We last interviewed Mike in January, 2014 - you can read that interview here: Interview with Mike Creuzer (AKA Audentio).
Since that time, many XenForo Designers/Coders have faded away, and some have maintained their presence, but few have grown significantly over the years. Audentio stands out among the few that have thrived!
It's been 3 years since your last TAZ interview, and I know you've been busy. How are things going for you?
First, thanks for having me back! It’s indeed been some time. Last we talked I think I was just about to have my first baby! Lila was born in May of 2014, and my second Harrison born in March of 2016. Definitely quite busy, my wife and I. She does the work I just get to brag about how deeply fortunate and lucky I am.
Our company is doing well also!
It's no secret that there have been significant changes at Audentio. First off, what's going on with the forum styling part of the business?
Our day to day includes plenty in forums, keeping products up to date, solving bugs and answering tickets, introducing new features where necessary, and all in all just trying to be as much of asset as we can to the community. Our theme and product output has slowed a bit since we want to focus on refining what we have, but theme sales are as good as ever and we are looking forward to UI.X/XenForo 2.0.
Here are some photos of the office:
How did you come to be so heavily involved in the XenForo add-on market, and how has this involvement worked out for you?
Well we were always getting jobs to do add-ons, we just did it as requested and didn’t really put anything out in the market. We had a handful of add-ons that our regular clients had asked us to build, and we were maintaining those exclusively, maybe 10-15 different add-ons.
But then Jon/Waindigo told us he’d be leaving the market and needed someone to take over support and responsibilities for his hundreds upon hundreds of clients and add-ons. It was something I debated quite a bit, since all his add-ons were free. It is extremely difficult to walk on and maintain other people’s code, no matter the developer, and we’d have to do so with little to no pay. The reason he left (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying) was in part to the fact that managing so many add-ons, whether unsupported or not, whether free or paid I’d later discover, is just a huge undertaking. And we needed to adapt fast if we were going to make it through.
But I had some other significant concerns. One such concern being, what would happen to XenForo if 250 add-ons went unsupported overnight? A trend of designers and developers leaving XenForo preceded and followed Jon leaving, we’d of course later find out. We’ve always been huge advocates for bringing developers and designers to XenForo. It's my personal belief that one of the huge reasons for XenForo’s success has indeed been the awesome designers and developers out there who came together. I look around and half of my friends and colleagues are gone.
All in all, I still don’t know what we’d do if given the chance again, to take Jon’s add-ons or leave them. But probably not take the add-ons. We became the target of frustration, regardless of whether that was Jon leaving, the state of the add-on when we took it over, our speed following up with new bugs and requests, etc. But we did find a way eventually to find equilibrium. As soon as we could, we open-sourced most of Jon’s add-ons. So far in over a year no one has taken over development of any of Jon’s add-ons which is what I figured would happen unfortunately. It’s why I took the add-ons in the first place.
As anyone can imagine from a $10 median add-on cost, it’s going to be hard to have one let alone a team of people getting paid a day to day livable wage from add-on sales. The nature of a cheap $10 add-on vs thousands for custom development doesn’t make sense to people, and I agree entirely. But it’s the nature of having someone skilled devoted to just what you need. But we’ve made it work, mostly through large sites and boards needing custom development. They need someone that they know will be there when they need someone. And we are there, and have been, for a decade. We are brick and mortar, and we are there when people need us.
For 2.X, we plan to have a much smaller list of add-ons to maintain and focus more on an end product than individual add-ons. We’ll leave whoever has the most resources in the resource manager to someone else, the torch will be gladly passed.
It's been said that you overextended yourself by taking on so many add-ons, and that you then profited from them by changing them from free to paid. How do you respond to this?
As I mentioned, I think I do ultimately agree that we overextended ourselves. We were trying to be a resource, when really it just looked like we bought out Jon or something which is not at all accurate. We were gifted the products in exchange for honoring debts, fixing bugs, and continuing to maintain them as best we could. Jon also didn't want to leave the customers empty handed. But I had the best intentions. We’ve made some huge improvements since then, but I definitely learned a lesson there. Not only did we not make any money, we also got involved with something we shouldn’t have. We were doing fine with our small list of 40 products before, and its something we will go back to for 2.0.
For those concerned with us profiting, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A $10 add-on, well, it doesn’t sustain a professional development company. Not even 1%. We make our money through the custom work we do and some of our other projects, XenForo add-ons we do for the community, for advertising, for growth. But again, it just wasn’t worth it for us, so it’s not something we will look to do again. We made the mistake, we accepted it. But that was long ago, and we’re already looking forward to the next stage in our company. And thats 2.0 and Wordpress.
What other projects are you working on besides forum styles and add-ons?
We have a few apps in the pipeline we’re building! We have a UI framework about done, a model of it shipped in cPanel’s new Site Publisher system you can checkout in cPanel 62. UI.X 2.0 is completely redesigned and ready to be built! We have a new framework for Wordpress that we’ve been working through, as well. We also have a backend tech company software manager, the one powering ThemeHouse.com, that we’ve had a few offers for so we’re thinking about building that in a generic sense and perhaps releasing it as a software. All kinds of projects from native apps to software and web applications, to consultation and content, and a bit of engineering and marketing. We’re a full-grown digital agency now and finally beginning to move past only working in forums.
I’ll always be here in forums no matter what happens with XF2 (we’ve considered IPB4 in the near future!) as it’s what I love, I’ve made many awesome friends and connections through forums, and I just love the concept of bringing people together to learn and experience new things.
Tell us about the growth of your team.
Last we talked we had a small office in the basement of a bank with a team of 4 running the place. Now, we are fortunate to be able to continue growing in the tech industry. We are one of the few, and only I’ve heard of, brick and mortar forum design and development experts in the world and that is something I didn’t expect going in, having started all this as a hobby.
Our team includes:
Kyler - JS lead
Nikki - Creative/UI Lead
Ian - HTML/CSS Lead
Jake - PHP/Systems Lead
Tushar - UX Lead
Ellison - Developer
Damion - Developer
Jeremy - Marketing Engineer
Jessica - Media Director
Dalton - Product Manager
Sarah - Operations Lead
Mike - Quality assurance
Titles give context I suppose but we all do multiple different things. Our team is full of beautiful, hard-working, enthusiastic people who are just plain good at what they do, and I love going to work each day.
What is your take on the current state of XenForo 1.X, and the upcoming XenForo 2.X?
XenForo 1 is clearly my favorite software. I’ve been using it since day 1 of its release and it really took forums to a whole other level. My previous favorite was vB 3.X, and before that IPB 1.3. Truth be told I never gave IPB4 a chance, and that was just simply lack of time, but from what I’ve seen I’ve been blown away. I’d love to make a UI.X for IPB, it would be awesome.
But back to XenForo, the developers are smart and talented, they know what their members truly need, they built great tools for third-party developers, and I think have shown the community that they really stand behind the product.
To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from 2.0. I expected something to be a bit more cutting edge using modern tools, a RESTful API, I don’t know, the things our clients were asking us about. And mind you I’m sure there is much more to come. But it would be nice to see problems we have issues with today being addressed directly, to which I haven’t seen much on. But XenForo are secretive, I’ll leave that methodology to the public to decide on whether they like that aspect or not, but I’m sure we can expect some more awesome stuff from B-MACK. They are some of the world’s best, never count them out of anything.
What are your plans for transitioning to XenForo 2.X?
As I mentioned I have UI.X 2 all ready to get coded. Naturally all of our XenForo themes and products need to be completely rebuilt from the ground up for 2.0, so we’ve decided not to do all of them, we just don’t have the time. Instead we’ll take the best products and rebuild them, we already have a list of exactly what we are tackling. We’ll post some screenshots of some themes and such as we get closer to launch! I’m super excited about it, and perhaps I’m biased, but its the prettiest theme I’ve ever seen, Nikki has outdone herself. Cannot wait to show it off.
Tell us about ThemeHouse, the ThemeHouse site, and the changes you've been making to your business model lately.
ThemeHouse was such a fun project. The reason we rebranded to ThemeHouse was because we had clients asking us for non-theme/add-on related projects. We were asked to help advertise, build apps, you name it. So we needed a brand to do that. And since I love the name Audentio, I figured let’s just come up with something new to serve as the face for all our digital products and keep Audentio as the parent company.
I wanted something that was fun and playful, and after much deliberation came up with the treehouse concept. Your tree is your connection or root in the world, your forum is the house itself, the add-ons are the features, the extra things you have like telescopes, tire swings etc, and of course your theme is your architectural style, your paint, everything you see.
The old Audentio website was built 6 years ago, rarely touched. It needed a huge facelift so we went all the way and built ThemeHouse completely componentized and modern. Built in React from Facebook, Redux, Ruby API backend, CSS modules, custom web components, everything. It has an integrated subscription manager, digital (and physical) product manager, invoicing system, license manager, CMS manager, user system, you name it. Still more to build, but it was a huge project and I think our team did a great job, the feedback has been awesome and the reviews stellar.
We decided to move to a subscription model as well, simply because some of our clients own like 40 products and it wasn’t very cost effective. So we figured why not just get all products, cancel when you want, reup when you need support or updates. Nice and simple. Its been great, people love the price point as it was kept as low as we could, and they have found great value in it. We will do the same thing for 2.0 and Wordpress products. Naturally you can still buy one-off products for 1.X, most likely for 2.X as well, but Wordpress will be entirely subscription-based.
If you could go back 3 years what (if anything) would you do differently?
I’d take a loan out from the bank to build this company. I did it with money I saved up after school, working retail, after I got home from work, etc. Long long days, very little added to the bank. But that’s what we did. I threw all my money into this business, building forum themes and add-ons mostly. Years later, we have the latest technologies at our disposal, a stunning office, and the most amazing group of people to work with. It was worth it, but I’d rather get here a bit faster. I love this company, I love building things, and though I may sound a bit full of myself, I just am so confident about what we can accomplish.
I consider today, our ten year anniversary, as a rebirth. The place I would have started from had I had maybe a little bit of help financially, if I was given a bit of guidance or direction. It’s a rebirth because this is when we really start. We really are turning a huge page here and getting into a whole new level of awesome projects and adventures that I just cannot wait to begin and share with the world.
How's the family, and what's been going on with you other than work?
I am so fortunate, nothing else to say really! I have a beautiful wife, crazy smart and loving little babies, and the people I work with are my best friends. I don’t do anything really but work these days, the lines get blurred with that and personal life haha! But I am happy and I’m super excited for the future. We plan on moving the company to Madison, WI in the next year as well so many many more adventures to be had!