ThemeLab has been around since 2007, started by Leland Fiegel. Leland released dozens of themes on ThemeLab, most of which were free. He also wrote a consistent blog and was generally an active member of the WordPress community. Over time though, as has so often been true, his activity slowed and the site lost focus.
Today, Syed Balkhi officially announced that he has purchased ThemeLab and is moving into the commercial theme space. After talks with a couple of other potential sellers, Syed moved forward on a deal in late 2013 to buy ThemeLab from Leland.
Syed tells me that his reasoning for entering the theme market via a separate site, versus WP Beginner, was multi-faceted but primarily due to mission:
The purpose of WP Beginner was never to sell themes. It was always to help the community.
And he wants to keep his endeavor into themes a separate entity from WP Beginner.
Syed has a team of 14, but ThemeLab is its own company. Currently, six members of the team are working on building and maintaining the new ThemeLab.
Like some others in the market I've profiled, such as The Theme Foundry and Array, Syed wants to go back to simpler themes that work out of the box. That's the aim with ThemeLab. All options are in the customizer and their themes, while aimed to fairly generic markets, are intended to work as you see them in the demos.
Pricing for themes is currently fairly standard to the rest of the market; a single theme costs $39 and the full package is $199. However, Syed has plans to explore some new models, additive to the current one, that are not common in today's landscape.
ThemeLab has also retired all old themes, according to the announcement post, but they have released one new free theme, Slipstream. It reminds me a bit of the now defunct Standard theme, but more modern.
It's interesting to see Syed in the theme market. That segment of the WordPress business world is in a strange flux. Simultaneously, we're seeing companies wane and go up for sale, while other big players move to plugins; and yet we're still getting new entrants to the market full of confidence and new ideas.
The market definitely isn't dead, but being first no longer means being successful, as the market is so entirely saturated. New players and old both have to innovate and convince potential customers why they are different and worth buying from, and Syed tells me that's exactly what they intend to do.