We are back with our WordPress Stars Interview Series. Today, we have Tom Usborne, the creator of GeneratePress Theme, with us. The theme has more than 2.4 million downloads, making it one of the best WordPress themes for all WordPress projects.
With more than 10 years of professional experience under his belt, Tom is now working on improving the performance of the theme.
In this interview, he shares his views on the importance of the right hosting solution, the role of the WordPress community, and what the future holds for WordPress and his beloved theme, GeneratePress.
Cloudways: Hello Tom, and thank you for your time. Let’s start with the traditional question: Please tell us about yourself?
Tom Usborne: First, thanks for taking the time to interview me! I’m a big fan of Cloudways.
I’m not great at talking about myself, but I’ll try!
I currently live on Vancouver Island with my wife and our two little girls.
Our kids are young, so I’ve been learning to balance work and family over the last few years. It’s been a challenge, but I’m loving it.
When I’m not working or spending time with family, I love to play and watch sports. I play hockey (huge Canucks fan), and I sponsor a softball team that I play for (huge baseball fan). Family, coding and sports make up the majority of my life.
Cloudways: You are developing websites since you were only 11 years old. What made you start at such an early age? Do you remember the first website you built?
Tom Usborne: I was super lucky, as my parents bought me my first computer when I was around 10 years old. I remember being ridiculously excited as I waited for it to arrive. When it did and I set it up, I had no idea what to do with it. I’m pretty sure I played on it for about 5 minutes and turned it off to go outside.
Shortly after, I discovered sites like GeoCities and Homestead and started building terrible websites filled with glittered images and random information. For some reason, I loved the idea of building something that anyone can come to check out.
In my early teens, I started building forums for various things – mostly music related. That was my first introduction to coding languages like PHP, HTML, and CSS.
Cloudways: When did you first discover WordPress and what made you stick with it?
Tom Usborne: I first played with WordPress when Kubrick was the default theme. However, it wasn’t until a few years later that I started using WordPress for all of my projects. I felt like WordPress was for blogs, and I was building regular websites for clients.
Once I gave it a proper chance, I never looked back. I think it was the community that sold it to me. The number of plugins and themes was already huge, and if I ran into a roadblock, chances are I could find the answer by Googling it.
Cloudways: Tom, before starting GeneratePress, you were a freelancer. When did you decide to have your own product?
Tom Usborne: It didn’t take long, really. I was constantly searching for a solid theme to use for my clients.
It was always a major pain to un-pick themes to remove features I didn’t need. It was also tough to do in an update-friendly way, and the idea of theme updates breaking sites for my clients bothered me.
GeneratePress is exactly what I was looking for – a lightweight theme that can be extended to build all types of websites.
Cloudways: Out of so many options, why did you opt for theme development? What challenges did you face?
Tom Usborne: The theme is the foundation of your website. If your foundation isn’t solid, everything you build on top of it will suffer.
Before GeneratePress, I built two other themes which “failed” (compared to GP). They worked for me as I built my agency, but they never took off with other people.
Cloudways: How big is your team? Please describe the major roles you have in the team.
Tom Usborne: Right now we’re a team of 4. We have two support specialists – David and Leo – who work the support forums 7 days a week (they’re amazing). I’m also in the support forums every day, but spend more time coding these days, thanks to them.
My wife, Stacey, does most of the administration. She handles account issues, affiliates, and all of the other fun stuff that comes with owning a business.
I’m super lucky to have all three of them – they’re all a huge part of our success.
I still spend a lot of time in the support forum, but way less than I used to. I mainly focus on coding and testing. Performance is a big thing for me, so I’m always profiling our code to see if we can make performance improvements in each update.
Cloudways: Due to the huge WordPress adaptability, more developers are jumping into the WordPress business. Any advice for them?
Tom Usborne: Keep it simple. Don’t over-complicate things, especially when you’re getting started. Start small, and grow comfortably as time goes on.
Cloudways: Being a developer and a long-time WordPress user, what’s your opinion on Gutenberg? Why most of the users still prefer Classic Editor?
Tom Usborne: I’m a big fan of Gutenberg. I’ve been supporting users of all skill levels for years, and the classic editor doesn’t make life easy for a lot of beginners. Simple things like columns were a nightmare for all users.
Gutenberg fixes that issue. It’s not perfect, and likely never will be, but neither was the Classic Editor (and neither are most page builders).
We’re working on our own Gutenberg blocks we feel are essential for web development, so stay tuned for an announcement on that soon!
Change is never easy, and Gutenberg is a massive change. I think in time more people will ditch the Classic Editor and make the move.
That being said, there are times where the Classic Editor (or no editor at all) is necessary in every use case. I hope WordPress keeps that in mind as time goes on.
Cloudways: Tom, you have been associated with WordPress for almost a decade. How were these years? Was there a point when you thought about switching CMS?
Tom Usborne: I’ve never thought about switching to another CMS. I know way too many core WordPress functions/filters inside-out to switch it up! I love the community, and I think the amount of information out there has massive value. Every issue you run into has an answer if you search for it.
Cloudways: Where do you see WordPress in the next five years?
Tom Usborne: Interesting times, indeed. I know WordPress has big plans for Gutenberg when it comes to full site editing. A lot of people think this puts themes at risk, but I actually see a lot of opportunities. We’re already working on some really cool things that should bring GeneratePress to the next level.
Cloudways: Tom, have you attended a WordCamp? How do these meetups benefit the WordPress community?
Tom Usborne: Believe it or not, I’ve never been to a WordCamp. GeneratePress only started getting really popular once my oldest was born, so it’s been hard to find time to get away.
That being said, I’m planning on going to one soon – I think it’s time.
Cloudways: For a fast WordPress website, an optimized WordPress hosting provider holds the key. What do you look for when choosing a host?
Tom Usborne: Two things are a must for me, and they’re the two things I prioritize most when it comes to GeneratePress. Support and speed.
If something goes wrong, I need to know that I can contact my host and they can fix it for me right away. Server troubles are incredibly stressful, especially when you’re running a business. Being able to reach out and get things fixed quickly is invaluable.
Speed is next on my list, and speed starts with your hosting. I put a huge amount of effort into making sure GeneratePress is the fastest theme, but it’s all for nothing if your hosting is slow.
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Cloudways: What does your desk or workspace look like? Please share an image with our readers. 🙂
Tom Usborne: Ah, bad timing! Our office is currently under renovation, so I have a temporary workspace set up. Hoping to have the new office ready to go within the next few weeks.
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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.