In light of RocketTheme’s 10th anniversary, we decided to ask a few questions about RocketTheme’s history and future to its founder and CEO, Andy Miller.
Andy Miller, based out of Colorado, heads up the RocketTheme team in addition to contributing a lot of development time into its products.
His experience working on Mambo, and as a founding member of the Joomla Project team, inspired him to create a company that provided templates and extensions for the growing platform.
RocketTheme was born out of a desire to create products that empower users to create sites that go well beyond what is possible with most cookie-cutter solutions, even if their development experience is limited.
Today, RocketTheme produces new extensions, as well as templates, themes, and styles for four major CMS (content management system) platforms regularly. These include: Joomla, WordPress, phpBB, and Magento. The team is also responsible for the Gantry Framework, a powerful and popular templating solution for WordPress and Joomla.
Recently, Andy Miller began a new open source project working on an open source flat-file CMS called Grav. Grav is currently in beta, and has a growing community of supporters which have provided critical testing, insight, and even contributed to the project by creating their own plugins and themes.
In this interview, Andy answers questions about RocketTheme’s past, present, and future. He also touches on some of its biggest upcoming projects, such as Gantry 5 and the future of the Grav CMS.
Ever since University, and the Internet was young, I have been involved in Web development. A good balance between design and development has always been something that has driven me.
While doing some consulting work, I was looking for a solid PHP-based CMS and came across Mambo. I really liked its simplicity and power, and quickly became involved in the Mambo open source project. When it sporked and became Joomla, I became one of the founding members of that new and exciting project.
From there, I took my small theme business MamboDev and rebranded it as RocketTheme. I really wanted to move away from doing custom ad-hoc themes for clients, and develop themes with broader appeal that could be resold. The principal idea behind RocketTheme has always been that we bring quality design and functionality to everybody.
Regarding theme design, we are always researching and staying on top of current design trends. We also solicit advice and recommendations from our users. We basically try to provide a large variety of on-trend designs to provide a variety in theme options.
We’re all about solving problems in the best possible way. RocketTheme is principally a theme company, but in the process of developing those themes, we often find that there is a missing bit of functionality or something that is not really being solved with existing products or services.
This is where ground-breaking projects like the Gantry Framework came from. Existing frameworks just didn’t do the job in the way we wanted them to, so we wrote our own to solve the problem.
Also, RokSprocket is a good example of us building a product that could render output from a variety of content providers in a consistent and reliable way.
Running RocketTheme is definitely not as simple as it may appear from the outside. When I started RocketTheme, it was a one-man operation. I handled development, support, billing, marketing, and even IT support for the server.
Over the past 10 years, things have obviously grown more complex. The underlying CMS platforms are much more powerful than they were. Also, the Web has changed, and now mobile and desktop are of equal importance.
Themes are now common place, competition is stronger, and as such, people expect more than they did when we started.
All these factors, and others besides, contribute to making the process of developing themes much more complicated, and therefore much more time-intensive. What I used to be able to create in less than a week by myself takes multiple designers and developers nearly 2 months today.
Keeping things fresh and engaging month-to-month is not an easy task either. The current design trends lean towards more minimal and clean web site design, and that makes it harder to differentiate our themes each month while still providing practical and usable designs.
We face our challenges head on, however, and we continue to learn from these challenges and use them to improve our processes. In turn, this improves the experience for our customers.
Originally, we expanded into other platforms because our RocketTheme members asked us to.
However, this is just good business practice to ensure we don’t have “all our eggs in one basket”. We like to ensure that we can cover our user needs, so we pay close attention to the current crop of popular platforms and make sure we are providing themes and extensions for the most popular ones.
We focus on open source platforms only, as we believe very strongly in supporting open source software.
Grav originated with the observation of the trend where people are shying away from developing large, complex websites, and moving towards smaller, simpler sites.
We were looking to add support for a simpler platform, but after extensively evaluating all the options, we couldn’t find a good solution. So, we built our own.
Grav started off as a personal project of my own, to provide the features and functionality, with the speed and ease of use that would make the process of developing smaller scale websites fun again.
It quickly became apparent that Grav was actually turning out to be a much more capable solution than I had ever intended. We released it as an open source project about 4 months ago, and it’s been really fun and exciting watching and interacting with people as they discover, and start realizing the potential of Grav. It reminds me of the early days of the Joomla project, with all the excitement and energy we had back then.
Grav can perform well as a blog, a single-page site, or even a custom platform for a variety of tasks such as documentation or a e-commerce. We envision that Grav will become a viable option for people who are looking for a fast and flexible platform where Joomla or even WordPress is overkill, or too cumbersome.
Our current Gantry 4 framework is the latest version of the original Gantry framework that we developed and open sourced 5 years ago.
The original idea behind Gantry was to build a framework that enabled developers to more easily create powerful themes, and also provided a flexible UI for end users to be able to modify and tweak the themes to their needs. It was the first true theme framework of its kind, and continues to be a solid platform for modern theme development, even today.
Gantry5 is a complete rewrite based on all the lessons we have learned so far. We are also taking advantage of a lot of the technologies and development practices from the Grav project to ensure that Gantry5 is super fast, and highly flexible.
One of the main things that we’re baking-in from the start is the idea of multi-platform support. We have Gantry5 in development working in a standalone mode with no underlying platform at all, as well as for Joomla, WordPress, Grav, Magento, and phpBB.
Because of this, we can easily adapt Gantry5 to work with practically any platform in the future. Also it means there is much less difference between the actual themes for each platform, so that enables us to release a theme across multiple platforms much faster.
There are other really cool technologies going into Gantry5 to make it more modular and upgradable too. All these things combine to make it a better for creating themes, and even more user friendly for users.
In the immediate future, we are working hard to crank out Gantry5 as soon as possible. This is our top priority as it’s the framework that underpins our template and theme products. We will focus on Joomla and WordPress platforms initially, but after that, we’ll start providing Gantry5 themes for Grav, Magento, and phpBB 3.1.
Developing on Gantry5 will bring forward a new era in performance and flexibility for themes from RocketTheme, so that’s really exciting!
We also have big plans for Grav, too. We will put some of our resources into developing new plugins and capabilities for Grav to really ensure it can go toe-to-toe with anything else out there. It’s a really fun project that the team loves working on. So, if you have not checked it out already, it’s a great time to do so.