The Founder Of WooThemes On Making Yourself Into A Brand

Adii Rockstar surprised many in the startup world when he did his first Mixergy interview and revealed that his company, WooThemes, quietly built over $2 million per year business by selling themes for platforms like WordPress.

He recently wrote a book called “Rockstar Business” about how he turned himself into a self-branded rockstar. I invited him back to Mixergy because I’m seeing increasingly that Internet entrepreneurs are becoming brands onto themselves and I wanted him to teach how he did it.

Adii Rockstar

Adii Rockstar

Rockstar Business

Adii Rockstar is the author of Rockstar Business, a book about how he turned himself into a self-branded rockstar. (Get a 30% discount when you use the code “Mixergy” to order Rockstar Business.)



Full Interview Transcript

Andrew Warner: Hey, it’s Andrew with a little note before we get started. This interview had a lot of tech issues, so somewhere in the middle of the interview, I just gave up on video and Skype completely and we switched to a phone call based interview. If you’re watching the video version of this program, you’re going to see just a static picture for the second half of this interview. Now you know why. If you’re sensitive to bad video or bad audio, first of all, you probably shouldn’t be watching Mixergy because I never have good audio or video, but the content is always strong. If you’re sensitive about audio or video, in this interview especially, you should check out the transcript. The transcripts have been getting better and better and they’re a good read. As I say, this is a good one for you to start checking out the transcripts on.

This interview is sponsored by Walker Corporate Law. It’s a law firm for tech startups. It’s also sponsored by the Founder Institute., where entrepreneurs get mentorship and introduction to investors and press and so much more. And it’s sponsored by, which helps companies collaborate if they have 2,000 people or two people. Check out

Here’s your program.

Hey, everyone. It’s Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of, home of the ambitious upstart. How do you go from obscurity to becoming both a brand and business celebrity? Adii Rockstar has done it. In fact, he stunned the tech world when he did an interview with me and revealed for the first time that his company WooThemes quietly built over $2 million per year business selling themes for platforms like WordPress. He recently wrote a book called “Rockstar Business” about how he turned himself into a self-branded rockstar. I invited him back to Mixergy because I’m seeing increasingly that Internet entrepreneurs are becoming brands onto themselves and I wanted him to teach how he did it. Adii, welcome to Mixergy. Welcome back.

Adii Rockstar: Thanks. Listen, it’s great being back on the show, so thanks for having me.

Andrew: Cool. Where in the world are you?

Adii: Cape Town, South Africa. Born and bred here and more than happy to stay just here.

Andrew: Oh, cool. One of the issues, actually, last time, and I’m seeing it this time, is the Internet. How is the Internet in South Africa?

Adii: Internets are generally assorted though. I’m on a really crappy 3G, temporary connection so [unintelligible].

Andrew: Oh, man. I couldn’t hear much of what you said there. It sounds like you’re on a 3G connection. You’re probably using a cell phone or some device that’s connected to the cell company.

Adii: Yeah. It’s a separate 3G dongle, 3G modem. It’s not amazing.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Let’s see what we could do with it. To start us off, can you give us an example of what’s possible? Maybe an example of something you’ve been able to do only because you’re so well-known or been able to do better because you’re such a recognized personality now.

Adii: I got two little examples. The first one being back prior to essentially launching WooThemes, I first started selling WordPress themes from my personal blog and then when I met up with Magnus and Mark, the co-founders of WooThemes with me, all of that happened via my personal blog. My reputation there played a big part in us getting together and eventually starting the business. [unintelligible] so many from Magnus and Mark, they brought their reputations into the business as well and we were able to bootstrap and start up quite easily. Speaking more recently with the charity that I’m involved called The Rockstar Foundation, while it’s not sustainable yet in funding of education of disadvantaged schools here in South Africa, I would not have been able to do that if I didn’t have the reputation as a somewhat successful entrepreneur in the online space. Most of the marketing and donations has come from friends and contacts that I’ve made online.

Andrew: Okay. I’m just going to repeat it to make sure that I’ve got it because of the bad connection. You’re saying that you found your co-founders online because of your reputation, because you were blogging about WordPress themes and you were showing what you were doing you were able to find your co-founders. You also said that it helped you launch and get contributions to The Rockstar Foundation, the foundation that you recently started.

Adii: Sounds right.

Andrew: Okay, cool. One of the words that stood out for me as I read your book was “whorestar.” What does it mean to be a whorestar?

Adii: It’s one of those chapters, if I wasn’t self-publishing the book, and I had an editor, they would probably have advised me not to include it, as the title at least is a little bit controversial. The idea behind that was just people as individuals shouldn’t be afraid of hurting themselves and bullying their own reputations. I think people get a bad reputation, or in the past, they got negative [interference] what they were doing online, if they kept punching themselves. Just feel it’s important to note and it’s important for people to know the person behind the actions as well. I think that’s what it comes down to. You shouldn’t be afraid of sincerely saying, “Hey, guys. I’m the person behind this.” Or, “Hey, guys. I’m one of the people contributing to this and that.”

Andrew: Okay. Self-promotion is great when you’re you, a guy who’s done over $2 million a year in sales, whose business has got such a following that here even in the audience I that see you’ve got fans. But when someone’s starting out or they haven’t achieved anything that big yet, it’s hard to self-promote, it’s hard to whore yourself out as a brand, isn’t it?

Adii: Definitely. I think with time comes credibility so it becomes a little easier down the line to promote yourself and almost getting traction from whatever you’re trying to promote. I think that’s fair game, as well, considering that it takes a lot of hard work to get there. I basically, because I’m almost dodging your question and trying to say young people, doesn’t matter the age, but someone that doesn’t necessarily have reputation should just stick to it. The principle still applies. Irrespective whether you have as big an audience. I got a small audience compared to the real Internet celebrites out there who have a massive audience, I have a small audience, but that hasn’t stopped me from promoting or talking or interacting to my audience because at least they will appreciate that. I think that’s what’s important. Whether your audience is 10 people, 100 people, or 100,000 people, you do need self-promoting as an individual.

Andrew: Self-promote what? When you’re just getting started, when you don’t have a big business yet, what are you self-promoting at that point?

Adii: You’ve got to have something, though. I think that’s a proviso. It’s impossible to simply promote yourself if you haven’t done anything. It doesn’t need to be a big business that’s already established, but even if it’s just a little work, you put out some leak, something you can self-promote by saying, “Listen here, guys. This is what I’ve done. Check out my skills. This is what I’m trying to do with that.” That’s basic and sincere. That’s not over-promising, that’s not creating something higher than expecations that’s not there. That’s just saying this is me, this is what I’m doing.

Andrew: I see. Okay. Do a little something. It doesn’t have to be the greatest thing in the world. It doesn’t have to be your ultimate masterpiece. It just means do something and then start getting some attention for it so you can get feedback and build a crowd around it and then do something else based on their feedback and grow it from there.

Adii: Yeah. I think the most important thing in that is, irrespective of how big your starting point is, everyone’s got to start somewhere. That’s basically full stop if you’re not going to start a new, something that has audience.

Andrew: Can you give me an example or tell me when you started that? When did you start promoting yourself and what did you start promoting?

Adii: Promotion probably started out in 2007. At that stage, I was a late adopter in terms of blogging, but I did start that. Initially, I had a big focus and I focused myself on WordPress. I marketed myself as some kind of WordPress developer. Actually, that’s where the whole Rockstar thing came from. At one stage, through one redesign, I started calling myself WordPress Rockstar. Just wired down, I kept doing WordPress related stuff, free stuff, doing client work, building a portfolio. That’s how I promoted it. That was just by my blog. Even if you go out to Twitter, I was a late adopter. I didn’t actually think that Twitter was something that I should be spending any time on. It was purely through my blog and purely by the actual work.

Andrew: Okay. What about the name Rockstar? At what point did you start calling yourself a rockstar and how did it feel when you first started saying that?

Adii: I can’t remember exact dates. It was probably down near about a year into my freelancing. The whole idea was, I’m a very tongue-in-cheek kind of guy. I’m not overly serious, generally. The Rockstar connotation I had to excellence, almost. Excellence and being a unique individual. I just thought calling myself WordPress Rockstar because that was a way to differentiate myself from the crowd in some way. Even though I know, and I know to this day, a lot of people hate the fact that I call myself a rockstar. At least that’s one joint point, irrespective of it being a possible negative. People at least listen to what I have to say.

Andrew: I see what you mean. I remember when we first did an interview, there were a few people in the audience who said, “Andrew, ask him about this whole Rockstar thing. The guy calls himself a rockstar, what’s up with that?” At least I realized, well, they knew that you were calling yourself a rockstar and they knew the whole personality there enough that they could argue with it or be curious about it, or I don’t know what.

Adii: In that regard, when I grew up, I had this almost an obsession with what Richard Branson was building at Virgin and I remember one line distinctly in one of his biographies or autobiography that said there’s no such thing as bad publicity. To this very day, I stick to exactly that. People want to slay me, especially if they want to do so in a public forum for taking the chance and calling myself a rockstar, then so be it because that’s probably where the whorestar comes in. I’m more than happy to take the traffic and take the hits that result from that. At least they take action. There’s a lot of people working online and nobody ever mentions them. I’m not saying that they should not be mentioned. In fact, I believe there’s a lot of people that should be mentioned, but it’s hard work to get mentioned. It’s hard work to get talked about.

Andrew: Let me say this though, we’re going to send people out there with the idea that they can give themselves a title, the way Howard Stern calls himself The King of All Media and you call yourself a Rockstar. They’re going to start to think about it, then they’re going to say, “This sounds ridiculous. I can’t do it.” I’ll tell you why I can imagine that they’re going to think that. When I gave myself the name Andrew Warner, because I was tired of having a foreign name on the phone when I was trying to make sales calls, this was before the Internet, before it was common to put pictures of yourself online. I said, “One day, these guys who I’m talking to on the phone are going to meet me in person for dinner or some kind of business meeting. They’re going to see that I look like a guy who comes from the desert of the Middle East, not comes from Europe.” They’re going to say, “Who is the guy think with Andrew Warner, WASPy wannabe?” I already went with a name but I started waking up in the middle of the night going, “This is ridiculous. You’re going to come across as a fraud.” Did you feel anything like that and if you did, how did you overcome it?

Adii: Yeah. It’s a bit awkward. About two months ago, I had the opportunity of finally visiting the States and I had the opportunity there to visit New York and San Francisco and I met up with a few online friends that I’ve met through online forums. This was the first opportunity that I had to meet these people face to face. That is a bit awkward because [unintelligible] kind of get a feeling that people probably have [unintelligible].

Andrew: I’m sorry. We were really losing the connection there. Can you pick it up from where you saying that. . . I’m sorry, we’ve got a little bit of a lag and we missed much of what you said. Can you pick it up from where you were talking about how you met them for the first time in the real world after talking to these people online?

Adii: Sure. Basically, I got this feeling that people that have just been following me online, haven’t met me in person, have a perception of who I’m supposed to be, new to all this Rockstar branding. . .

Andrew: Oh, man. The connection’s going again. Dude, tell you what. How about this? What if we kill the video and I call the landline and we continue the interview doing nothing but audio? I’m a little concerned about the connection being too tough. The connection via video was kind of bad today, we decided to go to audio and now we’ve reconnected. The question where we left off, Adii, was, I said, what was it like when you changed your name? You started telling me about how you met people in person who only knew you online and what was the reaction and how did you feel when you told them that your name was Rockstar?

Adii: First of all, personally, I’ve never introduced myself in person as Adii Rockstar. In person, it’s always just Adii. That’s it. I do get this feeling that people have certain perception of who I am as a person due to me calling myself a rockstar. I’ve always just tried to be myself. If people want to stick to certain perceptions, especially if they’re going to be negative, after they’ve met me in person, so be it. I’ve always backed myself. If I’m just myself, I should be pretty likeable.

Andrew: Okay. Fair enough. Let’s move on to some of the other points from the book. You say that entrepreneurs, in fact, anyone in business, needs to be addicted. Most of the rest of the world, including my college professors and high school teachers all said you have to have a rounded personality, you have to have lots of interests, you can’t be addicted to your work. You’re saying be addicted. Why?

Adii: Something comes up in deep addiction, the most passion. Again, the provision on that is there’s always a balance in everything you do in life. There’s just within that deep addiction, that deep addiction being better for improving the business, for improving your skills, for improving yourself. Addiction can bring happiness. All those things contribute to what I believe to be passion and great ideas. Those things, in turn, should improve your business and whatever your goals are. That’s the basic idea.

Andrew: Do you have an example of how addicted you are? Where are you taking this stuff? Are you out on dates and sneaking out to pretend to go to the bathroom but really you check your BlackBerry?

Adii: [laughs] No, not at all. Basically, a simple example, the weekends, for example, when I’m at home and just chilling out, I’m always tempted to just log into WooThemes’ email and check support emails from users. I’m addicted to this theory that if I can answer a user within a half an hour of receiving the email, that’s a big bonus for the business. I know, again, that’s something that we try to do throughout the business, but that’s just one of the little small ways that I’m addicted enough to my business to do something beyond the, say, 9-to-5 expectation of what the business owners should be doing.

Andrew: What about burnout? Has that been an issue for you yet?

Adii: Yeah. I think I’ve started to burn out maybe two or three times. Burnout, I think, is something that’s going to be inevitable. If you’re going to follow anything I say to the book, to the T, then you can expect burnout and on again. Anything I’ve learned to remedy that is just by taking a break in the lead up to actually reaching that. I feel as I’ve stopped feeling the fatigue and I’ve stopped. . . When that addiction and that passion just drops off, I probably just give myself a week or so just to refresh and then come back and pick up where I left off. On that note, it’s great having the whole team and having two co-founders backing you that actually allows you to recharge your batteries in that way.

Andrew: The other thing that I learned in your book, in “Rockstar Business,” is that you have an admin, somebody who helps you with both personal and work assignments. How did you find her? How do you find somebody like that?

Adii: It’s a bit of a complex [unintelligible]. Firstly, it’s easy to find some kind of admin, assistant, whatever you want to call it. I literally put up a job ad and within an hour I had almost 300 CVs in my inbox. I literally had to kill the ad because there was no way I could sort through 300 Cvs. [unintelligible] eventually fall into that. I actually really got lucky. I think the reason I got lucky was because I wasn’t willing to undervalue her function and her contribution. I probably paid a little bit more than market average, but to get someone who really fits into the philosophy of the business as a whole and someone that has an addiction and a passion for her own job. . .

Andrew: She’s passionate and addicted about being your admin? How do you get somebody to be that into being your administrative assistant?

Adii: That’s the thing. Initially, I couldn’t understand that as well, because I think the general perception is that someone who’s filling an admin position in the business must be ambitious enough to spawn that because that’s just the way it should be. I’ve just learned, and this is things that she’s told me, is that she is great at what she does. There’s no reason for her not to be an integral part of the business by just doing the admin stuff. I’m saying just doing admin stuff, because again, that’s the perception. Admin stuff, it’s not as important as marketing or surging or whatever the other things are, but I’ve had to learn that there are people like them out there, who are happy to [unintelligible] when they will actually see a name [unintelligible].

Andrew: All right. Passion. How do you find your passion?

Adii: [sighs]

Andrew: [laughs]

Adii: That’s a difficult thing. I think my biggest passion in life is challenge.

Andrew: It’s what?

Adii: It’s challengement. I’ve got this thing about being challenged. If someone tells me that I can’t do something, I’d be much more motivated and passionate about proving them wrong. I think a challenge for me in life is, one day, when my life comes to an end, to be able to look back on it and be really happy about what I did. That’s where the passion comes from. It means dreams or self-fulfillment in the end.

Andrew: A while back, I found old blog posts of yours. I can’t even find them anymore, but I found them at the time on and I started reading the stuff. This was before you had any real traction. I’d see posts like, “I’m going to go and build something tomorrow. It’s going to be fantastic.” Then I’d skip a few posts forward and I guess that first idea didn’t really work and there’d be another post like, “Tomorrow’s really going to be the day.” What were those periods like? What were you trying to do? What were those periods like?

Adii: It’s tough. To be honest, when you start up and you try a few different smaller projects and you try to extend youself, especially as a youngster, and they don’t work out or the execution just isn’t effective as [unintelligible] was, it’s tough. I prefer to learn the hard way that. . .

Andrew: We might have just lost. . . Sorry we lost the connection for a moment there. You said you had to learn the hard way what?

Adii: The hard way deciding if you have [unintelligible] great idea. When you apply that this isn’t a great idea, you got a new one for the next one and [unintelligible]. Hard to just note that your plan just didn’t work out.

Andrew: Give me an example. Do you have one example of an idea that you tried that you thought, “Man, this is going to be a big hit in the world yond.” Do you have an example of a story like that?

Adii: Yeah. I’ve got this funny little story from my ‘Bosch days when I was naive and I was studying and I was just trying to make a bit of money and have a bit of fun on the side. I tried to mix the modeling agencies with students.

Andrew: You tried to launch a modeling agency?

Adii: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Adii: A modeling agency. It was very tongue-in-cheek and just trying to get into that girl-next-door vibe. Kind of portrayed to all this, not very sex symbol, not very glamorous, just the girl-next door. The girl that you were studying with sitting in [??]. That probably lasted about a year before I just had to slow it down because instead of making me money, it just dragged my fund. It almost made me fail my third year.

Andrew: Why do you think it failed?

Adii: I think probably because the market wasn’t there. Secondly, because I didn’t know back then what I know now in terms of online marketing and marketing in general.

Andrew: Yeah. What would you do differently if you were launching it today considering how much you know?

Adii: Probably in terms of market knowledge, distribution channels are a lot more advanced today. In terms of getting the business or the project out there, that would’ve been much, much easier and much more cost efficient. Back then, Facebook was just getting started, for example, so that was something that I could tap into. A lot more social media stuff, specifically that I would’ve probably tried to do. Now that we’ve made the [unintelligible].

Andrew: Another section of the book talks about vision. How’d you come up with your vision for the business?

Adii: Most of the stuff that I started have been visioned. Really starts from personal moves and personal requirements. In terms of, even before we become caught on business decision or business strategy, it’s stuff that I want to see as a human being, as an individual, as a friend, husband, [unintelligible], and as a father. Those are very personal, very intimate things. [unintelligible] it’s putting more in a plan to the things that I hope to achieve during my life.

Andrew: Let’s see what else I wanted to talk to you about. Finding the right people. Since you’re putting your stuff out there and you’re asking for feedback, you said that’s one of the reasons why you found your two co-workers. Do you also find some nudnicks along the way and how do you weed them out?

Adii: Do you find some what along the way?

Andrew: Oh, nudnicks. I guess it’s more of a New York word than it is a South African word. Just people who are there to waste your time.

Adii: We haven’t. For example, none of the projects that I’ve worked on have been advertised about hiring or adding to the team, so the whole purpose of actively growing the team has been very closed. It’s been on recommendations. I won’t say that I’ve been burned by someone that’s wasting my time.

Andrew: Okay. Let’s talk about how to do this all in practice. You’ve got a section of the book where you go into details of what people can do to brand themselves. You say one of the first things they need to do is come up with a name like Adii. Come up with a clear name that they can have everywhere. How’d you come up with your name? Is it just a common nickname in South Africa?

Adii: No. It isn’t a common nickname. It actually came from high school where a bunch of my rugby mates started calling me Adii and I just decided that’s a much easier name between my birth name, which is Afrikaans, which is my mother language. That wasn’t something that I could use online and be able to give some kind of traction in terms of a brand. It was just a nickname, but I latched onto it. It’s English enough for me and catchy enough for me.

Andrew: Okay. Once you get it, you want to get it on every network that you can. You want to see if you can get the domain so that you have your own name as the domain. You say you also need to blog and write. Everyone says you need to blog and write, but, man, it takes forever. Doesn’t it?

Adii: Yeah. I’m probably a little bit of a hypocrite in regards to that. I really do have a [unintelligible], you could say, with blogging and I go through patches where I enjoy blogging immensely and then I go through the dry patches where I have nothing to say and I can’t blog. They’re really hard. I think instead of the blogging, it’s at least about writing and writing significant pieces that are all about interacting. It’s totally possible to interact on someone else’s blog just by comments. That would probably fall into the exact same, or could fall into the exact same exercise, which is publishing and [unintelligible] that is of value. It also represents you as an individual.

Andrew: Someone in the audience is saying can’t you just hire someone to do it for you?

Adii: No, never. Hiring someone to speak on your behalf is, in my opinion, firstly, a douche move. I think no one else can say what you need to say in your unique voice. As an individual, the only person that has that unique voice is yourself. That’s [unintelligible] that object, unfortunately.

Andrew: One of things I notice that you sometimes do on your blog is just excerpt from other people’s blogs. You’ll highlight it, you’ll hit that “Press This” button that WordPress gives you, and you’ll publish. How’s that been? How effective is that?

Adii: Honestly, I don’t know. That’s probably because I’m, again, at a bit of a crossroad in terms of what I should be doing blogging wise. I think there’s still value in that. I enjoy searching people with views [unintelligible] type blogging or publishing. It’s the [unintelligible] stuff that they find of value. I think they can add little bits of value in bite-sized chunks. It’s easier to digest. I think there is value in that. If you compare that to [unintelligible] a guy like [unintelligible], or a good friend of mine, Spencer Fry, really, that’s the kind of blogging that you want to do more often, because that obviously is of more value.

Andrew: Longer piece, original content, have it be your message, your ideas out there. Okay.

Adii: Yeah. Longer the page, more value.

Andrew: Okay. Also, in the “put this into practice” section, you talk about befriending rockstars. What I found is that the people who. . . I’m sorry?

Adii: Sorry, you’ve just broken up there.

Andrew: Oh, I was saying that you also talk about befriending Rockstars. What I found is that the people who really have made a name for themselves in this space are hard to get a hold of because they’re being flooding with comments on their blogs, with tweets directed at them on Twitter, with people writing on their wall on Facebook, and God knows, with people drowning them in email. How do you get their attention and how do you build those relationships that you talked about in your book?

Adii: That’s incredibly hard. I think, again, it probably comes down to persistence. Not taking no for an answer and always being respectful but keep knocking on the door. One day, I find that I’m [unintelligible] that just at a random moment, it all opens because of that persistence and because [unintelligible]. I understand that someone gets hundreds of thousands of emails of day. It’s my email because my email is obviously important. You got to take that chance, basically, of making that connection. Once you have a connection, make sure that you add enough value that you keep that connection opened.

Andrew: Do you have an example of that? Of somebody who you were able to befriend online, build a relationship with, someone who’s high profile?

Adii: I think recently, the Tumblr guys would probably be a good example. From within meeting, we probably tried to make a connection for about three or four months and I was just responsible for making that connection.

Andrew: It took you three or four months to build a connection with them?

Adii: I’m sorry?

Andrew: Wow. I’m just surprised that it took you that long. You guys create themes for platforms like WordPress. Tumblr was a new platform that was trying to, I guess, take market share away from WordPress and make blogging easier. I would think that they would want you to create themes for their platform, that they would want you to reach out to them. You’re saying it took a few month for you to do that. How’d you do it?

Adii: Probably three or four emails to John, who’s the CEO there, who I’ve met in the meantime when I was over there. Just tweeting to the official Twitter address. As I said, eventually made the connection. From my side, while it was great enough getting a response, I could understand. These guys were building a new platform that was growing at immense rates. Receiving an email from someone called Adii from South Africa, regardless of me being co-founder of WooThemes, that’s probably just not something that’s on their radar or top priority, at least.

Andrew: All right. It took you a few months. Once you got to them, were you able to make a deal with them?

Adii: Yeah, that’s the thing. We’ve got the partnership going now. I’ve met the guys. I’ve been to their offices personally. Now it’s an open relationship. When I said a minute or so ago, there was enough value when that connection was open to allow the connection to stay open.

Andrew: All right. You also say in this how to put into practice your ideas. In that section, you say that you need to be reachable. Something interesting happened to me and you a while back. A couple weeks ago, my wife bought a few themes from your site. I asked her to get a kind of theme for me, she ended up getting the wrong theme. I emailed your tech support and I said, “Can I switch this out?” The guy who emails me back is you, which made me wonder, how much time are you spending on. . . You’re blogging, you’re available to us on Twitter, you’re also answering your tech support issues, your customer service issues, how do you manage all of that? You tell us to be reachable. I don’t even know how you do it, how you’re so reachable.

Adii: I think you just have to put in the hours. There’s no way to be reachable unless you put in the hours, which truly means, as well, that all the consequences of others. On some days, I’m more reachable than other days. If I’ve got a meeting or I’ve got to do this or that, then I’m not as reachable. Again, I think there’s this passion to be reachable to anyone even if that takes time. I think because I’ve been there, been down or been young where I didn’t have a reputation, it was hard for me to reach out to some people that I had huge respect for. I want to avoid being that exact same thing to other people that have respect for me at this stage.

Andrew: How do you do it? Give us some advice on how to be reachable without going nuts.

Adii: I spend a lot of time on email and I do respond to every single email that I do get. I’m sure most people that are listening in on this saw Kevin Rose’s email last week, not email, sorry, blog post about emailing last week where he simply suggested that due to the amount of email that he does get, he simply doesn’t get to. . . He made the active decision not to answer all emails. While I can understand that, and while I’ve never been in the situation that he’s in, because I don’t receive thousands of emails, that’s just something that I’d never do. I just commit the time first thing in the morning and last thing before I go home for the day is spent doing emails, spent connecting with people.

Andrew: You also say that people need to have a visual identity. What does that mean?

Adii: I think, here’s the thing, the Internet and all of the different communication methods that have started from that, isn’t very natural at all. People still love being human with regards to the attraction. Having a visualization, you’re speaking to someone that can actually see your face online is just different, whether it be via photo or video, that’s what you want to do. I’d guess that’s the very reason that you do video interviews is to simply humanize a person over and beyond a title or reputation. Videos, photos just show a humanizing person.

Andrew: You have a consistent set of photos that I see online. In fact, when I look at the themes on, I sometimes will see your picture in the demo versions of the themes and I identify it right away because I see the same ones over and over. How much thought did you put into that? Did you go out and have a professional photographer take pictures? Did you do any kind of A/B test to see what works? I know it sounds ridiculous to do an A/B test on your person picture, but I’ll tell you, I did that. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Adii: [laughs] How did that work out for you?

Andrew: You know what I did? I put up a couple, I think it was maybe five pictures, on, where people can be brutal, including one where I was on some airplane. This was a while back. It looked really cool because it was a private airplane. Man, that one got rejected and was laughed at. There was one that was just basic and plain and I think it got an eight. As soon as it got an 8 or 8.2, I quickly took it off and took a screenshot to show anyone at the time that I was over an 8 on HotorNot. It gave me some insight. I said, “All right. I’m not going to use the douchey picture. I will go with the one people are attracted to that got a better score.” [laughs]

Adii: That makes sense. Sorry?

Andrew: Sorry. I was just laughing. How did you get your pictures? Did you put in as much thought into your pictures as I did into mine?

Adii: Not as much. Most of the pics that I use online these days were taken by a professional photographer. Purely because I needed high-res pics for posts and related purposes. That is something that I did invest money on. Beyond that, my brief to the photographer, who is a friend as well, so she knew me as a friend first and foremost, was just trying to capture me as an individual. There wasn’t a specific brief in terms of try to make me look smart, or try to make me look like an entrepreneur. It was just a case of making me look like. . . That has always been my only aim in regards to that. No, beyond that, I won’t say it was a massive strategy or a lot of work that went into that visualization.

Andrew: All right. We talked at the beginning of the interview about how you run WooThemes, which you co-founded. You brought up Rockstar Foundation, the foundation that you founded. I see in your book you also founded Radiiate. How do you manage it all? How do you have so many projects out there when you’re trying to be addicted to your work?

Adii: I think that the only way to do that is having an absolutely amazing team that is willing to back. . .

Andrew: Your guys. . . Oh, there we go. Sorry I thought we lost the connection. Go ahead.

Adii: One of those things that. . . Okay. Just the value of having a totally amazing team. Now having friends and contacts that are willing to help out and people I can trust to help get stuff of the ground. That is really the only way of getting to everything. It gets to a stage where I sometimes need to make the call of I can simply not be as involved with some as ideally I’d like to be, but there’s still the drive to be as involved as possible.

Andrew: Your co-founders will take up the slack or do you have somebody else who will continue working when you’re taking a little bit of time off or working on another project?

Adii: I think the great thing, in regards to WooThemes at least, is that we pick up the slack for each other. If it’s a personal time or whether it’s just a bit of R&R, or whatnot, we fill in for each other. I think that’s one of the main reasons, well, not main reasons, but one of the reasons at least, why WooThemes has been so successful, because we’ve been able to fall [unintelligible] each other and our skillsets are very closely matched at least. We all have that WooThemes personality and the WooThemes attitude to doing business was a match. We can even fill in for each other.

Andrew: Are you guys equal partners on the business?

Adii: Yeah, we are actually.

Andrew: You are. Hey, apart from the book, I was curious of what you thought of my interview with Chris Pearson and Matt Mullenweg. Remember when they came on here? Did you catch that interview? It’s okay if you didn’t.

Adii: Yeah. No, actually, I watched the whole thing. I didn’t watch it live, I caught it the next morning.

Andrew: That was where they were talking about a GPL license for Thesis where Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, was upset that Chris, the founder of Thesis Theme, wouldn’t use the GPL license. It caused all kinds of problems. What did you think of that? You guys went GPL right?

Adii: Yeah. We’ve been GPL for I think more than a year and a half now, approaching two years, if I remember correctly.

Andrew: How did it impact your business?

Adii: Yeah, we went GPL. I think that by the whole thing, there were quite a few people that decided to try us out, the people that were running Thesis. We did get emails from people saying they didn’t want to get involved in that whole discussion at all and they didn’t want to be associated with it at all so they’d rather not use Thesis. Overall, I think we gained a handful of users.

Andrew: You’re saying you gained a handful of users because people didn’t want to use a theme that didn’t have the right license?

Adii: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay. So you gained from that controversy. I can see that. What about when you guys went GPL? Did it reduce your business? Did having that license affect how many sales you made?

Adii: No, not at all. I think back then, afterwards [unintelligible] decision, we wanted to align ourselves with what was, I’d say, ethical probably because the discussion, up until that point, was almost a distraction. Just in terms of allowing us to focus going GPL was great because we didn’t have to take part in heat of discussions about what is right and what is wrong. Ultimately, this is hindsight because we could not know that when we made the decision, but it’s not influenced the business, at least not significantly, be that negative or positive. I wouldn’t say that there’s any direct consequence of us being GPL.

Andrew: I see. At the time, you were taking a big risk and you’re saying you took that risk because there was so much pressure on you to go GPL. What kind of pressure?

Adii: Firstly, I wouldn’t necessarily say we took a risk. I think we just made a decision. We had the option of being a split license, the same split license that Thesis is now under and similarly the WordPress themes on Envox[?] is also split license. Again, we just made the decision because we felt it was easier to be fully compliant and basically align ourselves with [unintelligible], again this is something Matt mentions. Align ourselves with [unintelligible] with WordPress was great and then after that, just focus on building our business and putting out amazing products. That’s also on top of WordPress.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Any final words? How about. . .

Adii: No, I think. . . Sorry.

Andrew: No, sorry. Hey, this phone call is really tough. You have any other issues with being in South Africa? This seems like an obstacle to being outside the U.S. and to being in South Africa, no?

Adii: No, not at all. I think, again, you mentioned a significance of WooThemes when we started out this interview and if you consider that WooThemes and a big part of the team is based here, so no, absolutely no obstacles to being here. Internet isn’t always great. Imagine you found out with the video earlier and the phone call now. Beyond that, we make things work and keep a smile on our faces.

Andrew: What about benefits? Are there any benefits to being outside the U.S., to being in South Africa specifically?

Adii: If you’ve seen our beaches and seen our amazing nature scenes, that’s one of the biggest reasons for living in Cape Town specifically.

Andrew: I see that. How does being in Cape Town help you get all those great features? How does it make you better?

Adii: It makes me happier. Me being happier, that makes me better.

Andrew: Why does it make you happier to be there?

Adii: The environment. Honestly, in the last couple of months, I’ve traveled quite a bit and there’s actually no other place that I can imagine myself living at this stage. Maybe it’s me being naive, but I think me being South African, you become so used to everything around us, the suitable country, all the amazing people, [unintelligible] have a culture, all those things. While we’ve had our problems in being a developing country, there’s just so many positives that create that inner happiness and being able to proudly say, “I’m a South African.”

Andrew: Give me an example. I’ll tell you why I’m asking today. Later this week, I’m going to be going to a place that’s even more isolated than South Africa. I’m going to be going to Washington D.C. for a couple of months. To me, that sounds like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Right? When was there an Internet company that was launched in Washington D.C.? When’d you hear of somebody saying, “Oh, that’s going to be fun. I’m going to Washington D.C. and do whatever.” Is there a benefit? I’m feel like the benefit to me of going to a place like Washington D.C. or even being here in Buenos Aires is that it gives me focus. You don’t get people to interrupt you in the middle of the day. You don’t get people, who in the middle of the day, want to. . . You don’t have conferences every day coming through your city that are distracting or you’re going to insult people by not going to them. Anything like that?

Adii: I tend to do that. I think, again, it’s being the underdog and not being [unintelligible] and still being able to build a big online business. I totally get that and I totally agree with that as well.

Andrew: All right. There you go. If you want to be isolated, go to South Africa or go to Washington D.C. where you’ll be even more isolated. Somebody in the audience came up with one Internet company that was founded in Washington D.C. I don’t even know if this is true but it’s a good one. It’s There you go.

Adii: Oh, wow.

Andrew: The book is “Rockstar Business.” The website where people can find teaser material and preorder, or order if they’re listening to this after it launched, is The company is WooThemes. If you go to WooThemes, send an email, and you’ll see that it’s going to go directly to the CEO. See what happens. See how quickly the guy responds. Did you just respond quickly to me or is that part of your policy, you guys always respond within a day?

Adii: Yeah, we don’t always know, but yeah we definitely try to check enough mail and make sure nobody gets a response that’s later than 12 hours.

Andrew: Later than 12 hours. Wow. All right. There you go. Email Adii and within 12 hours, you’ll get a response. Email me, and I promise within 12 days, I will get to it. I am not nearly as quick as you are, Adii.

Adii: [laughs]

Andrew: But I’ll work on it. Thank you everyone for watching. Adii, thanks for coming back here and doing an interview. I hope I’ll get to South Africa at some point soon and we’ll get to sit down in person and have a conversation.

Adii: Listen, sounds good, Andrew. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Cool, buddy. Great to talk to you again. Bye.

17 thoughts on “The Founder Of WooThemes On Making Yourself Into A Brand – with Adii Rockstar

  1. Mark Harrison says:

    I have said this before on Mixergy and I will say it again, the guys at Woo Themes are fantastic, not just for their themes which are pretty good but for their support function in the knowledge base and forums. It really is first class customer service.
    If you want a great theme and you absolutely need help, support and guidance in getting it to work with your project, choose Woo themes everytime.

  2. PirateX says:

    You know Andrew, you’re support is also quick, you had reply to my email in 10 hours. So don’t be so hard on yourself.

    keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks. It’s not easy. But I try.

  4. I had that experience too.

    My wife bought me the wrong theme because I didn’t explain what I wanted. So
    I emailed WooThemes and they took care of it right away. It was 100% my
    fault and they still came through for me.

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