Welcome to another amazing WordPress interview. This time we are going across the world to meet two beautiful people, a couple that built their WordPress business as well as their lives together. It is my pleasure to welcome Ellen Bauer & Manuel Esposito all the way from the land of the Kiwi. Ellen & Manuel are web designers, WordPress theme developers and bloggers at Elmastudio.
First of all thank you both for taking your time for the interview. Let’s get to know you better :). Could you tell us a bit more about your background and how your life led you to WordPress?
Thank you so very much for this kind introduction. We are Ellen and Manuel. We are both from Germany, but live in New Zealand since about two years. We met in our hometown Stuttgart, right before we both went to university. After uni we wanted to work together, so we started to build our first websites for clients. Doing this we very fast discovered WordPress and in 2009 we also started our Elmastudio blog, so we were able to share everything we learned about web design and WordPress. The blog (at the time only in German language) got more and more popular over time and we soon built our first free WordPress themes for our blog readers.
How did you start your career? Do you have some formal education related to coding or design?
Not exactly, but we both studied design, Manuel industrial design and I studied communication design. The first website we build together was Manuels portfolio at the end of university. After this project we developed the dream to be able to work together after university, instead of looking for jobs individually. So we learned more and more about web design by watching tons of online tutorials and after Ellen had her diploma as well, we were able to take on our first small client projects as freelancers.
Can you share with our readers a few interesting things about Elmastudio. When & how did you start with your website? In what way did it change your lives?
Looking back we think the most important step for us was starting a blog on our Elmastudio website. So we switched our website from a portfolio/business type website to be mostly a blog. This way we gained a regular readership and people would find our blog posts via Google as well. This was the first turning point from being a client based web design business to be able to create and later sell WordPress themes. By switching Elmastudio in this direction, we also felt so much happier with our work. It gave us the freedom to create designs and websites we really loved ourselves, instead of having to create what an individual client would need for his or her website.
For our readers that are not familiar with your theme shop. Can you tell us what kind of themes you build and where do you get your inspiration from?
Our themes have a very minimal design approach and we really try to focus on design and go into much detail in our process there. We don’t want to just focus on a certain design trend. We want our designs to be able to look fresh for a long time, so theme users can be happy with a theme design for a long time as well.
We also try to make sure that the design is supporting the theme users content, instead of overshadowing it. Therefore we believe a minimal design approach works perfectly for our WordPress themes. We want the content to be able to create the character of the website.
What is the most challenging thing for you in theme creation process?
Over time we build some kind of our own workflow, so once we are started it gets easier to just follow this pattern. But the most challenging part is definitely the first step of creating a theme. Just getting started and making the decision to go in a certain direction is pretty difficult, since there are so many options and you have to decide on one or the other. After a few days, when the project is a little bit more defined, it gets a lot easier.
Is there one special theme that you are particularly proud of?
Of course we always like our latest themes the most, since we learn more and more with each theme. But at the moment, we are just proud scrolling trough our theme collection, seeing what we have worked on over the last years. Each theme comes with a little bit of history and it reminds us of a certain time in our lives. So to look back at this is kind of cool we think 🙂
You pay a lot of attention to the clean design and typography. Why is this so important for you? Can you share a few websites where people can learn about good typography in web design?
Yes of course, we love web design, since it really can bring somehow heart and soul into a website and with colors and especially with typography you can create a certain feel or emotion for a website. Some of our favorite typography websites are: ilovetypography.com and typewolf.com. The A Book Apart book “On Web Typography” is also a great recommendation.
How hard is running a theme business at the moment? What is your marketing strategy and how does it work for you?
As mentioned before, not wanting to please every single person looking for a WordPress theme is very important we think. Different people want totally different things out of a WordPress theme, so you have to focus on what you can do best. And the beauty of WordPress themes is that there are so many different approaches available, so the theme user can choose what theme or theme shop fits best for them. Besides that we don’t really have a marketing strategy other than just creating themes we would really love to use ourselves. This way creating WordPress themes is the most fun for us and if you have fun doing your work, you create the best results we believe.
Do you have some advices for those who are just starting with the theme business?
It’s difficult to give someone else advice, because everyone works so differently or is a different situation. But we think to have the most fun you can have creating a theme, is a very good advice. Also of course you need to look a little bit what others are doing to create up-to-date themes. But after you started with a theme, you shouldn’t look around so much, so that you can focus on your own work and create individual ideas that work for you.
I am so inspired by your creativity in theme development and passion you are bringing into blogging. What does it take to become a good blogger? Can you share your writing process with us?
Thank you so very much, this is so kind of you. I think a big part is that I want to share everything we learn or go through ourselves. It’s so much fun to be able to interact with like minded people, that you would otherwise never have the chance to talk to. I actually would love to write so much more on our blog, it’s a little bit difficult for me every time I’m in the middle of a theme coding process. What I like to do is to change up my normal work environment for writing. So I make myself a hot cup of tea or herbal coffee, take my laptop and move away from my work desk. If I create a relaxing environment the writing comes somewhat naturally. I also keep a Trello board with different topics and every time a blog post idea comes up, I quickly write it down to save it.
Can you describe your experience with selling themes on WordPress.com?
We always focused on selling WordPress themes on our own website first, but when we met some members of the WordPress.com theme team at the 2013 WordCamp in Tokyo by accident they invited us to join, so we thought why not try something new. At the moment we focus more on our own platform again, since it just gives us more freedom to include features we can’t use on WordPress.com. We also want to have the possibility to support eCommerce plugins like WooCommerce in our themes.
If it’s not a secret, tell us a bit how your working day looks like? Do you have some tips on how to balance work and free time?
Sure, of course 🙂 We work from our home office and we love it, since gives us lots of freedom, but as everyone knows, who has ever done it, it’s also challenging to keep a good balance between free time and work.
We like to wake up pretty early and consciously spend the time before 9am without looking at any type of screen. So we have breakfast (we love banana smoothies) and I sometimes do Yoga (if I don’t have a Yoga class later in the day), go for a quick run or read a few pages of a book just for free time. At 9am we start to work until lunch at around 2pm. During this time I like to do any kind of creative work, since it’s my most productive time of the day.
Most days we stroll into our little town after lunch and do some shopping, sit in a café, take Yoga classes, Manuel goes to the gym or we go for a walk and most importantly just spend time outside. Starting from 5 or 6pm we start working again until the evening. We end our work days pretty late, mostly to have time during the day and because of the time difference with most our customers (since we are in New Zealand and most our customers are in Europe). So I do emails and spend time on Social Media to reply to questions during this time. We also work on theme designs and code or publish newsletters and new blog posts. Before ending the day we spend some time again away from the computer, which is very important for us to calm down and relax. This work routine is not super strict though, so if we have anything to do in the evenings, we start work earlier after lunch and so on.
We also love it, if not every work day is the same and sometimes when we are traveling for instance, it really boosts our creativity and motivation, although of course you don’t have as much time when you are on the road. But we feel it somehow clears up your brain and you have better ideas and are somehow more awake in your mind. So not being too strict to one routine is a great advice as well. But I really believe that everyone is different and should find a way that works best for them.
What do you think about WordCamps and how WordCamps are beneficial for the people? Any planned WordCamps you will attend soon?
We love WordCamps, I think they are amazing community events for people to come together and connect in person, who normally would just meet online. We been to a few WordCamps, but would love to attend more. Unfortunately we missed the WordCamp in Berlin this year and also the WordCamp Europe, we would have loved to go to. We hope we can attend next year 🙂 We love to visit WordCamps in new cities and countries, too. Attending the WordCamp Tokyo was an amazing experience for us.
Do you think that WordPress is the best CMS for beginners? Is there any particular feature you would like to see in the next WordPress release?
I think it always depends what you want to do and what kind of website you want to have. I think for blogging and small business websites WordPress is the best for beginners as well. Regarding online shops for instance, I think there are easier solutions for beginners, so it really depends. Having a multilingual website with Elmastudio ourselves, we would love to see this as a standard feature in WordPress instead of having to use a plugin. As theme designers, we would also love to see more opportunities in the Customizer. We like the customizer, but you could do so much more with it and WordPress by default is still a bit limited in this regard compared to other platforms.
How hard was to follow your dreams? Most people found this way of living not so secure and “normal”. How did you manage to make your own way? Do you have some practical advices for our readers?
This is a good question, somehow we decided at one point that we wanted to see the so called insecure as being actual more secure in the long term. Growing up in Germany this is not a very typical point of view, since you learn that security is very important. Of course this is true in a lot of cases, too, but we think it’s important not to see everything too strict. We also traveled a lot and I think this helped us to see life a little more flexible and more as one big adventure we just luckily and magically happen to be part of.
Recently you moved from Germany to New Zealand. How hard was to make it happen and what made you do it? How easy was to move your business to a new country? What are the advantages or disadvantages of running business in NZ?
Of course the whole process was also pretty adventurous and it would have been easier not to do it. But we saw this opportunity as a little challenge and just tried it out. It is a lot of paperwork and it took a lot of time, but it’s still so worth it to be able to get to know a different country in more detail, compared to just traveling there. You learn a lot and meet new people and you of course also come across a lot of challenges, like being far away from your family and everything that is familiar and easy for you. Our business has not changed much being in a different country and since New Zealand is a very small country a lot of things are easier here too.
For people who are thinking to move themselves and their business to New Zealand, would you have some advices on how they can make it happen?
Of course everyones situation is different, but I think it’s important that you don’t take everything too serious. Because if you do that it can be very stressful and spoil the whole idea of why you wanted to come in the first place. You need to be very flexible and able to live with some uncertainties. I think seeing the move more as an adventure, helps to deal with all the unknown parts you will need to manage. Also I think there is never a perfect or right time to do something like this. So if you see a chance you should just do it and start and then you can figure out the rest step by step along the way.
How hard was to choose what you want to do in your life? Did you have some other serious interests that could have become your daily job?
At the time we started web design and WordPress themes it was the most natural thing, so it was not a real decision between two things. But of course your interests develop and we also could see ourselves doing something else, maybe additionally in the future.
We are moving now a little bit to your personal life, if you don’t mind ;). Today a lot of people experience some kind of physical or mental health problems caused by their work. Did you ever experience some kind of burnout by taking too much work and not taking care about yourself? What have you learned from it and do you have some advice on how to better cope with these situations?
Yes, I totally know what you mean. I wouldn’t say that I ever experiences a complete burnout, but I definitely feel it, if I work too much for a while and don’t take actions to recharge during a work day. And it’s not only the actual work, also stress or worries can really affect your mental and physical health so much. Since we love our work and want continue loving it for a long time, we learned to take active actions towards a better work life balance over the last years. We changed our diet a lot and became vegetarians and later vegans. Now we also experience with eating a lot of raw food, too. We feel the difference in our energy levels, when eating more raw food, especially fruits. Food kind of became a hobby of ours 🙂 It’s also very important to us to be active and spend time outside and in nature. We try to spend all our free time away from the computer as well. It’s difficult to do, but since we work on the computer all day already, it’s very important I think.
What you like to do in your free time? I have the impression you are in love with nature, vegan food and yoga, is this right? Yes, you are totally right 🙂
We love to do all kind of outdoor activities like hiking and everything on the water. We also love to cook, read and travel and we love to explore weekend markets.
You are making your own photos for the theme live demos. Is photography another thing you like to do in your free time?
Yes, we are mostly doing this, since we love photography, although we also use Creative Commons licensed images, since it’s just too much work to take our own images for all our live demos sometimes. Taking pictures is also a hobby of ours, as well as making little videos. We are not very professional, but it’s just a fun thing to do.
What are your plans for the future?
That’s a big question 🙂 I think not making too many plans and staying flexible is one of our goals. I think we are often too strict with ourselves already, so our biggest plan or goal is to become more open and aware of each and every present moment. Also we want to live our lives healthy and active and do everything we dream of and if somehow possible motivate others to do the same.
Finally, here’s your chance to freestyle:). Write anything you think could be interesting or useful to our readers.
Since it’s difficult to know what you want or should do, especially in this crowded internet world, where tons of people do interesting things and everyone shares everything, I believe it’s most important to stay true to yourself. It’s hard to find your own way and do the things you want and can do best, instead of just following a certain trend or recommendation. Once you have found your true passion, I think it’s so important to stick with it even if it seems difficult a lot of times, especially in the beginning. But if you know from your heart that it’s what you want to do and I mean not only work-related, but maybe also a way of living or eating a certain diet, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it or that it’s not the right thing for you. At the end I would also love to share one of our favorite quotes by Seth Godin, who’s blog and books we love:
“When you set down the path to create art, whatever sort of art it is, understand that the path is neither short nor easy. That means you must determine if the route is worth the effort. If it’s not, dream bigger.” ― Seth Godin