How A Tomato Led Me To Build A $1.8M/Year Agency & Product Studio

$150K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
25
Employees
product
UPQODE
from Nashville, Tennessee, USA
started November 2015
$150,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
25
Employees
190K
alexa rank
1.22K
followers
19
subs
market size
$40.8B
starting costs
$15.8K
gross margin
90%
time to build
7 months
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
Consulting
best tools
Canva, Adobe Suite, Google ads
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
3 Tips
Discover what tools Nicolae reccommends to grow your business!
Start A Web Design & Online Marketing Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Nick and I’m the founder of Qoders Family. Qoders Family is a family of different services & products all dealing with different aspects of website building.

On the service side of the business, we have UPQODE, an award-winning website/development design agency. On the products side, we have True Themes & HoneyApps. TrueThemes are custom-designed Wordpress theme templates, which have sold over 80,000 times. I’m super excited to announce that we have recently launched HoneyApps, an upsell and cross-sell Shopify App, about 2 months ago.

So far we have over 2,000 active customers and have generated over $3M in revenue for our customers.

Other than that we have multiple free WordPress Plugins that have been downloaded more than a few hundred thousand times, and a coffee blog, which is my current passion project. What can I say? I love drinking coffee!

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

It all started with a tomato.

I grew up in a small town in Moldova, with a population of less than 9,000. Every summer I would live with my grandparents in the countryside and would help them grow and sell tomatoes. This was truly the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey, as I learned the importance of hard work, resilience, how to sell, and understanding the importance of having the best product in the market. It sounds silly, but I’m proud to say that we had the best tomatoes in our town.

The idea of being productive 24/7 is glamorized by society and it's just completely wrong. If you really want to optimize your productivity, take some time for yourself.

I’ve carried these lessons with me throughout my entrepreneurship journey and after about 12 years (& 25 failed projects later), I created our first profitable project called NRGthemes. In less than 3 months, we generated more than $20k a month in revenue and on top of that, we were among the top ThemeForest Authors.

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio
Our first website

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

While we have different products and services, I’ll give you an overview of how we go about launching a new product, using True Themes as an example.

Step 1- Identifying Product Niche

Before we begin the development process of our WordPress themes, we start by identifying the industry of missing high-quality WordPress Themes, as well as identifying those industries that have a high potential of using WordPress Themes as a starting point - as a few examples: Photography Themes, Construction Themes.

Step 2 - Research and Site Map

Once we’ve identified the industry, we then move onto research, where we look at 20-40 live websites in that niche and find features and pages that most of competitor WordPress themes are missing and make sure we include those in our themes site map.

Step 3- Wireframing

Once the features map and sitemap are ready, we continue creating the wireframes of the website. After about 2 years of creating wireframes from scratch, we decided to create our own internal product called Kiti, a wireframe kit that helps us create faster and better wireframes.

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio

Step 4 - Design on WordPress

We understood from the very start that we absolutely had to change the long tedious process of designing and developing. Our competitive edge is time & high-quality design. We created our own plugin called Aheto, which helps our designers create WordPress themes in ⅓ from the initial time spent on the project.

Step 5 - Documentation & Support

After the design phase, the next step is to create a detailed document outlining all of the specifics for any given project. We have a support team who have two main tasks:

1) to understand the ins and outs of the product and

2) to create a very detailed document for the customers.

Step 6 - Marketing

Marketing has its own process in itself. Basically, we create all of the visual assets, including the logo, brand guidelines, web page, and all other necessary assets. Typically, we hand this off to the marketing team.

Step 7- Launch

Launch and celebrate with champagne!

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio
TrueThemes

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio
1990 Style - Company Party

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching a business follows a similar procedure to launching a product: Research your market and customers, evaluate, and validate your idea.

When we started NRGthemes, we found two different types of customers:

  1. Those who don’t want to spend more than $49 for their websites
  2. Those who were ready to spend more than $5,000+ for their websites.

As a side note -- UPQODE was birthed from customer #2, as we started getting more and more inquiries to create customized WordPress Websites. There was a need for custom designs and we delivered by creating an agency.

Building trust & credibility.

The first thing we did in our case created a portfolio. This established that we were experts in our industry, which in turn built trust and credibility with our customers.

Our Website

Given that we are experts at designing websites, our website had to be of the utmost quality. Websites are digital storefronts for all businesses, so we built ourselves a great-looking website that could convert.

B2B Reviews

If you have your portfolio, it’s very important to have proof of your work. It’s important to register and gather feedback from your customers, which in turn, will establish trust and credibility. In our case, UPWORK was that tool.

Building Processes

The next thing we worked very hard on was to create and implement different processes. Having the right processes in place, as well as ways to measure its success was and is probably the most important part of running a business as efficiently and effectively as possible.

It took us about 5 months to decide on a project management tool and about 1.5 years to write a handbook.

After launching your business, it’s important to keep in mind that things will always change (it’s inevitable), so you have to have the ability to evolve with your organization as it grows.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For TrueThemes, the number of licenses we sell truly depends on the quality of the product and support. In order to attract and retain customers, we’ve put a lot of resources into our product development and support team.

UPQODE is a bit of a different story. Initially, our customers came from our Themes (at some point, we had more than 50,000 visitors on our items per month). For a time, UPQODE’s business was built solely on referrals. However, more recently, we’ve expanded our sales and marketing team to win more business. Some of the ways we get new business include:

  • Advertising on Portfolio Platforms such as Dribbble and Behance. We are currently ranked in the top-3 best agencies on behance in the US.
  • Winning awards through the following websites - awwwards.com csswinner.com cssawards.com
  • Clutch.co - We recently implemented paid Sponsorship ads as a way to drive more traffic to our site.
  • Referral Program - We offer nice bonuses to our customers if they bring other customers to us.
  • Search Engine Optimization - We actually just started doing SEO, so I’ll have to keep you updated on our results.

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today, we have an amazing team of about 45 people, all of which are focused on different projects. I’m an engineer by trade, so I’m all about data. Here’s insight on how we are doing this year in terms of numbers:

TrueThemes

  • 5,400 licenses Sold in the past Year

  • 125,000 Downloads of our free products

  • 6 Products launched

  • 50% Margins

UPQODE

  • 10,560 Unique visitors for the past month compared with 3,250 last year
  • 100+ Customers for the last year
  • 15+ Design Awards for the last year
  • 1st on awwwards.com in the US and 4th WorldWide
  • 2nd on behance.netin the US
  • 44% Margins

HoneyApps - While we have worked on this project for over 2 years, this product was actually launched just 3 months ago.

  • 2,000 + Customers
  • $3,000,000 revenue generated for customers
  • $0 Revenue

Upcoming goals:

TrueThemes :

  • Launch 6 new Themes
  • Increase our sales by 25%

UPQODE

  • Helping more customers succeed
  • Increase our sales as well as our profitability by 25 %
  • Increase customer retention
  • Win more design awards

HoneyApps

  • Create 3 more Apps
  • Start Our Paid Subscriptions
  • Increase our Revenue to $50,000/month in subscriptions

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

A couple of things:

  1. Self-care is just as important (if not more) than working hard. Learning to turn my computer off at the end of the day was my biggest struggle for a long time. The idea of being productive 24/7 is glamorized by society and it's just completely wrong. If you really want to optimize your productivity, take some time for yourself.

More business-related points:

  1. So many businesses don't actually know what their value proposition is. Not truly understanding your value proposition and your target audiences can keep a business stagnant in terms of growth. Don't forget, oftentimes these things evolve as your business grows, so it's important to review this yearly.
  2. It is absolutely critical to have a great team. Your people are everything. Not only is it important to have a great team, but nurturing and training your team members to work as a collaborative unit is equally as important. I attribute all of our growth to our amazing team.

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio
2021 - Part of our team

how-a-tomato-led-me-to-build-a-1-8m-year-agency-product-studio

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use several different platforms/tools, including a couple that we have actually developed ourselves such as Aheto and Kiti.

For project management, we use ActiveCollab. ActiveCollab is a great tool to manage all of your projects from start to finish and it works well for teams both large and small.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I take reading quite seriously, so you’ll always catch me with a book in my hand or listening to an audiobook. Some really great books that I’ve read recently and recommended include:

However, oftentimes I’ll actually be reading fiction, as a way to step out of work/serious mode. Some of my favorite authors include Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and Arundhati Roy.

As for podcasts, I always love just listening to interesting people and seeing what they’re up to, so you can find me listening to Joe Rogan (I love the episode sleep doctor, Matthew Walker), Aubrey Marcus, and Jordan Peterson.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

Yes! Research, evaluate, and validate your start-up idea. A common mistake new entrepreneurs make is jumping the gun on their ideas without even researching or testing their product or service idea. Take some time doing your due diligence. Through your research, you'll realize either that there is no real market need for your product/service or you'll find ways to improve on your original idea. Either way, it's a win-win for you.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always looking for new team members to join the QODERS family. Check out our open positions here

If you think you’d be a good fit, please do apply!

Where can we go to learn more?

Feel free to check us out at our website.

You can also learn more about our products here:

-  
Nicolae Pasecinic,   Founder of UPQODE
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.

Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:

  • Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
  • Step by step guides on how to start and grow
  • Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
  • And much more!

Did you know that brands using Klaviyo average a 95x ROI?

Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.

Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.

Join Brumate, Beardbrand, and the 265,000 other businesses using Klaviyo to grow their online sales.

Try Klaviyo for free right now ➜

Leave a comment
Your email address will not be published.

Want to start a web design & online marketing business? Learn more ➜