Frontity, a free, open source framework for building WordPress themes with React, has raised €1M in funding in a round led by K Fund, with Automattic covering 22%. The team behind the framework officially made it open source in May 2019, after battle testing it internally. In one year the framework has more than 12,700 npm downloads and has built a community of 250 developers who use it.
Frontity lowers the barrier to creating fast-loading, React-powered WordPress themes by removing the hassle of setting up and configuring all the tooling. The framework seems to have captured Automattic’s interest as a homegrown WordPress solution for facilitating decoupled setups that use React on the frontend.
“We decided to build the framework as a response to the demand of all the big publishers we were working with,” Frontity CEO Pablo Postigo said. “This trend can drastically change the way many WordPress websites are built in the future. From my point of view, Automattic’s support means that they are also aware of this trend, and want to be close to us. In the end we are trying to make WordPress keep up with the latest technologies, and the stronger WordPress is, the better for all the companies that depend on it, including Automattic.”
Frontity is not yet profitable and Postigo said the company is not developing a business model during this initial phase.
“This funding round was the best way for us to make the project sustainable,” he said. “Possible monetizations that we are thinking of to generate revenue in the future are a hosting solution, premium support, or a marketplace of paid themes.”
Frontity’s Biggest Challenge: Becoming a Compelling Alternative to PHP Themes
Postigo identified Gatsby and Next.js as Frontity’s chief competitors in the sea of React frameworks vying for developers’ attention. He said his team takes inspiration from these frameworks and appreciates how they are raising awareness of new ways of building websites.
“Our biggest challenge right now is to position Frontity not as an alternative to other frameworks, but as an alternative to PHP themes,” he said. “So when developers start looking for the best way to build a superior UX they consider Frontity amongst their options.”
Those who are already familiar with other JS frameworks like Gatsby will find that Frontity has fewer new concepts to learn, since it is 100% focused on WordPress and its APIs. Postigo identified a few other major differences between Frontity and other popular JS frameworks:
- It’s rendered dynamically: this means people don’t have to rebuild the HTML each time they edit or publish content. Frontity’s preferred approach is Serverless Pre-Rendering, although there are many ways to configure it. It’s as fast as a static site (e.g. https://mars.frontity.org).
- It’s opinionated: it has its own state manager and uses Emotion for the CSS. Thanks to that people don’t need to learn things like Redux and, at the same time, it powers a very flexible extensibility pattern, more similar to the one of WordPress itself than to the rest of JS frameworks. Themes and extensions can be activated and deactivated without code changes.
- There’s no need to learn GraphQL or the REST API, you get the data using the state manager.
Even with fewer new concepts to learn, Frontity remains squarely within the developers’ toolbox and is not currently a product that would appeal to non-technical users. Expanding Frontity’s user base beyond developers and breaking into the wider WordPress market is a long-term goal for the company.
“With Frontity Framework we are on a mission to help developers build performant, scalable websites with WordPress and React easily,” Postigo said. “But the company’s ultimate goal is to make building delightful user experiences universally accessible.
“We have plans to lower the technical barrier so any WordPress user can benefit from our technology. We consider that after having released the framework the next step towards this is to build a community of developers around it, so that they can help us build themes and extensions that will make it easier for non-technical users to start using Frontity.”