This post comes as a somehow more detailed approach to what was published yesterday by Nicolas Lecocq that somehow took everyone by storm, and I must admit that after being bombarded with questions shortly after, there is the need to clarify some points. Nevertheless, after all, we own it to ourselves, and most importantly, to the community that throughout the years have been supporting us in one way or another, to which we are grateful.
The Introduction to OceanWP
Like anyone else, my introduction to OceanWP began with research to then proceed to install it and take it for a spin while I was looking to replace my existing theme with something that would allow me to expand my own site, which back then was proliferating, and therefore, needed more flexibility.
I remember that back then, I was also preparing to add a WooCommerce store, so when testing OceanWP, which by then was the strongest of its kind when it comes to WooCommerce, it did not take long to make a staging copy of the site and get to redo it, making it a full-fledged media with a store while using OceanWP as the backbone theme.
Even thus, the task was massive and took a couple of months to get all set while working with OceanWP, I was able to do what I wanted, and I must confess that I was pretty impressed with the flexibility and options I had for a free theme.
The Community Behind
It did not take long for me to get my way around, learn how the theme worked, and even dive into code.
As any good contributor, I felt the need to give back to the community something in the form of appreciation, so I got to join the official OceanWP Group back then and started to share my knowledge with others, helping them to know how to get around its settings, how to do this and that as well as to share insights and suggestions based on my experience.
While striving on my quest to help others, in the meantime, I got to friend Nicolas Lecocq over Facebook, the founder and creator of OceanWP. As things developed, we became friends, shared insights, et al. It did not take long for us to become aware that we shared the same interests and aims regarding the direction of OceanWP and how we saw the community behind it, which was strong and motivated.
The Group Moderation Invite
After some time (I believe it took a few months), Nicolas decided to invite me as moderator of the group since I was giving worthy contributions and keeping the group friendly and balanced, without conflicts, and more often resolving issues quickly.
Feeling valued, of course, I gladly accepted and started to moderate the group by removing spamming, taking notes of bugs and feature requests, and so on, all in all, keeping a community sense that was driven OceanWP closely to its users.
Joining the Official Team
As my involvement with the community became more and more visible, I noticed that Nicolas was having some troubles catching up with support, so I approached him and told him if he needed help since I had become exceptionally experienced with the theme, and had also purchased a license to extend it with the addons, perhaps I would be able to give him a helping hand, and with a lot of experience under my belt obtained while working for hosting companies and other CMS’s such as Joomla! and Magento Commerce, perhaps it would be a good thing.
After some discussion to polish our terms and the financial end, I officially joined the existing team of OceanWP as Support Leader. A few months later got promoted to DevOps as my skillset was relatively above the average. It would benefit OceanWP tremendously. And so it did.
The Freemius Migration
Shortly after my inclusion on the team, which was a sign of positive appraisal by the community, things quickly went south!
The “dark ages” engulfed OceanWP as we prepared to transit our licensing system from the much-beloved Easy Digital Downloads to Freemius, which I must confess that back then was something I had never heard before. However, as a good DevOps, I researched and quickly opposed the transition.
Unfortunately, it did not take long for issues to emerge, as outrageous tickets started to flood our HelpScout inbox, 100s at the time from clients displeased with the new system as licences were migrated by bits and pieces, leading sites to disconnect, clients not to be able to find their licenses anywhere or activating licenses, all in all, a very confusing new dashboard that everyone utterly cursed, and of course, the disastrous SDK implementation that more often was causing unfavourable stepbacks other than bringing advantages.
Purchasing, renewing, and keeping track of clients licenses was an ultimately and uncanny task surrounded by a chaotic ambience, and most importantly, it was never Freemius fault, as we had to “be patient as part of the process.”
I believe that Freemius to date states that all the issues related to OceanWP licensing migration was due to our lack of experience, which ironically falls short when they were the ones that indeed, handled all the migration for us back then.
Promises of better revenue fall sort, as many were cancelling their licenses, bombarding with refund requests, and switching from OceanWP to other themes, and we at our end would desperately see OceanWP going down the cliff, as users were also taking their rage against it on WP Forums, Groups, and so forth.
Back then, we must confess that we saw our beloved OceanWP being shredded to pieces right in front of our eyes by sharks, without anything that we could do to prevent it. Unfortunately, it was too late already, and there was no turning back.
Obviously, each company have their way to handle things, and we can not blame Freemius as the decision to switch was entirely ours, so the blame, yes, I admit it falls on us. However, things could have been better handled.
All in all, my entire perspective regarding the whole scenery when looking back in time is that there were too “green-ish” from both sides, and in one way or another, both OceanWP and Freemius gained from experience.
The Switch of Ownership
A few weeks later, I was informed that OceanWP had been sold to a group of investors (later, I found out they are AppSharp Software), and while inquiring about the new owners, there was an unsettling silence. Then, finally, I was told that “they prefer to remain in the dark for now, and will be introduced soon.”
Fast forward, the new owners created a WhatsApp group and introduced themselves, and asked what we do on OceanWP. At the time, it felt I was being interviewed for a job position I already had for quite some time and that they were more interested in evaluating who would stay and who would be laid off.
A bit fast forward, and they informed us that Nicolas Lecocq would be occupying the position of “consultant”, which seemed rather odd as he was then practically absent from anything OceanWP already.
Due to my skill set and knowledge regarding the OceanWP and its internal structure, I was asked to handle everything OceanWP, including management and assignments. Therefore talent recruitment, product roadmap, alongside the previous duties I already had.
Oddly enough, one of my first assignments under the new ownership was to find and revoke all access permissions Nicolas would have under his control regarding OceanWP, which struck me as a “removal” and put me in his place, as gradually I became somehow the “new face of OceanWP”, representing it as well as leading its direction, at least so I thought.
Among everything going on, while I mentioned that the community had the right to know OceanWP was bought and was under new management, as a standard practice in the WordPress ecosystem, I was advised to remain silent, as there were plans to keep using Nicolas name on everything OceanWP as nothing happened so that they could keep the user base and the loyalty of its clients.
Process of [D]Evolution
Leading, interacting, and representing OceanWP was an honour, but always with a sense of unease, as Nicolas and I had a bound way before the new owners stepped in, and my loyalty was towards him and not the new business collective. This led to some awkward moments, especially when I felt they were betraying everything I stand for, and most importantly, the community, and constantly showing how little did they know on how to handle a WordPress venture.
I call it a process of [d]evolution when you constantly try to push for new features, bug fixes, implementations and to listen to the community and workaround of what they want and suggest, which is the only that truly builds a product, to then see that all those are quickly pushed back, rejected or discarded because all the sudden the purpose changes from making a better and stronger theme, to let it be as it is, fix a few things here and there, and hijack the pricing right away.
The overall plan of the new ownership came plain and simple: “Let us make a profit!!!”
Turning the Back and Walking Away
After a few months under the new ownership, the environment became heavier. I lost track of how many “promotions” were launched, and the staff began to share concerns about being fired because the sales numbers were not satisfactory, and the pressure started to build up.
OceanWP also stopped listening to the community, and I saw myself over repeating when asking one particular member of the support to stop bashing other themes and plugins in the groups, to level down the aggressiveness towards users that were asking legit questions and that deserved a proper response, friendly and valuable, instead of paragraphs saying OceanWP was the best. All others were somehow unworthy of attention, which I completely disagreed with.
Over twenty years, I daresay that I had to build up strong connections with developers and users from different spectrums. So I worked hard, sometimes days and nights in a row to the point of falling asleep over the desk, wholly exhausted to make sure deadlines would be met or that a particular issue with a user would be resolved so that he/she could move on and deliver the work on time.
To witness vicious attacks, often privately made toward others, brought me not only a sense of outrage but also sadness as it was not very uncommon to get messages with screenshots along, showing me the tactics used to “silence” people that were questioning dubious statements made by OceanWP after I left. It gave me a sense of helplessness not to be able to do anything to make it stop.
OceanWP was one of the best themes around while under Nicolas care. It had a tremendous impact on the ecosystem. Sadly, with the takeover, it gradually faded away in a short time. With any new feature, a battalion of bugs would follow.
It is heartening…
The Launch of Zeus Elementor
Zeus, a name picked from ancient Greek mythology and considered as the ruler, protector, and father of all gods and humans, is a name that perfectly fits what was envisioned initially as the successor version for one of OceanWP plugins. However, like everything else that was coded, perfected and developed, it, unfortunately, was laid to rest.
However, after a while and considering so much effort put into it, it seemed like a dreadful thing to throw all the work down the pitfalls of Hades instead of releasing it independently and offering it for free as a lightning bolt straight back to the community that we deeply enjoy to be part of for countless years of struggles.
Amazingly, after Nicolas published his statement, we both sat back and started to see the community that knows us open their arms and welcome our retribution back to them.
The tremendous amount of feedback we received was just overwhelming, and we never felt so heartfelt as we did last night to see people commenting, sharing, messaging both of us and showing their undivided support toward what we did.
It has been so far utterly amazing to see that we got everyone’s attention in a manner that the feedback obtained was highly positive, bringing a shy smile to our face while thinking to ourselves, “we are doing something right!”
… is uncertain to a certain extent. Within Zeus, there is no will to compete at a corporative level, or take over the market, nor be aggressive or even undermine others as we believe there is space for everyone, and we are more than open to collaborating with others and keep our ambitions humble, with a unique sense of community-driven intents other than financial gains.
We have no legal contracts, salaries, or revenue coming from Zeus. We solely decided to do this as a volunteering collaboration to prime our skills and get the old “user feeling” of things and nothing else.
If we were today to drop our regular jobs (in my case) or our savings (on Nic’s side, since he resigned from OceanWP yesterday), we would be two mates with a lot of guts striving to figure out how to survive because our goal behind Zeus, like aforementioned, it is not to live from it. However, to contribute back to the community, it is, in a manner, our way to say, “we are truly sorry it took so long to tell you the truth.”
We are genuinely sorry that the community had to know just now the truth behind our joint adventure, and we fully understand that if some would get upset with us, it is justifiable. However, many factors were behind this tale that forced us to “be silent, or else!” which we just got fed up with and decided to rebel against it.
We follow the philosophy of having our own space within this marvellous ecosystem, embracing everyone equally, and above all, respecting those who look upon us as trustworthy friends.
There are so many amazing things out there, be it themes and plugins, plenty of hardworking people that we would like to shake hands with and stand for the difference, show them that we do know what they create, and respect them.
It is just a shame that in this line of work, some prime themselves for their honesty, teams that give all of themselves to stand for what they believe in, putting the community first, and on the other dark side of the mirror, some only see the community not as a collective with a voice, but instead as a number on an invoice.
Well, I have extended this post far beyond human comprehension, and I apologise.
I am genuinely grateful if you read all of the words I have crafted here, as well as Nicolas that had a tremendous amount of patience waiting for me to get it all ready to publish. However, now it is time for me to grab a cup of freshly made coffee and get back to work.
Ah, fun fact, yesterday before Nicolas decided to drop the bomb, we came up with the “welcome to the arena!” gimmick, so now you know!