Interview with Chris Lema – Business of WordPress


Last week, we ran a successful giveaway and fundraiser to celebrate WPBeginner’s 5th birthday and help build 2 schools in Guatemala through Pencils of Promise charity. This would not be possible without our Platinum sponsors who donated $5000 towards the campaign. I want to highlight each of them by interviewing them about their business.

In this interview, we have Chris Lema, VP of Emphasys Software, a daily blogger and business coach at

Chris Lema with Syed Balkhi

Chris and I first met at BlogWorld where our mutual friend Dre Armeda from Sucuri introduced us. Ever since than, Chris and I had become good friends. We have hung out at dozens of conferences, had countless dinners, and even went on a mastermind in Cabo.

Chris loves helping others. When he found out about the giveaway I was doing, he jumped right on board to donate $5000.

I have had tons of great conversations with Chris, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy this conversation and learn from his experience.

Having that said, let’s jump into the interview.

1. What was your first experience with WordPress?

My client kept asking for changes. But none of them were development changes. They were all text or image adjustments – add this here, take this away. So I thought, “enough of this” and moved his site to a CMS. It was called DotNetNuke and I was using it because I was very familiar with the .NET platform. As you can imagine, it was hardly intuitive and the customer just called me again to make changes. All I’d done was save myself a bit of time. Nothing more.

And then I found WordPress. I hadn’t used PHP in some years and was rusty, but I was soon able to port their site to it and what I noticed was immediate. They were adjusting their own site. That’s when I decided I really needed to embrace WordPress – because customers could manage themselves with it. That was in 2005 and I haven’t looked back.

2. What was your biggest challenge with WordPress?

Back when I started, people weren’t talking about child themes. So I was hacking existing themes directly. I was also hacking core. They were all files and I didn’t think twice about tweaking the files, making changes and getting things to be like I wanted them to be. I had no idea there was a particular approach to dealing with core or themes that would protect me from changes. It was an expensive lesson to learn. By the time I realized that my changes were getting lost, I had built thirty sites that I needed to go back and fix.

3. How does your business / job use WordPress?

I work at a company called Emphasys. We do vertical market enterprise software. So most of our work doesn’t focus on WordPress. But in one of our verticals, Residential Real Estate, we build websites for Brokerages. In that space we use WordPress and have designed a custom theme, a custom MLS plugin that taps into a SaaS-based MLS integration we created, and a multi-site solution for the brokerage and all their agents.

I also run my own site, a daily blog, on WordPress. And for years as I coached startups, I used it for their sites.

4. Over the years, the WordPress business ecosystem has evolved. Where do you see it going?

I was surprised, when I stepped into the community three and a half years ago, by how little communication was focused on the business side of things. There were some great resources and people helping, but out of 100 posts on WordPress by folks, maybe 1 or 2 was on business topics for the community. So it’s where I stepped in and I’m happy to say I’ve seen the dialogue increase. It’s still a very young market, with the oldest commercial players (not hosting) only 5 or 6 years old.

In the next several years, as we mature, I expect we’ll see several things (some of which we’re just starting to see happen):

  • Platform development (where customers are offered everything as a SaaS)
  • Consolidation (where commercial companies merge)
  • Targeted / Dedicated Sector solutions (hosting/themes/plugins for vertical markets)

These happen whenever a technology goes mainstream.

5. What’s your #1 advice for WordPress businesses when it comes to pricing their products?

My number one piece of advice for people trying to price their products is simply this: Get help.

Pricing is complex and difficult to do. Various opinions and research exists. Some people have more experience than others. And after all that, two eyes are better than one. So get some help. Ask for help. Invite some people into the process.

I have more pieces of advice, but you asked for one. :) To read the rest of my advice, check out my eBook (The Price is Right: An Introduction to Product Pricing).

6. In your opinion, what’s the #1 mistake that you see WordPress businesses make?

The biggest mistake businesses make, that I see, is that they are hell bent on learning from their own mistakes. That takes a long time and can potentially sink you. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

It’s why I offer coaching and consulting, because the stories I share with people protect them from learning on their own.

7. Why did you decide to support this cause and what does it mean to you?

It’s no surprise to people who know me that I’m driven to make a mark, to have influence and to leave something behind – even if it’s simply an example to my children. So I invested in this cause for three reasons: the first is missional, the second is financial, and the third relational.

The first reason I supported this cause was because it aligned with my personal mission. It wasn’t a cause for mosquito nets. It wasn’t a cause for malaria pills. Those are awesome. But I have a high value for education. For the last twenty years I have read 50-150 books a year. I inherited the value from my parents. And I want to pass it on to my children.

We all make choices with our money. In our family we have a value for generosity and we save our funds so that we can have an impact in the lives directly around us. So the second reason is simply this: I supported it because I could. I had the funds. Because we’d saved so that we could do things like this with our money.

The last reason is because you asked me to. I know it sounds silly but not enough people ask. We’re all scared to sound wrong, when I have just as much ability to say no as I do yes. You asked. And because of the first two reasons, and because of this third, I said yes. See, my general rule of thumb for investments is simply to come alongside the projects that my friends are a part of (especially if they align with my mission and I have the funds to do so). It’s a commitment to making your causes mine, and my causes yours.

Thanks Chris for your time and the very generous donation to help build schools.

Everyone, please check out to learn more tips about business and leadership.