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Top Interviews: Michael Hebenstreit – Founder & CEO MH Themes

WordPress is an overflowing and rich industry with a huge number of startups. If in any other industry everybody tries to innovate and bring to the public unusual ideas, in WordPress successful startups require a lot of creativity & resources. Due to this, tens out of millions resist the stress test and can be named successful startups.

One of those few incomparably successful WordPress startups is MH Themes, and this time we have here at Mobiteam Top Interviews – Michael Hebenstreit, the Founder & CEO of MH Themes.

#3 Interview with Mobiteam – Michael Hebenstreit, Fouder & CEO of MH Themes

Hi Michael,

Thank you for accepting our invitation, please Tell us a little about yourself. Your background and how did you come to this point?
Although my experience as an entrepreneur is mainly in the web development / online marketing field, my original background is in banking and equity trading. Since I was a kid, when I watched the movie Wall Street for the first time and read the book Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, I knew I want to become a professional trader / stock broker.

After finishing school I started my career in the banking industry, first as an investment advisor and later as equity trader (institutional equity trading). During the financial crisis the brokerage firm I worked for restructured and the trading desk where I worked was shut down. So I had to replace my job in institutional trading for a job in retail trading at a different company. I quickly learned that retail trading is a completely different world in comparison to the highly professional environment of institutional trading and after working as a retail trader for 2.5 years I quit my job to focus on becoming an entrepreneur.

When and how did you start “startuping”? Is there an interesting story here?

I’m always very curious about new technologies, science and things that happen around the world. During my time as a banker and the 6-7 years that I worked as equity trader, I often tried out new things in my spare time and experimented with several business ideas, which basically is risk-free when you have a well-paid job and don’t need to rely on a profitable business as entrepreneur.

During the time when I decided that retail trading isn’t for me (at least not at the company I worked for at that time) I was very actively experimenting with SEO and online marketing. I owned various online magazines where I tried SEO strategies and monetized content via ads and affiliate marketing. As CMS for my online magazines I used WordPress and that’s how I started becoming interested in web development as I wanted to customize the WordPress themes that I was using.

I read tons of tutorials and coded just for fun. I experimented with code snippets from the internet and slowly began to understand what I’m actually doing. It was a lot of fun and I became better and better, day by day. After some time I was tired of customizing existing WordPress themes and I decided to code my own WordPress theme that exactly meets my personal needs.

Once I had created my own WordPress theme from scratch, which I then also used for my own projects, I started receiving feedback from friends and family that my theme looked great. At the same time I realized how much money developers were making with WordPress themes on ThemeForest or other marketplaces and I decided to sell my theme as well, on its own website.

That was the birth of my very own WordPress theme business, MH Themes. To my surprise I started making decent money already in the first month and it quickly became a profitable WordPress theme business. At that time I decided to quit my day job to fully focus on my new online business. In the next few months I heavily invested time and money in SEO and various marketing activities to spread the word which definitely paid off over the years.

6 years later MH Themes was one of the most popular WordPress theme shops for magazine WordPress themes with more than 25k customers (incl. well-known brands like Forbes Brazil, Imgur, NYPD and more) from 110+ countries around the world. The business basically mostly was a one-man show over the years and made over $1.5 mln in sales, in addition to various additional services and cross-sells that I was offering.

It definitely wasn’t something that I had seen coming or something I was expecting when starting this thing. But it’s a great example that you can become successful with no matter what as long as you enjoy what you’re doing and put full dedication into your work and activities.

What do you think you’d be doing right now if MH Themes didn’t exist?

This actually is a perfectly suited and up-to-date question because in January 2019 MH Themes has been acquired by a very ambitious WordPress developer (@flowdee) who is running other successful online businesses as well. In 2017 I became a father and after running MH Themes on  my own for over 6 years I decided that it’s time for me to move on as I wanted to spend more time with my family and I’m very grateful that I’ve achieved financial independence over the years.

Originally I had planned to relax and refresh my batteries for a few months but then, as an unexpected coincidence, I stumbled over an interesting startup in the asset management industry. They’ve launched an innovative investment fund (Data Intelligence Fund) that solely relies on Big Data analysis and A.I. algorithms to form investment decisions. Due to my background as equity trader and my interest in trading / investing, that’s definitely something that motivated me. So it didn’t take long and I decided to join Catana Capital as their CMO to use my experience in SEO and online marketing to rollout a digital strategy.

What’s your technique for staying productive throughout the day?

I always try to focus on what I’m doing and I try to minimize distractions as much as possible. Multi-tasking is great, but usually it’s not very productive or effective. So I usually focus on one task at a time and finish it. I work with to-do lists to get the work done as planned. For me this works very well and helps me to be productive. I don’t use the usual popular fancy productivity tools, just email for taking notes and keeping track of my to-do list (I keep open tasks as unread messages).

I’ve also learned that it’s important to keep a healthy work-life-balance. That’s not something I personally always kept in mind while building my own business, which definitely comes at a cost. While running my WordPress business I was covering customers from over 110 countries around the world. That basically means you’re dealing with messages and requests 24 hours a day across several time zones. This also means that work is never done or finished and that’s why it’s more important than ever to keep a healthy balance.

I’ve learned over the years that I’m most productive when I sleep at least 8 hours per night, eat well and also do regular exercise. When you then also have a good relationship with your family and enjoy what you’re doing, then there’s not much that can stop you.

 How do you define “being successful”?

A few years ago I would have answered that success is measured on how much money you make. However, when you’re actually making money, you quickly realize that while money definitely makes life comfortable, it doesn’t necessarily make you happier.

You can have financial success, but when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it will only make you miserable, at least on the long run. I think being successful is when you enjoy what you’re doing (or have the freedom to do what you want) while making enough money to make a comfortable living. When you then also have a business model that helps other people or solves real problems the world needs solving, that would be the best combination you can get, in my opinion.

 What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I still very much enjoy trading / investing and I spend a lot of time managing my personal portfolio, which for me, is a lot of fun and relaxing. In addition I spend most time with my wife and daughter just enjoying life, travelling and eating healthy food. I also enjoy workout / fitness whenever I can and go for a ride with my bike in the beautiful Taunus region here near Frankfurt am Main.

 What are your recommendations for a startup novice?

Believe in what you’re doing! If you are fully dedicated to your mission and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals, chances are good that you will be rewarded for it. Success doesn’t come overnight, it usually takes a lot of time and energy to get there. However, once you succeed, it’ssomething you can be proud of for the rest of your life.

 

Thank you Michael, it has been a pleasure to have you here at Mobiteam. It was indeed an inspiring and useful experience, and your story and recommendations for sure will help others to succeed in their businesses & life.

 

Mobiteam Top Interviews blog, aims to help startups and companies to increase their online presence and acquire new audience. If you think your story is worthy and interesting enough to be told on Mobiteam, don’t hesitate to contact us – It’s free

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Author: Marcel Sobieski

I elaborate and manage IT products, startups, and groups. Drafting the product and business development, planning and executing. I’m able to simplify complex issues to benefit from everyone's contribution.