Ben Pines (Elementor)


Today on the podcast we chat with Ben Pines.  Ben is the CMO at Elementor in Israel. 

Micah: [00:00:04] Hello, I’m Micah.

Aaron: [00:00:05] And I am Aaron and we are recording the WP SquareOne podcast. We have Ben Pines here. He is the Head of Marketing at Elementor, the leading all-in-one design solutions for WordPress professionals. Ben, how are you doing?

Ben: [00:00:22] I’m fine. Thanks for having me.

Aaron: [00:00:24] Yeah, thank you. What time is it over there?

Ben: [00:00:27] It’s 2 p.m.

Aaron: [00:00:32] I might have miscalculated. I thought it was 3—

Ben: [00:00:34] After lunch.

Aaron: [00:00:37] All right. I’m drinking my first cup of coffee right now, so cool. Thanks for joining us. Let’s just jump into who you are and what you do at Elementor.

Ben: [00:00:46] Well, as you explained, I’m the CMO, basically the person in charge of marketing, kind of has the hands on every department. We joked around that they can give me the title Head of Nothing because it’s pretty amorphic. I do what’s needed to get the word out that Elementor is cool and good for you. So that’s it basically.

Aaron: [00:01:11] Good for your health or good for your business?

Ben: [00:01:15] Preferably both.

Aaron: [00:01:17] Nice. So with Elementor, how many active installs do you guys have?

Ben: [00:01:22] We passed the million, I think it was a couple of months ago and we’re climbing now. When you pass the million, it’s sort of a different calculation. So now we’re passing, I think, close to the middle of the second page on the most popular plugins. So if you go to the most popular plugins second page, I think we’re down there in good position and we hope to climb up.

Aaron: [00:01:47] Yeah, that’s awesome. You can’t mention Elementor without at least talking a little bit about other page builders out there, and I know that you guys surpassed Beaver Builder recently, at least with the active installs, probably more than three months ago. I mean it was probably a year ago or so. That’s a big step to get into the million numbers. I know you have very few that do that. You’ve got the Kismet and Yoast. Mike, any other ones that are like super popular?

Micah: [00:02:18] Yeah, probably, but you hit the big ones so…

Aaron: [00:02:20] Yeah, those are the big ones, but concerning Elementor, tell us about the company, how it started.

Ben: [00:02:29] It started as a theme company actually. It was, I think, five years ago and the founders found out that having different— We had like sixteen themes. These didn’t give a logical solution because the designer needed the header from one theme and the footer from the other, and so on and so on, so there really was a great need for the tool to build actually the website without having the restriction of any given theme.

[00:03:01] So it’s still accepted that if you need a website, you’re going to one of the marketplaces and search for the thing you’re looking for, but actually what we’re trying to change and what we’ve, I would say, partly changed the culture where you actually want to create your own custom website that fits your own design. And that’s how we started working on the page builder.

Aaron: [00:03:27] And so at the moment, so I know you have the free plug-in, which is on, but maybe explain a little bit about the pro version and what all that does.

Ben: [00:03:39] Actually the free version is stand-alone. It can help you create a full website, but the pro version is everything you need if you’re a professional, you’re creating websites for a living, so it has everything from vital widgets like forms and slides and also all the theme-building capabilities, so you can create your header, your footer, your single and archive pages. If you need more than a small business site and the landing pages, you can use the pro version to create advanced sites and everything you can imagine.

Aaron: [00:04:20] You mentioned forms. What type of integrations? Is it a form builder or does it just integrate with other existing form builders?

Ben: [00:04:31] Yeah, it’s a form builder, and what’s great about it, first of all, there’s integration to all the CRMs and marketing tools like email marketing services like MailChimp. And what’s great about it is that you can actually design and build the entire form from the front-end. So you don’t go to the back-end and do more guesswork and do the design separately, but you actually custom design your forms in the same place where you design your buttons, your headings. It’s an advanced form. It doesn’t give you all the advanced capabilities like Gravity Forms because most users don’t need that capabilities. But it does give you an awful lot of customizations.

Aaron: [00:05:16] Yeah. Gravity Forms has something like 20 add-ons too for Constant Contact, or MailChimp or PayPal Pro, all that stuff. So yeah, Gravity Forms is definitely intense.

Ben: [00:05:30] Yeah. So basically you can integrate to, if I’m not mistaken, nine or ten different e-mail marketing and we keep adding more integrations to the form. So any service that you’re using, you can integrate it into the form and build your newsletter subscription list and so on. So in that area you’re covered. If you’re talking about a more sophisticated like conditional or surveys, then I would use a dedicated form builder.

Aaron: [00:06:01] Yeah, that makes sense. You used the word “custom”. What do you guys do when it comes to custom post types and stuff like that? Is there some type of integration within there?

Ben: [00:06:11] Yeah, we just did a month where we focused on actually— because we saw great potential with this integration to ACF tool set and pods and other custom post type plug-ins. So we actually put out a lot of tutorials and explanations how to use Elementor in relation to that.

[00:06:31] When you’re building sites, let’s say a movie review site, and you’re creating the custom fields through ACF, in the past you had to translate everything you built in ACF to code, put it in your theme files. Now you actually don’t have to do that. You design the template with Elementor’s theme builder, the single or archive templates, and then dynamically integrate all the custom fields.

[00:06:59] This gives you a great opportunity to build advanced sites with custom fields integrated, and you can control and manage a large portion of your pages from single templates and it’s all dynamically built. Every page has, if it’s a movie site, the review where the IMDb rating, etc. Everything can be made dynamically.

Micah: [00:07:26] Are these particular post type integrations part of the free plug-in or is this part of the paid version?

Ben: [00:07:31] That’s the Pro, yeah.

Micah: [00:07:33] I was looking at this the other day, so I think you also have an integration with pods. Is that right?

Ben: [00:07:38] Yeah.

Aaron: [00:07:39] So page builders, I think a lot of people started off playing around with a visual composer and then switched away from that. It was probably five years ago or so, but one of the things we’re doing—“we” meaning people that are using a page builders—we’re now able to edit the header and footer versus your visual composer basically modified the content. I think probably all the other page builders, that’s the first thing they do. Can Elementor modify the header and footer, or is that built-in in the free version or the Pro?

Ben: [00:08:16] We started also focusing on the content because that’s the easiest place to begin and that’s still the case for the free plug-in. For the Pro, we expanded Elementor to cover the header, footer, single archive, all the areas of your website pretty much. Now you can also have access to your WooCommerce product pages and product archives. So for each of these templates you get a specific set of widgets and solutions to help you design it better and get all the flexibility you need.

[00:8:53] If we take WooCommerce, for example, that’s a huge deal because again there was no way to do that visually before. And even if you did it with code, you ran the risk of doing something wrong with the code and ruining your website. It’s much more stable in many ways to create those templates through Elementor.

Aaron: [00:09:18] That will be nice because I know anytime I do WooCommerce, I have two copies, and templates from the WooCommerce site, put them into my theme and then modify them. So this allows us to modify not those templates, but basically able to modify them without code, correct?

Ben: [00:09:43] Yeah. Another point that’s important here is that you can actually create multiple versions of the templates. You can have different headers. Or if you’re designing, you have a magazine site and you wanted different blog posts designed per category, you can designate a color per category. We’ve built the theme builder in a smart way with conditions. So after you design it, you decide which conditions it will apply on. So you finished designing your single template and then you can decide, “Okay, this will apply only to categories of a certain type or certain tag or certain post type.”

Aaron: [00:10:27] To clarify or take a kind of more of simple use case here, you could, with Elementor, select. Let’s say someone has a blog post and they want the header to be different just in the blog area. Elementor can do that, right?

Ben: [00:10:46] Exactly. After you finished the header design, you set the conditions to apply to your single posts or your blog in the end.

Aaron: [00:10:57] Yeah, that’s super powerful. Just a lot of people don’t want to go in and jump in, edit code, create a php file basically. So it makes sense.

Aaron: [00:11:11] Yeah. And what we recently found is that some of the areas of your website, people are so used to working in a certain way that, from a marketing perspective, you really have to sort of push the nail there and pump it through every way you can. Meaning show the users every step of the way and in various ways, so it will sink in and people will understand what this new process allows them to do. That’s actually what we’ve been trying to do recently. Awesome. So with the eminent release, I guess, of Gutenberg coming up soon, how are you guys handling Gutenberg and what can people expect in that regard?

Ben: [00:12:13] We’re very excited about Gutenberg. We think it’s a great next step for WordPress and we’re doing everything to examine the ways we can integrate with Gutenberg and we have several directions. Some have already been implemented, switching back and forth what exactly in Gutenberg will appear in Elementor, and what will appear in Elementor in Gutenberg. So there are many ways that the two editors can work together.

[00:12:51] We still see a huge difference in terms of what the destination of each solution offers, so we keep developing Elementor as the design tool, the tool that every professional needs to have. And in my view, Gutenberg is more suited for bloggers and content creators. It’s a great tool, And I think it’s great that it’s oriented towards this thing because 30% of the internet are using WordPress and a small portion of them are actually professionals. Most of them are bloggers, content creators, and they need to get the easiest tool to create, to get their word out there.

Micah: [00:13:37] Awesome. So what you’re saying is there might be more integrations as Gutenberg comes out, but at the moment it’s relatively light.

Ben: [00:13:46] Exactly, yeah.

Micah: [00:13:48] Looking forward to the future, what kind of things does Elementor have in the works that we can look forward to?

Ben: [00:13:57] Well, we’re exploring, I would say several directions, but two specific directions is how Elementor will provide a better solution for a site-wide website. So in terms of handling colors and fonts and how templates work together, plus other areas that we haven’t dealt with before like pop-ups. So these are the directions that we’re currently working on.

Micah: [00:14:22] Yeah, I know handling colors and that kind of thing, one of the first times that I was looking at using a page builder, we decided not to because a particular site was for a brand standards site, and most of the page builders gave too much control in terms of color and those kinds of things. So have you guys looked into how easy it would be to restrict certain features?

Ben: [00:14:50] Well, that’s definitely an issue and the solution is not simple, and you don’t want everything to be custom down— The recent features that we came up with actually try to allow you to change it once and have it effect on multiple pages and throughout your site. So that’s an important direction because you don’t want to decide the color of your titles every time you write your headlines, every time you write the blog post. You wanted to get a sort of default, and we already have a certain solution, but it’s not complete, so we’re working on improving it.

[00:15:29] We recently also launched the Navigator, and this had a great impact because it allowed you to, when you’re creating long-form content or managing a landing page that is longer, actually see a map of your entire document and move things around. The response was really positive for this feature. So we’re really happy with this direction, understanding that it’s not just about designing a certain section but actually managing your whole process.

Micah: [00:16:01] Gotcha. So in other words, you can have a landing page that’s got a hundred and fifty elements on it and be able to easily manage.

Ben: [00:16:12] Consistency is key here and you don’t want to think about it. If you think of brands like MailChimp that have so many blog posts and so many landing pages and they want to remain consistent, they don’t want the designers and the writers to rack their brains every time they want to create new content. So it’s a huge workflow improvement to give them the tools to manage everything on a more global scale and be brand consistent and more aligned to the general guidelines of the brand.

Micah: [00:16:47] Most people when they talk about a page builder, it’s obviously about building the content for that one specific page. But I’ve talked to a few people and I find it interesting, it sounds like people are interested in site builders, right? Being able to not just create the pages but to create an entire site. A lot of people have trouble figuring out like what types of pages they need for what type of business they have and things like that. Is that anything that you guys have considered at any time?

Ben: [00:17:17] Well, I think page builder is more a historical thing that because this is what we came up with when we launched and because this is what the industry is used to, but it’s definitely going into the direction of website building and e-commerce building. We are definitely exploring it. It’s important for us.

[00:17:41] I don’t want to minimize the effect of landing pages and their importance on marketers, so we still have this focus in our minds, but definitely maybe a larger importance is the website building right now.

Micah: [00:18:02] When you say website building, can you just reiterate what those key concepts are in terms of how you define it?

Ben: [00:18:11] You have a professional website builder. He or she gets hired by the client and they start off the project. They don’t want to just create the landing page. They want to, first of all, ship the entire project and do it with prototyping and everything. Next, they want to box it and maybe use it again, so that’s pretty much the entire solution that we’re going to explore.

Aaron: [00:18:42] Yeah. I got a question for Elementor. Can you tell us a little more about the size of the business? I would assume— Like I have a plug-in, and it has ten thousand users. So yours, is it a hundred times more popular or is it a thousand? I can’t do the math right now? But tell us about the company, how many employees you guys have, stuff like that.

Ben: [00:19:11] We are, if I’m not mistaken, reaching forty employees right now and most of them are situated here in our in-house, in our headquarters in Tel Aviv. We’re growing. A large portion is the support and developers and marketing of course. And yean, we’re expanding the team design. We’re expanding the team.

[00:19:40] It has challenges because when we started out, we launched on June 2016, and then we were five people. So we managed to grow very fast. Now we’re dealing with all the challenges of this rapid growth and it’s really exciting–

Aaron: [00:20:04] It’s amazing to me because I don’t know any other plugins in general where you had that many people. So tell us a little about support. How does support work for you guys? Do you guys support the version or do you have to have a paid version to get support?

Ben: [00:20:20] Well, we try to answer tickets as best we can in the dot-org. But when people upgrade to Pro, they get the premium support, and that’s where most of the support members answer the ticketing system. So that’s the key reason why users want to upgrade. They want some help, certain issue to deal with, and then they upgrade.

Aaron: [00:20:56] About the GPL with the Pro version, I know obviously anything that’s in the WordPress repository, everything has to be GPL. Tell me why the Pro version is not GPL’d.

Ben: [00:21:11] Well, first of all, we built Elementor Pro as a separate plug-in. It’s not a lite version. When you upgrade to Pro, you have the Elementor plug-in and you have the Elementor Pro plug-in. You can deactivate the Pro version and continue with the free one.

[00:21:32] But we are strong believers in GPL. We have 10 different plug-ins that are GPL, and successful plug-ins for activity log, for accessibility. We’re eager to be GPL. The problem with the Elemental Pro is the business model. Currently, if you search, you can find unfortunately a lot of pirated versions. And this has a negative impact, not just for us.

[00:22:04] I discussed this with other plug-in developers. It’s a huge issue that can put large constraints on the business model, especially if you’re GPL. So we’re trying to work it out and we have several ideas how to solve it in terms of licensing. We’re working on it and hopefully we’ll be able to have some solutions soon.

Aaron: [00:22:33] Makes sense to me. Well, tell us a little about how you got into— obviously this is WP Square One and so the whole point— I don’t know in Israel what Square One means for you guys— but it’s kind of what Square One is, if you could go back to square one and start over.

Ben: [00:22:57] We call it point zero, I think.

Aaron: [00:22:59] Point zero?

Ben: [00:23:00] In Hebrew, yeah.

Micah: [00:23:02] That’s like the version right before 1.0, right?

Ben: [00:23:07] Right.

Aaron: [00:23:10] Exactly. So we’ll have to change the name of the podcast here— point zero.

Ben: [00:23:15] Definitely, yeah.

Aaron: [00:23:15] Yeah, I’ll do that for you guys. So what would you do differently if you could start from the beginning, whether it be you personally, getting involved in the WordPress community, or just in Elementor in general?

Ben: [00:23:29] Wow, that’s a great question. I actually don’t think I would do anything differently because the development came pretty much organically after we launched. And I think we put a good enough balance between what I did in terms of marketing the product, getting the word out.

[00:23:57] Now it’s shifting because when you reach a certain size you need to do actions that are different to keep the same growth rate. So I’m more focused on what are the next steps, but I think we actually did pretty well in terms of what we did and how we spread our efforts around.

Micah: [00:24:19] So if we flip the question and ask what was one of the best things you think you did, what would you say that was?

Ben: [00:24:24] I think the two things that pop into mind or the three things are outreach. So if someone starts a new plug-in right now, I would suggest try to communicate with the most influential people and try to get into the spirit of the WordPress community because that’s huge and people are sincerely helpful in this community.

[00:24:51] In the same line, I would also put a large emphasis in creating the right community. We have a very active Facebook group that also acts like ambassadors of the product. Thinking about the community you’re building and thinking how you can contribute to them and help them, that’s a good rule of thumb.

[00:25:18] E-mail marketing has been also great for us because it’s true what they say, it’s the best marketing channel because you can really communicate with your audience. You don’t just send a Twitter tweet and reach like 10 percent of your audience. But you send an email and everyone gets the email. So start building your list early on. I think these are the three things.

[00:25:47] There are a few other things like videos that were pretty successful. Looking back now that I think about it, what I would put more focus on is what we were actually trying to change right now, trying to find the best ways to educate our audience. Think of the best because in the past, we’ve had a lot of feature releases— almost every week.

[00:26:21] Every time you release a feature release, you need to worry about getting the word out and everything. But you also need to worry about education because what we discovered is that no matter how big the feature is and helpful the feature is, if people don’t understand it, then they won’t use it. So this is something that is super important to think about and try to figure out. It’s a super difficult task.

Micah: [00:26:54] Now you make me want to go look and see, if you have a YouTube channel and what else is on there?

Ben: [00:27:00] Yeah, if you go early on, I think we’ve done— Well, we were understaffed, so now we’re doing better, I think.

Aaron: [00:27:09] Yeah. But I don’t think (inaudible 27:10) for me. Well, I’m excited about where you guys are going just because the fact that in two years, you’ve hit over a million installs. I’m on your mailing list, so I get a decent amount of communication from you guys about features, and I keep seeing this new feature, this new feature, and this new feature. So you’re definitely telling the truth concerning that. I’m excited for the future for you guys.

Ben: [00:27:42] Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of challenges. We’re also now focusing a lot on creating the right focus on the target audience that uses Elementor the most, because there’s a varied audience of people from marketers and designers and developers and newbies all using the same tool. So we’re trying to figure out what is the best approach to help the users that need us most. We’re definitely starting to do that much better than we did when we started. So this opens a lot of interesting ways in which we can communicate better with our audience.

Aaron: [00:28:31] Well, we’ll have to reach out to you in a year or two and see how things have changed and what that million mark will look like. Maybe you’ll hit the two million mark in the—I don’t know—near future.

Ben: [00:28:47] Five. Let’s try five.

Aaron: [00:28:49] Yeah, doubling is not enough.

Ben: [00:28:51] Yeah.

Aaron: [00:28:53] Sounds good.

Micah: [00:28:54] We’ll call it five to ten just to be safe.

Aaron: [00:28:57] Yeah. I mean, I guess as WordPress grows— You had mentioned 30%, the percentage of the websites out there using WordPress is massive, it’s definitely going up as the market just continues to grow. You’ll have growth just by default, coupling with your marketing skills.

Ben: [00:29:20] Also, we have to be aware that there is a huge competition from other platforms, Wix specifically. We’re trying to do our end in promoting WordPress because they’re not stalling, and a lot of users out there are contemplating, “Okay, I can buy hosting and install WordPress and run through all that hassle or I can just open it with one click.”

[00:29:55] So we’re trying to make it an easier process for users to onboard and build their websites without having to deal with the PHP code and the theme files. That’s also a challenging potential because the competitors aren’t sitting back. They are also doing a lot of steps to catch up with WordPress. Hopefully the open source and democratized content will win.

Aaron: [00:30:27] It normally does.

Micah: [00:30:29] Thanks for joining us, Ben. I know you are @bpines1 on Twitter. Is there any other information contact-wise that you would like to share, or is that the best way for people who want to reach out to you to contact you?

Ben: [00:30:45] Well, of course, download the plug-in and join the mailing list to get emails from me— Not too many. If you’re interested in becoming more active, you can join the Facebook group, Elementor Community. People post questions there and share their websites. So that’s the best ways to contact. If you’re a developer, you can join our GitHub and contribute there. That’s pretty much it.

Micah: [00:31:16] Awesome. Well, we really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us, and hopefully we’ll be able to chat sometime in the future and catch up and see where you guys are at. Thanks for joining us.

Aaron: [00:31:29] All right. Have a good rest of the day.

Ben: [00:31:31] Yeah, thanks. Talk to you soon.

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