In all three conferences I have hung around with my friends Simon and Colm from CommerceGurus. CommerceGurus is a WordPress theme company that has released some amazing WooCommerce designs on ThemeForest.
It's always great catching up with Simon and Colm. The funny thing is that although we always meet up at WordPress conferences, we do not spend a huge amount of time talking about business.
You meet some people at WordCamps that do nothing but speak passionately about how amazing their product is. Simon and Colm have been developing some beautiful WordPress themes over the last few years, but if you had to meet them in real life you probably wouldn't have known this as they are quite modest about the success they have achieved.
When I asked how the guys were doing when we were in Belfast they mentioned that they had launched a new WordPress theme company called Create and Code. This theme store would release designs directly from the website rather than through the ThemeForest marketplace.
Their flagship product is called StartRight. StartRight is 100% free to download, but there is also a pro version available that offers more features.
Please watch my video review of the free and pro version of StartRight below.
Keep reading on if you would like to take a closer look at StartRight. I will be referring to the free version of StartRight initially and then looking at the benefits of upgrading to the pro version towards the end of the article.
The State of Free WordPress Themes
There was a period a few years ago where I was not impressed by the designs being released for free on WordPress.org. At the time all the best designers were focusing all their attention on premium themes so were not offering free designs. This meant that there was a large gulf in quality between the free WordPress themes and premium WordPress themes being released.
That situation has changed.
Over the last few years the quality of designs being released in the official WordPress theme directory has improved. One reason for this is that a successful free design on WordPress.org can generate thousands of visitors to the developer's website. That makes releasing a quality free WordPress theme an effective way of building a WordPress theme.
One company that has did well using this business model is ThemeIsle. Their free design Zerif Lite was installed on hundreds of thousands of WordPress websites; which helped them generate tens of thousands of dollars of profits every month. Unfortunately, a disagreement with WordPress.org about coding protocol has arisen which means that Zerif Lite has been removed from WordPress.org temporarily. Nevertheless, it goes to show why many WordPress designers and developers are looking to gain an audience through WordPress.org.
I am glad that Create and Code are going down the freemium route. There are a lot of premium themes that are more style than substance and you do not realise the theme isn't that good in practice until you have actually bought the theme. WordPress users lose a lot of money because of this.
Under a freemium model, everyone can try a WordPress product free of charge and see if it suits their needs. Those that like the product and want more features can upgrade if they want.
This business model works well for WordPress companies too. It allows them to provide quality support to those who purchase the premium version and does not charge those that do not need it.
The only obstacle that WordPress theme companies are facing just now is the waiting time for their theme to be approved by the WordPress theme team. Colm advised me that StartRight has been in the queue for more than six months now and there is no indication that it will be approved anytime soon.
In the mean time, you can download StartRight free of charge directly from the Create and Code website.
The Features and Design of StartRight (FREE)
StartRight has a professional design that will work with business websites and blogs. The design is responsive so looks great on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers.
I love the clean minimal design that they have adopted for the theme (though that should be no surprise to regular readers as I love minimal WordPress themes).
The home page features a beautiful slider that can be used to highlight your content. The theme is also 100% translation ready and integrates with the Jetpack social media sharing module to help you share your content.
One of the things I was pleased with after installing StartRight was the number of widget zones that are available. Widget zones include the sidebar, top bar left, top bar right, header left, header right, page sidebar, and three widget zones for each footer column.
You will find these widget areas useful for displaying information and integrating advertising into your website.
To help you create beautiful pages, StartRight works with the free drag and drop page builder plugin KingComposer. The StartRight demo shows some great examples of what can be achieved using the page builder.
StartRight can be customised directly through the WordPress customiser. This means that you can make changes to your website and see the outcome immediately.
As a blogger, the design of the blog index and blog posts is always something that I pay close attention to so it always frustrates me when a blog index is not done correctly. For example, there are lots of great WordPress themes on ThemeForest with impractical blog designs.
I was pleased to see that StartRight did not fall into this trap. The blog index looks fantastic. It has a practical structure that means that StartRight should be considered as much as a blogging WordPress theme as it is a business WordPress theme.
The default featured image size is 1,260x630 pixels, though the image is resized in most situations. There is unfortunately no options for changing the size of featured images, though there are additional blog layouts available in the pro version of StartRight.
Hopefully in a future version we will see functionality added so that other featured image sizes are supported. This will help established blogs like mine. On this blog I have close to one thousand published blog posts and they all have featured images assigned with dimensions of 200 by 200 pixels.
It simply is not practical for me to reassign that many new images to posts so I would love to see support for any size of featured image; even if it means just aligning featured images to the left or right.
The design of blog posts looks great too. The post title is displayed above the article with the post date and post author. The typography helps articles stand out and little touches such as the first letter of the blog post being displayed as a capital letter are welcomed.
StartRight supports all WordPress post formats: Standard, aside, image, video, quote, and link. This is great new for bloggers who post a variety of content.
The area underneath blog posts looks great too. The example below shows you how that area looks with the Jetpack related posts module activated.
Some features are not available in the free version of StartRight. For example, you can only change the sidebar location from the left to right-hand side by upgrading to the pro version.
To get a better feel for what StartRight can do, check out the live demo of the theme.
Customising StartRight (FREE)
Once you have installed StartRight on your website you will see a notification message at the top of the page that recommends that you install five WordPress plugins.
The plugins that are recommended are the drag and drop page builder KingComposer, the theme developer toolkit Kirki, the demonstration plugin One Click Demo Import, the contact form plugin Contact Form 7, and the slider plugin Crelly Slider.
When you first install a new WordPress theme you may take a while to get to know how the new design works. One way to help you to get started is to use the included One Click Demo Import option.
The demo will import some posts, pages, menus, images etc, that help show you what StartRight can do. It's a great way of getting to grips with the theme.
I do not, however, recommend installing the demo on a live website. It is better to only import the demo content into a test WordPress installation so that those additional pages and menus are not left on your live website.
Rather than have a dedicated settings page, all StartRight settings can be found within the WordPress customiser. This means that you can make changes to your website in real-time and not have to keep switching back and fourth between the settings area and your live website to see how things look. The customiser can also be used to see how your website looks on tablets and smartphones.
There are several sections available: General settings, colour, layout, help and support, menus, and widgets.
StartRight does not have the most extensive number of theme settings, but you will find some useful options there such as uploading your logo, changing the footer copyright text, and changing the colour scheme of important areas of your website. The top bar and footer can also be hidden if you wish.
Changing menus and widgets via this area is great as it helps you see how things will look right away.
In the free version of KingComposer you edit everything via the backend, but if you upgrade to the pro version you can edit your pages using a frontend editor. As with all drag and drop page builders, you will need to spend at least thirty minutes playing around with KingComposer until you get to grips with how it works.
I found the interface to be colourful and easy to use. Most things, such as creating new columns and rows and adding new elements, are self-explanatory; however some little things are handled differently than other drag and drop page builders. This is expected as the user-interface for all page builders work differently.
The plugin supports blog posts, pages, and other WordPress post types. You can enable which post types are enabled via the plugin settings page.
KingComposer currently offers thirty-nine unique content elements in addition to eleven default WordPress widgets and an option to integrate your own custom sidebars. Third-party WordPress widgets are also supported which means that there is no limit to what you can add to your pages.
Other great features include a sections manager, copy and pasting elements, a fonts manager, and a powerful CSS system. It is easy to see why Create and Code recommends this plugin for their StartRight WordPess theme.
Visit the official download page of KingComposer to find out more about what the page builder can do. I encourage you to install the plugin and play around with it.
Crelly Slider is another good recommendation by Create and Code.
The slider plugin is responsive and features a drag and drop builder and support for transitions and animations. Editing the default slide that is provided with the plugin will help you see what it can do.
The plugin supports a range of media including text, images, and video. You can preview slides at any time in the backend to see how they look.
The other recommended plugin is Contact Form 7. It is the most installed contact form WordPress plugin by far, is very easy to use, and has a host of free and premium add-ons available for it that extend its functionality.
You may want to choose a different contact form solution, though I am sure new WordPress users will find Contact Form 7 to be a useful solution and a great starting point until they find something else.
The Benefits of StartRight Pro
Simon and Colm from Create and Code kindly gave me access to StartRight Pro in order to see what the main differences between the versions.
The inclusion of a simple portfolio type helps you add a simple gallery to your website. The portfolio feature is no replacement for an advanced WordPress portfolio plugin, but it is nice to see it included.
StartRight Pro also includes support for the eCommerce WordPress plugin WooCommerce. Having released many dedicated WooCommerce designs through their CommerceGurus store, it should be no surprise that the integration of WooCommerce is fantastic.
The support for WooCommerce makes StartRight Pro a great eCommerce WordPress theme in its own right. Products look great and everything from product listings to the shopping cart works perfectly.
Two additional blog layouts are also included with StartRight Pro. The standard grid layout displays three blog posts in a row.
The other layout is a grid layout with a sidebar. In the theme preview you will see two columns of blog posts being displayed instead of three to make room for the sidebar; however you can actually display three columns and a sidebar if you wish.
If I was to use StartRight Pro on KevinMuldoon.com, the two post column with sidebar option is the layout I would use for my blog as I always display a sidebar on my blog index.
StartRight Pro works in the same way as its free alternative. The same WordPress plugins are recommended to be installed, there is still a help page available, and all customisations are still handled through the WordPress customiser. The same menu locations and widget zones are also available.
The only additional page you will find under the WordPress appearance menu is a license page for entering your license key. This will ensure you get automatic updates for StartRight Pro whenever they are released.
You will find a few additional options in the WordPress customiser.
The first is a new call to action button that can be found in the general settings area of the customiser. You can change the button text, button link URL, button background colour, and button text colour.
You could use this button in a number of ways. For example, you could use it a subscribe button to direct people to your newsletter page, a follow button to send people to your Twitter page, or a shop button to point visitors to your online shop.
Two more options are available via the layout area of the customiser.
The page settings option lets you show or hide a sidebar on your pages whilst the blog listing settings lets you change your blog layout.
You have the option of placing the sidebar on the left or right or removing it altogether. You can change the blog layout from standard to a grid of two posts or a grid of three posts too. Featured images can also be hidden if you wish.
Getting the balance between the free version and the premium version is a difficult task for theme companies. Offer too much and there is no reason to upgrade. Offer too little and website owners will not use the free version so are even less people are likely to upgrade.
I believe Create and Code have got the balance right. In its own right, StartRight is a fantastic design and one of the most beautiful free WordPress themes available at the moment.
The additional options available in StartRight Pro are subtle, but there are enough additions to encourage people to upgrade.
StartRight Pro Pricing
Three pricing plans are available for StartRight Pro. All plans grant you access to the full version of StartRight Pro and come with a ten day money back guarantee.
The standard plan retails at $59 and provides a year of support and updates for one domain. Upgrading to the premium plan at $89 extends support and updates to three domains and also provides one installation of the theme on your website.
The most expensive plan is the lifetime license. Retailing at $299, this developer plan gives an unlimited amount of support and updates for as many domains as you like.
In addition to all of those extra features, the main reason to upgrading from the free version to the pro version of StartRight is support. Upgrading ensures that you can submit a support ticket at any time and get help with any issues you have with the theme.
Create and Code have did a fantastic job with StartRight. Kudos have to go to Simon and Colm for creating such a beautiful design that is clean and minimal.
The theme is responsive, optimised for search engines, and GPL friendly. I found no errors while testing the free version or the pro version and the coding in the theme templates looks clean and well structured. The code also has lots of comments to help you see what each function is for.
StartRight Pro is the more complete WordPress theme as it includes many features that are missing in the free version. The smart move would be to install and use the free version of StartRight first to see if it does everything you need. You can then upgrade to the pro version if you decide the design is right for you.
The main reasons to upgrade to StartRight Pro are premium support from Create and Code, support for WooCommerce, two additional blog layouts, and the ability to place the sidebar wherever you want. The call to action is a nice feature too that I am sure website owners will find very useful.
As nice as it is to see portfolio functionality added to StartRight Pro, do not let this be a deciding factor on upgrading. The portfolio post type looks great, however there are an abundance of free and premium portfolio alternatives available online with more features so it is not a huge selling point in my eyes.
I hope you have enjoyed this review of StartRight.