2018 Year in Review

2018 Year in Review

I’ve been building WordPress products for close to eight years now, yet sometimes it feels like I’m just getting started. I can’t believe what a brilliant year 2018 was. It’s been a year of adventure, change, and growth – both personally and professionally.

One common thread you’ll see in this review is that I lived and breathed everything Gutenberg throughout the entire year. Sometimes, an idea can transform the very way you think. I know for myself, the scope of the new WordPress editor fueled my focus and inspired me to take on the most challenging development projects I’ve ever attempted.

I opened so many doors that I didn’t even know existed. And by the end of 2018, I learned a great deal of React, built ​tens of blocks​ for the new Gutenberg editor, released two new Gutenberg-based products (​winning an Automattic Design Award for one of them)​ and published most of what I’ve learned along the way here on my personal blog.

Although 2018 was great, I faced more than a few unexpected challenges and even made a couple mistakes. But looking back on the year, one thing is absolutely clear: I accomplished a great deal, becoming a much more proficient developer and project manager along the way.

Here’s what I’ll be talking about:

  1. ThemeBeans 2018 Annual Review
  2. Jumping into Gutenberg with CoBlocks
  3. Launching Block Gallery
  4. Publishing on my Blog
  5. Personal Milestones
  6. More Happenings in 2018
  7. Major Goals and Projects for 2019

This is my second year having a public annual review. If you’re interested, check out ​last’s years review of 2017​. 🥳

ThemeBeans Annual Review #

At ​ThemeBeans​, 2018 was about taking action to reinforce my theme collection by focusing on how Gutenberg will influence the future of theme development.

From running a theme shop for the last eight years, one thing is abundantly clearer than ever: folks don’t necessarily want a whole slew of new themes.

Highly refined Gutenberg-optimized themes at ThemeBeans
Highly refined Gutenberg-optimized themes at ThemeBeans

Quantity is not the primary value-add to my shop’s theme club. Instead, it’s the stability and overall quality of the collection that is taking the cake. I am constantly releasing updates, adding new features and ensuring that each theme works perfectly with the latest and greatest WordPress has to offer – including the Gutenberg editor.

Having 100+ themes is only so attractive. But having a developer who will go that extra mile to make sure you’re taken care of – that’s what counts.

Even though I did not add a new theme to the ThemeBeans catalog in 2018, ​revenue grew another 60%.

We’re so close to the 1,000 active subscribers benchmark I set for myself last year, currently sitting right around ​900 active subscribers​.

A closer look at themes

Throughout the entire year, I pushed ​132 updates​ to the theme catalog, 13 of which were major releases – mostly addressing enhanced support for WordPress 5.0 and the Gutenberg editor. Interestingly enough, last year I pushed 144 theme updates.

Yay for consistency!

My most successful theme of 2018 was, once again, ​Tabor​. I attribute this to my focus on early Gutenberg optimizations, which garnered quite a lot of attention for the theme.

Tabor, a ThemeBeans WordPress theme for Writers and Bloggers
Tabor WordPress theme

My goal with Tabor was to use the project as a proving ground for WordPress 5.0 optimizations that I would later apply to all the themes in my collection. By the time Gutenberg was nearly ready to merge into core, I had a solid plan of action in place for migrating my existing themes to use the new editor.

Currently, six of my themes are highly refined for Gutenberg with editor styles, custom font sizes, color palettes… the whole nine-yards. I’m planning to set aside more time to update the rest of the catalog, but as you can imagine it’s not super easy to do it right.

If you’re interested in how I’ve baked in Gutenberg support and optimized the block editor with theme styling, ​I wrote an article all about it​.

Like I said, it’s a lot of work, but totally worth it. The user experience offered by a highly optimized theme is far more superior than those that ignore the new editor – which is unfortunately the majority of WordPress themes.

Championing customer support

As ThemeBeans customers well know, our team is absolutely dedicated to delivering second-to-none support. I recently welcomed ​Luke Logan​ to help with supporting our customers, which has turned out to be a fantastic addition to team ThemeBeans. In short, Luke is a champion of customer support!

Throughout 2018, we’ve ​resolved 541 tickets​ (​up 149% from last year​), with a whopping ​53% of tickets that are resolved on the first reply​. And out of those 541 tickets, only seven resulted with an unhappy rating. Therefore, ​99.98% of folks were happy​ with our customer support efforts. I’ll take that any day!

Jumping into Gutenberg with CoBlocks #

After watching the Gutenberg demo at ​WordCamp US 2017​, I knew that as soon as I got back to the office, I’d have my head down learning how to build blocks. And that’s exactly what I did.

I started my foray into Gutenberg block development with a nifty spacer block in a project dubbed ​GutenKit​, which eventually found its way into the core editor. I figured the “Gutenberg” name would be familiar for a time, but not long-term, thus I rebranded the project to ​CoBlocks​.

CoBlocks: Page Building Blocks for Gutenberg

As it stands today, CoBlocks is a suite of blocks for content marketers, although it’s going to be much bigger than that.

I started the project mostly to learn the ropes of the new block editor and to figure out which direction I’d like to take in this new era of WordPress. It’s been a great experience, not only for learning new programming languages, but for teaching me how to think with a more strategic level of planning to build something truly generational.

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I’m not trying to build a small collection of cool blocks for bloggers. I’m aiming higher. Much higher. I’ve recently teamed up with ​Jeffrey Carandang​, a keen Javascript developer and product guru, who’s been producing WordPress products for years.

We’re building ​CoBlocks​ into a fierce content builder, rivaling the best content creation experiences WordPress has to offer. There’s much more I’ll be sharing soon, but I guarantee we’re going to blow your mind.

I attempted to build my first block a full year ago. Trust me when I tell you, it did not go well. I didn’t know any React, nor had I even heard of JSX. Ironically enough, I was trying to build a block that featured a masonry grid.

With a WordPress theme catalog consisting of a number of portfolio themes, I knew it was important to explore how my themes’ galleries will function post-Gutenberg. I soon realized this was far beyond my capabilities and ended up ice-boxing the idea for a time.

Nine months later, I kicked up the dust and started development on the first version of ​Block Gallery​. It quickly grew into an exploration of how advanced galleries will interface with the Gutenberg editor. I ​released the plugin on October 25th​, it was picked up by ​WP Tavern​ in November, and by mid-December had ​1,000+ active installations​ already. Rad!

Block Gallery: Beautiful Gallery Blocks for Gutenberg

On top of all that, Block Gallery was ​selected as this year’s winner​ in the Best Solution category of the ​Automattic Design Awards​, at WordCamp Us 2018. Also mind blowing! 🤯

Publishing #

Once again, online traffic to my personal blog increased quite significantly over the year. Page views are ​up 129%​, totalling ​141,135​, out of ​71,834 sessions​ — which is a ​151% increase​ in itself.

2018 was also a big year on the content front, although I failed to keep to my publishing schedule as consistent as I would have liked. This year, I need to be much more consistent and take publishing more seriously.

I wrote 25 articles in full, with my popular articles being:

  1. How to add WordPress theme styles to Gutenberg​ (6729 views)
  2. The Ultimate Guide to Gutenberg Image Alignments​ (5535 views)
  3. 11 Simple Tips to Getting Approved on ThemeForest​ (5451 views)
  4. Preparing WordPress themes for Gutenberg with the Block Unit Test​ (4563)

It’s wild to think that just two years ago I was essentially writing to myself, with hardly any readers. Some of the best advice I can give folks is to just start publishing. Sure, there are plenty of other “more important” tasks to take care of, but if you’re not sharing what you’re learning and talking about your work, no one will know what you’re up to. So what’s the point?

Just do it already.

Let’s get Personal #

On a personal level, this year was challenging — but rewarding nonetheless. The biggest milestone that we checked off is that we ended up selling our home and moving across town to be closer to our family and friends. It was quite the adventure, but well worth the effort!

I started running more and took on my first 10k run in late September, as well as a Spartan Sprint in October. I’m still finding it difficult to get in the workout groove, but I’m realizing how important it is to take care of my physical being.

Last year, I voluntarily took up public speaking opportunities for the first time in my professional career. I spoke at a few local meetups in the greater Atlanta area, as well as at WordCamp Atlanta. Each were invaluable learning experiences that I really enjoyed doing.

I’m looking to possibly speak at WordCamp Atlanta again in 2019, and I’m considering to apply to speak at WordCamp EU — both likely Gutenberg related. We’ll see!

More Happenings in 2018 #

Here’s a quick-fire list of other cool stuff that happened in 2018:

  1. Released v1.0 of Merlin WP
  2. Spoke about Gutenberg block development at ​WordCamp Atlanta
  3. Spoke at a few local meetups, also all about Gutenberg
  4. Contributed a fresh new logo to the WP Gulp project
  5. Released Block Unit Test to help theme developers with Gutenberg
  6. Login Designer reached 6k active installations; just shy of my goal of 7k
  7. Worked on Writy with Ahmad Awais
  8. Marked my two year anniversary of reviewing WordPress themes at Envato
  9. Joined Aaron Reiman on the WP SquareOne podcasts

Major Goals and Projects for 2019 #

My major goals and projects that I’ll be focusing on in 2019 are to:

  1. Develop CoBlocks​ into a game changing suite of page building blocks for Gutenberg. ​Building phenomenal blocks and tool-sets which will further empower folks to build brilliant websites.
  2. Reach 12k active installs for CoBlocks.​ Develop creative marketing strategies to get more folks using the free plugin hosted on ​WordPress.org​.
  3. Launch CoBlocks Pro. ​Plan out what a pro version of CoBlocks would look like, what intrinsic value it would have, and then execute.
  4. Launch Block Gallery Pro.​ Build out more beautiful gallery blocks and add beneficial features such as light-box and lazy-loading functionality.
  5. Update all themes in the ThemeBeans catalog with deep Gutenberg integrations. Each of the shop’s themes should readily support the new editor with editor styles, custom color palettes, custom blocks, the whole nine yards.

Overall, 2018 was an Incredible Year

2018 has been a wild run, full of adventure; an on-ramp of sorts, preparing me to take on the future of WordPress, laying the foundation for my place in this new block-based era.

I’ve evolved from an above-average theme developer with a keen eye for design and a handful of marketing expertise, to a competent React developer, building tools for the next generation of WordPress.

I’m stoked for what’s ahead in 2019 and the opportunities Gutenberg brings to the table. You see, Gutenberg blocks are the future of WordPress – and quite possibly other CMSs, such as Drupal​.

Overall, 2018 was an absolute blast.

So how about you? How was your year? Comment with your annual reviews, if they’re public. I’d love to read them.

  1. Really dig what you are doing. Congratulations for all the wonderful achievements in 2018! I really don’t know how you find time to do everything 😅
    And I’m looking forward to see you on WordCamp EU.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. That’s amazing, Rich! The tiger leaped – that’s what the picture in front of my eyes after reading your post. I crawl as a lame turtle when compared with you. Well now, I have been inspired and I have what to strive for. Thank you!

    p.s.: Your Block Gallery is great and its simplicity adds to its greatness. Thanks for this plugin! 🙂

  3. Congrats on the awesome year, Rich. I am super proud of all you have accomplished this last year. Many major and personal wins in there.

    Looking forward to launching Writy.io this year with you. 💯

    P.S. That OptinMonster form is not showing up, probably my adblocker removes it — that’s costing you money and subscribers.

    Peace! ✌️

  4. Hey Rich. Will these Pro Plugins you’re creating be incorporated into Themebeans or as a part of some other newly created & expanded venture (ie Writy)?

    I’ve invested in a couple theme developers over the years but things didn’t pan out as I wanted, as many didn’t seem to be ahead of the curve in seeing what people needed before they actually needed it (which is usually what I need now). You, on the other hand, seem to be way, way ahead of the curve (ie Ludicrous Speed go!) which is awesome, so I’d really like to invest in a Lifetime Membership tied to your services.

    That said though, I don’t want to invest in it if a lot of your newer ventures & products will be outside of Themebeans, as you mentioned Writy will probably be (via our Twitter chats). For example, I’d like to use Tabor theme now (since Writy still seems a way off) but if both Writy and your Pro Plugins are going to be outside of Themebeans, I’d rather just buy it as a single purchase rather than buying it as part of a Lifetime Membership.

    Hope that makes sense. I just need some general foreknowledge to make the right decision now on purchasing, so it pans out in the future the way I’m hoping it will. Thanks!

    1. Hey Nollind, the idea is that Block Gallery Pro and CoBlocks Pro will likely be included within the ThemeBeans Club membership (or at least with a steep discount). We’re still figuring that out, but there will definitely be some crossover there. And yes, I do like to move fast! I have a lot of ideas/plans, and we have the right people in place to execute.

      In the spirit of transparency, we’re actually temporality sunsetting the Writy project for now. Like you said, it’s so far off – and there’s so many immediate plans with Gutenberg in my current themes – plus the addition of what we’ve been working on with CoBlocks. Eventually we may pick it back up, but I think I’d be doing a disservice by keeping attention there – where it’s so much more valuable pushing Gutenberg in the right direction via blocks.

      Feel free to reach out at hi@richtabor(dot)com and let’s chat more if you have any other thoughts. 🙂

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