The founders of UpThemes, a commercial WordPress theme business started in March of 2010 has published an open letter to their customers and to the wider WordPress community. It’s a fascinating look into how the company has evolved over the past four years. The letter is filled with lessons learned and contains what I consider a wake up call to other WordPress theme shops.
Our new approach to theme development is this: we no longer build bloated themes full of features, options, and code that changes the color of your flexslider’s navigation buttons. We want our products to be easy to use and theme support to be a joy for our users and support reps alike. That’s why we’re building themes with simplicity as the feature.
This letter is like a breath of fresh air for many in the WordPress theme community as it solidifies the trend of returning to the roots of good website design, the integral separation between functionality and content. Jonathan Atkinson who we interviewed last week mentioned theme authors can create beautiful themes without bundling everything under the sun and still make a profit. Justin Tadlock is living proof it can be done.
Because of poor development practices used earlier in the history of the company, themes filled with options, sliders, color schemes, etc. ended up causing their profit margins to disappear forcing them to re-evaluate their entire business.
Because of the time it took to manage all our server-side code and third-party applications, marketing, support, accounting, etc., UpThemes was no longer profitable, nor was it a priority for us. Building awesome themes—the thing we started out to do—screeched to a grinding halt.
This is the first time I’ve read a post that explains how the profit of a WordPress commercial theme business dried up because of the way their themes were developed. Thankfully, UpThemes has revamped the entire way they are doing business and are now in a better situation.
A Lot Of Lessons To Be Learned
I applaud the team behind UpThemes for publishing the open letter as it’s more or less a public gut check. It contains valuable lessons that can be applied to general theme development. I hope it influences theme authors to stick with simplicity and to stop putting everything including the kitchen sink into WordPress themes. While it may seem like they’re satisfying consumer demand, all they’re really doing is hurting themselves and their customers in the long-term.
What do you think of the letter?