Last Wednesday, WooThemes celebrated its 6th birthday, which in startup years is no small feat!
Throughout its life cycle, WooThemes has evolved alongside WordPress, and established itself as a leading WordPress theme and plugin provider. In fact, WooThemes has even built the leading eCommerce plugin for WordPress—WooCommerce.
I had the pleasure of emailing with Magnus Jepson—one of the co-founders of WooThemes—and he was kind enough to answer my questions regarding the hardships, accomplishments, and growth that WooThemes has experienced over the years.
Here’s what he had to say:
As the co-founder of WooThemes, does the vision you had 6 years ago meet the reality of what WooThemes has become?
When we started WooThemes, I was still working as a full-time employee in another company. When I finally quit my job, I had a backup plan to become a freelance web designer, so I never had any clear vision of the potential. But soon after I did quit my day job, allowing me to work full-time on Woo, I realized the potential we had.
What is the biggest struggle about working on a team that is literally distributed all over the world? And how did/do you (as a company) overcome this?
We started WooThemes without having spoken on the phone, or meeting in person for the first 16 months (amazing right?). Everything went so well with just text chat and emails that we never felt the need for Skype meetings.
This worked well as a small team, but as we started growing we saw a growing need for over-communication across the team. It’s hard to read facial expressions via text chat, so your emotions can easily be misread. We now use Google Hangouts, HipChat, P2 sites, and have TownHall meetings to communicate.
We’ve found the need for smaller team meet ups a necessity to keep everybody motivated and allow for people to get to know each other. We also have a company ‘WooTrip’ once a year for a week, bringing the team to places like Austria, South Africa, Netherlands (WC Europe), and San Francisco in November 2014.
What are the key challenges of creating a successful business?
The primary challenge is to get people committed to your product by providing them real business value, and then charging them for it. I think we were quite lucky to spot the excitement for commercial WordPress themes in 2007, and figuring we could charge for extra features and over delivering on customer support.
How do you overcome these challenges?
If you can build something people will use, you’ve overcome the first and biggest hurdle.
Before I co-founded WooThemes, I was making WordPress themes, which were available for free download on my website. Through these free downloads, I was able to get many customization requests, which also led me to believe I could charge for the themes themselves.
We’ve since had great success with the freemium model, where we give away the core features of WooCommerce for free, but charge for add-on features and support. I think this can successfully be applied across many other types of products, which will allow you to reach more potential customers.
What is the biggest triumph you’ve experienced as a company?
I would say the biggest triumph so far has been the extraordinary growth of WooCommerce since 2011. It’s now the most widely used eCommerce platform online, competing with solutions like Magento and Shopify. This shows the power of open source, and WordPress.
It’s also very heartwarming to see how many other people, both customers and third party WooCommerce developers, have been able to start a business because of our products.
Where is WooThemes now in its life cycle, and where would you like to see it go?
I believe we have always been in the heels of the growth of WordPress, and now that WooCommerce is stacking up against the big players in the market, I foresee big things for WooThemes in the next few years, where we establish ourselves as a market leader outside the WordPress ecosystem.
What advice would you give to startups that are just starting out?
Don’t quit your day job (until you have a product people will buy).
You can contact Magnus on twitter @mjepson!
Marie Dodson is the assistant editor at Torque. She graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Biology and Society. She enjoys wine, good books, and travel.