Building Better WordPress Page with Beaver Builder

How I Built It
How I Built It
Building Better WordPress Page with Beaver Builder
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In this episode, Robby and Justin from Beaver Builder discuss creating a great product, the importance of feedback from your users and the community, and where they see page builders going.

Show Notes

Transcript

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And now, on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, I’m here with Robbie and Justin from BeaverBuilder. Guys, thanks for joining me.

Robbie: Hey, hey. Thanks for having us.

Justin: Yup. Thanks for having us.

Joe Casabona: So I’m pretty excited to talk to you guys. We’ve worked together in the past. You were, we partnered together for a webinar on WP in one month, which is another thing that I do. But I’m very excited to talk to you guys about how you built BeaverBuilder, especially, given at the time of this recording, there’s kind of been like a tweetstorm and strong opinions about page builders. So, we get a little bit of the hot drama after it’s cooled off, right? By the time this show airs, I think probably we’ll be on to something different. But, why don’t we start with, tell us a little bit about the product, and how you came up with the idea for BeaverBuilder.

Robbie: Yeah. Well, BeaverBuilder is a page builder for WordPress. It’s a plugin and also a theme, and it makes it really easy to build out websites on WordPress.

Justin: It was really just like Robbie says, a lot when he kind of tells a story as scratching out itch, just we wanted a solution, an internal solution for our agency Fastline media. We’re doing client sites and there were a couple of clients that we had that needed specific solutions that we either used advanced custom fields or built some custom metabolic stuff for. We also had some experience with different themes, like on ThemeForest that had proprietary builders, or I don’t think we did a whole lot with visual composers. But anyways, they are seeing all these solutions and needs, and all that kind of thing. We decided to kind of give it a go ourselves. And so we built what we wanted. And I mean, yes, we got into it. We realized what we were building and we wanted to make it a product over time. So that was fall of 2013. And then by April of 2014, we released as Fastly and page builder, and then eventually became BeaverBuilder when someone told us her name sucked.

Joe Casabona: Man, so that’s pretty cool. So, you guys as Fastline media did client work. And then decided you needed a better page builder and built it. That’s very cool. I find that most of the people I talked to her like, oh, well we just needed something. And so we built it and then we realized other people needed it. So if there’s like one takeaway in however many episodes we’re at right now, 10 episodes that my listeners take away,  it’s to build the thing that you need. And other people probably also need it. 

Robbie: Yeah. I mean, it makes it a little bit easier because you know what you want, you know, versus if I was like, I’m going to go build a calendar plugin. It’s like, you know, I don’t, I wouldn’t even know where to start. But, you know, page, you know, some visual editing for us and for clients was, you know, something that we needed and knew what we wanted. So maybe a little bit easier.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. And it sounds like you kind of knew what you liked and what you didn’t like, which brings us to the next question, which is what kind of research did you do while building this? It sounds like you looked at other page builders, but you know, how in-depth did you go?

Justin: Well, I mean, definitely, you know, to be honest, I did look a lot at the WordPress space, but, I branched out in like, it was like Weebly and Squarespace, and looking at everything really. But at the same time too, I mean, it was kind of organic the way this all happened. So it was fine. We didn’t need like official research. It was kind of just kind of like playing around with other stuff, seeing what people were doing in that space.

Robbie: I think it’s kinda funny, like looking back on it too because I think Justin and I both had that perspective on page builders that we hear all the time now, which was just like, we weren’t, you know, we were into it. We like, we were, you know, Justin’s, more of the hardcore developer. But like, you know, I know my way around some code and we like building out pages, and you know, writing code, and getting into it. And we kinda, you know, didn’t see them as being a worthy tool.  But then once we tried one, or we had the opportunity to build a client site using a page builder, we kind of saw the benefit of using the page builder, like, and using that method. But we couldn’t, exactly like you guys were saying, we didn’t find one that fit all of the requirements that we had. And that’s kind of where we started building around.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. And that, I mean, that makes just a ton of sense. And I’m a developer, I’m the same way. I’m like, I make WordPress things. If I’m building something on WordPress, I should custom code everything. But you know, a few of my sites are using a stock theme and BeaverBuilder now, or even BeaverBuilder theme because that’s less time I have to spend worrying about coding and more time I can spend on the actual product. You know, if I had to develop the courses I offer now and build the site, it would have taken me to double the time. So that makes so much sense. And the one thing I really like about BeaverBuilder is that I can kind of switch between the editor and the page builder, and still have the same content, which is, I think, a big criticism of a lot of other page builders. I use like shortcodes or whatever, like, you know, the page realtor goes away and so does the content. But that’s not the case with yours, which is really nice. 

So when you were kind of building this out or once you launched, did you talk to anybody about features, business advice? Kind of direction and things like that? You know, you said somebody told you that your name sucked, but, what other, you know, did you seek out other advice besides that, I guess?

Robbie: Yeah. Yeah. So I think when we were building, like, during the actual, like building time, we all shared an office together at Campbell and that was a really cool experience. So since then, we’ve like Justin and our other partner, Billy have moved out of the area. We’re in the, or I’m in the San Francisco Bay area. Well, long story short is we don’t have our office anymore. But looking back on it, like when we were building BeaverBuilder, we were all sitting in an office and it was such a fun experience to just kind of like, like Justin would call us over like in the morning and be like, “Hey guys” like kind of late last night, but like “check this out.” And we’d all like run over and he’d, you know, he’d have this like the feature that we’d been talking about the day before, like implemented and like having like the proof of concept. It was just this really like exciting time. And so we were like, we were able to collaborate amongst each other a lot. And then yeah, after launching, we’ve definitely like reached out to everyone that would like we could for advice. I think something, I think I’m always trying to do. I think all the guys are trying to do is learn and reach out. Particularly our community has been really amazing like the person that told us we need a new name was one of our first customers. And a whole lot of our kind of mentors and people that like really had an early influence on the product came just straight out of our community. So we’ve been really blessed in that sense.

Justin: Early on, the customers were like huge. I mean, they still, it still is. It’s just, there’s a lot more feedback now. But when we had our forums, and you know, we would only get a, you know, a couple of posts a day in the beginning. But it was, you know, some pretty devout customers early on that really helped kind of the early feature roadmap like there were things not even in BeaverBuilder. Well, BeaverBuilder didn’t even export content to the post editor. It was like, you know, within the first couple of months, one of our customers said, “Oh if I deactivate this site, the pages are blank.” And we’re like, “Oh, yeah.” Same for, you know, being able to save templates that weren’t in there that was, you know, another like, oh well, I’m like, “Well, you can duplicate pages” and like, well, that isn’t really the same. So yeah. You know, in terms of just, you know, the community feedback and things like that. 

And then I think too, in terms of business advice, the advice, and direction, like I wish we had the resources we have now back then because it would’ve made things so much easier. We had to figure out a lot of stuff, make a lot of mistakes. But we’ve definitely been growing like Robbie said in reaching out to a lot more people. And we have, I’d say, you know, a better support system now in terms of our business and what we can do there. 

Joe Casabona: Nice. So that’s really cool. I think you kind of has to make a lot of mistakes. You know, I imagine it’s like a, yeah, I imagine it’s a lot like, so my wife is pregnant and I am, so we’re expecting our first child in  March. And we are, I’m thinking a lot about parenting and how you can just tell a kid like you, you’re not, well, I mean, like, you can’t tell like a teenager, like you can’t do that. That’s don’t do that, right? You gotta let them figure it out. You know, if they figure it out, it’ll stick more. So like, you know, you can take all the business advice in the world. But when you actually go through it, then you’re like, “Ah, yes. This what that person told me makes sense. And I’m not really smarter than anybody else, and I’m going to run into the same issue.” So. 

Justin: But they may get sound…oh, go ahead.

Robbie: I was going to joke like the on-the-job training equivalent of the MBA, right? Like, yeah, this is the lab.

Justin: Well, like you were saying too, about taking business advice versus living it, I always feel like Everyone makes it sound so easy when they’re giving you advice. And then you’re like this, I still don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to be doing.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Right.

Justin: So Yeah. Definitely got to jump in with both feet sometimes.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. And like, some of it is just like…I had a guy, you know, I like won a business plan competition when I was in college. And this one guy was like, “What you got to do is you got to come into the office wearing a suit, because if you’re wearing a suit, then you feel like you’re working.” And I’m like, this is by far the worst advice I’ve ever gotten because it doesn’t help me at all. So it’s, you know, it’s going through, it knows, you know what works for you. And then, you know what also more importantly, maybe doesn’t work. So, cool. So, you guys have a Pretty hardcore plugin as far as like code goes. So I’d really love to know like how you built it, right? The tools you use, some of the coding methods, how do you test? Especially because you have to, you know, it has to work with like a wide range of other plugins, right?

Justin: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I don’t think we really did anything unconventional in terms of like necessarily how it was.

The tools we used, you know, just code editor, Git, we’re using Gulp for a few things like minification and whatnot.

Coding methods tried to always keep everything as object-oriented as possible. I was like, ’cause I came from Joomla to WordPress and I really liked what really turned me off about WordPress. And, you know, back in the day when I was using Joomla was how like procedural everything was. And there was a lot of like spaghetti code, and Joomla was just like NBC hardcore way, you know, almost too hardcore. That’s probably why it wasn’t as adopted as WordPress because you can’t just in and start hacking it easily. But I try to keep everything as clean and organized as possible in terms of,  you know, the plugin. No frameworks. Everything’s just like all vanilla, you know, PHP and JavaScript, which, you know, I mean, if I had done it today, I’d have learned a lot more. I might’ve, you know, especially, you know, what’s the hot, React is the hot framework these days back, React. 

Joe Casabona: Backbone, Angular…

Justin: Yeah. It would have been, Backbone. Yeah. So I mean, I, you know, I, maybe would have made that decision a little bit differently. But I definitely don’t think it was a bad decision to go to Vanilla because I’ve seen someone too, like recently, like I forget what plugin it was, but whatever framework they’re using is changing how they’re doing things in a certain place. And now they have to go back into the plugin and, you know, building compatibility for that and whatnot. So I guess we have that benefit of not having to worry about some third-party developers’ changes breaking our stuff.

Joe Casabona: Right, right. Yeah. And Angular 2 is doing that, I think. Right? And Angular 1 and Angular 2 or like are vastly different. They might as well be different frameworks from what I’ve heard. 

Justin: Yeah, I saw some interesting talk. I think it was a modern advanced Facebook group saying how Angular is just kind of being left in the dust by React because they’d been spending so much time making this complicated beast, which is version two. 

But, so, yeah. I mean, it’s, you know, I mean the code base has definitely grown from the beginning.

Oh yeah. You asked about testing too. So with tests, that’s a tricky one because I think it comes down to like kind of things like standard things like short codes, and how short codes work in general rather than I’m going to test a hundred different shortcodes. I’m going to test this one way that shortcodes are parsed or whatever because I mean, there’s just so much compatibility that we have to worry about. It’s hard to just, you know, test everything. But the nice thing too, and I’ve been realizing this lately too, is because I’ll see less and less support requests is that over time, it’s just BeaverBuilders. This compatibility has been built a certain way, and we know that things have to work this way. Otherwise, they’ll break, you know, all kinds of different stuff. So we’ve just been building compatibility with different plugins and the way things work in WordPress for, you know, the last two-plus years. So we don’t have to worry about doing as much testing with certain things like compatibility things and whatnot.  

In terms of WordPress testing with WordPress itself, whenever the release rolled out, I’ll do all my development with the beta testing plugin. So that way, you know, I’m just constantly using Beaver Builder with the next version of WordPress and to, you know, catch anything there. 

Joe Casabona: Nice. Yeah. Cool. You know, one feature, I was thinking about this the other day, cause I wanted to restrict like a section of my website and I couldn’t use like the Restrict Content shortcode. And I was like, “Oh man!” I’ll just like, use the Restrict Content shortcode. And then I’ll use there, like the BeaverBuilders template shortcode. And then I was looking through your settings and I’m like, or I can just make it visible to people who are logged in. Like, I totally missed that as a feature. So I got a little creative and it’s cool. Cause it seems like your product is really like flexible enough to do that. Like, I don’t know how many people know that you can pull in a template through a short code. But it’s a pretty neat thing to do, especially if you want to use it, like in other parts of your theme or something like that. So that’s, yeah. So I think you guys are doing a, you know, a really great job, with that stuff.

So I was really curious to know kind of how you stay on top of that. Cause like I spoke to Yoast last week and They’re testing. Their testing environment is crazy because, you know, they’re in like 11% of websites or something like that. So, I’m always curious to see like what really big plugins do to make sure that things kind of stay is compatible. And on that note, I like to ask if the product has gone through any transformations, which we kind of talked about, but there’s one, in particular, I want to talk about. And that’s, recently, you have been included with GoDaddy, like the GoDaddy installer platform, right? So, how did that come along, and did you guys have to do anything? Like, what did you guys have to do to kind of make that work? Like how does that whole process where?

Robbie: Yeah. We’re really excited. It’s been a long time in the works. We, not long after we launched BeaverBuilder actually, got an email from a guy at GoDaddy, and they’d been like, coincidentally researching page builders. And they’d found us. They really liked it. They happened to be local. And so we were like meeting with them. It was funny. There was like one day when, like, you know, like one of their executives showed up in like a black Uber to our little office. And we all like, you know, we had our collar shirts on and we got donuts and coffee, and we were just like, what are we doing? Like what’s going on right now? Like… 

Justin: Yeah. That was pretty crazy.

Robbie: But yeah. So, I mean, this was like years ago. And since then we’ve kept a relationship with him, and we, you know, we’re able to work this out. They just kind of all came together and fit in where they’re. So they’re using the light version of BeaverBuilder and including it in their onboarding process. Yeah. It’s a really cool opportunity for both of us. Their team I know it was great to work with. Justin worked with them more. I think he’s probably got the better insight on it on like what actually went into it from the backend as far as implementing it

Justin: There wasn’t a whole lot, to be honest there, as much as you think with, you know, someone like as big as GoDaddy and us, like partnering with them that was involved. There’s actually a pretty smooth process to that. Do you have some fantastic developers there too? I mean, people that I’ve looked up to in the past, like Frankie and Jonathan, I’m drawing a blank on their names, but they used to work at XWP, I believe.

Joe Casabona: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Justin: But they, so basically we created a companion plugin together, me and them. And it just got some, like, you know, basic logic for GoDaddy, because they installed alongside the light version. And what it does is they’ll load their templates in, and then it loads in a handful of our custom modules that they wanted to be able to make their templates. Other than that, yeah, it doesn’t do a whole lot more. They install the two together. It runs up the light version of active and we still get, you know, our call to action upgrade and things like that. So that’s more or less it. But it’s definitely fun being able to kind of experience that.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. And I, you know, like in the Facebook group, you guys have a lot of people who are worried about GoDaddy doing things with anybody really. But I think it’s a Testament to the dedication that GoDaddy has to the WordPress community. So, I’m really glad to see that. Congratulations to you guys for that. I saw that you, because of that you just, like up to a hundred thousand active installs or something like that, right. Is that what it was? So.

Robbie: Yeah. Yeah. We’re still working out the kinks on things like tracking and all that. But I guess what they had been testing on like a subset of their accounts for a little while. So like, we love watching that metric, even though like, they call it a vanity metric. Like we love watching the install, like active installing. Every time it ticks up, we usually like to throw that little party emote in our Slack channel, right? I mean, this time, it’s like, yeah. Ticked up. Like really, really quick. Like we had a little party emote and then it was like a couple of days later and it ticked up again, and we’re like, well, “Wow!”. And then, yeah, tracked it back and figured out how that was all gone. 

Joe Casabona: Cool. I mean, yeah. I know exactly what you like on podcasts launch days. I just sit there like refreshing lips and just like watching the podcast numbers go up just slightly. It might be a vanity metric, but it’s a fun one.

Robbie: Who doesn’t, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Cool. So, what are your plans for the future? You’ve got a very popular plugin. You have integrated with GoDaddy. What are you guys working on for the next iteration?

Justin: I mean, we’ve got, we’ve been pretty public about, I mean, we’re pretty transparent with what we’re doing. And I mean, you know, again, it’s just community feedback. Our community wants us to be transparent and we don’t really have anything to hide. So a lot of this stuff’s already been out there and like sneak peeks in the Facebook group and whatnot. 

But two of our big efforts right now are revamping the user interface. And the reason for that is based on feedback that we’ve had over the years, in terms of things that could be easier to do or, you know, I kind of pick user pain points. And then also to work building some compatibility or some standards for the third-party ecosystem, because our current UI, we’d never thought that people would be building all these companion plugins that are doing all this stuff to BeaverBuilder. So we didn’t even consider that when building the UI. So now we’re taking that into consideration and how things can fit nicely in there without, you know, just the module and template list exploding, you know. And the need for third parties to implement all this different functionality.  So that’s piece one, UI. 

And one of our customers, Brent, Jett, you may have seen around in our community, He, it organically happened where he’s like doing some concepts and this and that. And next thing you know, like, can we just hire you to do this stuff? And so he’s building that for us, and I’m working on it with him. 

And then the second big initiative is theme building. That’s I mean, what we’re calling it right now. I mean, on some level you’re building a theme, but not really. I mean, we’ll figure out the terminology when we get closer, but that’s going to encompass, like, you know, you have your single dot PHP for all your posts, rather than building your posts with BeaverBuilder. Like each individual post, you’ll just be able to create a template that you know, then when you go into the WordPress editor and you do the title, you got a featured image, maybe you got some custom meta and this and that, and BeaverBuilder will just populate it into this template. And we’re going to have some dynamic field things, data connections, like with post Mehta, and advance custom fields. Even things like picking your color, you could just connect it to, like a setting in the customizer. And then that way, when you change that setting in the customizer, it’ll change your button colors and things like that. 

So, those are our two big initiatives right now. And then there’s a lot of just like little things going on behind the scenes, too, in terms of just minor up there. Like today we pushed out a minor update, and Eugene had done a YouTube and Vimeo URLs for background videos. So we got that out today. So there’s like a lot of little things like that that, you know, that are easier to implement on a smaller scale that we’ll be continually doing overtime. So I think that’s pretty much it. I mean, those are the plans for a lot of the technical features. I don’t know if Robbie, there’s anything you want to say about just the BeaverBuilder in general.

Robbie: A bunch of cool things are brewing right now. Yeah. It’s a really exciting time. A lot of it’s spurred like Justin was saying, doing some, like there’s been this blossoming kind of third-party ecosystem and where people are kind of utilizing even like what GoDaddy’s doing by like, you know, bringing BeaverBuilder and making it part of their platform. And we’ve been kind of like thinking about a lot of ways that we can continue to make it extensible and usablee. Yeah. And kind of making it a platform to people for people to build on even more so than they already are.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, that sounds great. I’m very excited to see what you guys are cooking up for the next few months and next year or whatever. So, we’ll definitely keep an eye on that. Now, the last question I like to ask is separate from the rest of the list, right? I don;t know if, you know, a lot of people I’ve noticed don’t notice it. So, it takes them by surprise. But, do you guys have any trade secrets for us?

Robbie: trade secrets?

Joe Casabona: This could be like, just a tip, like something that you always keep in the back of your mind when you’re developing or, when you’re working on something or, it could be like a bar trick or, you know, just something that helps you with your business and your plug-in or, schmoozing in general.

Robbie: Oh, that’s fine. I mean, I hate to say, but like the first thing that comes to my mind is our unofficial boardroom, which was the sports bar down the street. We definitely had a lot of our like war meetings and critical conversations over a baseball game and a beer. I wouldn’t, I don’t think that’s a trade secret that I think if it is that secret‘s out.

Joe Casabona: Depends what team, what, who’s your…

Justin: Well, we’re bay area boys. So I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t say it’s the Giants first. I think Fastline media is a giant company, but personally I’m an A’s fan.

Justin: I love it for both. But I’ll root for both. But yeah, if the giants and the A’s meet in the world series, definitely a giant.

Joe Casabona: Nice. Well, you’re talking to a born and grown New Yorker here. So I’m a Yankee fan.

Robbie: Oh, okay! I hope I can help you out all those years.

Joe Casabona: Cool. Very cool. Justin, what about you? Any trade secrets you have for us?

Justin: I mean, I always say this kind of thing. It’s like my advice and it’s like super generic, but like working hard, and like treat people how you want to be treated. I mean, just because it’s like, what has worked for us, like when we’re an agency is Fastline media, like we did good work. We treated our customers well, we were there for them. And they would in turn, spread the word, and that we didn’t even really have to do any marketing. We would just get people calling us and being like, “Oh, hey! You know, so-and-so.

And the same is translated to doing a product business. It’s just working hard, providing a quality product, being there for people, getting support, all that kind of stuff. I mean, it just, it really matters because without it, you mean, you could have the best product in the world, but people are going to hate you and be like, ‘No, don’t use those guys.” You know what I mean? The mob can bring you down pretty quickly. But yeah. Just, yeah..

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I mean, without a doubt, like, you know, I think a lot of people have said that on the show and you know, it almost, it seems like it’s kind of second nature when you do it a lot, but it is something that you need to keep in mind. So treat people the way you want to be treated. And communication’s key. I think those are two very important things. So, cool.

Well, Justin, Robbie, thank you guys so much for joining me.

Justin: Thanks.

Robbie: Thanks, Joe.

Joe Casabona: And thanks to our sponsors, Hover.com and WP stagecoach. Definitely check them out.

And one last request. Last week I launched a new Patreon campaign in order to raise money to put out better content. If you head over there today, that’s patreon.com/howibuiltit, you will be able to see a sample of some of the new content I’m putting out. I give you a brief history of how the internet was built. So super interesting to me. I hope you find it really interesting as well. Head on over again to patreon.com/howibuiltit to check that out. Contributions start as low as $1 per month.

Thanks so much for listening. And until next week. Get out there, and build something.

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