State of the Rocket 2016

So we're nearing the end of April, 2016. It's pretty crazy to think that it's already been close on four years since Thierry and I launched HeadwayRocket in July, 2012. To say it's been a crazy ride would be an understatement.

The backstory

We started HeadwayRocket as way to sustain ourselves while we built our baby, ThemeButler.com. We chose Headway as it was easily extendible and had an existing community. The plan was to build a few plugins, that would bring in enough revenue for us to live on. Well that was the theory. The reality is we’re pefectionists, so each plugin we built became our sole focus (often months at a time), which meant that progress on ThemeButler was often painfully slow.

Over the next two years, we released seven plugins extending Headway and two Headway templates. We had a few months were sales were especially good (though the bar had never been set very high), but for most part, HeadwayRocket did exactly what we built it to do. Sustain us while we slowly but surely developed ThemeButler.

We did a few big pushes to improve the sales, but with each one the results were less optimistic. It didn’t help that the constant changes to Headways blocks api would often result in our plugins breaking and each time it was Thierry who had to find a fix. The topic of whether to shut down HeadwayRocket came up more than once, but each time I insisted it still had it’s part to play moving forward. Thierry was understandibly less convinced.

All roads lead to ThemeButler.com

The idea for ThemeButler was simple, we wanted to build a bunch of tools, that we as web developers would want to use. Tools that would speed up their development process, while ensuring a consistently high quality of code for their client projects. Lofty ideals some said, but regardless we set out to build our take on a theme framework.

Fast forward a year or so and after two years of development on ThemeButler and our shiny new theme shop aimed at WordPress developers went live and boy did it feel good! It’s hard to relate the feeling you get after such a long push - you know, after living month to month, scrambling for consulting to fill the gaps when sales were slow, all the while reassuring my better half that “we’re almost there baby! You’ll see. Just you wait”.

I remember the excitment waking up the next morning after we put the site online and sent out the newsletter. Kids on Christmas morning ain’t got nothing on this - the culmination of all our work, if you will. That my friends is something special! Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t under any impression that things would take off over night. What we didn’t expect, was…

Crickets.

Zero sales, no mentions on Twitter, no reactions anywhere. It’s like we hadn’t launched at all. I’ve had lots of time to reflect on it and it’s it really came down to not enough pre-marketing, not enough hype, increased market conjestion, the impact of marketplaces like ThemeForest, no products to really get excited about.

The irony is we’d actually managed to save up close on $15k for marketing, but as we got closer to the launch, the sales on HeadwayRocket were on a downward spiral, meaning we had to dip into our savings each month.

We had a choice between splitting our time doing consulting to top up the coffers, or put our heads down for that last big push to get the site live. We opted for the latter. Whether that was the best approach or not, who knows. It’s not something I’m losing sleep about, as I feel everything worked out how it should have.

Time for a change

Fast forward a few more months of some serious hustling with both Thierry and reaching out to agencies and developers en mase, but it was well received by most of the people we were speaking too - the overall gist was this:

Technology moves at such a fast pace, with new frameworks are tools being released almost daily. As such, most of the developers will stick with the tools they know. This is something I can personally relate too. I have a long list of technologies I want to learn… one day.

It didn’t help that at the time more and more articles were popping up about how congested the market it is and how much harder it is these days to sell outside of marketplaces like ThemeForest.

A month or so later, Thierry made the tough decision to exit the business and find a job, so that he and his wife could move back to Switzerland to be closer to his family. It was a decision that was not made lightly and while I was sad that we’d reached the end of our journey together, I also understand his reasoning and completely support his decision.

Shortly after he started looking for a job and it wasn’t long before he landed a senior developer role at Elegant Themes. They’re very lucky to have him. I’ve worked with many developers over the years, but it’s Thierry who has impressed me the most. Not just with his ninja coding skills, but his overall work ethic. A living epitomy of the savvy Swiss.

As part of the split, we decided I’d continue with HeadwayRocket and ThemeButler. Being that it was Thierry who built the frameworks, we decided it would be best if he continue maintain them, under a separate brand (Beans). Thierry has since then invested a lot of his own savings into getting the word out about Beans and it definitely seems to be paying off, with a really solid community coming together.

So where does that leave us with HeadwayRocket? I’m pretty sure by now you must be thinking that we’d given up on HeadwayRocket completely. Well, quite the opposite actually. While my strategy for moving forward with HeadwayRocket is different, my passion and commitment has not changed. If anything it’s gotten a boost, what with HeadwayRocket becoming my primary income generator.

The strategy moving forward

Early on in our partnership, we decided that Thierry would take the lead on product development. My role was everything design / theming related, while handling the day to day stuff like blogging, writing documentation, providing support, etc.

With Thierry out of the picture and not enough revenue coming in to justify hiring a new developer, I need to focus on what I’m good at - design and theming (or in Headway’s case templating). So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll still maintain the existing plugins and continue adding support for them in the templates I create, but apart from that I won’t be creating any new plugins (for the foreseeable future at least).

What’s next

First and foremost, our plugins and templates will still be listed on Extend but will be sold on HeadwayRocket.com instead. This will put me in the drivers seat when it comes to processing things like orders, running promotions, providing refunds or rewarding members that help out (like Johan & Guy!). I’ll be offloading the e-commerce side to Paddle.com, which takes care of all the menial stuff like vat handling, payment processing, etc - allowing me to focus on creating new templates.

Next up, the HeadwayRocket site will be getting a much needed facelift. Spoiler alert, it’s not built on Headway, but it’s pretty cool none the less. I’ll write a separate post about why I decided against using Headway for the new site.

There will also be a new template added to the collection (Impact), with even more in the works. I still need to implement the plugin updates and subscriptions handling, so initially it’ll just be the templates being sold on-site. The plugins will continue to be sold on Headway Extend until I get all of that working.

I’m aiming to re-boot the site on May 1st, to coincide with the global reboot. I still have a lot to do before then, so wish me luck!

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