Since its inception more than a decade ago, WordPress has opened opportunities for thousands of people.
From developers, designers and content creators to brick-and-mortar businesses, e-commerce sites and online shops to some of the largest corporations and top websites in the world — WordPress is a real driver of business.
However, the platform doesn’t only function as a catalyst for other fields, WordPress itself has become an immediate and very lucrative marketplace.
By now, quite a few of companies selling WordPress product are generating impressive revenue numbers. Consequently, it’s no surprise that in recent years more and more people are trying to build a WordPress business themselves.
Yet, where to even begin? How do you go about and build a successful company based on WordPress?
One shop that has answered this question for itself is Macho Themes, one of many smaller theme shops that have managed to do quite well for themselves.
What’s even more impressive is that they are operating in a part of the WordPress market, in which one of the players has managed to carve out a de-facto monopoly positions (*cough* ThemeForest *cough*).
To find out what it takes to build a successful WordPress theme shop from scratch in this kind of environment, I sat down with Cristian, one of the the founders of Macho Themes, for an in-depth talk on the topic.
If you are contemplating to start your own WordPress business venture, don’t miss it! We have tons of valuable and actionable information waiting below.
What it Takes to Build a WordPress Business From Zero
The goal of this interview is not only to learn about Macho Themes’ business success (which is impressive) but supply you with the knowledge and inspiration to help you do the same.
Cristian was very open and tried to share as much helpful information for would-be WordPress entrepreneurs as possible.
While I have paraphrased some of his answers for brevity’s sake, it’s all there — everything he and his team learned along the way to commercial success.
Alright, enough with the preamble, let’s get started.
1. What’s your background? How did you get started with WordPress?
I come from an SEO background. I used to work full time as an SEO specialist. Then about three years ago, I picked up WordPress development and loved it on the spot.
For Macho Themes I started out as the sole developer. However, right now I’m mostly managing stuff and only coding on the side (when time allows) handling marketing and coming up with new business development ideas.
You could say I’m a jack of all trades, like most modern entrepreneurs nowadays. Also, I’m one of the founders of Macho Themes.
2. Please tell me more about Macho Themes.
Well, we initially started out under a different company name and mostly as a digital marketing/development agency building sites for the local market. However, at the same time there was always the idea to be something more. We were certainly looking for ways to better market our skills and expertise.
Macho Themes started out as a dream, an idea almost three years ago. Yet, we didn’t get around to actually implementing that idea until December 2014, which when we first started drawing out the layout for Pixova, one of our themes. Fast forward one year and after experimenting with different ideas we managed to land our first free theme on the WordPress.org repo.
From the beginning we felt that we were on the right path. We had a lot of positive feedback pouring in and were ecstatic! Although earnings weren’t anywhere close to what we imagined, we just didn’t care. Then as now, we are in this for something more than short-term earnings.
At the moment we are a team of seven people that are making everything happen. There are three developers (four, if you count me), one ninja-rockstar-uber-mega customer happiness agent (Seriously, he’s awesome. He once solved a support ticket in front of my eyes in less than 60s. I was in awe.), one full-time designer and two marketers (myself and my business partner).
3. How did the idea to start your own WordPress theme shop come about?
Since we were a development agency building custom WordPress solutions for local clients, we came across a lot of things that we thought could have been solved better or differently. Like, with greater focus on the customer, stronger attention to details and more emphasis on the quality of the end product rather than the number of features. It sort of started from there.
4. What makes you different than other theme shops?
Our focus has always been on the customer and the overall quality of the user experience. I can’t stress this enough. This is our mantra right now, this is what we’re preaching – quality over quantity.
We pursue this goal with quality products and services, fast support and frequent updates. Our response times to any type of support request is below six hours and we adhere to a two-week development schedule with clockwork precision. New updates for all of our themes are released at least every two weeks.
Besides that, what sets us apart is our willingness to go the extra mile for our clients. We are always looking to add more value to our products and stay up-to-date with the best and latest in the WordPress world. If you were to check our release logs, you’d see we are really busy constantly improving our products.
5. What’s the current state of Macho Themes?
The current state of Macho Themes is interesting, to say the least. We officially launched in October 2015 – toward the end of the month. So far, we’ve generated over $30,000 in revenue from selling our own themes, more than $5,000 in freelance work and paid over $1,000 in affiliate commissions.
Traffic has been climbing steadily, although we’ve had our highs and lows. Since we’ve launched, our Google Analytics account has registered more than 100,000 unique visitors with over 250,000 page views and an above-industry standard conversion rate. I’d say we’ve enjoyed steady growth so far and will continue to expand in 2016.
6. How long did it take you to get to this point?
I would like to say four months, but that wouldn’t be completely accurate. As I said before, we started thinking about this around December 2014. Although we weren’t working full time on this project, we did invest many hours into researching and testing various ideas. Overall, I’d say it took us about a year and two months to reach this point.
7. What were your biggest failures, aha moments and pivots on the way?
When we initially launched, we were met with a really positive response. We climbed to the ‘Most Popular’ tab on the WordPress.org repo in less than two months and became one of the 15 most popular themes soon after. It was unbelievable at the time!
Then all of a sudden everything changed when the admins decided to implement the same algorithm for themes they had started using for ranking the most popular plugins. Although not a bad idea in itself, it’s a big disadvantage for new themes.
There are themes – I’m not going to call any of them out by name – that have been sitting in the repo since WordPress first launched. You can imagine that an eight- to nine-year old theme has had a lot more time to gather installs than a theme that’s four months old. Nevertheless, despite the difficulties we have been slowly but steadily building our install base.
8. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you had to start over from scratch?
Nothing different. We got everything right the first time. I’m just kidding, of course. A lot of things.
For starters, I’d try to better understand the workflow of each person in our department. See how we can make everything fit together better and look for solutions to problems right there and then.
Don’t wait and adapt, solve it now. We’re a fully remote team and making everything work in sync is troublesome to say the least. Our biggest failure? Well, we haven’t had one yet, thankfully.
9. How do you generate traffic? What are your main marketing channels and ways to bring in customers?
We’re trying to be present on as many channels as possible: SEO, guest posts, theme listings, PPC campaigns (AdWords, Facebook and Twitter), WordPress.org (and interviews, of course).
We’re looking to start our own blog as well, which should happen this month when we’ll be launching our new design.
10. Please describe to us your perfect theme.
Does this even exist? I personally don’t think it’s possible to build a theme that is perfect for everything. However, I do think a theme can be the best fit for its niche.
I have a few favorites among our competitors, I just wouldn’t want to mention them right now since we have the spotlight on ourselves.
All in all, I think that there’s a lot to learn from other theme shops. You should always be keeping an eye on the competition, see what they’re coming up with and try to build something better.
11. If you could eliminate one thing that you see on the theme market, what would it be?
Definitely, bloat. I’m seeing a trend where theme shops, to become more competitive, have started adding a gazillion features into one theme, making a regular, standard theme into a behemoth.
I won’t name names, but you know who they are. And if you don’t, think of the most popular themes of all times. I’m not saying this is wrong or right, I’m just saying this isn’t our cup of tea. We’re firm believers that a theme should do a few things, and those few things right.
12. What do you think about ThemeForest as the big fish in the pond?
I think they’re not what they used to be. Quality has suffered greatly but they don’t seem to be doing anything about it. Plus, since they own a pretty huge chunk of the market, there’s nothing that can make this change happen unless they want to.
I have personally steered clear of ThemeForest and have always advised our clients to do the same. I really dislike that they don’t have a stricter review process.
13. Where do you see WordPress as a whole and WordPress themes and plugins in particular headed in the future?
I see WordPress becoming a real Swiss army knife for modern web development. We’ve all been seeing WordPress as the platform that can achieve anything with just a couple of lines and this is becoming more and more a reality. With the recent release of the REST API, I think new and interesting ideas will soon follow.
From what I’ve gathered from the stats the theme review team has released at the end of 2015, the repo has seen an impressive growth. I know they’ve got some new additions in the works for the directory and that they’re expecting it to get even bigger in 2016.
My takeaway: WordPress is taking over the world. Automattic is Skynet. Just kidding. Expect more awesome products to hit the market.
14. And Macho Themes? What can we expect from you in the next few months?
A lot. You should really bookmark our site and keep on coming back like every 15-30 minutes or so. Better yet, just keep the page open and hit the refresh button.
We already have a new theme waiting to be approved by an admin in the repo, we’re working on redesigning our own shop as well as a page builder that’s going to be really fast and a few surprises that I won’t mention here.
15. Any closing tips for budding theme and plugin developers?
Keep on building awesome products and remember to always focus on the client!
Are You Ready to Build a WordPress Business?
With growing business opportunities for WordPress products, more and more people are trying to edge into the market.
While that is a good sign for WordPress in general, it also means that businesses have to deal with an increasingly competitive environment.
The WordPress theme market is especially coveted and dominated by a single vendor. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s saturated and that startups and smaller shops can’t still carve out their own niches.
If you are considering creating your own theme shop or WordPress business, here are the key takeaways for aspiring from my interview with one of the founders of Macho Themes:
- The road to success is seldom straight — Be flexible and adaptable. Macho Themes didn’t start out as a theme vendor and it took them more than a year to create their first profitable product.
- Think long term — Have a long-term vision rather than trying to make a quick buck. Don’t sacrifice your overall goals for short-term gain.
- Look out for holes in the market — The theme shop essentially came about because Macho Themes saw shortcomings in existing themes and decided to address them.
- Quality over quantity — Don’t try to fulfill every need feature request. Concentrate on a chosen few and do those really well.
- The client is your biggest asset — Go above an beyond to make your customers happy.
- Diversify your traffic sources — Invest in many channels for customer acquisition. Macho Themes lucked out in the beginning with the WordPress repository, but when that fell apart, they still managed to grow their user base through other efforts.
- Streamline processes — Look how well the pieces of your business processes fit together. Optimize where possible and as quickly as possible.
- Look to the competition — Keep your finger on the pulse of the market. See how you can improve upon the competition.
I hope you have learned a thing or two for yourself and feel inspired to take on your own WordPress business venture. If you do, check out our article on how to promote WordPress plugins and themes.
I would also like to thank Cristian again for taking the time to sit down with me. I really appreciate the effort he put into each answer and that he gave away so much excellent advice for free.
Finally, as always we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Are you thinking of starting your own WordPress business? What’s your main takeaway from the above? Or are you already running a shop or another venture and can add important info? Let us know in the comment section!