Adii Pienaar is making a WordPress comeback after over a year away from the community. The WooThemes co-founder has made a strategic investment into Obox, the team behind the newly launched Layers product. In return, he’s received a 30% stake in the company to complement Receiptful, his new eCommerce product.
Adii Pienaar has been largely away from the WordPress community for much of the last year and a half. He's one of three co-founders of WooThemes and was instrumental in their growth and success they achieved from 2008 until his departure in late 2013.
Today, Adii is making the second step of his WordPress comeback. In addition to Receiptful — his new eCommerce receipts product — he's taking on an advisory role with Obox, to go along with a cash investment in the company.
Obox is based in Cape Town, South Africa — where Adii and WooThemes are also based. Obox has been around the block as well.
They were founded in 2009 and are lead by brothers Marc and David Perel. Obox has experienced times of great success — peaking as a team of 8 in 2012 — and also years where they've scaled back in response to more competition and watering down of the WordPress theme market.
Before Adii left WooThemes, he had numerous conversations with Obox about an acquisition, but the parties could never agree on the specifics.
Adii now owns a 30% stake in Obox
David Perel showed Adii some screenshots of Layers while they were wrapping up development of the new product. Adii was intrigued and they started once again talking about joining forces, except this time the direction changed; they started talking about what it would look like for Adii to join Obox.
Adii has made a cash investment in the Obox team, in return for a 30% stake in the company. The investment gives Obox a valuation in the millions of dollars, “but less than $10 million.”
The cash from Adii's investment is largely going to be used for operating expenses for the Obox team as they create the business model around Layers. Obox has also beefed up their team by acquihiring Calyx, a two man Cape Town agency.
According to David, “Every cent Obox raises and makes will go into Layers.”
Roller coaster ride
Adii has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride since his departure of WooThemes. I've heard both Adii and his cofounders (Magnus Jepson and Mark Forrester) describe their split as a divorce. It was a hard time.
The split was complete, and Adii released all ownership of the company for an amount he has confirmed on Mixergy was seven figures. He tells me that he has been fully paid for his shares.
With cash in hand, Adii had room to take some risks, and with that risk came a mixture of successes and failures. His first foray into another product was Public Beta, which had many iterations before he ultimately deemed it a lost cause.
His latest startup seems to have traction; Receiptful has had a successful launch, is getting nice adoption, and is expanding to multiple eCommerce platforms after an initial WooCommerce-only launch.
Time heals all wounds, and it appears Adii's relationship with WooThemes is also mended. They even blogged about Receiptful recently on the main WooThemes blog.
Renewed passion for WordPress
Both Receiptful and the Obox investment show renewed passion for WordPress, as well as a sign of Adii getting back to his roots and what he knows best. With the launch of WooCommerce, Adii spearheaded what became a huge success during his time at WooThemes; and WooCommerce has only further grown since his departure.
Adii hopes to take what he's learned — both at WooThemes and with his adventures since — to his role at Obox.
One of the biggest challenges within WordPress is the disconnect between how developers and end-users use it, which makes building great WordPress products really hard. It's also something that we encountered often at Woo and instead of truly tackling the problem we leaned towards building tools for developers.
Layers is different in that sense, because it's focused on the (end-)user experience from the ground up. I couldn't be more excited to work with David & Marc to grow Layers, as they're fanatical about UX and it's my belief that they'll finally make progress to closing the gap between a developer tool and end-user product.
And in terms of the commercialisation of Layers… Well, let's just say that I see opportunities and patterns that were prevalent in WooCommerce's early days too…
A new step for a dynamic WordPress figure
Adii was a huge and dynamic figure in the early days of WordPress' commercial product space. He's always made bold decisions — some good and some not so good.
He has a penchant to make quick decisions and he iterates at a rapid pace; to some it can be off-putting, but for finding a hit it can be hugely important. In contrast, the Obox team makes calculated risks. While they've done a great deal of interesting work and experimentation on their own, they have largely stuck with the theme business while some of their early theme competitors rotated toward plugins and other verticals.
I believe that the combination of Adii and the Perel brothers will make for a compelling trio of leadership at the helm for Obox. Their Layers launch certainly made waves, and their next steps will be hugely important for the future of a company that has gone all in on a product without a monetization strategy.
You can read the official announcement on the Obox blog.