Today we’re starting a new series of interviews, in which we’ll have an in-depth and fascinating conversion with various industry leading figures. We’re kicking things off with Adii Rockstar, a WordPress guru and the man behind WooThemes.
We’ll be discussing Adii’s early days as a designer, the rise and growth of WooThemes, a standard working day, his favourite hardware and software, and a number of new projects he’s beginning to get involved with this year.
Rightly or wrongly, traditional education is often overlooked when viewing someone as a entrepreneur. What did you originally study in college/university, and do you feel that it helped you get to where you are today?
I’ve got a Bachelors in Accounting and a Honours in Business Management, so I definitely have a traditional business education, which I don’t have one regret over. But neither of these have taught me how to be an entrepreneur; instead I’d like to think that you can only become a better entrepreneur via experiences and that a traditional education only serves as a basis for these.
What were the main projects you set up in your early days as a designer, and how did these lead to the launch of WooThemes?
None to be honest. When I started out as a designer / developer, I was simply focused on building up great portfolio and selling my hourly skills at a higher price. So with WooThemes, I really had my first opportunity to sell something that isn’t limited by my hours.
Why did you make the decision to brand yourself as a Rockstar, and how important do you feel “personal branding” is when developing a website or online business?
The Rockstar idea was an evolving process really; it started out as a tagline and then just became a branding / naming convention for me. Ultimately both “Adii Pienaar” – and moreso “Adii Rockstar” – sound a little more marketable than Adriaan Pienaar, which is my birthname.
And if you consider how crowded the Internet is with many absolutely outstanding individuals, you have to spend time developing your personal brand. It’s one of the only guaranteed ways that you will stand out from the crowd.
Could you outline what your average day involves, from waking up in the morning to clocking off at night?
I’m normally at the office at about 6:30 / 7:00 in the morning and the first couple of hours (before everyone arrives) are spent cleaning out the various mailboxes, catching up on RSS and tweets from the previous day; basically giving myself a clean slate to work from the rest of the day. During this time, I also do extensive work on Basecamp to collaborate and coordinate everything that we are doing as a company (both in-house and through outside collaborations).
After that, my day varies greatly depending on the needs of the team. I do assign quite a bit of time each day to brainstorming & conceptualising new ideas (sometimes on my own, sometimes with the team), and I also take care of all blogging responsibilities (I try do this if / when the inspiration hits).
Beyond that, you can find me tweaking things here or there and giving an extra helping hand to anyone else on the team with regards to theme releases, bug fixing etc.
After work, I’m really trying to force myself to get some proper exercise and, in the evenings, I try to spend some time writing my book or just clicking around and finding new stuff on the inter-webs. It’s in-between all of these things that my life seems to happen; at least I’m flexible so I can fit social + personal time in anywhere…!
Which hardware and sofware do you use on a regular basis – both for business and pleasure?
I absolutely love my 13″ MacBook Pro, which I use with a 26″ T260 Samsung LCD at the office. Along with that I really love (and sometimes when I know I need to switch off, but can’t) my iPhone and more recently I’ve been enjoying photography with my Canon 7D!
In terms of software, I use Safari for web-browsing and wouldn’t be able to do my daily work with Things, Tweetie & Basecamp. I must admit though that most of the apps I’m using seem to be online these days…
I’m intrigued by how your job role has changed over the past few years, moving towards running a business and away from actual design and development work. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?
I love the business side, as I have a real passion for business models, management and figuring out how customers interact with a company. So this means that I haven’t really designed or coded something in the last 2 / 3 months, because ultimately these skills don’t come to me naturally and we have WooTeam members that are better equipped to handle these.
You’ve recently launched a project called The Rockstar Foundation, aiming to create better educational opportunities for disadvantaged young girls in Cape Town, South Africa. What lead you to set this project up, and how important do you feel it is for online entrepreneurs to “give something back”?
I’d like to believe that I have a big heart in the sense that if I can help someone, then I would try my best. So whilst a series of unexpected events prompted me to start the Foundation, the essence of giving something back has always been there.
I believe that I have been very blessed in business and I thus have a responsibility to give back to those who haven’t had the opportunity that I have been given. I might also add that business for me has never been about the money, but instead about the challenges of creating something of real value.
Designers always face the dilemma of keeping a business relatively small and remaining agile, or growing a larger team of colleagues and dealing with the rigidity that brings. Is this a concern with WooThemes?
Always. And to be honest: we haven’t found the answer yet!
I guess there’s a balance between growing a team and using collaborations to grow one’s reach instead. In-house will always win in terms of efficiency and quality, but sometimes the risk of having a bloated team (and overhead expenditure) isn’t worthwhile either.
You’ve recently branched out into selling ExpressionEngine themes, and clearly feel this platform has a great deal of potential over the next few years. Are there any other trends you feel that designers should be watching out for in 2010/2011?
I’m not sure to be honest. I think Internet workers are being faced with an ever-changing landscape, which only increases the importance of proper designing and developing. For example – I can see how the increase in the number of different devices that we use to access the internet will continue to complicate design and code in the future.
But that growth also means that we’ll have more options and niches than ever before…
Adii’s Sites and Projects
Here are a handful of the different websites, designs, and projects Adii is involved with. Click one to visit that particular site:
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the start of this new interview series – if there are any other designers you’d like to see featured, please feel free to let us know in the comments!