Andy Miller is the CEO and founder of the hugely sucessfull open source theme club, RocketTheme.com which provides themes for Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, phpBB and Magento. Thanks to Andy for taking the time to talk to WPLift.
Could you tell us a little background about yourself ?
I started developing websites right at the birth of the Internet as we know it. I remember when the table tag was new and it was the cutting edge layout mechanism. Before that even, I had worked on creating ANSI splash screens and ‘styling’ old-school bulletin board systems. After graduating university I worked as a web master at a very large corporation but quickly tired of the big-company processes and politics. During the dot-com days I worked at a few consulting companies and web development firms before starting RocketTheme. With RocketTheme I was free to indulge my creative spirit and also my passion for programming and problem solving.
Could you tell us how you got started with RocketTheme and selling premium themes in general ?
I was developing some CMS themes for open source platforms like PostNuke before I found Mambo. Mambo was a game changer for me because it was the first CMS with a proper backend and also a very flexible theming architecture that allowed very un-CMS like designs. I became a member of the Mambo core team, and then was one of the founders of Joomla when the team split to start that project. During this time I was doing contract work developing custom themes for clients but quickly found that I simply didn’t have the time to satisfy the demand. I came up with the concept of a theme club that would allow me to create a new design monthly and then the community could join via a subscription-based membership and use any of the themes the club offered.
When did you start selling WordPress themes and how have you found it ?
We started supporting WordPress because it was the biggest request from our existing members. Many of our members are web developers themselves and they often have client requests to use WordPress or WordPress is just a better fit for a particular client. We had created some proof of concept conversions of our existing designs for WordPress all the way back in 2007, but we didn’t kick off our WordPress theme club until October 2009 after spending nearly a year in development. Our first Gantry framework powered WordPress theme was released in August of 2010.
WordPress is an amazing platform and it has a huge community of users and developers. Developing our Gantry framework for WordPress really opened our eyes to the inherent power that WordPress offers and we’ve been able to really push the envelop and create some stunning WordPress themes with functionality never before seen in the WordPress community.
I see you sell themes for Joomla, Drupal, Magento and phpBB – which category is most popular ?
Joomla was our first club and is the most popular. WordPress has quickly grown to become our second most popular club with Drupal, phpBB3 and Magento growing but more slowly.
Do you sell under the GPL, What do you think of the debate over the GPL in general ?
We also have several free, fully GPL offering such as our Gantry Framework which we use to build our Joomla and WordPress themes on top of. As a rule we firmly believe in adhering to the license of the platform you are developing for. We believed from the start that there was a valid business model for premium themes on GPL platforms. The club model is not as cut and dry as say, a pay-per template model, but we feel it provides the most value and flexibility for our members.
What do you think the current state of the premium theme market is – saturated or room for growth ?
Since we started there certainly has been huge growth in the number of premium theme businesses. It’s certainly much harder to stand out from the crowd these days as there is simply so much choice available and so many great designers to choose from. I think there’s always room for some growth however, you just need to bring something new to the table.
Do you have any advice for designers who want to start selling premium themes ?
First of all it’s not just about design. Designing a theme is much harder than designing for a specific client. Your theme has to be flexible and adaptable to support your users’ needs, and you have to make that process of customization as easy as possible. The really successful premium theme companies understand this and put as much effort into their code as they do their designs.
It’s a lot of hard work, but also it’s great fun working with the best open source platforms and the latest web technologies.