Jason Schuller who was the previous owner of Press75.com, has published a great post detailing his experience of running a WordPress commercial theme business from 2008-2014. While Schuller describes a variety of ups and downs he encountered while running the business, I thought his reasoning for losing his way in 2010 was fascinating.
As WordPress became increasingly more complex and option rich, so did the demand for themes. The proverbial “gold rush” of the WordPress world hit and new shops were launching almost weekly with themes that were powered by complex frameworks including endless layout, customization, style options and “shortcodes”. In 2010 I began to focus more on the “bar” that had been set by the market and less on why I started Press75 to begin with.
Instead of continuing to focus on what he was so good at doing, he started developing themes to cater to the market which was outside of his passion. The increase in complexity in WordPress coupled with various development techniques he implemented in his catalog of 20 themes became a huge burden, especially when it came to support. One piece of advice Schuller shares that I think is important and hits home for many commercial theme authors is to never forget who you are and what your own style is. Be inspired by what others are doing, but always stay true to yourself.
Schuller is not the first person to learn this lesson the hard way. When UpThemes announced a complete restructuring of their theme business in early 2014, they cited poor infrastructure as one of the main culprits of creating a large demand for support.
Building the themes was easy enough, but then selling, deploying, supporting, updating, and generally making a profit on them was something we struggled with, mightily. With every theme, we introduced a ton of new code that had to be supported and maintained. This was at a time when WordPress was still changing the way themes worked. It made development more difficult.
One of the things Schuller wished he had done is to hire the right people once the business became too much to handle. Not doing so put all of the pressure of running the business on his shoulders. In the post, he shares a few other lessons I think aspiring theme shop owners can learn from as well. If you’d like to hear Schuller tell his story, listen to this special interview I did with him early in 2014.