The last time we caught up with Organic Themes Founders Jeff Milone and David Morgan, our focus was on theme maintenance and design. It takes a couple of weeks for the Organic Themes team to update one of its products, a testament to the company’s focus on customer service and, perhaps more importantly, retention. This time, we thought we’d get a little sidetracked and talk about Organic Themes: the company. It’s everything you’d want to know about what goes into running a top-flight theme shop.
WPHub: Where is Organic Themes headquartered?
Jeff Milone: We’re a virtual company, so we don’t have a brick-and-mortar office anywhere. We’ve always operated out of a home office at my place. We started in Maui and were there for two years building the company. Then, we moved to San Diego, which is where we are now. We have developers and support people who are strategically located in the United States and Canada. We have a surprising number of people who help us from Canada and Minnesota. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s cold there or what. We used to have forums for support, but realized that people like ticket-based support, so we switched to that. In the forums, there was an opportunity for users to help out and so we had people do that. Usually, there were a lot of standouts who answered a lot of questions, so we asked them if they wanted to answer questions consistently. Eventually, that turned into people who were permanently with us. A byproduct of being in the theme sales business was demand for customization of those themes. When someone buys a theme, they want to have a significant number of changes done to it. We used to do a little bit of that on the side, but it quickly became too busy and we couldn’t manage it. So, we’d forward requests to other people, who would work on them for us.
That eventually turned into a business called Werkpress.com. Travis Totz, Nick Pelton, and a bunch of their friends started a design firm and that was all work from Organic Themes. We introduced them to a lot of other theme shops and they went around and made deals with other places for customization work.
WPHub: Why would you shy away from doing theme customization in house?
Jeff Milone: There came a point where the question was posed, “Do we hire these people and start our own customization shop or do we allow them to work on their own?” We decided it would be too much overhead and that it should be an ancillary business. It wasn’t related to our core competency of creating and designing WordPress themes.
WPHub: What projects is Organic Themes working on now?
Jeff Milone: We started doing hosting shortly after we opened up Organic Themes. We realized that people who bought our themes were beginners who didn’t understand hosting or they were people looking for better hosting solutions.
I was a network engineer in a previous life. The hosting product we have, Kahuna, took me six months to build and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Kahuna is like managed WordPress hosting, but it’s not just for WordPress. Whenever someone signs up an account, WordPress is automatically deployed. It became pretty popular without many customers right away and didn’t enter the mainstream until earlier this year. We then developed more integration with our themes with a sign-up form. You can pick a hosting package, a theme, enter your client and payment information all at once, and then have an account deployed right away. It’s quite easy.
Dave Morgan: You get your own control panel and it’s different than what you’d find elsewhere. A lot of what we’ve seen are multi-site solutions. People don’t necessarily have access to add their own plug-ins. With our system, it’s a version of WordPress installed for each client. They have full control over their own installation. It’s theirs to run.
Jeff Milone: Everyone’s account is deployed in a virtual environment. You won’t have problems like a noisy neighbor on the server. That doesn’t happen with the self-encapsulated accounts we set up. Clients have their own environments. They don’t have to worry about crashing.
WPHub: Next Monday, we’ll talk about two major trends in the WordPress industry, responsive themes and retina displays. In the meantime, head over to OrganicThemes.com to see what’s cooking.
If you missed parts 1 and 2 of this interview series, you can get caught up via the links below: