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Transparency Report #25 – Zerif Lite Back … What’s the Impact on Zerif Pro?

Welcome to the 25th edition of our monthly transparency report (for February 2017). In this series, I try to cover everything that’s been going on at CodeinWP and Themeisle – from a business point of view, plus all things related (marketing, management, behind the curtains stuff). Click here to see the previous reports.

Getting out of my comfort zone … with some outside help

Every now and then, I like to spend some quality time talking with other entrepreneurs and business owners in the online realm. Regardless if WordPress-related or not.

And I don’t mean stuff like, “hey, how’s it going?” -kind of talks. I mean deep and sometimes lengthy conversations about strategies, visions, plans, projects, everything. The more in-depth the better.

Just imagine, the person you’re talking with has lived with their business for X years, they have learned and experimented a lot, they have made their mistakes, they have come to conclusions that you couldn’t have come to unless you had clocked in your hours with the business. So now into the picture come you, and you can get the highlight reel of all those hours in mere 1/100th or 1/1000th of the time – the duration of the conversation alone.

This is a variation of what James Altucher has said multiple times on his podcast, something to the tune of, “reading a book is like getting the author’s whole life experience in 10 hours or less” (paraphrased heavily).

So a couple of months ago, I talked with Alex from Creative Tim. I was fascinated by the way he runs his business in some aspects.


First off, it’s the Creative Tim guys who created the material kit for our Hestia theme, so I already knew they mean business!

In a word, Alex is totally product-focused, and has an insane attention to detail. For example, he doesn’t know – nor cares much for – SEO, ads, or other “crucial” (as one would imagine) online marketing elements. Instead of trying to master all those elements by himself, he always does what a business owner should do – find companies that can take care of those things for him and then give them freedom to do so.

And that second part is key here – giving them freedom to do their job.

For me, I am the opposite. I’m extremely curious and a bit of a control freak. I like to dive into various aspects of the business head first, learn as much new things as I can and experiment with them. This is not necessarily bad in itself, obviously, but the problem is in knowing when to stop.

Some examples of where this keeps leading me:

  1. Me doing lots of media buying without really paying attention to design/copy/data, hence making a handful of bad deals along the way.
  2. Me doing lots of AdWords and Facebook ads without really taking the time to monitor, improve, and ultimately make those campaigns worthwhile.
  3. While I tend to give lots of autonomy to the people in the team, I find it hard to trust them totally without being kept in the loop.

Granted, taking part in a) and b) is fine if you just want to get going and learn a thing or two about advertising/promotion essentials. However, when your budgets start going north of the $10k / month mark then it’s probably high time you get a specialist involved.

Being honest with everybody here, and myself, I’m kind of average when it comes to ads, so after Alex recommended a Facebook ads agency, I’ve realized that it might just be the time for me to hire someone. I hope to get rolling with this sometime next month. I want to finish all the previous campaigns properly, wrap things up, analyze, etc. and only then launch new ones.

About c) – being a control freak – I haven’t been able to do much about this yet. All I’ve been doing for now is disconnecting from the business for a few weeks from time to time. This allows people to feel more empowered, step up to the task, and as a result help me realize that things work just fine even if I am not here trying to juggle everything.

I know, this is more of a hack rather than a deliberate strategy or thought-out action. I will try to bring this up during the team meetings and start working on ways to overcome this long term.

“But Ionut, what’s in it for me?!”

Okay, sorry. Lengthy rant, I know. Here are the takeaways:

  1. Don’t be afraid of the decisions you’re making. Don’t think of them as “good” or “bad.” No matter what you do and how you do it, you need to keep investing and taking risks in order to develop and grow.
  2. Learn to delegate more and better! Working with external companies, experts in their fields can save you a lot of time. And even if the result is initially a bit sub-par, don’t worry, it’s the long-term outcomes that we’re after here.

Now let’s dive into some of the product news from the previous month:

Zerif Lite is back in the themes repo

I feel like I’ve been talking about this for the past two – three? – transparency reports already.

Anyway, finally – finally! – Zerif Lite is back in the WordPress theme repo. 🙂

However, as I suspected, without the previous demo in place or the original front page settings and the upsell modules, the lite-to-pro conversions are much much lower. Despite generating tens of thousands of downloads in the first month after reactivation, our revenues have barely moved.

zerif lite downloads

Here’s the traffic to the Zerif Pro page after Zerif Lite’s reactivation:

Zerif Pro traffic

We’ve been working hard during the first few months to make sure that the experience for new users is as smooth as possible, so using the theme should be as simple as it’s ever been under the hood. We’ve simplified the front page handling, streamlined the plugin recommendations and utilized starter content.

I am sure that things will build up from here and that our position in the popular tab is going to increase, but getting sales through the free theme is going to continue being quite tough.

I’ve received a full financial report for the first two months of the year. It tells me that we have roughly a 10% profit rate. As you’d imagine, this is not ideal since we rely on some revenues that are not that predictable. Nevertheless, despite the problems with direct theme sales after the previous Zerif Lite removal, we’ve managed to adapt and stay profitable, which is great and surely proves that there are always more revenue streams to tap into out there.

Our company values and mission

As I wrote in the previous report, we did an internal survey on company values and mission. Here are the results of that – our new values and how they translate to our mission (as always with those things, this is still work in progress, but you can check them out for inspiration):

No.1: “Self-motivated”

We are passionate about our work and do things because we believe in them. We’re over-involved and that’s how we like it.

We’re interested to grow individually and as a company. We’re still learning many things every day and we take pride in where we are and how we’ve got here. The secret to our success is our stubbornness and our resistance to failure.

No.2: “Truthful”

We value people most for their character, for being truthful with themselves and with others. This is how we’re building honest relationships with the people around us, with friends, clients and partners. We like to treat others with trust and be open about our doings. With our transparency reports, we’re looking to offer our support to others, keep an open door and attract like-minded people.

No.3: “Independent”

We believe in a culture where people act at their best when they are not restricted. We’ve built a place for ourselves where everyone is encouraged to take initiative and give their best.This is guarded by an error-embracing environment where there are no absolute fails, only possible errors and better-achieving solutions. It’s a place where you are encouraged to lead and make decisions. And with great power, comes great responsibility – a responsibility we have for our users, which is a reminder for us to keep up with the game.

this is a good starting point. It will probably take some time until we manage to fully integrate this into how we work, communicate, and to have the feedback loops in place to prevent us from going wrong.

Props for Sabina who helped me on this!

One final thing that we kind of restarted last month are the monthly team meetings. During those meetings, everybody takes three minutes to share what they’ve been working on, plus we discuss together one or two general things that are important goings-on or potential new directions for the company. Every member of the team can suggest whatever they think is worth a talk, then everybody chips in, and that’s how we get the ball rolling.

The initial feedback from the team on this has been positive. I hope we can manage to stay consistent with this.

A word on our current numbers

In terms of sales, things have been quite consistent with what we’ve been seeing for the last couple of months, so nothing interesting to share in that regard. Therefore, I would rather go into some technical details and numbers on the stuff that we implemented in the recent months:

Integration between Wraith and Travis-CI / Grunt

We’ve just released an integration between Wraith and Travis-CI / Grunt. We hope to write a more in-depth post about this in the future.

In general, Wraith is a responsive screenshot comparison tool. So now, for each pull request that we spin on Digital Ocean and each new instance of WordPress with replicated demo settings but with new code, we can quickly compare if that code has introduced any visual changes on different pages and/or devices.

Sorry for the convoluted explanation. Basically, what this means in plain English is that whenever we add, say, a block of CSS to fix something while breaking something else as a result, we will be able to catch that quickly.

And also, the new changes can be easily reviewed without deploying anything, just from the browser.

Product downloads vs retention (stick rate)

As you may know, a big part of our overall product downloads happen directly on our site – Whoever gets a theme from there also gets access to ongoing updates (whether they’re a paid customer or not).

Now, just like is doing, based on the number of those update requests being triggered, we can say how many active installs we have for each theme. … Or how many installs we manage to add daily, or which themes tend to remain active for longer, etc. The sole idea of stats like that sounds very exciting, and while we don’t have all the reports in yet, I can still show you one interesting thing that we’ve managed to fish out:

themes stick rates

Okay, so what you’re seeing here is a comparison between Parallax One and ShopIsle.

  • You can see that Parallax One got 18,758 installs, with 8,008 still being active. This gives us a retention (stick rate) of 42,69%.
  • For ShopIsle, the retention rate is 39,80%.
  • (From a separate test, we also know that for Zillah and IsleMag the rate is at around 34%.)

While those aren’t huge, the value is in the fact that we have access to stats like that. Retention rates are, in my opinion, the most important insights that we can get. Seeing how many people keep a particular theme (and for how long) is the first step to understanding how this can be increased.

I highly recommend you set up a similar analytics mechanism for your digital products, be it themes or otherwise. And the more membership-styled the product is, the more important your stick rate becomes.

Okay, I guess that’s all from me this month. As always, thanks for reading and for supporting CodeinWP! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.

Yay! 🎉 You made it to the end of the article!

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Ionut Neagu
April 17, 2017 2:51 pm

It looks like a good solution @vovafeldman:disqus!

Axelut Alex
March 21, 2017 10:03 pm

Hi Ionut! Happy to hear that the things are going better and there is more focus on the core values of the team. Thank you for having me in the post ?
I wanted to know how do you measure the retention for a particular theme and user? Are there some kind of unique keys? Or based on the domain? This seems a pretty important metric for me too. We wanted to implement this also for our products and we always had difficulties in the execution. Google analytics didn’t help.

Analytify, LLC
March 21, 2017 10:09 pm
Reply to  Axelut Alex

I would like to know about the retention measurement too.

Ionut Neagu
March 22, 2017 1:52 pm
Reply to  Axelut Alex

Hey Alex,
There is no unique key, not for free users, I would say is based on the domain. When a user download one of our products and installs it, there are updates checks sent to our servers, based on those we can see how long a particular theme is active, however this isn’t linked with user email for example.

March 21, 2017 6:05 pm

Your transparency report is one of the reasons why we became a “Pirate Club Member”. Thank you for sharing.

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