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Finally, who’s the lawyer that tech startups trust? And I should also say
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Here’s the program.
Andrew: Hey everyone, my name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com,
home of the ambitious upstart and the place you come to hear successful
entrepreneurs tell the story of how they got that way. So how do you build
a profitable business selling themes? Joining me today is Andy Miller. He
is the founder of RocketTheme, one of the leading template providers for
Joomla, WordPress, and other web platforms. Andy was a core developer for
Mambo CMS, as well as one of the co-founders of Joomla. Andy, welcome to
Andy Miller: Thank you very much.
Andrew: You’re site sells themes on a membership basis. How many members do
Andy: We currently have about 45,000 active members.
Andrew: 45,000 active members?
Andy: Spread out between our various clubs, yes.
Andrew: Okay. And the club would one for Joomla, one for WordPress, etc.?
Andy: Right. We also have developer level clubs. I kind of lump those in
there too, because it’s pretty much the same access. You just have a few
more privileges and features.
Andrew: Okay. What size revenues are you guys doing?
Andy: Good. More than $2 million a year.
Andrew: All right. As I said in the intro, it’s a profitable business. All
Andy: Yes, all bootstrapped. There was no startup funding. It kind of just
grew from a one-man operation. I was doing everything myself — the
development, the design, the support, the billing, everything. And then
slowly we grew and added more people as I needed them, but I’m pretty
cautious about adding people, so it’s still a pretty small company.
Andrew: All right. This is an inspiring story. My goal for this interview
is to go back to what you did in order to launch the business, and how you
grew it to get it here. Just so my audience understands the RocketTheme
business, let’s use an example. Let’s assume someone in my audience uses
WordPress. I use WordPress to publish my site. Many people in my audience
are WordPress users. How would they, and why would they be your customers?
Andy: I think one of the differences that we offer, compared to a lot of
template providers, is we offer a subscription based model. What that means
is you pay a certain amount to join our club for a certain term. During
that term you have access to all of our templates, and themes for that
particular platform that you joined. And you also have access to our
forums. Our forums our probably our biggest asset as a new member.
Specifically if you are a new user, and you’re new to using WordPress for
example, our forums are just this hive of activity. All kinds of questions
are asked and answered there. We have a pretty awesome team of moderators
that spend a lot of their time scouring the forums, and trying to answer
posts. A lot of the time, the posts are not related to the actual theme.
It’s usually just questions about modifying it. So it’s web development
skills that people don’t have that we provide help with.
That’s the difference. It’s not so much you go and pick a theme, you
install it, follow some instructions and you’re on your own. This is a
community of developers. And that’s probably our biggest selling point, and
the main differentiator from a lot of more standard template providers.
That’s one thing really, really focus on: our forums. We have 600,000 posts
Andrew: Okay. So if I go and install WordPress for the very first time, I get
the standard themes that come with WordPress, which are looking better and
better, but they’re still not unique or especially interesting. I might go
to RocketTheme.com, pick out not just one theme, but have access to
multiple themes. Select the one that I want to launch with on my website. I
get it. I have the forums to go and ask people for feedback. I decide the
next day that I don’t like the theme. I can come back in under the same
membership, pick a different theme, and a different theme for every day of
the week until I finally find the one that I love.
Andy: Right. And we release themes monthly. Every month during your
membership, you’ll have access to the new theme that comes out. Quite
often, we get people complaining because they just got their site ready,
and the new theme comes out, and then they want to switch to it. So they
have to go through the process of reconfiguring their content to fit the
new theme. Yeah so, it’s nice that you can change your mind, and you’re not
locked in to what you thought you wanted.
Andrew: All right. I wrote down a note, also, to find out how the
membership started, and why you when membership instead of another format.
But let’s learn it as we learn and hear your story. What were you doing just
before you launched the business. Which I think had a different name,
Andy: It’s had three names actually. Initially, I was doing some freelance
work for Mambo templates. So I was offering up my services to do freelance
templates, and I had this name of MamboDev. And that was becoming a lot of
work. I was doing it in my after-hours time, because I had a full time job.
So in the evenings, I was doing these templates for clients. It was just a
lot of work. And there wasn’t much reuse, because every single time, I had
to come up with a fresh design, it was a fresh layout. Code up the
template, provide it to the client, and make the modifications as needed.
Sometimes even help set up content, and that kind of stuff.
I was just tired of it. It was fun, but it was just a lot of work. So I
decided that I wanted to release designs of my own, that I came up with,
because clients often had strange ideas. So I decided that this club kind
of model might work, and . . .
Andrew: I’m sorry. I want to take it really slow, and go through it in the
next 40 or so minutes that we have together. So you were designing themes
for Mambo, which is a content management system. It’s a way of publishing
content online. You were doing one-off. How were you finding your clients?
Andy: I think they mostly found me. I was active on the Mambo forums at the
time: referrals from friends and people that I knew from the Mambo
community. It wasn’t hard to find work. It was non-stop. I was turning away
work. I was also a part of the Mambo core team. I’m not sure, I can’t
remember exactly. I started some freelance work, but when I was a part of
the Mambo core team, the visibility was increased, and I was more active on
the forums. People kind of sought me out more.
So that’s probably when it got a little bit crazy, because I was doing the
Mambo core template at the time, and modifying the administrator template
for Mambo, updating it.
Andrew: Okay. And so, you’re getting tired of doing all of these themes, and
selling them one-off, on at a time. I read that you had an agreement with
your customers at one point that allowed you to resell their themes. What
made you decide to do that?
Andy: That wasn’t normal. It was just in a couple of cases when I was doing
some themes, and it was particularly cheap. I was doing kind of a favor
almost. So I was like, “If I’m going to do this for this price, can I use
this theme for somebody else? Modify it, but use it as a basis?” That was
when I was starting to get frustrated with the amount of work each theme
was producing. But that certainly wasn’t the norm. If I was doing a theme
for a charity or something, then obviously that’s kind of when that
situation would come up.
Andrew: Okay. Before we continue, I’m so curious, what is it about themes
that drew you in?
Andy: I don’t know. I’ve been doing web development since the start of the
Web. And I’ve always kind of followed the trends, be very on top of the new
technologies, and so forth. I was using PostNuke back in the day. I don’t
how long ago that was, but it was a long time ago. I was very frustrated
with the fact that PostNuke always looked like PostNuke. There was this
three column layout. You were very limited with what you could do with it.
And I was theming it myself, for my own personal website, which was nothing
really, just a kind of a blog back then..
So I was theming PostNuke, I’ve done a few themes, and a couple were quite
popular. And I was just frustrated with PostNuke, because it was not very
well designed on the back-end. Everything was very different. Every plug-in
that you applied was just so random on how it worked, and how it looked. I
just randomly stumbled across Mambo, and I was really impressed with the
[??] straight away, because it was leagues ahead of everything else at the
So I started looking at what it would take to theme it, to move my own
personal site to it. I found that it was really easy to theme, and started
doing it that way. I just got more involved in the Mambo community, and
asking theme questions, and so forth. And I became a bit of an expert at
theming it, I guess. And then there was a Mambo competition to provide
designs to the Mambo core template. I submitted one, and I think it came in
second. I then contacted the Mambo core team, and asked if they wanted any
help, because I was willing to help them with their administrator a little
bit, clean it up, and so forth. So that’s kind of how it started.
Andrew: Okay. So how did you transition from creating one-off themes to
creating themes that you could sell multiple times?
Andy: Well like I was alluding to before, I was getting very tired of this
model of reproducing everything every month. I had just seen something else
similar, that someone was doing with a subscription model, and I thought it
would apply really well to my themes. And I really like the idea of only
having to produce one template per month. It would be the design that I
wanted it to be, and if people wanted to use it, then they could pay to use
I created three really simple themes. Looking back they just seemed
ridiculously simple. So with three themes, I started up this kind of
MamboDev template club, just to earn a little bit of extra cash, because I
had a well paying full time job, and I enjoyed it. But I was just not
satisfied coming home, and always felt like I needed to do something else.
I kind of started this off as a side-project, not really expecting it to
grow into what it’s grown into.
Things just slowly grew, and before I knew it, I had quite a few members,
and they were needing help. I started up a forum to provide help, but I was
struggling doing everything: my regular job, doing the templates,
supporting in the forum. So we just slowly added some people. I hired
somebody to help me with the development, then I hired some moderators to
help me with the forum. At first it started off as a volunteer thing. There
were some people on our forum that were just really helpful, and I said,
“Hey, do you mind having like an official title?” And we formed the mod-
squad which is our group of moderators. They started out on a volunteer
basis, and then later on, I hired them as a part-time…
Andrew: OK. How did you get the first customers for the themes you were
Andy: I really didn’t advertise it to start with. I think I might have
mentioned it on the Mambo forums. There were people that were visiting my
site for the freelance work. That’s always been one of those things that
I’m not sure really how it happened, how it became popular, because at the
start, I didn’t really advertise it that much. There were no big sources of
Joomla news. There were a few portals that were not hugely popular. There
wasn’t a definitive one. I really don’t know how it took off.
As it started to grow a little bit, then I started advertising on Google.
That has remained my major source of publicity, I suppose, but also the
other thing is just showing up well in search results. For the first few
years, I didn’t show up well at all. And that always really confused me:
why we weren’t showing up that well, because we were quite popular, and the
whole SEO thing was coming along. Yet, we still had people joining
everyday. So I would inquire, “How did you find us?” And it was always
just, “From a friend, or this website.” It wasn’t stuff that I had gone and
actively pursued. It was just kind of word of mouth almost. Just spreading
The other thing was, it probably did help that I was a member of the Mambo
core team at the time, and then of the Joomla team. So my name was quite
well known. I was quite active in going to conferences, and things like
that. So, it just kind of grew naturally.
Andrew: Okay. So first it was Mambo themes that you were selling?
Andrew: And you said that you started off with a membership right from the
Andrew: Why did you go membership, and not sell one at a time?
Andy: I really thought that right from the start, I was trying to offer a
lot for the money. People ask me this all the time. “Why are you’re themes
so cheap? Why do you offer this subscription based, where we can download
anything we want?” And it was always at the start that we didn’t have too
many themes, and so we’ll just give you the whole lot for one price. As
we’ve grown, and now we have over 100 themes for Joomla, for example. It’s
always been that it’s traditional that we’ve done it this way. We just want
to give our members as much value for their money as possible.
We put our prices up a little bit over the years. It used to be $50 for 6
months access, and $75 for the year. I think now it’s $50 for 2 months
access, and $90 for a year. Obviously, we’re trying to push people towards
the $90 value. But it was just always about providing as much as we could
to the users, and there were some benefits on the side. It did provide us
the ability to build up this community of users. It’s not just products,
and people purchasing those products, going away and us never seeing them
again. It’s like when you join, you become a part of this RocketTheme
It really is a fun place to be. We get people who come on our forums
everyday, and even if they don’t have a template question, we have some not
template forums just for chit-chatting. Water-cooler type stuff. We have
some threads about, “What car do you drive?” and stuff like that. “What’s
you’re workspace like?” It’s just a community of like minded people. So
this whole subscription thing fit nicely into that. And also, there was the
fact that it’s kind of simple to create the actual site, because you just
pay this one price, and you have access to everything. We don’t have to
worry, “Well, if you purchase something else, will you have access to
So it was kind of a simplistic model to start out with that provided a lot
of value to the users and people seemed to like that. And quite frankly,
it’s worked, and I’ve not wanted to change it too much. Why change it if
it’s not broken. We just kind of stuck with it.
Andrew: A lot of people that I had interviewed about membership sites have
said that one of their reasons for doing it is to have predictable revenue.
If you charge someone a one time fee, and they disappear, you have to go
and fight to get another customer to come back next month, or to get that
customer to return. With membership, is that one of the benefits, and is
that one of the reasons you did it?
Andy: It wasn’t one of the original reasons. We had never done self
renewing subscriptions, like you join and it’s going to charge you until
you cancel. You basically join for that period. We sent you a notification
when you’re about to expire, and encourage you to renew. But we don’t force
you to renew. We don’t automatically renew you. I’ve always hated those
kind of systems for myself on other third party sites. So I didn’t want to
replicate that. We don’t get that automatic hook that some subscription
sites would do by kind of having this renewal process: that unless you
remember to cancel, you keep getting charged.
It’s not like that. The revenue has been somewhat predictable. I wasn’t
sure if it would be to start with. You see the sales, and don’t know what
it’s going to be like tomorrow. But it’s been pretty predictable over the
years. It’s slowly grown, continuously. That wasn’t an intention, but it’s
a nice side effect.
Andrew: So people have to come back and sign up, and they are doing it?
They are coming back. What’s the churn? What’s the percentage of people
that drop off month-to-month?
Andy: Obviously, it varies quite a bit. But over the entire period of
RocketTheme, we’ve had about 80,000 members, and we have 45,000 active
members now. I don’t have the statistics of how many renew and how many
don’t, but just on those numbers, and with the increase in sales over the
years, you can come up with a metric for that. It’s probably I would guess,
about a third who renew.
Andrew: A third who renew? All right. At what point did you start working
Andy: Well, I don’t know if you know the history of Joomla, but there was a
core team that developed in Mambo. It’s a GPL, Open Source content
management system. We had some concerns with the management of the project,
by the company that held the rights to it at the time. So basically, the
entire Mambo core team picked up and started Joomla. So Joomla, in its
first version was the current version of Mambo rebranded to Joomla.
Obviously since that point, we’ve made quite a few advancements, and it’s
nothing like Mambo was, at this point. Even in Joomla 1.5, there was a
complete revamp. There was brand new framework and everything. And 1.6 is
quite a bit different.
But I was a member of the core team through the 1.5 release, and a little
bit afterwards. And just too much work, internal politics, things like
that, I just decided to leave and focus on full time RocketTheme.
Andrew: Okay. And RocketTheme, for a long time, was known as a Joomla theme
designer. What is it about Joomla themes that’s so exciting and so
different from WordPress, or any other platform?
Andy: I don’t know that it’s way different from the other platforms. I just
think there was a bit of an arms race when it comes to Joomla template
design. I think we were a part of that, but there were lot s of Joomla
template providers springing up, especially when Joomla kicked off. Then
there was just lots of competition. And that competition meant that every
month, we were trying to one-up everyone else on features and
functionality. And before you knew it, we looked down, and Joomla templates
were just way beyond everything else around.
That was probably a few years ago. WordPress and Drupal are
probably . . . WordPress especially is catching up. Drupal is catching up
slowly with the features and functionality that Joomla templates had. The
one nice thing about a Joomla template is that, you only have to have one
PHP file for the template itself. So when things are rendered, just that
one file runs. It either inserts modules that are published for that page,
or not. That meant theming it was relatively simple. You just had to create
this one page, and then do all the associated CSS for it, compared to
WordPress which is multiple files for each type of page.
Andrew: And for each element on the page.
Andy: Right. So theoretically it was less work, but really it’s not because
that one page for our Joomla becomes much more complicated. You have to
allow for all these collapsing blocks and stuff. So I don’t think it was
just anything in particular about Joomla, although Joomla did have some
things that some of the other platforms didn’t have at the time, like
overrides, which really help you modify something that you needed to.
I just think it was one of those things that was the right circumstances at
the right time. With all these template providers for Joomla springing up,
seeing all the success of another template provider was inspirational to
get into the game. Even today, the Joomla template community is huge.
WordPress is also huge, but it’s a different kind of a market, I think.
Andrew: Okay. At what point did you discover Google Ads?
Andy: Pretty early on. Probably when I was starting rockettheme.com and I
was concerned that the new name wouldn’t be well known. So I just thought I
would use Google Ads and pay for the keywords, Joomla templates. That again
was a bit of an arms race because everyone else was doing it too, so the
price kept going up, up, up. It was kind of crazy. But that was more to
just get our name RocketTheme out there, because it was new.
We were one of the first companies focusing on Joomla, but not have Joomla
in our name. So everyone was able to leverage the Joomla keyword in the
domain name, but I wanted to create a company that was not tied in to
Joomla specifically, with the vision that in the future I would branch out
into other platforms. And I’m glad that I did that now, but that was a bit
of a hindrance to us at the start, because no one knew that we did Joomla
templates, especially as our name is RocketTheme, And it was Joomla
templates that people were searching for. Se we did have an uphill SEO
battle to fight.
Andrew: What did you do for SEO?
Andy: We didn’t really do that much. Even today, we really don’t do that
much. We focus on kind of like the standard things. We focus on just having
a lot of good, relevant content. We try to optimize our site for speed.
Also the validation: to make sure our pages validate. We have our friendly
URLs, things like that, but really not that much. We just rely on our
traffic, people linking to us, and kind of just the standard practices.
Andrew: Beyond Google, what’s been effective marketing for you?
Andy: To be honest, up to this point, up to about 3 months ago, that was
really the only marketing that we ever did. There were a couple of sites
that were Joomla portals that we advertise on. And that was really it. Not
much at all, more word of mouth. Again, one of the big users that we have
are the developers. So we have development companies that subscribe to our
development plans, and they basically are providing services to their
clients using our templates, and modifying them. I think that kind of
spreads the word to those clients, because often they’re very open about
the fact that they use RocketTheme templates. It’s a comfort to their
clients that their site is being based on a template that has been
professionally created, has a lot of instances of it, so the bugs are
worked out. It’s got support from browsers and so forth. And then listed
So it’s just has kind of spread through our developers. I don’t really know
how much the Google AdWords have helped us. I have the conversion stuff
hooked in, and the conversions were always very low. I always thought that
they were wrong, but they maybe right. It might not be actually providing
us as much as I had originally thought. So in the past 3 months we’ve
started to work with a marketing team, to do other things to get the name
out there. So it’s more ads on other sites, design related sites.
Andrew: I see. What about this: what you and I are doing now. Is there any
active outreach to other sites like mine, or to bloggers, or to anyone to
get the word out in the community?
Andy: Yeah. I think we’re going to focus on doing more content for other
sites to do some write-ups about, maybe not specifically about RocketTheme,
but we have a GPL framework for a template development that we use for our
own internal template development, but it’s a GPL project. You’re free to
use it for your own templates. We also have that for WordPress. I always
see these theme framework roundups, and people don’t know about our
framework which I think is far superior. So we want to write up about it,
and show people what the benefits of it are, so people know.
Andrew: What about the affiliate program?
Andy: We have had an affiliate program for quite sometime. We’re moving to
a newer, more flexible affiliate program with some tiered percentages, and
conversion percentages. That’s been helpful for us for sure. We have some
very strong affiliates that provide a lot of sales for us, and we’re going
to focus a bit more on that.
Andrew: It hasn’t been a major driver yet?
Andy: It’s not a major, major driver, no, but I think it could be. I look
around at some of our competitors and I see that they’re strongly focused
on their affiliate programs. So we’re going to put some more attention on
that for sure.
Andrew: Who’s the first person you hired?
Andy: Kevin. He’s like my number 2. He was providing template variations in
the forum. So he was just a member. He was getting these templates that I
was releasing, and he was making variations to them: darker versions, and
so forth. He was putting those up on our forums for our members to use. So
then I just started to engage in him, and hire him as a contractor to do
some variations. I would do the original theme. I would hand it to him. He
would make some variations and would release it. This relationship just
grew, and I hired him on full time. And then he started to do more and
more, and now he’s our main template developer. He’s also . . .
Andrew: He’s been with you now for how many years?
Andy: It’s got to be five years.
Andrew: All right. And after Kevin, who was next?
That was a big piece that was needed when we starting to do this build up
full time, so he suggested that I contact Jamil. So he was probably our
Andrew: So let me start off with Keven. Kevin was a designer. He came in
and helped you design the themes. How was it to have somebody else’s eyes,
somebody else’s design go out to your audience?
Andy: It was weird, actually, to be honest. I had a very set feel, I
suppose. I’m not a designer by trade. I’m a developer,. I’m a programmer.
But at the same time, I’ve always had kind of an artistic side, and I’ve
always wanted to express that. So that’s were the whole template design
thing came from. I was just trying to let that come out. And so Kevin
started off not really designing. He was just modifying what I had done,
and then he kind of became the person who would take my design and turn
that into the templates.
That freed up time for me to work on other things. He designed a few
templates, but not too many. We hired a designer. We’ve had a few now. But
the designer was actually doing the designs. Kevin and I would work on the
actually templatization of it, not so much the actual design. Bit it was
weird to have someone else in the loop when we were working so long, so
hard, just to make everything by myself. I had a tough time handing off
some of my control, and I probably still have a tough time with that. I
kind of have to have my hands in everything.
Andrew: So how did you make the transition? I understand for me, even if I
have someone write on Mixergy, it feels a little odd. It’s my audience,
it’s something that I feel I know the direction on, but I do feel that I
need to pass on some work. How were you able to do it? I want to learn from
Andy: I’m probably not the best person to ask that question. I probably
still to this day have trouble. I have an awesome team now. We have
probably nine full-time people, and each one is an expert at what they do, so
I can hand that off. But I still feel like the mother hen. I’m still
watching over everything. They’re probably complaining that I’m always
dabbling in their work, and trying to find out what’s going on. I just
recognize the fact that I couldn’t do it by myself. I was approaching a
stage of burnout. There was just so much work going on. I was doing so
much. I was working 14 hours a day, and my wife was threatening to smash
the computer in, and stuff like that.
Kevin just kind of came along and just eased into the role. It wasn’t like,
“I’m going to hire you, and here’s the work you’re going to do.” It just
naturally progressed. I was giving him more, and more responsibility and
teaching him the way I like to do things. And over the years, he’s slowly
learned all the bits involved, and now he’s the expert. If there’s a
problem, I’ll probably go to him, rather that myself trying to solve it,
which is what I used to do. So it’s just kind of been this gradual
transition. And for most of our core guys it’s been like that. We give them
a little bit of work, a little bit, a little bit, and slowly they pick it
It’s not easy when we’re doing a theme. It’s harder to do a theme than a
custom solution for a client, because you’re basically creating something
that can be used in so many ways. It has to be very, very flexible because
every person wants their own skin on it, to modify it. So we constantly are
having to think how to allow the maximum level of flexibility,
customization, and those kinds of things. So it’s actually a lot of work.
As the themes have become more complicated, they’ve taken basically longer
and longer. It used to be when I first started, I would design a theme in
the day, and the next day I would code it up and release it. So 2 days. Now
it takes a team of 4 people 3 weeks to do one. And we have a lot of stuff
that we leverage month-to-month. We have a great framework that we build on
top of, but we just have so much functionality, that it’s a lot of work. We
have to allow for all the functionality that we say that we have in the
framework for each template to provide that.
Andrew: Like what? What kind of functionality? That was going to be my next
set of questions.
Andy: Well we have some sophisticated menu layouts that provide
functionality, like the mega-menus, the multiple column, multiple level
drop down stuff. There’s lots of styles we provide with toggling. You can
toggle different parts of that style on and off. Month-to-month, we’ll have
different sets of functionality. We support things like multiple blocks on
a page that you can configure into sizes and relationships. We use a grid
system, the 960 grid system. If you’ve got two or more blocks on your page,
you might want to have one block be one third of it, and the other block be
two thirds. So all that stuff is configurable, and it has to be adapted
each month to make sure that the design is flexible enough to adapt to it.
The framework that we have has tons of functionality. It has iPhone
support, so you have to make sure that you do the iPhone version. There’s
right to left support that flips the entire design so that you can do right
to left. We have a bunch of extensions that we use, so we have to make sure
we star those extensions, and then you could put those extensions into
different parts of the template. So in the header it could be one color, so
it has to work on that color with that background. And if could be in the
footer, or in the body. It just boggles how much each template involves
Andrew: Yeah. You think of templates as being just designs: as color and
placement. But they become so much more. They become like working software.
They have become working software on their own.
Andy: Yeah. The gantry framework that we have, which is our framework,
basically does a lot of that legwork, so we don’t have to code it every
time. But we still have to apply the design to the framework. That
framework is a very complicated piece of software, and it’s all custom
written. I don’t know what we did prior to that. It was very manual,
before. Now, there’s just panes for the layout. You can control all of
that. There’s stuff for the menu. You can configure all the animation and
traditions for the menu. Then there’s all kind of feature we throw in. It’s
a big thing. It’s complicated.
Andy: And it’s a lot of work, and . . .
Andrew: How did you know that that was next? That’s what I wanted to come
back and talk to you about. I understand hiring Kevin. Keven’s got a great
design eye. He’s now the person doing a lot of the design work, and still
Andy: It’s Jamil.
Andrew: Jamil, excuse me, I wrote it down wrong.
Andy: He’s Italian, so it’s . . .
Andrew: Ah. I could just shorten it to Jim.
Andrew: So Jamil. How did you know that that’s what you had to add? Was it
your customers that were telling you that we want these features? Was is
that your competitors were starting to do it, and you felt the need to do
it? Where did that come from?
Andy: Yeah. It’s a little bit of a combination. Somewhat it was the
competitors. We always try to stay ahead. To be honest, we were leading the
pack for quite a while with functionality and features. We were just trying
to improve on our own templates each month. “So we did that last month,
what can we do that’s new this month.” So it was that kind of a mentality,
and the same time we’re very Web centric people. We were constantly
browsing around the Web, and looking at what’s going on. What are the new
write one, that’s going to be written in such a ways that it will be
flexible enough to use.” The same with when the whole LightBox thing was
becoming really popular. We were having people asking for that, but we also
wanted it to hook into our own stuff, so we wrote our own RockBox, we
called it. Which was a LightBox solution that was themable. A lot of the
things we write are adaptations of what’s really new, or what people really
want, and at the same time we usually rewrite it in such a way that we can
theme it easier. A lot of times these off the shelf solutions, even if they
are Open Source projects, they’re not written to be themed particularly
well. So we often recreate those same kind of things, but in such a way
that we can rethreme them at our template level. We were just kind of
providing those kinds of features and functionality, so it would be easier
for our own uses.
Andrew: I want to learn more about how you did it. I’m wondering
specifically about the membership. What can you teach others who are going
to sell in a membership format about doing it well?
Andy: You really can’t put enough emphasis on the community. It’s more than
just providing a lot for a little, which is a big part of it. I really
found that the community has been the biggest part of our offering. The
templates do come out. We have lots of templates, lots of extensions, and
so forth, but the community is really what keeps it all running. So I would
say if you were looking to build a subscription based service, make sure
you don’t skimp on the community side.
If you use a forum, I can attest that that works pretty well. It’s a lot of
work. You have to have a lot of dedicated forum moderators. We get
thousands of posts a day, and we try to answer as many as we can a day.
Obviously we can’t answer everything within minutes, but our moderators are
really good. So it’s a lot of work.
There are some negative aspects to a subscription based site. I want to let
people know of those because we’ve kind of learned about those and we’ve
had to learn how to deal with it. One of those aspects is that, people
think that when they join with a membership plan, that every single release
has to be what they want. They just kind of feel entitled. They’re paying
for each template. It’s an educational thing, because you cant’ please
everybody, every single time with these kind of templates. Some people want
the really fancy ones. Some people want the more clean and business like
ones. And those people are in opposite camps. If you do the clean one, the
people that want the fancy ones say, “Well this isn’t rich enough. There’s
not enough stuff going on here. It’s too basic.” And then if you release
the basic ones, then obviously it the other way around. So you have to
learn how to deal with those kinds of situations, because they arise all
the time. That people don’t like this particular template. You just have to
educate them on how the club works. Like, “Don’t worry, next month we’re
going to do something different.”
We always try to mix it up, and have a divers portfolio of designs of
portfolio available. That could be specific to the template field, but it’s
not the same as if you were selling individual templates because people
just buy the ones they want. They don’t buy the ones they don’t like.
So it’s just . . .
Andrew: I can imagine. You sign up, then you start to think, “I like all
these other themes. The next one better be beautiful, better even than all
the past ones.”
Andy: Right. And then there’s the case that every month we try to do
something better, but you can’t always do that. We’re just mixing it up.
We’re trying different things. We’re trying things that are maybe new. This
past month, we did a one page design that’s popular maybe with MacOS X
apps. So you’ve got this really long page that has distinct sections in it,
and then the menu kind of jumps you to that section on that page. Actually
it will work fine with sub-pages too, but this was what we were focusing on
for the original design. And a lot of our members have never seen these
because perhaps they’re not really been on websites where this has been
popular. But this is a common and fairly new design style, and they just
don’t get it. They have no idea what this is for, were confused by it. Some
people just loved it.
It’s kind of one of those things where you have to take the good with the
bad. It is a bit demoralizing for the team when they work so hard, for so
many hours to release something, and we just a lot of negativity on the
forums because there are those members that just don’t like it.
Andrew: Is there a way for you to know ahead of time what people will like?
Like do you . . .
Andy: That we know.
Andy: We’ve been doing it for so long, that we know. We know if we do
something a little bit outside of the box, that we’re going to get a mixed
reaction. We know there are certain types of templates that everyone loves,
but we cant do those every month because they would all start looking the
Andy: It’s all you can do. We know what people like. We’ve been doing this
a long time. We can tell ahead of time what’s going to happen. One of the
things that we do is that we don’t prerelease anything. We don’t show
screen-shots. We don’t even tell people what the name is or the theme. And
combined with the community that we have, we kind of get this excitement,
this buzz that builds during the last few days before the release. That’s
kind of been one of the cool things that we have with RocketTheme, that I
don’t know if other clubs have. It is kind of exciting because people start
speculating, putting in what they hope it’s going to be. Sometimes they hit
the nail on the head. It’s uncanny. That’s exactly what we’re working on. I
want to say something, “Just hold on, you’re going to get it.”
But we don’t. We just keep it quiet, or we’ll post a one pixel screen-shot,
just to give them a little peak.
Andy: Stuff like that. It’s just fun. It makes it exciting for the release.
Then we release, and we’re like, “What’s the reaction? What’s the
Andrew: Well it sounds like a great business. I can’t believe that you’ve
got 45,000 active members, and a community online where people are all
talking. And you guys have to manage it. That seems to me like an insane
amount of work. I know how tough even just moderating my comments is. To
deal with the forum . . . let me ask you this: hHow do you respond to so many
comments of such a thriving community?
Andy: We have a moderator team.
Andrew: And they’re volunteers?
Andy: It’s a mix. Most of them are paid. We pay for them to perform 50
hours of moderation per month, for example. We already have about 12
moderators, and they’re awesome. We have a chat, because the entire company
is a virtual company. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that before, but we
don’t have an office. We’re all online, and work from home,. And the
virtual team is the same. They’re spread out throughout the world. We have
people in Japan, and India, all over Europe, and so forth. So there’s
always some people online. It’s like 24/7 support really. And they keep on
top of things for the most part.
It’s not a perfect solution. People do post questions that don’t get
answered. It’s normally because on the first pass through, it didn’t look
like a bug or an issue in the configuration. It was more kind of custom
work that they were asking about sometimes. Or it was something to do with
the platform itself. Those obviously don’t get priority. There’s kind of
triage process. Stuff that kind of looks like a legitimate bug, those kind
of get first priority. It gets back to the dev team. Those that look like a
config issue are probably next. Something that people are having trouble
setting up with the template, or a question to do with that. Then there’s a
huge amount of posts that are not related to the template itself. It’s
about modification, so it’s usually questions about how to do this
particular thing that this person is wanting to do. That’s usually a CSS
question. We do try to help with those, but those are often time consuming.
The moderator has to go to the site, use Firebug or development tools, and
kind of modify things to try it out and get what they’re looking for. So
that kind of stuff is time consuming.
I can’t say that we have 100% satisfaction on our forums because we can’t
answer all of those kinds of posts. But there are other people in the
community who aren’t moderators who are helping out. It is a real community
where the users are helping each other out. That’s an important part too.
[pause] I can’t hear you. I’ve lost your sound.
Andrew: Oh how’s that?
Andy: That’s better.
Andrew: I was just saying, I wish there was a Q&A platform that worked in
place of forums. So that you can put it up on your website, have people ask
a clear question, let other members come and answer that question, and more
importantly give them some kind of credit for answering questions right.
The way that StackExchange does.
Andrew: So far there’s no forum like that, is there?
Andy: There are some things that come close. GetSatisfaction – I’m sure
you’ve seen those sites. I think those are pretty good solutions, but they
don’t build as much community as a traditional forum does.
Andy: I’m always looking for alternatives. Technologies that will help us
provide better support. We often get the request to provide paid support.
To have some kind of a thing were you can buy support credits, or
something. And then you get a certain amount of hours. I’ve always been
hesitant to go there, because that starts to get you into the whole
freelance type scenario where you’re doing a lot of work for a specific
client, and that’s not reusable. The other users can gain any benefit from
that because it’s kind of closed. It’s just this one on one conversion
So we’ve found the forums, so far, to be the best solution for us. But if
something better comes along, I would be willing to look at it for sure.
We’re definitely not tied to our current methodology. Right now the forums
work pretty well, and we try to help as much as we can.
Andrew: All right. Well the website is, and this is for both WordPress
themes, and Joomla, and other platforms, RocketTheme.com. Thank you Andy.
Andy: Thank you.
Andrew: Thank you all for watching.