Recently @MVPThemes crossed the $1 million threshold to become one of our Power Elite Authors. We decided to ask him some questions about how he got started, memorable customer stories, and how he built a business out of doing what he loves. Enjoy!
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do for a living?
My name is Zaki and I currently live in the US (Virginia) with my lovely wife and two growing boys. I have worked full time as a WordPress theme developer since July 2012. I think the web is kinda awesome, but spiders are kinda not, and someone needs to create a machine that puts away your laundry for you so I can give them all my money.
Resportsive - Responsive Sports News Theme by MVPThemes
Tell us one thing about you no one else knows?
This is a tough one, since I'm an open book and my family and friends know everything about me. But one thing my customers may not know is that I'm actually the only guy behind MVP Themes. I design, develop, market, and support each of my themes on my own. I've explored the possibility of hiring support help for a few years now (and may have no choice but to hire someone soon), but for now it's just lil old me!
Max Mag - Responsive Wordpress Magazine Theme by MVPThemes
Is there anything unusual or special about how you work?
I created a music playlist of 80's and 90's music (mostly Pop and R&B) that I almost exclusively listen to while I'm working. So, it creates a kind of Pavlovian response and keeps me focused and in work mode. It's one of the things I came up with to tackle the challenge of working from home and avoiding distractions. Plus, I just love 80's and 90's music, so it puts me in a good mood anyway.
Gameday - WordPress Sports Media Theme by MVPThemes
Is there anything unusual or noteworthy about your life experience?
Most people I see that are full-time theme developers took the leap and quit their jobs after they achieved a certain level of success, but I took a slightly different road. I had been getting into theme development on the side for at least a year while working full-time, but instead of leaving my job voluntarily, I was fired. My first son had just turned 1, and I wasn't comfortable with the extended hours that the position suddenly demanded, so I was let go on July 3, 2012.
I immediately got to work trying to get my first theme approved (which had already been rejected twice), and 18 days after being fired, my first theme was approved and I was officially a theme developer. I released my second theme three months later, and by then had doubled what I was earning at my old job. And today, I have almost tripled my old salary. Basically, being fired enabled me spend more time with my family, earn far more money, and infinitely more enjoy what I do for a living.
Basically, being fired enabled me spend more time with my family, earn far more money, and infinitely more enjoy what I do for a living.
Hot Topix - Modern WordPress Magazine Theme by MVPThemes
Why are you doing what you are doing and what do you love about it?
I think I instantly gravitated toward web development when I was about 13, and this was when the net first started to gain real popularity (around 1996). So, I don't know if it was just my previous background with Lego, but I just kind of naturally took to building websites.
I'm finding Web Development is a little like parenthood in that it can be challenging and frustrating at times, but it's all worth it since there's nothing like the reward you get when everything you've worked for manifests itself. The sense of accomplishment when you're finished with a project, and seeing how you've helped people set up their own sites is extremely gratifying.
Braxton - Premium WordPress Magazine Theme by MVPThemes
What's your most memorable customer story on Envato?
I've had quite a few interesting customer interactions over the years, but I think the thing that sticks out to me is that two people I know personally ended up buying my themes and we didn't realize it until each of them submitted support tickets. So, it was really nice to see tickets from people I knew and then be able to write back "Hey...umm...it's Zaki". It just showed me the reach I have as a theme developer where even people I know are customers of mine.
Osage - Multi-Use WordPress Magazine Theme by MVPThemes
What's the most challenging thing about your work?
It's a close tie between keeping up with current web trends/standards and the issues that come with working from home. Web development and code standards change so fast (as well as design trends), that it's a separate job in itself to make sure your new themes are ahead of the pack, in addition to updating previous themes to keep them up to date.
The other challenging part is working from home, which I wouldn't trade for anything else, but it still has its challenges. Staying motivated and focused, at home, when you don't have a boss holding you accountable is something I certainly had to adjust to at first. There's also the issue of creating that balance of work/home, even when you work from home. When you work for someone else, that boundary is typically defined for you at 9am to 5pm, and while there is a lot of freedom in being able to set your own hours, the reality of actually setting them and sticking to them is easier said than done. You can easily find yourself working too long if you're in the zone, or not enough if you lose focus.
Web development and code standards change so fast that it's a separate job in itself to make sure your new themes are ahead of the pack.
Top News - WordPress News & Magazine Theme by MVPThemes
Name a few people who inspire you and why?
I have a few inspirational people that helped me along the way in one way or another, but the first would have to be my parents. They've always instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me that I think guided me toward this opportunity with Envato.
But outside of my parents, I remember when I first started to look into theme development as an opportunity. I saw a theme (I believe it was uDesign) that was earning about $1 million per year alone and was absolutely amazed. Obviously, Avada has since blown that figure out of the water, but I was just floored that an opportunity like that existed where people just like me were able to make a comfortable living doing something they loved to do. As a life-long baseball fan and player (hence the name: MVP Themes), I thought that would only be possible for me as a professional baseball player.
Another inspiration is actually the former boss that fired me. It's tough when someone tells you that you're no longer needed, so I used that as fuel to try and become the best at what I did. I know for a fact I wouldn't be where I am without that unexpected "inspiration".
But most of all, my customers definitely inspire me the most with their stories of how much they enjoy each of my themes. It's unreal to see someone, especially those with no coding experience, set up a site and feel like they've done the impossible. It's a huge inspiration in knowing that I could have that positive of an impact on someone I don't even know on the other side of the world.
I was just floored that an opportunity like that existed where people just like me were able to make a comfortable living doing something they loved to do.
DeVoe - Fashion & Entertainment News Theme by MVPThemes
What is your advice to other authors regarding how to create a successful portfolio?
The key for me was sticking with what I knew. I'm a sports nut and am very familiar with sports news sites, so that's where I started with my first theme. It also helped that there weren't very many sports news themes (if any) on Themeforest at the time. So, launching into that niche, and one that I was very familiar with, gave me an edge.
My advice would be to go with your strength. If you're passionate about eCommerce sites and have experience with them, don't try to create a business theme just because you think that's the most popular category at the moment. You'll create a much better product and be more successful if you stick with your strength.
Flex Mag - Responsive WordPress News Theme by MVPThemes
Is where you live a good place to be a creative professional? Why?
I've lived in Virginia for more than half of my life, so this is home to me. I think the comfort that comes with feeling like you're home automatically gives you a certain freedom and peace of mind to maximize your creative potential. Living near the water doesn't hurt either. For me, as long as you're around people and scenery that you love and affect you in a positive way every day, anywhere you can find that is a great place for a creative professional.
What do you do to market your files?
I didn't actually start out doing much marketing for my files, since Envato has done such a great job of drawing people to sites like Themeforest. But, I recently made a push to try and get my last couple items listed on third party sites that feature and promote themes. I did see an increase in traffic from those sites, so I think it's definitely something I plan to do for any future items.
Apart from yourself, who is your favourite marketplace Author, and why do you like them?
IndustrialThemes is someone I actually admired when I first joined Themeforest for his unique designs. He didn't follow the cookie-cutter mould that I noticed a lot of other Authors doing in the News category, and that's something I also wanted to do as well. So, it was great when he actually reached out to me as a result of a forum post I made and we've kept in touch and bounced ideas off of each other since then.
What do you do in your spare time?
One of the reasons we moved to Virginia was to be closer to my wife's family, so spending time with my family is something we definitely try to do as much as possible. I've also become a huge gym rat: I lift weights 5 days a week and run 3+ miles 3 times a week. Part of it is because I need to do something other than sit at a desk all day, but the other part is that I've always been active and into sports and enjoy it. I also looove to play softball (shoutout to Providence!).
How do you feel about your achievement?
It's a little surreal when you think about selling 9 themes enough times to reach $1 million. But it just speaks to the power of WordPress and the internet that that many people had a desire to build a website and then chose your theme to build it with. I'm honored and ever so grateful that I was able to provide that service to that many people. To all my customers: You guys are the real MVP!