Open source meets business: PressWork closes its doors

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PressWorks farewell screenshot

Photo credit: Ryan Imel

Last summer Brendan Sera-Shriar and Chris Bavota launched PressWork, a drag and drop theme framework. They announced the framework at WordCamp Montreal, saying they created it for themselves as much as WordPress beginners and developers. Sixteen months later, and despite helping “tens of thousands” of users to build their sites with PressWork, Bavota and Sera-Shriar have bid PressWork farewell and closed its doors.

“It was really a scaling issue,” Sera-Shriar told WPCandy. “Basic startup problems 101. We needed staff and time and had no budget.”

Starting strong

The duo wasn’t new to the WordPress community with PressWork. Bavota blogged about WordPress and built themes before PressWork, and Sera-Shriar was the Social Media Manager at Vanilla Forums which was pretty involved in the WordPress community.

“In the beginning the dream was to make PressWork a full-time gig…”

Sera-Shriar even co-organized WordCamp Montreal, the same event where the theme framework was announced.

“[I]n the beginning the goal, or should I say dream was to make PressWork a full-time gig,” Sera-Shriar said. “We were super excited about what we were doing and felt like we were breaking new ground in the world of WordPress frameworks.”

A world that, particularly at that time, was bursting at the seams with new theme frameworks. It’s not quite as true today, but throughout 2011 it sometimes seemed there was a new theme framework launched every week or two. Standing out was difficult.

Not quite enough

There was a strong initial response with the framework’s launch, Bavota told WPCandy, but there just wasn’t quite enough to keep the project alive. The response may have been that deadly middling response: just enough to show decent interest, not quite enough to make a real project.

“We just could not keep up with the demand in terms of our customer base and support,” Sera-Shriar said.

PressWorks growth included a mention from Matt Mullenweg during his State of the Word presentation at 2011′s WordCamp San Francisco; both were very proud of that. At the same time, they see WordPress core itself as part of the cause of their slow march toward closing.

Bavota told WPCandy:

[I]t seemed like WordPress took a page out of our book when they released the live preview theme customizer in 3.4. And also the Custom CSS editor in JetPack. I kind of take it as a compliment since it goes to show that our ideas were good enough that even the folks developing the core felt like they should be incorporated. But it did take a bit of thunder away from our project.

The team took this as a compliment and moved forward. In the end, though, they said life had different plans for them than their theme framework. Bavota’s first child was coming along, and Sera-Shriar had his second, and it became increasingly difficult for the two to devote 100% of their time to PressWork.

Graphic credit: Michael PickThe PressWork slide shown during Matt Mullenweg's State of the Word 2011 at WordCamp San Francisco.

Graphic credit: Michael PickThe PressWork slide shown during Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word 2011 at WordCamp San Francisco.

Sera-Shriar said that given a bigger team and funding they could have devoted more time to the project and PressWork might have become a serious contender in the growing theme framework market. As it stands, the framework is available for free on WordPress.org, though the two state they won’t be putting any more time maintaining the project.

The end…maybe?

The two have moved on to their own projects. Bavota has refocused on developing themes at Themes by Bavotasan, writing for Wptuts+, and being a new father. Sera-Shriar started a marketing firm with a friend also named Brendan called Brendan & Brendan Consulting.

When asked, Bavota and Sera-Shriar said they would be very interested in someone else taking over PressWork. Bavota said that, so far, they have had no interest from the outside. “I am totally open to that and hope that it does happen,” he said. “It would be a shame to see PressWork disappear when so many people have used it to help kickstart their websites.”

“[T]hat would be great,” his partner chimed in. “I’d love to see PressWork live in some form or another.”

Until that happens, PressWork is no more. “Yes, it’s sad,” Sera-Shriar said, “but an unfortunate reality of the open source meets business world.”

7 thoughts on “Open source meets business: PressWork closes its doors

  1. Funding? Seriously? They didn’t need funding to be sustainable. What they needed to do was simple. Charge money for their product. Just because its open source doesn’t mean it has to be given away for free.

    • totally agree, the product itself is worth paying for, and the amount of work that went into it is amazing.

      hopefully they will keep it archived somewhere github, or somewhere else.

    • Right, Carl. Bootstrapping is about charging money for a product and only growing expenses (development) as the budget allows. Sounds like they did it backwards.

    • Man, I wish I could give this comment a +1!

      PressWork would’ve been brilliant for a freemium-model business. Drag-and-drop frameworks are a beautiful solution for designers who don’t want to touch code, and front-end editing is something that WordPress core still doesn’t do elegantly enough.

      Ah well. Best of luck to Brendan and Chris. :)

  2. The best way to stay alive is to put on github !
    People will look, will contribute, will opine, and the codes will be available for those who always want to contribute, improve!
    I vote for being placed on github!

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