SitePoint Podcast #90: BlogWorld Interviews, Part 3

Episode 90 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Brad Williams (@williamsba) and Patrick O’Keefe (@iFroggy) share the third batch of interviews from BlogWorld Expo 2010 in Las Vegas. Listen in as they chat with Grant Griffiths of Headway Themes (@GrantGriffiths), Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner (@syedbalkhi), and Joshua Strebel of page.ly (@strebel).

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Interview Transcript

Kevin: December 3rd, 2010. It’s a WordPress interview extravaganza! I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #90: BlogWorld Expo Interviews, Part 3.

Hey there, it’s your old pal Kevin here and it’s another week, which means it’s another batch of interviews from BlogWorld Expo 2010. This week, Brad Williams, my fellow co-host, will be taking the lead because all of this week’s interviews have to do with WordPress. If you know Brad, if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any amount of time, you know he is the WordPress guy. And he was running all over the Expo floor pinning down prominent members of the WordPress communities to have a chat, and so we have three such interviews for you this week. The first one is Grant Griffiths from Headway Themes, Grant runs this company that builds this premium theme for WordPress, but it’s more than a theme, it is a drag and drop tool for designing your own WordPress site, and so we’ll be hearing from him on that. Then we have Syed Balkhi who runs a site called WPBeginner which is a beginner’s tutorial site for WordPress. One of the things I’ve always loved about working on the Web is that it’s something anyone can publish on, and Syed’s work on WPBeginner is preserving that state for one of the Web’s most popular publishing platforms, WordPress. Then we have Joshua Strebel from Page.ly, and Page.ly is a company who has guts because they are competing with WordPress with Automattic, the company behind WordPress, on their own turf by providing a commercial hosting service for WordPress sites. So if you are going to compete with WordPress, which provides wordpress.com hosting for their own software, you better have some pretty fancy tricks up your sleeve, and we’re going to hear from Joshua Strebel about exactly what sets them apart from wordpress.com. And so at this point I’d like to hand it over to my co-host Brad. Brad, take it away.

Brad: This is Brad Williams with the SitePoint Podcast recording live at BlogWorld Expo and I’m here with Grant Griffiths of Headway Themes and Blog for Profit, thanks for stopping by Grant.

Grant: Thanks Brad.

Brad: So, first let’s talk about Headway Themes. Why don’t you tell everyone what exactly is Headway?

Grant: Well, Headway is a premium WordPress framework theme, some people call it a theme, of course we call it themes in our name, it’s more really of a framework that people can use to build their site on WordPress. We have an exclusive visual editor that people can use to drag and drop, move things around, actually edit the colors and the fonts and all those things with it. As far as drag and drop you can move the navigation to the top or bottom of the header, you can easily upload your header to the site, and in Headway 2.0 we actually have a new built-in feature called our Quick Startup Wizard where once you put your banner in it will run you through these steps of finding the colors for you based on your banner giving you the color choices you can put into the different elements of your site, do mass font changes, those kinds of things, and have your basic I guess framework of your site up in a matter of just five, six minutes.

Brad: That sounds great. Now is 2.0 out now or is that coming soon?

Grant: No. It’s out in beta; 2.0 probably will be out sometime around October 24th.

Brad: Great, great. So, yeah, go back to kind of the drag and drop visual editor, I mean I would say that’s probably what you’re most known for. I mean I don’t know of too many other themes, or any off the top of my head I can think that actually do that, is that kind of the main feature above some of the other themes and frameworks out there is the fact that it’s much more visual than it is kind of code based.

Grant: I think that really is one of the key features, yeah, I mean we have the normal things like built-in SEO features and some of those things, but the visual editor really sets Headway apart from other themes or frameworks I think. I’m a non-coder, I don’t know any coding; I know just enough coding to be dangerous. I always tell people I have Clay Griffiths, the developer of Headway, I don’t need to learn how to code. But I, myself, can build a site with Headway with absolutely no coding except for some basic HTML and build a site in less than an hour using the visual editor and the drag and drop. The visual editor has really evolved from when we first came out with version 1.0 last July to what it is now, and it was July of last year actually, to what it is now. And it’s evolved into really, of course I’m biased, but it’s really evolved into an amazing tool I think for the non-coder to use, but we also have developers using Headway too.

Brad: I was going to say, if it’s the visuals obviously a really, really cool feature of the theme, but for the more hardcore developers does it also offer kind of easy ways to hook in through the code side and do things like that as well or is it all visual?

Grant: No, we have easy hooks built into Headway, we actually have a live CSS editor that’s built into the visual editor so you can actually put in your CSS that you want to use and you’ll actually see it happen right there in front of you. We really tried to make it so not only can the non-coder, do-it-yourselfer use it, but we have developers using it too.

Brad: And you are a premium theme, as they say, so what’s the purchase price of Headway these days?

Grant: Personal license is $87; a developer’s license is $164.

Brad: And does a developer license allow you to essentially use it on as many sites or could I use it for like client sites?

Grant: Yes. Now, what we do with the personal license you get support for two sites, the developer license you get support for as many sites as you want to build for yourself or for your clients. If your clients want support from Headway they would need to purchase the personal license.

Brad: Okay, great, great. And you actually just recently went split license, is that right?

Grant: We did. We are currently split GPL—currently. (laugh)

Brad: (Laughter) It’s always a fun topic when you talk to premium themed developers and designers about licensing and it can get touchy pretty quickly, but we won’t go too deep into it.

Grant: No, I appreciate that. Yeah, but really what’s amazing is when you look at our user base probably 95% of our users don’t really care.

Brad: They just want it to work.

Grant: Yeah, and that’s all we really wanted to do was build a product that our users could use and get the results they were looking to get. That’s really what we want to do, the license thing it’s too bad, I hope we’ve dealt with it and we can just move on.

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. So you also blog at — your blog is Blog for Profit, why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.

Grant: Blogforprofit.com was a blog I started. I don’t talk about monetizing a blog to get rich quick; I don’t talk about affiliate links, those kinds of things. Blog for Profit is really a blog I use to teach people and to communicate with people about using a blog or social media to promote or market a business. Not so much an online business but even brick and mortar businesses too. It’s not like some of the other blogs where they talk about affiliate links and using advertising to make money and those things, I really try to focus on using a blog to market your business with.

Brad: And I follow you on Twitter, I believe it’s once a week you have, which I think is really cool idea, you have almost like a Twitter Chat, a scheduled chat through Twitter to talk about whatever the topic of that week is, is that right?

Grant: Well, that’s actually — the hashtag is #SBT10 and it stands for Start Blogging Today, and Start Blogging Today is actually a membership site that I’m doing with some people where we have 26 core lessons and we have a bunch of bonus lessons built into it, and then we also provide some WordPress tutorials and those things, and we have a members-only forum. But I started the Twitter Chat, the weekly Twitter Chat, as part of that, and anybody can come, you don’t have to be a member of Start Blogging Today to participate, and it’s been a lot of fun and we’ve had anywhere from 10 people show up that participate to I mean one night we had almost 200 people show up. So I mean it’s a lot of fun.

Brad: Now, are you using a service for that or is it literally just you Tweet with the hashtag and that’s how you kind of, the conversation flows?

Grant: I use a Twitter tool called I think, what is it, F-L-O-K-K-E-S, or something like that, and I apologize if I’m butchering that because I don’t have it right here in front of me. I use that tool to follow the Twitter Chat myself because that’s all it does, and it puts the hashtag on it automatically for you and that’s really a great tool. You don’t have to use that, I think Twitter has — there’s Twitter Chat you can use to follow the conversation or you can just use a desktop application like I use Market Me Suite; do a search for the hashtag and follow it that way too.

Brad: Sounds like you’re staying pretty busy Grant.

Grant: Oh, yeah. (laughs)

Brad: That’s great. Why don’t you tell everyone where they can find you online.

Grant: Headway Themes is headwaythemes.com, Blog for Profit is at blogforprofit.com, and then startbloggingtoday.com.

Brad: Awesome, great. Well, thanks a lot Grant.

Grant: Thank you.

Brad: This is Brad Williams with the SitePoint Podcast and we’re coming live from BlogWorld 2010. I’m here with Patrick O’Keefe and Syed Balkhi of WP Beginner, how are you doing Syed?

Syed: Doing good, how are you?

Brad: Great, real good. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what is — for those that don’t know, what is wpbeginner.com?

Syed: Okay, wpbeginner.com is a WordPress resource site that is targeted towards beginners but we have content for every user level, moreso like how to do things with WordPress—basic stuff.

Brad: It’s a fairly new site, I mean how long is it; you’ve been around over a year now, right?

Syed: Yeah, we launched in July 2009.

Brad: July 2009, and in that short amount of time you’ve built up quite a community around the site.

Syed: Yeah, we use Twitter mainly, and Twitter right now, you know, Facebook and all that, it’s basically social media that we spend zero dollars in advertising the site, it got picked up by Robert Scoble, wired.com, Mashable, so we had some help in that sense.

Brad: Awesome. So do you have any tips outside of just Twitter and Facebook for someone that’s starting a website and they’re kind of looking to build a nice community and following around whatever they’re topic and site may be?

Syed: Yeah, the best tip I can give anybody is customer service. So, don’t try to get new customers, focus on the ones that you have and provide the best customer service. And these users will work as an anchor and they will go find more users for you because that’s exactly how we grew; you know, people don’t really re-Tweet stuff on Twitter, but our stuff was being re-Tweeted by these users who we were helping; we replied to every single email answering even the basic questions there were.

Patrick: So it goes without saying I guess that you’re a believer in the power of beginner content. I mean it’s something that Darren Rowse talks about with ProBlogger, he says his best stuff is the beginner stuff, the basic questions, answering those questions, and you kind of created I guess a resource, a market for that with WordPress to answer those beginner questions.

Syed: Yeah, I actually think that there were so many WordPress sites out there that were mainly targeted toward developers or designers. The best book there was was Blogging for Dummies, actually WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson, but again most people when they’re trying to use WordPress they don’t want to buy a book and spend money.

Brad: Well, I mean depending on what that book may be. (laughter)

Patrick: There’s a couple of books you might want to buy.

Syed: Yeah, like Professional WordPress is a pretty good book if you’re trying to get into WordPress. But as a new user our goal was first to teach people why they should use WordPress because a lot of corporates and a lot of people have this mindset that it’s open source and you don’t want to use it because it’s insecure or whatnot, so we covered that and then started going into beginner content showing the basics that most people don’t pay any attention to.

Brad: So you have a new site you’re launching, you want to give us some details, the inside scoop on that?

Syed: Yeah, we’re planning on launching WPBulk, similar concept of MacHeist; we’re going to bundle the best WordPress products for beginners with hosting, paid plugins, commercial themes, books that you might find helpful for blogging, WordPress, and we’re going to bring that to you for literally a fraction of a price, so it will be something that’s $500 worth for like 50 bucks.

Brad: It would actually be like a— So, for example, like a package of plugins and you would essentially install all those plugins in one shot?

Syed: What we will do is we will give away the downloads for plugins because essentially the products should be able to work with every site, but what if somebody doesn’t want to use a theme and just wants to use plugins, they have the ability to download that plugin from our membership area and then just go with it. And it will be limited time deals and it will come out periodically, so we’ll have a bundle one, or we’ll have creative names for bundles, and it will last for a month and there will be limited quantities as well just to keep the products exclusive.

Brad: Awesome, yeah, so that’s wpbulk.com, we’ll certainly have to keep an eye on that. Anything else you want to share with us before we go?

Patrick: Yeah, that’s kind of a hard question, you know, in the history of your life what was the most interesting. (Laughter)

Syed: Yeah, looking to expand WPBeginner into quite a few sections in terms of there will be a gallery because I don’t think that WordPress Showcase did a great job, and our gallery will actually feature stuff that looks good submitted by an average user even; you don’t have to be Jay-Z to have your website listed in our showcase, you can get it listed in our gallery having it launch. We’re also coming out with quite a few cool stuff within WP Beginner to get community to interact.

Brad: Awesome, so outside of wpbeginner.com where can people find you at?

Syed: You can also find me on Twitter @syedbalkhi, you can find me at my blog balkhis.com where I occasionally write about stuff.

Brad: Well, thanks a lot for stopping by Syed.

Syed: Thanks Brad and Pat.

Brad: This is Brad Williams with the SitePoint Podcast and we’re live at BlogWorld Expo with Josh Strebel from Page.ly. How’s it going Josh?

Josh: Doing going great, thanks for having us Brad.

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. So tell everyone out there, what is Page.ly, what do you guys do?

Josh: Well, Page.ly is a managed WordPress hosting system that we developed and launched about a year ago that takes anybody online with a new WordPress site in about a minute, includes automatic backups, core upgrades, plugin upgrades, partnerships with theme developers, pretty much everything you need to get your own self-hosted WordPress site online in a quickie.

Brad: So it’s kind of like hosted wordpress.org, is that a fair way to explain it?

Josh: Exactly. Think of it as WordPress as a service, wordpress.com has done a really great job of simplifying things for the user, but then they put some restrictions in place on plugins and theme usage where wordpress.org is a little intimidating to install and set up a database and do everything yourself, so we’ve kind of positioned ourselves in the middle of those two options where we take care of a lot of the technical things but then still give you the freedom to fully customize your site.

Brad: And you’ve also partnered with some prominent theme companies, premium themes and plugins; so why don’t you tell us how that works exactly.

Josh: Yeah, when we first launched we’re big believers in kind of a win-win scenario, you know, and working within the community, we’re very passionate about that, so when we first launched we reached out to Brian Gardner over at StudioPress and the guys at WooThemes and now with Jason over at Press75. And we established some partnerships with them where we’re able to give our customers access to the entire theme library from these developers as well as their support for a flat monthly fee.

Brad: So I could sign up within a minute, or however long it takes, 30 seconds, it’s a pretty quick process, I’ve gone through it, and I can literally just pick one of these premium themes and use as my site and within a minute or two I’m up and online with a StudioPress theme or a WooTheme.

Josh: You certainly are; not just one, you get the entire library to choose from so you can kind of pick and choose and play with whichever one you want.

Brad: Switch up every day of the week.

Josh: Yeah, a daily theme, certainly.

Brad: That’s great. How open is it? If I have a plugin that maybe isn’t as popular or isn’t as well known is that something I’m going to be able to install in my site or do I have to choose from a preset list?

Josh: Complete freedom, do whatever you need to do, believe it or not. Once you get past the technical setup and then the stuff we’re doing behind the scenes with your backups and your upgrades, besides that it’s just like having your own WordPress site. You can go in under plugins add new, get any plugin out of the repository, get any theme out of the repository, install it, do what you need to do and just customize your site.

Brad: And you guys take security very seriously, I know you’ve partnered with FireHost is it, the hosting company?

Josh: That’s correct.

Brad: Why don’t you tell us about security and what steps to take.

Josh: Well, if you guys watch the news at all this summer some of the big hosts have been absolutely lambasted for malware attacks and hacks, and it’s unfortunate. And when we started our business we knew what we were good at, we’re good at the application aspects of WordPress but we didn’t want to be server administrators, so we’re more than willing to pay top dollar to find the absolute best most secure server guys who could, and that happened to be FireHost. And they take care of managing the entire infrastructure, locking it down, they have millions and millions of dollars worth of hardware security appliances protecting our network which we pay top dollar for yet our customers gain that benefit for a fraction of the price had they gone directly to a secure host like that.

Brad: Yeah, that’s great. I’m real big on the security side of WordPress as well so I love seeing companies like yours that put a real focus on it rather than just kind of overlooking that and the next thing you know your site gets hacked.

Josh: Yeah, unfortunately it’s become a bit of a buzzword in that everybody says they’re secure now, yet how are they proving it? We have 387 days since we launched, perfect track record of zero hacks, zero malware, zero anything, so that’s how we prove our security chops.

Brad: Yeah, so you just passed the one-year mark, happy birthday to that, congratulations.

Josh: Thank you, thank you; it’s been a really fun journey.

Brad: So recently you just announced the Page.ly Vertical Platform, what exactly is that?

Josh: Well, we saw the opportunity again to bring other community members into the fold. We want to specialize strictly on the WordPress hosting and infrastructure side, so just as we partnered with theme developers and plugin developers our vertical platform allows a theme company or somebody to essentially white-label the entire Page.ly system. So our first partner was Graph Paper Press out of DC, they’re a great theme company that focuses primarily on photography themes, and they’re essentially able to stand up a hosting service with their themes preinstalled powered on the Page.ly platform. So that’s going to allow us to serve other niche verticals yet rather than trying to own them all ourselves we’re bringing in the best people in those spaces to run those verticals and create their own business out of it.

Brad: So basically they’re kind of branding Page.ly as their own and then bringing their clients to the Page.ly platform, is that right?

Josh: Exactly. And the way we do it is it’s a co-brand arrangement, so it’s “Get Pro Graph Paper Press Hosting powered by Page.ly”. And so the support is split as well so the customers know if they have a server question or email or billing Page.ly’s there to take care of that. If they have a theme customization question or a WordPress question, in this case Graph Paper Press or the vertical partner is there to take care of that.

Brad: Awesome, awesome. Well thanks for stopping by, Josh, why don’t you tell everyone where they can find you online.

Josh: Page.ly. Thanks for having us and really looking forward to talking to you guys again.

Brad: Great, thanks Josh.

Kevin: And thanks for listening to the SitePoint Podcast. If you have any thoughts or questions about today’s interview please do get in touch. You can find SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom. And you can find me on Twitter @sentience. Visit sitepoint.com/podcast to leave a comment on this show and to subscribe to get every show automatically. We’ll be back next week with another news and commentary show with our usual panel of experts.

This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad and I’m Kevin Yank. Bye for now!

Theme music by Mike Mella.

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