I recently had the opportunity to interview Emil Uzelac of ThemeID, the developer of the massively popular Responsive theme for WordPress. Responsive is hosted in the WordPress Theme Directory and has surpassed 100,000 downloads in just 3 months, making it the most popular free theme available on WordPress.org. Emil was kind enough to chat with us about why the Responsive theme has been so successful and what’s next for him in collaboration with the team at LabZip. Read on to find out how Emil’s approach to support and customer service has made his theme the most popular one in the WordPress.org theme directory.
1. How did you get into WordPress theme development?
Back in 2003, all my sites were developed using plain HTML, so I was looking for an easy way to manage the navigation menu system across many pages. I experimented with WordPress then, but it was not ready for prime-time. I went on to try Mambo and Joomla, but wasn’t fully satisfied. Then in 2005 I came back to try WordPress again, and fell in love. Since then it has been my official CMS and I’ve never looked back!
2. How long did it take you to create the Responsive theme?
It took me about 3 months, but no theme is ever really “finished”. Responsive is still very much a work in progress.
3. What do you think it is about the Responsive theme that has made it so popular with WordPress users?
Although the name is certainly easy to remember, I would suggest that my “secret sauce” has been superior support. It is amazing how happy people are to find an outlet and mentor for their creative energy. I spend a significant part of each day providing support and tips to nurture the community of ThemeID fans.
4. Why did you decide to offer this theme for free as opposed to making it a commercial theme?
It is clear that the GPL can be honored in a way that creates passion, growth and profit. The balance comes from carving out a little niche for oneself (or one’s company) where you can deliver what others do not. It could be as simple as support, but in our case, it is from providing the same kind of features typically found in commercial themes, but for free. Our goal is to provide a safe entry point into our growing community. There is no obligation to ever buy anything from us, of course. But once a person has fallen in love with our core theme and our personal support… they WANT to take the relationship to a higher level, and they then have the trust in us that we will provide the answers and solutions they need.
5. Do you have any advice for other developers who are thinking about creating and supporting a free theme?
Be prepared to provide enthusiastic support and leadership over your community. If you do not show excitement and wonderment at how “awesome” your theme is for a particular type of WordPress user, then how can you expect them to be interested in using the same?
At the end of the day, it is all about relationships and not about software.
6. What does the future hold for you in your new partnership with LabZip?
I was approached by Spence from (LabSecrets.com & 1stWebDesigner.com) about ThemeID and our Responsive theme. He happens to live here in Chicago as well, and we immediately hit it off on the basis of how similar we view customer relationships, support, having fun with our companies, and building creative solutions.
He explained that he and Dainis Graveris wanted me to join them in their mission to provide everything WordPress In One Place, Ready To Use. They have a global team of about a dozen talented people who are creating really unique hosted solutions and components for the WordPress community.
In joining with LabZip, I hope to bring my designs, experience from working with the Theme Review Team, and passion for helping customers. The immediate focus is on developing new child-themes and ready-to-use solutions. These will make it easy for anyone to have a gorgeous WordPress site up and running the same day, with BuddyPress, bbPress, WooCommerce and any of more than 80 curated features. All of these solutions will have plugins and beautiful sample content installed. In other words… with LabZip I believe we’re going to make WordPress as easy and exciting for entrepreneurs and businesses as the Lego Store is for kids!