Pixelgrade Transparency Report #6

Oana Filip

We could write a nov­el about the last six months, but we’ll keep it for anoth­er time. What’s essen­tial to know is we acknowl­edged and accept­ed that the beau­ty of being entre­pre­neurs and mak­ers is paired with chal­lenges of all sorts. We make no excep­tion, that’s for sure.


Overview

We’ve expe­ri­enced first hand how hard it is to change behav­iors, and shift men­tal­i­ties, but it’s manda­to­ry in build­ing a con­sis­tent, healthy team, ready to face all kinds of endeav­ors, espe­cial­ly when you dream big and plan to achieve spec­tac­u­lar results.

Our feel­ing is that we’re get­ting there, but we still need to make small tweaks with time and con­tin­u­ous effort from our side. All in all, in this Trans­paren­cy Report you can get a clue about the ups-and-downs we encoun­tered. Grab a cof­fee, enjoy the read­ing, and share your thoughts!

Product and support

  • a new sub­scrip­tion busi­ness mod­el for Pix­el­grade Club
  • two new themes released: Far­go (pho­tog­ra­phy) and Felt (mag­a­zine)
  • an intense ses­sion of theme updates to keep our prod­ucts up and kick­ing
  • a well-improved plu­g­in to help cus­tomers have a great onboard­ing and self-ser­vice expe­ri­ence: Pix­el­grade Care
  • a dynam­ic blog with 10 fresh arti­cles on sev­er­al top­ics
  • 97 (and count­ing) beau­ti­ful web­sites in the Show­case
  • a bunch of Thank You let­ters for our cus­tomers around the world
  • a new Made by Pix­el­grade page to list all of our tools and ser­vices cre­at­ed along the way.

Team and culture

  • two mem­bers joined the team: Vic­tor, Adi
  • three mem­bers left the adven­ture: Andrei, Robert, and Eugen
  • plen­ty of 1:1 ses­sions to facil­i­tate the over­all com­mu­ni­ca­tion and set expec­ta­tions
  • mul­ti­ple inter­views and oth­er recruit­ment exper­i­ments
  • dozens of coach­ing episodes with Lau­ra to become bet­ter play­ers

Fun facts

  • Vlad brought in Paco’s broth­er-from-the-same-moth­er, so now we have two love­ly dogs around the office
  • Adi had a hard time find­ing wood for his fire­place #First­World­Prob­lems
  • Alin con­tin­ues to self-praise the vil­lage where he lives with his fam­i­ly
  • George used to go to the gym but stopped after we made way too many jokes
  • Ilin­ca ran a DIY ses­sion for craft­ing a paper Christ­mas globe (and bought a new cam­era)
  • Oana chal­lenged a few team­mates to cook a cozonac (Roman­ian tra­di­tion­al dessert) #bat­tle­time
  • Radu bought an apart­ment, and we’re still wait­ing for him to throw a par­ty
  • Răz­van is search­ing for the right film­mak­er to help with his first music video
  • Vic­tor helped us gain some weight thanks to his wife’s culi­nary good­ies

Revenue

Not great, but not bad either. Over­all we’ve expe­ri­enced a large -27% drop in our month­ly rev­enue. While we’ve increased the rev­enue through oth­er chan­nels, the change was most­ly due to the Enva­to mar­ket­place sat­u­ra­tion and over­all decline. We’re con­fi­dent that in the long run, we can bet­ter serve our cus­tomers through our own chan­nels while using third-par­ty mar­ket­places only as addi­tion­al sell­ing points.

$33,682 aver­age month­ly aver­age (–27% down from $46,274)
$5,881 in Sup­port Pack­ages on Enva­to (+28% up from $4,580)
$1,467 Month­ly Recur­ring Rev­enue in the Pix­el­grade Club
98 active mem­bers of the Pix­el­grade Club out of 196 that start­ed the free tri­al

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Expenses

With a sig­nif­i­cant drop in our rev­enue, our expens­es had to be adjust­ed also. With a com­bi­na­tion of low­ered salaries, a small­er team and some house­keep­ing in terms of the ser­vices and tools we use, we’ve man­aged to keep expens­es at a man­age­able lev­el.

The aver­age month­ly expens­es hov­ered on $28,292 (–28.5%—down from $39,520), bro­ken down into:
— 75% salaries
— 21% main­te­nance (rent, soft­ware, account­ing fees, sup­pli­ers)
— 4% occa­sion­al expens­es (hard­ware, mar­ket­ing)


The Pixelgrade Club

Through our Pix­el­grade Club offer­ing, we’re now focus­ing only on blog­gers and obses­sive­ly con­verge all of our efforts to cre­ate the best solu­tions with­in this niche, craft­ing themes that pro­vide spe­cif­ic answers to spe­cif­ic needs.

There are too many gen­er­al­ist prod­ucts in the site-build­ing ecosys­tem and they all com­pete to offer the high­est lev­el of flex­i­bil­i­ty. This fails to address the core need of cre­ative peo­ple nowa­days: how to focus on what real­ly mat­ters for them, not hav­ing more chal­lenges to solve, while mak­ing a great impres­sion.

We decid­ed to take a dif­fer­ent route, by offer­ing our cus­tomers access to a dif­fer­ent set of tools: like a researched con­tent strat­e­gy that they can use to kick-off their site struc­ture or opin­ion­at­ed brand­ing deci­sions that they could real­ly res­onate with, not the same blunt options that they could find in any oth­er prod­uct.

Unlike most of the mar­ket, we chose to offer it as a sub­scrip­tion busi­ness mod­el with a 14-days free tri­al and $9.95 month­ly fee. You get access to all of the themes avail­able in the club, and you can switch them with ease when your needs or pref­er­ences change.

We found out that only a recur­ring pric­ing mod­el could cre­ate sus­tain­able val­ue in the long run, both for our cus­tomers and for us as a busi­ness. Even if upfront costs are low­er and risks are high­er, the con­tin­u­ous com­mit­ment that we can main­tain through a cus­tomer life­cy­cle is what dri­ves us every day and make our prod­ucts per­form bet­ter.


Theme Components

For the past year or so we’ve been hard at work at some­thing very excit­ing while quite chal­leng­ing: a new devel­op­ment sys­tem and archi­tec­ture for our themes. It is now ready for active duty in Far­go and Felt.

What was the dri­ving force behind this mas­sive over­haul of our way of devel­op­ing Word­Press themes? With every new theme, we were con­stant­ly rein­vent­ing the wheel and, while reusing pre­vi­ous code, reim­ple­ment­ing and adapt­ing already learned lessons. While this seemed like the fastest and clean­est way to get our designs in the hands of our cus­tomers, with time the tech­ni­cal debt kept pil­ing up, mak­ing main­te­nance increas­ing­ly time inten­sive. A les­son learned in a theme often would take a long time to reach the oth­ers.

This very inef­fi­cient sta­tus quo had to change for us to be able to devel­op and main­tain a grow­ing port­fo­lio of prod­ucts and keep the qual­i­ty bar as high as we like it.

Anoth­er Word­Press theme frame­work you may say?! Not quite. We’ve been big fans of the Under­scores starter theme for quite some time as it forced us to keep bloat at bay. We still very much dis­like bloat and slow run­ning code, but we also love a con­sis­tent cus­tomer expe­ri­ence and ease of use.

Our solu­tion to this puz­zle was to iden­ti­fy com­mon theme patterns/sections and fuse their tem­plat­ing, con­trol log­ic and/or styling togeth­er into what we now call com­po­nents. These are to become the back­bone of all of our themes and the main focus of our devel­op­ment efforts.

The over­all goal is to offer our cus­tomers sol­id prod­ucts in terms of speed, flex­i­bil­i­ty, secu­ri­ty, and ease of switch­ing between them. All this while main­tain­ing things scal­able regard­ing the amount of work involved. We will sure­ly fol­low-up with a ded­i­cat­ed arti­cle about this adven­ture.


Pixelgrade Care

We care! We care about design, craft, speed, secu­ri­ty, but most of all we care about our cus­tomers’ expe­ri­ence and the ease with which they solve their dig­i­tal prob­lems. Pix­el­grade Care is a tool to help us achieve this: a free com­pan­ion Word­Press plu­g­in to all of our themes.

An improved theme installing process pow­ered by Pix­el­grade Care

The first ver­sion was released in ear­ly Jan­u­ary 2017, and we’ve been improv­ing and expand­ing it ever since. For the past six months, our focus was on mak­ing things more help­ful and cus­tomized for each of our cus­tomers by bet­ter inte­grat­ing the var­i­ous data sources.

We’ve improved the licens­ing sys­tem, the in-dash­board doc­u­men­ta­tion and tick­et­ing sys­tem, and the over­all sta­bil­i­ty and secu­ri­ty of the plu­g­in. We have many things planned out for the future and believe the plu­g­in is now in a bet­ter shape to serve our cus­tomers.


Building the right team

The last six months have been eye-open­ing in terms of what it takes to build the right team, and we def­i­nite­ly came across some harsh lessons along the way.

The good part is that today we have few­er (or at least dif­fer­ent) strug­gles that we’re fac­ing. For instance, we can’t stop the game since per­for­mant crews need con­stant atten­tion, time, and ener­gy to reach its poten­tial, both per­son­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly. So yeah, we will undoubt­ed­ly encounter more chal­lenges, but that’s okay as long as we grow and remain true-to-our­selves.

After sev­er­al inter­nal debates and way too many sleep­less nights, we decid­ed that some­times it’s bet­ter for every­one to let peo­ple explore oth­er pro­fes­sion­al play­grounds.

We said good­bye to two of the col­leagues who were aboard from the ear­ly days of Pix­el­grade, and one who joined the adven­ture almost one year ago.

We end­ed the col­lab­o­ra­tion with Andrei, our sec­ond employ­ee (back­end devel­op­er) who’s been work­ing along­side us for six years in a row. We believe it was the right time to let him con­nect with dif­fer­ent teams and mind­sets. We’re grate­ful for all he has done for us, and we’re also hap­py he joined ThemeIsle’s band.

We also decid­ed to let Robert go, one of our cus­tomer sup­port fel­lows. He agreed to con­tin­ue his pro­fes­sion­al path with a tri­al at Automat­tic, which is awe­some. We’re con­fi­dent that he’s going to evolve and become a bet­ter play­er, what­ev­er the chal­lenges he will embrace in the future.

Regard­ing Eugen, also a back­end devel­op­er, the real­i­ty showed us that some­times there’s nobody to blame or to point the fin­ger when fac­ing a pro­fes­sion­al sep­a­ra­tion. The sim­ple fact that we’re in dif­fer­ent moments in life can be good enough to push the stop but­ton. We appre­ci­ate Eugen for improv­ing Pix­el­grade Care, and we hope he will find the right place for his cur­rent needs.


As for cel­e­brat­ing small wins regard­ing team devel­op­ment, we’re grate­ful to have Vic­tor and Adi home.

Victor’s been free­lanc­ing for a cou­ple of years, and he joined the par­ty as a curi­ous and car­ing front-end. Adi’s an expe­ri­enced cus­tomer sup­port pro­fes­sion­al with excel­lent writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, which we think are super valu­able.

All in all, we’re always hap­py to work with autonomous peo­ple, who poss­es the skills to self-man­age and focus on the big­ger pic­ture. Wel­come and let’s break a leg togeth­er, dear fel­lows!

We’re gen­uine­ly grate­ful for the peo­ple who’re now part of the Pix­el­grade sto­ry, and we are excit­ed to con­tin­ue to craft things that make us proud in the long run. Keep being awe­some!


The next lap

Affil­i­ate Pro­gram — we kept this idea in the back of our minds since the launch of the shop, but frankly with­out tak­ing it too seri­ous­ly. This time, we changed the whole puz­zle and things are get­ting trac­tion with the new yet well-doc­u­ment­ed affil­i­ate pro­gram.

Extend­ed Port­fo­lio — we’ll con­tin­ue to focus on grow­ing the num­ber of themes exclu­sive to the Pix­el­grade Club mem­bers. We plan to address the entire spec­trum of blog­gers and their par­tic­u­lar set of needs. Stay tuned for our upcom­ing gem!

How We Work — we’ll con­tin­ue to devel­op and fine-tune our inter­nal sys­tems to be more pro­duc­tive and effi­cient in all our endeav­ors. We’ve already imple­ment­ed some changes, and we’ll con­tin­ue to focus on improv­ing our way of work­ing across the entire team.

Peo­ple — we will con­tin­ue our recruit­ing efforts in order to attract and keep the right peo­ple for meet­ing our goals. We’ve already iden­ti­fied and detailed a cou­ple of roles that we believe will help us stay focused and suc­cess­ful.

Enjoy the winter holiday 🎄

Oh well, the only thing to add here is that we encour­age every­one to take some time to express grat­i­tude to your team­mates, fam­i­ly, and friends. You might be quite sur­prised about the pos­i­tive impact, and there’s no bet­ter time of the year to rein­force your appre­ci­a­tion and pos­i­tive thoughts. Slow down a bit and make it count!

Have a great hol­i­day, mates! 🙏

Oana Filip
Oana Filip

Digital storyteller @Pixelgrade and community builder for creative industries. A true believer in the power of making the world a better place.