Building An Audience From Zero To a Successful Plugin Launch
The Shows Hosts Jonathan Denwood & Andrew Palmer
More About Lesley Sim
Lesley Sim has been a government employee, an ad agency suit, and a freediving instructor… and then she found WordPress. She built sites on WordPress as part of her digital marketing agency and moved on to building plugins last year. Now, she focuses on Newsletter Glue, a plugin that connects your email service provider to WordPress and turns the block editor into a newsletter builder so you can build and send newsletters directly from WordPress.
Main Questions of the Interview
#1 – Can you give the audience some background information connected to yourself and what lead you to lunch Newsletterglue?
#2 – The building and the sending out emails is a large but very competitive market, what was your process connected to deciding to build a plugin in this particular sector?
#3 – What have been some of the major lessons you have learned in the process of getting the Newsletterglue launch and what things would you do differently?
#4 – Where would you like Newsletterglue to be in a year’s time?
#5 – You are based in Singapore by your LinkedIn profile so what are the WordPress and SaaS startup communities like in Singapore?
This Week Show’s Sponsors
Intro: Welcome to the WP-Tonic this week in WordPress and SaaS podcast, where Jonathan Denwood interviews the leading experts in WordPress, e-learning, and online marketing to help WordPress professionals launch their own SaaS.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic show, it’s episode 677. Got a great guest, got my new regular co-host, I have Andrew Palmer with me, the only Andrew Palmer, and we have, as I said a fabulous guest; we have Lesley Sim, the joint founder of Newsletter Glue. We are going to be discussing why she started this new service and this new plugin, some of the things she’s learned on the journey are going to be a great discussion, but before we get into the meat and potatoes of this particular interview, we’re going to go and hear a message from my great major sponsor Castos. We will be back in a moment.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. Castos, great, tribe, they’re giving us a great special offer; only to you, tribe, and also some of the other great sponsors like Bertha, the great product which Andrew runs. They’ve all got special offers and I’ve got some great recommendations and you can get all these goodies by going to the WP-Tonic/recommendations and you’ll find them all their, tribe. So, I’m going to let Lesley do a quick intro; so Lesley, give the tribe a quick intro about yourself, Lesley.
Lesley Sim: Hey, everyone. Nice to be on the show and thanks to Jonathan and Andrew for having me. I am Lesley, I live in Singapore and I run Newsletter Glue together with my co-founder, so I do the business and marketing side of things, and he does all the development. Newsletter Glue is a WebPress plugin, we connect now with 12 email service providers; so whether that’s MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, Campaign Monitor, and a whole bunch of others, we connect your email service provider to WordPress and let you send out new statuses and posts through the block editor.
So, it makes writing new statuses feel like you’re just writing a blog post which saves you, if you’ve ever tried writing a newsletter in MailChimp and have struggled and fought with the MailChimp block editor before, you’ll know how much of a pain that is, and so kind of doing it in WordPress is a lot faster. And the other good thing about doing it all in WordPress is it gives you an SEO optimized newsletter archive, so it’s no longer, MailChimp something, something bunch of crazy letters; it can be exactly what you want your link to be, and then if you’re doing pay newsletters and all of that, you can restrict the archive easily as well.
Jonathan Denwood: I think you’re going into a bit too much depth there. I think you answered three of the questions already, but we’ll go a bit more into it, so Andrew; would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the tribe, Andrew?
Andrew Palmer: Yeah. I’m Andrew Palmer, I’m the co-founder of bertha.ai with Vito Peleg, who also runs atarim.io, and I’ve also got wppluginsplus.com where I sell plugins, and I’m a co-host on these kinds of shows as well. I like to give my friend Jonathan Denwood some support and also to meet people virtually like Lesley Sim and many other people, I’ve been following your journey, Lesley, on Twitter, so it’s been interesting.
Jonathan Denwood: So, Lesley, I’m sorry I interrupted, but you were kind of answering.
Lesley Sim: I went off the deep end.
Jonathan Denwood: You did, I could feel the passion. So, it’s a bit linked to your intro, so this is a very competitive market, Lesley, you’ve got some really major, major SaaS-based competitors, you mentioned one of them MailChimp and you’ve got a large group of SaaS competitors, and also you’ve got some WordPress competition. So, what attracted you and why did you think that you could get some traction with Newsletter Glue with your partner, your founder? What attracted you to this particular part of the ecosystem?
Lesley Sim: Yeah, so MailChimp is not actually a competitor, they’re a partner because the way that we work is we connect companies like MailChimp to work for us. Having said that, we do have lots of WordPress plugin competition, and I guess the thing that differentiates us is we have the benefit of, I guess being fairly new and being new at a time when the WordPress landscape is changing a lot. So, we’ve leveraged a lot of the Gutenberg stuff and we’re the only WordPress plugin or newsletter plugin that you do everything from the block editor, everyone else has their own custom editor and it has all the problems that come with that.
So, ours just kind of feels more native to the WebPress experience, so that’s kind of what differentiates us. When it comes to why we decided to go into this, it was a scratch my own itch kind of a thing, so before we started Newsletter Glue, we had a membership plugin that didn’t go so well. It wasn’t differentiated enough, I didn’t build in public as I’m doing now these days, and we just kind of couldn’t get it off the ground, and as we were thinking about closing it, I wasn’t kind of sad about it at all because it was tough right from the start, but we built a MailChimp add-on that let you send posts as emails, send out your posts as emails.
And that was an add-on that I used myself for my own newsletter and I felt, okay, I don’t care so much about the membership plugin, but I’d be quite sad to lose that tiny add-on, and then I realized the reason why I was sad to lose the add-on was because there wasn’t an obvious substitute out there in the market. And then it made me realize maybe there’s something here, there’s something to this, and we pivoted and launched Newsletter Glue and it got way more traction right from day one, and here we are.
Jonathan Denwood: All right. So, it kind of leads to the next question. I think you’ve hinted that because it seems by what you were saying that you learned a lot from the kind of failure of this membership plugin, so what are some of the key lessons, one or two lessons you’ve learned in the launch of Newsletter Glue that might be helpful? Because a lot of our listeners are developers in the WordPress ecosystem, so what are a couple of quick tips, insights you might be able to share connected to the success or launch of Newsletter Glue?
Lesley Sim: Okay. Let’s try to be structured about this, so I’ll try to give three tips. The first is to make sure there is a clear differentiation between the thing that you’re building and all the other competitors out there; so with our membership plugin, my co-founder actually has a background, he’s built membership plugins for the past 10 years and he’s gotten hundreds of thousands of downloads from his employees’ membership plugins.
And so, he felt, okay, let’s do this, I know what I’m doing, it’s going to be great, and, obviously, even if it’s 10 times better than the old membership plugin, that’s not really enough to make people want to change because once you’ve got everything set up, no-one’s going to want to move off of their webhooks and integrations and everything. And so, that’s the first thing, make sure that you actually have a good differentiator. Sorry, where’s the static coming from?
Jonathan Denwood: I’m not.
Andrew Palmer: I think it’s you, Jonathan, there’s static coming from you, yeah. Just mute your mic.
Jonathan Denwood: All right. I apologize; it’s going on today, isn’t it. I can’t.
Andrew Palmer: I think you’re coming through the wrong mic.
Jonathan Denwood: Am I, all right?
Andrew Palmer: Just mute while Lesley.
Jonathan Denwood: You take over actually. Can you and I’ll mute?
Andrew Palmer: That’s it, Lesley, you carry on.
Lesley Sim: Ah, okay, perfect. Yeah, so the first one, as I was mentioning is you have to make sure it’s super differentiated, something really different that’s going to convince people to switch. The second is building public, so the mistake that we made with our first plugin, our membership plugin was my co-founder had kind of built it for months and months without telling anyone about it, without launching, without getting people excited about it. And so understandably, when we tried to launch it, people were like, who are you?
We don’t know you. Why would we trust our membership business with you and all of that stuff? So, with Newsletter Glue, from day one, I started going on Twitter a lot, was active in the post status Slack and did a whole bunch of different things to kind of get the word out there and make people excited and importantly get people to trust me and feel they can trust me with their newsletters, so that’s the second thing.
And then the third thing is just kind of network and meet people in the WordPress industry as yourselves, it’s really cool to chat with people who have way more experience than me, who’ve been there done that, and can from afar already know all the mistakes that I’m making and just be like, Hey, I see that you’re doing this, stop it, or change this, and your business will go better. And the only way to get that kind of advice is by networking and meeting people and kind of going on these podcasts, talking to people in DMs and all of that kind of stuff; so, yeah, so those are the three tips that I’d say have really helped me and helped our plugin.
Andrew Palmer: Perfect. Well, we’ve still got issues with Jonathan’s microphone I think.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, right. It’s doing.
Andrew Palmer: I’ll take that over because every time he speaks, it’s going through people’s spines. Find interesting things that…just put yourself on mute Jonathan because we’ve got static there and that’s great. One of the interesting things that you said about that is building in public, there are a lot of WordPress developers that are out there building in public, and it kind of, do you feel that sometimes you’ve been giving away some secrets or because we’re all GPL-driven, your Newsletter Glue is a freemium or premium plugin and it ties together nicely, all of these mail services and it allows people to use the block editor.
Have you built skins for them? Have you built any kind of layouts in the block editor that people can use? I know you have because I’ve tested it, obviously, but that’s part of the development processes isn’t it, to make it easier than MailChimp, MailerLite, ActiveCampaign, all these kinds of things and tying them all in together. How have you felt about building in public? Do you feel exposed or do you feel enlightened by it?
Lesley Sim: Well, the one thing that’s nice about WordPress and the ecosystem is that I’m never going to be the one who’s the most open, you’ve got people like Jack from WP Fusion and Pippin, who stopped now, but he used to post these super-detailed in-depth yearly reviews going into the numbers and everything, and Jack Arturo is doing that now as well. So, when it comes to building a public in public, I don’t feel I’m anywhere close to as open as those guys; so, yeah, I don’t think that I’m doing anything, I’m not revealing anything proprietary or anything like that.
And having tried to build this business for a short while now, it’s becoming more and more obvious that there are so many things that you have to do and get right, then the tiny layer that you show out, it’s the iceberg thing, what you see that’s built-in public stuff is the tip of the iceberg in comparison to the million other things that you’re doing behind the scenes.
Andrew Palmer: And having to run a plugin business. Right. We’re at the 15-minute mark, so we have to go off and see our lovely sponsors again; so just give us a few seconds and we’ll go off and have a word from our sponsors.
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Andrew Palmer: Right, we’re back. Right. So, Jonathan, you’ve got some questions here, so I’ll carry on, Lesley, if I may in the second half of the show.
Jonathan Denwood: I think you should mention our newsletter.
Andrew Palmer: Oh, yeah, don’t forget because we’re back. Don’t forget to go to wp-tonic.com/newsletters where you’ll get an overview of the WordPress and tech world from our very own founder Jonathan Denwood and overview is speaking very kindly of it; so just don’t forget to go to /newsletters and you’ll get a nice little email newsletter from him occasionally and it also helps the show and spread the news as well. So, I’m going to ask a question of Lesley.
So, what have been the major things that you’ve learned and you’ve kind of skimmed over them, just there in the last answer you did before we went to the break; so you’ve learned in the process of getting the Newsletter Glue launch and what things would you do differently? And I’m just going to add a little bit of me on this one, you said the build-in public is literally the tip of the iceberg, so then iceberg is what, 10% of what it should be, and then all under the, it’s like a Swan, isn’t it?
And you sit all graceful and everything and would madly be paddling underneath running the business, dealing with support, dealing with developer issues, dealing with marketing issues. What would you do differently if, in fact, you would do anything differently at all? What’s been the challenges?
Lesley Sim: I’m not sure there’s anything huge that I would do differently. I think a lot of the time you only realize you’ve done something wrong when you run up against an obstacle, so you necessarily have to run up against it to learn from it. So, I can’t say that I would do anything differently because then I might not have learned the things that I’ve learned, which is a very unsatisfying answer I know.
Jonathan Denwood: Can I just quickly butt in?
Lesley Sim: Yeah, I’m not sure.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, can I quickly, butt in, I think it’s really based on what you were saying in the first half is that one of the main strengths, and it also can be a two-edged sword is the community aspect of WordPress. As you said, you joined a couple of forums post data, you joined some groups, you utilized your connections, you and your co-founder in the WordPress community, and you got traction through that, didn’t you, which if you were just a pure SaaS product, you wouldn’t have so much, I don’t know if Andrew, if you feel I’m overplaying this, Andrew, because I think there are communities in the SaaS community.
Andrew Palmer: Oh, they’re massive, massive.
Jonathan Denwood: But I don’t know if you feel I’m on the right path, Andrew, that there’s more of a community spirit to some extent in the WordPress community. What do you feel about that, Andrew?
Andrew Palmer: Well, I think that there is a community spirit in the WordPress community, but I think it’s smaller than people imagine, we’ve got 255,000.
Lesley Sim: It’s a very tight-knit group.
Andrew Palmer: Yeah, exactly. So, it’s a bit nichey really, and sometimes it’s a bit cliquey; so you have to be careful, and also this is brought about by the different products within WordPress as well. We often think of WordPress as, yes, it’s 43% of the web, but let’s not forget what drives WordPress, it’s Newsletter Glue, it’s page builders, it’s memberships, it’s LMSs, all that kind of stuff, and we forget that there are communities built around, for instance, the Lifter LMS community is a big community.
There’s a design group out there, learn design and branding, that was built up from an Elementor group, it was focused on Elementor and how to design in Elementor, and now more coding has grown in that group as a learn branding and design, that’s 20,000 people in the Facebook group, divvy 70,000 people in the Facebook group. So, although it’s a community around WordPress, they’re still WordPress because the platform is WordPress, but WordPress core development, the core community, post status, and all that, they’re still built around products rather than WordPress.
So, if you go into a WordPress group, it can be a little bit toxic and as a product developer, if you start talking about your products, that’s when the toxicity can start to be even worse, so what we have to do is make sure that we join the groups that are helpful, encouraging, enlightening, educational, fun to be part of. And what I’ve seen from you, Lesley, is you’re a fun person, you have Lesley got pizza or whatever it is, you, obviously, like pizza, so you’ve called yourself Lesley Pizza, or is there another reason around that self-imposed nickname?
So, the WordPress community is necessarily separated into these little niches or these big niches, as I say, the Divvy theme users group, 70,000 people, Elementor theme users group on Facebook, 50,000 or 60,000 people, so there are a lot of people that go out, but what you have is Newsletter Glue. You’ve got the whole of WordPress that you’re aiming for because it’s Gutenberg, so it’s Gutenberg native, you’ve got your patterns, you’ve done the right thing by going for WordPress core if you like, but you also appeal to the page builder people. You also appeal to the static, WordPress, or headless WordPress as well because Newsletter Glue works in headless, right?
Lesley Sim: Yep.
Andrew Palmer: Or static. So, a basic HTML site, if you like, as long as it’s got the back-end of WordPress because you’re, obviously, using the database to connect and all that kind of stuff. So, the interesting part about your journey and your development of your plugin has been that you are all things to all men and women in WordPress, to everybody in WordPress, they can use your product, it’s not a niched down product, it’s not for a particular page builder apart from Gutenberg. So, I wondered how you made that decision to go into Gutenberg given if you go into wordpress.org, the negative reviews on the Gutenberg plugin are incredibly, let’s say negative.
Lesley Sim: People are angry.
Andrew Palmer: Okay. I’m going to go into this really negative space and build a plugin that works with Guttenberg. Yeah, nice, well done. So, how did you sort of deal with that decision or was it just a no-brainer thought, right, WordPress is good?
Lesley Sim: It was kind of a no brainer for me because I already liked using the block editor a lot better than the classic editor, maybe not for page building, I’m still not really sold on full site editing yet, but as a place to blog, I think you’d have a hard time convincing me that the classic editor is better, and so that’s the first thing. The second is, that train is going, it’s left the station, it’s going to happen whether people like it or not, and so far as I’m concerned, choosing to do everything off of Gutenberg just means that we are future-proofing the plugin.
And I feel that’s been a huge differentiator for us because lots of people now, the older plugins who’ve been around for 10 or more years are now kind of all rushing to add blocks to their plugins, make it Gutenberg friendly, and I’m just glad that we did that from day one and we don’t have to kind of reverse engineer and stick things on.
Andrew Palmer: Brilliant, really, really, really, really good decision I think, so what’s your customer base like, are they nice to you? How are you dealing with support?
Lesley Sim: It’s been pretty good and bad. So, I think the nice thing about building in public is that a lot of people know me, and so by the time they become a customer, they’ve seen me around somewhere, and so they don’t just complain randomly and lodge angry tickets because you can only lodge an angry ticket when you’re talking to someone faceless.
So, the people who do feel they know me tend to be really, really nice and polite, even when they have problems; having said that, of course, we have customers who have never heard of me and they just kind of stumbled upon the plugin from a blog post, and so sometimes it gets frustrating when we get cancellations over super easy bugs that we could have solved. And as far as they’re concerned, it’s like, oh, we found a bug, you’re hopeless, cancel immediately; so not much we can do about that, unfortunately.
Yeah, I think one thing that I wasn’t expecting was how much support we’d have to do, so in SaaS, I feel, okay, I’m just going to throw out a random number. I feel in SaaS, it’s a 10th of the support because you’re not dealing with a limited number of WordPress configurations, and you’re not dealing with plugging conflicts and theme conflicts and all of that stuff; the environment is a lot more controlled, and so when people have problems, it’s either going to be a bug that you are personally responsible for and you solve it and it solves for everybody.
Whereas with WordPress, oftentimes you’re solving things that aren’t necessarily your fault or it might be kind of tangentially your fault, something that’s kind of related to you, but then you have to hunt into some other host’s set up to figure out what they’ve configured and how that’s conflicting with your plugin and all of that stuff. I have a friend who runs a SaaS with a WordPress plugin on top of that to connect to her SaaS, and she doesn’t have much support for her SaaS, but she’s had to hire two WordPress support staff just for her WordPress plugin, which just kind of goes to show the difference there.
Andrew Palmer: It’s crazy, yeah. And I know because we have, Jonathan knows, I’ve got what, 27 plugins out there, and what people don’t understand, if you’re paying 10 bucks or 50 bucks even for a plugin, and it doesn’t work. The press the refund button is lightning, and it could be another plugin, we had one of these situations this morning, where a particular plugin wouldn’t work because another plugin was using the same hook as us; so how do you monitor that within the 55,000 plugins that are on wp.org, and then the 20,000 premium plugins out there.
But one of the things I wanted to understand is how do you now market, do you pay for marketing? Do you do your Facebook advertising, Twitter, anything like that, or has all your marketing been organic?
Lesley Sim: All of it has been organic, to be perfectly honest, we’ve struggled or are struggling to find kind of a compounding marketing channel, a distribution channel, I feel a large part of it is just kind of chipping away at it and kind of grinding for years until you build that base that can then compound. So, I get that a part of it is just patience, but at the same time, it has been a source of frustration, I want to snap my fingers and have 50,000 monthly visitors to my site.
Andrew Palmer: Don’t we all, don’t worry about it, it’ll come. And what I like about the new, I love the name, how did you, it’s Newsletter Glue, right? So, it glues together all of the mailing systems out there, pretty much the most popular ones; it says what it does on the box, the name says it all, I’m going to glue your newsletters together, and you don’t have to log into that SaaS that is the mailing system because most mailing systems are SaaSes.
You can do everything in the WordPress dashboard, you could build your plugins, sorry, your emails, and what I love about it, and there are very similar plugins out there on the market that will allow you to publish and then push out to various social mediums. One thing that Newsletter doesn’t do, I don’t think is, although it pushes it out to email, are you thinking about auto-publishing to the social mediums as well? Or does it do that already?
Lesley Sim: It doesn’t do that already.
Andrew Palmer: There you go.
Lesley Sim: Maybe something called Social Glue
Andrew Palmer: Of invoices in your posts.
Jonathan Denwood: Social Glue, I love it.
Andrew Palmer: Social Glue, you could call it Social Glue, but I think that would be a nice add-on because if I’m writing a newsletter and I want to connect that newsletter to, generally I see a lot of people posting independently of their newsletter on their Facebook pages or their Facebook groups and Twitter. So, maybe you need to do an add-on, which will allow you to publish it to the social mediums as well, and then it will be the complete system because I love the idea of it, I love the idea of writing in Gutenberg editor; I love the idea that you’ve got some patterns in there, but then to be able to publish to social mediums at the same time would be just awesome…so get on with it.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I think we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show, thank God Andrew was here because listeners, you had to deal with my technical problem. So, we’re going to continue the discussion with Lesley and you’ll be able to watch that on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, you’d be able to watch the whole interview plus the bonus content. So, as I said, we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show, so, Lesley, what’s the best way for people to find out more about you and Newsletter Glue?
Lesley Sim: Well, they can head to newsletterglue.com, spelled exactly how it sounds for the plugin, and they can find me on Twitter where I’m super active at Lesley, L E S L E Y_pizza.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. And, Andrew, what’s the best way to find out more about what you’re up to and what your views are?
Andrew Palmer: This is andrewpalmer.com and that’s got all of my socials on it, and my plugins’ places and bertha.ai, of course, and I’m omnipresent; so you can always contact me through any other channel.
Jonathan Denwood: He really is. In the bonus content, I’m going to be asking Lesley where she wants Newsletter Glue to be in a year’s time, and what’s the WordPress community like in Singapore in general? As I said, to listen to the rest of the interview, go over the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, subscribe, give us a thumbs up, and comment, it’s all appreciated. We’ll be back next week with another great guest, another great interview, we’ll see you soon. Bye.
Andrew Palmer: See you later.
Lesley Sim: Bye.
Outro: Hey, thanks for listening, we really do appreciate it. Why not visit the mastermind Facebook group and also to keep up with the latest news click wp-tonic.com/newsletter. We’ll see you next time.
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