I remember checking my notifications on Facebook and having someone ask me…
“Do you know what’s going on with Headway Themes?”
At first, I thought it was a little glitch, that might be easily fixed by closing down your browser and loading it back up. You know, the usual tech stuff that happens to all of us, multi-tab users.
But this time the question was a little different.
It was about Headway as a company, and how they were either going out of business or unable to continue offering support and updates to their customers.
I was surprised to hear that, because Headway Themes had just recently released a brand new version of their theme (version 4). And although we had yet to move over to the new version, we knew that they were actively developing things.
Since then, there have been a few articles and posts about the problems happening behind the scenes at Headway, and having been such a longtime supporter of their products over the years, I wanted to address these issues and share my insights.
The Past and Future of Headway Themes
Before we dive into the future of Headway Themes, let’s look at the past and what’s been happening the world of themes.
I have known the founders of Headway Themes Grant and Clay since 2010, where we met in person at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.
At the time I was a brand new business owner. Starting a software company was not even on my radar yet (despite having a degree in Software Engineering from “the MIT of Canada”, the University of Waterloo). I remember sitting with them at breakfast and chatting about WordPress themes.
Back then, there were three major theme frameworks dominating: Thesis, Genesis, and Headway.
These theme frameworks each had their own take on themes, and they were all built for savvy developers… with Headway being the most user-friendly because it was designed with a “drag and drop editor”.
Although I had nothing but good things to say about all of these WordPress theme options, I decided to use Headway for my own websites and for my clients’ sites, too.
The creators of Headway are a father and son team, and they’re good people. But since 2010 when their product had very little competition and people gravitated to the 3 main options… things have changed.
A new surplus of themes and variations on the market
Now people have thousands of themes to choose from when they’re searching for WordPress membership themes. They’re able to choose from WordPress themes that are less expensive, and that come with more bells and whistles that look good on the front end… like parallax, mobile responsive tricks, and pre-made templates that are easy to tweak.
There are entire theme directories like Theme Forest, where you can purchase a theme and get going quickly.
The business model of themes has changed a lot… it used to be that developers would purchase a theme framework and design custom looking websites for their clients.
Now business owners want to be able to do it themselves or purchase a ready-to-go theme that doesn’t need a lot of tweaking or designing from scratch.
Think of it as the commoditization of design, or just the evolution of the web.
But they relied on new sales to sustain operating costs
The problem that Headway ran into, which is a possibility for all businesses (so take note, no matter what you offer!) is that they were relying on new sales to sustain the operating costs of their past customers.
Because Headway had amassed a huge user base of happy customers, they were on the hook for providing support whenever they worked on their next site design… But in the early days, Headway didn’t charge a recurring license fee.
So they were supporting folks who weren’t paying the bills… and when the new sign ups slowed down, it caused a crunch that led to them being unable to pay their support costs.
How We’re Staying In Business For The Long Term
Obviously, as a software company, we’re paying attention to what’s happening over at Headway Themes. I haven’t spoken to Clay and Grant personally, and everything I’m sharing here is from an outsider’s observations.
But we’re taking notes for our own business, and making sure that our company remains sustainable. That’s why we offer our PopupAlly Pro, and AccessAlly products on a recurring license basis (either yearly or monthly).
We pride ourselves on our excellent customer service… and we never want to be in a position of having clients who need help but we can’t afford to provide it for them.
So let this be a criterion for you when you’re shopping for software solutions: look for products and businesses that are in it for the long term – that have a sustainable business model, and that are able to sustain their operations based on the ongoing payments for their tools.
And take this to heart for your own business, too. Not everything lasts forever and what might be your bestselling service or product might go out of favor… so you’ll want to be ready and able to adapt.
You’ll also want to be building in a recurring income into your business, whether that’s a membership website, maintenance package, or something in between.
The bottom line from us at AccessAlly is that we’re keeping our eye on the future of our business, we’re evolving with the marketplace, and we’re focusing on sustainability so that we’ll be there when you need us!
Other Options & Choosing Your Next Theme Wisely
If you’re currently a Headway Themes user, you might be wondering what other options you have now.
The first thing I want to say is that if you’re happy with your website as it stands now using Headway, you don’t need to break what’s working. The software will continue to run and work as-is. We’re personally not changing themes yet (we’re still on version 3.8) because this is a stable theme.
However, if you are looking for support there are some companies and options. One of them is called Blox, and they have taken the Headway Themes code and released it under their own name and are offering to support the theme. I’m not entirely sure on the legal ramifications of such a move, so approach this option with caution.
Then of course there are the cool new (and popular) themes on the market that we recommend for your WordPress membership site theme.
I’m personally a big fan of the Beaver Builder theme plugin, and we’ve recently rebuilt most of our sites using this theme framework.
My recommendation for choosing a theme going forward for your next version of your website is to make sure that it is mobile friendly, that it will allow you to transition to a different theme easily, and that it is something you can design in or make small tweaks yourself.
What Themes Are You Loving?
Now I’d love to crowdsource here and see what theme you’re loving. Leave a comment below and let us know!