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“Don’t try to start a business in an area you know nothing about.” says James Farmer of WPMU DEV

Updated on October 15, 2020

7 Min Read

James Farmer is a Literature graduate by education and the owner of largest WordPress plugin site by profession. He started his career as a university lecturer in education design loitering around WordPress forums and later found the potential in Multisite. Now he’s the co-founder and CEO of Incsub, based in Melbourne, Australia. His child companies include, WPMU DEV, Edublogs & CampusPress. This is the story of how it all started.

James Farmer of WPMU DEV interviewd by Cloudways

In his interview with Cloudways, he discussed his early life, experience and how he became WordPress entrepreneur from a lecturer.

Cloudways: Hello James, thank you for taking out time from your busy schedule. Could you please tell readers a bit about yourself?

James: Well hello there! And thank you for asking me along for a chat 🙂

So, I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Incsub, the parent company of WPMU DEV, Edublogs, and CampusPress, based in Melbourne and just about now celebrating 10 years since the company started!

Cloudways: How was the transformation from a university lecturer to an entrepreneur? Would you like to tell us, how did the journey begin?

James: Ha! Well, terrifying would be a good way to put it… I actually went via working at a newspaper for a year too but it didn’t make the leap any more scarey. I had absolutely no idea if I would be able to get clients (we were developing Multisite websites back then for people) or if, and how, Edublogs would ever become a profitable business. And WPMU DEV was just a free MU plugin and theme repository!

But also absolutely exhilarating – the sheer freedom, the opportunity it gave me to look after the kids, to plan my own schedule, to go to the gym and most of all to try out my own ideas… was just amazing. I was on a high for an entire year, I kinda still am a bit 🙂

Cloudways: There are a number of content management systems available in the market, when did you first discover WordPress and what made you stick with it? If there is no WordPress, then what can be the other choice?

James: As I was an academic I did the reasonable thing and researched them all, back in the day, and then posted reviews on one of my first ever business ventures, a site called BlogSavvy 🙂

As it was I didn’t start with WP, I kicked off with Dave Winer’s Radio Userland (and Manila, to an extent) but I wanted something that would allow me to achieve a lot more, especially with the teachers I was working with, and Movable Type was (while pretty) too hard to really get set up and not GPL… Drupal was just a nightmare to configure (I had to learn how to run MySQL commands and use phpMyAdmin!!!), Joomla (or was it called something else back then) was just a bit average and b2 was being very much eclipsed by WP cos of the work Matt had done.

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Cloudways: James, you are the founder and CEO of many educational and WordPress resources, including one of the largest WordPress plugin store, WPMU DEV. Could you please tell us, how the idea came into your mind? And what were the challenges you faced in the beginning?

James: Ah yes, well like I said we started out as basically an agency, but we had this idea of putting some of the stuff we were making for Edublogs onto a ‘premium’ version of WPMU DEV (hence the terrible domain name,… we’ll fix it soon, promise) and well, that kinda just took off and it dawned on me how much better a SaaS business was than an agency one, it was a heck of a lightbulb moment but I’m still learning.

While at Edublogs / CampusPress we’ve had to learn how to be an enterprise provider, which is equally exciting and challenging.

To be honest, I barely feel like we’re halfway through this journey… in fact, I very much hope, in a way, that it never stops 🙂

Cloudways: A few months back, launched a massive campaign “Plugin Madness”, and Smush Image Compression Plugin won the competition. Can you please tell our readers, how Smush is different from other compression and optimization plugins? Other than plugins, what would you suggest for a speedy WordPress site?

James: Oh! That was some awesome! I think it’s the first award a plugin of ours has ever won so we were all so stoked!

In terms of other image compression plugins, I don’t really know, we’re just focused on doing the absolute best that we can for both free users at and members of WPMU DEV… and as I write this we’re getting really close to smushing out 10 billionth image (10 BILLION!!!!)

Really though, I’d just suggest people give it a spin… it’s free after all and decide for themselves 🙂

Other than that can I be sooooper lazy and point to one of our articles on speeding up your site, we spent a looooot of time on that so hopefully it’ll help your readers out a stack!

Cloudways: With the increasing popularity, WordPress has become an attractive target for attackers. What would you suggest to secure a WordPress site?

James: Well, there is this brand new free security plugin out there called Defender 😉 We’d love for you to give it a whirl!

Of course, though there are a whole bunch of good WP security plugins out there, WordFence is really popular and so is Sucuri… what we’re trying to do is offer the kinds of things they do (and a few more extras) but just make it really super simple and easy… like you don’t need a degree in cyber security to protect your site.

AND we’ve got another super cool tool on the way that’ll help you keep everything updated, which really is the main way to stay safe.

Cloudways: Besides WordPress, you have a vast experience in entrepreneurship and business development. Could you please share your pieces of advice for WordPress business starters?

James: Ha! That’s very kind of you, but I wouldn’t call it vast and sometimes it doesn’t even feel like experience lol.

But I think the main thing you need to do is, well, just give stuff a shot… I’ve kinda tried to come up with a formula that looks like a bit like this:

Be an expert in a niche enough area + brave enough to give something a crack + not ashamed about promoting in any way you can what you are doing = You’ve got a good chance.

But seriously, don’t try to start a business in an area you know nothing about… or if you’re not happy asking everyone you know to buy your stuff 🙂

Cloudways: James, you have attended many WordCamps, share your experiences and tell our readers, how these meetups are beneficial for WordPress, WP Community, and professional growth?

James: Great people, great sharing, lots of love and good parties! To me, to be honest, it’s about putting faces to, erm, gravatars and hanging out… I’d rather think about business and professional growth when I’m at work. Find me at a WordCamp and I’d much rather have a beer with you and talk shit 🙂

Cloudways: WordPress adoption rate can be credited to its powerful community. Do you think that the WordPress community has more market space to diversify? How do you see the future of WordPress?

James: I agree, the community is everything, although the leadership of Automattic has also played a very big role as well as other WP providers over the years like ManageWP, Envato, Woo and all that stuff. Diversification is a big word though, and to be honest I think right now you’re probably going to see some amalgamation at the top… but hey, I’m only guessing, you should really ask someone who understands markets better than me 😀

Future… the future’s bright!

Cloudways: James, WordPress community is so vast. But, everyone has a few special buddies. Could you please name a few ones within WordPress Community? 😉

James: Ha, I am super super happy to work with and have worked with some awesome people over the years and it’s always an absolute pleasure to hang out with them whenever I get the chance. My colleagues, all the way.

Cloudways: “All work no play, makes Jack a dull boy”. Everyone wants to be relaxed, what do you do in your free time?

James: Keep very, very busy 😉 I’d say that a combination of, in no particular order, my daughter, my partner, my football team (I coach), my friends, my family, my tendency to say ‘yes’ to pretty much anything involving travel or fun and a fairly strong commitment to hedonism keeps me pretty busy.

Cloudways: James, it’s hard to cover everything in a short interview. I may have missed something, which you want to tell to the world. What’s that? 🙂

James: Mustaasam, I think you’ve well and truly wrung out all I can offer you! Thank you very much for the questions and the opportunity to have a chat!

Cloudways: An essential step for speedy and a secure WordPress site is to invest in an optimized, trustworthy and reliable WordPress hosting provider. How do you compare an optimized WordPress hosting provider having multiple advanced caching solutions like NGINX, Varnish, Memcached with traditional hosting providers?

James: “Ridiculously easy! If you can make it so straightforward that someone like me can get set up in minutes… imagine what someone who actually knows what they are doing could achieve!”

Cloudways: Lastly, Just to acknowledge our readers, can you please send us an image of your workspace? 🙂

James: Here ya go… the team filled it with 400 balloons for my 40th birthday!!!!

James Farmer Workplace

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Mustaasam Saleem

Mustaasam is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. Where he actively works and loves sharing his knowledge with the WordPress Community. When he is not working, you can find him playing squash with his friends, or defending in Football, and listening to music.


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