I got my first taste of meaningful success because of WordPress, when the first free theme I uploaded became one of the top-5 most downloaded themes on the WordPress.org. Since then, WordPress has become a major part of my life. It has helped my company take off, helped me meet likeminded people who have become close friends and colleagues, and helped me engage in meaningful, exciting work every day, leading me to a phase in life where I finally feel comfortable, and “in the groove.”
But the road I took to get here has been very long and winding. Allow me to explain.
Early Pursuits: Not in Technology
I do not come from a technology background. In fact, my formal degrees are all in business, the family profession. After I graduated from high school I went on to pursue my Bachelor’s in Business Studies, under the kind of pressure that South Asian families are legendary for. We had accountants and business people in the family so I went with the flow. I knew that I would have to fight, and probably risk my financial support if I didn’t want to study those subjects. I graduated, worked for a while at the UN, and eventually went on to complete a Master’s in Business Administration
When I completed an MBA and came back to Nepal, I had a small crisis on what to next. I had already done a stint at the UN before my MBA, and family members were already unhappy that I had decided to leave a safe job. When I came back, the banking sector was taking off, with lots of lucrative, high growth opportunities for new MBAs. I decided to join the IT sector, and because of my educational background, I joined as the HR manager.
I slowly moved on to technical work. A lot of technical issues cropped up in my company, and a lot of the staff were incapable of handling it, or passed the buck, and I was only too happy to step in. It was an outsourcing company, creating websites using Joomla, Drupal, phpNuke and custom content management system. I suggested they move to WordPress, as it was more user-friendly. However, my team was not ready for the change. So I took it upon myself to work on a project over the weekend, on WordPress. When I showed it to colleagues, they were converts. And so, we became one of the first companies in Nepal to use WordPress for commercial web development.
Success on WordPress
I mentioned earlier that the first wild success of my life was closely tied to WordPress. I was building a website for myself: sakinshrestha.com, and downloaded the default WordPress theme: “Twenty Eleven”. However, it didn’t have enough functionality for my purposes, so I made some tweaks — I added some sliders, boxes, and menus, and got it ready for my site. Since I had created a new theme, I figured I would do my part, and contribute it to the themes library. I called it Catch Box, created the name Catch Themes for the submission, and submitted the theme to WordPress.org.
On the day the theme went live in WordPress.org theme repository, it was downloaded over 500 times, and the number of downloads kept going up every day. I was shocked, in a very good way. The theme would become so successful that it was one of the top-5 themes on WordPress at some point.
I knew I wanted to focus on product development, not just do outsourced work, and this seemed like a good place to start. I made another theme, Simple Catch, from scratch, and Catch Themes started accepting donations. Eventually, we created Catch Box Pro and Simple Catch Pro on 21st Sept 2012. We were officially in business.
Catch Themes now has 19 premium WordPress themes, 17 free WordPress themes, and 3 free WordPress plugins available. Our themes have been downloaded 2 million times, and we have 8,000 paid users of premium themes. I think we became wildly popular because our themes were the right mix of simplicity and functionality. We are a growing company, and I am finally in a place where I feel comfortable about my work, and about the future. I can look back at the steps I took, and see that I had been jumping from one thing to the next, without any real interest in any of them.
When I look back on my journey, I can see how my interest in computers, which was planted when I was in Grade 6, and my school got its first computer, never really went away. As soon as I graduated high school, I had taken some classes on computers. This was around 1999, and desktop computers were becoming more and more popular. However, assembled desktops were really expensive – so I started buying various parts and configuring desktops for various relatives. I also designed a website for my Dad. That was the first website I created — with a free .com.np domain, and free hosting, and basic html code, all written from scratch on notepad. I learnt HTML, and CSS, and caught up with Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Illustrator when I encountered them in 2000. I was a regular at the bookstore in Mahankal, getting my hands on every new book that had anything to do with computers.
At that time, nobody thought working in the IT sector was a viable career though, so I had to get to where I am today through a long, circuitous route.
Doing Our Part for the Community
I am grateful to WordPress, and find it important to keep the community alive and thriving. I am one of the founding members of WordPress Nepal, and the group has been meeting monthly since 2011. We have about 30 attendees every month. I have been a key theme reviewer for WordPress.org, and have also been actively involved in translating WordPress into Nepali.
I am also interested in ensuring young people who have aspirations in IT, and in WordPress are connected to information and opportunities. We helped organize the first WordCamp Nepal in 2012, and have been actively involved in all WordCamps since then. The WordCamps inspire young people to pursue a career in the sector, provide hands-on tutorials, and represent a great networking opportunity for many young people. Every year, 200 young people participate in WordCamp; the tickets are always sold out early. WordCamp has inspired the creation of many leading technology companies in Nepal, including Styled Themes, WEN Solutions, and Theme Grill.
Most of all, I enjoy talking to young people about the potential of this sector, and make sure they know they can follow their interest until it leads to a viable career. I visit colleges here to speak of success stories in the tech sector, the scope and usage of WordPress, and how to get started in a career in this sector. A lot of young people see no options in Nepal, and just want to go abroad as soon as they complete their studies. What I tell young people is basically this:
“Today, 25% of the world’s websites are in WordPress, and anyone can contribute to the ecosystem, from anywhere in the world. You don’t have to be a hard-core programmer to be successful. You don’t need an academic degree. The barrier to entry is very low. All you need is lots of passion, and the willingness to learn. For a young Nepali, there are a lot of jobs now, with even the flexibility to work from home. Internationally, all themes sell at the similar rate so you can actually make the same income as a developer in USA; you can be just as successful.”
We have also started some initiatives to help Nepalis participate in the global marketplace. An example is ThemePalace.com, a marketplace for themes. In Nepal, we do not yet have policies or services to perform international transactions online. Many people are unable to make or receive online payments, and cannot participate in the global economy. We are creating this marketplace so that the vast majority of Nepalis without a credit card or the ability to receive international payments can also benefit. Developers can submit their work and receive payments through us, and we hope that we can help them access the international market they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
We have seen results of all these efforts on creating a vibrant community in Nepal. Nepalis working on the core, and reviewing themes have all increased. It is a good time to be part of the global WordPress community: the costs are low, the developer community is strong, and job availability is at an all time high. I hope we can keep growing, and keep nourishing the ecosystem of technology companies in Nepal, so more Nepalis can take advantage of this global opportunity.