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Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of entrepreneurs. About 10 years ago, I interviewed today’s guest in, I think the only debate style podcast episode I’ve ever done. Chris Pearson created this WordPress.
Is it called a theme or a framework?
Chris: A theme framework was sort of a marketing term.
Andrew: And you know what, and here’s the thing about your stuff. So freaking beautiful down to the frickin pixel, everything that you created for WordPress, every design that I’ve seen you, you put up online, just looks really beautiful. He is the maker of thesis. It’s a modular template and design system for WordPress.
I interviewed him about how he built up his company. And then he got into an argument with the, basically the father of WordPress, right. Matt Mullenweg. And I had Matt Mullenweg on my Skype. Um, Friends list. So I said, Matt, do you want to come on and just do a debate, have a conversation about it. I don’t even think I called it a debate.
It became this big thing that blew up and I assumed, and we’ll talk about what, what happened. I assume, Christie, you did great afterwards and it wasn’t a big, big deal for you. I didn’t realize until today that you have business suffered a lot because of this. Argument with both Matt and with his company, automatic makers of wordpress.com.
so I want to find out what happened there. You say, this is, this is the result of cancel culture. You essentially canceled. And I want to find out about that. I also want to find out about, uh, focus, your WordPress theme. You call it the world’s fastest WordPress theme. It’s got gorgeous content, presentation, styles, golden ratio, topography.
It’s just gorgeous. Anyone can see it on DIY themes.com. Chris. Good to have you here
Chris: Thanks for having me good to be back after 10 years. Can’t believe that’s when. That was a big moment, sort of in my life, sort of one of those milestone markers where you realize, uh, one era is over and another one has begun. You were a part of that.
Andrew: before at the height of the previous era, how connected were you to WordPress? How big was your business?
Chris: Well, my business, uh, Went through it just insane period of growth. I basically kicked off the premium theme market with thesis. I was the first premium team to really get like significant traction. And that was middle summer, 2008. I was the first big affiliate program in the WordPress product space, which also launched a little bit later, about a month after.
Uh, I really got a lot of popularity and, uh, that kickstarted, just this incredible run-up. And it was, it was so potent that it skewed my sense of how much business one could do online and how much business one should do online. I was getting so many free sales. It was so, so easy, effortless. Like everyone was saying, this is what you need to use.
Life is so good. When word of mouth only recommends one thing and nobody has any questions, phenomenal stuff back in the
Andrew: And top bloggers were using you. Of course, most people know WordPress as the software that we, that a third of the internet is built on. Right. A third of websites are built using WordPress and a, your theme was incredibly popular. What year was this?
Chris: That would have been 2008
Chris: continued the ramp up, continued unabated through the summer of 2010 actually I was on with you. And then like the next week I was on again with you and Matt, it was an interesting moment because it was really just a big misunderstanding and it was a sort of caught out of, out of context and out of time, because I didn’t really understand even what I was defending the way.
I mean, other people can go watch this and, you know,
Andrew: How would you explain what the disagreement was between the two of you?
Chris: the disagreement was very simple. My software had never been sold with any licensing whatsoever. I had never even thought about software licensing. This is not something that mattered. It didn’t have anything to do with the way the code works, whether it worked for users, whether delighted people, just no relationship at all.
So my head was never in that space, but Matt Mueller leg, for whatever reason, uh, went on a sort of a crusade, I guess, through 2010. It may start earlier than that. I honestly don’t recall, but, um, he wanted everyone. Who sold premium products in the WordPress space to also have a specific type of licensing GPL version 2.0 licensing, along with those products.
And I had spoken with some, some IP attorneys who advised against this. I had spoken with a couple of people who had built and sold software companies who advise me against this. I really didn’t know what to feel one way or the other, but I felt like. I was being coerced to do something, told to behave in a certain way.
And despite all the advice I received from, from others or experts or whatever, at the end of the day, all I cared about was that I was told to do this thing and I do not react well when I am told to do with it.
Andrew: I get that about you. And what was it that you didn’t like about that? Like what did that license mean for your product and what didn’t you like about it?
Chris: Well, you know, everything perception and ego. At the end of the day, I was the top dog in the space. The most, uh, I had tons of people attempting to rip me off. There was sites called a free thesis and other stuff like that, that felt like because of what Matt had said, that my software should be free and it shouldn’t be paid.
This was still at a time. I was starting to prove that the premium market was viable. Now that this by 2010, it was clearly buyable. We had sold a few million dollars worth of software at that point, but, um, You know, I was the target. If you were going to go big game hunting, I was the big game you want it to get.
So I felt defensive about that. You know, I want to protect what I’ve just built. I barely had a chance to look around and survey the room and say, Oh, this looks pretty nice. Uh,
Andrew: And they were saying have this license that says that people could copy your theme, right? You’re nodding. Yes. And the reason that they wanted it was, they said, look, if WordPress can be copied by anyone, anything that’s built on top of it should have the same freedom built into it. Right. And you said, no, no, I can own this.
And that was the argument. Am I, I know I’m simplifying it, but that
Chris: It was unsubstantiated and unsupported by any legal precedent. There was no reason this was a. We want you to do this because this is what we want. It wasn’t good enough for me.
Andrew: Okay. And you also felt from a. From a personal freedom point of view, they couldn’t tell you what to do. You were just going to go ahead and just do it and charge for your theme,
Chris: They weren’t saying I couldn’t charge just to clarify. They weren’t saying I couldn’t charge for it. They were saying, you need to charge for you. Change your licensing, you charge for it, however you want. But this introduces a certain amount of volatility and vulnerability. That I would then have to address if this type of thing flared up in the future.
And I knew I had enough people out there who already despise me for my success, my outspokenness, and for the fact that I dared to not kiss the ring publicly, who would ready and waiting. And I had people all the time, which is this behind the scenes stuff. Nobody ever got to see people threatening. Chris, I’m going to rip yourself off.
I’m going to start selling it for half price. We’re going to do all this, add on this, all this other stuff and get people away from you. And it’s our camp.
Andrew: And that would, that would have been possible. Right? If I, Andrew would have a thesis theme, I could have created the Mixergy thesis theme, just a few tweaks to it and sold it on my site, right. With access to a group or some kind of online forum where they could talk to me about how to implement it. And that’s what you wanted to avoid. Okay. All right. And so you went, you went and said, I’m not going to do this. And before I find out how they retaliated, give me a sense of where the revenue was at that height.
Chris: Uh, let’s see, I think about two and a half million dollars worth of software sales per year. And that was with a single product at one measly price point.
Andrew: Profitable, uh, over 2 million. I imagine it was just you right?
Chris: Uh, I had a business partner up until the Mixergy
Andrew: Yes, this was Brian Clark of Copyblogger.
Chris: I wasn’t gonna mention names, but okay.
Andrew: I think he, I think he said that I think he said that he had to, and it was clearly, uh, it was, he went with someone else who I’d interviewed and just partnered up with them instead of you.
Chris: Yeah, I think in business terms, your audience will love this because this is not, this is not normal.
After that interview, he wanted out because the press was getting hot and heavy. It was negative, negative, negative, no, you know, many business people who are much wiser than me know that this type of thing is not, we’re dealing with.
They don’t want friction. I get it. I’m not a businessman. I’m an innovator. I’m a creator. I want my space to do that. And when I wouldn’t to leave me alone, I don’t care about protecting revenues and stuff like that. This was too much for Brian. He’s like, ah, you are already tough to deal with. You’re going to add on all this negative energy coming.
Our direction is not worth me fighting these battles. I don’t blame him. However, what he did in the wake of that, there was no easy way for him to exit. And get everything he wanted and to do it in the timeframe he wanted. So he made up a fake interview that never happened, planted it with somebody who hates me because he was going to publish it.
Got named Aaron Brazil. Aaron hated me. Cause I used to dunk on him. Fair’s fair. And so Brian play with this interview with questions and he, he, he made up the questions. He made up the answers. They suited his purpose, conformed his little narrative. That served his purpose to get out to distances for me to make it look like he was a good guy escaping this evil demon who, uh, is unhinged.
Then he turned around to Brian Gardner who had a profitable business with Genesis, which was based on the thesis model. The way their code work was based on the way thesis work thesis was the most unique one at the time is the only one ever departed from the WordPress structure in this way, blah, blah, blah.
Doesn’t matter. Genesis was a cheap copy of thesis. Brian Clark went over to him. He already had established revenue. Brian, Brian Gardner gives him 51% of the business for free to say, Hey, come in and run this. That is not a normal transaction. Usually there’ll be some monetary basis. Some something, no, Brian Gardner just super and said, come shower me with dollars.
Brian Clark. I’m saved my business.
Andrew: what, but the business was that the business didn’t need to be saved, but Brian did help grow it.
Chris: and save in terms of growth.
Andrew: Got it.
Chris: to the next level.
Andrew: And Brian
Chris: the Hollywood producer who gives you a promotion
Andrew: he’s really good at that. Right. They took it to an insane level and you got to keep a hundred percent of the business. And then all the customers that came through
Chris: a payout. I did a, I had to pay him out a few hundred grand, something like that.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And then the business suffered because you didn’t get his traffic, his credibility in addition to other things.
Chris: I did a pretty good job of keeping the wheels on for the next two and a half years. So this was July of 2010. I immediately acquired the services of Derek Halpern of social triggers, fame. And he’s now running a direct to consumer supplement business called Trevante. Derek’s a hell of a businessman started off in like copywriting, psychology persuasion.
He ran my content strategy for a couple of years in the wake of all. This did a fantastic job, brought in tons of new eyeballs. Uh, he was able to sort of flatline revenues in a period where they were dropping like a rock. So he does absolutely ton of credit. I deserve credit for hiring him during the week because this was an unbelievably tenuous, tumultuous, awful time.
The fact that he really did such great work, stabilizing it and stabilizing my audience just to keep people around. People were scared. People were like, Oh, the founder of WordPress says, you know, puts a Scarlet letter on this guy. You know, people had fears such as is my thesis going to stop working is the next word, press update, going to say no thesis.
People were leaving for all sorts of reasons, some rational, some not. Uh, and I was labeled the villain in all this and sort of, uh, was fortunate to, to weather that storm with good soldiers, like Derek who, uh, who kept me afloat.
Andrew: You said that Brian thought I’m already, you’re already too much trouble to begin with. They might as well be done well, will have a pain in the ass. Where are you?
Chris: Let’s do this, this, you know, let’s do X, X being some idea for low hanging fruit revenue generation that also creates unending legacy, workload type stuff. For me stuff I’m never going to be able to let go trash thing, cheap deal, acquire money now, but you have to support this garbage thing.
It’s going to be annoying for the next eight years. It’s like signing me up for this low vibe software production model. And that was never my thing. I’m an innovator. I don’t do cheap stuff to keep
Andrew: Like what, what’s the cheap thing that might’ve been
Chris: So in theming, a cheap thing might be to tweak your theme a little bit and give it just a little bit of a different look.
Okay. And so you’d have your base load out and then you have this load out that has a different look. We have to maintain both. You have to answer idiosyncratic support requests around each one, depending on the way your software is built. If your software is built like a basic WordPress theme, these two entities are almost completely different.
Completely separate meaning, very high management workload for maintenance and support in the future and my whole direction at the time and still is, is to actually go the other way to make all the different permutations of this thing. Use the same basic atomic components. And that creates a much more manageable workload.
Like I I’ve made incredible strides since then. This is obviously 10 years later. I’ve almost eliminated support from my business. There’s almost no such thing as support anymore because I’ve nailed down all the basic patterns of software. Everything is patronized. Everything gets a very quick canned response.
I have quick, concise and accurate answers for damn near everything that comes up. It’s a miracle compared to what other companies deal with backlogs of support queues, 10 miles long, hiring new support people trying to integrate them. Like what a mess I’ve transcended all that garbage,
Andrew: You seem like very organized person that way. All right. And I get then why you wouldn’t want to do the things that Brian or another business owner
Chris: stuff just for revenue. I don’t like that
Andrew: God, because you want the order, the structure, all that.
Chris: level achievement.
Andrew: All right. And then Matt Mullenweg comes after you. And the reason I asked you to do that conversation with Matt was he was, I think, coming at you on Twitter, I think a lot of people came in response to the interview, done with me a week before saying this big issue that Chris is going through, he’s being unreasonable and it became this heated thing.
It ended with you saying I’m going to go in my own little world and WordPress saying. We’re going to ignore him. We had, he had a theme on wordpress.com. It’s not going to be part of wordpress.com. We’re going to create our own world, our own reality and pretend that he doesn’t exist in the world. Right.
But not crush you.
Chris: I w what you described is not how I would
Andrew: How would you tell me what happened?
Chris: There was all sorts of back channel work. After that Matt Mullen offered publicly to personally pay for any premium theme that anyone who was using thesis wanted to switch to,
Andrew: Oh, right. I remember that.
Chris: He had back channel work going on, trying to get me to agree to certain terms.
Um, I Skyped with various people, the WordPress community, people who were trying to coerce me to do XYZ. Otherwise, uh, you know, you, you see that this is probably going to happen. This kind of thing. There was a lot of, a lot of people clamoring for me to bend the knee, which is just an odd thing. Like if you’re a third party, why would you care?
It seems odd if your biggest competitor, the top of the market, he’s going to bail out gracefully. I would say a great throw me that revenue. I’m not going to like try and get him to bend the knee. Me that doesn’t make sense. They were being
Andrew: Why didn’t you? I mean, we’re talking about basic Sensu. If your enemy is bigger than you don’t fight them. I wonder why you didn’t just say all right, let’s just go.
Chris: Well, I honestly, I didn’t see them as an enemy until I got off that interview call
Andrew: Oh, they were attacking
Chris: when I knew this shit had hit the fan.
Andrew: Okay. And then even if at that point after the interview, couldn’t you have said, you know what? I got it all out of my system. I think I’m right. But I’m open to think I’m open to the reality that says maybe I’m wrong. And the reality that says I got to play with these people.
Chris: what actually happened in the wake of that
Andrew: You took that. You took that license on.
Chris: two weeks after that, I changed my licensing to match headway, which didn’t have a fully compliant GPL license, but was compliant enough according to Matt to be left alone.
Chris: No effect.
Andrew: why not? They just needed to make an example of you, you think.
Chris: So I’m not trying to politicize this at all, but I have seen an analogous situation many times since, usually in the veil of politics, but apologies when you want to scalp. And I was the scalp that was desired by WordPress at the time, an apology doesn’t matter. You just want to get the scalp and show it off.
Does it matter what type of capitulation I did after that? It was about the scalp.
Andrew: got it.
Chris: Subsequent actions made that very clear. It was
Andrew: everybody else.
Chris: Yes, that’s right. It literally scared everyone else in compliance. Some people, uh, I had lots of people, sympathetic voices, contact me on back channel, say, man, I hate see what is going on with you.
They like, but please do not ever ask me to comment on this type of thing. I’m not gonna, I’m not touching this stuff publicly. You know, basically I was the only person who was wanting to touch the phone and say, nah, but you know, you can’t expect other people to jump in the fire with you. And I certainly never did, but I’m telling you the amount of people I had sympathetic well-wishers on back channels would surprise a lot.
Yeah. People, it scared the hell out of, uh, other distributors, other theme makers, other plugin makers, and, uh, Let me just say I’ve received a lot of, Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. Emails through the years. I didn’t understand. I didn’t get it. I’m sorry
Andrew: because what, what did they suddenly understand?
Chris: that this was about power and coercion and not about the good of the community or any of that. These are all political buzzwords designed to serve as substitutes for rational thought. And it’s not. You know, I have a very like childlike view of this whole thing. Like let’s celebrate innovation, let’s make new things.
Let’s be excited and that’s not what the community is a community. Like, do it our way. Look this way, have this diversity be inclusive in this way. Use these types of terms speak in this manner. It’s all coercion. It’s all sameness. And that’s what we see now. The sameness about putting WordPress. It all sucks.
Andrew: ask her that. Your business suffered. How, how bad did it get for you personally, financially before we get into them, the speech
Chris: I mean, to be quite honest, I think I’m suffering from the worst of that. Right now. It’s been a long, slow, painful death, but, uh, the bottom hits, you see the bottom coming and the bottom comes up much faster than you expect. It’s like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. By the time you realize it’s too late to pull the cord, you’re probably splatting.
Andrew: where’s revenue now?
Chris: Oh, it’s just, I mean, Not not enough to live in San Francisco.
Andrew: Really we’re talking about what? Under, under 200,000.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Andrew: And you’re still, and you’re still fully invested in Thien in DIY.
Chris: I have branched out in terms of opportunities, basically what I’ve tried to do in the last, since, um, October of 2018. I have re redeployed some of the assets that I built. I got a ton of leverage. I was sitting on a mountain of awesome code that can be redeployed reused in various ways within, within WordPress and also without WordPress.
Uh, and I have attempted to redo all that stuff. But what I found is that the audience acquiring audience connecting with the audience, uh, Who the audience is, what people are paying attention, all that stuff. It’s totally not the same. We’re press doesn’t matter anymore. Nobody’s talking about WordPress.
It used to be, there was a. Sort of like this, this threat through the universe that was WordPress, that defined it. And everyone knew like what the conversations were coming off of this thread for a while. There’s like a cohesive community view that is completely fractured now that does not exist anymore.
All these websites that used to talk about WordPress, they’ve all lost their audiences. It’s all fizzled. Nobody cares anymore. Everyone’s settled into this, like droll. Tiresome routine of, of com website, complexity and dealing with it and Oh yeah, WordPress, we’ve got to deal with it. You know, like a special kid, uh, that’s sort of the viewpoint now.
It’s not exciting. And, um, the only thing that’s really working is the snowball momentum of popularity. So the King maker thing that WordPress engaged in the King maker, it has been done. You’ve got your most popular plugins. You got your most popular themes. You don’t have a lot of new players emerging in these markets anymore.
Uh, we’ve seen the growth of agencies who have thrived around the complexity of WordPress and who have six figure contracts with, with large companies that need websites because it’s cheaper than having people in house. No two engineers is more expensive than having a hundred thousand dollar a year contract with an agency like 10 up, which, um, you know, I’m very familiar with the inner workings of some of these agencies.
They deal with crap. All they deal with is inefficiency and groceries all day. I can’t believe they can even tolerate it to be honest.
Andrew: You were telling me before we got started that a little bit after the incident, Matt Mullenweg gave a talk somewhere and he said, you won’t believe what we did essentially? Or what did he say?
Chris: This was, so this was 2014. So the original thing was in 2010. I reorganized my business. I spent two years, all of 2011, all of 2012, developing a brand new thesis platform. To work the way I thought websites, websites should work quick caveat. During this process, when I first got into it, I spent three months developing a solution that looks very much like the divvy theme.
Now, Ella mentor, page builders, such as Beaver builder, this kind of thing. Dominate the WordPress, uh, the premium WordPress theme and plugin market. Now. Make millions of millions of dollars. I built something like this. I realized that the output from it was grossly inefficient. Like this is just not, I want the best.
I think it, you know, HTML was finite CSS though. The language of styling on the unit is finite. The amount of scripts that run on a site to do things should be fining. All these things are finite processes. And if that’s true, if something is fine, I, it can be perfect.
Chris: So, therefore I’m only accepting it if it’s absolutely perfect.
I can get any outcome. I want exactly how I want it. That’s the machine I wanted to build. The thing I built, I realized I could never get there with that. So I abandoned it. It’s funny that this many years down the road, and it’s really started in 2016, that what I’ve had built became what the vision was, because it was the obvious one, but it’s a piece of crap,
Andrew: but people still buy it.
Chris: Oh, people are buying it because it looks like what they expect it to look like.
It’s this idea of like your intuition tells you, Oh, this is what the solution to my problem is going to be. But you don’t realize that in using this tool, all you’re doing is creating idiosyncratic waste. Just this mountain of, of snowflake stuff. Snowflake input,
Andrew: down the website that does what
Chris: It slows down. Websites makes them harder to manage and increases the cost of anyone going in and working with anything.
But when I say increases the cost, I mean, literally increases the amount of time one has to engage, but it also increases the amount of errors and unintended consequences that happen when somebody tinkers with the system,
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is this still you being the same year? You were 10 years ago where the world is going one way, but you know that it’s wrong and you refuse to go in that way because it’s wrong instead of saying, all right, I get it. You people want this. You’re willing to deal with some errors.
You’re willing to pay people to do this. I’ll give you the thing that you want instead of telling you why, why you’re wrong.
Chris: it’s exactly the same mentality.
Andrew: And you’re willing to go down with that ship.
Chris: Absolutely. This is the only ship that’s exciting mentally. It’s not exciting just to do something for money. It’s so it’s so lame. I wish I got, I wish, listen, I wish I was motivated in that way. It would solve so many of the BS I deal with
Andrew: What’s the BS that you deal with. What’s what do you put up with? Because it
Chris: I swim upstream all the time?
Who wants to do that? Who wants to do that? Why would, why would anyone willingly choose to do this? Unless they just completely believed in the vision that they want to bring forth. Because they know this is a better place to operate. There’s some euphoria here. I get to experience that on my own. I would love, love for others to feel and to see what I see and to feel what I feel to feel that, that power, that leverage that cleanliness, knowing that you were doing things the right way
Andrew: I don’t see the power. I don’t see leverage, but I do sense the cleanliness and the beauty of the thing, the way you want it to be. It’s you know what, in preparation for my interview with Jason free to base camp, I went back and I, I read my transcripts of my conversations with them over 10 years. We’re talking about six, seven times he’s been on.
It feels like every time it’s almost the same thing. We go. But who did you ask to make sure this made sense? Who did you check with to make sure that this made sense in every different way, sometimes taking a side before answering, but in every different way you could imagine saying, I don’t need to ask anyone.
I know how I want it to be. Version one is me, the beauty of it, and the functionality needs to be what I want. If I ask other people ruins it. I feel like that’s what you’re getting in your creation. You don’t need to check the market to tell you that it makes more sense to do Adobe does. And what you do, you don’t need to check in with anyone else.
You just need to know. I know this is beautiful. I know this makes sense. If you could see it from my eyes, you would get it and that makes you happy.
Chris: Yup. Yeah. It’s that simple and exact complicated.
Andrew: you never get a, do you never get at a jealousy that other people have done better? You never get any sense of like, why is Brian Gardner doing better? Where I should have done it.
Chris: Oh, none at all. Not even a little bit. Uh, first of all, I had the initial ramp up. I got to experience that basic sort of success. So I’ve gotten to experience that it’s not like I’ve been left out of that party, uh, and I’m telling you the rewards that I have gotten from chasing after what I know is, is better and right.
And deeper and more thoughtful. Uh, those are infinite rewards. I mean, I’ve tried to describe this. I look like a crazy person when I do so. I mean, this is the best when I was developing this the best I could do to sort of try and eliminate for everybody. But when I was developing thesis two in 2011, 2012, I just think we remember for months at a time, my head was so wrapped up in what I was building and the leverage of these components and how beautifully they all work together.
This stuff I had this like daydream, hallucination, and me like traveling through space way on the galaxy, getting to go places that nobody else gets to go because I. Built up this large framework in my mind and was able to see it and utilize it and leverage it and stand on it, work off of it, get that perspective.
And so I’ve, I’ve reaped infinite rewards by being obstinate. I would’ve denied myself. Those if I chased money or if I been jealous or try to emulate what I saw other people doing, I wouldn’t have had those, those
Andrew: Money problems because your revenue went down.
Chris: do what.
Andrew: Do you have any money problems, any problems like not being able to pay for your home or not
Chris: Kind of yes. Kind of no, kind of yes. Kind of.
Andrew: Let’s not create this fairy land where everything’s perfect. Like
Chris: it’s not, I mean sort of, but I mean, how, how bad is it for a guy that owns a million dollar house? How bad is it for me?
Andrew: You don’t own it outright.
Chris: Do what
Andrew: You own it outright.
Chris: damn near like 160, 3000 on this house or
Andrew: Got it. Okay. So you don’t have any of the financial worries. It’s not like you’re sitting down going. If, if we don’t sell anything, if we keep at this level, we’re going to not be able to feed. I’m not gonna be able to feed my daughter. It’s not that
Chris: Yeah. Not, it’s not quite that bad. You know, I’ve got options. I still have options. You know, you always have options. Generally speaking.
Andrew: Alright, uh, you know what? I was going to get into the thesis.com issue, but this kind of makes me want to bring up your politics. I followed you on Twitter for a long time. You have he’s conservative points of view that you tweet out. And every time I see you tweeted out, I think the same thing that I sent you in a direct message yesterday, which is don’t you worry about losing business because you’re putting these tweets out there.
And do you remember what you responded with?
Chris: I do. So hold on, let me just say, I don’t really consider myself that political. I am engaged with what I consider to be the culture war that is going on. And I do have, uh, some takes that are often considered to be right or in the way I described to people as I’m anti-left. I have not right. I’m socially super liberal.
Like I do not care what people do. I think intrusions and personal lives are disgusting. This kind of thing. I’m very much freedom. Minded, leave everybody alone. Let’s all have a good day sort of thing. But many of the viewpoints that I, you know, his spouse publicly. Typically get lumped in with right.
Sided view, stuff like that. I just about all labeling. No, I am not a conservative. I am not right. Leaning. Right. Or any of these things. I think that that’s lunacy. However, uh, I do remember what I said to you and that is that, no, I don’t, I don’t worry. Sorry about getting canceled or losing business or any of those things.
And in fact, I think it’s awfully telling. Revealing that we asked this when somebody behaves like me, but we don’t sit here and ask the, the question when, uh, you know, cars are moving the other direction on this same street. And that is what happens. If all you do is walk up and, you know, DIA diversity inclusion, uh, you know, whatever, uh, equality, whatever these, uh, you know, buzz words are.
Why doesn’t anyone ever ask that question? When, when companies are engaging in blackout BLM policy, you know, this stuff, there is a saying, get woke, go broke. That exists because there is a negative business impact from a lot of these things. Oh, absolutely.
Andrew: heard that saying before. I, I would kind of bet with you that I do feel like if you take the more left point of view, I’ve never, I’ve never seen someone take a more left point of view and wanted to say to them, aren’t you worried you’re gonna lose your customers.
Chris: Right because nobody sees it that way.
Andrew: Yeah, I’ve I’ve and until your tweet, until your message to me yesterday, I never thought of it that way.
And that’s the way you think. But truthfully though, you are potentially losing customers and maybe they are too by taking, by taking a political point of view, that’s countered to a large number of people in the U S.
Chris: I think this is a super salient point right now. I think. You can’t be an authentic figure without ostracizing yourself from somebody at this point, because we have become such a binary like, Oh, this then this sort of thing, the thing, it can’t just be like, okay, this guy feels this way, but I don’t care. I love his products.
It doesn’t mean we used to not care.
Andrew: Well, we could shut up about it. You could just say, you know what I’ll say to my girlfriend, I got buddies that we talk online. I’ll tell them I don’t need to go on Twitter and associated with that. Personal personified a Twitter account. That’s the same as my business website. I, you could do that.
Chris: That’s a calculation that many people, and it might be the smartest best calculation for all I know, but I do know this. So it’s fashionable Twitter to delete everything you posted. Like it’s more than seven days old. A lot of people do this. Reputation management is smart. I’m not smart. I look at Twitter like I would. Feel very hurt. If my history was scrubbed tomorrow, this is like a, uh, a log of my life. I can go back and look at a tweet from 2011 and I’m immediately taken back to that mental state. I can almost get some of those fields. I can, I can like, not relive, but I can revisit. I can examine the growth that’s occurred since then.
I can examine my mindset. Like this is a gift that I have built. By being authentic. Like this is me. There’s no, there’s, you know, there’s nothing in the way.
Andrew: So this keeps coming
Chris: desire to be authentic.
Andrew: The lesson that comes back to me from you is it’s not about money. It’s not about market appreciation. It’s about getting to your authentic self. And if it means losing Twitter followers, losing customers, losing business partners, you’re willing to do it, to just make sure that every pixel is the way that you want it.
Every line of code is as simple and as. Right. As you see it,
Chris: That’s right. That’s right. That’s fair.
Andrew: I have to say that coming from New York, that just, it’s, it’s a shocking way to live and I’m open to it. I mean, I’m, I, I want to be open to it. I just never seen someone who, who felt this way, especially having suffered so badly for standing up for what you believe in seeing that so many people were willing to, to distance themselves from you.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, Fly a little too close to the sun. Your wings get burned and people don’t feel too bad for you. And that’s okay. You got to decide what’s most important to you for me. It’s it’s um, you said, you know, having every detail and all that stuff exactly. As you want it, there there’s a purity.
And a clarity and a depth of understanding all these gifts that come out of that process, this iterative thing, we live in a society that trains us from the very beginning to say that, well, you just do enough to get the good result to be perceived well by others. And that’s good enough. And I have lived a life of extreme achievement and success and all this stuff.
And I sit there and say, I don’t care that I got a 98 on this paper. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. The only thing that matters if I look at this and say, I see holes here, I see holes here. I see how this could be tightened. I am the judge. Now I have transcended society judging me. I am the judge, and if I’m not happy, I’m going to keep going.
Andrew: I thought that the whole benefit of capitalism was that it was supposed to incentivize people to care about the market and other people, people like you, who are talented, who have an I who have something to contribute. To be forced to listen to what people like me, who aren’t talented, who don’t have an eye who still wants something.
And because you want our money, you have to conform to my, and the thousands. If not millions of other people out there who you want to sell to you don’t see that as the greater good.
Chris: Not if it means compiling a bunch of technical debt. Not if it means making a bunch of mistakes that you will address later, not if it means delaying pain. And if so, if I’m not aware that I am delaying pain, that you will be facing and be responsible for it, if I’m not aware of it, then it’s okay.
Unfortunately, I have incredible vision, incredible vision. I can see way down the road. Now I’ve done this. I’ve already done these cycles, myself, the ones I know other people are going to be getting into. I’ve already paid all these costs. I know what the future is. I cannot sit here and be an honest man and sell you something that I know is going to create problems.
Now that I have this vision, I would be. So I use this, um, let’s try to explain sort of my, my outlook to others. The concept I keep coming back to is alignment and congruency. They both kind of work together, but like I, all the stuff that I do, all of my actions, everything I put out there, you don’t have to be congruent with my philosophy.
If there’s something that’s out of alignment there. It’s going to come back to bite me in the ass. It’s going to be a psychological thorn in my side. It’s going to be something that’s going to have to be addressed. And the longer you let it go and learn this firsthand to the worse it gets, the greater the cost of fixing the problem.
So now having paid these stupid costs that annoy me, it’s eat my time, eat up my ability to innovate and create. I just have a zero tolerance policy. If I can see down that road and understand that this is where I’ll be. Nope.
Andrew: What if you’re looking down the road and seeing that revenue’s going to keep on going down because of this.
Chris: Then maybe I should pivot to something where I can operate in a congruent fashion and still achieve what I want.
Andrew: Got it. It still has to be a reflection of you and your world, you and that’s number one. It’s very much like the beauty of iron ran that I discovered in college is in the philosophy that you’re expressing right here. I’m looking at you, I’m looking at you and I I’m getting a sense that you don’t want to comment on it because you don’t want to be associated with or against Iran.
Chris: Well, I really don’t know that much. I haven’t read any Iran. I’m
Andrew: like you’d love it. I feel like you’d love it. Um, alright. You said that you’ve got some vision for what’s next for you. What’s the future. What’s the next thing.
Chris: Uh, well, I mean, it kind of caught me off guard there, but I mean, I do have ideas about what might be next. Um, So I have a daughter soon to have a step son, and I’m going to have a son born, uh, right around Christmas this year. So I’m going from one kiddo to basically three kiddos leveling up by the end of this year.
And almost all of the delightful inspiration I get in my life now is channeled through kids. It really is. And I find kids keep their focus on infinity. They keep their focus on fun. What’s next. They don’t worry about stuff that sucks. They worry about delight and about, uh, especially like, like my daughter, she is such a like she’s so, uh, so that’s like an attraction point for.
You know, just receiving the gifts of the universe, living in delight, living in this, in this sense of wonder and, uh, And possibility all these goods, goodbye things, goodbye things that suggest something new who is around the next corner, living in a space of novelty and delight. And w this is one of the things that sort of defined my adult life is looking around and seeing how many people lose a sense of both a sense of novelty in a sense of delight, or how many people become numb.
To their senses in general and just start living out the same pattern. It doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire. If you live the same tired pattern every day, you’re poor, you’re spiritually poor. And I’m sure you’ve seen this because, you know, interviewing the scads of people you have over the years.
One of the most telling things for me has been how many rich people I met, who are just miserable, nothing that, that I thought when I was like 10 years old, that was going to solve these problems or put me in a better place. None of these things were true. And what I’ve come to find out as an adult, is it really, these children are the ones who were hanging on to what’s true and good in this world.
And all you do is you growing up and we just to get numb to it. I want to be alive, receptive, sure. In the same way that my kid and other kids I’m around. Yeah, they are. And so I’m thinking about this in terms of like what I’m going to do next for business. I want to create delight. I want to create imagination.
I want to try to solve some existing problems because that’s a big component of what I do. Solving problems, introducing efficiencies, introducing like some sort of exponential factor to make things better. Something like this. I have quite a few thoughts for it, for what that might look like.
Retrofitting shopping malls, for example, who needs some help creating games, creating a merger between video games, screen and stuff you do in real life. What if Ninja warrior were a video game, for example, with a live component and the video game component, think about some sort of fusion like that. Um, so I’m thinking about lots of stuff like that, and I, you know, might be playing around with some, some prototypes.
Andrew: It’s totally different. I thought you were going to say web flow is the future. I’m going to switch everything to web flow now.
Chris: Now Webflow is not the future. So I mean, quick, common all is. Anyone who’s doing hiring right now for engineers. Who’s watching this probably hiring node, react, angular developers, all this crap missing the point you’re engineering. The whole engineering team is fired because they don’t understand what the hell is really going on.
These are simply frameworks fads. They are not fundamentals of computer science. There is a famine fan, an absolute fan, and this is so shocking to me. It really is. There was a famine of people out there operating in engineering and computer science disciplines who really do not understand the most basic tenants of computer science.
Not only do they not understand them, they don’t work with software that. Is evocative of these basic principles. WordPress, for example, is a complete viral, basic computer science. It’s a mess. Anyone who knows and actually knows, would tell you Kenley, it’s a joke. It’s not an object oriented system. It is.
If you went through two classes, CS one Oh one and one Oh two at any decent college, you would see by the end of CS, one Oh two, you’d be like, Oh shit, nobody’s doing this. It’s the most basic thing in the world for leverage. It’s the whole idea of mechanical leverage within a computer system. And it simply doesn’t exist.
Proceeds faster than the growth of our inefficiencies that are baked into our systems. And right now it’s so interesting. This gamble has most websites loading in about six seconds. Most webpages loading at about six seconds. Apparently this has been good enough because you get content showing before two seconds.
Pardon me? And so this is deemed good enough because, Oh, it has all of features. People want, without these features, no one would buy this stuff or do this stuff or whatever, but that’s false too. These are all canards but the bottom line is. Nothing like it, we could strip away all of this stuff. We could do freaking, you know, hammering code into stone for Christ sake and deliver a system that works based on computer science fundamentals and the, the downstream efficiencies we would achieve just from doing it right from stripping away, all the crap, doing the basic stuff.
Right. It’s it would change the world. This is exactly the process I’ve already undertaken with my software. And it’s something that very few people understand and it’s been frustrating for me, for me. Cause I’m like, who can I even talk to? Nobody gets it. Everybody gets misdirected. They get, you know, they learn this stuff in school, but there’s really no connection between school and real work there really isn’t.
And so you get out there and you’re like, Oh, well, these engineers want me to do node and all that, this is the real stuff I should have been learning. And it’s like, no, dude, you’ve missed it. You missed the whole boat. Just went by, you missed the whole freaking thing, but enjoy your salary.
Andrew: How do you express this in your personal life? This belief in what? Yeah. How do you express it? I saw you’re about to answer something on video,
Chris: Oh, no, no. I mean, I can go on for days. So
Andrew: but how about in your personal life, this, this philosophy, how does it come through in your relationship with your fiance, with your, in your relationship with others and the way that you just carry yourself through your day?
The sense of rightness efficiency? What,
Chris: I’m demanding.
Andrew: on what, what’s an example of how you do that?
Chris: I’m very ritualized in routine and my day to day stuff. So I’m easy to deal with in that sense. Like anyone who knows me well can predict where I am at any minute of the
Andrew: same breakfast, same lunch, different dinner, that type
Chris: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, yeah. I, I fast in the morning, so I just have a couple of cups of coffee, but neither here nor there, but bottom line, I’m super predictable in that sense, but in terms of what I will accept, like if my daughter’s working on something, she knows that I’m super dummy. Like, I don’t want to cut corners.
I want her doing deep work. She understands that
Andrew: how old is your daughter? Five. Okay. Mine is six. So you ask you, you expect deep work from your
Chris: Well, I can give you an example in a five-year-old context. So we built Legos. I’m a freak about the inventory of the Legos. I don’t want pieces being missing then, then like a thing is incomplete. I hate incompleteness. I absolutely, I have a name in my life called the completion bonus. I want the completion bonus.
I eat all my food. I clean my plate. I completion bonus everything. To a crazy extent. And I don’t, I don’t expect everyone else to operate on that level, but at the same time, everyone around me know that’s where I’m at. Absolutely. And so my daughter knows that like, if we play with the Lego stuff, she keeps track, she keeps track of everything.
She’s like an accountant there now knows that the daddy wants her to keep track of the inventory. And she does that, but that’s a demanding sort of thing. A lot of parents like, Oh no, that’s too much. You know what I mean? But if you’re around me, he will be picking up on this
Andrew: And she’ll do that. She’ll finish. If she’s got a Lego project, she’ll finish it until whatever she’s trying to create is done and
Chris: Oh, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. She understands that some projects take a very long time and are not a one setting sort of one session sort of thing. But she also understands that if we’re playing with something, we keep everything together. You know, we keep track of stuff. We don’t separate stuff.
We don’t make a mess. Well, you keep things confined, you know, like there’s some, some rules to the transaction here to keep because they have downstream effects. If we jumble everything up. Yeah. And we don’t know what goes with what, and then we have a problem. So she likes this, the sanctity of her toys.
She has a bunch of Barbies. She keeps their accessories, all organized. These ones, get these, these ones, get these. She loves that order, that separation that clarity. And if you allow chaos to we’ll take that, then you lose all of that. And that stuff is hard earned.
Andrew: All right. I get that point of view. I wonder what it’s going to be like in school, where they take away that perfection from you. Then now you’re gonna have to battle them in addition to trying to train her
Chris: I’m not super keen on a traditional schooling.
Andrew: I’m not either, but we’re kind of, well, no, we’re actually, we’re actively looking to get away from the traditional schooling, especially COVID it helped me see what my son was like doing remote schooling and realizing, no, this is what you fought against. Find something else.
Chris: Right, right.
Andrew: All right. How do you feel about this?
Do you feel like there’s something that I, I didn’t give you a chance to talk about.
Chris: No. I mean, uh, you know, I, the most interesting stuff is the personal stuff, the cultural stuff, the battle story stuff. I mean, that’s the most interesting stuff right now. I’m not, I didn’t have any, uh, Misconceptions about coming out here and touting my product. I think that’s boring, frankly, that kind of thing.
So I feel like I got to talk about stuff that matters to me.
Andrew: And then I think that, um, that’s the best way to also get people to go and take a look at your product. I, I had no idea. I’ve watched you, I’ve read you over the years. I didn’t know that you were going through all this. I just kind of assumed that you had your own Island apart from the whole WordPress community and you were happy there and you were building there and maybe you weren’t.
As big as theme forest, but you were meet still meaningful and still big. I didn’t realize you suffered so much from all of that.
Chris: I got absolutely hammered. I made some missteps as well. Like what? So I referenced a thesis too, which I, it really all told us like two and a half years of hardcore development. I mean, this was the single biggest undertaking of my entire life. Still to this point, doing this was a massive undertaking. Uh, it costs about $440,000 to do a witch.
Is it cheap as you can do it cause I’m paying the best guy in the world to do it. So it was easy to pay myself for that. You know what I mean? But you know, I paid for an office. I had hired a bunch of employees. I’ve offloaded everything in my life for two years so that I didn’t have to do anything.
Andrew: what didn’t you do?
I’d show up, go sit in front of the computer for 14 hours a day. And I enabled myself to do that because I had people getting my mail. I had people bringing me coffee. I had people bringing me breakfast, lunch, dinner, exactly how I wanted when I wanted, I had a misuse come in. I mean, I literally made it, so I didn’t have to get up out of that office chair for 14 hours a day for two and a half years.
And, uh, so I did that built this great thing, but what I failed to realize is that I had gone so far into outer space so far ahead of where everyone else was ever going to be. I had no hope of marketing this thing effectively
Chris: and do what.
Andrew: because why not?
Chris: Because after two and a half years of exhausting development, I was going to have to spend at least 12 months evangelizing my butt off all day, every day, producing videos from 500 different angles.
I just didn’t have it in me. Did I was whooped after that development cycle, it was, it was a huge, like Shakara draining. Thing to go through. It really was. I mean, it was, it was the, uh, you know, it was like me climbing Mount Everest, and then you get to the top only to be told, Hey, you gotta go climb three more.
It’s just everybody. It stands like
Andrew: Right, right. Yeah.
Chris: you know, I continued actually that cycle through March of 2014. So October of 2010 through March of 2014, I did not stop. And when that was over, I had already been dragged through the cold, by my affiliates. People like Chris Lema, who I think you’ve had on here.
Maybe once, I don’t know, he’s like a WordPress evangelists guy. People like him who had large orders. The answer is of people who were like deciding what to do and WordPress, they all, they all did not give my product a chance at all. We’re just like, this guy is so out there. He already pissed everybody off.
He doesn’t do the right things. And now he’s done this thing that nobody understands. Let’s. Let’s turn our attention away from him. So I received a lot of damaging press. I was already in a vulnerable place and didn’t realize how critical my next steps were going to be, because I thought I was going to March through the Gates with this triumphant thing.
They still end up in ancient Rome, and everybody loves you. It was not like that. It was not like that. I really just created a much worse problem for myself, but I wanted to innovate. So I did what I wanted.
Andrew: And you’re still no regrets on that.
Andrew: Well, I wonder, like, what am I missing from behind the scenes? But I have to tell you when I go to YouTube, when I go to DIY themes.com, it just is so beautiful when I see your videos explaining why and what, how things work and why they’re fast. It’s just makes so much sense. I
Chris: I think, I think I have a really good strong offering for people who are willing to listen, but people don’t want to listen. Now, people don’t want to look and what I’m really finding. And this is so fascinating to me is people have an intuitive idea of what they think solutions are going to look like if those sort solutions diverged from this divine sort of intuition, they’re not willing to listen. It needs to look a certain way and it doesn’t, it’s not that focus doesn’t look that way. I’m talking about the input mechanisms.
Andrew: Yeah. Like what drag and drop.
Chris: Yeah. Like they feel like they should be able to look at a finished webpage, take a border and drag it out to the right. Cause they want to make this column a little wider
Andrew: And why do you think that’s not what they should be looking for?
Chris: because that’s not how pattern leverage works. You don’t drag one line in one template out. That’s not how pattern leverage works. That means you’ve now created. I got a concept known as Neo syncratic customization touchpoints. These are singular actions that you have taken that have no pattern leverage at all, cannot be reused.
That must be repeated elsewhere for consistent output.
Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense.
Chris: If I tweak one thing, everything else adjusts, I have a very intelligent adaptive system all based on. So like not even one pixel, not one pixel space in my layout is haphazard or arbitrary. So in computer science, the concept known as hard coding, hard coding means you might take something like a value of 10 pixels you might, right?
Yeah. Literally 10 pixels. Well, that’s a specific value. If you only the context around it, it might be the case that 10 pixels no longer make sense in this situation. That is hard code. So what you want, there is a variable representation and that variable ideally would adapt. However, it needs to adapt when any of the other circumstantial variables change that could affect it.
That is an adaptive system. That is something without that idiosyncratic touch, customization touch point, it automatically adjust for you.
Andrew: I think I know what you’re talking about. So I’ve said that I have a sponsor HostGator, and because there was this, guy at the San Diego zoo who did a class for my kids, I went to HostGator and created a website for them to promote. the way that he did classes and let other people sign up. And so I said, I’m going to try a more popular thing experience I’ve been in WordPress for years.
I want to see what, what people are talking about. And I see what you’re talking about, where there’s, it’s not a single input box. Now I could create any design on any page that I want. And you’re right. That if I change the one page in a certain way, and then I realized there’s a better way, and I go and change the next page and then a better way.
And I go and change the third page. Those first two pages don’t get changed. I have to go back and readjust them and then figure out what did I do here? How did I design this?
Chris: That’s really the thing, undoing stuff you’ve done in those types of systems. That’s the worst interaction possible. And then flip the, you know, there’s so
Andrew: But it feels great in the moment because you say, Oh, I just want to be able to put a video here, a buy button here and explanation for why you should buy there. And then I realized, well, I also need to have this other thing. And yeah, I get what you’re talking
Chris: My favorite aspect of all this too, is this, cause this really, this really blows apart the whole paradigm. You’re saying I want to do these things with my webpage. I’m saying what actually works for visitors. You have ideas about what you want to do. That’s cute. If it doesn’t work for visitors, it doesn’t matter.
You achieved what you wanted, but you didn’t achieve the sales or the engagement that you had hoped for. And, you know, the deal is simply simplicity, clarity, and speed. I use this analogy all the time. I’ll use it again here. Your customers are not at their iPad or their, their iMac with their one gigabyte internet connections.
They’re in line at Chipola on the run, clicking on a link from a freaking tweet. And if your stuff doesn’t come up, click quickly, and clearly you got to scroll through a mountain mountain of menus, a big image that has nothing to do with the page. You actually click on something. The layout shifts a pop up happens, like give me a break. They clicked for one thing, if you don’t deliver immediately on that promise, you are going to lose. The reality of what I just said is going, is increasing every day, the external pressure to deliver exactly what I just said. You click instant gratification for why I’m here and the desire to move on. If you can’t do that, you failed internet.
Andrew: All right. It’s DIY themes.com I think is the best place where people would go to follow up on this interview.
DIY themes.com. Thanks Chris.