This is the story of an entrepreneur from Slovakia who built a profitable business by creating WordPress themes.
Martin Kotys is the founder of AitThemes, which specializes in WordPress themes for specific sectors like doctors and lawyers.
It’s part of my series of interviews with entrepreneurs who are building profitable business on ThemeForest, a theme marketplace.
Martin Kotys, AitThemes
Martin Kotys is the founder of AitThemes.com which Specializes in WordPress themes for the corporate sector.
Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. If you’re ambitious, if you’re determined to do something in this world, if you’re determined to do something with your life, then when I say home of the ambitious upstart you must know what I’m talking about. The rest of the world can go out there and just watch YouTube videos of cats.
For those of you who are interested, for those of you for whom this is the right fit, I’m going to hunt down key ideas in this interview that will actually change your life and have direct impact on your business. I’m going to do it through the story of an entrepreneur from Slovakia. This entrepreneur built a profitable business by creating WordPress themes. Think about that. Martin Kotys is the founder of AitThemes, which specializes in WordPress themes for specific sectors, like doctors and lawyers.
I’m tripping over my words here people, but don’t worry, I’m not going to be doing most of the talking in this interview, my guest will be. I want to say two things before we start. First, this is part of my series of interviews with entrepreneurs who are building profitable businesses on Themeforest, a theme marketplace. I emailed the founder of Themeforest, I said, “Hey, I know that some of your people are making good money. Introduce me to the best people on the platform so that I can interview them, so that’s how this interview came to be.
This interview is sponsored by Scott Edward Walker of Walkercorporatelaw.com. Someone recently complained to me that he didn’t know how to find Scott’s website so I’ll say it again: Walkercorporatelaw.com.
Andrew: When you went to school, what kind of computer did you take with you?
Martin: When I was going to school it was maybe ten years ago and there were no laptops. I had to carry my desktop computer, the big ones, the heavy ones to the classroom because there was also no Internet on the phone. There was no iPhone and stuff, so if I wanted to do something, to do some research, to study something, I had to just take the computer and leave it at school.
Andrew: Martin, I had a laptop back then, people had internet at home ten years ago. Is it because you were in Slovakia, where laptops weren’t as easily available?
Martin: No, you could buy a laptop but if you were a student you just had, like, a normal desktop, I didn’t have a laptop. I didn’t have any Internet connection at home, so I had to do that.
Andrew: And you took it into the classroom?
Martin: Yes, we had, like, an office where we could plant our computer and it wasn’t very easy for me to do it, but if I wanted to do have internet connection, I had to.
Andrew: That’s what I’m sensing as I was doing research on you and looking at the pre-interview notes that Jeremy put together, I noticed that you’re a guy who just liked computers. At the age of ten you started learning to code, right?
Martin: Yeah, that’s right.
Andrew: What did you learn and what did you learn to code on, back then, when you were ten years old.
Martin: It was basic programming. The language is called basic. First I played some games, and then I said alright, “I want something else,” so I started programming.
Andrew: Does programming basic on your laptop, what was it a Commodore 64?
Martin: Yeah, a Commodore 64.
Andrew: Were your parents supportive of this? Or did they say, Martin, go outside and play with the other kids what are you doing in front of this Commodore all day?
Martin: No. Maybe they were happy I’m inside so I don’t break my leg or something.
Andrew: I see. So at least you’re safe. Then you decided to start a company kind of early on you and your friends created an advertising portal when you were in college. What was the advertising portal about?
Martin: Not only myself, but I have two or maybe three friends that were taking our computers to the class. We decided, alright, we’ll do something because we know there’s a [??] he bought the new HP, so let’s do something. We started a small advertising portal for our city, for [??]. It wasn’t very good because, we were a bunch of young people. It’s long hours, and we didn’t know how to do any marketing, or what to do with this portal.
Andrew: Did you have the sense that if you build a portal online, you don’t have to talk, you don’t have to know what advertising is, that, if the portal is good, people will use it?
Martin: That’s true, but you still have to convince these people to put their businesses on their portal and we didn’t know how to do it. We were just told that we’d build a portal and that would be it.
Andrew: And they’ll just come and discover you.
Martin: We didn’t know how it was done and we didn’t have any money.
Andrew: When you shut it down, was it hard? Well, you didn’t ever shut it down. You just kind of walked away from it, right?
Martin: We didn’t’ shut it down because, you know, we walked away. We walked away. We moved to different projects. I got a job, and so it wasn’t very hard.
Andrew: What year was this?
Martin: I think it was 2002, or 3 or 1, something like that.
Andrew: Gotcha. All right. So you walk way, you have this experience, and then when you graduated from school, from what I understand, you decided to get a job, right?
Martin: Yes, yes, exactly.
Andrew: All right. Did you feel like you were maybe settling for a job instead of maybe going out and building another company, you were taking a job?
Martin: During my studies, I was working for several companies. I was working with this [??], basically an administrator. And then I realized that I want something else. So I moved to Dublin. I moved to Dublin and I lived there for three years. So it was straight after University.
Andrew: In Ireland?
Martin: In Ireland, right. Exactly.
Andrew: I live in San Francisco now and a friend of mine said that he lives in Dublin, and most people assume that he means Dublin in Ireland, but there’s a Dublin here in the Bay Area, so I figured I’d check to make sure that there wasn’t one where you grew up, too.
Martin: It was in Ireland, yeah.
Andrew: Was it hard to move to a different country, different language, different culture?
Martin: You know, it was hard at the beginning but after, I mean, Irish people are very nice, so I never had any problems to get out with them and so on. So, maybe some of them speak very fast and are very funny, but you just get too used to that, no problems.
Andrew: I see. All right, so you’re going there and some point you decide that you’re going to start a side business, right? It was a consulting business?
Martin: After four years working at this company, I realized I want to do something myself. I want to set up my own company and do my own project. So I talked to my boss in Dublin that I’m going to move back to Slovakia, I’m going to set up my own business. So, he was happy. He was happy with my work, he said yes, and I moved back and that was it. I was working for him and during these times, I was also setting up . . .
Andrew: Wait, so you said I want to go home, I want to leave the country, and I’ll still work for you remotely, but I’ll work on the side?
Andrew: Was he okay with you both going back home and working on your own business on the side, or did you just not tell him that you were working on your own business?
Martin: I told him that I’m going to work on my own projects and I want to do something myself. And I was still working for him on a consultancy basis, and also as a programmer. And during spare time, I was working on my own projects.
Andrew: When you’re in Slovakia, is life cheaper so that you don’t have as much pressure to earn money month to month to pay the rent the way it might be in San Francisco?
Martin: Probably, yes.
Martin: If you compare these two counties or cities, that’s it. So, if for example, compare [??] to [??], this is like a capital city and the second biggest or smallest city, the life is cheaper here. So, if you’re asking, yes.
Andrew: So what does, say, a two bedroom apartment go for?
Martin: A two bedroom, say, 60, 70,000 Euros.
Andrew: Wait, not 60 or 70,000 U.S. Oh, you mean to buy it?
Martin: To buy it, yes.
Andrew: Oh. That’s my rent for a year.
Andrew: So for the price of rent for a year, you end up with a house that you actually own, or a two bedroom apartment that you own?
Martin: Apartment, yeah.
Andrew: Gotcha. Do you remember what your rent was at the time, when you started?
Martin: I think 300, or 400.
Andrew: Oof. I’m getting a sense, then, of why it made sense to go back. So you start taking on these client jobs, and as I understand it, you essentially were buying themes and implementing themes for clients, right?
Martin: Yes, yes.
Martin: Pretty much.
Andrew: That seems like a pretty easy job. Is that why you said, actually, why did you, if that’s such an easy job, you take a theme, you customize it a little bit and you sell it to a client who doesn’t know WordPress necessarily. That’s a pretty straightforward job. Why did you decide to start to create your own themes?
Martin: That’s the thing. You can earn more money.
Andrew: I see. I like that honest answer.
Martin: And the second thing, it’s not always easy to find a client and convince the client to create a website for that. And the other thing is if you’re creating the websites from themes from Theme Forest, for example, all themes are in English. So you have to download this theme and you have to translate that theme into Slovak languages, so it’s not very straightforward. So you’re talking about days just to change that.
Andrew: And were you doing mostly for clients in your country?
Martin: Currently, nothing.
Andrew: Oh, no, I mean at the time. When you did it, was it mostly for clients in Slovakia or all over the world?
Martin: Okay, sorry. Slovakia, yeah.
Andrew: Oh, it was. So then, when you decided that you were going to start to create your own themes, what’s the first step that you took to create a theme?
Martin: You know, we looked at the combination. What combinations are out there, what stuff are they creating? What design is selling the most? And basically, then we created our own design. We did research and we spent quite a lot of time just to learn, basic stuff like. How to make a theme, how to create it.
Andrew: How did you learn how to make a theme, Martin?
Martin: Just looking on the internet. Internet tutorials, and we bought several themes and looked how it is inside, how it’s down.
Andrew: I see. So just, buying a theme, deconstructing the code, tweaking it, seeing what it looks like and just playing with it and learning until you figured it out.
Martin: Yes. Playing around, yeah.
Andrew: Was there one source that was especially helpful for learning how to create your own theme?
Martin: We just used Google, you know, to find everything.
Andrew: You know what, by the way, this is why, this kind of comes of in interviews with other entrepreneurs where they talk about how Google sends them traffic, and I say that I get that Google sends you traffic, but the traffic that just comes from Google often is a hit that disappears. There’s no relationship. When that person comes to your site and says, “I got what I need”, they don’t say, “I got what I need from the entrepreneur’s site'” they say, “I got what I need from Google”.
And so, when there’s no stickiness, there’s no point even in just satisfying all this traffic. I guess, let me make this point a little more concrete. For me, on Mixergy, someone does a search for, say, the founder of oDesk. Comes to Mixergy, sees this great post full of transcripts and an interview, an hour long conversation about how oDesk was launched. And then they disappear. They don’t necessarily remember that Mixergy is where they got it. They say, “I got it from Google. Google helped me”.
Andrew: And so, for me, my challenge is constantly how do I make that traffic more sticky? How do I keep it from just bouncing out? And I think, asking for their email addresses and asking for some work on the part of the user is helpful for that. All right, so Google helped you develop your themes. You were downloading other people’s themes and deconstructing them and learning what went into them. How did you know what your first theme should be, Martin?
Martin: We wanted to do something universal that businesses can use, so we called the team Universal Business, so it’s pretty easy.
Andrew: Universal business. Okay.
Martin: Pretty easy to search on Theme Forest, for example. And created something that people can adjust or modify to whatever business site they want. And I think it was successful, because we sold, I think maybe ten copies the day it was released. It was quite good.
Andrew: The day you release it, ten copies get sold right away. At what? I see it’s selling today at 35 bucks. Is that what it was selling for at the time?
Martin: I think it was more, it was maybe 40. So now it’s cheaper because it’s pretty old.
Andrew: Wow. So 400 bucks. You make your rent, plus a little bit of profit in the first day.
Andrew: Wow, cool. And how did you know then that Universal Business would be the right approach? I’m looking at the theme now. I can see how businesses would use this. How did you know that businesses are who you should have targeted first?
Martin: I don’t know. We didn’t know that. We just sat down with a friend of mine who’s a designer and said, alright, we’ll do it that way. Before we agreed that it’s a good idea, we said, ‘Okay, we’re going to do it’.
Andrew: I see. All right, so you put it in there and I like how right away, you were thinking, how do we stand out in the marketplace while people are searching for business themes. Let’s call ourselves the Universal Business Theme.
Martin: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. So you put in in there, and I should also say that Themeforest takes a cut of every sale the cut gets smaller right? As you sell more so it’s not like you took 400 dollars home. Did the sales continue after the first day?
Martin: Yes, yes, the sales continued because we got into weekly top sellers. Because currently the best 17 is selling about 1000 copies a week back then it was maybe 30, 40 50 copies a week. So he goes into weekly top sellers pretty easily. And then we just used you know all this traffic that is going to that page and it was selling pretty well for some time.
Andrew: Did some theme makers back then realize that it only takes 40 sales to make it to the top seller of the week–and then they bought 20 of them just to make it to the top and stand out?
Martin: Don’t know. I don’t know if I knew that back then [laughs] I probably would have. But the traffic to Themeforest or all this theme business wasn’t as big as it is today, and it’s just maybe three years after that released this thing.
Andrew: Do you remember how much you sold at the end of the first month?
Martin: I don’t remember really [laughs].
Andrew: Okay. I’ve got here in my notes that it was somewhere around 80 maybe a hundred in the first month. Does that sound about right?
Martin: Yeah, could be.
Andrew: Okay. So then it was time–and the sales just continue. Once you put it in the market, sales continued. Right?
Martin: Yeah, it will, it will drop a bit but it continues to sell.
Andrew: And you still need to do some customer service for people right? If they buy a theme and they have some trouble they will email you. If they don’t even know WordPress they might email you. Is that correct?
Martin: Exactly, exactly you have to support every sale for pretty much forever so you have to set up your own support system or support form. I would have to answer all the questions people might have.
Andrew: What kind of questions were you getting from people?
Martin: I don’t know…how to use the theme, how to install it, how to customize, I want a red button, I want a green button so on. So it’s not difficult but if you are getting more and more sales, you are easily spending one whole day just answering questions. So–
Andrew: So how do you handle that? I’m looking at four years ago is roughly when you launched it, right? I’m looking at the second comment up on Themeforest about it. This guy DeBondo [sp] says, “Excellent theme, can I place a video?” Of course, you can place video on any theme, right? You just need to put the embed code in. That’s a very basic question. That gives me a sense of the kind of customer that you were getting at Themeforest back then. How do you give them support at 40 bucks a pop, without going nuts trying to explain to people how to install a theme, how to put a video up on it, change the button color? How do you support it all economically?
Martin: You know, the whole … this first theme to be honest, we lost money on it. Because we spent so much time just to learn WordPress just to learn what to do is best and spend several months just to develop that. So we invested all our effort, money and time just to create it because we saw that, all right we cannot sell only 10 things a day, we can sell 100 things a day. You know and that’s what we saw and that’s why we did it–
Andrew: I see, it was your way of learning and you’re getting paid to learn because you created something that people could actually buy.
Martin: Yeah, exactly and the thing is that you could create one thing and you could sell 1000 copies–
Andrew: What about tech support, how did you manage all the tech support when it’s–as I said earlier–such basic but really invo–such basic questions that often require very a very involved answer.
Martin: Yeah, at the beginning I was answering all these questions but after sometime we had to hire a new guy to the team that–
Andrew: I see.
Martin: We currently have three people, three persons just to answer questions. Nothing else.
Andrew: Just questions. And I’m guessing you use, if I understand it right, you’re using a form where people can see past answers so you don’t have to keep answering the same thing?
Martin: Yeah, exactly. We have form where you can search you can ask questions, or even sometimes people help each other to resolve their issues.
Andrew: Got you. What software are you using today on support.aitthemes.com?
Martin: We created our own, actually.–
Andrew: You did?
Martin: Because we did the research and what we need and how we want to do it, nothing was good. So we build it from scratch and now it’s okay.
Andrew: Oh, wow. I can’t believe that you would do that. Alright, so what did you learn from creating your first theme that you took to the creation of your second theme so that you would improve?
Martin: To create a second theme, if you wanted to create a theme that is completely different from all themes on the market. So, we created a second theme. It wasn’t that successful as we might think because it was that different that no one wanted to buy it. So, I think we learned more from the second theme than from the first theme.
Martin: Yeah, so…
Andrew: Was the second theme … The second theme was the one that didn’t work out well for you.
Martin: Yeah. Exactly.
Andrew: Why didn’t it work out?
Martin: I think the reason was that it wasn’t so easy to use. The design was so different to what was on the market or what was sold already. There were so many styles with this team. What we learned is that we need to create something that people actually want, not only something that we like. We liked the design, we liked how it looked, but it wasn’t …
Andrew: I see it was called glamorous for a reason. You wanted something that really looked polished and beautiful, but people are looking for business themes and are willing to pay for them, they are not necessarily looking for and are willing to pay for glamorous themes, not nearly in the same amount.
Martin: Yeah. That’s it.
Andrew: So how did you know … how did you figure out what to create next? Was there any kind of research to see what kind of themes were at the top of the marketplace? Was there something else you did?
Martin: We wanted to add something new to the mix, always add something new. For example, glamorous was the first theme ever that used colored papers [??] to change the color of the whole layout.
Martin: Then we released another theme that used a small sidebar or theme bar where you can turn on or turn off different sections. People can see that I want a theme, but I don’t want these four boxes, so I can turn it off, turn it on.
Andrew: You’re talking about in the test drive.
Martin: Yes, like a demo version.
Andrew: Demo version, right. So in the demo version, they could easily change the colors and not have to imagine what the theme would look like in their favorite color, but actually get to see it in real time. You would get to see it in real time what it looked like with different content layout.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. And you went back to corporate, instead of thinking about glamour, you decided to focus on business again.
Martin: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
Andrew: Do you know what the name of this third theme was?
Martin: It was Corporate Business, I think.
Andrew: Oh, it was just called Corporate Business.
Martin: Corporate Easy, or something like that. Corporate Theme Easy.
Andrew: And there’s a reason for that. You are doing Search Engine Optimization within the marketplace, right?
Andrew: You are saying, ‘What are people likely to search for?’ Well, they want an easy theme. Great. We’ll type in the word easy in our headline. They want a corporate theme. We’ll do that.
Andrew: Was there a way for you to tell what they were searching for? Does ThemeForest bubble that up for you?
Andrew: Sorry, something happened to the mic. It looks like you might have covered that up.
Martin: It was just our idea.
Andrew: Gotcha. It was just your idea. You said, “What are they likely to do?” and based on your experience, came up with the words corporate and easy.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. Let’s see what else about this theme. Did you also create a page builder that would not just allow people to see what the different layouts would look like, but to easily create different layouts without having to know WordPress?
Martin: Yes, yes, exactly. We created a page builder that you can use to build your own content. You can create columns, if you like, you can put Google maps on the right hand side, and some lists on the right hand side. It’s our own product that we developed from scratch. We spent a year developing this stuff, just to build it, improve it, create it, the best…
Andrew: A year before you put it in the marketplace.
Martin: Yes, exactly.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Meanwhile, this whole time you are still doing client work, right?
Martin: We were doing client work, but we don’t do enough. There was a time, we really don’t have time to support all these clients. Theme work and creating themes is more profitable than anything else we can do here, so we…abandoned doing normal websites or creating websites for clients, and are just doing teams.
Andrew: One of your regrets from this time is that you didn’t go fast enough.
Andrew: What do you mean? What could you have done differently at this stage in the story?
Martin: When we had, some amount of sales, instead of expanding and hiring a new web developer or a new designer or somebody. We just took one project that we shouldn’t do. We took a big project from Slovakia that we spent a very, very long time just doing that and then developing after that.
Martin: Instead of that, we should expand, we should create more teams. We should create more features for the team, and so on. So, during that time, we had a silent current, because we didn’t have time to create teams. We had to support the project, and that was a mistake, quite a big mistake by us.
Andrew: Are developers expensive? What would a developer have cost you back then?
Martin: It’s about 1,000-2,000 Euros a month.
Andrew: 2,000 Euros a month?
Martin: Yeah. One thousand, pretty much.
Andrew: 1,000 a month, or 2?
Martin: One and a half.
Andrew: One and a half, all right. So for about $1500 a month, you could have gotten a developer. Meanwhile, the third theme. What kind of revenues was it bringing in?
Martin: That’s a tough question. I don’t have it in my head, really.
Andrew: Okay. Was it enough to cover a developer? Or is it maybe something that took a little bit of time for the revenue to come in?
Martin: We sold the team, but we couldn’t really rely on that income.
Martin: So we sold it. All right, we are selling now x copies of this team, but we don’t know what we’ll do next week, or next month. So, it was a tough decision. We didn’t know when exactly to take a developer.
Andrew: I see. Because you still weren’t sure?
Andrew: But, if you could go back, you would say, “Just take the risk, Martin. Go in and hire a developer. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
Martin: Yeah. Exactly.
Andrew: Gotcha. Meanwhile, the marketplace kept growing bigger and bigger and bigger; and to dominate it, it no longer took 100, 200, or 300 sales a month. It became thousands in order to get to the top.
Martin: Yes, exactly.
Martin: So that’s the way it should look (???).
Andrew: Gotcha. Okay. By the way, how is it to speak in English through this interview?
Martin: You know, the thing is, I wasn’t speaking English for a long time. I’m always writing something, reading (???), or listening to TV. But, I wasn’t speaking for a long time.
Andrew: I get that. Meanwhile, I’m asking you not just to answer questions that you couldn’t have anticipated, in full. But, also to represent your company well, and I imagine that it’s not easy. But, I’m really glad, Martin, that you took me up on this offer to do this interview. And, we’re not done yet.
But, I want to acknowledge it, because for me to do Mixergy right, I can’t only interview entrepreneurs who are in San Francisco. I can’t only interview entrepreneurs who are in the US or those that speak English. It has to be, I think, much more comprehensive. I think to really get an understanding of how this whole eco-system that we live in and build our lives in works, we have to learn from everybody in it. And, that means, people who are outside the US. It also means people who are building marketplaces and those who are thriving in those marketplaces.
I kind of imagine, Martin, that someone is listening to this interview saying, “Hey! Andrew has the Mark Suster, an investor who is looking for billion-dollar exits. That’s what makes the most sense for me. Why should I even listen to an interview about one person in a marketplace? Isn’t that too small for Mixergy?”
And, I have to say, first of all, it’s not too small. This is the perfect story of a person who is starting out with nothing, and how he’s bootstrapping his way through growth and profitability. But, second, even if you don’t ever plan to be inside the marketplace, I want you to see what life is like for one of the top people in the marketplace, so that you can understand how to recruit people like Martin, how to cultivate people like Martin, how to understand that maybe if you have someone who is successful in your marketplace and they’re not growing fast enough, how to, maybe, encourage them to do it.
And, give them some support to do it, instead of hoping that the big guys will come in, instead of hoping that the people who are thriving in your marketplace will know what to do and build their business. This is an understanding of the whole environment of the startup world, of the whole environment of the tech world that we live in. I’m so glad, Martin, that you’re here to do this interview.
All right. You now are building your third theme. Things are going well. What’s your next step?
Martin: We just continued building teams. We decided that, all right, we created a universal team, and it was selling goods. What if we create a team that will be focused on some business? So, we started building teams for hotels, for restaurants, for lawyers, and so on.
Andrew: Got you. Just a theme for hotels, just a theme for restaurants, et cetera.
Martin: Exactly, exactly.
Andrew: Got you. All right, I want to follow up on that…
Martin: If somebody is looking for…
Andrew: …because this is a really deep part of our understanding of how your business worked.
But, first, I have to read this email I got from a reader. His name happens to be Andrew, and he says in the subject line “You should do better by Scott Edward Walker.” He continues in the email: “So, after listening to hundreds of Mixergy interviews I finally find myself in need of legal advice.” By the way, Andrew, the listener, thank you for listening to hundreds of interviews.
He says, “No problem, I think. I head over to mixergy.com and I check out that Scott guy you’re always talking about. No link to the poor guy anywhere. So, I rack my brain and try to remember his name, Scott Walker. No luck on Google with that because he has the same name as the governor of Wisconsin. So in the end I had to dig through a transcript to find the guy’s website. And, you don’t even include a link to his site in the transcript. I have to cut and paste the name into my browser search bar. Is this how you treat your friends?”
So I emailed Andrew back and, “I said well, isn’t there a link under, like, each transcript?” He says, “Yes, but it’s way under. I didn’t find it until afterwards. Maybe you could give him a banner next to the video.”
I can’t do that. He also goes on to say congratulations on the thousandth video interview.
So, Andrew, thank you for listening for a long time. And if you, Andrew, the listener, have heard hundreds of interviews and you still don’t know the website, I should be very clear. Scott’s website is this: walkercorporatelaw.com.
Let’s see what happens if I just open up Incognito and I type in “Walker lawyer startup.” All right. That takes you to first result. But, there are a lot of ads on that page from people who are trying to be identified as the lawyer for startups and they’re, I guess, trying to use Scott’s name.
All right. I understand, Andrew. This is not easy. I will keep hammering home walkercorporatelaw.com. If you need a lawyer and you’re an entrepreneur, Scott is the guy to talk to because he lives in this world. He understands this world. He represents other entrepreneurs in this space, so he’s learned the mistakes that they’ve made.
He’s helped them out, and he can help you avoid those mistakes and find the opportunities that the successful people he’s represented have discovered. Go to walkercorporatelaw.com. Tell him I sent you.
When you decided that you were going to create, Martin, all these different categories, essentially was it going to be one theme that you pretty much re-branded for lawyers, re-branded for doctors, re-branded for hotels?
Martin: No, no. We created a special design for hotels, a special design for lawyers, a special design for doctors. Because we knew that there’s something else that hotels will want, something else that the restaurant will want – so that the restaurant can create their own menu. Doctor, you need to know what are opening hours, and so on. We created, like, a special small thing that differentiated this doctor team from a normal team or any other team.
Andrew: So then doesn’t that drive you crazy if you have to create all these different themes and then support them? How did you manage it all?
Martin: You know, all teams are based on our own framework. That means that there is, like, our base is the same, but the top layer or the design is different. For example, there is a [??] one team. You can easily fix it for all teams because all teams have the same base.
Andrew: Got you. Brian Gardner made that popular by taking the Genesis theme and then creating child themes underneath that. Is that where you got the idea?
Martin: Pretty much yeah, pretty much. In programming it’s called, like, layer… I don’t know how to say, but it’s where you separate your design from the code.
Martin: You separated that and then you can change the code and one change and one team also change our team’s as well.
Andrew: I see. And that allows you to adjust quickly if WordPress makes a big change. You don’t have to go back and change each one of your themes.
Martin: Very correct.
Andrew: One theme and it’s done. When you finally hired your first employee, the first developer, how did that feel?
Martin: It was good. It was good.
Andrew: How did you find the developer?
Martin: Finally, you’re on a different side. You were an employee for so many years. Now you have to be the guy that is telling people what to do.
Andrew: Do you feel kind of like you don’t want to do it because you don’t want to tell other people to do?
Martin: Not really. Not really.
Andrew: No, you’re fine with it?
Martin: I think if you tell people what we want to achieve, say how to do it, and if they are able to do it, it’s no problem to work with them.
Andrew: I see. I’m looking at where you’re getting your traffic now. There is a domain called AITThemes.DeviantArt.Com.
Andrew: It looks like you list yourself outside of the Themeforest directory so that you can start drumming up business for yourself, too.
Martin: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: How do you know where to list yourself?
Martin: I’m sorry?
Andrew: How did you know where to list yourself?
Martin: There are a couple sites for web designers, so we are on all social media sites. We are on YouTube. Also, we are on deviant art, (Sp) Drebo and so-on. So, people that are most likely to buy themes, they go there to get inspiration. So, we are posting there the new freebies, that we are posting on our site as well, for example. And if you want to download a freebie, or free PSD, you have to put in your E-Mail address in there. Our list is growing, I think to over 20,000 e-mail addresses now.
Andrew: Nineteen thousand four hundred forty-seven e-mail addresses. You update the number in real-time on your site. Where do I put my e-mail address on your site to get the PSD?
Martin: You have a section called freebies and you can download for free any PSD file our previous team has. So, you can, if you had…
Andrew: Oh, there it is. Free skins. Is that it?
Martin: Not skins, it’s freebies. On the right beside skins.
Andrew: Oh, there. I see it. Right to the right of it. Freebies. And so, when you’re on these other sites you link people to the freebies to the PSD file and then they can download, they can download it if they give an email address.
Martin: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: I see here. Download freebie. Would you like to download this freebie? Enter your email address and we’ll send you a download link to your in-box. We could send you an occasional newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time. Got it. So, you’re on deviant art, you’re also on, where else? Facebook. Facebook seems to be driving you more traffic than twitter. That’s the opposite as it is for me. What are you doing on Facebook that’s working for you?
Martin: We are posting some updates of what we do. We are posting pictures from the office for example. And upcoming teams, what we are up to next month, and so on. We are also doing paid advertising on Facebook as well.
Martin: We are on Google, and also Facebook.
Andrew: How do you keep track of your effectiveness of your paid ads? How do you know that they’re actually working?
Martin: It’s quite hard to do it on team four because the tracking that is there using is not so accurate, so we are doing paid ads for Google, but we can see if we increase the traffic or decrease the traffic on some teams, we see that it works.
Andrew: I see. So, you can’t get granular data that ties in order directly back to a source, but what you do then is send traffic to a specific theme if the theme orders jump beyond where they usually are, you can tie the jump back to the ad buy that you recently did.
Martin: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Gotcha. Let’s see what else I’m noticing here. What is…Where is that? What is themepunch.com?
Andrew: Themepunch.com seems to be sending you a lot of traffic. And, it looks like what it is is a site for finding themes.
Martin: It could be, because ordinarily the team would send a newsletter and there are people who are creating blogs out of new teams or new products. They probably took our team and put that team on their blog, so they get an affiliate from there.
Andrew: I see. From Themeforest.
Martin: Say it again, please?
Andrew: What they sell on Themeforest.
Martin: They might sell. But they probably do affiliate as well.
Andrew: Interesting. But not an affiliate program with you, right? It’s an affiliate program with Themeforest?
Martin: Themeforest, exactly.
Andrew: Interesting. So why don’t you start selling your theme on your own site without Themeforest?
Martin: You need to have like, big traffic, because on Themeforest you can put your theme out without any marketing and you’ll get traffic. And on your own website, you need to invest a lot of money into advertising.
Andrew: I see. Because they send you so much traffic, you might as well stick with them. Because they get you so many orders you might as well just keep growing your presence in their platform.
Andrew: Hmm. I was going to ask you about these other sites like Dallas Directory, Room Key Deals.com. Oh wait, Room Key Deals, let me check that out. But, do you have someone who does your ads, who does your placement? Because my guess is that you wouldn’t even know these sites.
Martin: To be honest, I don’t know these sites. They probably post a new theme on Twitter or Facebook and they get the link to these things. Being for us, they have an affiliate program and you get paid if you bring new customers. So for them, if they find a good team that can bring them the money from affiliates, they will pick it up and create a post on a blog or post it on their Twitter.
Andrew: I see. Actually, Room Key Deals.com, I thought was a site that actually was a hotel site or something. But it looks like they just bought one of your themes, and they just pasted it up on their site and they haven’t adjusted it, and as a result they’re still sending you some traffic. I mean, they’re including even your logo on the site. I see.
Martin: Maybe it’s not finished yet.
Andrew: Right. Maybe they’re just getting started. Revolution Slider. What’s that?
Martin: That’s a slider that’s sold on [??]. It’s something like paid slider for displaying adverts and all the information on the home page. We are including this slider into our themes free of charge. So we buy extended license, which is pretty high now, and giving it away free of charge, including the price of a pin.
Andrew: Gotcha. And it seems to be really popular with people. They’re actually looking for that slider. I see that people seem to love those sliders, and so they look for that slider, they realize that it’s available on you themes as part of the theme and that’s one of the reasons why they buy it.
Martin: Exactly, yeah.
Andrew: Gotcha. What else do I need to know about how you build your business? Did I miss anything? If you were to be listening, what would you, if you were to have listened when you started, what would you have wanted me to ask you? What would you have needed to know?
Martin: I think back then we were not really doing any paid advertising. We were doing just Twitter, Facebook and maybe a small [??] or emails that we received. What I would do is invest, definitely, into paid advertising. So I could sell more and get into creating of cells more quickly.
Andrew: How did you learn how to do paid advertising?
Martin: We just tried it, bought a book and learned how to, because we are designers. We can create a product, that’s no problem. We bought a book on how to apply these products and create an advert.
Andrew: I see. That makes sense. You’re saying that it doesn’t come naturally to you, so you had to go and study it somewhere else. What’s the book that you studied?
Martin: You can find information at Google.
Andrew: I see.
Martin: They mention books like that, I think.
Andrew: So there’s just Google, there’s no book that you can recommend to someone who wants to try paid ads?
Martin: You can find everything on Google.
Andrew: We do have also some courses at Mixergy premium about how to do add buys where I invited entrepreneurs who I knew where especially good at buying ads and I said could you please turn on your computer screen and show me how you do it. Teach me, teach my audience how you buy ads.
If you’re a Mixergy premium member, just go into mixergy.com/premium and search for them and you will see we have multiple courses from multiple perspectives so you can see how different entrepreneurs do it. It’s all available from mixergypremium.com.
I want to thank one of the premium members because he’s been with us a long time and premium members are the ones who really keep Mixergy going. His name is Moses Akesian [SP]. I asked him… I said, “Thank you, first of all, and I’ll say it publicly now. Moses, thank you so much for being such an important part of the Mixergy community and for being a Mixergy premium member.”
I asked Moses what he got out of it and he said, “those early days of Mixergy truly shaped my thinking about what entrepreneurship really means and until today, every day I strive to succeed without giving up hope and always remaining optimistic” and it’s one of the things that Moses got out being a Mixergy Premium member.
Moses, thank you for doing it and I’m looking forward to helping you and being a part of your life for a very long time and I appreciate you having been a part of Mixergy’s life for years. There is one other thing that I have to ask you, which is about revenue. How is the business now? What are your monthly sales numbers like?
Martin: We are currently selling about 50 to 60 thousand dollars a month.
Martin: So it’s really good.
Andrew: And, it’s you plus three support people, plus how many developers?
Martin: There are currently 15 people all together working.
Andrew: Fifteen people!
Martin: On all teams, yeah.
Andrew: And they’re all full time, or consistent?
Martin: Not everybody. Some people are full time some people are not. It’s like a team of 15 people that put their hands together to create something.
Andrew: And then, once the things created, do they stick around with AIT or do they go do other projects?
Martin: They have other projects as well but they all have [??] to create what we do. So, somebody’s a designer, somebody’s a developer…
Andrew: So your overall monthly expenses, are they less than $30,000?
Andrew: Yeah, so you’re making more than $30,000 a month?
Martin: Not really because we have to pay our [??] as well. So, it’s not like that.
Andrew: What are the other big expenses of running a business like yours?
Martin: We have an office and they have servers. We have to work with four servers that we have to support and [??]. It’s [??], the other one [??], Its [??].
Andrew: Do you get to bank $10,000 a month in profit?
Andrew: You do. Wow. Congratulations, that means every six months you can buy another two bedroom apartment.
Andrew: You’ll be the landlord king! But you don’t want to do that. When you’re investing your money, what’s the future? Where are you going to invest the future of your company or money into the future of your company?
Martin: We have to grow. You know, currently the creative team’s only in English, or we were creating things only in English. But we see big [??] in other countries. Because currently, only a small portion of the people that currently that are buying our teams are actually English speaking. So this month we are trying to expand creating a global company for people around the world.
Andrew: I see. So right now there may be someone who might be buying one of your previous themes or another theme on [??], and changing it, the way that you used to when you were a consultant. Changing it to the local language for their clients and you want to make that easier for them. Is that the theme that’s called “langwitch?” Like L-A-N-G-W-I-T-C-H.
Martin: Yeah exactly. That’s the first thing [??]. So these [??] are excited to work with languages. [??] by a translation company and we want to expand the number of languages to 20 or more. And the main goal of the team is to help local people from other countries like the U.K. or the U.S. and to create their website in their own language.
For example, if somebody speaks Spanish they can create a website and use the team. And they can also sell the team to their old clients in Spain or other countries.
Andrew: You know, I did an interview back in, I just looked it up, 2011 with an entrepreneur named Christian Arno who runs Lingo 24 and he wanted to come back and teach a course on Mixergy about translating people’s sights to other languages. He said, “Andrew, you don’t understand. If people could just take the business that they currently have and just translate to a different language they’re going to grow their customers.
But most people will only see the U.S. in English and or their local language and never consider changing their web app to a different language so that they can sell outside the U.S. Or in your case your opening my eyes to changing the theme to a different language so they could get more exposure.”
And I’m understanding why he wanted to talk about that. Frankly, I went back to the audience and I said is this something you want and they couldn’t understand it so we couldn’t make it work to do that course but now I get it.
Martin: Yeah exactly.
Andrew: What does it cost? I’m sorry, go ahead. You first.
Martin: Exactly. Imagine that you download the theme in German and you wanted to use it. You have to translate it to English.
Andrew: I wouldn’t even do it. I would just say, forget it I can’t buy this theme.
Martin: Say it again, please.
Andrew: You’re right. If I saw a theme that looked beautiful and then I kind of paid attention to the language on it and realized it was in German, I’d have to pass up. I’d say to myself this theme isn’t for me. I don’t speak German, It’s made for Germans. I have to move on.
Martin: Exactly, and that’s still the biggest challenge we were doing back then. Creating websites with a theme [inaudible]. So we installed the theme, we customize the theme. That’s no problem. But then we spend so many days just to translating the theme because it wasn’t ready for translation. We translated it and that’s it.
So if you want translated theme you couldn’t update it because you made your own modifications to the theme and you cannot easily take the new version of theme with new features because you have to translate again.
Andrew: Right, so then the user is stuck.
Martin: If we create some new feature in the theme we will also translate to all of these languages. The biggest challenge was to translate to 14 languages. It is translated now, but now if we want build something new or create some new button or something the whole team needs to translate just like a small portion. It will easier and free of charge including free updates.
Andrew: I can see it. It’s a good looking theme, also.
Martin: Thank you.
Andrew: And it’s not just about the language. I like how things just pop up on the screen as I scroll. All right. I think I got everything here except for, why don’t we end on a high note. When you guys hit a quarter of a million dollars you went to celebrate. How did you celebrate?
Martin: We go to the pub.
Andrew: To the pub?
Martin: Yeah we have an office that is in the city center so it’s very close to the pub. You just go downstairs and there is a pub. So we just go to the pub, have a pint, and play pool or something.
Andrew: What about go carts?
Martin: Yeah, we go to [inaudible]
Andrew: Was this before or after you started drinking at the pub.
Martin: You first need to [inaudible] drinking
Andrew: Yeah, that’s probably the safer way to go. All right. Thank you so much, Martin, for doing this interview with me. The website is aitthemes.com. And it’s actually-is it ait-themes.com?
Martin: You can use it without dashes now.
Andrew: Gotcha. What does AIT stand for?
Martin: It’s the name of the company actually. It’s affinity information technology. That’s why it is called AITThemes.
Andrew: Affinity information technology. aitthemes.com. We’ve been talking about a lot of different designs. I don’t want to brush over the actual quality of the designs. I don’t want to pretend that this only worked out because he was on this directory or that directory. There’s a lot to the designs. There’s a lot to the way they display the designs that I couldn’t communicate verbally.
I think the best way to find about it and the best way to really get a complete picture of the story is to go to the website and for Andrew who is in my audience. Who is still upset with me for not giving Scott’s website clearly, I will give it clearly again. It’s aitthemes.com. Martin thank you so much for doing this interview.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Especially you, Moses. Bye everyone.
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