Haris Zulfiqar is a WordPress wizard. He began design and development at an early age. He diligently honed his skills, which were mostly self-taught. Despite struggling as a WordPress theme developer and freelancer early on, like all true champions, he struggled on.
Haris’ hard work finally paid off when his Avada WordPress theme became a mega hit. Haris continued development of the theme which furthered his reputation in the WordPress community. Haris was featured on Envato Stories.
Today, Cloudways is speaking to Haris Zulfiqar on WordPress theme development, community and security. Read this candid discussion with one of the most talented WordPress theme developers in the world.
Cloudways: Haris, you started development at a very young age. Then you evolved with WordPress and started making themes. You got recognition from Envato Market and it changed your life. Tell our readers about your journey and what your plans are for the future?
Haris Zulfiqar: From a very young age, I was passionate about gaming and I still am. I used to spend most of my time playing Counter Strike with friends at a LAN gaming center. Time passed by, and luckily, the online gaming discussion forum which I joined had a “design” section. At that time, forum signatures were a big thing. It was cool. I wanted to create one, so I followed some tutorials online and created few for myself and even for others.
At that point, all I wanted to do was build a website that I can show to my friends and impress my teachers at school. Hah.
I created a few websites; some of them were for adsense and I made $100 out of it. My family was skeptical about unprecedented usage of computers and they’re not to blame – spending entire days on gaming was not productive but those $100 was something really positive for my family and I.
I became more involved in web development and built a few projects with different partners. I sold one of them to my first ever WordPress client. While I worked in PHP, he introduced me to WordPress and offered me a freelance project; to build a theme for his website. I loved my experience with WordPress because of how easy it was to build something with it.
I was looking for my next freelance client. Luckily, I found a WordPress themes’ company. Their primary job was to develop and sell premium themes to their clients. It was truly a life-changing experience for me and I enjoyed working with them.
I used that experience to start my own account at ThemeForest and built a few blog themes. It was not pretty at first. My first theme was rejected more than 10 times. We were demotivated and decided to quit if it wasn’t approved the next time. Gladly, it was, and we got into the the groove. This was a good lesson for me; don’t give up and learn from the failures. Learning from failures is important.
Avada was not my first theme and certainly it is not my last project. This was a long journey and Luke and I are looking forward to the next 10 years. Hopefully, next year will be more exciting for us considering our new plans for developing ThemeFusion as a full-fledged company.
Cloudways: Avada is considered to be a great choice in WordPress themes. It is one of the top themes on ThemeForest. You must have worked hard to achieve this success. How did it all come across? What differentiates Avada from thousands of other WordPress themes available on the internet?
Haris Zulfiqar: Well, there was no market research or a ‘plan’ when we first developed Avada. The first version was very simple and we were not expecting this much attention. We luckily found a market gap which provided us the opportunity to come up with a theme that users can mould according to their own needs and requirements.
We continue to provide updates and the theme has evolved into what we call “multi-purpose” theme now. Our goal is to provide tools to those users who are willing to spend time and develop layouts, choose colors, and also add content at the same time.
Cloudways: How was your freelance experience during your initial stages and what other options did you get besides WordPress?
Haris Zulfiqar: The most troubling part for each and every freelancer is their first client. I got lucky here. I sold my website to someone who eventually became my first freelance client and turned into a concurrent and trusted buyer.
It was a struggle in the real sense of the word. Just like any other freelancer, some months were good and some months were bad.
I never used oDesk or Elance during my freelancing career. I believed in word-of-mouth marketing and making trusted clients. This is why agencies were my favourite niche as they provided regular work.
Apart from WordPress, I have only developed Drupal modules for a client. It is good to get out of the comfort zone once in a while, but most of my projects were based on WordPress. I even developed a “web” highlighter tool with WordPress. Though it was not perfect, it was fun and showed how flexible WordPress can be.
Overall, freelancing was a great learning experience and helped me develop and expand my business to where it stands today.
Cloudways: Mostly websites are attacked by hackers due to faulty coded themes and plugins from the developers. What are the key points that you take care of while developing your themes? How often do you update your themes to avoid vulnerabilities?
Haris Zulfiqar: If you are a developer, every line of code can cause a security or performance issue. Since we’re focusing on security, escaping input fields, links and queries are very important and basics that should be done without any question. On top of that, whenever a WordPress native function is available for what you want to do, use it, e.g. instead of file_get_contents, use wp_remote_get.
Cloudways: You developed Avada and it is definitely your favorite theme. But, which other 5 themes would you suggest users to use in their WordPress projects?
Haris Zulfiqar: Avada is definitely my favourite theme. However, these are five themes that I would recommend and adore for various reasons:
Cloudways: You have recently shifted to Dubai. A city of dreams, I must say. I know you are a focused individual, but, we all need our breaks. What are your activities in your free time? What do you do on weekends?
Haris Zulfiqar: Right now, apart from working on ThemeFusion, I am regularly hitting the gym for some work out.
Since I am still new to Dubai, I am just trying to settle in. This is also the first time I have ever lived alone, so I have been learning how to clean, cook and do everything I never did before.
The weather is quite hot which is why I utilize my weekends to just go and watch movies in a mall. Boring, I know but Jurassic World was pretty good. 🙂
Cloudways: You became an inspiration for many WordPress theme developers in your country and globally. How do you feel about it? Who are the 5 most influential people from the WordPress Community that inspired you the most?
Haris Zulfiqar: I feel great. I really am thankful to anyone who has read my past interviews and this interview. Thank you for spending time reading this. 🙂
Apart from Luke who is the co-founder at ThemeFusion, Syed Balkhi, Pippin Williams, Carl Hancock, Kreisi (Enfold) have inspired me the most.
Cloudways: WordPress groups on Facebook, like Advanced WordPress and All About WordPress, are actively solving the problems of users with code. What do you think about these social communities?
Haris Zulfiqar: While I rarely indulge in WordPress groups, large groups on Facebook is just a sign of how big WordPress is, and how much people care about being a large family with common interests and share stuff that is helpful for all. It’s just amazing and I love it.
Cloudways: WordPress Cloud Hosting is made simple by Cloudways. We have built a platform where you can install WordPress in one-click within few minutes at Amazon Web Services, DigitalOcean, and Google Compute Engine. What do you think about the features and performance?
Haris Zulfiqar: It is getting increasingly easy to setup a website on WordPress which is really a good sign. Hosts continue to play a big role in increasing market share of WordPress.
Cloudways is making it easier for both, developers and site owners to setup their sites on scalable hosting environments such as AWS quickly and cheaply.
Follow Haris Zulfiqar on Twitter.
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