Pixelgrade Transparency Report #5

transparency

The last six months have been quite a chal­lenge due to inter­nal strug­gles and grow­ing pains, but also because of mar­ket evo­lu­tion and sur­pris­es. We weren’t caught off guard as we’ve already embarked about a year ago in a process to dis­cov­er and build a sol­id base from which to grow and adapt, no mat­ter what future chal­lenges we may encounter.


We’ve man­aged to find a deep­er sense of clar­i­ty and deter­mi­na­tion both as indi­vid­u­als and as a team. It wasn’t easy, and we still have a long way to go, but we are con­fi­dent this is the right thing for us at this time in our jour­ney. We are bet­ter equipped to build a more con­sis­tent prod­uct port­fo­lio cou­pled with enjoy­able, mean­ing­ful cus­tomer experiences.

All this would not be pos­si­ble with­out the right team and the need­ed struc­tures and sys­tems to sup­port us along the way. Our sup­port team was the first to embark on an inter­nal process meant to help them focus and work togeth­er towards bet­ter results. More­over, in the next months, we plan to extend it to the entire team since a bunch of good things hap­pened ever since.


Overview

We’re liv­ing times where every­thing seems to be pret­ty chal­leng­ing. From build­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing a vibrant team to adapt­ing and inno­vat­ing in a com­pet­i­tive, dynam­ic Word­Press market.

This trans­paren­cy report gath­ers the main insights about how we did as a com­pa­ny in the first half of 2017. We encour­age you to stay around because we intro­duced some brand new good­ies. Let’s walk the tracks!

Product and Support:

  • two new themes released: Oste­ria and Julia
  • over 30 theme updates fol­low­ing our Theme Updates Calendar
  • a bet­ter licens­ing and sup­port sys­tem through our Pix­el­grade Care plugin
  • all the cus­tomer sup­port toys under the same roof: we moved the doc­u­men­ta­tion entire­ly on our shop, and we switched to Help Scout as the only client com­mu­ni­ca­tion system.
  • blog well-aligned with our brand­ing sys­tem with 7 new arti­cles.
  • an eBook on how to write Word­Press Doc­u­men­ta­tion that peo­ple read and use

Team and Culture:

  • three mem­bers left the team: Alex, Cristi, and Alexandra.
  • one-week sup­port pol­i­cy from those who don’t do cus­tomer ser­vice on a dai­ly basis, to bet­ter under­stand our prod­ucts and the prob­lems clients are fac­ing (great results so far).
  • an improved recruit­ment process that helps in bring­ing the right peo­ple on board.
  • almost the entire crew attend­ed the stel­lar Word­Camp Europe 2017 con­fer­ence in Paris

Fun Facts:

  • 🏆 Radu bought his first 3D print­er and made us a tro­phy cup for our ten­nis championship
  • 🎙 Răz­van pri­vate­ly shared one of his new hip-hop songs, and it sounds awesome
  • 🏫  Ilin­ca is on the final lap with her col­lege degree (and she’s stressed out)
  • ☕  Andrei was caught up with way too many flat whites on his desk
  • 😎  Eugen is enjoy­ing a Place­bo con­cert while we’re writ­ing down these lines
  • 🥞  Alin has a bunch of culi­nary whims that his wife makes them hap­pen (and we’re jealous)
  • 📽️  Oana fin­ished watch­ing House of Cards on Net­flix in just a few days #Kevin­SpaceyLove
  • 🏎️  George took a three months break from dri­ving, and now he can prop­er­ly enjoy a Cuba Libre
  • 🚴‍♂️  Robert is using the bike to sur­vive the chaot­ic urban jam — keep it up!
  • 🏰  Vlad is mak­ing bold plans to vis­it Dis­ney­land with his uber cute son
  • 🏞  Cristi is heav­i­ly pack­ing to leave for Tren­to and enjoy­ing La Dolce Vita

Revenue

One of the best things about our new shop is hav­ing a sin­gle point of con­tact for all the info we need, no mat­ter the source nor the des­ti­na­tion: themes, doc­u­men­ta­tion or licens­es. We keep a con­sis­tent flow, and we’re far more effi­cient regard­ing dis­ci­pline and organization.

Over­all we’ve expe­ri­enced an –8.2% decline in our month­ly rev­enue while sell­ing 33% few­er themes. While no rea­son to cheer for, we are glad that dur­ing this down­turn we’ve man­aged to increase our aver­age theme rev­enue by 36%. This gives us the con­fi­dence that we are on the right track and the steps we have tak­en will even­tu­al­ly pay out.

— $46,274 aver­age month­ly aver­age (–8.2% down from $50,423)
— 3,498 sales (–33% down from 5,243)
— $79 aver­age theme rev­enue (+36% up from $58)

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We con­tin­ue to give our best to focus on the cus­tomers’ needs and to improve our prod­ucts to match their require­ments for the long game. That’s why we launched our new themes on Enva­to instead on our shop, and this strat­e­gy auto­mat­i­cal­ly led us to a lack of increas­es regard­ing rev­enues on pixelgrade.com.

The main idea is that we’d like to invest time, mon­ey and ener­gy in mak­ing beau­ti­ful prod­ucts, acces­si­ble and easy to use, rather than focus­ing on mar­ket­ing cam­paigns direct­ed sole­ly on sales. We embraced this par­tic­u­lar tac­tic ever since.


Expenses

When it comes to expens­es, we have allowed our­selves to steer off course and end up out­side our com­fort zone. While we are past the invest­ments we’ve made in our brand­ing, strat­e­gy, and site, we are not there yet in terms of hav­ing the lee­way to stay agile in these chang­ing times. There is no pan­ic, but we need to learn our lessons and take it for here.

The aver­age month­ly expens­es hov­ered on $39,520 (–6.7% — down from $42,360), bro­ken down into:
— 72.3% salaries
— 16.5% main­te­nance (rent, account­ing fees, sup­pli­ers, software)
— 11.2% occa­sion­al expens­es (like con­fer­ences, hard­ware, marketing)


The WordPress.com Journey

We’ve been theme authors on WordPress.com close to three years now and it’s been a ben­e­fi­cial expe­ri­ence. It wasn’t all smooth sail­ing, and at times we were quite tak­en back by reviews or mar­ket dynamics.

We still believe WordPress.com and Jet­pack are head­ing in the right direc­tion with a recur­ring rev­enue sys­tem. In the long run it might just be the trig­ger need­ed to bring some san­i­ty in the Word­Press themes ecosystem.

For about half a year, WordPress.com (and Automat­tic) has intro­duced some big, unex­pect­ed changes in their over­all strategy:

⓵ The first one was offer­ing our pre­mi­um themes to their Pre­mi­um plan (cur­rent­ly at $99/year) cus­tomers also, besides those on the Busi­ness plan ($299/year), with a sig­nif­i­cant reduc­tion in our rev­enue share. While scary at first, we’ve man­aged to come to terms with this move due to a much larg­er cus­tomer base of the small­er plan.

Obvi­ous­ly, at first, our rev­enues took a hit because the incen­tive to buy a theme indi­vid­u­al­ly was great­ly dimin­ished; cus­tomers, get­ting more from sub­scrib­ing to the Pre­mi­um plan instead. The key here is “sub­scrib­ing.”, as from that ini­tial down­turn, we’ve seen our recur­ring rev­enue slow­ly, but steadi­ly climb and we don’t envi­sion it flat-lin­ing any­time soon.

The sec­ond shift came quite recent­ly, and it’s an eye-pop­per: pre­mi­um themes from WordPress.com will also be avail­able for self-host­ed Word­Press sites through the Jet­pack Pro­fes­sion­al plan ($299/year).

At first sight, this change is a direct threat to our self-host­ed themes, but we wouldn’t urge jump­ing to any con­clu­sions yet because, in the long run, it might just be the trig­ger need­ed to bring some san­i­ty in the Word­Press themes ecosys­tem. We would rather give up on some of our efforts if this means a smoother, more con­sis­tent expe­ri­ence for the customer.

Recur­ring rev­enue is the only way we can all have a more pre­dictable income and a firmer basis on which to grow and expand.

There are sure­ly some con­cerns regard­ing Automattic’s trans­paren­cy and busi­ness deci­sions but we still believe they are head­ing in the right direc­tion with a recur­ring rev­enue sys­tem. While there is room for adjust­ments, the steps being tak­en are wel­comed and we are look­ing for­ward to keep­ing up with the lat­est developments.


Recurring Income

As long as you are after build­ing a long-term rela­tion­ship with your cus­tomers, there is no get­ting around the idea of recur­ring rev­enue. This is the only way we can all have a more pre­dictable income and a firmer basis on which to grow and expand.

The theme busi­ness is the only remain­ing com­po­nent that some­how lagged behind tra­di­tion­al pric­ing systems.

There is noth­ing new in this, as the whole tech and media indus­try embarked on this train quite a while ago. In the Word­Press world, while host­ing com­pa­nies and WordPress.com ser­vice have always been sub­scrip­tion based, self-host­ed plu­g­ins have most­ly made this shift, the only remain­ing com­po­nent that some­how lagged behind is the themes busi­ness. It’s about time we change that.

While we are still in the ear­ly steps we can see good signs ahead: on Enva­to, the sup­port renewals gen­er­ate almost $1.000 per month, while on WordPress.com we get about $4.500 rev­enue from theme usage. The trend is pos­i­tive, and we are con­fi­dent it will stay that way.


Pricing Strategy

From our own expe­ri­ence thus far, a fair num­ber of Word­Press users are will­ing to invest $100+ in a theme as long as the val­ue propo­si­tion is right. While few­er, there are plen­ty of peo­ple look­ing for a spe­cial expe­ri­ence and are hap­py to go to $200 or even high­er. If you are look­ing for val­i­da­tion, the cur­rent surge in man­aged Word­Press host­ing offer­ings is more than enough to acknowl­edge that the Word­Press ecosys­tem has matured and peo­ple have more con­fi­dence in it.

We believe that what­ev­er the price point, there is an audi­ence out there that will gain val­ue out of it. We will con­tin­ue to test dif­fer­ent price ranges and encour­age oth­er fel­lows to do the same and share their find­ings. After all, we are all in this together.


Team Moving Forward

We’d like to start with a big round of applause for all who con­tributed to what we are today.👏 Hope­ful­ly, we’ll have the chance to catch up again in dif­fer­ent scenarios.

We noticed that hav­ing a more pre­cise recruit­ment approach allows us to make bet­ter deci­sions regard­ing the team we want to build in the long run.

It’s manda­to­ry to get used with some lev­el of risks in the dig­i­tal endeavors.

For instance, Alexan­dra didn’t pass the 3-months tri­al and there’s def­i­nite­ly noth­ing wrong on a per­son­al lev­el (in fact, we all are quite cool peo­ple), but we weren’t on the same wave­length in oth­er regards (eg. why it’s manda­to­ry to get used with some risks in the dig­i­tal endeav­ors or how going the extra mile is some­thing ordi­nary for us, not a nice-to-have).

On the oth­er hand, two oth­er folks left the team on entire­ly dif­fer­ent terms. Alex was one of our first Hap­pi­ness Engi­neers and the one who tried to teach us more about mind­ful­ness and why it mat­ters these days more than ever. He decid­ed to exper­i­ment an entre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney and to bal­ance his time in oth­er ways. Keep up the Seren­i­ty saga, dear friend!

Cristi is a sig­nif­i­cant part of who we are today, and a chunk of our suc­cess is due to his skills and effort on the front end area of our themes. He’s the one who tried to help us have a more bal­anced and healthy life. We wel­come his desire to fol­low his jour­ney in Tren­to, a beau­ti­ful city from Italy, where he wants to push the restart but­ton on mul­ti­ple lev­els. We will catch up with him on a moun­tain peak for a nice ses­sion of skiing.


The next lap

We came to real­ize that, some­times, the next lap is actu­al­ly an exten­sion of the cur­rent one. There are plen­ty of things on our table and we want to make sure we under­stand how to man­age them.

We enjoy ques­tion­ing every­thing and dig­ging for answers that fit who we are today, so there’s no restart per se. Instead, it is more like a ‘‘will be con­tin­ued’’ kind of statement.

There­fore, some of our goals remain the same, while oth­ers will pop-up on the fly:

  • Build a bet­ter team — we’re eager to con­tin­ue the jour­ney of sup­port­ing each of our team­mates achieve their poten­tial and mak­ing the most out of it through a thought­ful chain of steps and processes.
  • Grow a con­sis­tent port­fo­lio — we’re push­ing to cre­ate a few more Word­Press theme and keep iter­at­ing on the infra­struc­ture behind the scenes to make sure we deliv­er sol­id solu­tions for dig­i­tal pains.
  • Improve the Cus­tomer Expe­ri­ence — we will con­tin­ue to invest all kinds of resources into our cus­tomer-ser­vice ecosys­tem to shape even bet­ter expe­ri­ences for our beloved customers.

Summer is here — enjoy it!

Guys and gals, thanks a bunch for join­ing us until the end of the Trans­paren­cy Report #5. 🙏 We hope these thoughts will help you draw bet­ter deci­sions and will inspire you to share your jour­ney as well.

We wish you all a great sum­mer, full of delight­ful expe­ri­ences and peo­ple 🌞. Make sure you have some fun, and you gath­er last­ing mem­o­ries. In the end, we all need to recharge our bat­ter­ies and come back with a more pos­i­tive atti­tude and an ener­getic dri­ve. Keep being awesome!

George

I'm a daydreaming designer with a desire to improve the world, to be a good and a meaningful person. I value calm but easily get excited by the next challenge.