From idea to launching Divide on the Shopify Theme Store.

February 27, 2024

I recently posted 5 learnings from launching Divide and thought it might be interesting to share a bit more about the process of starting, building, and launching a theme.

When starting out with Divide, I spent a bunch of time looking for information about people/businesses that had launched on the theme store, and there didn’t seem to be much. Admittedly there weren’t as many themes back then, but there still doesn’t seem to have been much content published around building themes as someone getting into it after the theme store reopened.

So here’s my attempt at writing blog posts I wish I’d had access to before I started :)

Why did I want to build a theme?

Prior to starting on Divide, I’d been working with Shopify for over four years, mainly working directly with clients, and occasionally agencies. I’d always focused on theme customisation, development and store set up, with some eCommerce consulting thrown in.

Whilst working with clients is great, and I really think it’s one of the best ways to grow your skillset, I was looking for an alternative project that I could work on alongside this.

I’d gone all in on Shopify a couple of years prior, so building themes or apps seemed to be the logical decision. I’ve always been more into frontend development on the technical side, and the idea of having to deal with the hosting, authentication, security etc. of an app really didn’t appeal. The theme store had reopened a month or two before I started, so it seemed like a logical decision.

Picking a niche.

I think there’s a lot of different logic you could apply here (target popular or unpopular industries, go for a specific design etc.) but mine was pretty simple. A lot of the clients I’d worked with had small product catalogues, were in fun industries (think kids products, or toys and games), and had quite specific USPs. That’s the merchant profile Divide was built for.

Planning, wireframes, and mockups.

The next stage was pretty stock standard for building a theme. I brainstormed all the sections, features, and just general ideas I had for the theme. Then moved onto wireframes, and mockups. I also listed out all the theme settings that I wanted to add (e.g. options to adjust background colour, divider, blocks etc.) and did mockups for these where required.

Development and testing.

The next step was to start developing the theme. The biggest question I had here, was whether I should use Dawn as a starting point (and strip it out before building), or if I should start from scratch.

In my mind the easier option would be to use Dawn, it would also result in a theme structure that most Shopify developers would be familiar with, so would make it easier for freelancers/agencies to customise for their clients.

However, the primary reason to not use Dawn, was that if I was unable to get Divide approved on the theme store, I wouldn’t be able to even try to sell it anywhere else.

I ended up going with Dawn as the starting point, and have no regrets about the decision. I think it’s worth noting that it was built on a way earlier version of Dawn, which was easier to strip back. This also meant that while Dawn has had a lot of new features added, Divide has gone in a very different direction, so it’s really just the code structure that’s the same.

I’m also confident that if I’d tried to put Divide on a third-party site or even a standalone site, it would have failed miserably. I think there’s pretty good awareness of the quality of themes on the theme store, and so you’re targeting a totally different type of merchant if you listed on a third-party site.

Development and testing was pretty standard as for any theme project. There was definitely more to test with all the different theme options, and testing had to include making sure that all the theme store requirements were met. Otherwise, there was nothing too notable about the process.

Submitting for review.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this part of the process. My thinking was that if you met all of the Theme Store Requirements checklist that you’d get approved.

In reality, the process was a lot longer than that. Whilst there were definitely a couple of items that I missed in testing, and/or the requirements, there was also a lot of feedback from the review team that was additional to the requirements checklist.

As a data point, I resubmitted X times before Divide was approved and it was a longggggg process.

What’s next?

At this point, I can’t see Divide being something I ever go all-in with. I also can’t see myself building another theme.

My focus for 2024 is going to be building the features that I had brainstormed for future releases.

I’m also planning on diving into marketing (outside the theme store). Outside of ads, and some (mainly social media) content, it looks like most theme partners are using the theme store to drive sales, so I’m not entirely sure how this will work out. Lots of theme/template creators on other platforms (Showit, Squarespace etc.) seem to be doing exciting things with their marketing, so I’m interested to see the results of this for a Shopify theme.

If you’d like to see more posts about building on Shopify, my plan is to keep documenting the process here. Jump on the newsletter if you’d like to follow along.

If you’re looking for a fun theme for small product catalogues feel free to check out Divide.

Please note, a (*) denotes an affiliate link. I only recommend products/services that I’ve used personally and genuinely found useful/enjoyed.