Interview with Guy King on CushyCMS

April 19th, 2008

CMS platforms suck. Although powerful, most CMSs require developers to learn their system and model their site concept around it. Consequently, these systems are for mid to large-size sites, and thus smaller website designers are left with few options to turn to for a simple CMS.

That’s where CushyCMS comes in. CushyCMS, developed by Stateless Systems, aims to make content management for smaller websites simple to implement and use.


As a part-time freelance web designer, I got a little giddy when I first heard about it on TechCrunch. I wanted to learn a little bit more about CushyCMS and the five-man team from Australia that built it, and so I contacted Guy King, CEO of Stateless Systems.

Tell me a little bit about your company, what you do, and what your
goals are. How big are you? Where are you located? Do you work out of
an office?

Stateless Systems was formed around a year ago with the idea of
building cool stuff for the web and having some fun. We’re 100%
bootstrapped and some projects we’re responsible for so far include, and more recently

I think we’re fairly unconventional for a business in that we don’t
really aspire to grow large or make billions. We’re all about building
stuff that people want to use, including ourselves. We don’t think
about business plans or even how to monetize products necessarily.
Experience tells us that if you build something genuinely useful then
the money will follow.

We’re currently based out of an old art deco office in the center of
Melbourne, Australia. It actually has natural light and windows that
open! At present we have 5 full-time staff.

Explain what CushyCMS is, how it is different from other CMS
platforms, and what motivated you to create it.

Cushy is a very simple and very easy way of allowing non-technical
people to change content on a website. A lot of other CMSs take days
to implement, require a lot of technical knowledge to customize and
ironically, aren’t that easy for content editors to use.

I’ve worked in the industry with implementing enterprise-level CMSs
and have been frustrated at the lack of options for smaller websites.
I’d build a 5 page website for a family member and couldn’t even let
them change their own content!

Some have questioned what CushyCMS’s value is when there is no
template-system built in (and thus end users can only edit
already-created pages), and it cannot easily handle dynamic pages. Do
these objections misunderstand CushyCMS’s target users? If so, who are
CushyCMS’s target users?

It’s certainly not for everyone- we’re very deliberately solving a
specific problem that exists… safely, easily and quickly allowing
third parties to edit your content. Our main target audience is
freelance web designers or small site owners who

It would be fairly trivial for us to introduce templating, repeating
dynamic content sections, etc but then the risk you run is that this
will complicate the interface and all of a sudden you’re like every
other complicated CMS out there.

There is a startling difference between CushyCMS’s approach to how
a CMS should work — simplicity and ease of use being paramount — and
other platforms (such as Joomla), which require the creator to learn
their convoluted template system, go through a lengthy install, and
more or less completely re-do their site. CushyCMS, however, is a
completely hosted solution and thus requires no installation, makes it
easy and apparent for designers to set up their site and pages, and
for content editors to edit each page. I was up and running with a
simple site for a current client within fifteen minutes, for example.
Does this reflect a different design and product philosophy between
CushyCMS and other platforms? If so, what is yours?

Most definitely- I think a traditional approach to software
development is to start with functionality and then work the user
experience into that. Where I think our approach differs is that we’re
aiming for a certain level of experience and then seeing what
functionality that will support.

I’m always amazed at how much hard work it is to make something really
simple though. When something is intuitive it’s easy to forget how
much thought goes into achieving that state.

A tip for other startups and CMS developers out there- once we reached
an alpha prototype we got a freelance designer friend to come in and
use the system. The key part was that our programmers were also there
watching him attempt to use the system. We came away from this
usability test with some changes we needed to make that would affect
the entire model. You really, really want your developers to
understand how your users are going to interact with the system.

That’s an interesting design approach, and reminds me a bit of Fake Steve
Job’s famous iPhone post, where he said Apple begins with their ads and
slogans, and then design the product itself. This also seems to reflect the
idea that when designing, constraints are actually a good thing, because
they define the scope of your concept, and thus allow you to think more
creatively. What does this process look like for you? Fake Apple
starts with ads — what do you start with?

I think it’s too easy to be caught in a trap of thinking that because
something has always been hard/complex (CMSs) it always has to be.
Entrepreneurs should be looking at complexity as an opportunity, a
hole in the market.

Our process tends to go something along the lines of…

  1. Get annoyed about something -> very important :)
  2. Think about doing it “right”
  3. Mockups (starting at the core of the problem)
  4. Build
  5. User test
  6. Rebuild
  7. Launch
  8. Gather user feedback
  9. Refine

Number 4 is a constant battle of compromises between functionality,
technical purity and usability. Usability is both the easiest and
worst to compromise in my experience.

The constraints of striving for clarity tends to drive functional
choices. Cushy can’t create a new page for example. To do this would
of added a whole extra layer of complexity with templating, navigation
issues, etc. What’s interesting I think is that there can be other
benefits to *not* having a feature… designers won’t be out of a job
with clients adding pages. Clients get a better quality site with
designers making the decisions on information architecture, naming
conventions, etc.

CushyCMS is currently a free service, and you have assured your
users that it will remain free. How do you plan to monetize it?

Our current train of thought is to introduce a paid plan that includes
additional functionality. What is there now will always remain free.

What features will you charge for when you do monetize CushyCMS?

The ability to brand the interface and use a custom domain are more
than likely. We’ve been considering charging to allow advanced
configuration of the WYSIWYG editor too. I doubt we will though- it
would be too handy for everyone else ;)

Many users have made suggestions for changes to CushyCMS, or new
features altogether. What immediate changes and features are you

Our #1 priority is removing any bugs from the beta. As this is our
first Ruby on Rails deployment it is taking us longer to do this
although we are starting to get on top of things. I really want to
overhaul the WYSIWYG editor in this round also.

Next we’ll look at day-to-day features such as support for SFTP and
non-utf8 character sets.

What are your long-term goals for CushyCMS? Where do you see it,
function-wise, in 2 or 3 years?

Good question :) I’d love to see it become a standard web development
tool and mature into a really robust, flexible platform that is still
a cinch to use.