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MuseThemes Turns Four – Time to Reflect


Time Flies When You’re Excited

I’m a big believer that excitement is actually the best part of life. Think about holidays, or major changes like moving into a new home. It’s the lead up to that event that’s really the “fun” part, rarely the event itself. Once it comes and goes you’re already planning the next so you can enjoy that anticipation all over again.

I can hardly believe it’s been over four years since I started MuseThemes.com. This is technically the longest “job” I’ve ever had. I think the time has flown by so quickly because I’ve always been so excited about this business and the impact it’s making.

I built the site myself over a cold September weekend in 2011 and I remember having a very powerful feeling about what this business could become. I had worked as a freelancer for many years to supplement my full-time day job income (doing graphic design and computer support), and while I enjoyed working with clients and making money on the side, I never got that special feeling from the work. I believe now that this particular feeling can become a compass for my life – guiding me into new (and hopefully successful) businesses and adventures that will truly make an impact.



Conferences - Go Where the Action is

I picked up Muse at the HOW Design Live Conference in Chicago, June 2011. I was there as an attendee (on my employer’s dime) and I had an opportunity to watch a sneak peek of a new Adobe app that promised code-free web design. As a freelancer who frequently used other-code free solutions like SiteGrinder to build client sites, I was instantly intrigued and sat front row for the presentation. It blew me away.

The speaker was Dani Beaumont, and she demonstrated how to build the website “Kevin’s Coffee Cart” in Adobe Muse. The application on screen felt so comfortable – and I hadn’t even used it yet – like the little brother to InDesign. Placing images in frames, setting up page columns and guides, etc… I knew this would be a game changer for my freelance business.


The HOW Design Conference


When the conference day ended, I went back to my room to install a beta version that all of the sneak peek attendees were invited to download. Within three hours, I rebuilt my entire Visual Arms website using Muse. The application was tiny compared to what it is now! There were only three or four widgets, no web fonts, and it frequently crashed. But I still loved it. The best part is that it only took about an hour to learn every component of the app inside and out.

There’s a lesson here I’ll always remember: the earlier you adopt a new technology, the easier it will be to stay on top of it as it grows.



After returning home from HOW, my Visual Arms website started getting attention from the Adobe team and the small Muse community. Designers started asking me how I made integrated specific elements, and if they could use my .muse file as a guide to build their site. Lightbulb time! Almost every web product out there has a substantial template market – Wordpress, Joomla, Dreamweaver – so why couldn’t Muse? I had always wanted to build an ecommerce site; so I picked a weekend, abandoned my wife, locked myself in my office, and built MuseThemes in 2 long days.



The banner I used for the MuseThemes launch in 2011



Start Slow and Stick with it

The initial launch of MuseThemes included four templates, available for $30 each or in a bundle of four (for $75). I remember the first sale like it was yesterday. I was at the mall with my wife on a weekday evening, and the email came in alerting me that I sold a template. Woohoo! I used the money to buy a baseball hat, I think.

Our first sale - Sept 21, 2011

The business carried on like this for almost a year. Not surprising, considering Muse was technically still in beta and hadn’t even launched to the general public yet. Even Adobe wasn’t initially sold on the idea of templates in Muse (they thought it took away the freedom that Muse gave designers), however, they allowed us to promote our templates on the Muse forums. Many users who came across the site recommended we close up shop for a few years to see if the product would even catch on. I was pretty confident it would, so I stuck with it and built our library of themes up until we had a good base of 25 templates. I created every single one of them myself, as this was before the days of our wizard-designer, Christopher Watson. Admittedly, they are much nicer now!


A sample of Christopher's handiwork



Opportunity Breeds Competition

The game really changed when Muse officially launched in May of 2012. Traffic on MuseThemes instantly spiked, and we started making consistent sales. Where there’s opportunity there is always competition, and within six months of the Muse release our first competitors started to appear. Initially, I had mixed feelings about competitors. On one hand I missed our total domination of the Muse space, but on the other I was curious to see what kind of products other Muse users would produce. It was lonely in the Muse template world, and in a way the appearance of competitors validated what I suspected, that this was a good business idea and a legitimate market. Fast forward a few years, and I can now count 28 other sites offering templates and widgets in the Muse space.

 

 

Competition Encourages Innovation

The most important business lesson I learned when competitors appeared is that it’s extremely beneficial to be first to market. From an SEO perspective, longevity and history on Google goes a long way in your rankings. I believe our operations and systems are also well refined compared to other sites. We invested early on in building processes into the business and site, and that was some of the best money ever spent. I’m sure you’re not surprised we also own many of the best Muse-related domains… they were all available back when we launched!

I’ve also learned that competition encourages innovation. Having other players in this market forces us to stay on our game, and doesn’t allow a business to simply coast. There are many innovations in the Muse widget and theme market that other players initially introduced, and now nearly all of us take advantage of. It’s been a positive thing for the business and this product, so now I look at competition as a healthy component of the evolution of Muse and MuseThemes.com.




Partners to You and Your Business

In early 2013, around the time when widgets started to catch on in Muse, I made the decision to move our site over to a subscription-based membership model. Adobe released the game-changing “Mucow” system, and we were building at such a furious pace that our customers wanted a way to purchase everything we offered and stop paying for all of our new releases.

Subscriptions always result in a love / hate response from many users. I saw this first hand when I was invited to participate in the “Creative Cloud Advisory Group” put together by Adobe to gather feedback on their change from boxed software to the Creative Cloud cloud model. Even among some of the most notable experts in the graphics industry, lines were drawn. Half the room supported the change and the other half strongly opposed it; both sides had really valid points.

 

Adobe San Francisco - taken on an advisory group trip

 

I’m personally a fan of subscription-based businesses because I think it allows you to get involved in the community side of a website or product without having to pay more. For MuseThemes, the subscription focus also allows us to stay away from price wars – undercutting competitors until a single widget is selling for less than a dollar. Our library of products has gotten so large that I believe our subscription price offers incredible value, and effectively still reduces the price for all our tools to far less than a dollar each. For a small business, we also make significant investments in Muse training and after sales support for our products, which is something that differentiates us in the market and adds even more value to our subscription.



The Goods - Stats

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m proud to say we’re up to nine total employees and contractors (including myself), supporting over 50,000 Muse users around the world. Even though we’re technically based in Canada, many of our contractors and full-timers are based in the US and overseas. We close nearly 1,000 support tickets each month, thanks to the efforts of our ninjas Darian, Mackenzie, Alex, Ashton, DJ, and Brandon. Many of these requests for help come in from users who aren’t even MuseThemes members – but if we can help, we will anyways because it’s good for the community. Our site itself has also scaled up significantly, integrating customer accounts, membership billing, secure downloads, and support systems serving up 10,000,000+ page views each year. Phew!



We’re Proud of This Business

As a business owner, I’m really proud of what we do here at MuseThemes. I believe we’re making an impact in the lives of designers around the world, enabling them to offer more to their clients, build their businesses, and support their families. This has always been my goal with the site.

The business has also had a major impact on my life. My family has scaled up along with it – I had a daughter 12 months ago, and being there to watch her grow up each day is a gift that I owe to MuseThemes and the members that support it. We’ve received so much love from Adobe and the Muse community over all these years, I’m not sure a simple “thank you” is enough to express my gratitude. But I’ll try anyways – thank you!

 

 

And to all the awesome peeps that power the MuseThemes machine – Christopher, Brandon, Darian, Mackenzie, Alex, Ashton, DJ and all of our contractors – thank you all very much, I really couldn’t do it without you. Now stop reading and get back to work ;)

Happy 4 years!

Cheers,
SH

Steve Harris
Steve Harris / Calgary, Canada

Steve Harris started MuseThemes in 2011 and steadily grew the company, going from a full-time corporate employee to being his own boss. More than just MuseThemes, Steve is a conference speaker, Lynda.com author, and holds equally large collections of both business books and fine scotch.

Comments

J-26
J-26

So cool to read. I wouldn’t have gotten into Muse if it weren’t for you guys, let alone develop a single widget.

JamieUK
JamieUK

Great read guys! Inspiring to hear how the business began. Congrats on the anniversary and keep making great products. I’ve been with you since the beginning and it’s been worth every penny

tom gostkowski
tom gostkowski

Congrats Steve – I started with Muse the day it launched. I’ve lost track of how many sites I’ve built. MuseThemes has been a big part of that. You and your team have done an excellent job.

Dann
Dann

So thankful we have MuseThemes. I’ve learned so much working with everything offered. Happy 4th B-Day! Keep it coming!

Gavin
Gavin

Happy Birthday you guys! I have been a big fan of Muse and have been using it for the same time it has transformed my business I was a print designer for 5 Years and now 90% of my business is websites Muse Themes has helped grow my business I joined over 2 years ago great work guys your worth every pound !!!

Jeff Achen
Jeff Achen

Thanks Steve and congratulations! I’m a photographer and video producer and your templates and widgets have enabled me to the limited design skill I have to build modern, beautiful websites to showcase the photos and videos of my own clients. Thank you and keep the great design templates and widgets comin’.

Brandon
Brandon

Great story. I’ve been a member since Nov of 2013 and loved every minute of it. Whenever I receive an email blast from MuseThemes and don’t have time to read, I leave it ‘unread’ to ensure I make time for it. Muse changed my life and MuseThemes was a big part of it, too. I was able to quit my day job as my business experienced tremendous growth over a short time. Thank you Steve and the MuseTheme team for working so hard and providing an amazing product and service.

Steve Lasko
Steve Lasko

Muse Themes has been a HUGE enhancement to Adobe Muse. You guys have made our life a LOT easier and the websites we design a lot better. Congratulations on your successful four years so far — we eagerly look forward to your future products.

Martin
Martin

Congratulations Steve (& team),

I must (will) say, you guys are pushing MUSE to its limits and without you I think it would be laggin behind a little … I enjoy using my subscription and the widgets you lot come up are prime … continue doing what you do best … putting MUSE on the map …

best regards,
Martin

LINDA-US
LINDA-US

It is cool to hear how this all got started! I am also a transition-ee from SiteGrinder to Muse (now an ACE in Muse too), and I am so glad I made that move! Besides, SiteGrinder went out of business…so perfect timing. Shortly after I switched, I thought “surely someone has expanded on the Muse Widgets!” And that’s when I found you. Like a huge toy box waiting for me to dig through! :) Thank you for having the foresight and taking the initiative to have this available for us end-users.

Proexpoconsult
Proexpoconsult

It is always inspiring to read about a sucsessful startup specially if it is in the creative industry. Starting as a small project and ending as the “longest job you ever had” There is no better business than nice people doing nice things for nice people in a nice environment! Happy birthday and hopfully we celebrate a lot more.
Michael
(from Germany)

Loops
Loops

I’ve been a Customer for two years an i will keep going on with you. You are a real big time saver and we can create a lot of things with your widgets and templates. Keep on with your awesome job !

George Roush
George Roush

I have seen the growth and creativity unfold these 4 years, Muse-Themes is truly the leader when.

Congratulations to Steve and the MT crew

yuriemedia
yuriemedia

Congratulations! I appreciate you guys to bring wonderful templates. Muse Themes gives me a lot of opportunities. Developing websites with Muse Themes and Adobe CC is my best choice as a freelancer.

Renata Lucia
Renata Lucia

Happy Business Birthday and thanks for all the musey-goodness! I believe I’ve been a customer for a little over 2 years, and MuseThemes has been awesome

Sam
Sam

Any discounts for the b-day? :)

Tim
Tim

I’m new to Muse and Muse Themes. I’m becoming a huge fan though. What a good story for someone like myself starting brand new, it’s inspiring. Cheers and thanks for the dedication. And great work.
-Tim

David, Owner of Maldenite Productions
David, Owner of Maldenite Productions

Congratulations! What a wonderful blog post! I am so thankful for all of your wonderful support with superior design and widgets that simply thrill me each and every day that I use them for my clients.Your immediate response FOR SUPPORT is highly valued!

Hardly a day passes without me logging into my account for tutorials and new ideas for design and widgets! I LOVE having access to EVERYTHING! I immediately joined when I saw this opportunity. I am a Muse beta member and saw exactly what you did during the first conference. Happy Birthday!

Wayne Scholtz
Wayne Scholtz

Congrats Steve, great work guys! Thanks for sharing your inspiring journey.

All the best!
Wayne

Gerrith Will
Gerrith Will

Congratulations and Happy 4th Birthday Steve and the
whole MT team. You guys did a awesome job until now and
are pushing Muse and extending in every possible direction.
We needed a Site for our Academy with new and different
options for our students then we had in all the years before.
You guys did make it possible for us and we are exited to
publish the new site very soon – totally rocking – thanks to
you! So we just love MT.
By the way, personally as IT Engineer I do not like the idea
of subscription-based business . As long as there are 2-3 it
is ok, but now even a bookmark App like to have
subscription, and several 100 new subscription-based Apps
are showing up or transform from one time purchase with
lifetime update to a sudden subscription based program.
With $9 to $300 pr month for several hundred Apps
and Programs and Web-based tools and calendars, will this
soon exceed a average salary.
So perhaps no money left for gift’s for your 5th B-Day
anymore. ;)

Anyway, you doing a fantastic job and a Subscription for Adobe and Muse Themes is for me a investment in a brighter and better future. The world is full of indifferent websites, and you guys make a real different. Keep on with your awesome job and keep up the good spirit!
John MacPherson Allan
John MacPherson Allan

Great article Steve, what a journey! You have worked hard and deserve success looking forward to more product releases from MuseThemes! cheers

Janeym
Janeym

Well done! Also been following Muse and yourselves from the onset! Adobe Muse as a Graphic Designer was my knight in shining armour, rescuing me from PHP dots, coding crashes and moody javascript glitches. Have avidly followed all the widget developments and love implimenting stable sites for my small business clients. Enjoy being able to get creative without worrying about crashes. Keep up the great work and a very happy 4th Birthday! Seems like yesterday!

Marcelo Mollaretti
Marcelo Mollaretti

Congratulations! Happy 4th Birthday!

Greetings from Argentina!

Emma
Emma

Steven thank you so much!

Muse themes has allowed me to offer more to my clients, and makes the workflow process quicker and seamless!

Norman
Norman

Honestly I’m not a big fan of templates, I love widgets but templates aren’t my thing I prefer to start from scratch. BUT! You guys do such an awesome job your templates that I will purposely open one up just to try and see how you did certain tricks when I see something that really catches my attention. Nothing but premium quality products from you guys. Totally awesome and any times I’ve had problems you’ve been nothing but kind an helpful. Thank you guys so much for the last 4 years and the more to come. Keep it up!

Peter
Peter

Congratulations and thanks for all your hard work and the great products you create for us.

TK
TK

Great story Steve!!! I’ve followed you, Visual Arms and Muse since the beginning. And you’ve always been on top of it. I really appreciate the templates and midgets on Muse-Themes. It has been a great asset to my business as a visual designer wanting to create and build more websites. Especially when I didn’t have the time to heavily refresh my HTML. And because of the way you’ve built your templates is gives me a change to break down and understand certain design element s to help me build kick a$$ websites using adobe muse. Thnx!!! and keep doing what your doing my friend!!!

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