Interview with Cory LaViska of Particle, SurrealCMS, and A Beautiful Site fame
A beautiful site is, well, beautiful. Its creator, Cory LaViska, has dabbled independently in a lot of excellent projects, and it's been really fun and exciting to hear about his journey and even to help advise him on some next steps!
Cory is currently building out a new CMS platform called Particle that looks awesome (screenshots after the jump) and he's done a lot of amazing things. I have to say I'm really excited to get to meet him and know him and discuss his plans for his projects. Here's more on Cory.
Please tell us a bit about how you founded A Beautiful Site.
I started ABS in 2007 as a small web design business. I soon realized that most clients needed a tool to edit their websites after launch, but many of the existing options were too complex for them. So I started developing what would become Surreal CMS which launched in November 2008. Since then, I've stopped doing freelancing and I focus all my effort on Surreal, open source projects, and other things that interest me.
And please tell us about your experience as a "founder and bootstrapper."
I never really considered asking anyone for money. I found a niche that needed a solution and I built one. It took a lot of time and effort — working full-time from 8-5pm and then squeezing in development from about 7pm to midnight or later (this lasted about a year) — but it has definitely paid off.
Can you tell us about some of the projects you've created? What inspired their creation?
I've already discussed my flagship service, Surreal CMS. I've released some other free tools over the years, but my focus has primarily been Surreal. However, my latest project has been in the works for about a year and a half now. It's a blogging/publishing platform called Particle, which is inspired by things I find missing from existing systems, namely speed and simplicity. It may also be the first installable publishing platform to feature inline editing.
Your site really is beautiful. How did you learn web design, and what principles do you apply most when you build out sites?
Thank you! Actually, I'm more of a developer with an eye for design. Designing websites takes me much longer than it probably should. The theme for ABS is actually a premium theme because I didn't have the time to design it myself. However, I did design www.surrealcms.com.
I started learning web design/development while I was in the army. We went on a field exercise and I took a lot of pictures. Everyone wanted a CD with the photos, but I thought there should be an easier way, so I bought my first domain and web hosting and started tinkering. I think I started with FrontPage, then went to DreamWeaver, then finally I realized how much easier it can be to hand-code everything, which I still do for most projects.
All in all, it's taken well over a decade to amass the skills needed to be a good web designer and a great web developer. It's not something you'll master in a classroom.
Can you tell us about your company composition? Where are you located? How many people are on your team?
ABS is just me. I've worked with contractors over the years, but I manage the important stuff myself. I've also relocated quite a bit over the years, which hasn't helped. (In hindsight, I should have been a digital nomad!) I'm currently in Orlando, Florida, but I've been back and forth to New Hampshire as well over the years.
Although ABS has traditionally been just me, if Particle finds its place in the world, I'll be looking to grow the company into a small team.
Do you take clients, or are you building out third party projects? What requirements need to be met for you to take on a client?
I don't accept clients. I almost always refer people who ask to someone else. Since I manage everything myself, my time is very limited.
You're active on Github too. Tell us a bit about your involvement there.
I'd like to be even more active in the open source community, but there are time constraints and unfortunately open source projects don't pay my bills. I guess the reason I got involved is because I used so many open source projects in the past. It's like a "pay it forward" thing. You have some spare time to work on some code, why not let others take advantage of that and help make it better? Open source is a win win in those cases.
You definitely have a keen eye for design. How do you follow the trends?
Honestly, I wait until design trends become fairly commonplace. I don't try to stay cutting edge. I look for what works and what's simple, and I go with that. I'm a huge fan of the flat design movement going on.
How do you evaluate web hosts for client or companywide projects?
I'm in a unique position where many of my users have experience with different hosting providers, so I see first-hand some of the issues and how they respond to support tickets. When asked, I generally recommend hosts that maintain their own infrastructure (i.e. no resellers) and have a good history of support. Aside from that, the host and type of service varies a lot depending on the project, the clients needs, and their skill level.
For my own projects, I use DigitalOcean exclusively. They have one of the best self-managed services, competitive prices, and by far the cleanest interface! Before that, I was a Media Temple DV customer for about eight years. For other uses (testing, personal, etc.) I use a shared DreamHost account.
Bonus question! Would you consider yourself a designer and a developer?
I used to say I was 70% developer and 30% designer, but I think it's really about 90/10 now. I've always had an eye for design, which I think a lot of developers lack, but when I sit down to design something myself it takes forever. I'm a much better developer than designer!