I’ve been a little lax on the blog of late, I’ve been busy writing for other sites (which is quite cool), but back into it full swing. I thought I’d dive back in feet first, and what better way than with an interview with a kind of hero of mine (massive GeneratePress fan right here!) Tom Usborne.
Tom was kind enough to answer the questions I sent over, in between a hectic workload and releases of GeneratePress. Thank you Tom.
What was early life like?
Early life was great; I was super lucky. I spent my early years living on farms, getting tons of outdoor experience.
My Dad was a farmer, but he was also a computer guy as far back as I can remember, which had a huge influence on me as I got a little bit older.
How did you get started with WordPress?
I started off with Joomla, simply because WordPress seemed more catered to blogging at the time. Needless to say, once I gave WordPress a real shot, I never looked back.
I, for one, am a massive fan when it comes to GeneratePress, how in the blazes did it come to be?
I needed a theme for my clients. Every time I would get a new client, I would go on a massive theme hunt for a theme that made sense for them.
It was a huge pain, and most of the time, I ended up using bloated themes that I needed to unpick to match what I needed.
I created a couple of different themes back in the day that was very GeneratePress-like, but not as good. GeneratePress was my third try at making something lightweight that could be used for any site, and it stuck.
I’ve heard from through the grapevine that you have a small team of five, is that true?
We’re actually a group of 4. Our two support specialists (they really are), David and Leo, and then my wife (Stacey) and I.
How do you manage with a small team?
The second reason for having a small team works for us is because of the product itself.
I’ve worked super hard over the last five years to keep GeneratePress as simple as possible. When you keep things simple, bugs don’t end up weighing you down.
I would say that over 3/4 of our support topics aren’t actually related to GP issues at all – they’re mostly customization/WordPress questions.
What tools do you utilise within your team?
We stick to Slack and GitHub – nothing more. Our Slack is mostly joking around (lots of gifs), but it’s also where we brainstorm and improve GeneratePress.
A lot of people might not realise but GeneratePress the base version is free. With 200k installs, 2.1 million downloads and over 800 positives reviews on WP.org, that’s impressive. What’s the secret of your success?
I’m not sure if there is a secret, really. None of those numbers would be true without our users. Every user is important to us, and we treat them that way.
There are no “dumb” questions or comments – we read and reply to every single email, and we do our best to help solve everything that comes our way (even if it’s not GP related).
Other than maintaining a high standard when it comes to support, we try to be as consistent as possible with our updates.
Our job is to make your life easier, so we try incredibly hard not to cause any issues when you update your websites.
I personally put a lot of time and effort into this, and it’s showing in the number of white hairs I’m getting! 🙂
Did you reach out to anyone in particular blog-wise, I mean how did you get the word out about GeneratePress?
I didn’t – we actually didn’t get a lot of love when it came to “top 10 themes” lists for a long time.
When you work hard enough and keeping knocking on the door every single day, good things happen. Hard work and consistency was the key here.
How critical are reviews of GP on other blogs? Do they account for a large percentage of upgrades for the premium version?
Good question! Our affiliate program has really taken off in the last couple of years, so those blog posts are definitely a factor in our success.
As a user, which I think is an important point to make, I find GP very easy to use, it’s my go-to theme, what research did you perform initially to get GP where it is today?
Most of our options initially came from my own experiences and needs with my clients.
I wanted to speed up development time, and GeneratePress was my way of doing that. I have to give huge props to the developers of the Customizer, as GP wouldn’t be what it is without it. It really paved the way for the ease-of-use that we’ve been able to achieve.
How did the premium version come about? Was it always your intention to release a free WordPress theme? Or did you spot a gap in the market for additional features?
My previous themes were premium-only, and they didn’t work. I had really given up on premium themes. GeneratePress was mainly a tool for me, but I also wanted to contribute something back to the community.
Releasing it as a free theme was my way of doing that. Once it started gaining traction, I released multiple $5 add-ons, just as a way to keep development going.
That started to work, but it was a pain to maintain compatibility between tons of add-ons. That’s when GeneratePress Premium was born.
Many theme developers lockout decent functionality, with the freemium method. Was there a particular feature you felt had to stay irrespective of an upgrade?
Honestly, I think the biggest feature in the free version is the lack of features. It’s incredibly fast, simple and stable, which is a big part of its success. GeneratePress wouldn’t have worked if I loaded it with every feature I could think of.
With regards to WordPress.org, which can be a volatile place in terms of reviews, how in the hell have you managed to keep the positive reviews?
We respect our users, and we do everything we can to help them, even if it means answering questions that have nothing to do with the theme.
When you use GeneratePress, you add us to your team. If you look through our 5-star reviews, you’ll see the majority of them mention our support.
I’ve noticed your Facebook Group for GP has a strong following; people interact and get help. How important is support to you on-site and off-site?
It’s the most important thing to me. I’m personally not a big social media guy, but our Facebook Community is awesome when it comes to users helping users – I love seeing it.
Of course, if that fails, our forum is the way to get your questions answered 100% of the time.
In the premium version of GeneratePress, the site-library has some stunning works you can import, was it hard finding talented people creating child themes?
It wasn’t hard at all – I knew right away who I wanted to work with, and they were all kind enough to accept and help me fill the library. I’m incredibly grateful to each of them.
I’m more comfortable with the code side of things, so it made the actual development of the library a lot easier knowing I had awesome designers to help populate it.
For me the main thing I love about GeneratePress is the elements, how did you come up with this?
The general idea behind Elements wasn’t new, but I figured I could improve the overall functionality of it. As I was rebuilding our Hooks and Page Header modules, I realized they were really the same thing (give or take a few options).
I managed to replace those two modules with the one Elements module and doing so not only improved the UI and UX of those modules, but it made maintaining the code and keeping it lightweight a lot easier.
I’m a huge fan of Elements, and it’s about to get a lot better in GeneratePress Premium 1.10 😉
Page speed, GeneratePress is blazing fast; how have you managed to keep it quick without scrimping on features?
After support, performance is the most important thing to me. I profile everything I code to make sure things aren’t going to slow down your site.
If I’m building a feature that might negatively affect performance, I won’t hesitate to rebuild it (or scrap it altogether). Performance over features every single time.
Another thing I love with GeneratePress is the way it outputs structured data. How vital was SEO in your mind when you built GeneratePress?
I think SEO kind of comes naturally when you build something with performance in mind. I try to keep CSS and HTML as clean as possible, which in turn helps with your rankings.
Of course, your content is the most important thing when it comes to SEO, so we focus on keeping things fast for you while you do the rest.
GP supports page builders like Beaver Builder & Elementor thanks to the page builder container. What’s the prefered page builder within the GP community?
Not sure I want to get in the middle of this one! 😉
There are hardcore fans of both plugins (and others, of course). I think it really comes down to personal preference and your own individual processes. They’re both great plugins with great teams behind them.
Gutenberg is here to say (I love it) how vital is Gutenberg to the future of GeneratePress?
Incredibly important. It’s precisely what WordPress was missing. Before Gutenberg (and before page builders), I built our Sections module to break out of the old editor and allow for better designs (while keeping clean HTML).
Gutenberg is the next version of that, and we have some awesome things on the way to connect GeneratePress and Gutenberg even more than they already are.
Where do you see GP going in the next five years
Some people think themes are nearing their end, but I disagree. With GeneratePress, we’ve been able to keep things so lightweight and simple that it will continue to work for everyone for a long time.
We’ll continue to focus on performance and ease-of-use, and we’ll be integrating with Gutenberg on a deeper level (coming very soon).
Is there anything else you’re working on aside from GeneratePress? Anything exciting you can tell us about?
We’re working on our own Gutenberg Blocks plugin, which has been coded the GeneratePress-way. Don’t expect a hugely bloated plugin with 100 blocks – we have something much better than that almost ready to go 🙂
What are your goto plugins for WordPress, anything you recommend??
It really depends on the site. I love Autoptimize – it just works, and it really helps clean up your CSS/JS. Other than that, I always install Yoast (again, it just works, although they update far too often for me).
Is there anyone in the WordPress world you admire or like what they put out there?
Pippin Williamson is someone I’ve always admired. His tutorials used to really help me back in the day, and his plugins are awesome. I use Easy Digital Downloads and Affiliate WP on our GP site with great success.
How do you manage your time between GP and family? With so many installs, it must be hard to take time for yourself (including answering my stupid questions!)
I have the best job in the world when it comes to family time. I really get to pick and choose when to sit down and work, and when to just hang out with my little ones.
The only time I’m stuck in my office is when I release updates. Other than that, I just go by feel. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to ride the wave if it’s there.
If I’m really feeling it, I can get a week’s worth of work done in a day. If I’m not feeling it, I don’t force it – I’ll put the computer away and go hang out/do something with the family.
I always ask this, time machine time, if you could go back, what would you have done differently?
Oh man, this is a tough one. I really don’t have a lot of regrets when it comes to GeneratePress. I’ve never really rushed into anything that I’ve ended up regretting.
I take my time when it comes to major decisions, which I’m sure is annoying to a lot of people who are wanting new features all the time. If I had to choose something, I would have just gone with a single premium plugin right away instead of the $5 add-ons.
What do you listen to while working?
I love podcasts while I work — the main one being the Joe Rogan Experience. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks, but sometimes that doesn’t work depending on what I’m working on. Sometimes I’ll throw on a docuseries on Netflix or something if there’s nothing else.
Thank you Tom
I did push for more information on GeneratePress premium version 1.10, but Tom was reluctant to spill the beans. The theme business is a competitive place and I don’t blame him for keeping quiet on it’s secrets!
I do however appreciate the time Tom has taken to answer my questions, as a fan of GeneratePress, it’s good to know how important support is, keeping GP lightweight and of course the future between GeneratePress and Gutenberg (I for one am super excited about where this could go!)
So big thanks Tom. And for those of you who don’t know the theme GeneratePress is available on WordPress here for free. Also if you wanted to extend GeneratePress with a whole host of extra features, there’s a premium plugin available here.