Here we are again with TWO featured Boundary Breakers, for y’all! This time it’s with brothers AJ and Moust Camara from Theme Fiend. In their interview, we spoke about transitioning from one business to another, working with a family member, bouncing back, and many more!
So, first things first..
We were first acquainted with Moust at one of the monthly networking events we frequent at Kearny Point. Moust was giving a talk about tips for setting up an online shop. We didn’t get a chance to speak with him then, but, fortunately, we saw him again at another networking event. Koren, our Creative Director, had a conversation about what we do and they exchanged contact information. From there, we decided to interview Moust and his brother as it seemed like they were onto something solid.
So, What IS Theme Fiend?
Put simply, Theme Fiend is a “theme and template” online business for e-commerce stores. They provide ready-made templates and theme customization services for Shopify, Big Cartel, and Storenvy users. As their website, themefiend.com states, they are “elevating e-commerce.”
Moust and AJ Camara
Moust and AJ are the founders of Theme Fiend as well as a clothing line. Oh! And they are also the writers of an Amazon bestselling book, Launch A Kick-Ass T-Shirt Brand. With over 10,000 copies sold and 4.7 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon, it is the perfect book for someone needing more information on the industry.
They are designers by trade and entrepreneurs at heart. Here is their journey so far:
Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Moust: “I’m Moust Camara. This is AJ Camara. We’re brothers. We were focused on cartooning and stuff growing up which transitioned to illustration and graphic design. We made money here and there from the design work and then eventually we started a clothing brand called cashletes.”
How did you get started with Theme Fiend?
Moust: “Through the process of creating that brand, we built our website and that’s our first taste at web development. Then, we created a blog about the t-shirt industry, through which, we’d interview other t-shirt brands. So, during that journey, from ’06 to ’09, we started learning how to develop websites, but it wasn’t until late 2009 that we looked at each other like, ‘look we have some skill level here with web design. Let’s actually make websites for other people and get paid for it.’
From there, we started our freelance web development journey where we’d just create e-commerce sites for people for cheap amounts. We weren’t charging much because we were just trying to get money to pay for things like new sneakers and hanging out. Overtime, we saw that people wanted websites for low costs but, at the same time, we couldn’t continue creating websites for people all the time at those rates.
In 2010, we started Theme Fiend and created e-commerce templates that are pre-built for people looking for affordable solutions for having their online shop designed.”
So, for someone just starting out, which e-commerce platform should they use?
AJ: “One of the deciding factors would be what their needs are. If you’re starting out in your early stages, Big Cartel is a good fit for you because it’s affordable and has a lot of the simple features that you need for online shop. If you have more advanced functionality needs, then something like Shopify would be more fitting because it has everything from the essentials to advanced plugins and things like that. So once you’re set up on one of these platforms and install one of our templates, you’re pretty much ready to go and you can start selling right away.”
What made you switch your focus from Cashletes to Theme Fiend?
AJ: “One of the hurdles to any business that deals with product is that you need money for inventory. The reason we started doing web design is because we needed to build the money for the inventory. While doing that, we saw how successful we were at building websites and designing templates so we saw the opportunity to do that as well as sell the products. So we’re using one business to fund the other.”
Moust: “For a while, we were splitting time with both of them. We had our products in some major stores like Zumies and some international retailers. The web development helped fund the clothing brand, like AJ said. We were able to profit and sell a lot of products, but we found it tough to maintain and manage while running another business.
So, even though there’s still potential there with our clothing brand, it was difficult to grow both of them at a high level at the same time. With that in mind, we chose to focus on one for now.”
Why did you choose to focus on Theme Fiend instead of Cashletes?
AJ: “One of the main factors is being passionate about that specific idea and not necessarily seeing it as a ‘make money quick’ opportunity. Something that kind of happened in our situation in shifting from apparel to digital products is that they’re both our passions but the digital products has way less overhead. The challenge of coming up with money for inventory on a regular basis, that is basically non-existent in the business of digital products so when you compare the pros and cons of two things that are successful, when one has way less overhead and much higher potential for profit– when it comes to business, you kind of have to go with that.”
Moust: “Yes, profits and sometimes with inventory, you can generate a lot of revenue, but not have enough profit or have temporary cash flow issues based on delays in receiving checks. We could make it profitable and we’ve had stretches where profits were high with certain products, but it’s just more of a balancing act compared to digital products. There’s also clearly more of a market with Theme Fiend and we’re able to function here with less competition. We’ve been competitive in the clothing game too, but it just requires more ongoing resources than selling templates.”
AJ: “You have to make a solid decision based on what makes sense for business.”
So when do you think is the right time to make some changes?
Moust: “Sometimes people can kind of be stuck on something for years with poor results. In these cases, you may have to review if you’re investing a lot of money without a solid return, or assess if you’re in a viable market. You can struggle for no reason when there are other alternatives.”
Can you just touch a little bit on how to make a successful clothing brand?
AJ: “We did a lot of research. We compared different sample blanks. We checked out other brands that inspired us and checked out what the quality was like. We compared other brands out there and see which quality best fits what our audience would like. From there, we’ll just go through the sampling process and get some screen printed and try different methods like digital printing and, judging from those samples, we see what’s best for the brand image we’re trying to present. It’s ultimately the total experience you’re giving your audience and the quality of your apparel plays a big part in that and also the quality of your designs, your websites, your packaging, everything.”
Are you guys in business full-time?
Moust: “Since 2009, other than when I was in college, we were running our business full-time. However, just a few months ago, we recently took on full-time jobs while running our business part-time. After experiencing a slow sales year in 2016, we made that move as way to turn our business around, while not having to take a salary. This allows us to invest more of our profits for a speedy recovery.”
AJ: “Having a job definitely helps with experience. In a way, you can kind of use your business as a stepping stone to get further in a job field. Basically our whole resume is just what we’ve done in our own business and freelance work. Now I’m the head of a design team at a startup and that’s giving me a whole new experience I wouldn’t have gotten in my business now I’m leading a bigger group. It’s a trade off. Basically, if you’re trying to go further with your own business, stick with jobs that relate to your business so it’s not a waste of time. You’ll be building experience.”
How did you guys turn things around?
Moust: “At first, we were worried and didn’t really know how to keep things afloat, but we realized we had to make certain tough decisions to turn things around. Taking contract work and full-time jobs helped us turn things around and kind of gave us the ability to relax a bit and go, ‘what are the opportunities here?’ And then it cleared the fog out and we’re like, ‘if we do xyz, that’s gonna create this boost in results.’ From doing that, we were able to apply different ideas without financial pressure. From there, we were able to get past a period of stagnation, to a point where we’re seeing growth every month. It’s just about being smart about your moves and being willing to take detours.”
AJ: “Being strategic. Make moves that allow you to take a step back, breathe a bit, and get back into action and make things happen.”
Which is more important? Passion or talent?
Moust: “Passion is not gonna take care of you. I mean, when you’re brainstorming let your dreams and ideas flow, but then, make sure to do research on where the market is. See if your ideas are viable and then see if you can compete in that market. Putting together all those factors is important. At the same time, once you have some sense of what’s going on, you gotta actually take the steps and move forward. You don’t wanna sit for years in research realm. Just get out there, execute, and then get feedback based on your actions and results.”
Do you think you have to be the best to make it?
AJ: “I’d say you’d have to be one of the best. If you think of, let’s say, the NBA, everyone on the court is making millions of dollars, but you don’t have to be LeBron. Another thing is, just do it. A lot of people have ideas and they just talk about them. And you know you have friends that say they’re gonna do this and that and then check back and they haven’t actually done it. One of the most important thing is you have an idea. Even with the research, don’t spend too much time with the planning and the research, just actually do something so then you can learn from your mistakes. That’s the best way to learn.”
Moust: “You don’t have to be the best. You just have to be as relevant to the market you’re targeting. You just have to put together some plan of action and then just take action on it.”
There you have it, folks! Another startup story of trials and tribulations, overcoming and successes, and the adrenaline we all get from the journey.
Theme Fiend Team