Themezilla acquired by Pixel Union

Pixel Union was originally a theme marketplace for Tumblr, that expanded to BigCommerce, Shopify, and WordPress. The founder of Pixel Union is Andrew Wilkinson, who also started Meta Lab and publishes Designer News. Meta Lab is well known for being the original design agency to work with Slack.

It has been fairly well known for some time that Orman Clark was seeking a buyer for Themezilla.  Orman entered the ThemeForest marketplace in 2010,  and he went on to set many revenue records; he was also one of the first ThemeForest authors to make a million dollars on ThemeForest.

He was a bit of a ThemeForest star for a couple of years. He went out on his own with Themezilla, but also began working on Dunked, a non-WordPress hosted portfolio CMS. Dunked launched in May of 2013, and you could tell pretty much from that point on that it was his primary focus. Like a number of other theme designers, he simply lost his passion for WordPress theming.

Themezilla has probably done well since then (I don’t know the financials), but without as much care and passion put into it, I doubt it ever regained the early energy of Orman’s efforts. However, he still had a significant mailing list to market to due to the Premium Pixels design blog he started working on in 2010, if I recall correctly.

Orman’s marketing strategy was brilliant, even if he didn’t plan it. He gave away free stuff (design assets, etc) on Premium Pixels, then started selling ThemeForest themes to those same people, and then branched out on his own with a micro-CMS targeted to the same audience.

If you learn nothing else, it’s to see how consistent quality efforts can pay off, but even when everything goes well, you’ll likely evolve what you’re doing a number of times. Premium Pixels, his ThemeForest collection, and Themezilla were all hits in their own regard, but he continued to follow his passions and interests until he found comfort in Dunked.

It’s too bad Orman isn’t involved in the WordPress world any more. I always loved his work. I followed his work (and wrote about him) early on. He remains one of the best designers out there, in my mind. And I’m sure that’s what Andrew Wilkinson and team saw in Themezilla as well.

It’s a bit staggering the number of things Andrew works on, with Designer News, MetaLab, and Pixel Union. I presume he has dedicated employees under the MetaLab umbrella to help run these projects. And Themezilla is a natural fit. He’ll be able to bring even more of a design-focused market to Themezilla for WordPress themes.

I have no idea what sales for Themezilla have been since late 2012, but at one point it was sustaining a multi-person team full time, and I bet the email list alone is tens of thousands of subscribers. The website boasts more than 40,000 members and the Themezilla ThemeForest page shows well over $2 million in lifetime revenue (and those are just from themes published prior to 2013). Their most recent release was in August of 2015.

I would blindly guess that Themezilla was sold for low to mid six figures — probably more than $200,000, but I’d be quite impressed if he got more than $500,000.

Buying a theme shop like Themezilla is a smart way for Pixel Union to jump further into the WordPress theme market without having to break new ground. They bought a theme shop that was well respected, utilized good design, and has a long history. However, it’s not a guarantee for success.

The thought of paying anything — much less hundreds of thousands of dollars — for a WordPress theme shop frightens me. We’ve discovered just how low the barrier to entry for theming is, and how much effort is required to consistently make revenue from a theme shop, no matter how high quality. It’s not an easy business to be in, but with the right formula, it’s one that can work.

Do you know of a theme shop acquisition that turned out to be a good deal for the buyer? I’d love to know about it. I plan to do some research in this arena over the next few weeks. There have been enough of them that I think we can get some insights; though my gut tells me it’ll be a mixed bag, at best.

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