The WP Minute+

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Robby McCullough of Beaver Builder joins the podcast to chat about the future of page building in WordPress and at his company. Robby and his team have just celebrated 9 years running the Beaver Builder plugin, changing the page building landscape as WordPress users know it. He's excited to press forward into his next chapter of WordPress products with the Assistant plugin. Think of it as the glue to connecting your multiple WordPress websites across the cloud, sharing templates, blocks, and other data.
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For long-form interviews, news, and commentary about the WordPress ecosystem. This is the companion show to The WP Minute, your favorite 5-minutes of WordPress news every week.

[00:00:00] Robby: Beaver Builder is good.

[00:00:01] It is, been kind of slow and steady, for the last several years. We just celebrated our ninth birthday or anniversary of launching, this month in April. So it's, it's wild. Thinking about the, the journey it's been and how it's coming up on a decade long, how has

[00:00:22] Matt: the, Building a product in the face of, I'm gonna, I'm gonna dive right into it, Robbie.

[00:00:27] We're gonna do, let's do it. Yeah. Let's head first into this conversation. How has it been for the last few years? Building a page builder, a mature product in the face of Gutenberg,

[00:00:40] Robby: full site editing

[00:00:41] Matt: and sort of this core experience of page building headed to WordPress? Still not there, in my opinion.

[00:00:50] How has

[00:00:50] Robby: it been? It's been a rollercoaster of emotions for sure. I remember when. Gutenberg, the project was announced at Word Camp US that we, I remember going out, to dinner, after the state of the word that night and people kind of coming up and patting me on the back and being like, well, sorry man.

[00:01:12] that, that must have been fun. Page builders aren't gonna be a thing anymore. like, we definitely kind of had our, our fud, our our fear, uncertainty and doubt around whether there was gonna be space for what we were doing in the WordPress ecosystem anymore. as it's turned out, Gutenberg and the full site editing project, is still ongoing.

[00:01:33] I think it's taken longer to mature than people originally might have been, imagined. And it's, it's been, again, roller coaster of emotions. I mean, there were times when, You know, yeah. We thought that it was gonna, it was gonna take over the page building landscape. And then there's times that we've kind of realized that it could actually be enhancing the WordPress experience, bringing new people onto the platform.

[00:01:58] and then when they realize they need a little bit more than what they're getting in the core software, they start hunting around at some of the, freemium and premium solutions out there and, and find us. it's still interesting thinking about where, where full site editing is gonna end up in the next five years and, and what that's gonna look like.

[00:02:16] But, we've been able to kind of find our niche and our space and, obviously we're, we're still here and still going strong.

[00:02:24] Matt: I'm gonna ask you something that might be a sensitive question. okay. Might get edited out as, who knows? No. People might not even hear this next question or, or state.

[00:02:33] Not really a question, but I'm interested to hear your feedback. Years ago, I'd say that Beaver Builder and Elementor were sort of on this, shared,that same shared roller coaster ride, like that same rocket ship, everybody is going. Beaver builder, Elementor, Elementor. Now I think I, I don't have the stats in front of me, maybe 5 million active installs on the WordPress repository.

[00:02:58] Something around that mark. They [00:03:00] have cloud services. they have all sorts of bells and whistles. and this is not. Framing up to be a like beaver builder versus Elementor question. But what I've seen is the bigger that Elementor has gotten, the more negative impact I've heard from, from users. And I'm curious if there's some kind of, I don't know, shared emotion in that where users want more, they desire more, they want more bells and whistles, and oh, by the way, they want it for less money.

[00:03:38] and I've seen this happen, quite noticeably with Elementor because of their size. And it's just this, this sort of negativity is, is maybe amplified more in the Facebook groups, the YouTube comments, the Twitter sphere where I see these folks, sort of circle the waters. And I'm curious, like, is that something that you know, you share in, but it's just l we don't hear it as much because maybe we don't have 17 YouTubers talking about Beaver Builder like they do with Elementor for obvious reasons.

[00:04:12] Or, are you building a more opinionated product and helping out customers in a way that maybe Elementor isn't?

[00:04:22] Robby: Elementor is their, their growth story is, is really fascinating and it's impressive. And my hat goes off to their team for what they've been able to accomplish there. I, I just like, quick side note, got to meet several of the elementary team, one of their co-founders. I was out at Word Camp Asia, a couple weeks ago, and they're all, they're, they're a great crew.

[00:04:46] I had a really nice time hanging out with them. I think that their approach to building a business is, is very different from ours and they're, they've been on this kind of land grab mission to try and gain as much market share as they can and as short of. Period of time as they can, as I interpret it.

[00:05:07] And they've been doing that with the help of venture funding and they've been able to offer a lot of product for a very low price and, and kind of just do this command and conquer sort of approach to, to building a business. which is similar to, like, I grew up in Silicon Valley, reading Hacker News and, and kind of reading stories of people building businesses with, with venture capital and kind of that, Like the, the Facebooks and the Googles and the Airbnbs, like some of these companies that just continue to reinvest and reinvest and reinvest with the goal of, not necessarily like taking profit from the business, but growing these like huge capital or like, valuations and, Again.

[00:05:46] Yeah. So the, one of the comparisons I like to use is, is I think elementary is, is like a Starbucks where as I see us as more of like your craft coffee house on the corner. we've always kind of prioritized our [00:06:00] work-life balance and, growing out a huge team and having a huge user base has never been a goal.

[00:06:06] or maybe. Better put is like we found that we enjoy, we have a team size of about 20 people, give or take. And we found that we like this, like where we're at right now as a company is comfortable for us. And, yeah, we'd much rather kind of be the, the coffee shop on the corner where you can come in and, the barista knows your name and knows your order and are, are creating a product with a little bit more, more care.

[00:06:30] And, and I don't wanna say quality, but Yeah, just, just something that's a little more bespoke and, and individualized as opposed to trying to have, presence on every street corner, globally, throughout the world. I

[00:06:44] Matt: don't, I don't envy your position. At one point I did, cuz I was trying to build a page building solution many, many years ago.

[00:06:50] but I see this, and, and you and I might have talked about this in our last episode that we did together, which is many years ago. And it's also kind of scary, but it's weird to see people who, I don't know, pick up your product and then they go, well, geez, you don't have. Lottie files with animated things that do all these things that go across the screen.

[00:07:13] So what Elementor does, so I'm gonna take my whatever, $99 a year and shift it over to to Elementor, and then only to it only like six months later it'll be like, oh, hey, this other block. Page builder solution thing does this one other thing, and guess what? It's $20 less. I'm gonna shift my whole thing over there.

[00:07:33] And I look at, I look at tools like Beaver Builder, Elementor as very important pieces to somebody's, I dunno, agency or freelance career like you're saying, is this is my, this is my tool to build websites. My workflow, the stuff I rely on for support for my customers when they have questions, future enhancements, stability, updates, all of this stuff.

[00:08:01] And I'm like, wow, I can't believe people just bounce around for the next new feature. That's one extra feature for 20 bucks less or free in some crazy cases. And I think the writing's on the wall for these types of businesses that cannot sustain that. There's no question there, but I'm just curious, like, do you have a direct feeling on, on that sentiment in the marketplace, or am I just seeing things in this sort of bubble of social media?

[00:08:29] Robby: Y it's hard. Like I, no one can predict the future. Right. But, you're, you're kind of a WordPress og. I'm starting to feel like a bit of a WordPress og,been at it for over a decade. WordPress is celebrating its 20th anniversary now, so I, I mean, I probably came in in like year five or six.

[00:08:47] I wasn't there in the, the early days, but, I, I remember when we were first getting started building Beaver Builder and particularly building the Beaver Builder, what would become the Beaver Builder theme? We had a web agency, [00:09:00] and at that time, themes were kind of doing this, this feature race and pricing race where it was like you wanted your theme or you didn't want your theme.

[00:09:10] All these themes were, were including, they would have a page builder and they'd have a form builder, and they'd have. 20 different landing page templates and 15 different style configurations. And,the, the, the one theme was coming out for $79 a year, and then the next theme was coming out for $60 a year.

[00:09:28] Then the, the next theme was coming out for $50 for a lifetime license, and then 49, and it was, it was kind of this like feature race as well as a pricing race down to the bottom and. What happened was, like a lot of those themes just kind of weren't sustainable as far as businesses. So a lot of people chose one of those, big kind of mega themes that we used to call 'em to, to build a website or build their business around.

[00:09:52] And then, a year or two later when, something changed in WordPress and something broke on their theme, it wasn't being maintained anymore or there wasn't a support,system for them to reach out when something broke. So, that was kind of like, at that time that was why we made the decision to sort of specialize, on page building.

[00:10:11] And, and we've been seeing this in our community too. I mean, like Elementor and some of the other page builders have kind of raised the bar as, as far as what, is included with their software. if like, they include form builders and pop-up builders and all these, like you call 'em bells and whistles and, We, we, we, we've used all, like, we, we use form builders on our site.

[00:10:32] we use pop-up builders, but we, we've found that for us it works a lot better to choose a specialized tool, than to try and include, a, a half baked version of all these,different functionalities that you need on your website in our builder. that said, we are kind of reconsidering or we're, we're, we're in a place now where we're, we're looking at what's available in the market and what maybe we, we need to do to stay competitive in that landscape.

[00:10:56] and have considered kind of branching out a little from just a, pure page builder as far as what we wanna start offering with, with Beaver Builder. Yeah.

[00:11:06] Matt: I came across, A couple new, I think they're new to me anyway, saw them from our, probably our shared, mutual friend Paul Charlton's, YouTube channel.

[00:11:16] I can't remember the name of the, the products. I won't mention them anyway, but they are, they were doing something like this, a new page, building experience. for Gutenberg, right, or for a block space, WordPress. And I'm like, why? Why try to go after like page building experience when you have well known, well-rooted page builders already available.

[00:11:45] and you have full site editing with Gutenberg intertwined, like already happening. Just focus on the blocks side of things. Like if you're trying to get into this space, [00:12:00] focus on the blocks in the pattern side of it versus like trying to invent the wheel of what Beaver Builder does really well, which is building out templates and layouts and dynamics stuff.

[00:12:13] that's a hard road to, to cross, man. And if you're trying to, if you're trying to do that native to WordPress, like compete with full

[00:12:21] Robby: site editing, Good luck.

[00:12:24] Matt: Good luck. You need to have an opinionated experience, like a Beaver Builder and an Elementor. The folks who have these. Separate experiences for building, layouts and, yeah, I mean, I, I see this world where people are still trying to like, go in and say, we're the best way to build a website.

[00:12:40] And I'm like, wow, you really gotta have some marketing chops, to win that battle because I don't care how good your developers are, you're gonna need to get out there and get exposure, marketing and getting the word out there. Having said all that, has that been the biggest challenge for you over the last few years?

[00:12:58] Is marketing and awareness and getting the word out. if so, how or why? If not, what are you doing that's really

[00:13:05] Robby: working for the business? Y I, I was, I'm reminded of a, a saying that, I heard once and it was like, you don't want to be in a position where you're fighting against gravity. And yeah.

[00:13:16] What you're describing there, like building a, a layout tool on top of full site editing or on top of Gutenberg is like, it feels a little bit like fighting against Gravity. I. agreed though I think there's a lot of opportunity in the block space and, building, products that are complimentary and kind of adjacent to what's happening in Gutenberg.

[00:13:36] And the full site editor. again, another side, sorry, I'm gonna go on tangents, Fanya, but, when I was in, Asia, there was a. Sponsor booth that had, it was like basically a voting system. It was like a whiteboard with stickers and it was like one half of the whiteboard was the classic editor and one half was Gutenberg.

[00:13:52] And everyone that walked by could grab a sticker and kind of vote on which one they were using. And I was impressed to see that it was overwhelmingly, all of the stickers were on the Gutenberg side. And Gutenberg really is, is quickly becoming,the standard editor in the sense that anyone that's new to WordPress, anyone that has joined the WordPress ecosystem or started using WordPress in the last several years, that's all they know.

[00:14:18] And in terms of like marketing for us, and like what we're doing in, in response to that, I think we. it's always a challenge. we've been really lucky to have like a very, a very like vocal and passionate community and word of mouth marketing has always been really big for us. we also were around in a time when.

[00:14:40] Online advertising, I think was really, potent. Google ads and Facebook ads and leveraging, the social, social media like algorithms, to get the word out and to bring people together. Like there was a time when. It was very, very effective. and relatively inexpensive to, to run Google ads and Facebook ads and look [00:15:00] alike audiences,

[00:15:00] and now like there's been some privacy changes in iOS that have affected that. there's just, more competition out there, which is increasing the. prices you pay per click. we we're in a kind of new like phase of our, our marketing journey where we're, we're doing a lot more experimentation right now, because some of those old tricks, if you will, aren't working as well as they, they did in the past.

[00:15:23] So that's been fun. And, I mean, yeah, to put it like we, we we're basically trying new things right now and looking for new opportunities, to, Get our name out in front of people. we, like, for example, we would always, do a lot of word camps. but we usually didn't do booth sponsorships.

[00:15:40] We'd get like, just a ticket and attend, or we'd do a very low level sponsorship where we could, put a few stickers out on a table. but at. a recent work camp in Phoenix, we decided to try Booth sponsorship and, we brought a few people out from our team to help man the booth and, invested in some signage and things like that.

[00:15:57] And, yeah, just trying to, trying to step it up a notch and, and find some new ways to, to get our brand out there and, and stay top of mind for people. Yeah, I think

[00:16:06] Matt: the particular angle, and, I think. When you look at it as a product owner, you e either love or hate this comment, but it's a very familiar tool.

[00:16:16] Like a lot of things haven't changed so drastically. I'm not in the business of building websites anymore, though. My agency still is in business. My father runs it with his, with the team there. they are Beaver Builder customers. I see the receipt come through, Hey, thank you, every year. And, and they, and they use it because it's not this, Overwhelming tool, which, from a marketing level is, is kind of tough cuz you're like, things haven't changed.

[00:16:40] But that's a good thing, right? Because like, if, if we kept changing it and reinventing the wheel here, we'd have all of this, this, this challenge. So, kudos to you, for, I'll say surviving this long in any field, in any business, but especially, the page building business. But you're bringing along this.

[00:16:59] This new, product called Assistant. You can find it at Assistant Pro. That's the domain. I remember you guys rolling this out a while ago. how long has this been in production and where are you going with

[00:17:14] Robby: it? It's been out for a couple of years, but we. Started with just a plugin, the assistant plugin for WordPress and what that was, it was a complimentary tooled beaver builder.

[00:17:29] but we wanted to create a new brand and we wanted to create a separate product because, we saw. Issues and problems that our user group were having with Beaver Builder. that also happened in Gutenberg and other, page building tools. So we wanted to build something that was kind of page builder agnostic, but that, that worked really well with Beaver Builder.

[00:17:51] so the first kind of iteration of assistant was, bringing a lot of the WordPress admin functionality, things you do day to day in your admin [00:18:00] panel, like. browsing through your content, uploading media comments, plug-in updates and things like that, to a front end interface so that you could access it and use it alongside of your page builder that you're, working on the front end of your website.

[00:18:14] at the time we had this vision, it took us a little while to execute on it, but, what we've been working on and releasing recently is a cloud piece to that. So the assistant plugin interfaces with the assistant pro, cloud. And it's a place where you can upload design assets that you've built with page builders.

[00:18:34] So you can upload templates and, and pages you've designed. you can also upload images and, and code files and things like that. the, the goal being that if you're working on multiple websites, maybe in like a client services type of role or if you have a staging and production site, it makes it really, really easy to move your designs and things you've built from one WordPress site.

[00:18:57] To another. and then more recently we just launched, a community and marketplace feature. So the community page lets you browse designs that have been uploaded by other people. one of the, one of the kind of models we. We, or, or examples we modeled off after was GitHub. this idea of trying to like open source designs or being able to share your designs with people and then, use and build upon designs that were uploaded by others.

[00:19:25] and that just went live in the last like couple of weeks. So that's the kind of latest and greatest assistant feature we have out there.

[00:19:33] Matt: Yeah, I see it right. Clicking on the community tab, I see friend of the show, Paul Lacy. Yeah. Yeah. you can see his templates people, he has free templates. are they called templates in this situation or does it depend if it's a template or something else?

[00:19:45] Robby: Yeah, so that's funny. We've always like kind of beat her head against the wall trying to, trying to like dial in. The terminology for some of these things, like our equivalent of a folder on your desktop in assistant is called a library. So you can create a library, and that's essentially just a storage container of which you can upload templates or page designs.

[00:20:06] I guess we use templates, like if you build out a page and you save it, we call that a saved template. so you can do that. But I think, again, we're, we're, it works with Gutenberg, it works with all the other page builders, so I don't know if they use that same terminology, but. Yeah. Designs you've created with a page builder can go in there, as well as design assets like, your, your color libraries and imagery and, you can do c s s files and things like that.

[00:20:32] Matt: Walk me through the, the customer journey. They can start for free. They can use assistant on their site. They can take advantage of,installing this on as many sites as they want. probably getting the assistant to do the things they need to do on a one-off basis. When you move up to the personal plan, does that unlock some kind of network effect where they can now do things across many sites and access?[00:21:00]

[00:21:00] Different, libraries across every site that they're on. What's the, what's the, the benefit from going from free to at least personal?

[00:21:08] Robby: Yeah, the, the, the, the one thing we're restricting with the paywall, it's simple, is just, the ability to have a private library. So, again, very similar to GitHub. you can use, you can upload as much as you want on the free account.

[00:21:23] You can have as many libraries and as many sites as you want, but if you need to. Restrict, like by default, anything you upload to assistant, is available for other people to browse and download and use. So if you're working in the context of like, maybe you have a client that you want to keep, your designs private, or if you're using imagery like stock photos or things like that, that, that don't have like free usage, or have like restricted use usage licenses or font files or things like that, that would be the case to upload or upgrade to a one of the premium plans.

[00:21:55] Matt: Cool. And then team is obviously that's, that's an obvious clear indication. You have a team, team based roles and access and stuff like that. Yeah. That's very easy to, to figure out will you start supporting other page builders? Are you supporting built-in Gutenberg patterns with this stuff? Will you ever support Elementor or others in the

[00:22:15] Robby: future?

[00:22:16] Yeah, we do currently support all the major page builders, and Gutenberg as well. we, our, we've been kind of focusing on our user base as far as our marketing up until now. And, and we haven't done like a big, casting of wide net over, all those other ecosystems. But, we'd like to, or we'd like to.

[00:22:36] Like, again, try trying to solve, we're, we're trying to solve some problems that we've noticed. Like for, one of the things I use, assistant for regularly is when I'm building out a design on our staging site, and then I need to move that up to our production site, with any page builder, like, back when we were using GitHub and themes, right?

[00:22:53] You could like do a GitHub, or a get push pull. Workflow to work on a staging site and then bring your designs in and your production. But since everything that's like Gutenberg or Pagebuilder, I is stored in the database, you can't really, bring, you can't push your staging database up to live.

[00:23:09] the way I did it before was using like the import. Export tool and exporting an XML file and then importing it. And then, all these, all, like the image URLs were still pointing at the staging site. So I had to go back and update all those and it was just messy and hairy. so that's like a, that, that's something the assistant is like, really streamlined for me.

[00:23:28] and we knew that yeah, people using Gutenberg and other page builders are probably having those same problems, so.

[00:23:33] Matt: Mm-hmm. That's actually something, let's, let's let, let me, For my own, advantage here while I have you. Sure. I'm redoing, the WP Minute website. I'm doing it myself. I, I, I know my developer slash designer is no longer, no longer available.

[00:23:50] He's taken another job, and I can't afford to hire anybody. So I have dusted off, my, beaver builder chops, and I'm in between going [00:24:00] Beaver Builder or. Gutenberg blocks, but still, the challenge is when I go from staging to production, I'm not really taking code. I'm taking, like you just said, I'm taking out these templates, these layouts.

[00:24:15] if I'm using blocks, it's just blocks and patterns. So like I can't just pull the database over. So in my head I was thinking, I'll go old school, I'll shut the site down temporarily and, and build out my homepages fast. I'll build it out on staging. Okay, this is how I'm gonna do it, and then I'll put the site and maintenance mode and then I'll build it all out again there.

[00:24:39] But with assistant, I could import that from the cloud, let's say. I could just sync it up and take, I could build it on my staging site and then bring it over to my production site as long as both have assistant running on it.

[00:24:53] Robby: Exactly. Exactly. And that's the, yeah, that, that's how I still do it. On my, like on my personal blog I was, I was experimenting with like some new themes.

[00:25:01] and I don't, I don't actually have a staging site for that, but, no one, no one goes to that site. So it's just went to the, the theme library and like toggle on 2021 and on the, on the front end live site, it was 2021 for a few minutes and then tried 2022 and then like went back to the original and it doesn't really matter.

[00:25:17] But, yeah, if you're, if you're, working on a, on a production site, like, especially if you're doing e-commerce, right? Like you can't just like shut down your, your live site, to make changes. it's, it's a luxury without

[00:25:29] Matt: giving, without giving away the. Yeah. Without giving away the secret sauce, what's next for assistant?

[00:25:36] What else do you think you're planning on launching, relatively soon or any other, ways to support doing things at scale with multiple WordPress sites that

[00:25:45] Robby: people could leverage this for? we have some ideas around colors and color palettes, and this is something that we're hoping will kind of, play really nicely with Beaver Builder.

[00:25:55] but being able to do like a global color library, and then. Doing this, this isn't necessarily an assistant feature, but along with those lines, doing global styles. So being able to set like, this is my brand color, this is my secondary color. these are some of my like, like several accent colors that I wanna pick and choose from.

[00:26:13] But then on assistant, the, the community in the marketplace push for us was like a, a big sprint and we kind of just hit the finish line there. So, our plan is to kind of refine the marketing right now. we have a couple of premium libraries that we created. that are available for sale on the marketplace now.

[00:26:34] but we really want to kind of start working hard to, to foster that community and try and grow it, bring in more creators, and, and refine sort of the, just the flow and the marketing and the, and the user experience. trying to make it a little bit, easier to see what's out there. And so, so currently, it's assistant, the, the community and marketplace are relatively small.

[00:26:54] you can browse through like a few pages, but we'd love to have. The ability to like, do like star ratings or [00:27:00] comments or, we expect at some point we're gonna have a lot more content and so we're gonna need to build some ways to make it easier to kind of filter and search.

[00:27:07] And, if you wanna look up landing pages for a, e-commerce site, you can filter by those and. I'm doing some more like kind of taxonomy work in that, in that space. It's

[00:27:17] Matt: fantastic stuff. You can get Beaver I'd say you go right for the pro plan at 1 99 a year is probably the best, bang for your buck since it comes with the Beaver Builder theme.

[00:27:31] and building out. A brand new theme from scratch. Super easy with that. 1 99 a year. Assistant Pro. At Assistant Pro. That's the url The pricing starts for free, and then 15 bucks a month or 20 bucks a month. If you want the team, Robbie, anywhere else you want to send

[00:27:47] Robby: folks to say thanks. no, that's, that's great.

[00:27:51] We've been, pretty active on Twitter recently. if you, if you're a Twitter person, you can find us on Twitter. but yeah, checks in the mail. Matt, thanks so much for that, that lovely endorsement. We really appreciate it. Yes, no

[00:28:01] Matt: problem. speaking of Twitter, and this is just in the aside, might not even make into the episode, but I, recently upgraded, or purchased the Twitter blue for the WP Minute.

[00:28:12] I listen kerfuffle, I get it. I get it, but if I need to make longer posts or edit my tweet under my brand, I mean, I gotta pay for it. But newsflash, if you try to sign up for it on mobile, it's like 120 bucks a year. If you sign up on a web browser, $85 a year. So what they're doing is skirting the Apple tax.

[00:28:41] so they're charging you more on mobile versus the web. I just found that out. I purchased it yesterday and, it's been over 24 hours at this point, and I'm, I still don't have my blue check mark on WP Minute. I don't know why, but my transaction went through, I got the charge and I don't have my blue check mark yet.

[00:28:58] so there's

[00:28:58] Robby: that Twitter blue. it took the same for me. Yeah. Took like up to 48 hours, I'd say. Oh, okay. We did the same thing because what I expect will happen more if it's not happening already is that blue check marks or content is gonna get surfaced more readily and, and be easily accessible.

[00:29:15] Yeah. I mean, I either

[00:29:17] Matt: do that or what I spend on ads. So, I don't know what to say. Like I want my content to be seen, end of story and I get some cool features with it. So, That's why I did it. Yep. the WP Minute, everybody, you can get your favorite five minutes of WordPress News every slash subscribe and go to the wp

[00:29:39] That's where you get plus content. The extended stories, it's free, it's just longer form content versus the five minutes. I couldn't fit all of this in, with Robbie in five minutes. So you're getting it here, just under 30 minutes. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you in the next episode.