Design. Everything.

by Adii Pienaar, Founder of WooThemes

As an entrepreneur, I’ve always regarded myself as one who enjoys being creative (in solving problems in the best way possible) and who is a creator (I like to build things). Suffice to say my technical skills aren’t what I’m well known for…

Yet, I taught myself web design and development, and I was exclusively responsible for the creation of our very first product, which ultimately lead to the creation of WooThemes. In that regard I’m actually a bit of a closet designer in how much I like beautiful things and how that translates to what I like and don’t like online, as well as how we’ve built WooThemes. In fact, all three of Woo’s founders started out as freelance designers, and the design everything mentality is something that has shaped the company we’ve built.

So back to being an entrepreneur… Design principles and theory have taught me that anything is possible; sometimes it just requires a little more creativity to solve a problem. Over the years this has formulated a bit of a personal mantra for me: “Don’t put me in a box. I will instead design my own bigger, better or different box.”

That mantra sounds a tad like a rebellion, but instead it’s simply helped me to be the entrepreneur that I want to be. We’ve built the company that we wanted to build without restraint. Because the only restrictions we’ve faced have been our own opinions and choices, we’ve been able to be ambitious and build a company that we love.

I can recall quite a few key decisions where we didn’t go with the mainstream option and instead figured things out in our own — we essentially designed our own box.

If I invoke some hindsight and reflection on these decisions (and how they’ve panned out), I think this design your own box mentality has worked for two main reasons:

1. Constraints breeds creativity. As a new startup (very risky) based in Cape Town, South Africa (which isn’t a tech hub and doesn’t have the kind of infrastructure to support startups — even riskier), the odds were stacked against us. We didn’t have the tools or the options available to us that startups in tech hubs had; we faced some constraints. So we had no choice but to bypass these in our own unique and creative way. If we had tried to use someone else’s recipe or box, we probably would’ve failed at this.

2. Because it’s our own minds doing the thinking, it’s sustainable. We were doing things our way, which means we were being true to who we are. I can’t run a company in the same way that a Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jack Dorsey runs his company. As an entrepreneur, I have my own limitations and opinions, which I ultimately impose on my company and team. WooThemes is thus a design of the various limitations, strengths and opinions of the founding team. We’re not trying to build something superficial because there’s a supposed best practice out there — that best practice is ours to build.

Design isn’t about making things pretty; it’s about designing the best path from point A to point B. This mindset has helped me immensely in figuring things out down the line — it’s freed me to be the best entrepreneur I can be, and it has allowed me to design the best company that we can be.

Design. Everything.

Adii Pienaar is an entrepreneur, husband and very new father, based in South Africa; the combination of these roles results in an epic & challenging journey. Unlike the bios of most “serial” entrepreneurs, Adii is (at the time of this going to press) a one-hit wonder with his role as co-founder & CEO of WooThemes. That status isn’t for a lack of trying either; it’s just that the other attempts lost more money than they made…