Interview with Michael Hutagalung, Founder of ColorLabs & Company
ColorLabs & Company are a commercial WordPress theme company, based in Indonesia, that put out some great looking themes in all sorts of flavours – responsive, e-commerce, business, magazine, classifieds, restaurant, real estate and so on. They are always running special deals so keep an eye on their site and twitter account where they hold a regular auction for their themes as well.
I had the chance to talk to their founder, Michael Hutagalung, and ask him a few questions …
Could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m a 26-year-old Indonesian who is passionate about a number of things and web development is definitely one of them. I recently got married, moved to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, and now live with my wife. I was born and raised in Bandung, the city where ColorLabs & Company now resides. In addition to being an internet entrepreneur, I am also a petroleum/chemical engineer.
What’s your background with WordPress?
I had always been interested in web design and development since I was in elementary school. I started my own website in 1998. It was static, hosted on Tripod (and Geocities) and pretty basic compared to today’s standard. However, it wasn’t until 2007 I finally got to know to WordPress. I started my first self-hosted blog on WordPress 2.1. The platform has transformed quite significantly in the last 5 years, just as the Internet. I met Matt Mullenweg in WordCamp Indonesia 2009 and shared some views on the premium theme market, which at that time was in its early days of development.
Could you tell us a little about ColorLabs and its history?
I love graphic design in general; I might not be a good graphic designer but I certainly have good eyes for design. When I first started blogging, I could change my blog’s theme every week. I was always searching for better themes and there was no premium theme back then. Finally I found a theme that could satisfy my eyes, it was Mimbo Free by Darren Hoyt. I customized it so extensively and learnt a lot about WordPress as I was going through the process. People started to notice my blog and asked for customization services. That’s how I first started to make money from my blog.
I was overwhelmed with the number of customization requests. Soon enough, I found out that halfway around the world Brian Gardner was starting with his Revolution theme, Darren Hoyt just released Mimbo Pro, and Adii Pienaar released his Premium News theme. I realized that selling ‘customization’ service in a ‘retail’ package would be easier to handle and require less time and control. I opened Notepad and started to write the Arthemia theme and released it for free. The overall look of Arthemia was very influenced by Revolution, Mimbo Pro and Premium News.
Arthemia caught the attention of the WordPress community and I decided to launch the premium version of Arthemia, which was called Arthemia Premium. I thought it might be cool to have a business name so I named my business ‘The Colorlabs Project’. We recently changed the name to ColorLabs & Company as now we’re more focused on collaborative works, reaching out to talented designers in Indonesia and beyond.
How many people are working at ColorLabs?
There are 8 in-house, full-time employees. Seven are based in Bandung and one in Jakarta. We also have a team of collaborative designers, who are contracted in a different way. They are not freelance designers but they don’t work for us exclusively either. They’re somewhere in between. We have 7 collaborative designers in our team. The whole company is led by my brother, Gabriel Hutagalung, the CEO.
Could you you tell us about your new offices?
We recently moved to our new office in the north of Bandung. There’s nothing fancy about the interiors but we’ve tried to make the office as comfortable as we can. We just wanted to have some space where we could collaborate as a team and everything in the office seems to be functioning as intended.
What is your business philosophy?
I always believe that business is about people. One of the reasons I established ColorLabs was that I wanted to share my entrepreneurial experience with others. I want to share with them what I did right and what I did wrong. I want to learn as they learn. The other reason is my passion towards web design and development. With those two strong points, I believe that profit will come eventually. Once sharing and passion are missing from a business, everything will start to go downhill.
What are your plans for the future for ColorLabs?
Product development is our focus and collaborative work is always the future of ColorLabs. We’ve progressed quite a lot if you compare us to how we were a year ago. We’re thinking of reaching out to more talented designers and developers so we can enhance our products and serve the WordPress community by fulfilling their needs.
Where do you see the premium theme market in 12 months?
The market is getting more and more competitive each day but there’s always room for innovation and profit. Competition is always a good thing as it brings the best out of every company. WordPress development is getting more advanced as the platform progresses to its more mature state. Websites are going mobile, responsive and versatile. Both the platform and its themes have to be able to keep up with that.
Finally, Do you have any advice for someone wanting to sell WordPress themes?
Well, I suggest that you start right away. You’ll never know how the market reacts unless you start selling. However good or bad the market responds to your product, there’s always something to learn from it and you can use that as foundations for your next product. One thing to note though; your product must be a solution to a problem. That’s the key. People always want something. You need to find that ‘something’.
Thanks a lot to Michael for taking the time to answer these questions!