Justin and Billy who are my two business partners, met, Justin was playing guitar in a punk rock band, and Billy was managing the local music venue. That's how they met. This was before I knew them. I met them through a Craig's List ad. What did I used to say? We were all rebels that came together. Our personalities get to come through our brand.
  • Steve: You mind me asking what kind of a Craig's List ad it was? Was it for musicians? You guys were gonna form a band or something?
  • Robby: At that point they had started FastLine Media, which is the parent company, and it was the name of our web agency. I mentioned that they were outgrowing their houses and having children and all that. So Billy was expecting twins, twin boys at that point in time, so the agency was growing, Billy had twins on the way, and they wanted to bring on some extra help. It was a web development design position. I remember the tagline or the line of the Craig's List ad said, it said something along the lines of if you wanna join a quick growing Silicon Valley startup where you can learn on the job and hone your web development skills, this is the one. It's funny because they wrote it in a way that was very traditional or using all of the Silicon Valley buzzwords. And I saw it, and I was like, "Oh, this is for me."
  • Robby: Then my Dad actually told me, he's like, "Son, go buy yourself a nice suit. Invest in yourself for this interview." So I went and bought a nice suit and then I spent, at the time for me especially, a lot of money on it. And then I got a text from Billy ... This is the day before the interview, and he's like, "Hey, by the way, don't dress up. We're super casual here." I was just like, "Oh my God."
  • Steve: Did you keep the receipt? Could you bring the suit back?
  • Robby: I ended up wearing it, but I rolled up my sleeves. That was my solution. I went in there, and he was wearing jeans and a tee shirt. Has a really good set of tattoos and I came in, in my nice suit. But with no tie and I rolled the sleeves up. He was like, "I thought we said don't dress up." I probably told him the story and he thought it was funny. The rest is history. I managed to land the gig, and we started working together and then we started Beaver Builder. The original plan was it was gonna be a separate company the three of us were gonna do together, but then it ended up engulfing the client services business as it started growing.
  • Steve: Was there anything that really triggered the growth, the success of Beaver Builder? You've gone from zero users to half a million in five years or so. That must have taken some tricks, some different way of thinking. What do you attribute that rapid growth to?
  • Robby: We were fortunate. I think in the WordPress space you see a lot of solopreneurs or people that start products or plugins, themes, whatever it may be, as a side project in addition to their maybe full-time job. There was three of us, and we had a web agency that was successful. It was paying the bills. Justin is our lead developer. He started working on Beaver Builder as that classic side project. He went home in the evenings and it was just this hacking project. As it started becoming something substantial, we all started using it on our projects and we were like, "Wow, this is really good." We'd used a few page builders before at the time and they just had a lot to be desired.
  • Steve: You're a WordPress agency knocking out WordPress sites for your customers, maybe dabbling in some of the other page builders on the market, and you decided it could be done better.
  • Robby: Yeah. Exactly. That was one of the reasons I think we were able to build a good product is that we were literally, we were hands-on using it, we were the customers that we eventually learned that we were trying to target. We had a lot of experience in that space. But we also had the benefit of having the agency work. For a while there we were splitting ... We would answer tickets that came in, in the morning and then we would all knock out a few hours of client service work, and then we'd do some more Beaver Builder work in the evenings. There was three of us that were able to all contribute our time to it. It wasn't the sole source of income for the business. So we were almost able to leverage the client service business and pour and invest some of that momentum into Beaver Builder.
  • Robby: And then we got really fortunate too to have and still a very fanatical user base. We have great users that are really passionate about our projects. A lot of our early growth came from word of mouth. I gravitated towards the marketing side of things, but I didn't have a background in marketing or any experience. It was a happy accident. And then also a testament too to Justin and our development team is that the product, it's really well built. And it's good software. I always used to say it makes my job easy 'cause this is a great product. We're lucky it seemed to resonate with people.
  • Steve: Was there a moment when you thought, "Okay, I need to quit the agency and we should go into this full time?" Was there a sudden spurt of growth?
  • Robby: Yeah. One of the big turning points or initial traction points was we got an article from Chris Lema, who's a blogger in the WordPress space. He works at Liquid Web now, but at the time, I think he might have been full time blogging. But anyways, he had a very popular blog readership of WordPress users, and he wrote an article about Beaver Builder. He became one of our early evangelists. That was when we started seeing ... after that article came out, things started really blossoming. Then he invited us to a Mastermind conference that he's been organizing called CaboPress. This was I think four years ago, so this was when we were about one year in.
  • Steve: So [inaudible 00:21:15] for those people that haven't seen it, that's a small group of people that go down to the tip of, what's the peninsula in Mexico?
  • Robby: Baja, California.
  • Steve: Yeah. And have a little meeting. Nowhere near the size of a WordCamp. This is more like 10 or 15 people?
  • Robby: Yeah. I think it was around 30 people, but it was a very intimate small group. For the most part business owners. Usually there was two camps. There was either plugin software businesses and then also service businesses, agencies and such. He invited us to that. I remember the email came through. It was like, "You guys," 'cause again this was kind of like my suit. It wasn't the cheapest price tag, and we were trying to justify this. We're like, "Oh, we're gonna go spend thousands of dollars to go be on a beach. Is this a good use of our time and our money?" And he wrote us an email saying, "You guys, I really think you should, I'm not just trying to get you to buy tickets to my conference.i think this would be a really good thing for where you guys and your business, where you guys are at in your business." To his credit, he was totally right.
  • Robby: So I lovingly and jokingly call that my MBA in a weekend. I learned so much just from getting to talk to other business owners and people that had gone through what we were going through in terms of hiring people and marketing and building software and growing a community. It really was immensely beneficial.
  • Robby: One of the things that came up during that conference, and we heard this advice from multiple people, was that we should choose one. You're never gonna be as good doing two things as you will if you just pick one. So we had the client service business and we had the product business. At the time it was we just were scraping out enough revenue from Beaver Builder that it was a possibility. We were able to pay the bills with what Beaver Builder was bringing in. It was on the advice of a number of mentors and far more experienced entrepreneurs to double down and go all Beaver Builder, so that was the tipping point for us.
  • Steve: You got started ... It was kind of scratching your own itch and focused on making it easy to put up websites for clients. Over the years you seem to have moved towards the ... I was gonna say away, but I guess maybe back towards where you were originally in terms of you now target professional users much more heavily. Obviously, the elephant in the room is Gutenberg at the moment, and Gutenberg is ... Everyone listening has probably got an opinion on it, but Gutenberg is fairly basic, certainly a pretty long way away from being a competitor to Beaver Builder at the moment, even on the simple end. Beaver Builder is entirely on the front end. Gutenberg is entirely on the admin. Beaver Builder does the whole layout. Gutenberg just does the Editor so far. You seem to have moved towards the more professional, the more perhaps agency user to distinguish yourself from Gutenberg and some of the more basic page builders out there?
  • Robby: Yeah. It's interesting. It took us a long time to figure out who our customers were. Again, talking about the growth of us as marketers and product developers and designers. When we first got started, we weren't really ever trying to target a specific customer segment. We were just like, "Hey, this is our page builder. We hope you buy it. We hope you like it. We hope you use it."
  • Robby: There were always two camps of users or just like easy groups that we could identify. One was the freelance or the agency. Someone that was building websites for other people, which represented what we were doing and again, how we built the product to serve our own needs. We found that in that segment people also realized the benefit of using a page builder 'cause it would speed up your development process, and you could also hand off sites to your clients or customers and then they could potentially jump in and make changes themselves. Whether you wanted them to or not was a different discussion.
  • Robby: But then there was also this camp of users where maybe they were hobbyists or small business owners that needed a website and someone said, "Oh you should use WordPress," and then from there someone would say, "Well, if you're not comfortable writing HTML code or if you're not interested in learning web development, you should use a page builder, like Beaver Builder because you don't need to know any code. You can build your pages."
  • Robby: In response to Gutenberg and learning about Gutenberg, I guess it was over two years ago now, and I think where we see Gutenberg really making an impact is more on that hobbyist, small business owner side. Someone that's not particularly interested in becoming a web designer or a developer. We've started to cater our feature set a little bit more and fine tune things for the more power user and professional user.
  • Steve: What was your initial reaction when you're at WordCamp U.S. a couple years ago and you heard the announcement of Gutenberg? Did you have a moment of panic or did you immediately start planning on which direction to take Beaver Builder in?
  • Robby: If I'm honest, the moment of panic probably rings a little bit more true. Especially when Gutenberg was just an idea, there was a lot more concern that it was gonna encroach on what we were doing or potentially why would anyone need a page builder if WordPress Core has a page builder? But then as the project and as the tool developed, I think we all realized that ... Gutenberg is continuing to develop too. I think they're gonna continue to move in the direction of a page builder or a full layout tool.
  • Robby: But WordPress Core always has had this approach of, "We're gonna give you the bare minimum and let the third party ecosystem take over the rest." And this is evident with all the plugins and themes. There are things that belong in WordPress Core, and there are things that belong as third party. I think Gutenberg is always gonna ... They're trying to cater to this mass audience. One of the goals of Gutenberg was to increase WordPress's market share, and I don't think it's been said this way exactly, but assuming taking users aways or users that otherwise would be using something like a Squarespace or a Wix and making it easier for them to publish on the web.
  • Steve: Yeah, I've heard that from hosting companies we work with that the days of WordPress being in competition with other open source platforms are long, long gone. All the competition now comes from Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, and quite a few of the hosting companies were pretty open in admitting that they were winning at least in terms of new audience adoption, and that Gutenberg is a response to try and keep up.
  • Robby: Yeah. I've used this comparison a number of times now. I feel like it's getting a little cliché, but we'd like to see Gutenberg like the Instagram, in whereas we'd like to live in a Photoshop space. Instagram introduced a whole generation to photography and this idea of filters and contrasts and tuning your photos, if you will. But it's still very simplistic compared to what you can do with a professional photo editing tool.
  • Steve: I don't think you're alone in getting a quick moment of shock from some of these Gutenberg launches or Gutenberg announcements at least. I saw one of the upcoming phases of Gutenberg is going to be a multilingual setup inside WordPress by default, which is probably putting the fear of God into all the companies that make WordPress multilingual plugins.
  • Robby: Yeah, we joked about that when the announcement was made at WordCamp U.S. that we should go and buy the guys a beer over at WPML and Polylang 'cause we know exactly how they feel. When you hear that announcement that Core is getting into your space, but similarly what I got from that was that the Core team and the Core WordPress software, my hope is that they were just gonna make it easier for ... I don't think they're gonna have a full ... I could talk about this all day, but I think they're gonna make it ... same kinda goes for the whole collaborative piece. I don't think WordPress Core is gonna create a Google Docs similar experience when it comes to collaboration. But I think they can start building the pieces that third-party plugins would need to create that experience or make it easier for people to build on top of.
  • Steve: We've got a plugin in that space called PublishPress built on the old Edit Flow plugin, and we've already started to notice in the [inaudible 00:29:47] requests and the changes being made in Gutenberg particularly that they're starting to work towards that. Some of the key publishing features with workflows have started to get shifted around or even removed perhaps in preparation. I think today they just did an announcement on the WordPress.com site targeting publishing and workflows for magazines and newspapers. I think there's probably a monetization element in there as well. But I guess if you're in this business, the best you can say is, "Hey, they gave us two or three years' advance warning that they're gonna do this, and there's plenty of time to get my business ready or to get my business in a new position to target a new audience." They told you guys two years in advance that Gutenberg was coming for the Editor, WPML and those guys two years in advance, probably more.
  • Robby: Yeah. I think that's one of the ... There's benefits and downsides to leveraging a platform for your business. The other obvious example of that is the iPhone in the App Store. If you're building software for someone else's platform, you're always at their whim, but you get all these built-in benefits of the great community and the ability to focus on a niche and things of that nature.
  • Robby: And also too, I think one thing we saw with Gutenberg is that the Core software, being that it runs, what 30 plus percent of the internet now, they have to be a lot more deliberate, and they're a lot slower to make changes. They can't make as large of changes as a company like us or as a smaller development shop can in terms of the agility and embracing new technologies or new browser technologies, things of that nature. I think there's always gonna be a space for smaller teams and third-party software to experiment and grow in.
  • Steve: Did the main Gutenberg team ever reach out to you at any point to get your feedback and talk about page builders in general or even to give you some heads up about where they were going?
  • Robby: Yeah. They did. Like I mentioned, it was a little bit of a shock when we heard that initial announcement, but we've always been supporters of Gutenberg. I think the best case scenario for everyone is that Gutenberg is successful in the goal of increasing WordPress's market share. It's that saying, the rising tide raises all boats kind of thing. More users on WordPress is great for anyone that has a business in the WordPress space.
  • Robby: Of course, our hope is that once people get turned onto this idea of using a visual design tool, and they're looking for something more, that's where we can come in with Beaver Builder. We've always been supporters of the Gutenberg project, and we were involved in some of the discussions early on, in the planning and development phases. Once the product ... I keep saying product ... Once Gutenberg matured, we weren't involved so much in the development of it, but we got to do a lot of the brainstorming with some of the team members.
  • Robby: And then we're actually doing that right now again as Gutenberg moves into this phase two where they're doing full site customization. Our lead designer, Brent Jett, has been writing some fantastic, he calls them visual brainstorm blog posts, talking about what theming can look like in a Gutenberg world and how WordPress and themes and design can evolve when you take Gutenberg into consideration. What that could all look like. If you do a show note kind of thing ... I'll send you a couple links (Editors note: click here for the links) ... They're really great reads, and we're excited to be back in that conversation again 'cause this is like we were saying too, this is the fun part. The creative part where you get to build and experiment.
  • Steve: Part of dealing with a major shift in the market like this is to lean into it rather than to get nervous or perhaps run in a different direction. Part of what you're doing is actively getting involved with Gutenberg trying to throw out ideas, trying to have an influence over where it goes to make it better.
  • Robby: Absolutely. I think any time ... I feel like I have a bunch of one-liners today. Another one that I heard recently, I forget where, but someone compared WordPress to being in this kind of puberty style, pubescent growth phase where WordPress is changing a lot, but some of those changes are a little bit awkward, and we're not really sure what to do with them yet. But all of this rapid change leads to a lot of opportunity. We're already seeing it with the block ecosystem that's blossoming. There's gonna be plenty more business opportunity to leverage the new Gutenberg and what WordPress is becoming.
  • Steve: There's been a massive clear out of the old plugins that never updated for Gutenberg and lost opportunity for those that do support it or extend it. Have you considered any kind of Beaver Builder/Gutenberg integration? Is it gonna be an either or choice or is there possibly gonna be some block sharing between it? What's your thought on that?
  • Robby: We initially, again, going back to the fun idea phase, we thought this idea of, "Oh short codes and widgets and everything getting replaced with blocks. That's great for us. We can just bring blocks into Beaver Builder and that's gonna be a hunky dory situation." It turned out that working with blocks outside of the scope of Gutenberg really wasn't doable. There's again some kind of rumblings from the Core team in this space and forgive me, this is getting a little bit outside of my expertise these days, getting kind of dev heavy, but basically what the Core team needs and what we need is an ability to load an instance of a block or be able to edit blocks outside of Gutenberg, outside of the scope of the Gutenberg Editor. So I think this is coming up with menus within the Core team. If you wanna work with a menu in the WordPress Customizer or somewhere outside of the WordPress Editor, i.e., Gutenberg, that's been a really difficult challenge. We're hoping the Core team helps us solve this to make it easier 'cause we'd love to be able to leverage blocks in Beaver Builder.
  • Robby: Reversely, I know short codes, they're kinda like this, "Ah, short codes are bad," but well I could go into why and all the ... We have a few short codes that allow you to use Beaver Builder content, like let's say you built out a row in Beaver Builder that is like a call out for a newsletter subscription. So it's a row that says, "Hey, get all of our posts in your inbox. Put your email here and do that there." In Beaver Builder you can save that row and then use it all over your site. You can pull it into different pages and then we also have a short code that you can use to access those saved rows. You can currently use that short code in Gutenberg if you wanna bring content or layouts that you've built in Beaver Builder into a Gutenberg page, that's doable. We've thought about trying to make basically a block interface that just hides the short code and gives you a little bit more of a user friendly way of doing that. But we're still in the air as to whether that's something that people want or would actually use.
  • Robby: Currently, I think a lot of people that are using Gutenberg are using it to write blog posts, and it's rare that I've ever had a time when I wanna take a layout that I've built in Beaver Builder and inject it into my blog post. That's an idea we've been playing around with. Again, we're still waiting to see where all the dust falls after the big Gutenberg impact to see where and how we wanna leverage it, but we're definitely looking into ways that we can make the experience of building pages with Gutenberg and Beaver Builder better, assuming that anyone that starts using WordPress now is gonna be using Gutenberg and all of the existing sites out there are slowly transitioning over as well.
  • Steve: We've started to noticed a big uptick in the last, since the turn of the year, of people having Gutenberg related questions. It's almost as if December, no one was doing anything. Gutenberg launched, everything was, at least for us, everything was surprisingly quiet in December and then kicked off in January. Was that true with you?
  • Robby: Yeah. I think both just in general we find the holiday season to be a little bit slower, especially when we were doing client service work. Not a lot of people are thinking about building their new website in December. They're thinking about roasting turkeys and seeing family and things of that nature.
  • Robby: The Gutenberg launch, I think there was so much FUD, the fear, uncertainty, doubt, around the launch and getting it into Core, and there's a lot of controversy and drama around the communication and the dates and all that. But then when that update actually went out, it seemed to be for the most part, a non-event. There wasn't any major catastrophes. 30% of the web didn't shut down or break. I think a lot of people had to scramble to accommodate that date, and I think people ... Maybe the one criticism I've heard that rings true is that it would have been nice if the communication was a little bit more clear so that people would have had enough time to plan. But, it wasn't nearly as much of a catastrophic situation as I think people worried it might be.
  • Steve: 2019 for you guys on the Beaver Builder team. You're gonna keep on working and following Gutenberg. You have a secret product underway. Is there anything else we can expect from you? Anything big coming to Beaver Builder itself?
  • Robby: There's nothing major on our roadmap. I guess secret product feels so like, "Oh," I hate things that are secrets. I think right now we're just trying to explore some ideas that we could eventually productize. It's not like we have some code name secret project that we're trying to hide from the world.
  • Steve: More just getting back to being creative again.
  • Robby: Yeah. Exactly. Definitely planning to continue improving and working on Beaver Builder, maintaining Beaver Builder, adding new features. We haven't really dug into this yet, but I think it's exciting to think about where themes are gonna be. Again, Brent's articles have been talking a lot about theming in WordPress. Is the role of the theme gonna change? I think there's a little bit more ... We wanna see how phase two of Gutenberg pans out before we make any investments in that space, but doing something in the theming space ... I think themes are gonna drastically change so there might be some opportunity there. Pretty much continuing as is, just trying to create great experiences and build great products for people that are building on WordPress.
  • Steve: You personally, you're in Lake Tahoe now, just outside of California. Where you off to next?
  • Robby: Next, I'm doing an event called BeachPress, which is similar to CaboPress. But it's a co-working event for WordPress professionals. It's I think maybe 20 or so of us are getting a house on a beach in San Diego, and basically we're co-working. The goal, it's not a conference, there's not any kind of organized talks or schedules. It's like you go and you work, but then we're all gonna have dinner together. Actually, now that I'm saying it all out loud, it's kind of a unique event. So I'm gonna be down in Southern California for that and then after that, it's all kinda up in the air.
  • Steve: Cool. It sounds exciting. Where can people follow you?
  • Robby: Let's see. Our website is wpbeaverbuilder.com. Our blog's where I do most of my writing. And then we do all the social media stuff. Personally, I'm on Twitter and Instagram and all those things under my name, Robby McCullough.
  • Steve: I'll put links to those in the show notes. And also to your colleague's blog post on the next phase of Gutenberg, which sound really, really interesting.
  • Robby: Excellent. I'll shoot you the links on those. We've all been really impressed with the kind of thought and effort that he's been putting into those, and some of the ideas I think that are coming out of it are really exciting.
  • Steve: Wonderful. All the best for 2019, Robby.
  • Robby: Thank you so much. Great talking, Steve.

About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.