This year, WordPress celebrates its 20th anniversary: a milestone we've decided to celebrate by delving into the fascinating career of Be API's CEO, whose professional path is closely linked to the development of WordPress in France. Behind his humility and authenticity lies a visionary spirit driven by solid convictions. The right mix that led him to co-found the French WordPress community in 2005, then a few years later, the first French WordPress agency. Although this story didn't begin in a garage, it's a testament to the success of a man who has worked from the outset to position the CMS at the heart of the enterprise market.
Together, we look back at WPFR's beginnings, the golden age of web 2.0 and the role of people in the agency's success.
WordPress & WPFR: the origins
In 2005, Amaury Balmer began studying computer engineering in Valenciennes, France, to learn programming. He quickly made a name for himself with his interest in the Internet and its community aspect - a passion that found little echo among his fellow students, who saw the web as an introduction to programming. Despite this, Amaury persevered and began creating websites alongside his studies.
This was the golden age of blogging, with many players seeking to invest in the web to reach a wider audience. Contributors were gradually taking over from webmasters, creating unprecedented demand.
What particularly attracts Amaury are the communities that animate blogging platforms. He discovered WordPress in 2005, when the CMS was just two years old. In France, the community consisted mainly of two people: Mathieu Bellon and Xavier Borderie. Attracted by this promising tool and fledgling project, Amaury offered to join them, putting his skills as a computer developer to good use.
Under the impetus of this trio, the French-speaking WordPress association - WPFR - is born. Amaury lays the foundations of the WPFR site and creates the support forum. Over the years, he has devoted considerable time to contributing to the forum, accumulating several thousand posts to his credit.
I've always been a "false developer". In working groups, I was the one who wondered whether the project was practical for users.Amaury Balmer
By placing contribution, accessibility and ease of navigation at the heart of its concerns, Amaury is responding to the needs of users at a time when blogs are not yet a mainstream tool: it's the professionals who come knocking directly at its door.
Thanks to his active involvement on the WPFR forum, he is gaining in visibility. Although his involvement began on a voluntary and disinterested basis, it offered him his first professional opportunities in 2006. Contacted by a communications agency, he was entrusted with the creation of a horse-racing festival blog, which led him to set up his auto-entrepreneur status. One thing led to another, and the requests multiplied, enabling him to gain valuable experience.
From virtual to real
As part of his studies, Amaury began an internship with a web agency in 2007. It was here that he worked on his first major project for the Sud Ouest newspaper, which commissioned a blog platform to coincide with the presidential election. The project confirmed Amaury's belief that the WordPress adventure was just beginning. Feeling that he didn't quite fit in with the company's values, he resigned after only a few months' internship to launch his own business, wp-box.fr. This company enabled him to offer a range of WordPress-related services, making him one of the first French players to make a living from the CMS.
At the same time, Amaury remains extremely active in the growing French-speaking community. Alongside Xavier and Matthieu, he organized the first French BarCamps. The concept is simple: " We meet in a café, and anyone who wants to talk about WordPress is welcome. It's homemade, simple... but effective! These participative workshops are growing and attracting more and more participants. Amaury plays a key role as technical manager. "We're moving from the virtual to the real. The community, the mutual support: it becomes tangible".
He also contributes to open source, notably participating in the translation of WP-MU and creating more than a dozen open-source plugins in parallel with his professional missions. Since the start of his career, he has incorporated the notion of "giving back" into his day-to-day work, which consists of giving his time and expertise to the CMS in return for the possibilities offered by the tool.
During one of these famous BarCamps, the three friends were visited by Matthew Mullenweg, the American creator of WordPress. He salutes the French initiative, delighted to see his project so passionately supported and animated. The day ends with a meal on the roof of the Georges Pompidou restaurant, a memorable moment enhanced by a little solitude: " He speaks with a strong American accent, and I can barely decipher. So Xavier translates and I listen, drinking beers. An important recognition that remains engraved in our CEO's memory.
As the years went by, demand continued to grow. It was at this point that Amaury founded his second company, joining forces with one of his customers, Patrick Dahan, then director of the Media Factory agency.
The result is Be API, France's first pure-player WordPress agency.
Be API: WordPress to infinity and beyond
A period of carefree growth begins for Be API, marked by the arrival of the first customers, which also leads to the first recruitments. Developers were first hired to support Amaury, then project managers were hired to support customers on larger projects. True to form, the CEO attaches great importance to the human criterion: he looks for experts, but also for people who are caring, respectful and positive. This philosophy, which stands out in the agency sector, has led some team members to remain involved in the adventure for over ten years - the longest-serving have even become partners (greetings Nicolas, Meriem, Alexandre and Yann!).
In terms of strategy, the agency remains true to what has made WordPress so successful: a contributor-centric approach.
We didn't want to be an agency of the past, charging for text changes on a site.
That was forbidden to me.Amaury Balmer
In these projects, everything must be contributory, and the ultimate goal is to make the customer autonomous. With this approach, and by responding to technical and organizational needs, the agency has succeeded in carrying out a real mission of evangelization and demonstrating the relevance of WordPress to support large-scale digital projects.
Be API is structured to support CIOs and key accounts with increasingly ambitious budgets and challenges: our offering and methodology are evolving to meet the needs of high-traffic sites and work on complex WordPress creation, redesign or maintenance projects. We're a long way from the blogs of the early days!
At the same time, Amaury and his team make sure they have time to continue their involvement in the French WordPress community. When WordCamps arrived in France in 2012, the agency took part, providing logistical, artistic, technical and financial support. Team members are also involved in numerous inter-CMS professional events, such as agoraCMS and CMSday.
This commitment and the realization of ambitious projects were rewarded in 2019, when Be API became the first French WordPress VIP partner agency.
Outlook & future
But is it an end in itself? Of course not! The visionary spirit of the early days remains attentive to the market and recognizes the importance of evolving the agency to meet new needs. "It's never static.We haveto constantly evolve our teams, processes and methodologies to adapt to customer issues and achieve our objectives". So it' s time for development, with many ideas currently in the pipeline - yes, that's almost teasing!
As for his feelings on how far he's come, a hint of nostalgia can be felt when Amaury recalls the prosperous era of CMS. A period of rapid growth and a disruptive technical solution that disrupted the market - a real "game changer". Today, with the global success of WordPress and the breadth of its ecosystem, the challenge is different.
The challenge is to show that added value comes not only from the tool itself, but also from the expertise that accompanies it, to create customized solutions.Amaury Balmer
Finally, beyond the commercial stakes, Amaury concludes with the aspect that is closest to his heart in terms of the journey: the exceptional human experience represented by the creation of WPFR, then Be API, which he describes as a real collective success.
" In 15 years, over 150 people have contributed to the agency's success. It has revealed vocations, created solid relationships and built great stories. It's thanks to all these people that we got to where we are today".
Many thanks to Amaury for this interview!