Steering the ship back home

When I first laid the groundwork for Theme Hybrid, or Project M as it was originally called, 7 awesome years ago, the idea was to face off against “premium” theme authors. I wanted to provide a free alternative to the marketplace and show that it could work. I also needed a creative outlet for my own WordPress projects away from my personal blog.

Note: One thing to keep in mind was that “premium” back in the day typically referred to commercial themes under a proprietary, non-open-source license.

Seven years has been a pretty good run so far. There have certainly been ups and downs. And, I’ve missed opportunities for more financial success. On the whole, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

However, it’s time for a change.

The path to now

Last year was rough for me. There were some personal things that made it hard for me to get myself into a creative mood. But, that wasn’t the whole story. I had felt burnt out for a good while longer than that.

As a creative person, that feeling is one of the worst you can possibly have.

Even in my non-WordPress endeavors I had trouble focusing and experimenting with new ideas. However, I’m now back on track. I have the motivation to create awesome stuff again. I just need to focus that energy in the right direction.

It’s time for a refocusing of this site.

Going back to the beginning

I always knew I wanted to provide awesome free/$free WordPress themes and plugins. However, $free doesn’t exactly put food on the table. While 7 years has been a good run, I don’t think I ever found the right balance between philosophy and practical concerns.

What Theme Hybrid needs is a fresh start.

It needs a fresh start that allows me to be creative while not being clouded by financial concerns. Today, I have at least a couple of months of wiggle room to try something new while figuring out the direction I want to take the business aspect of this site.

We’re going to start off by welcoming new folks to our community.

$Free and open signups

I’m going to do something a bit radical. I’m going to allow people to sign up at no cost. This will give them immediate access to the forums so that they can become a part of our community.

However, I will be keeping the current tiered system for people to pay for their memberships. These members will have guaranteed support from me (as always) and the other things listed for club members. I’ve also placed some discounts on these memberships.

So, it’s a bit of a “pay if you want to” type of service for the moment.

Wait? If you allow free signups, can you make money?

Actually, I have done it before. When Theme Hybrid first opened it’s doors, it had free signups to the support forums.

But, it’s always been about more than that. It’s the Theme Hybrid community that came first. It’s the community that has held this site together over the years. In no way have I done this all on my own. More than anything, the community of users here have kept this site running in its good days and its bad days.

I have a few ideas that I’ll be bringing up for discussion in the near future. While trying new things is certainly frightening, I’m excited about some of the prospects.


  1. No matter which way you ebb and flow Justin, I’m with you and the Theme Hybrid community.

    Best of luck with your new path!

    Don’t undervalue yourself in the new process. Stargazer is the BEST theme going and believe me I’ve tried many (Woo; Genesis; Themify; Web Savvy; etc. etc. etc.)

    Additionally your Framework is the best and has the best coding and least SQL calls than almost all others.

    You are talented, gifted, sensical, and a clear thinker.


    1. Thank you for the kind words. It’s loyal members like you who keep this community going.

  2. Hi Justin. It’s been a while (crazy times at school, work, etc) but saw the post on WPTavern and it re-invigorated my interest in TH and Hybrid Core 🙂

  3. I think these two links might be helpful for the development of your future themes:

    (AND, possibly updating the Menus of Stargazer)

    1. I already use both those tools and others. Thanks for the links though!

  4. Good luck with your move, hope it increases your paying members. Thanks for your ongoing effort! What happens to existing subscriptions? Is there an easy way to upgrade?

    1. I’m going to look into the upgrading process if I decide to keep the membership system the same or similar to how we’re doing it now.

  5. Hey Justin,
    Good luck with your new radical approach. Wish you luck for new ventures. Looking forward!

  6. Good to have you back! I’m looking forward to this refocussed approach.

  7. Ben B

    I’m a WordPress user and not a developer. Im always surprised by what WordPress’ leaders give away but also what the community offers back. A real nice community to be part of.

    A change of approach might be just what you need, Justin, but remember you have the backing here to try pretty much anything!

    It will be great to see what happens next!

  8. Justin,
    Congrats on this update! Sounds like you have been dealing with some tough personal issues, and I wish you the best of luck.

    Hybrid was one of the first themes I used back in the day, and I was an early subscriber to your support forums and Club. I have moved away from Hybrid in the years since in favor of non-framework-ish themes, but this move puts it back on my radar screen. I still use Hybrid on one of my bigger websites. 🙂

    In any case, I have been struggling with personal and business stuff since bringing 2 kids into the world over the past 5 years, and I want to say that you are not alone in this struggle to bring creative fire into your life! Keep on pluggin!


  9. p.s. Justin, when I try to join the club, I do not see the “free” option. See screengrab:

    1. austincrane

      So with the free signup, you can visit the forum, but not view the replies?

      1. In reply to austincrane

        Yes, you can view replies in the forum and create new topics/replies. I actually just updated some of the forum permissions.

    2. You’re already a free member on the site. That’s a screenshot of the page to upgrade your account to one of the other membership options.

      1. austincrane In reply to Justin Tadlock

        Yes, sorry. I didn’t mean to reply to that comment. But with the free membership, I can’t view replies to forum threads. No problem if that is the intent.

      2. In reply to austincrane

        Oh, sorry about that. It should be corrected now. I had an old permissions check that didn’t get updated.

      3. In reply to Justin Tadlock

        Thanks for clarifying!

      4. In reply to Justin Tadlock

        @Justin – I currently cannot view any of the docs pages linked to from Should I be able to see them on the free membership?

      5. In reply to Toby Cryns

        The docs sections are not currently open for free members.

  10. Patty J. Ayers

    Thanks very much for the free membership, Justin. Really appreciate having access to this community and the themes.

  11. congratulation Justin!
    the more the merrier 🙂

  12. saas786

    Hi Justin,

    I always wander how you keep balance between free work and your financial situation, as in today’s economy with your current model its not easier to keep the balance.

    I like that you are offering free member sign ups, but keeping your efforts in context, I will suggest you to go for donation based free sign up (off-course with same limitations as you have currently planned for free membership tier).

    As you and I both know, its not going to be easier for you to provide support for free members quite often, but with donations based membership ($1 or how ever generous the free member wants to be :)), it will give you some motivation and energy to provide support to them (not frequently or often but whenever you can).

    Last but not least, I admire your efforts over the years, and that is why I am fan of your work as it resembles to my philosophy a bit, but I am not as generous to community as you have been and still are 😉

    1. I’ve been looking over some different business models. Expect something new in the near future. Completely $free is unsustainable, so you have to find some sort of balance. But, I want to explore $free as much as possible.

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