Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Each episode features guests from around the community and discussions of the largest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
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Doc Pop: You’re listening to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast on WMR. Each week we spotlight members of the WordPress community. I’m your host, Doc Pop. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and my contributions over on TorqueMag.Io where I get to do podcasts and draw cartoons and tutorial videos. Check that out.
Changing your company’s name after many years of building up trust and recognition can always be tricky. If your company’s growing successfully, though, sometimes you might have outgrown what the original mission was, and it might be time to reconsider a rebrand.
Devin, welcome to the show. We are gonna talk to you about iThemes rebranding as SolidWP, but before we do, I think this is your first time on Press This, at least the first time since I’ve been hosting. Can you just remind our listeners, how did you get started with WordPress?
Devin Walker: Sure. Yeah. Hey everyone. So yeah, my name’s Devin Walker. I’ve been in the WordPress world for about 14 years now. Started in 2009 after finding my way through different Microsoft technologies like SharePoint, and then getting over to Drupal and then Joomla for a little bit, and then finally WordPress and then found my home there.
Started out building sites with an agency, pre-custom post types, which was interesting. And then I remember life got easier after custom post types and I moved on from the agency and started building some individual plugins, doing some white label works, still working with clients.
And from there I realized, hey, I really enjoy building plugins and I did a couple pro ones back in 2012, 2013. That did okay. And from there we were building a lot of nonprofit sites and there wasn’t really a tool that fit their need exactly. They were all asking for a fundraising platform that’s native WordPress. So eventually partnered with Matt Cromwell, my longtime business partner, still to this day.
And in 2013, 2014 we built GiveWP and launched it at WordCamp San Diego in April, 2015. Since then, it’s been a great ride and been our main focus. In recent years, we’ve expanded our focus a bit, which we’ll get into. But yeah, that’s a bit about how I got into WordPress.
Doc Pop: Yeah. Well, let’s start with that big bullet point. iThemes is now called SolidWP. What prompted that change?
Devin Walker: Yeah, so not officially yet. We’re actually doing a rebranding in public series right now where we’re bringing folks along the journey of that.
But to answer your question, what actually prompted that change? We recently took over the iThemes brand in August of 2022 last year. And when we took it over, we weren’t specifically given the instructions, Hey, go rebrand this.
No, we were given the instructions, do your thing guys. But we want to make this brand set up for success for the next 10 years, right? And, iThemes as a brand that’s been around for longer than I’ve been in WordPress for about 15, 16 years now. And throughout that entire time, it’s changed identities quite a bit.
I mean, the name implies it started with themes which it did and has had a great catalog of over 200, almost 300 themes. But since then, it changed focus quite a bit. And now, fast forward to this year or last year when we decided to rebrand it. The main flagship product is a security offering, right?
So iThemes security, it’s got a million active installs. And then our next most popular plugin is a backup solution, Backup Buddy, which has been around for 10 plus years. And then finally on top of that our SaaS platform, which does website, uh, maintenance and management, which is called iThemes Sync. Really great and powerful platform that has 60,000 active installs on the satellite plugin.
Those are the three core offerings and we didn’t really even sell themes anymore. So really it became evident. We have to find a new identity for this brand. We need to set it up for success in the future, and we need to find a common foundation that all these brands can live under.
We tossed a lot of names around, but finally came around SolidWP in November last year. So we’re pretty happy with the name and we’re taking a lot of steps now in that rebranding effort.
Doc Pop: You know, that’s true. When I think of iThemes, I think of site design and site toolkits. But when I think of iThemes the company, it’s the security and the backup, right? Like these things that don’t have anything really to do with themes anymore.
They were just kind of like, “Hey, we’ve got this one trusted product and, if you liked this product from us, you might also trust these other products as well.”
But they don’t necessarily fit under the themes name for sure. If you could just tell me quickly, how did you land on SolidWP?
Devin Walker: So we took a look at what we do offer and really security, backups, maintenance, updates, and these types of offerings that we’re looking to expand also in the near future, are very core to what every website needs. And I keep using the word foundational, right? Performance, security, maintenance, backups.
These are things that every website needs as part of their foundation, and what does every foundation need to be, right? It needs to be pretty solid. And so I thought it was a really cool word too. I mean, I’m guilty of using it quite a bit and might be, uh, part of my SoCal slang. But I’ve always said that’s really solid or something like that.
So when figuring out names, we wanted a domain that was available, a domain that made a lot of sense, was catchy, still had a WP in it, and this just fit all those bills. That’s really what it came down to.
Doc Pop: Kind of thinking of that SoCal linguistic nature, I think solid definitely sounds better than like BasteWP or something like that.
Devin Walker: Stoked WP [laughs]. We could have gone with that.
Doc Pop: S you mentioned that you’re rebranding in public, and I want to hear more about that. Can I make a pull request to SolidWPPs rebrand file? Is it like a GitHub repo kind of thing that you’re doing?
Devin Walker: Well we should consider that, we’d love outside contributions from the development perspective. We could always use more development, but it’s really about bringing our customers and users along the journey with us and making sure nobody’s left behind and their voice is heard.
And being very open and democratic about the whole thing. So showing previews of what the UIs are gonna look like, bringing people in on decisions that we’re making about the website and the nature of where we’re gonna take our training offering, and really including and listening to our customers because, 0ver 15 years, we’ve accumulated quite a bit of them.
And so we wanted to make sure that we’re not gonna be making choices that the majority of folks don’t agree with. And so it’s really about being open and transparent with it while also admitting to some of the hurdles we’re tackling and if our timeline slips or things like that, we’re just gonna be very open with it. And I think everybody will appreciate that and see it.
And it’s kind of a trend now to build in public. We wanted to do our own twist on that and rebrand in public.
Doc Pop: It certainly gives the vibes of early access games on Steam where they are really transparently showing works in progress, first level. There’s a lot of work that they have to do to even get that far. They have to have the game and have kind of a foundation built.
But then they’re definitely trying to listen to feedback, what do people like, what do people want more of? So I’m kind of getting that vibe here.
Devin Walker: Absolutely. I mean, I’m glad you brought up Steam because I’m on steam a lot too, and some of those games never see the light of day. I can guarantee this will see the light of day.
It’s really about bringing that journey along and showing off what we have. So we just recorded our third video this morning with me and Matt, but we’re bringing in other team members and, just find us on YouTube on SolidWP. We have a playlist going. You can leave comments on there. We’re paying attention to comments and it’s pretty fun.
Doc Pop: We are gonna take a quick break and when we come back we’re gonna keep talking to Devin Walker, general manager at StellarWP about the recent rebrand that SolidWP is doing, and we’re also gonna talk about how to know when it’s time for your company to consider doing a rebrand, and if you’re already thinking about that, some tips that Devin can share along the way.
So keep listening. We’ll be right back.
Doc Pop: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress Community podcast on WMR. I’m your host, Doc Pop. I’m talking to Devin Walker, General Manager at Stellar WP and a co-creator of GiveWP and several other products you’ve probably heard of. We are talking about the recent rebranding of Stellar WP from iThemes and Devin, we talked about how y’all are doing it, you’re testing or well testing, I dunno if that’s the right word, but you’re doing this in public.
You haven’t actually, as of recording, officially switched over yet. It sounds like you’re still iThemes in the process of rebranding over to SolidWP, which is a really interesting way to do that.
The thing I was teasing before the break was that some people listening might be in a similar situation where their company has done well enough that they are no longer specifically a security company or an SEO company or something like that. But it’s tied to their name.
And I’m just kind of curious about advice you might have. Let’s start with this, what have you learned so far with the rebranding public that you think might be helpful to other users who are thinking about rebranding?
Devin Walker: Well, there’s a lot of different things that come to mind when you bring that question to me. I think the first thing I would say is determining whether you should rebrand or not shouldn’t so much be about how your revenue and how that’s been working. More so how your mission has changed and your products fit your brand and your identity.
Does what you sell still reflect your original mission statement and what the brand identity you formed originally? I’m sure it’s a balance. It’s always a balance between that and revenue and where you want to go with the product. So it’s not like a cookie cutter approach, whether you should or you should not.Same with updating logos and so on and so forth.
For Give WP for instance, we most likely won’t ever update the name for that or the logo. It just fits. It’s been our mission. It’s always gonna be our mission. Unless there’s something that happens in the future that I can’t foretell right now, but for iThemes, it was a lot more evident that this needed to happen.
Security sales have been great, backups have been great, but there’s a whole bunch of legacy products out there still hanging around. That just needed to go. We sold a product called BoomBar. You could still buy it on iThemes.com hasn’t been updated in a long time.
Very legacy product that just needed to go. There’s a couple more like that. So that was causing some of the identity crisis, I like to say. And then some of the naming too, back in 2007, 2008, it was really cool to put a I before a word. It was a cool Apple thing to do. So iThemes was a really cool domain name, still is a cool domain name, but it does show its age now and it’s evident.
So that was another telling factor there. So I’d say, you have to sit down with your leaders, your stakeholders, your team. And really determine if it’s the pathway you want to go and do an analysis on it. Pick your favorite analysis and see how it comes out at the end.
But that’s kind of the process we went through there.
We’re learning a lot of lessons along the way. That’s why we’re doing the rebranding in public and mentioning some of that during our shows, but some of the original first lessons I’ve learned is that the approach should be in a phased approach.
For such a massive project like this, we were really counting on a lifting of the curtains once all the work was done, and it became more apparent as time went on that we really couldn’t just do a grand reveal like that. We had to take a stepped approach from everything from the website migration, the licensing, the commerce platform to the products themselves, how they’re deployed. The WordPress.org, content updates, banner updates, everything. There’s so many parts to it.
And unless you have a massive team or employ a third party consultant, like an agency or an SEO specialist that can help you get to that finish line, and you can be a hundred percent sure you can push that red button and everything’s gonna switch over, I think a phased approach is much more realistic to having success with it.
So that’s what we’re gonna do for all aspects of this rollout. We’re gonna do it in phased approaches. So right now we have just a single page up on SolidWP.com with a blog that’s all about the rebranding effort. iThemes is still up, still the original content.
We’re still posting on ithemes.com. And then eventually we’re building out SolidWP.com’s website and we’ll start to roll that out eventually, and do a phase rollout of the SEO. There’s over 1100 posts on the iThemes blog, some of which rank very highly in the search engine. So we wanna make sure we don’t rock that boat.
And then also with the products and the rollout there, being very careful about that. There’s lots of things with the licensing that can go wrong that we don’t want to as well.
Doc Pop: Yeah, I was just checking out your plugin repository listing for iThemes Security on WordPress.org. And I believe WordPress.org plugins kind of have this thing where it’s really hard to change the URL once it’s kind of landed. And luckily, I don’t know if this was planning from the start or a sign from another rebrand, but luckily y’all’s URL is Better-WP-Security on there, so no iThemes to scrub from the URL at least.
Devin Walker: No iThemes. Yeah, so it’s funny, iTheme Security was acquired from actually Chris Wegman, who you mentioned pre-show, way back in the day. Prior to me being involved with any of these brands. They rebranded it iThemes Security and now we’re gonna rebrand it again. So you’re right, that WordPress.org url, that never changes no matter what.
Doc Pop: That’s fun. So kinda speaking of these acquisitions that have happened, you were co-founder and co-creator of GiveWP, which was later acquired by Liquid Web. I’m wondering what that experience of having your brand join another kind of large legacy brand, what that taught you and kind of the goods and the bads you kind of learned from that experience.
Devin Walker: Yeah, so, oh man, I really like talking about this. It was quite the experience. About two years ago now, we joined Liquid Web, but the entire process started around two and a half to two years and eight months ago. From initial conversations that we started having with Liquid Web to getting into the LOI phase, letter of intent, to getting through to due diligence, to actually completing due diligence to final signing, that process took around seven, eight months and.
There’s a lot of back and forth in there. I would say take that process as slow and as carefully as you can and involve as many smart people like lawyers who have done this before, through that process to make sure you’re crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s. but prior to even having that conversation, you should build a business that’s ready to be acquired.
So, post selling or being acquired by Liquid Web, I’ve had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table now and evaluate quite a few businesses and see under the hood, if you will, of what’s going on there. And there’s a lot of things you see that are eye-opening that you don’t like to see in the WordPress world.
A couple examples would be massive lifetime license sales. My boss likes to call a lifetime licensed drug because we seem to really love it in WordPress. I hear the explanation, well why would I get a one-time subscription payment now when I could get three years upfront, four years upfront? Well, when you go to sell the business, there’s no more recurring revenue once you collect that initial revenue. So it means nothing to that business that you already collected that money and it’s now sitting in some bank account that they won’t ever have access to.
The second is no customer data or marketing list whatsoever. Privacy advocacy is a really good thing, and I think it has its place like in WordPress.org on the free plugins. Like we gotta abide by the rules, but once they start becoming a paying customer of yours, I think it’s worthwhile to collect as much user data and customer data as you can and market towards them.
Of course, don’t do anything shady, but that’s worth something to a potential acquirer. How much data do you have? What are your marketing lists like? What’s the community around your product like? Are they engaged? Are they not engaged? In evaluating certain businesses in the past, I’ve seen many that take a high stance on not collecting any of that data at all, not knowing anything about their customers, not even having any renewals or subscriptions or anything like that, and it makes it really less appealing for certain buyers when that’s the situation.
Finally, SaaS components are always really nice. More proprietary code bases are really nice. And then revenue share deals with different payment gateways. So if you have some sort of commerce aspect to your plugin, are you collecting revenue share from your gateways on the back end of that and essentially making money when you sleep.
So, with Give WP, we did almost $350 million in total processing volume through multiple gateways last year alone. We got a pretty good cut out of that, and we didn’t have to do anything to get that cut. Besides make sure our plugins are up to date, make sure we’re working with our customers really well and maintaining the software and doing all the stuff we normally do.
But if we’d never had that deal with Stripe or PayPal, or name the gateway, that revenue would never have been there. So where’s revenue at that you might not be seeing it. I could go on and on here. Doc, you know, I’ll let you chime in.
Doc Pop: Well, yeah, we’re coming up at our next break. We’re gonna come back and wrap up our conversation with Devin Walker, general Manager at SolidWP. We’re going to keep talking about rebranding your agency or company, so stay tuned. We will be right back.
Doc Pop: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast on WMR. We are talking with Devin Walker. We’re wrapping up our show, talking about rebranding in public. Devin, right before the break, I asked you a question you got really excited about. Give WP, which is a product that you co-created, was acquired by Liquid Web, and you kind of talked to us about the experience of being acquired. I am just kind of curious though. Can you tell us, was there a conversation at that time that now it should be Give Liquid Web or Liquid Web’s GiveWP? Was there some sort of conversation about rebranding the product to fit with Liquid Web, which has a lot of products under its sleeve?
Devin Walker: Well, that wasone of the things we evaluated when first looking at this deal because we didn’t wanna mess with our brand. And one of our criteria for looking at offers or deals or potential acquisitions was don’t mess with our brand. That wasn’t the first priority, but it was pretty darn high up there.
The first priority, of course, was making sure our team was taken care of and they weren’t just gonna come in and gut the place. And then also a track record of showing proof. The proof’s in the pudding. Right. So iThemes was the first acquisition by Liquid Web in 2018, I believe. And when they came to us, we saw most of the team already in place.
I think Corey, the founder, had left, but the rest of the team was largely still in place. And they made some other previous acquisitions that the entire team came in place. And we spoke with those leaders and it was all very transparent and made us feel very comfortable.
So they didn’t mess with the brand. That was very important with us. It’s not gonna be called, Liquid Give, or who knows what the heck it would be called. And so that made us very happy.
Doc Pop: And you know, we’ve talked about this iThemes rebrand to SolidWP, and you mentioned that it’s not happened yet, so it sounds like technically, iThemes is still the name we should be working on. I’m just kinda curious about this transition you’re talking about. How long do you think it will be before you can solidly say SolidWP.
Devin Walker: Don’t worry. We’ve been using that pun so much lately. It’s never gonna get old. Well, I would say we have a very tight timeline. I hate giving specifics out, but I’d say mid to late summer is our target. Mid being the earliest I believe, which would probably the end of this quarter.
Looking at the timeline now, I’m saying we’ll probably go later somewhere. Early Fall is now what I’m looking at. There’s just a lot of moving parts here and you know how things go with development and design.
Doc Pop: Mm-hmm. Well, Devin, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for joining us on Press This, a WordPress Community podcast. If people want to follow up with the change that’s happening in public. Where should they go to kind of see this change happening?
Devin Walker: Sure the easiest place, just go to SolidWP.Com. There you’ll see all the latest videos you’ll read about our message to the iThemes customers, and then you can also sign up for our rebranding in public series newsletter.
Doc Pop: That’s cool. Devin, thanks again for joining us today and thanks to everyone who’s listened and enjoyed this episode.
Doc Pop: Thanks for listening to Press This, a WordPress community podcast on WMR. Once again, my name’s Doc and you can follow my adventures with Torque magazine over on Twitter @thetorquemag or you can go to torquemag.io where we contribute tutorials and videos and interviews like this every day. So check out torquemag.io or follow us on Twitter. You can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or you can download it directly at wmr.fm each week. I’m your host Doctor Popular I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to spotlight members of the community each and every week on Press This.