We Discuss How To Use WordPress To Develop A Successful SaaS Product
#1 What lead you to want to develop Castos?
#2 Why did you decide to use WordPress as your SaaS platform?
#3 What have been some of the greatest things you learned through the process of building Castos?
Today, I’m talking with Craig Hewitt, the Founder of both Castos, a company that provides beautifully simple podcast hosting, and PodcastMotor where they provide turnkey, end-to-end podcast editing and production services, and also the co-host of the RogueStartups Podcast.https://castos.com/
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Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP tonic show. It’s episode 472. We’ve got a great special guest. We got Craig Hewitt and he’s the founder of Castos, which is a podcasting platform that allows you to publish your podcast, and I’m all into podcasts. And I’ve got my great co-host Adrian as well with me, Adrian, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listener and viewers?
Adrian: Hi everyone. My name’s Adrian. I’m the CEO and founder of Groundhog and we build marketing automation plugins for WordPress.
Jonathon: And Craig, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
Craig: Yeah, so I’m Craig Hewitt, I’m the founder of Castos. We’re a podcast hosting platform, and also the owners of the seriously simple podcasting WordPress plug-in, which is kind of why I’m here and talking about WordPress tools.
Jonathon: And Craig is based in France and we seem to have a slight time delay listeners and viewers. If you notice a slight pause in the conversation, that’s because he’s across the Atlantic communicating. We’re using the amazing technology of the modern age, pigeons probably. So before we go into the main interview where we’re going to be discussing why he developed Castos and why did he decide to use WordPress as a SAS platform, and a couple of other great questions. I wanted to talk about our major sponsor, which is Kinsta hosting. Now, if you’re looking for really quality hosting for yourself or for your clients, like for woo commerce or you got a membership website, I suggest that you go over to Kinsta.
We’ve been with them for over three years. They host the WP-Tonic website. It’s been really fantastic to host with them and also they’ve been sponsoring the show for three years. And I just got to say, when I have to log into client’s hosting providers and it’s a different interface to what I’m used to with Kinsta, you soon realize that you can’t go back after you’ve used Kinsta because they actual interface is tremendous. You got like one-click back-up; a host the features and it’s so easy to use with the interface that Kinsta provides.
Another factor is that you use the Google platform, so you get some of the best infrastructure on the market at the present moment. And thirdly is their support; it’s is 24/7, but it’s of such a quality compared to a lot of the competition that you really can’t compare it. So if that sounds really interesting, go over to Kinsta and look at one of their packages for yourself or for your clients and buy. And the main thing is if you decide to do that is also tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show. So Craig, let go into the interview part, so what led you to develop Castos? What led to the spark that led you to decide to go down this windy road?
Craig: Yeah, so I’ve been in the podcasting world for almost five years now. I have my own podcast that’s 210 episodes long or something like that at this point. And saw an opportunity for kind of another player in the podcasting space specific to WordPress when the seriously simple podcasting plugin that we now own came up for sale on the market. The original creator of the plugin, Hugh Lashbrook went to work at Automatic and it needed to kind of divest himself from any side projects and things like that to be able to focus on his work at Automatic.
And so the plugin, which at the time was just a free plugin, there was no kind of premium ad-ons or any kind of monetization at all, came up for sale and I bought it. And from there we built the Castos hosting platform that connects into the plugin. So you can manage all of your podcasting content from your WordPress site; the same pace, you manage all the rest of your content. But, your files are hosted on a dedicated podcast hosting platform, which is the Castos’ platform. So we manage both the plugin, which we acquired and had a user base of something like 15,000 active installs. And then we built the hosting platform that integrates with it.
Jonathon: So before I through over to my co-host Adrian, what are some of the main features or the main things that if somebody’s looking to host the podcast that makes you more suitable than some of the other competition then Craig?
Craig: Yeah, I think the big differentiator for us is obviously like our WordPress integration. So you know, there’s only another one other player in the market that has an integration with a plugin directly like we do. We think we do things a little bit better than everybody else, and I think we’re really active both in the WordPress community and in developing the plugin for free users that don’t use our hosting platform because it is surely optional to use our hosting platform. But just the suite of features that we have within the plug-in itself, I think it’s really kind of second to none.
And then I think on the, on the hosting platform side of things you can use Castos with WordPress or without it. You can use it as a standalone tool. But we’ve built a lot of extensibility to the platform to kind of repurpose your content and allow you to promote your show more easily. So we have integrations with tools like headliner to create audiograms. We do YouTube republishing, so you can take an audio-only recording converted to a video file and publish it automatically to your YouTube channel. And we have things like automated transcription, so without having to upload a file to something like rev.com or Temi, you just publish your podcast episode. We transcribe it automatically; spit back that transcription file to your dashboard in a few minutes.
And so all of these kinds of things are ways to repurpose and extend your podcast content without you doing a whole bunch of extra work because all of these things exist on their own. But, we’ve done a lot to [inaudible00:06:32] so Adrian can probably appreciate the power of automation, and you as a podcast or a content creator, not going to a whole bunch of trouble to repurpose or extend your content. It’s all done automatically so that you as the content creator can go and focus on the higher value, higher leverage things that only you can do.
Jonathon: Oh, sounds fantastic, over to you Adrian.
Adrian: So you mentioned that– well, while we were talking about why you develop Castos, you mentioned that you started elsewhere, that you have your own podcast. I’d love to know just a little bit about your story and your journey up to becoming what is essentially at this point a product developer and the transition from podcast or to product maker?
Craig: Yeah, it’s an interesting journey. I definitely don’t, so I’m not a developer. I don’t have a technical background. I have an engineering degree, but not a developer background. And so my role really is as a product person, I would say. So at this point, I consider myself like our, our chief product officer, I guess with kind of what the vision of.
Adrian: Big ideas [inaudible 07:39].
Craig: Yeah. I think that’s really important because I think it’s you know, good developers are really important. Good designers and UX people are really important, but to have a person that has a lot of domain knowledge to guide the ship, if you will, to say. This is what we need to build, and maybe we’re ahead of the market. Maybe our customers aren’t even asking for this yet, but if we build this, they’re going to say, wow, this is like the best thing ever. So there’s like the Henry Ford thing of saying like if he asked people what they needed, it would be a faster horse, right, but what they really needed was a car. They just didn’t know it yet. And so I’m certainly not Henry Ford, but I like to think that, I mean, I’ve been podcasting for five years and have kind of done and seen a fair amount. And so I think I know what a lot of people that are podcasting want and need and hopefully, we’ve built a tool that kind of meets that need.
Adrian: So were you an entrepreneur first or like a podcaster first; I’m just curious at like where it started?
Craig: Yeah, so my podcast is called Rogue Startups, and it really started when I was, you know, like a lot of people call a wantrepreneur. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was working a day job. I didn’t have an idea, I didn’t have a business, but I just really liked the space. I liked listening to other podcasts that talked about online business and software and things like that, but I hadn’t really started my journey yet. And I think that’s kind of typical. I think there are a lot of people that are scared to quit their day job. You know, in the US there are things like healthcare that are really big questions that you have to go figure out on your own. But people are interested in the space that might never get started down that road, and that was me. And I landed on my first kind of business as an entrepreneur through the podcast and kind of some of the things I learned there. But yeah, I definitely started as a wantrepreneur and then kind of grew into the business that I run now.
Adrian: Awesome, Jonathan.
Jonathon: That sounds great. So the other questions I ask you why you use WordPress as a SAS platform. I’d imagine because when you were attending us you bought this plugin, but I suppose it still doesn’t necessarily mean that you would have to build a SAS on WordPress. First of all, is it built on WordPress, and secondly, why did you decide to use WordPress?
Craig: Yeah, so our marketing site is definitely on WordPress, so castos.com is definitely WordPress; hosted with Kinsta. And I agree that they’re wonderful. They’re the fourth hosts we’ve been with, and I’m very particular and they’ve been absolutely wonderful. Yeah, so our marketing site castos.com, our podcast, posts and blog, and marketing site is all on WordPress. The application that that drives the hosting platform is built in Laravel, so PHP. And we did that just because I think it’s a little more customizable and extensible than WordPress. But, we definitely looked at using WordPress and things like user management and concept of posts and things like that to build the SAS app, but ultimately decided on kind of rolling our own solution.
Jonathon: Alright, over to you Adrian.
Adrian: So how long have Castos has been around now?
Craig: Right at three years.
Adrian: Right at three years. In technology years, that’s a good long while. I’d love to know if there’s a– as a product maker myself, I’m in and around probably just over a year, maybe a year and a quarter into my own product. And then I had another product before then, so like total years of being a product maker probably around like three or four like yourself, although not nearly as large. I’d love to know what are your biggest experiences to bring this learning opportunities out of like, you know, for becoming a product maker and then that kind of like becoming seasoned over the years. What are some of the biggest things that you’ve learned that for other products you think other product makers might find useful?
Craig: Yeah, so I’ll talk specifically to nontechnical founders and I think that might be like the minority of your audience. But, I think a lot of, even technical founders at some point will give that up, and so they have to learn this at some point. And the biggest challenge that I have had and that our development team has had because it’s, you know, maybe my shortcoming is getting what’s in my head into a feature document with scope and wireframes, and UI, and a list of requirements that they can go implement and feel confident in implementing the first time without us having, you know, eight rounds of revisions. They’re not mind-readers, and I admittedly am not like great at expressing exactly what I want, but I definitely know what I want, and so that’s kind of a like a dangerous combination.
And I think that’s been the most challenging thing for all of us is to say like, I know what I want this feature to look like. I try my best to describe that in a bunch of different ways. That’s really been the biggest thing that we’ve improved a lot to where now we do it I think really well. But, at the beginning it was a slog and it was a lot of misunderstandings and it’s all my fault because I just had a hard time really describing in the level of detail and in the language that a developer can understand–
Adrian: So what’s your process?
Craig: –And that’s going to be successful. Yeah, I think for the size team, we’re five full-time people and three freelancers. So for our size team, it’s really robust. I start with a really kind of plain English list of requirements of what we want to build. So let’s say like our headliner integration that we just released, I’ll say we want to integrate with Headliner. Headliner is a tool that creates audiograms, these will look at video things with the waveforms that you see on Twitter and stuff like that. And so I say we want to integrate with Headliner. This is what it’s going to do, so when a user clicks on this button, then we open this modal and we open the headliner app and they go do it. And that’s going to return back the video URL into the Castos dashboard for that episode. And so I write this just like that in plain English.
And then I go into our app and I screenshot and annotate the screenshots to say like, the button should go here and when you click this, it should open this other window and it should look like this. And I try to give some really, really basic wireframes of what I think things should look like. And then I have a call with a developer on our team that’s going to implement this, and we just talk through it real-time. I share it with him and he asked a bunch of questions and clarifies what I’ve said. And I think that part goes a long way to me refining exactly what I want and being really clear about it. And then him understanding and having the confidence to go and can I implement it from there. And then they go implement it, and then we have a staging in a production environment where everything goes on staging. We all kind of play around with it on staging and then release it to the customers when it’s ready.
Adrian: So how long does that, I’m just curious, how long does that process take?
Craig: The scoping and the shaping of a feature, takes a couple of days, not full time, but I kind of sit and stew on it and work on it. And then, send it over to them, when they have questions, then we have a call, so a couple of days and then the feature just, you know, however long the feature takes.
Adrian: Right on, very cool. I’m a technical founder so I can appreciate the level of or the amount of time that goes into designing features and getting them to look just right. And I also have myself like– because I’m a technical founder so usually when I want to build something I literally start with writing code instead of like wireframes or drawings or anything. And oftentimes that’s not really the best way to go about it. It’s having that kind of process where you kind of go through that, especially since you have developed a team is definitely valuable, Jonathan.
Jonathon: Yeah. We’re going to go for a break, and we’ll be back and we’ll be discussing with Craig all things around podcasting and why you built his product. We’ll be back in a few moments’ folks.
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Jonathon: We’re coming back. We’ve had a good discussion so far. I feel we’ve been dealing with the time delay between France and England reasonably well. So Craig, what are some of the major surprises on this three-year windy road of that you’ve gone down. What are some of the things that have come up that were a little bit of a surprise that you didn’t anticipate?
Craig: Yeah, I think from a product perspective, the biggest surprise has been how difficult really good UI and UX is. We have a really wide range of customers from technical developers to people that don’t know how to use WordPress and don’t know what a podcast is but want to start one. And two to build a tool that is both simple to use, and I mentioned in like our platform is really extensible and has a lot of kind of integrations, so the core of it needs to be really simple to use. But, you need to be able to extend it really easily both on the WordPress side with our plugin and on those things and the app side. And so to create an experience that people can get value from really quickly and really easily, but that power users can really come in and get a lot of value from is a really challenging thing. I think to create something that is simple is a lot harder than to create something that’s complex. And we always kind of just run up against this balance of creating a really powerful feature or a cool integration, and it being just really transparent, pass through to our customers and their experience and their publishing.
Jonathon: That’s great, over to you Adrian.
Adrian: So you have a podcasting hosting platform, so I imagine that you either hear, or see, or have experience with a lot of podcasts. And I’d love to know what kind of like; if you were to take three tips out of a top hat and say that if you’re not doing these things for your podcast, you’re seriously missing out on potential growth. So if there are three things that you could pick out after seeing all of the trends from the people on your platform as well as your own podcast, what would those three things be in order to help potentially smaller podcasters grow their audience?
Craig: Yeah, so I think the first one is really obvious but really hard to do, and it is to create really awesome content. Because a bad podcast, especially now, here at the first part of 2020, is going to get you killed, right? So if you guys are creating the same podcast as everyone else in the WordPress space, no one is going to listen because they’re going to go listen to the show they’re already subscribed to and they’re not going to come check out your stuff. But if you’re able to– and that’s through better interviews or more dynamic con and are doing things like Facebook live, create a different podcast and different content and different experience for your listeners, then you have a chance to be successful. So I think that’s the first one. And like I said, it seems really simple, but to implement it I think is really difficult.
The second one is building a community around your podcast. So you mentioned like your Facebook page or a Facebook group is even better or a Slack channel or discord or whatever, but somewhere to continue the discussion with your listeners in between episodes. The people that do this really well have more than a podcast, right? They have a podcast, but they really have a brand and the podcast is a way to connect with their audience. It’s not the only thing they have. And I think to layer onto that is to own maybe the only thing that you own in podcasting is not like subscribers on iTunes because iTunes could change the rules and your subscribers might not go away, but your ranking would tomorrow and Facebook could close down Facebook groups. But to build an email list of email addresses that you own 100% and can email those people and contact them whenever you want is, I think, amazingly still here in 2020, like the most valuable marketing asset that we all have.
I think very few podcasters do a really good job of this myself included. Admittedly, I could do a lot better at this is being diligent and deliberate about getting in touch with your listeners through email. Again, just because Facebook and Facebook groups might just go away. Who knows? But, email I don’t think ever is going to go away and I–
Adrian: Well, email is not the only decentralized platform.
Craig: –Feel so old-school when I say that, but yeah, I mean I feel so bad when I say that and I feel really old, but I mean you look at tools like, I don’t know if you guys remember Blab from a few years ago. Everybody thought Blab was going to be like the best thing ever and it’s going to replace podcasting, and Spotify is going to buy them and they just went out of business like one week and you’re just like, Holy crap. A lot of people built their whole platform on Blab and that’s just really risky and you know, email is never going to go away. Yeah, it’s the only truly decentralized thing. But, I think podcasting is kind of like that, right? Like your RSS feed is your RSS feed, especially if you base it on your WordPress site because no one’s going to take away your WordPress site. And people can subscribe to your podcast directly through RSS feed, so places like Apple podcasts are really just search-engines of RSS feeds. And so like, to an extent, podcasting is really decentralized. It’s not YouTube. It’s not the audio version of YouTube where everything happens on YouTube. It really happens from your feed and your feed can be listed a bunch of places like Stitcher and Google podcast and Apple, but it still is your feet and you could have people subscribe to your show directly without ever knowing what Apple podcasts are.
Adrian: From what you’re saying, it sounds like almost– because I want to go back to where you mentioned when you were talking about community, you need to have a place to continue the conversation for your podcast. And you said something in particular; you’re not really building a podcast, you’re building a brand. And I see the people that do podcasting really, really, really well is that, they don’t self-identify as I do a podcast and that’s my business. They really sell some self-identify as like they have like a purpose and a mission value. Just like any sort of regular busies, you know, I help people do X and accomplish this in a set amount of time or something like that. And really the podcast serves as a channel for them to communicate with their audience. Because some people prefer reading, some people prefer listening and they’re really just using podcasting as a channel. And I’m curious to get your thoughts on, do you think that it’s possible to be super successful doing podcast only and then that’s like your thing and for whatever reason? Or, do you see it like, you should really be striving to sort of build-out podcasting as a channel of your overall kind of like mission, purpose, value statement or whatever?
Craig: Yeah, so I definitely think I should be a part of your overall kind of repertoire. And I would ask if you’re asking this question of yourself or the listeners are asking this question themselves. I would ask, do you know of a podcast or that only podcasts? And you don’t see them on social media, or you don’t get emails from them or you don’t see them on YouTube or whatever. And when I’m asking myself, this answer is definitely no. Even like Joe Rogan; Joe Rogan is everywhere. He has a super successful podcast and it’s definitely like the thing, but he does everything else as well. And I would say as you get more niche and less mass market, like Joe Rogan or Tim Feriss or something. The need to connect with your audience where they want to consume content and how they want to consume content gets even more important because you can’t just alienate 30% of your audience by only doing a podcast or 70% of your audience by only doing a podcast.
But I think the other thing to consider, again, like going back to content and like creating really good content is podcasting. And the audio medium lends itself to some really interesting conversations that aren’t good for like written format or aren’t good for video. And so I think if you look at like, how do I want to create this piece of content that I have in my mind? It might be best for a podcast and it might not. So to only do a podcast, I think you’re missing out on some of the stories you can tell, some of the ways you can engage with and provide value to your listeners that might be better in another medium.
Adrian: So I guess the lesson takeaway from this is, it’s all well and good to want to start a podcast. But, there needs to be some sort of like higher-level purpose that you can use podcasting as a channel to distribute that knowledge and information and the wealth that you have to offer. And not to sort of distance yourself from possibly going down other roads as well, you know, videos, YouTube, blog, blogging, all of the other channels that exist in order to communicate with people.
Craig: Yep, absolutely.
Adrian: Awesome, Jonathan.
Jonathon: Yes, we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show. Craig’s agreed to stay on and we’re going to have some bonus content and I’ll be asking Craig, what’s the difference between podcasting and having a YouTube channel? And also that he’s part of the [inaudible 26:50] to that [inaudible 26:50] has developed and how helpful that was. So it should be an interesting continuance of the discussion, which you’d be able to see and listen to on the WP-Tonic website. Craig, what’s the best way for people to learn more about you and your product?
Craig: Yeah, so we’re at castos.com C A S T O S, and you can go over there and check us out there. Send us a message, we’d love to chat; just mentioned that you saw us here on WP-Tonic podcast. And we’d love to chat with anybody if you have any questions about podcasting, both technical and how do I do this, or content and strategy perspective. We love helping folks out both ways there.
Jonathon: And Craig has been really generous for the WP-Tonic tribe. If you’re interested in podcasting he’s offered 50% of the normal rate, and that 50% applies for the first three months, so I think that’s an excellent offer. To get that, he’s given us the coupon code, WP-Tonic, all lower case and that will be in the show notes. Don’t worry folks if need to see it [inaudible 28:05], I’ll make sure it’s in the show notes. Adrian, how can people find out more about you and what you’re up to?
Adrian: So when we were talking about channels and things that podcasters can do better, one of the things that Craig mentioned was building an email list. Building an email list can be expensive sometimes, there are lots of solutions out there and some of them are quite costly, especially when you start doing those monthly fees. Now, Groundhog, which is my company, offers you a solution to install a complete CRM and marketing automation tool suite directly on your WordPress website. So you can start building your email list for essentially $0. You can go to groundhoggs.io to find out more about how you can get started.
Jonathon: And can I said, Adrian’s product is fantastic. Also, if you want to support the show, go over to the WP-Tonic website and join our newsletter list. I’ve revamped it; it’s going to have a new look. At the end of March, anybody that joins in February to March, any new subscriber, one of you is going to win a prize up to $100 as a little thank you. And we’re going to announce the winner at the last show of March. So go over to the WP-Tonic website and sign up for our newsletter. So we’re going to wrap up the show. It’s been a great discussion. Remember, you can listen to more of our discussion with Craig by going to the WP-Tonic website. We’ll be back next week with another fantastic guest, or we’ll have an internal discussion between me and Adrian, around a subject, that will help you be more successful, your WordPress business in 2020. We’ll see you soon folks, bye.
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