On the surface, Themeco certainly seems like one of those companies that get labeled an “overnight success.” But we’re all smart enough to know that “overnight successes” are usually the results of hard work.
When we spoke with the creators of X Theme, their path was anything but easy. After years of sleepless nights, multiple rejections, personal hurdles, and relentless determination, X Theme has finally gotten it’s due.
Right Place, Right Time
X Theme traces its beginnings to the Mandalay Bay rooftop in Vegas in 2010. This is where founders Kyle Wakefield and Scott Marlow had their first chance encounter. ClickBank had invited both to a party for top affiliates.
Standing in the food line, Kyle saw an opportunity to strike up a conversation with the man standing behind him. Neither knew many people at the event.
After meeting, the event ended and both returned to their jobs. It wasn’t until years later that they teamed up to create X. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sweating the Small Stuff
Development of X began in late 2012. “When [Scott] came on, X was just an idea.”
Both knew that in a global marketplace filled with so many talented designers, that they were going to need to bring something unique. “There are just too many players to try to make a “me too” type product,” says Wakefield. “We spent a long time on our unique selling proposition.”
They quickly recognized a need for designers to change full designs with the click of a button while staying within one theme environment. “People get tired of theme designs and want to change it up….We knew from the beginning this was going to be a different kind of theme.”
The stack concept was the answer to providing what designers wanted and setting themselves apart.
Development was long and arduous. The team (including Kyle’s brother, Kory) spent fifteen months developing the 1.0 version of X Theme. During this time they faced many hurdles, from Kyle’s personal health (and subsequent surgery) to strained relationships and conflicts.
Back to the Drawing Board
Facing the daunting approval process at ThemeForest, the team submitted their painstaking work. They quickly received a form letter letting them know their design had been rejected.
“We couldn’t get the time of day at ThemeForest,” says Wakefield. “They kept rejecting it. We thought we’d done something really creative.”
Two more submissions for approval were followed by two more rejections. “We’d go back to the drawing board and try to add in more stuff.”
Ultimately, feeling frustrated by the idea they were sacrificing the theme’s core concept to meet the opinions of a few reviewers, the Themeco team made the bold decision to sell X Theme on their own.
Knowing they had something truly unique, versatile, and powerful, they put a marketing strategy in place and began developing new relationships.
A Pivotal Moment
A few months after the last rejection letter, someone at Envato (ThemeForest’s parent company) sent Wakefield an email to inform him he was a top affiliate. They wanted to verify his address to send a gift bag. In closing, the man offered his assistance if Kyle ever needed anything.
“I thought, ‘I need to tell him all the pain we’ve been through trying to get this thing approved over there,’” says Wakefield.
Sending a second email, Wakefield was able to start a conversation with Envato, ultimately putting him in touch with the head of the review team.
An approval came shortly thereafter.
The Hard Work Begins
Approval at ThemeForest was just the beginning for the Themeco team. While the approval was a critical, hard-won step, there was more work to be done.
“Some guys want to talk about how successful they’ve been or how great they’ve done. But to get there, it’s not easy,” says Wakefield.
The team knew ThemeForest would provide them with a certain level of marketing, but they wanted to do their own work in spreading the word about X.
They went on a mission to develop as many relationships as possible, from site owners to large and small players in the industry. They spoke to anyone passionate about WordPress. “We started, from the ground up, connecting dots with them and getting the word out about X.”
Using the same critical insights that led them to the stack concept, the team identified two key selling points: customer support and updated feature development.
With a team of 18 scattered across the world, the guys at Themeco are dedicated to making sure X doesn’t become bloated. Instead of mindlessly adding new features, the team has worked hard to create extensions that give people the features they want, without affecting the integrity of the theme itself.
“X is on the front line of seeing what developers and designers want to see. We listen to what people are saying and we figure out how and if we’ll integrate it into the theme.”
Selling 900 themes a day would make it easy to sit back and call themselves a success. But Wakefield is driven by the moment he received the third rejection letter while recovering from surgery.
“It was a tough recovery. We had resubmitted the theme [for the third time]. We all thought, ‘maybe this time it will be different.’”
When he received the letter, he was barely able to move. He was physically weak. Emotionally weak. Spiritually weak.
“We felt like nothing could go our way. It was very demoralizing.”
Marlow adds, “This was a whole lot harder than we ever thought it would be.”
But it was their support of each other that got them through. It’s the same kind of support they’ve built their business on.
And it’s the same kind of focus, drive, and determination that keeps them moving forward, no matter how large their successes or failures.
When asked for advice, Wakefield offers this: “You have to go through so many ups and downs. At many points, you want to give up. If you’re just getting started, find many [channels]. You never know which one will work.”