Welcome back to our interview section! If last month we talked to one of my colleagues in the organizing teams of WordCamp Europe 2019 and 2020, Magdalena Paciorek, today we look at the WProfessionals we have in Spain and speak with someone who has a lot to share. Our guest today has spent several years working in a Spanish company that has recently released an open source framework for building React-based themes in WordPress. I’m sure you want to know more about this so… please welcome Reyes Martínez!
Thanks for being here, Reyes. I’m very excited to have you here! For those readers who don’t know you, tell us about yourself and tell us what relationship you have with WordPress.
Hi David! Thank you for inviting me.
If I remember correctly, I think I started to use WordPress in 2010. During and after my journalism career, I used it to create content in different media I collaborated with as well as in some family projects.
At the end of 2015, when I joined Frontity, my perception and relationship with WordPress changed completely. I went from being a user to working at a startup whose product is based on WordPress, which made me learn a lot about the platform (I am still learning today ?). From then on, I also began to attend meetups and WordCamps with the team. Throughout these years we have become increasingly involved with the community and got to know many other users and professionals of the ecosystem.
In fact, I will always remember fondly the first WordCamp Europe I attended. It was 2016, in Vienna. I was very surprised. I think that, until then, I didn’t really understand how big WordPress and its community were.
We met in 2018 during the speakers’ dinner prior to WordCamp Madrid. In that WordCamp, I attended to your Luis Herranz’s talk (one of your colleagues) about Progressive Web Apps, something I didn’t know much about. What are PWAs and what makes them special?
Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are web pages that, through the use of Service Workers and other technologies, offer a mobile experience closer to that of native applications, both in appearance and performance. That is, they have notifications, you can use them offline, and you can even add them on your cellphone’s home screen, for example.
One of its main advantages compared to traditional mobile websites is their improved performance—they load almost instantaneously, offering a better (and faster) user experience. They are also much more accessible than regular apps—you can get them through a URL in your browser and you don’t have to download or install anything from Google Play or the Apple Store.
As you have already told us, you’re now part of the Frontity team. Can you explain a little what you do there and how the brand has evolved during the past few years?
The truth is that both the brand and the product have evolved a lot during these years. Let me try to summarize how we have arrived at what we do today. ?
In late 2015, when I joined the team, Frontity (by then “Worona”) was a WordPress plugin for converting blogs into native mobile apps. Although we had many users, over time we realized the use of mobile applications was rapidly decreasing.
So we decided to do something else and focus on the web instead. At the end of 2017 we started talking to different Spanish media and blog networks that used WordPress. And they were all interested in improving the mobile web experience they were offering. Google was starting to give more weight to factors like loading speed and therefore these networks wanted to get better and not lose any traffic or fall behind. We changed the name of the brand and got down to work to solve that particular problem.
We created a WordPress mobile theme based on React (Frontity PRO). The theme was designed for blogs and news websites with the aim of improving performance (loading speed was almost instantaneous) and mobile user experience. It looked a lot like a PWA ?
After more than a year working with blogs and media, in 2019, we decided to reuse all that knowledge to create what Frontity is today: an open-source framework that allows developers to create websites and WordPress themes using React.
Combining WordPress and React is not easy, so we thought that an open-source project that shared our experience would help anyone trying to solve the problems we had already faced.
Our user base includes developers as well as media websites that want to keep using WordPress as their backend, but want a modern user experience with a React-based frontend.
Going from a commercial product to a source framework is a bold move. How did you do it? What formulas do you have in mind to monetize your work and thus be able to attract more talent to the team? What role has WordPress and its free nature played when making this decision?
Pablo and Luis, Frontity’s founders, have always transmitted to the rest of the team and users an “open-source” philosophy that is very similar to that of WordPress: collaborating and sharing knowledge.
I think that is why the transition in these years has been something… not easy, but natural. In the end, we are where we wanted to be, working on a project that allows us to give and receive knowledge and that can have a great impact due to its collaborative power. The change has also been possible due to the support of our investors, of course, who have believed in the project and the team and have helped us make it possible.
We want our framework to always be free and open. We haven’t developed any monetization model yet, but in the future, we might look for one such as offering hosting solutions, premium support, or a theme marketplace.
Frontity proposes a major paradigm shift in theme creation. I sincerely believe that you’re on the right track, as React themes will rise in popularity. But unfortunately, we don’t know when this will happen… and nowadays it’s all about page builders, or so it seems. A few days ago, for example, Elementor raised $15 million! How does Frontity fit into this reality? Is it compatible with page builders or can it be? Do you intend to create your own page builder?
Frontity is currently compatible with most page builders and, at the moment, we do not plan to create our own. In any case, I think page builders and Frontity respond to different user needs.
Gutenberg has been a huge change in WordPress, and many developers have since considered learning and incorporating React to their projects. We now have more options to work in WordPress.
PHP themes are not going anywhere any time soon, but we at Frontity believe that headless and decoupled architectures with React-based themes are an upwards trend. We don’t know for sure when it will peak, but we’re working very hard to make sure Frontity is a well-established framework in that context.
At Frontity, you work in the marketing and communications department. Tell us a little about the communication strategy you follow in Frontity. How do people find you? Is it all inbound marketing or do you invest in some type of advertising? Do you think that meetups and WordCamps are effective when it comes to networking and getting leads?
So far, content distribution (beyond social media) and crossposting has worked very well for us and helped us reach broader audiences. Dev.to, for example, is a channel that brings us a lot of traffic.
Regarding the question of meetups and WordCamps: yes, they’ve been very effective. Not only to connect with people in the community and publicize the project but also to establish professional connections. But I’m not going to lie: to get the most out of networking, you have to work hard. My partner Mario did an amazing job last year before and during WordCamp Europe. In the end, the results were very good.
In all of our interviews, we ask you to share a moment from the past when you screwed up… So, tell us, when and how did you screw up and what lesson did you learn?
Well, truth is I have a terrible memory. ?
Not a blunder as such, but I remember one of the first times I had to redesign the website (copy, sections, and so on). I tried a lot of different combinations and I was never happy with the result, so I kept rewriting and redesigning everything. In the end, I was even embarrassed to tell the team: “I have nothing.”
I was blocked and couldn’t make any decision due to the excess of thoughts and information. As my colleague, Pablo usually says: “paralysis by analysis.” I have learned a lot from situations like that one.
In my case, one of the lessons was not to obsess over the perfect solution. It’s better to do something (even if it’s not perfect) than not to do anything. Secondly, don’t lose focus, always keep in mind your priorities and objectives and use them as a guide when making one decision or another. And finally, surround yourself with people who inspire you and help you think differently.
And finally, who should we interview next? Tell us which 3 WProfesionales you would like to see on the blog and why.
Michael Burridge: for all his work on the WordCamp Europe organizing team, for his contributions, and because we are now partners in Frontity.
Thank you very much for your time, Reyes. It was one of the most entertaining interviews I have ever done and the Frontity story is great! I wish you the best of luck in the world!