Sujay Pawar

We Interview The Co-founded Brainstorm Force The Maker Astra Theme

Sujay is the co-founder of Brainstorm Force. he started this company 2009 as we just celebrated our 9th anniversary in the March.

Brainstorm Force started as a digital marketing, web design and development company. Early on their journey, they provided SEO and PPC Management services for clients. After couple of years, they moved into WordPress custom development.

Sujay and his team are the company behind some popular WordPress products such as Ultimate Addons, Convert Pro, Schema Pro and the very popular Astra theme which are collectively installed on about one million websites!!!

This Show is Sponsored by Kinsta Hosting…

Here’s A Full Transcript of Our Interview With Sujay Pawar

Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show. It’s episode 291 and we’ve got a great special guest to interview this week folks. We’ve got Sujay from Brainstorm Force. They’re the creators of the great Astra theme. Would you like to quickly introduce yourself Sujay?

Sujay: Sure. So, I’m Sujay and as Jon just introduced me, I’m a co-founder of Brainstorm Force and Astra is our recent and quite popular for our business. I’ve been in the business since 2009. We started as an agency provided WordPress services, Internet Marketing services to our customer. And then, from 2014, we transitioned into product business and now I would say almost 80 percent or 90 percent business comes from selling WordPress products. Astra is one of our products. We have quite a few other products that we are known for as well. One of them is Convert Pro. Another one is Ultimate Addons. It comes for Beaver Builder. It comes for Elementor and it comes for Visual Composer as well. So, this Ultimate Addons is a plugin which extends the possibilities of the page builder. 

Jonathan: Oh great.

Sujay: Just some of our products.

Jonathan: And Sujay is a new father, aren’t you?

Sujay: Yes, a very recent father. My daughter is 2 days old now. So very recent father.

Jonathan: Well, there we go. And I’ve got my foreign correspondent, Kim here. She’s joined us from a secret location, but she’s broadcasting from her car folks. Kim, would you like to introduce yourself?

Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a Communication Strategist and Instructional Design Consultant, the co-host of WP-Tonic and as Jonathan said, today I’m remote. I’m broadcasting from an undisclosed location in Florida.

Jonathan: Sounds so intriguing, doesn’t it folks? There we go, there we go. Right. So, Sujay, the Astra theme, how long did it take you and your team to develop it and why did you develop it and have you been surprised by the great success that you’ve got from the theme?

Sujay: Well, we have been developing custom WordPress theme, custom plugins for our customers since like about 7, 8 years now. So we have almost all types of themes, all types of plugins. We have been developing those for our customers and been developing those for our websites as well. So there was one thing that we always missed was the flexibility. We wanted one thing that we could use for all of our customers. The theme has to be minimal, simple, not really bloated with unnecessary features and stuff like that and that’s why we developed Astra.

It’s a very simple and flexible theme that we can plug with any page builders which are popular nowadays or you can use it with custom fields, custom post types or anything as much. It doesn’t complicate things unnecessarily. So it’s a very lightweight and flexible theme and it was developed out of necessity because we wanted to develop our own websites on a very light framework. So that’s how Astra was born. It took us about I would say 7 or 8 months to develop and it’s been a year. We recently celebrated our anniversary. So it’s been just a year we announced our 1 year anniversary, first anniversary. It’s installed on 60,000 websites now.

Jonathan: Fantastic. So really, do you think that theme producers, with the ever increasing popularity of page builders, do you think the kind of classical theme is going to have to change quite dramatically in the next year?

Sujay: Absolutely. Traditionally, WordPress themes were widgetized. You had to custom code the home page or a few pages and configure them using widgets or CSS, HTML and stuff like that. But page builders, they have become popular and they are affecting the WordPress world. And now WordPress is bringing its own page builder in Gutenberg. So the themes market is changing and it will still change a lot.

Jonathan: But, yeah, go on, sorry.

Sujay: The themes that you have seen so far which are widgetized or you had to custom code a lot to design custom websites is going to be very different when Gutenberg comes and you can already see the shift with page builders like Beaver Builder, Elementor and all other page builders. You already see that people are really willing to build their websites with page builders because it, not only makes the job easier, it also makes it very effective. You can design websites in half of the time that it used to take to design a website using custom fields and custom code and widgetized sections. So with page builders, I am very sure that the themes market is changing rapidly and it will change a lot.

Jonathan: But what about, some people remarked to me that there’s no need for a theme. I’m going to track back there. I think there’s different types of people that use your product or similar products. You’ve got the kind of graphic designer or WordPress lower level developer and then you’ve got the true DIY people and then you’ve just got users that just want a website for their business. I think for the kind of business owner, they still need the guidance of a theme that has the design elements. Would you agree with that?

Sujay: Absolutely, absolutely. There are different kinds of users. Like you said, there are marketers who want to build landing pages. There are just do-it-yourself people who want to build a brochure website for their business. And there are people who want to build websites officially for the customers. And with Astra, we tried to solve that problem through various ways. Astra, I think, comes with a plugin called Astra Starter Sites. It’s basically a library of ready websites which you can browse or you can even host those websites on your own website. These are all white label professional websites that can even show as your own portfolio on your website. So, if you consider agencies, they can show all these websites on their own websites as a white label portfolio. So their customer can, I mean the end user who they are selling the website to, they can browse through all these websites, choose a design and that’s how agencies can start.

If you consider the other way, you have to create a prototype, send that to the client and the client absolutely has no idea how the end website is going to look like because the prototype is pretty much like in a. It has no, no images or anything like that. But instead, if you show them a website, a possible website, like, “Hey. This is how your website can look like.” So it gives clients a better idea and they can choose that design and they can go from there. So that’s how we solved the problem of agencies. For the do-it-yourself business owners, this plugin helps a lot because they don’t have to start from scratch and learn everything, the aspects of the theme, the aspects of page builders, how to drag, drop and how to design pages. They get a huge library of templates. So they can play with. They can understand the theme. They can understand the page builders and how that site was built and they can start from there.

And for the marketers, traditionally, if you see marketers go with opt-in boxes and they need module popups and stuff like that. So all these things, we have considered their needs and we have built a plugin called Convert Pro concerning the needs of the marketers. Convert Pro plugin comes with the Astra Agency Package which is essentially targeted for marketers. It helps them build leads or create Call to Actions and it integrates with analytics. So that way, we have tried to solve the problems of marketers as well.

Jonathan: Oh, that’s fantastic. Kim, you’ve got a question?

Kim: I have a couple. You mentioned the test or the mock lay ups that people can start their site with. Is that available both in the free and the pro? Because I know that the Astra plugin, by the way, I love it, I’m teaching it right now in a WordPress class. But are those available both in free and pro or what’s the difference there Sujay?

Sujay: Sure. With Astra, we have our freemium business model. So you can absolutely start without any investment. Astra theme is a free theme and Astra Starter Sites is a free plugin. So with the freemium model, what we offer is you can top Astra theme with our plugin called Astra Pro. It’s a plugin which puts more features in the theme. So by features, I mean you get more flexibility or control on how your site can look. So, for example, you get more options in the customizer for your typography. You get more options for colors. If you’re using WooCommerce, LifterLMS, LearnDash or any of our integrations, so you get more options for designing your website with Astra Pro. And for Astra Starter Sites, we provide a plugin called Astra Premium Sites. So if you need access to a library of our premium websites or ready to import templates, you have to purchase Astra Premium Sites which comes with Astra Agency Package. So it’s a freemium model. You can absolutely start without any investment at all. And as you see the need for any other options or if you like a template which comes with Astra Agency Package, you can purchase that.

Kim: Thank you for clarification.

Sujay: So it’s totally up to you. 

Kim: And I will say the free version of it is very, very functional. There are some freemium plugins and themes that honestly have, the free version has really nothing valuable. And I will say that your free version has so much to offer. So that’s wonderful. One other question on that. I loved that you mentioned that as an agency you were building this because you needed this functionality. One of the things I’ve found sometimes in software development when I was back in those days, is it’s different to build something that we need in-house and then be able to create, package and document it in a way that we can sell it to other people and they get it, not just our own engineers. What was that process like for you?

Sujay: So, we have a pretty good experience and being from India, we are good on manpower and resources. And from our own processes, I handle the product development and I have a partner who takes up customer products. So I’m a product guy. I like to think from the product perspective, how to market it, how to sell the product and ask them about the theme and what people need, talking to people. So that is the sort of person I am. So I was in charge for developing the product whereas the requirements came from our agency department or agency team. We have totally different sides for the business. It’s like totally two different teams. So it wasn’t that we were switching back and forth where we had to take care of the customer requirements as well as coming with a product as well. So we are one business, but we are totally two different teams. So I was in developing products whereas my partner takes care of the agency business. Our cash flow was very good because we had revenue coming from our agency business and I was developing products. So that’s how it was not a very difficult job. It became easy because I have a good partner who took care of our cash flow whereas I could focus on building a quality product.

Kim: Thank you for clarifying that process. I know for other developers, sometimes understanding processes really helps when they look at what other people do. Jonathan?

Jonathan: Yes, it really does. We’re going to go for our break folks. We’ll back and we’ll be continuing this fascinating conversation with Sujay, the joint owner and founder of Brainstorm agency and the developer of the very popular Astra theme. We’ll be back in a few moments folks.

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Jonathan: We’re coming back. We’ve had a great conversation with Sujay, a new father. The bills will never stop now Sujay. You better keep producing great themes because your cost base has gone up. Kimberly, have you got anymore, Kimberly, I apologize Kim.

Kim: Hello Mom. 

Jonathan: Yes. I’ve turned into the BBC folks. That was a Freudian slip wasn’t it. You should have seen her face folks. If you watch video,. Kim, got any more questions?

Kim: Yes, I do. So my other question was, because you are a freemium product Sujay, again, your free version has so many features, when you’re doing product development, where is it in your mind that you start breaking out what should be free and what we should move into the premium version? I always wonder this with developers.

Sujay: So it’s a very good question I would say. I’m a strategist so I like to think from a business perspective. So it’s always a challenge when we have to offer a freemium product. We have to be very careful in a way that we don’t offer too much so the premium product is very limited and people don’t see value in it. And whereas, we don’t want to offer a free product which is useless without the premium offering. So it’s a balance. We have to meet a balance. So what we do in Astra theme is we have tried to make that decision very simple. So, for example, if you take a look at our WooCommerce integration, so what we have done is all the design is a part of a theme. So it’s a part of a free theme. You can take the free Astra theme, install WooCommerce and your website will look great out of the box. But if you need options to customize and perfect the design of your WooCommerce store, if you need more controls in the customizer to get a more custom look for your store, you have to pay us for Astra Pro extension. So that’s how we have done it. The core design, everything comes from the theme, whereas options come from Astra Pro. So this is just one example of how we try to differentiate between our freemium free product and what comes from the premium offering.

Kim: Thank you. As I said, that’s always been a big question of mine. Jonathan, jump back in.

Jonathan: All right. So, obviously, you’ve got WordPress building their own page builder, either in this quarter or some time in the next quarter that should be going live. How have you been dealing, Sujay, with the prospect of that coming online?

Sujay: The arrival of Gutenberg makes me very, very, very happy because Astra theme is developed for page builders. So far, we are integrating very, very directly with Elementor and Beaver Builder and Astra theme works with all of the page builders as well. But I’m very happy that WordPress is finally bringing its own page builder. And in my opinion, Gutenberg won’t be very powerful. If I were to give some example or analogy, I will say that WordPress itself is very SEO friendly. It has got clean permalinks. It has got clean structure, clean core based and it’s very SEO friendly. But you still install Yoast SEO plugin or some SEO plugin to get further benefits.

So I think Gutenberg is going to be just like that. WordPress will have a page builder of its own. But if you need a professional design tool to build very custom websites, you will need to install other page builders like Elementor or Beaver Builder. So I think the arrival of Gutenberg is going to attract more users who thought WordPress was difficult in the WordPress ecosystem and still let us go for other page builders, professional design tools who remain in the ecosystem. So, yes, Gutenberg is a very good thing for WordPress in my opinion and I’m very happy because our products, especially our flagship product Astra is made for page builders. So we don’t have any concerns over there. 

Jonathan: Obviously, Themeforest really kind of dominate the kind of theme business. You’ve chosen to market, I presume that you’re not on Themeforest. I presume that you’ve chosen your own path to market this. Was that a difficult decision not to use Themeforest or be part of that ecosystem and do it yourself? Or is it that you’ve got such a, because of your other products and your background that you’ve got enough people that you know in the ecosystem so it wasn’t a concern?

Sujay: When we developed our own premium product, Ultimate Addons for Visual Composer, we launched that on Envato marketplace on Codecanyon itself. If you know Codecanyon, it’s just like a website like Themeforest website company. So we still have some products on Envato marketplace. So I would say Themeforest, Codecanyon and Envato marketplace, in general, is for those people who don’t have enough resources, don’t have enough experience in the sense of how to market the product, how to set the pricing, how to set your licensing and those sort of things. So we started with Envato marketplace since we did not have any experience of building a premium product, licensing our product, pricing the product and marketing the product. But we have got a decent experience and we have a user base, people know us, people know Brainstorm Force for developing quality products. We have a great profile on WordPress.org with more than 40 plugins there. And collectively, if you consider all our products, those are installed on more than 2 million websites now. So we have a good email list and marketing resources as well.

Our email list is of about people. So we knew that we could market a product if we launched it on our website. We had enough experience. We had enough resources. So it was our decision, is a decision for us to launch that on our own website. When you launch on your own website, you get some more freedom.

You can price your product differently. You can set funnels. You can control the experience of the checkout and stuff like that. If you don’t need these kinds of benefits like setting your own funnels, if you don’t have marketing resources, if you don’t know how to license and price your products, then Envato marketplace makes absolute sense. But we wanted to control or provide our own experience to our customers, experience of the checkout, total experience of the community, total experience of the different packages and stuff like that which is difficult to do on Envato marketplace. So it was an obvious decision for us to launch on our own website just for our freedom.

Jonathan: That’s great. Oh, yeah. I totally understand. You’ve got a question, Kim?

Kim: I love that background. It’s really great. Yes, I do. One is I work with Astra and I love Astra. So, I’m not as familiar with some of the other plugins. You mentioned on the Ultimate Addons plugin that it adds on and extends the functionality of some of our favorite page builders like Beaver Builder which is one of my favorites. For Beaver Builder, in particular, and maybe for some of the others too, give me a few ideas of what you extend so people can start thinking big about this.

Sujay: Sure. So, if you take a look at Beaver Builder, our Ultimate Addons for Beaver Builder works with their free version. So, if you’re using a free version of Beaver Builder, let’s consider that first, then we’ll talk about the premium version if you already have a premium version. For some modules like Info Box, which is like a whole design tool in just one module, you get icon, you get heading, you get image, you get description, you get Call to Action. So it’s a very flexible module and I would say one of the most popular modules from Ultimate Addons.

So we use Beaver Builder as a base and as a framework and we develop custom modules on top of that framework. So those who don’t have a premium version of Beaver Builder or even people who have a premium version of Beaver Builder, but who like the flexibility of our modules, they come and buy our plugin. And the other people who buy our plugin are for the unique modules that we offer. So, for example, you can consider Hot Spot module which is like an image and one image, you can place different hot spots. So, if a customer who was on a particular spot on the image, he can see your description.

So, if I have to give an example, it can be an image of a kitchen, your kitchen at your home and you can place different icons or different. You can break the image in several areas so when a customer who was on that image, on that particular part, you can add some more description of that part. So this is just one example of a module that’s not part of Beaver Builder, even the premium offering. So these are the kind of modules that we offer with Beaver Builder and that’s why people buy our plugin.

Kim: Yeah. I can see that one. I love that. I have to go look at it now. I do have the premium version and I love it, but I love the idea of being able to put those hot spots on an image. Thank you for that.

Jonathan: That’s great. We’re going to finish off for the podcast part of the show folks, but Sujay’s been gracious and he’s going to stay on. I’m going to ask him a few more questions which you can see in our bonus content on the WP-Tonic website in the next few days. Sujay, how can people find out more about you and what your company is doing in general?

Sujay: To contact me, just visit Astra’s website. You can go to WP Astra. It would be w – p – a – s – t – r – a.com. So, if you have any questions, just get in touch through the contact form and I would be very happy to speak to you and hear from you.

Jonathan: That’s great. And Kim, Kim, how can people find out more about you?

Kim: You can find me at kimshivler.com or on Twitter @kimshivler. And yes, sadly, Facebook does have me as Kimberly, but only my mother and my mother-in-law call me that.

Jonathan: All right. There we go. And if you want to find out more about me and what I’m up to, go to the WP-Tonic website. We’ve got some fantastic new posts, articles going up this month and you’ll be able to see all the shows, interviews and the Round Table. And I want just to say if you want us to continue and get great guests and great insights into WordPress and Online Marketing, it really helps us if you give us reviews on iTunes. It’s really quite important in our ability to get great guests for you. So, please go to Apple and give us a review, 1 or 5, whatever you want to give us. It just really helps the show. And we’ll see you next week folks where we’ll have somebody doing something with WordPress or the Internet in general, doing something interesting. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye

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