Gerasimos Tsiamalos is a talented web designer and the co-founder of CSSIgniter – a premium WordPress theme and plugin shop based in Greece.
We’re big fans of CSSIgniter and have always been impressed with their elegant and functional WordPress themes, their regularity in releasing new themes, and their attractive prices and fantastic value for money they provide customers.
I think it’s the combination of all those qualities that has made CSSigniter one of the most enduring, successful and popular independent WordPress theme shops around today in what’s becoming an increasingly completive and saturated WordPress theme marketplace.
PremiumWP reached out to Gerasimos for an interview, which he graciously agreed to, in order to learn more about him and CSSIgniter.
In the interview below Gerasimos shares with us how he first got involved with WordPress, the CSSIgniter story and what goes on behind the scenes running the business, his thoughts on the current state of the WordPress themes market, some advice for people starting a theme shop today and more….
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
My name is Gerasimos Tsiamalos, I’m a web designer and the co-founder over at CSSIgniter. I’ve been in the web design / front-end development industry for almost 15 years now and I’m still loving it like it’s my first day in it.
How did you first get into WordPress?
Back in 2007 I was looking for a reliable CMS solution for my client projects. After evaluating a few solutions (Joomla and a few others) I stumbled upon WordPress. Back then, I was mainly building 5 – 10 page websites and I realized that WordPress could easily support this kind of projects. Clients were happy with its interface too. I’ve never touched/used another CMS since then. Ok, I tried Drupal a couple of times and while it’s a great piece of software, it was definitely not for me.
Please tell us the background and story of CSSIgniter. When was founded and how did you come up with the name CSSIgniter?
In 2009 and after around 20 – 30 successful WordPress client projects, I wanted to test the waters in the themes market. I called up an old friend, Anastis Sourgoutsidis, the other half of the CSSIgniter founding team, and told him about my idea. He agreed and the rest is history. We opened our little themes store in 2010 and.. what followed, for a year or so, was the greatest business failure ever. in 2010 – 11 we sold ±50 copies of our themes (through a subscription model). To be honest, we didn’t have a clear understanding of the market back then and we thought that all we had to do is put some themes together. Without a mission, a vision & a clear strategy we were doomed, but little did we know back then.
We had bills to pay and we ran CSSIgniter as a side project for another year or so. For some reason, I did know that we could claim a spot in this market and in 2012 we relaunched. I fired all of my clients and focused 100% on CSSIgniter. I called 2 more friends, Vassilis Mastorostergios (still our senior front-end developer) and Thanos Papavasiliou (web designer). This time we had a solid plan. We were going to provide niche themes to freelancers / small web dev agencies at a price they could most certainly afford. $39 / year. We relaunched with 10 themes in our catalog and we’ve been adding 1 theme per month ever since. We also joined Themeforest as exclusive authors and our first theme with them, Muzak, has been on of our most popular themes to date. We now have 74 themes in our catalogue that users can get for $49 / year, 8 exclusive Themeforest themes and we’ve made our first step in the plugins market with AudioIgniter, a music player for WordPress. We have served over 50,000 so far, and the future looks bright 🙂
Oh about the name. Back then, I was using a PHP framework called CodeIgniter (amazing tool by the way) and I really liked the sound of it. I purchased 2 domain names, CSSIgniter and WPIgniter. We went on with CSSIgniter since we provide HTML versions of our themes too.
How many people work at CSSIgniter? What are there roles?
We are still a small team of 5. Anastis, my co-founder is responsible for the WordPress development of our themes, Vassilis Mastorostergios is our front-end master, Nikos Vourvachis was up until recently our support guru but have now transitioned in the WordPress development team (alongside Anastis). Our latest addition is Fotis Papafotiou who’s responsible for keeping our users happy. I’m the designer around here (amongst other things).
What makes CSSIgniter stand out from other shops? Why should people use a CSSIgniter theme?
The feedback from the market is this: “You have some great themes in your catalog but you know what, we can find great themes elsewhere too. What we cannot find is your amazing support”. We invested heavily in this front. We provide meaningful answers to all questions within 24 hours, no exceptions.
You see, a WordPress theme by itself, the zip file that is, doesn’t mean much. Users will upload it, follow some instructions but eventually, they will need help. Providing a consistent user onboarding experience withinin the WordPress dashboard is tricky. Take 10 themes for 10 different developers. You will experience 10 different ways of setting things up. Users do know that and they do expect a reactive support channel to be present and ready to be used. We are there for them 24 hours / day, 7 days / month, 365 days / year and I think this what makes our shop stand out from the crowd.
People use CSSIgniter themes because they do know that we explicitly tackle one problem at a time with each of our themes. Multipurpose themes are fantastic, but not our thing 🙂
CSSIgniter currently has a massive collection of 74 WordPress themes. How do you manage and support so many themes?
Well, all of our themes are based on a small framework that we’ve been developing over time, which makes the whole process much easier. Our only problem right now is updating WooCommerce themes. WooCommerce core pushes breaking changes even in minor releases and we have to constantly keep in eye there.
What is your typical working day like at CSSIgniter? Do you work from home or have an office?
A typical day starts with email. I have a strict zero inbox policy in place, so I will reply to ALL emails in the morning. This usually takes about an hour. I will then join our Slack channel and have a chat with my partners. We all work from home so Slack is our HQ. New theme progress, theme updates, deadlines are all part of our daily chats. Most of the times we will just stay online on Slack and discuss about things throughout the day while working on other things. I spend Mondays and Tuesdays mostly on our marketing strategy (finding new ways to promote our themes, improving our current ones etc) while the rest of the week is all about designing new themes. Yes, there’s also this day of the month where I have to deal with payments, invoices etc which I totally hate but it’s part of the game.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with WordPress?
Lately I’ve been trying to put together a small collection of old computers. Amigas, Amstrads, old PCs, this kind of stuff. It’s really fun and my brain gets completely disconnected from business stuff. I’m also building a retro arcade controller based on the amazing Raspberry Pi. Metal Slug anyone?
Do you have a favourite product you’ve created at CSSIgniter? If so which one and why?
I’m really proud of everything we’ve built so far. We started with literally zero budget and managed to build a small sustainable business. Now, my favourite product would be one of our blogging themes, Olsen. For some reason I knew that it will be an instant hit. The free version is in the top 20 most popular themes in WordPress.org and the Pro version is doing really great as well. It’s my favourite because it’s one of our most simple themes yet so powerful and flexible at the same time.
What tools and services do you use at CSSIgniter?
I’m trying to keep our monthly expenses to a minimum. I just don’t want to get in a “there’s an app for that” state spending more time trying to find where everything is instead of doing some actual work. We use Asana for project management, Slack, Mailchimp for email marketing, Beanstalk for our SVN repository, Ahrefs for backlink, keyword tracking, Olark for our live chat and Fastspring as a payment gateway. I use Photoshop / Sketch for my design work and Sublime Text as my code editor. My partners use PhpStorm. That’d be it really.
You’ve recently released your first premium WordPress plugin – AudioIgniter Pro. Any plans to create more premium plugins?
Yes, definitely. We built AudioIgniter so we can use it in our music themes and we thought it’d be a good idea to release it as an independent plugin as well. Our next plugin will follow this philosophy. You’ll be the first to know more about it 🙂
What are the main challenges facing CSSIgniter going forward?
Our mission is to provide niche products that solve one problem at a time. Our main challenge is to keep up with our users’ demand for more themes. We are trying to streamline our development process so we can produce more themes in less time without sacrificing quality. It’s tricky but we are getting there.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the WordPress theme market and where do you see it heading in the future?
The market is definitely saturated. Thing is that if you take a niche, any niche, while you will find 1000 themes, you won’t be able to find more than 20 reliable themes that live up to their name. So much noise. So many half-baked solutions. If you look past this noise though, there are still opportunities for great themes out there. Also, I think there will be a shift from “just skins” to full blown apps due to the inclusion of the REST API into the WordPress core.
What advice would you give people wanting to start creating and selling WordPress products in 2016?
Be honest with your offering. Build themes that you would use for your own projects. Provide top notch support to your customers. Get involved with WordPress. Try to solve real problems and don’t just look for “inspiration” in other themes. Precisely define your target audience. No, “everyone that uses WordPress” won’t cut it. Be patient.
What can we expect from CSSIgniter in the future?
More top-notch niche themes and some really great plugins!
Thank you so much Gerasimos for taking the time to answer our questions and sharing more about yourself and CSSIgniter with our readers. You can follow Gerasimos on Twitter and check out all his excellent premium WordPress themes and plugins at CSSIgniter.
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