Woothemes Proves We’re All Amateurs

My long running beef with one of the WooThemes.com co-founder — Adii — has been squashed through email by the two of us. This post isn’t about hate, jealousy, or kicking someone while they’re down. It’s an example of doing things the wrong way.

Woothemes recently announced a price and terms of service change. This is important because Woothemes.com has hundreds of thousands of customers. On the business side, most people running a service or selling their own WordPress products agree with the move and so do I. It’s just not smart to promise anything unlimited or lifetime. I have sold lifetime memberships here on DevPress.com as well and that’s the part where we’re all amateurs trying to figure out business as designers and developers.

What I don’t agree with is how Woothemes did it. Most of the points have been made for both sides through 492 responses to the announcement and through comments on WPTavern.com’s post about the changes. Some of it makes me cringe for the customers because its a bit shady. Secondly, I don’t agree with screwing your customers over when it’s your mistake you’re trying to fix.

Telling customers you’ve considered all the options, this is what needs to be done, and this is how it must be done…isn’t transparency, it’s a lie that asks for blind trust. Reading the announcement from a service provider point of view, I can already tell some of it is bullshit. Even the business people defending the changes know it, but they don’t point it out because they’re not as stupid or transparent as I am.

The majority of people praising Woothemes have a business of their own. It’s only natural to praise a price hike when you want to educate customers so you can charge more as well. However, price isn’t the issue and overlooking how Woothemes is doing it ruins the trust we have with WordPress customers in general.

  1. A profitable, debt-free company like Woothemes should pay for its own mistakes over time.
  2. Knowing that you’re going to change your terms of service, you don’t run deals/sales selling the exact thing that you’re going to take away. This is classic bait and switch.
  3. People complain because you’re on the edge of committing fraud, not because they’re disloyal customers wanting the company to crash. They’re more interested in keeping your company going because they want the service to continue as you’re the only one who can continue supporting your line of products and services.

How you and I can see through the lies

Take ThemeHybrid.com for example, it’s a community one-tenth the size of WooThemes.com (tens of thousands of members). All products are free, the service itself is entirely based on support, and it’s run by one personJustin Tadlock. Justin’s business is entirely based on time because it takes time to give support and write documentations. He doesn’t have the benefits of selling products.

When your business is selling products, some customers do not require support. They buy because they want the product and simply move on. ThemeHybrid.com doesn’t have that luxury. Woothemes makes some of its money selling products, not selling support.

At the moment, Woothemes has a team of 28 people and profits in the millions to hire new support staff. Justin Tadlock has a team of one and no millions. Yet, the one always complaining about being crushed by support is Woothemes and it’s the same problem they’re using to justify the recent changes.

So I call bullshit. They’re taking the easy way out and making you pay for their mistakes.

What Woothemes could’ve done

Cutting down support is not something you can do immediately. It has to be done over time and it starts with educating your community. Justin Tadlock is able to manage his customer base by himself through:

  • creating powerful, but easy to use products that require minimal maintenance
  • educating his members to help each other
  • writing easy to understand documentations that answer most questions

Hell, sometimes Justin takes vacations or is forced to sick leave and people on his ThemeHybrid.com naturally help each other.

What I’ve learned from this

Nothing really, haha. Although I don’t offer lifetime memberships anymore, I always try to thank DevPress early supporters and lifetime members whenever I can. Actually, I think Woothemes can learn from me and Justin Tadlock.

  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
  • Pay for your own mistakes.
  • Educate your customers. It strengthens your community and cuts down work for yourself.

About Tung Do

Watermelon and fried-food loving theme designer from Dalat, Vietnam. I love designing themes. I heard the key to happiness with what you do for a living is to find the one thing you'd do for free. Designing themes is my thing. I know this because I've done it for free.

32 Responses

  1. Where I think Woo first went wrong (from a user and support standpoint) was months ago when they dropped the support forum. Your own members can be valuable assets and has been what has kept Theme Hybrid going for so long as a one-man show. I understand their reasoning for moving to a different support system, but they lost a lot of their existing knowledgebase and the ability for some of their community to handle the support burden. This basically happened overnight. I’m not sure how this really affected their business, but from my experience, it wouldn’t have been good.

    But, this is also about fostering the right kind of community. If users aren’t helping each other out, it’s probably your fault for not nurturing that type of community. That’s why I always think of my support forums as more of a community water cooler rather than a ticket system.

    I’m no business genius, but I always thought from day one that “lifetime” memberships were a bad idea. I couldn’t imagine supporting a particular user for multiple years without some form of continued compensation. I do occasionally give away lifetime memberships. Sometimes, I screw up something on my end and pass along a free lifetime membership to the user. The other time is when I have an outstanding member of the community (for example, a theme author who adds his own free theme to the site). Other than that, it’s a yearly fee for support.

    I was all set to agree with their pricing move and thought it was pretty smart until I saw the part about existing lifetime users losing their lifetime status. At best, it’s an unethical move that will at least allow them to keep the fanboys as paying customers while still pulling in new customers to replace the old. At worst, it’s illegal and could make for some hard times ahead for their company.

    I do wish Woo all the best though and hope they’ll reconsider truly grandfathering in their old customers with existing lifetime memberships.

      1. Hi,
        I would just like to chime in with a different perspective on this blog posting.
        First of all, I agree with just about everything which folks have stated about woothemes, I am not a fan, I actually don’t like most of the code, it seems very bloated, overly so even for the “one size fits all” category. I guess I’m a quality vs. quantity type of person and quality, robust code will always win in my book.

        And they are using the same business model as most start-ups do these days. Start, Offer free everything for a few years, then change over to a paid-for model after people are dependent on your product/service. Lots and Lots of internet start-ups use this model. I was away from the internet for almost 5 years, when I came back, the technology had changed exponentially, but what had changed even more was this *free* everything model. Giving away something now and then is a good thing to do, great PR, blogs w/freebies are the best :) Giving away services just drives prices down and makes it harder on each and every small business on the internet, especially at a time when our costs just keep going up.

        Concerning the *Lifetime* issue: Those with a commercial cc processor would not be approved for such a sale. I know this because the first time I went to sign up with authorizenet, my visa company saw I was selling a ‘lifetime’ 9.95 hosting account, and they would not allow it *if I wanted to use Visa* ie, if you are using anything other than paypal or intermediary processor, chances are you’d be notified they would not accept this as a transaction.

        This was in I think 2002, to my knowledge this is still their stand. *if* a person wanted to raise a fuss, and they have the agreement, they could receive a full refund.

        Having said that, my first clue about woo commerce / woo themes when I was initially checking them out, was they provided the platform for free, and then charged $100.00 for an upload module.
        It’s not that I begrudge them the sale of the module, but in all my years of developing for portals in the .net environment, (so much more overhead developer costs) never once did I charge $100.00 for one. It just seemed to me the first time I saw that, they were a little on the dishonest side. Any type of functionality a person wanted, then had to be a module you installed from who knows who developed for it. Not everyone uses *Best Practices* models.

        So those were my *top* pet peeves, in addition, on pre-sales questions they were less than forth coming and quite slow to reply. Those are always indicators to me also.

        #justsayin is all.

    1. For the record, I agree with Justin about lifetime agreements. It’s simply not sustainable. Thanks for writing this up Tung. I’ve been guilty of glancing over terms of service agreements but changes that peddle backwards are seldom welcome. I’ve been asked to do promotional bundles with lifetime agreements but always decline. My thoughts are if your product is good enough and you want to see it evolve and grow, that growth needs regular watering. Ignoring that triggers my suspicion about a products future. For me, it really boils down to how one arrives at valuation. How much time are you saving your end user? By the end of the week, are you saving them just a few minutes, a few hours? Over months, years even? Granted, the “value” is really dependent on your customer’s own hourly rate. It is without question that most of my end users are, in turn, developers themselves and this “value” can add up quickly.

      I’ve seen a lot of under priced products out there too, but less under priced “services”. And along that note, I consider support a “service”. Whether exercised or not by the end user, support is an essential. Even if it is just maintaining a forum or processing tickets, it affects all my users because it will in turn shape the direction of my product and additional services. Chris Lema has some excellent write ups on valuation, and recently wrote about the popular moving of support from forums to tickets (http://chrislema.com/support-forums-ticket-systems/).

      Personally, I can’t imagine ever dropping my forums. As a former one man show, my forums are essential. With a couple of new partners on board, we’ve adopted HelpScout and it’s made a big difference in efficiency. Did I need a ticket system by myself? No. The forums and email were good enough. But I can’t leave the forums. Not because the user to user interaction was self helping or built community (in my case that is quite rare). However, the forums have greatly helped shape future article topics, and product changes based on publicly visible feedback. Users would say “I have a similar problem to …”, but even if they were wrong or right about an issue being related, the “issue” would drive a future documentation or a new product feature. That kind of service benefits all users, helps us understand our user’s needs, and I my opinion, is worth having and paying for.

  2. At the moment, Woothemes has a team of 28 people and profits in the millions to hire new support staff. Justin Tadlock has a team of one and no millions. Yet, the one always complaining about being crushed by support is Woothemes and it’s the same problem they’re using to justify the recent changes.

    Maybe if their prodcuts were better they wouldn’t be crushed by support. Honestly, I’m not just being snide. Every time I have to work with Woo products I want to pull my hair out whether it be unwieldy theme options or 13 WooCommerce add-ons to get basic features implemented.

  3. “A profitable, debt-free company like Woothemes should pay for its own mistakes over time.”

    I think that sums up the whole issue. The new pricing model is responsible. Not grandfathering in customers who paid a price that specifically included lifetime support and updates is questionable. Unless they were absolutely going to tank TOMORROW, the best thing would have been to do their customers right and suck it up for a couple years while the new model takes force.

    It looks like they are now giving existing customers the choice to be grandfathered in for life. I doubt very many will accept their plea to voluntarily pay more money. They’ll probably have to suck it up after all. http://www.woothemes.com/2013/08/an-important-update/

    On a side note, I think all 150+ theme shops providing support and updates for “unlimited” sites might realize a similar sustainability problem five years down the road. My opinion is that they should take the lead of the commercial plugin sellers who are providing support and updates on a per site basis. I do like how Woo limits their biggest license for WP extensions to 25 sites instead of “Unlimited”.

  4. Interestingly, StudioPress offers Lifetime All access theme pack and sees no problem with that model. I contact their support desk only very rarely and mostly they are for bug reports. For anything I need about Genesis, there is excellent documentation and free plugins available all over the web. I think they have done a good job of nurturing a community.

  5. Bayou Bill

    I think this will open up a HUGE market for 3rd-party alternative offerings of WooThemes/WooCommerce extensions that will not be subject to Woo’s new terms and conditions. I don’t see how Woo can possibly control the market for extensions to their products now that their own offerings have gotten so expensive.

  6. I summarized Woo’s history of changing prices and policies around WooCommerce, along with simple math that renders their “support volumes” claims baseless..

    Read it here, along with what I think is a solution for WooCommerce – http://wpavengers.com/

    Would like to get your opinion / feedback.


      1. Appreciate for your feedback!

        On 1: I did the math because nobody was talking about it, and that’s what Woo was pushing hard for. I hope more people can see this.

        On 2: Agree! Ditto experience here.

        On 3: Have considered doing JigoShop a number of times over the last few months. We may consider porting the extensions back to JigoShop in future, but want to focus on the big elephant for now! Again, I am really “testing” this. We have lot of work done, but want to see how many people want it!

        1. Thomas’ support model was also much different than mine. My model is actually closer to one like Gravity Forms, except that it’s for a service rather than product + service. Each year, the user is presented with a choice of whether they want to continue using my service. If so, they can renew for the service for another year. This has been a sustainable model for 5 years now for a single person.

          I also agree with Tung in that I should probably sell products for the added flexibility. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

  7. PaulB

    So… Does that mean my lifetime membership here is gonna be killed???! :O

    I’m just kidding Tung! :D I posted when I first joined that I’d be happy to pay an annual subscription, and I meant it! And I’ve said before, you are not stupid, just young and inexperienced. And the only cure for that is time. You are learning faster than I did, but I didn’t have the Internet and it’s vast resources at my disposal when I started in the 80’s. ;) :)

    This is a good post l and I agree. I’ve been going a bit crazy because it seems that many Joomla! templates aimed at eCommerce lately are bundling WooCommerce because it’s *free*! Sure, the framework may be free, but if you want it to actually useful, the extensions can get pricey.

    Anyway, I have my own beef with WooThemes from 2008/9 when I paid for a subscription for use with J 1.5. Old history I know. *shrug*

    And you are quite right. No ‘Lifetime’ model can work in the long run. Good support costs. And trying to support themes, templates, extensions, etc. for extremely dynamic products such as WordPress and Joomla! can become a nightmare, especially when a new versions comes along and things break! ‘Your’ customers don’t want to really know that it’s WP or J! fault, they just want the product fixed (even if they do actually understand. They paid for working product. and that’s what they expect, and have a right to.) And that has to be built into any business plan for online businesses such as your’s or WooThemes. As I said, I have my own issues with WT, and don’t plan to use any of their products for some time, if at all.

    For what it’s worth, I think you are on the right track here. I like where you are going. :)


  8. SO. I am not a techy sort of person, but from what I gather here WooThemes sucks? Well that sucks!
    I uploaded the free wootique and have it all set to work but I need this shipping plug in. Can get it for 49.00 or from 79.00 – seems to be connected or very similar – the 2 different websites that I can get this from, but I can not purchase them. Neither site will allow my CC to go through and I can’t get any real support to get anything done. I am beginning to think it’s a scam and bogus all together.
    I don’t have a lot of money and am tired of paying Etsy & other such places to sell my products. I’d like to have it all on my website controlled by me.
    I don’t mind paying for something but I don’t want to get ripped off either.
    Can anyone point me in the right direction? Will I have to re-enter everything?? :( It’s depressing to work so hard on something and then need help and not be able to get it. I have also been dropped by 2 “knowledgable woo themes guys” that said they would help and then I just never hear from them again – maybe it’s me?

  9. Can someone tell me what other company i can go to for plugins, theme etc other than Woo? I don’t think i want to use Woo anymore. Their support is horrible. Not even half my issues get resolved. They take DAYS to respond and you need to keep nagging them to get a damn update on the issue. I’ve recently asked for a refund on a product that won’t work to my needs and depending on their response, i might need another company to go to.

    Who are Woo’s competition??

    Please reply ASAP

Comments are closed.