UpThemes co-founder Chris Wallace announced this week that the theme company has been acquired by Andy Wilkerson of Parallelus, a successful Themeforest author. The two met at PressNomics and worked out a deal for the sale of everything related to UpThemes, including some unreleased themes and the managed hosting business the company launched last year.
“UpThemes Hosting was actually a big piece in the sale,” Wallace said. “I can’t speak to Andy’s plans for it, but I know he was very excited about offering no-surprises hosting for his themes (meaning people don’t need to worry about what version of PHP they’re on or whether a certain theme will work or not).”
Wallace would not disclose the amount of the sale but said that he was wary about using an auction service and preferred to negotiate the deal privately.
“We considered auctioning it off via Flippa but have also heard many horror stories where the new owner ended up overwhelmed with running the business and customers being left in the dark or cut off entirely,” Wallace said. “We probably left a little money on the table in that regard, especially considering WPLift recently sold for $205,100 on Flippa, but to us, everyone involved comes out better.”
Existing UpThemes customers will continue to be supported under their current subscriptions and hosting plans now that the sale is final. Wallace and his team at Lift, his digital products agency, are refocusing on serving clients and supporting their other products. Although UpThemes was profitable, it consumed resources that prevented the company from meeting its goals.
“UpThemes generated about 10-15% of our annual revenue and its revenue alone accounted for about half our net profit,” Wallace told the Tavern. The team came to a fork in the road where they either needed to dedicate more time to UpThemes or choose to focus on their faster-growing consulting business, which Wallace said has consistently generated at least 80% of the company’s total revenue.
Any sentimental attachment that Wallace had to UpThemes seemed to have been extinguished by the continual stress of splitting time between consulting and the theme business. When the sale was final, Wallace was ready to move on.
“I thought I would feel more of an attachment to it after 6+ years but we were at a point where we were just ready to move on from themes,” he said.
The WordPress ecosystem has many founders who launch theme shops while supplementing sales with consulting, despite wanting to pursue their products full time. Through the process of creating, supporting, and ultimately selling UpThemes, Wallace learned that managing products and consulting requires a delicate balance with dedicated teams.
“I don’t know that it will ever happen at this point for us to go fully product or fully services,” he said. “There’s a balance you have to strike. We love side projects and if one of those projects ever becomes something that requires its own team, we would ‘fork’ the company and create a new product-specific team.”
Wallace’s advice to those attempting to launch a product business while continuing consulting is to stay focused on goals for the product without letting the urgency of client work overtake all the company’s resources.
“It is definitely hard to deal with both types of businesses at once so you have to be smart about setting aside funding for a product and creating a clear plan of how you will grow and invest in that particular business,” Wallace said. “Services work is cyclical and will always trump product work when things get busy if you let it. You must strictly allocate funds toward products and dedicate time as if it is an ongoing client project.”
Wallace said that UpThemes didn’t fit their team anymore, but believes the shop will find greater success with Wilkerson’s smaller, dedicated product team. Wilkerson plans to build on the six years of work that Wallace’s team put into the shop and its products.
“Over the next few months we will start releasing updates to several themes while also working on new products to add to the UpThemes portfolio,” Wilkerson said in his acquisition announcement post. “Our plan is to continue building on what UpThemes already does well, which is making beautiful, responsive, fast and easy-to-use WordPress themes.”