Interview with Adii of WooThemes Fame

Filed as Interviews on November 21, 2008 7:00 am

Interview with AdiiAdii, or Adriaan Pienaar as his real name is, calls himself a WordPress rockstar and sells premium WordPress themes on WooThemes. You’ve probably came across him one time or another if you’ve been looking for a theme designer, or if you’re interested in premium themes.

Since the small controversy with WooThemes giving away a premium theme for free, much like Brian Gardner did with Revolution, I’ve been meaning to do an interview with Adii to get to know a little more on what he thinks about premium themes. So read on for a freshly pressed interview!

First of all, tell us a little about yourself?

Well, I’m a web designer and entrepreneur based in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve got a keen eye for all things pretty and because of that I’ve been attracted to design; even though I’m definitely not an artist by nature. I do however believe that my business studies has allowed me to bring a strategic approach to design and everything else I do online.

So this has lead me to establish both my own online, creative agency – {radiiate} – where I collaborate with the awesome members on my team; as well as WooThemes (which I set up with my partners – Magnus Jepson & Mark Forrester), where we sell commercial WordPress templates. Founding & running these businesses stimulates me immensely and this is probably more inline with what I see myself doing in future (i.e. investing more in the business-aspects of my future career).

I’ve always wondered, what’s with the “rockstar” thing these days? It seems designer loves to call themselves rockstars (or ninjas), but I doubt many play guitar better than I do!

I don’t know to be honest… Maybe it’s got something to do with our primeval need to be a rockstar with all the subsequent fame and superficial benefits that go along with it… :) But in all honesty, I never planned on using the term “rockstar” in my online branding – it just kinda happened when I decided to call myself a “WordPress Rockstar” in the latter parts of 2007. I do however think that I was at least one of the first bloggers / designers to do this (not taking credit for the term at all – since I first heard it from someone else) and it has just pretty much stuck from there.

Plus, I’m not too bad on Guitar Hero if that changes anything…

Rock Band maybe… Do you think designers use terms like rockstars or ninjas in their branding to make up for the fact that they aren’t as cool as, say, firefighters? Or is it just a novelty thing, something funny that stuck?
Guitar Hero is better than Rock Band… :)

I think the “rockstar” convention is probably a little bit of both… I don’t see designers & developers (especially the online kind) as the most sociable people ever and perhaps it is a case of giving themselves a bit of an ego boost via that naming convention.

But I also believe that it is just something that started somewhere and then loads of people jumped on the band wagon thereafter.

How is business for WooThemes, your premium WordPress theme marketplace?

This is not generally something that we (at WooThemes) like talking about, as we’re obviously not obliged to share financial details etc. since we’re a privately-held company. I can however confirm that the last 12 months (from the Premium News Theme days to the rebranding to WooThemes) has been a major journey (and adventure) and we’re still experiencing growth within the commercial themes market. So business is going well and we’re definitely satisfied with the fact that we’ve built an established and sustainable business.

I do however think that all 3 of the WooThemes partners would agree that we don’t measure the success or performance of the business based on profit or sales… I think all 3 of us are enjoying what we’re doing and because of that love we’re trying to move away from the expected. Just as an example – the recently finished WooThemes Design Contest & the WooThemes Survey that is currently running – are two projects that does not affect the financial performance of the business and we’re thus “investing” in these to try some new things, whilst diversifying our approach to doing business. So these are the things that currently excites us and based on this business is going extremely well.

You released a former premium theme for free a month ago. Do you think it is right to release themes that people have paid to use, for free after a period of time? Don’t you think that hurts the credibility of premium themes themselves?

Yes, maybe.

I’d like to think that I’m in the business of trying new things and exactly for that reason I’m not scared to venture out and release a year-old theme for free. I can admit that the release has been met with differing opinions, but by far the majority reaction has been a positive one. I also believe that our transparency in this regard (towards our users) helped immensely in navigating a potentially tricky situation.

That said, we’re still undecided on whether we’ll do it again. So I don’t think that a once-off thing (at this stage anyway) we did to celebrate our 1 year birthday should be representative of our policies in this regard.

Some claim that selling premium themes is against the WordPress license in particular, and not very open source-ish in general. What do you think about that?

They may just be right in saying that… Again, this is not something that I like to comment on, since there’s just to much subjectivity and bias going around the “community” to talk openly and objectively about the implication of these claims. So without rehashing the main points that I have made in various other discussions around the interwebs (with regards to commercial WP themes, the GPL licensing claims & open source in general), I’d like to point out the following:

  • I don’t believe that Open Source in its current form is a sustainable business model. I come from a traditional business background (read: academically) and I believe that a hybrid of traditional business practices (i.e. those which have been successful for the past 100 years) and Open Source / Web 2.0-related models is the way to go in the future. I’m a firm believer in Open Source (in the way that it democratizes access to resources), but in the end someone needs to be paid for that, because the bread and milk from your local cafe will unfortunately never be available for free.
  • Open Source (in the WordPress “community”) comes down to contributing back and improving the “community” as a whole. From this viewpoint, WooThemes probably does more than most other WP users / contributors, considering that about 50% of our users had never used WordPress as their CMS of choice prior to finding our website and themes.
  • If our themes are GPL licensed, then every other WordPress design ever made is GPL licensed. So according to me this means that anyone can download the HTML & CSS from The Blog Herald’s source code, turn it into a WP theme again and do with that what I want (release it for free for example). I don’t seem to think that anyone with the “community” would like it when their great, unique designs starts to get ripped and released to the masses!?

So that said, I don’t believe that we’re in the wrong. Everyone has their own opinions in this regard and as long as these supposed “issues” aren’t resolved (and turned into black and white from their current grey area status), we’ll just be discussing these same things this time next year.

Well, I’m no lawyer, but the way I understand it GPL only applies when you offer something widely, but you can hack away and do what you want for yourself. So the Blog Herald design made by yours truly for Splashpress would fall under that. Do you think the unclear licensing terms is an issue today?

I’m no intellectual property lawyer either and neither is 99,9% of the people that has an opinion on this matter. So that just proves my points in this regard: we’re just part of this never-ending discussion of grey areas and complex issues.

BUT – this doesn’t have to be an issue at all in my opinion… Who really has an issue with this? I’ll be convinced that this is an issue when the majority of WordPress users worldwide votes to that extent.

Is premium themes the future for WordPress designers? What about premium plugins?

Not necessarily no… Personally I got into commercial WP themes, because it allowed me to generate a more passive income that was not linked to the amount of time that I have available in a day. I do however think that all designers will start focusing on generating a passive income of sorts via ebooks, paid tutorials, advertising models etc, as there’s only that much a designer can earn in a day / month / year from client work.

As for premium plugins – I don’t know whether there’s a market for it within the current situation, where there’s an incredible amount of top-notch plugins available for free. So a commercial plugin would need to offer something differently (with regards to anything related to that plugin) to the plugins currently available, for it to be a viable approach. As the WordPress market grows however, you’ll find that this might become the next big thing…

I’d like to thank Adii for taking the time and doing this interview. Check out his website, as well as WooThemes if you’re interested in premium themes.

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  1. By Chopstar posted on May 14, 2009 at 5:39 am
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    good lord, the dude is the most conceited moron on the face of the planet. wordpress rockstar my ass.

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  2. By TeraBabe posted on October 23, 2009 at 10:22 pm
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    I like only one or a few of the woo themes. Rockstar, really? speaking of rockstars, adam lazarra and the whole band definitely are rockstars and I’m listening to some taking back sunday lyrics from a cool little page I found.

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