Themes play an integral part is giving the look and feel of a WordPress site. There are thousands of themes available for various niche but a very few make their way to the top. Today, we are getting the opportunity of interviewing Michael Hebenstreit who is the founder of MH Themes – a premium marketplace for WordPress themes.
So, without further ado let’s get to Michael and ask him a few interesting questions.
Cloudways: Please tell us a little about yourself and why did you get involved with WordPress?
Michael: I’m the founder & CEO of MH Themes, which is a popular and independent WordPress theme shop for professional magazine and news WordPress themes.
A few years back I wouldn’t have imaged that I ever would be involved in web development or WordPress. My professional background is in banking / investment banking. Since I was a kid I was interested in the stock market and the way people were making money through trading and investing. Before I started my company I worked several years as a stock broker (institutional equity trading) for banks and broker firms.
Cloudways: What motivated you to start MH Themes and how is it different than other theme Marketplaces?
Michael: While working my day job in the financial sector, I was always keeping an eye on other markets and technologies as well. When online marketing and SEO became a thing, I was very interesting and read everything I could find about it. As a result I started creating various websites to experiment with SEO and affiliate marketing. This were mainly online magazines.
That also was the time when I discovered WordPress, as it seemed to be the best tool for what I needed at that time. I experimented with various WordPress themes, but overall I wasn’t always happy with what my theme could do. I needed more flexibility and professional options in order to run my magazines the way I had in mind. That’s when I started to get into coding and I wanted to learn programming. I read countless tutorials and started to tweak my existing theme that I bought from ThemeForest. At that time I didn’t know better. When I got more experienced with coding, I started to code my first WordPress theme from scratch. The early version took me almost 300 hours to get it completed, as I still was learning down the road. When I was happy with the theme that I coded by myself, I started using it on my websites.
As I received great feedback, I got curious if this isn’t something I could do for a living, especially when I noticed the sales numbers on ThemeForest at that time. So I decided to give it a try and improve the design and codebase of my WordPress theme further, until I thought it was in a condition to be sold to customers. That way the
MH Magazine theme was born, which today is one of the most popular magazine themes for WordPress. If someone would have told me 5-6 years ago that I would be running a WordPress theme shop, selling WordPress themes to customers from more than 110 countries around the world, I wouldn’t have believed it. But here I am and I’m still very excited to see what customers are creating with my products.
In the past 2-3 years I also see more and more professional publications switching to MH Magazine. For example just recently Forbes Brasil came on board, which I’m very excited about. I think the main difference between MH Themes and other theme shops or theme marketplaces is that we focus on quality over quantity. The focus was on a handful of themes over the years which are still being maintained today. Often at other theme shops or marketplaces, you see countless of WordPress themes being released until a level is reached where maintenance becomes impossible or too expensive. That’s when themes often are being retired and the release cycle starts from scratch to generate new sales.
Cloudways: What is your usual day like?
Michael: My days often vary a lot, there is not really a typical day for me. However, what’s the samee very day is that I spend 1-2 hours in the morning to go through my emails. As I’m dealing with various time zones, emails are coming in 24 hours a day. The rest of the day I usually work on product updates, marketing, administrative stuff, business strategy and I try to keep up to date with what’s happening in the WordPress community. Overall I currently spend 3-4 hours a day on the WordPress business. The direction of WordPress is currently changing rapidly with the upcoming Gutenberg editor. As a result, I’ve heavily reduced my daily commitment to WordPress until it becomes more clear what we’ll get when all of this is completed.
It seems like a waste of time and resources to make drastic changes at the moment when you don’t know yet what and especially how things will be changed in the 2nd and 3rd phase of Gutenberg. My themes were built based on WordPress core functionality from the start. I haven’t integrated 3rd party plugins, modified the editor or other things that would heavily collide with Gutenberg. That means, fortunately, my WordPress themes will be compatible with Gutenberg from the start, at least when it comes out in its initial state bundled with WP 5.0.
In the future, I may decide to integrate more with Gutenberg. However, that’s not something I see happening before Gutenberg lands in core and especially until it’s accepted by the WordPress community and the millions of users that rely on WordPress. I still see a possible scenario where Gutenberg (or even WordPress itself) will be completely abandoned or suffer as the majority of existing users doesn’t seem to want these drastic changes. But we’ll see how that goes when Gutenberg arrives. I have a bad feeling and think we’re heading into a big storm, but of course, I also may be completely wrong.
However, the main reason why I’m dedicating less time to the WordPress business is that my daughter was born in January 2017. Before that I was working 7 days a week, at least 10 hours per day. When you become a father, your priorities change. Today I try to spend as much time as possible with my family. I still work on the weekend as well, but I reduce that to answering emails. In addition, I’m involved with portfolio management and trading stocks on a professional basis. Which is a very welcomed and exciting change to the daily WordPress and web development stuff.
Cloudways: How much a good WordPress theme contributes to an overall business growth and performance?
Michael: One thing I always wondered about is that WordPress users often have the assumption that their WordPress theme is their website. It seems whenever there is a problem with their website, they contact the theme developer to ask for a solution. People often forget that while the theme is what they see when looking at their site, the site itself is built on a lot more, starting from hosting, plugins, scripts, etc… I think while having a well-coded and nicely designed WordPress theme (or website design in general) obviously is very important, there are many other things that are at least that important for the success of a business.
You can have the fastest and most beautiful WordPress theme out there if you’re not offering things people want and if you’re not good at online marketing and SEO, the theme itself won’t help you succeed. But of course, in addition to a solid business strategy, effective online marketing, quick and helpful customer support, a reliable hosting environment and a well coded WordPress theme are crucial for a successful online business.
Cloudways: Gutenberg is already on its way. What other features would you like to see in WordPress Core?
Michael: As you probably have noticed already, I’m not too exited about Gutenberg. However, instead of reinventing the wheel with Gutenberg, there are many things that users really ask about on a regular basis. One thing I hear very often is that people would like to see an easier and SEO-friendly way to run multi-lingual websites. While there are quite a few plugins for this, most solutions are not ideal. Having this nicely implemented in the core would be a great addition. I’ve not tried it by myself, but I’ve heard other content management systems like Joomla have this already out of the box.
Cloudways: How much did the WordPress community help you in the start of your career?
Michael: When I started learning web development with PHP a few years ago or dealing with simple things like HTML and CSS changes, it was very helpful to have the enormous wealth of knowledge, tutorials and examples available on the many WordPress related websites that are maintained by users and community members. I was very surprised to see that the WordPress Codex itself wasn’t very helpful, especially not for beginners, but that other websites had much more thorough and well-documented tutorials available. This definitely was a great way to get started.
Cloudways: People like you are always busy in building and creating exciting stuff. What do you enjoy doing in spare time?
Michael: I’m a very competitive person and I really enjoy sport and exercise, no matter what kind of sport. Since my daughter was born I spend most of my spare time with my family. We like to travel, eat good food and just enjoy the time together.
Cloudways: Where are you actively involved these days?
Michael: In addition to my commitment to MH Themes, I spend most of my time investing and trading stocks. While I quit my job as a stock broker a few years ago when I started my online business, I never lost interest in this field and basically never stopped practicing it. At the moment most of the day, I’m watching the markets, doing technical analysis and planning upcoming trades. Earlier this year I also acquired a trading site called TodayTrader. The site was very popular around 8-10 years ago. I’m currently completely restructuring the site while adding new content and revenue streams. With this project, I would like to help beginner traders to understand and successfully trade the financial markets.
Cloudways: How was the journey from being a banker to an entrepreneur?
Michael: I never stopped being involved in the financial markets. This is what I love and what I wanted to do since I was a kid. The WordPress business rather was a lucky coincidence for me and if the business wouldn’t have been so successful and profitable, I probably still would be sitting on the trading floor of a bank or brokerage firm. Of course, I don’t know what the future brings, but if WordPress for some reason becomes irrelevant or if my WordPress business should become unprofitable, I would start trading full-time again right away. I mean what could be a better job for you than what you love and what you’re doing anyway in your spare time.
Cloudways: Please share the snap of your work space.
Michael: Sure, I used to work from home office, which obviously can be challenging at times when you have a baby at home. So I eventually moved my office to the 20th floor in the Kastor Tower in Frankfurt am Main which has a beautiful view of the city.
Cloudways: What do you think of managed cloud hosting? Do you consider it the future of hosting or just another kind of web hosting out there?
Michael: I think cloud hosting has many benefits over traditional hosting. While the hosting business has become a very competitive and crowded playing field, I think the hosting solution that can offer users the most reliable, flexible and easiest solution at an affordable price will be on top. It seems cloud hosting is more and more becoming that solution.
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Ibad Ur Rehman is a WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. He likes to explore the latest open-source technologies and to interact with different communities. In his free time, he likes to read, watch a series or fly his favorite Cessna 172SP in X Plane 11 flight simulator.