We’re happy to interview Rich Tabor, designer, WordPress developer, and founder of ThemeBeans, 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 Rich Tabor, the founder at ThemeBeans, a WordPress theme shop building themes for creative professionals. We’re a small team (two of us, and an occasional contractor), though we’re making waves in the premium WordPress product space.
My shop is one of the first to pioneer annually recurring licenses for WordPress themes. Early on, I knew that selling WordPress themes as a one time purchase just wasn’t going to cut it. With the ever increasingly fast pace of WordPress core development, it takes much more effort to maintain WordPress themes today than it did a couple years ago.
Recurring licenses would be the catalyst to continue providing excellent value to customers using my products. Neither myself, nor any of my customers, want a defunct website due to the latest WordPress update. We’ve been utilizing this business model at ThemeBeans for just over three years now, and I haven’t looked back.
Q#2: What’s your main activity within WordPress today?
Currently, I am hyper-focused on Gutenberg – the new WordPress block editor, landing in WordPress 5.0 some time this year. Gutenberg brings all sorts of powerful, rich content editing to everyday WordPress users in a way that completely empowers folks to create beautiful content.
With the WordPress 5.0 release, themes are going to need a lot of work to be 100% Gutenberg-ready. I suspect that many theme shops that do not have recurring revenue in place will fall short of this expectation simply because they do not have the financial incentive to support this level of development on an older theme. I do.
I can justify spending the time it takes to level-up my themes, old and new, to support Gutenberg, and that’s what I’m working on currently at ThemeBeans.
Q#3: Why did you choose a SaaS (subscription service) model? Did you change your model from your beginnings? and if so, why?
Originally, I sold my WordPress themes exclusively at ThemeForest. I didn’t have the necessary expertise to really branch out on my own, and at the time, most WordPress themes on ThemeForest were performing quite well.
Customers still expected lifetime updates and support, and the revenue each theme generated was substantial enough to meet those exorbitant costs – at least for the short term. Most theme shops knew this approach wasn’t very sustainable in a long term fashion, but we were all doing well. Once the market became highly saturated, and the tide started shifting towards mega multipurpose themes, I decided to explore selling themes at ThemeBeans.
There were a few reasons I took the plunge:
- First, I had to combat the competitive nature of WordPress theme marketplaces. Every time I sent a potential customer to my themes’ sales page on these marketplaces, they instantly had thousands of other WordPress themes they could pick from. That’s no good.
- Second, I wanted to know who my customers were. When a theme sells on an external marketplace, I don’t really know who they are, where they came from, how they’re using a theme, nothing. Not knowing your customers is a big issue.
- Third, and most importantly, I wanted to build a sustainable business. And with a product that requires consistent updates and extensive support, a SaaS model needed to be in place.
This move turned out to be such a good thing for ThemeBeans, and I’m so thankful I had the insight to move when I did. Soon after I started selling themes on ThemeBeans, many authors on ThemeForest started lowering their prices. Even today, many of the top selling WordPress themes are selling at a fraction of what they previously were. Yikes!
Q#4: What’s the key metric you’re closely watching on a daily basis?
I’m not obsessed about metrics, although I do keep an eye on the number of new theme and club subscribers. I do also look for common support ticket topics, so that I can add relevant articles on our Help Center, to minimize common requests as best as possible.
As a small team, it’s important to keep an eye on the time we spent replying to support tickets. The more time I can save on support operations, the more time we’ll have to build beautiful WordPress themes.
Q#5: How do you handle support? And how important is it to you?
I recently published an article on seven valuable lessons I’ve learned while running a WordPress product shop, two of which are centered on support.
Ensuring that my themes and plugins remain operable is directly tied to the success of ThemeBeans, and more importantly even, my reputation as a WordPress developer. And with the highly competitive nature of the WordPress economy, I simply cannot afford a hit to my professional capabilities. Real people are relying on my team to ensure their websites are functioning properly, and I don’t take that lightly.
We use HelpScout to triage support and consistently update our help guides to ensure folks are getting the best support possible.
Generally, we strive our best to be positive, welcoming, over-delivering, and most importantly, understanding. Tackling a support issue is a chance to change a tough situation into a good one, simply by being there for the customer. I personally enjoy support. It’s an opportunity to get screen-to-screen with customers and really help someone.
Q#6: What will be the next big moves for you within the WordPress ecosystem?
I mentioned earlier that I’m diving into Gutenberg development. In learning all that I can about Gutenberg, I’ve been developing a suite of Gutenberg blocks over at GutenKit. GutenKit is a proving ground for block development, and I have plans on developing the project into a product suite focused on building beautiful websites with Gutenberg.
Writy is an upcoming WordPress theme and plugin bundle that sets a whole new standard for writing and publishing in WordPress. Featuring several custom Gutenberg blocks, focused on content marketing and writing, Writy is absolutely set on making publishing in WordPress fun again. I’m super excited about this project. Subscribe at Writy.io to enter the upcoming beta period – which opens really soon.
Q#7: What’s your favorite SaaS reference?
By far, MailChimp. MailChimp is a leading email marketing service that has been pushing the boundaries of a traditional email newsletter service, becoming more of a marketing platform. I enjoy their fun and interesting marketing campaigns and how they’ve consistently added value to the platform over the years.
Q#8: What was your toughest challenge in your entrepreneurial journey?
The toughest challenge I face is staying focused. At times, I have so many things I want to accomplish that I find myself overwhelmed and unable to tackle what I need to get done. I’ve found that having a solid person to talk with (my wife Jesse) helps to organize my thoughts and drill down so that I can accomplish what I want to do.
I’ve learned that throughout life we’re consistently handed new responsibilities, and if we allow ourselves, we grow to meet them. Focusing on what’s important in life, not just business, is how we achieve our goals and make things happen.
Q#9: Whom should we interview next & why?
It’d be awesome if you can get a hold of Yoni Luksenberg from Elementor. I met Yoni at WordCamp US last year in Nashville – he’s a neat guy. I was going to suggest Luca Fracassi from Addendio as well, but it looks like Kobe Itamar already did during his interview. ?