Behind the bland beige walls and humble glass doors of a little, one-story commercial building in Edmond, next to a pharmacy and an insurance agent and an aquarium store, is a long, dim room that glows with the cool light of computer monitors.
It’s a big space broken up only by those IKEA bookshelves that look like stacks of squares, and it’s quiet. The only sounds are the clicking of keyboards and the hum of computer fans. This room is the heart of ithemes, a tech startup created by native Oklahoman Cory Miller.
Miller launched ithemes with two silent partners on Jan. 1, 2008. Within five months, he hired his first employee. By the end of the first year, the team was up to four. Now the company employs almost 50 people spread throughout the world, with the majority working in that quiet building in Edmond.
To understand ithemes, it’s important to understand Wordpress. Wordpress is a piece of software that was created in 2003 to manage blogs, to make them easier to update and edit, much like Microsoft Word was created to manage documents. What makes Wordpress different, though, is that it’s free, open source software, meaning that anyone is welcome to download, use, and even edit it, all for free.
Miller first started using Wordpress in 2006 when he created a blog to share his experience as a public relations professional. About a year later, he released his first Wordpress theme, the design you put around Wordpress to make your site unique.
Strength in learning
Miller, who said he loves character assessment tests like Strengthsfinders, calls himself a learner. “It’s one of my top character strengths,” he said. And soon he was getting messages asking how he did certain things and offering to pay him to create custom themes.
“Soon I was making more money from themes than I was at my job,” he said.
Miller knew as early as high school that he wanted to be an entrepreneur.
“One of my grandfathers ran his own minnow business,” he said, “and the other one still has his own motorcycle dealership.”
He remembers aunts and uncles employed in his grandfathers’ businesses, and now he saw a chance to make his own move.
He started ithemes as a place where people could easily download and customize quality Wordpress themes and chose the mantra, “Make people’s lives awesome.” The business took off.
As ithemes has grown, so has Wordpress. The software has been expanded and refined to control more than 20 percent of the websites on the Internet, including some of the biggest. Parts of NBC, CNN, and Time run on Wordpress. And Miller has adapted to take advantage of the growing market.
Now his business is primarily Wordpress plugins, pieces of software than “plug in” to Wordpress to give it new capabilities. The company has created successful plugins for backing up websites in case of crashes, security against hackers and running an online store.
As open source software, Wordpress relies on a community of volunteers who collectively make upgrades to the software in their spare time. Miller said this spirit of sharing and generosity permeate the Wordpress community and have impacted his life and his company.
Three years ago he and his partners started The Div, a community project to engage young people in programming. It has since been put on hold since his wife, who was directing it, had their first child, but that hasn’t stopped him from giving back. Over the past two years, ithemes has donated to The Spero Project, a local nonprofit that aims to support under-resourced communities. And when the tornado hit Moore last year, the company donated to the Red Cross and Moore public schools.
One of his developers, who lives in North Carolina, sent him a check and a note. The money was from his young daughters. It was their entire savings, and they wanted it to go to the victims of the tornado.
Miller’s sense of community is firmly rooted in Oklahoma.
“This is home,” he said.
Miller said he sees a lot of growth and opportunity here, especially in the state’s growing tech space.
“It’s in the infant, ground-level stage,” he said. “The soil’s been tilled and things are just starting to poke out of the ground. There are so many good things happening here.”
It’s in the infant, ground-level stage. The soil’s been tilled and things are just starting to poke out of the ground. There are so many good things happening here.”