We’re happy to interview Primoz Cigler the CEO and co-founder of proteusthemes.com, a unique WordPress Theme shop, as part of our series on WordPress SaaS founders: Weglot SaaSy.
Q#1: What is your background, what should our readers know about you?
I’m Primoz, CEO, and co-founder of ProteusThemes – I like to think of us as a non-conventional WordPress theme shop. Most of the players in this space are one-man bands and a few bigger companies. Majority of the business until 2 years back was done through a single marketplace for selling and buying themes – ThemeForest.
With the pricing changes and decreasing the quality standard in the marketplace, things started getting worse for us and many other authors. As a team of 6 people of that time, we decided it’s time to act, so in November 2016 we’ve opened our own theme shop which opened the whole new world of marketing opportunities and developing better and bigger solutions.
Q#2: What’s your main activity within WordPress today?
Our primary activity is still selling WordPress themes. But we’ve also launched some other side-products, the biggest one in the last year is ProteusPay, which is the integration between EDD and FastSpring and solves problems of dealing with VAT and paperwork when selling digital products like themes and plugins (but not limited to that).
Within the team, I take care that everyone is happy, everyone knows what to do and that they don’t have any blockers, so we’re efficient as a team and move as fast as possible. It’s quite a difficult role, there are times when many things are going on and I find it hard to prioritize what I should do first.
However, the team I have is amazing and I figured out that sometimes I am more a blocker to them than a supporter. So I started experimenting by excluding myself from specific processes.
Lastly, this January I’ve started thinking a lot about the long-term vision of the company, my role in it in the far future, what we’ll be doing 5 years from now etc. I’m in the middle of the process and the picture is getting clearer and clearer. Without this clear vision, you don’t know where you’re heading and where you want to arrive. Consequently, you’re doing one month a little bit of this and the next one a little bit of that.
With a clear and inspiring vision that’s shared among everyone in the team, we’re having a clear picture where we’re heading and we’ll eventually arrive there!
Q#3: Why did you choose a SaaS (subscription service) model? Did you change your model from your beginnings? and if so, why?
More predictable revenue on our side and less confusion and work needed on the customer side. And yes, having our roots in the marketplace where the payments are one-time, we have changed our pricing model quite some times. For the first half year, we’ve been selling single time licenses, then in the middle of 2017 switched entirely on the subscriptions. Now we’re figuring out that the middle ground will work the best – a combo of a single time purchases for a “grab-and-go” type of customer and subscription model for the long-term relationships with freelancers and agencies that love working with us. We’re rolling out a new pricing model sometimes later in February.
Q#4: What’s the key metric you’re closely watching on a daily basis?
I used to watch closely the sales, but that’s a terrible metric to watch daily. I changed my perspective in a way that the metrics should be checked in the time frame within which the things can significantly change or within which you have control of changing them. For the sales in the products business as we’re in, there is very little our team can do within a single day to change the numbers significantly, so it’s much better to check them somewhere between the weekly and monthly basis and that’s what I’ve recently started doing. It’s far less stressful to ignore the sales most of the days because the sales tend to fluctuate a lot when watching in short time windows. When you compare sales from month to month, they nuances level out and the picture is much clearer how the business is doing.
So I started to think what else is important in a company and I came to the conclusion that I strive for a good work/life balance for me and everyone in the team, even more than the financial results. Being bootstrapped company, we have the luxury that we can afford to prioritize something else over the financial report. So our team’s happiness is one metric I will prioritize over everything else in the future. And here’s the reason – if we as a team feel great, we’ll be more productive, we’ll come up with great concepts, work on them, deliver them and eventually, the other, more quantitative-based metrics will positively reflect on our happiness.
When starting the ProteusThemes I remember I was prioritizing happiness far more than I did in the last 2-3 years and the things worked out better. When I was learning more and more about doing the business “the proper way”, everyone’s telling you to rely solely on the numbers, measure everything and trust the data. However, this didn’t work for me personally and consequently for the team and I’m switching back to the good old gut feeling and therefore allowing for more dramatic decisions.
Q#5: How do you handle support? And how important is it to you?
We’re taking it very seriously and it has always been one of the areas our customers loved the most about ProteusThemes. We’ve been using Zendesk since the beginning, it’s been working great for us.
When providing support on such a high level, the thing you have to watch closely is that you’re still making a profit at the end of the day. There was a period when we provided support to all customers, even if they never renewed their licenses. It’s not sustainable, so last year we’ve rolled out custom-made customer dashboard on our website, where only people with valid licenses can open new support requests. This change led to decrease in support volume and simultaneously increase in licenses renewals.
Q#6: What will be the next big moves for you within the WordPress ecosystem?
We’re in the process of switching from the niche themes for business presentational sites to eCommerce themes. We’ve been working on the ultimate WooCommerce theme for some months now, because we dug all the way back to the roots of eCommerce, finding numerous great examples, talking to successful eCommerce shop business owners in order to learn the ins and outs of selling products online. We only want to release something new if it’s a major step forward from what’s available today on the market.
Q#7: What’s your favorite SaaS reference?
Basecamp. Not the product itself but the founders of Basecamp are amazingly inspiring people.
Q#8: What was your toughest challenge in your entrepreneurial journey?
Being self-aware and work against the environment that leads to work owning you. When I was starting out the ProteusThemes, I had nothing to lose, I had this pretty clear vision when I wanted to achieve and I was bold enough to try out many things simply because I believed in them and I wanted to try them out. A few years in, without even realizing it, I lost this initial foolish approach and as mentioned above, started running the company in a way how “it’s supposed to be run”. That led to many sleepless nights, periods of depression etc.
I had to take time for myself, step back, see things from the wider perspective to realize that I don’t have to do this and that I don’t have to do things the way others say it’s “the right way”. By gaining back some of the initial foolish approach and trusting more to your inner self, I am feeling so much better again and I sense we’re back on track.
Q#9: Whom should we interview next & why?
Reach out to Rich (no pun intended) Tabor from ThemeBeans. I admire his work, his writings and in general how effective he is, being a solo man running a theme shop.