Finely Tuned Consultant: Chris Lema
Today, I’m stoked to be talking with Chris Lema, one of the most active members of several WordPress forums that I hang out in, and a WordPress guy who works with the platform every single day for his work at Emphasys Software. I’m not sure how Chris finds the time to do it, but he’s constantly blogging very in-depth pieces about WordPress, webdesign, and successfully building companies. Currently, he’s blogging about WooThemes and company cultures. Chris has also been involved in 5 startups, 3 that he started, and 2 that he’s successfully sold.
I love the intersection of startups and WordPress, and in particular, I seek out successful entrepreneurs, like Chris, who choose to use WordPress when they build new products. Chris is one of those guys. He’s the guy you work with when you’re developing new products and you know WordPress is the tool for the job. He’s also got a big family that he spends lots of time with. Honestly, I’m not sure how he has time for everything 🙂
In Chris’s Own Words:
I work full time for an enterprise software company called Emphasys Software, leading their product development and innovation lab. Outside of that, I help companies build products better and faster, and regularly use WordPress to do it.
Now, onto Chris’s Answers
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
I think it was around Christmas of 2005 or really early 2006. Either way, it was in that corporate down time when people are away on vacation and that’s when I’d get most of my real work done. I was building a product on a .Net platform called DotNetNuke and I was pulling my hair out. So I went looking and found WordPress. That’s when it dawned on me that this post/page metaphor might be useful for more than just a blog. In a weekend I had hacked enough PHP to make my product and I was off to the races.
Now to be clear, I’m not a full time WordPress developer, nor do I run a WordPress company. I’m a product guy and I manage the development of large enterprise systems. But I love WordPress and so sometimes I get to build big systems on it, using it as a platform. And other times I help out young start-ups by helping them leverage WordPress.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
I go where I think most discerning folks go – first to Twitter, and then to WPCandy. I start with Twitter because it enables me to follow (I prefer that term to ‘stalk’) some fantastic and amazing WordPress folks and see what content they’re curating. So if they’re posting links, I follow them and read it. Then for everything else, I head over to WPCandy. I also check out Sucuri’s blog for security news.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
Do any of them get the love they deserve? I mean that seriously. I’ve spent time in the model driven development and machine generated code space (conceptual compilers and such). I’ve spent time in corporate development with Microsoft partners. I’ve been building enterprise systems for just over 18 years. You know what they all have in common? You can almost never connect with the smartest folks in those spaces. They’re off secluded and (somewhat) protected. I’ve said it before: WordPress has it’s rock stars, but the difference is that they’re all approachable.
Every time I sit by one at a WordCamp I’m amazed by how relaxed, engaging, and approachable they are. I feel giddy just being near them. They don’t know me, but I know who they are – they’re authors, speakers, consultants, CEO’s, and incredible programmers. And yet, there they are – just hanging out. My take is that that doesn’t happen anywhere else in any other technology space.
All that said, I’m down in San Diego, so one of the new up and comers is Michael Bastos – who’s already spoken at a few WordCamps. He’s a command-line open-source loving Brasilian who’s constantly trying new things (including hosting WordPress on Amazon Web Services). He also created the Advanced WordPress group on Facebook that I spend time in.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
I’m pretty sure anything I suggest is stuff you guys have already written about on your site – limited plugins that do “related posts” because most of them suck, keep your systems current, pick a host based on their understanding of your platform rather than the cheapest guy out there, and don’t log in using the admin role (regardless of the login name) unless you need to do something that only the admin can do.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
I’ve told this story a million times, but I’d built a product that sat on top of WordPress several (emphasis on several) years ago and we were hosting it over at mosso (now Rackspace). One of the reasons we did that was because their platform was supposed to support both Windows (for .Net) and linux (for PHP). After months of trying to get our solution (which leveraged both platforms) to work, we decided it wouldn’t work.
So I looked around and saw that GoDaddy (yes, I just said that) might work for us if we used some subdomains effectively, which we did. So I moved all our systems over to GoDaddy. And after a few weeks, everything came crashing down. You’re thinking I’ve just told you about my biggest fail. But we’re not there yet.
What I did next was to send my wife to the spa (for the whole day) and I cleaned up every one of our sites/modules to get the whole thing running again. It was like 6 WordPress sites and 3 .Net applications. Did I migrate it to a different host? No. And that was my biggest WP fail.
Because, you guessed it, about a month later, they all came crashing down again. Total failure and it was completely my fault. So I had to spend more money sending my wife (and her girlfriends) away for the whole weekend while I cleaned up everything and then migrated the whole thing away from them. So if you go cheap, just save that money because you’ll need it!
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
Well, I’m doing that on the weekends. I’m working with a friend and we’re creating a Kickstarter-like extension for WooThemes’ WooCommerce plugin. I’m very excited about it. It’s called “Sponsorship” and I hope we’ll finish up soon.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I use themes, child themes, and love theme frameworks. I never start anything from scratch. I don’t have that kind of time and I rarely need to do something that unique. Plus, I love what everyone’s doing out there. I think I own a developer’s license to just about every theme framework that’s out there.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
I really like a lot of them. I’m a “perfect tool for the perfect job” kind of guy. I want anything that will help me go fast. Really fast. So if I need to get a customer up in 2 hours and they’re not discriminating, but they want tons of “features” I’ll set them up on a WooTheme. If they have a lot of different looks on a lot of different pages, I’ll set them up with Pagelines or Builder. If they want complete control over stuff but never want to learn CSS, I’ll set them up with Catalyst. And if they want a custom look then I’ll likely create a child theme on Genesis. So it really depends.
I love WordPress SEO by Yoast and his new Video add-on. But that’s not much of an original answer. So I’d also say I’m a big fan of the early release version of Elegant PURL, the plugin I worked on that does landing pages with personalized URLS (purls). It’s been fantastic in the real estate space, where my company does some work. And a friend is having a lot of fun with it in the automotive space.
least favorite plugin?
Any related post plugin other than the ones by nrelate or MicroKid. (Ed: You may also want to look at Wordnik)
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I built a CMS for churches and non-profits that captures 20 different kinds of data (sermons, staff, etc) and then streams it out via JSON to an engine that produces (with the help of Appcelerator’s Titanium) a mobile application that is submitted to Apple. I worked with the CEO of the start-up to show him that WordPress could do this for a fraction of the quotes he was getting and it’s now generating enough recurring revenue to cover his entire staff.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?
Let me start by saying that I love what Justin Tadlock is doing right now, selling a simple theme on ThemeForest. But there’s a ton of themes on ThemeForest that suck. And I don’t see that stopping soon. So more and more I think consultants will get customers who say, “I purchased this theme and now I need your help.” That’s not a fun problem and I think it’s getting worse.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
Maybe it’s already fixed. I’m not sure. But in the install, step 5, add a form field for the site’s tagline so that all default instances don’t say, “just another WordPress site.”
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
Well, I really like the idea of the WP App Store, and in it’s own way, Jetpack is doing something similar. So if I had to guess, my sense is that in 2 or 3 years, one of the ways to mitigate the issue I mentioned earlier about Themeforest, will be to have a cleaner and more tightly integrated distribution mechanism for plugins and themes. Who and how that will play out, I don’t know.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
Well I mentioned it before and it was this start-up who got quotes to build a mobile CMS that ranged from $120,000 to $1MM. I helped start 3 companies and worked in 2 other start-ups as the tech guy, so I know how hard it is for non-technical CEO’s to get products built when they don’t have the cash and aren’t sure who to trust. I met this CEO and spent a few months getting to know him and then suggested that it could be done for less than a third of his cheapest quote – and in half the time, if he used WordPress. WordPress saved the day really. It’s ability to function as a development platform makes all the difference in the world.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
They believe that a $3.95/month hosting package will do just fine. I speak at conferences, I write posts and I even create infographics – all to let people know that if you’re spending less than $5/month on hosting, you’re doing it wrong.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
Imagine you are writing the controller software for a set of 6 elevators in a 20 story insurance building -walk me thru your approach/logic and explain it. I ask that question because I don’t care how well a programmer knows PHP, or how long a person has worked with WordPress. What I want to know is how well they can think thru logical problems because they’re likely going to be sitting at a desk making tons of decisions I’ll never know about and I want to be able to trust them to make smart ones.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
My wife is my better half. My kids are amazing. I love public speaking, Yoda, and cigars (but not in that order). I get to wear sandals 350 days a year.
Y’all should mosey on over to Chris’s site, ChrisLema.com to see what he’s blogging about, and to see how you can work with him.
Join the conversation.
There are 7 comments
Nice work Austin and Chris. I always seem to get valuable tips from the WPEngine blog that is well cared for and well written.
I’ve very much enjoyed Chris’s talks in San Diego as well. Always very informative!
The Hack Repair Guy
Austin thanks for sharing this! We have been seeking advice from Chris on WP and product for years and we never cease to be amazed by his depth of insight into product development generally and how to leverage WP in particular.
In particular I love hearing about favorite plugins by those in the know.
Would love to know the answers you get for that question “writing the controller software for a set of 6 elevators in a 20 story insurance building”.
Thanks for a great interview. I’ve been following Chris’ blog for a little while and always enjoy his posts. He embodies many of the qualities that I have come to appreciate about the wordpress community. I was grateful to see him speak at Wordcamp LA and bask in his goodness.
Great article and Chris is a really great guy. I’ve been reading his stuff for a while and he is always super helpful and brings great content!
WordPress is actually one of the last significant items of web application to fall assistance for the old versions. There are some really awesome new functions and upgrades sure to create a lot of people satisfied.