This Week Show’s Sponsors
Sensei LMS: Sensei LMS
Lessons Learned Connected To Building a Successful WordPress Plugin Shop
Inisev Is a leading European-based WordPress plugin shop with many successful WordPress plugins available free on the WordPress.org directory.
After 10 years in banking, Nick decided to change the industry and focus on creating SaaS businesses and WordPress products, especially WordPress plugins, which are used by over half a million people today.
– TasteWP: https://tastewp.com
– Backup & Migration: https://wordpress.org/plugins/backup-backup/
– Copy Delete Posts: https://wordpress.org/plugins/copy-delete-posts/
– Redirection plugin: https://wordpress.org/plugins/redirect-redirection/
– MyPopUps: https://mypopups.com
– Ultimate Social Media Icons: https://wordpress.org/plugins/ultimate-social-media-icons/ – follow.it: https://follow.it
Main Questions For Interview
#1 -Nick, can you tell us about your background and how you got into WordPress and being the head of a WordPress plugin coding shop?
#2 – Can you give us some insights on what was a couple of the most significant early challenges you faced initially with Inisev and how you have semi-overcome these challenges?
#3 – Based on your experience, can you give us some of the most significant differences connected to the WordPress marketplace and how this affects how you successfully market your plugins?
#4 – What are your plans for Inisev in the next 12 to 18 months, and are there any trends you are noticing connected to running a WordPress commercial plugin shop#5 – If you go back to a time machine at the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?
#6 – Are there any books, websites, or online recourses that have helped you in your own business development that you like to share with the audience?
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 this week in WordPress and SaaS. It’s episode 734, I have a great guest, I have Nick Ahmann, founder and CEO of Inisev, and it’s an independent WordPress plugin shop which Nick has founded. They do a number of; really, popular plugins, and we’re going to be discussing his journey in building this business, things he’s learned; if you’re looking to develop a plugin in the WordPress ecosystem, I’m sure you’re going to find this interview, really, interesting. Before we go into the main meat and potatoes, we’re going to go for short break, messages from our major sponsors. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
Ad: Are you looking for ways to make your content more engaging? Sensei LMS by Automattic is the original WordPress solution for creating and selling online courses. Sensei’s new interactive blocks can be added to any WordPress page or post. For example, interactive videos let you pause videos and display quizzes, lead generation forms, surveys, and more. For a 20% off discount for the tribe, just use the code wptonic, all one word, when checking out and give Sensei a try today.
Ad: The importance of backing up your WordPress website cannot be emphasized enough. We use BlogVault to help us do this on a daily basis. With free staging, migrations, and on the pro plans, malware scanning and auto-fix, BlogVault is the professional’s choice when managing just one website or many. Go to blogvault.com and see for yourself, you seriously won’t find a better, more complete solution. That’s blogvault.com, blogvault.com.
Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back; I just wanted to point out that we have some great special offers from sponsors and other plugin producers, services, anything that you might be looking for around WordPress. To get all of these goodies, all you have to do is go over to wp-tonic/recommendations, and the special offers and deals are all on that page, and you can sign up for the WP-Tonic Weekly newsletter, which I do. So, Nick, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the WP-Tonic Tribe, your background and how did you get into the semi-crazy world of WordPress, Nick, you look too sensible to be?
Nick Ahmann: That’s right. Yes. Actually, my background is not in WordPress or IT at all. I spent over 10 years in financial services, especially, in banking. I worked mainly in Germany, Switzerland, and the UK for various banks, mostly, in a project-based role, so one project after another, and it was a great time, I, really, enjoyed it. But the point with the project business is that, even though you learn a lot, by the way, I think that’s a recommendation I give to almost everybody who’s just starting out working.
It’s, project-based business is great to get started because you have to switch projects every three or six months, and you have to think into new subject matters very quickly. You get trained to do that.
Jonathan Denwood: So, you say projects, what, kind of, projects, was there IT, coding or was it?
Nick Ahmann: It was nothing to do; it was, basically mostly, on the marketing and distribution side.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, right.
Nick Ahmann: So, the first four years that I worked for a small consultancy in Frankfurt, in Germany. And there we advise banks and insurance companies and so on, on how to open up new distribution channels, how to optimize the marketing and all of that, and when I then switched, I switched sides to the bank in Switzerland. I, basically, did the same but in house and there we also did various projects, basically, to increase business and revenues.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, so what led to WordPress and doing your first plugin?
Nick Ahmann: Yes. So, basically, it was a great experience to do the project-based business in a bank, but, at some point, I felt wasn’t building up something, so you spent three to six months on a project, and then you move onto the next one and the next one, and, kind of, basically, you don’t care much what happens to the project you did before. And that was always an aspect where I thought, Okay, no, I want to build up something, right? Put one stone after another, and then have my little shop, so to speak. And that’s, basically, yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, sorry to interrupt. So, was this an attempt to build a bit of a side hustle, a secondary income as a, kind of, possibility?
Nick Ahmann: No, it was never from the incomes. I knew in order to build up a business that it takes all of your time and dedication. So, doing something in parallel is a challenge, so I decided, basically, to stop working in a bank, and then just dive into it.
Jonathan Denwood: Wow.
Nick Ahmann: And just do it from scratch. Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Wow. That’s a big commitment financially. So, weren’t you a little bit concerned, you don’t mind, I don’t want to be too personal, did you never?
Nick Ahmann: No, you can ask anything, I don’t have to answer it, right?
Jonathan Denwood: No, that’s true. So, did you have a reasonable runway of financial resources? Did you have a 6 month, 12 month runway for you to?
Nick Ahmann: Yes. Actually, it was much longer than that. It was, kind of, a change, I have to say. So, I built a bit of, from the salary, some money I could use food for the project, but I also changed my lifestyle again. So, when I had a nice salary through the bank, I was living in a very, very nice apartment and didn’t too much care about what I spent the money on and how much it was.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah.
Nick Ahmann: And that changed a lot. Then I moved back into a shared apartment, which many people in the position I was in would not have done, they would’ve considered as a step back, which financially and in terms of direct responsibility at the beginning, it was a step back, but I never saw it that way. I always wanted to see it long-term and I wanted just to build up my own shop.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I, really, admire your commitment and focus, obviously, you didn’t have a, if you don’t want me asking, you don’t have a family and that at the present moment then, is that correct?
Nick Ahmann: No, sometimes I say, no, I have kids and they’re called Follow It and Ultimatelysocial and BackupBliss, those are the names of our products, right? So, it’s a sad answer, but that’s what it is.
Jonathan Denwood: I, totally, understand, actually. So, before we go into the next question, I just want to, obviously, I want to promote what plugins, because that’s the main reason why you came on the show, and also you strike me as somebody very open and I thought we could provide some real value. You do have an extensive range of plugins, so I don’t want to spend too much time talking about each individual, but let’s just quickly go through them. You put it on top of your list when you sent me some notes about what you wanted to discuss in this interview and it’s TasteWP, so quickly, what does TasteWP do?
Nick Ahmann: Okay, Taste WP is just a website where you can spin up a new WordPress instance with one click. You don’t even have to be logged in, you just click on spin it up, and then you have your little WordPress instance, which expires in two days, or if you logged in already, in seven days.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, that’s, really useful.
Nick Ahmann: You can use it just to play around, to try out plugins you don’t want to try out on your live site or themes as well, of course. Teachers love it, and, of course, beginners just to get to know WordPress and therefore, also the teachers, they use it for their pupils.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, I would’ve thought also a lot of developer types implement this, when you’re trying out different plugins you don’t want to bother having to set up a staging site, but you also don’t want to install something new on a production site and fill your database with junk. So, just spinning your thing up and trying it, I would’ve thought a lot. So, on to the next one, backup & migration, what does that do?
Nick Ahmann: Yeah, that’s a backup and migration plugin. Which, basically, very simple, easy to use, you install it, you click on create backup, and then it creates the backup. And you install it on another site, from another host, for example, and then you can migrate a site very easily.
Jonathan Denwood: Does it do?
Nick Ahmann: Go ahead.
Jonathan Denwood: If you don’t mind me asking, is it crippled? A lot of these backup plugins, unless you pay the pro, a lot of them are, basically, kind of, semi-crippled.
Nick Ahmann: Right. I wouldn’t call it. Yes. So, it’s not crippled. There is a limit in the free version, which is the two gigabyte maximum in terms of the backup you can take. But the point is also; I’m not sure how to think about, because now I’m thinking about, maybe, we should have made it more crippled, because not many users upgrade, they’re just happy with the free version.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, that’s something we’re going to discuss in the rest of the interview. So, copy and delete and post, what does that do?
Nick Ahmann: Yeah, that just allows you to quickly copy a page or post and it has, of course, tons of features, you can define what exactly you want to have copied of that post or page. But, basically, at the core, that’s what it does.
Jonathan Denwood: All right. Redirection plugin, that’s self-descriptive. So, let’s go on to the next one, MyPopUps, what does that do?
Nick Ahmann: Right. MyPopUps is just a popup service, actually, the main part of the codes is on a different site, but the plugin is plugged into that. So, we have a separate page, mypopups.com, where you can design and style your popup as you wanted for various purposes from collecting email to showing discount accounts, to showing cookie notices, for example. And then, the plugin is just making it easier to integrate it on your WordPress site.
Jonathan Denwood: And finally, ultimate social media icons, what does that do?
Nick Ahmann: Right. Yes. That’s, actually, the plugin with which everything started, which is a plugin where you can place social media icons on your site, so you want to have your Facebook and Twitter icons on your site. Then, this plugin allows to do that in a very easy way and, of course, it has tons of other features.
Jonathan Denwood: Right. So, that’s given a brief outline because you have about almost half a dozen, really, interesting plugins here. So, what have been some of the most significant challenges, because you’re a brave individual, obviously, you’re prepared to take a certain element of risk?
Nick Ahmann: Yes, we can talk about it right away. The financials were always a big challenge, so we bootstrapped.
Jonathan Denwood: So, what have been some of the biggest, one or two challenges you faced getting this going in the right direction?
Nick Ahmann: Yes. So, the financial side was, certainly, one; if you’re bootstrapped and you have to look at every penny you spend, that is a challenge, but to be honest, I’ve, really, come to enjoy it. Because if you’re bootstrapped, first of all, it’s a nice challenge; to try to get as far as you can with your existing budget. And it sharpens your mind a lot, because there’s the saying that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if you have a lot of money, then I’m sure we would’ve spent it on various marketing methods, but as they say, marketing is tax for a bad product.
So, we would have, probably, in order to get users, we would’ve spent a lot of money on marketing and trying to fix it that way, but that would’ve been all in vain because if you’re bootstrapping and it doesn’t work, then you’re, basically, forced to think about, okay, maybe the product doesn’t have market fit yet and you need to improve the product. And if the people don’t buy it or use it, then that’s feedback, you need to make your product better. But if we had money, then I’m sure we would’ve spent a lot of money for nothing.
So, that’s another aspect I very much like about the bootstrapping part of it. And, of course, the fact that you, kind of, feel more independent than if you had taken external capital. Because even if you’re lucky and have very free investor, who gives you free hand and says, Okay, you don’t need to pay it back in the near future. There’s still always the pressure you feel that you have to return the money as quick as possible and not only the investment, but much more than that.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, you strike me as somebody who has a conscience, obviously, if you’re a psychopath, it doesn’t, really, bother you, does it?
Nick Ahmann: Right. Yes, exactly. And trying not to be too much of a psychopath, as you can see. And that, kind of, is also an aspect which I liked about the bootstrapping strategy, so the whole bootstrapping financial, that was one challenge, and the other challenge was, certainly, to find the right people. At the end of the day, if any company is successful, it comes down to how good the people are, and that’s what I’ve come to realize, that my job as the founder is, actually, just to find the best people, it’s not to code anything myself.
Jonathan Denwood: And it’s not easy, is it?
Nick Ahmann: Yes, it’s very tough. But over the years, you get better ideas of how to find good people and with good people; I don’t just mean technically good people, but also people who culturally fit into the company. And, especially, at the beginning, I, especially, made a lot of mistakes in this respect.
Jonathan Denwood: So, I think before we go for our break; what are a couple of red flags when you’re, initially, looking at a possible freelancer, a partner, somebody that’s going to be part of your team? What are some things that, really, put you off-of an individual, if you don’t or encouraged you?
Nick Ahmann: Yes. It’s a good question.
Jonathan Denwood: To hire them.
Nick Ahmann: Right. So, one of the first things I always look for is good communication. You can feel it instantly, you don’t even have to speak to them, after exchanging three or two messages via text, you already get a good idea of how responsive they are, of how good their English is, and also, of course, what their attitude is. That’s also a crucial factor. We had people who were technically not on the same standard as some other candidates, but you felt instantly, okay, these are people you want to invest in.
And they are open, they’re humble, they want to learn, they are polite and those people will also stick around for a long time if the atmosphere is good. And those are always the people now I have a strong preference for, I don’t mind if they’re technically not on level like other candidates.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I think a red flag and it can affect all price levels. I’ve hired, really, quite expensive freelancers for quasi detail projects and the red flag is what I call ghosting. They communicate, and then they ghost you, and when they start ghosting you, I chop them pretty quick, because it’s never going to work out. And it doesn’t matter how much you try and communicate with them that it’s unacceptable, they always keep on ghosting you.
Nick Ahmann: That’s right. At the beginning especially, I always had hopes that they will change and I was thinking once or twice, but now come on, next time now, we talked about it and he or she guarantees that it’s going to change, but it doesn’t change.
Jonathan Denwood: Based on my experience, it’s all right for a week, two weeks, because they get another better offer and then they bun the work you’re doing down on the list and they start ghosting you again, because that’s how they’re operating. So, they’re not going to change their ways. I think we’re going to go for our break. We’ll be back, I’m, really, enjoying this interview with Nick and we’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
Ad: Hey, it’s Spence from launchflows.com. If you’ve been looking for a fast and easy way to create powerful sales funnels on WordPress, then look no further than LaunchFlows. In just minutes, you can easily create instant registration, upsells, down-sells, order bumps, one-click checkouts, one-time offers, custom thank you pages, and best of all, no coding is required. For as little as $50 per year, you can own and control your entire sales funnel machine with LaunchFlows. Get your copy today.
Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. As I said, I do a weekly newsletter, it, normally, goes out Sunday or Monday morning. It has all of the latest WordPress and tech stories. I also do a detailed editorial, I so was going to say, dictatorial there. Editorial, I can hardly talk, folks. Why you listen to this podcast, I don’t know, but more of you are, that’s amazing, we’re getting more and more listeners, but do sign up for it. Where do you go?
Basically, you go to wp-tonics/recommendations and you can then sign up for the weekly newsletter, I have all of the links to recommendations, special offers. It’s great and not a boring WP WordPress general newsletter, I try and jazz it up a bit; so please sign up for that. So, on to our next question, Nick. So, based on your experience, if somebody came to you and said, Nick, I’m, really, thinking of developing my first commercial plugin, putting it into the WordPress directory and the WordPress marketplace in general. Are there one or two things that you’ve learned based on your own experience and road that you could, really, point out to them that would, really, help them?
Nick Ahmann: Right. So, our experience with the freemium model is a very good one, where we, basically, offer a lot of features for free, we use the WordPress repository as an opportunity to be found very quickly, because almost everybody, if they’re looking for a plugin, they first look for free plugins, and that is in the WordPress repository, and that can give you eyeballs pretty quickly. It’s not that easy sometimes for very new plugins, but if you think about the number of people who look at it, if you provide a quality product, then I think you’ll always have a chance.
The beauty about WordPress is that it’s so huge. It’s powering now, I think 43% of websites or something like that. And I remember when our first plugin, the social media plugin, when we started with it, there were already tons of social media plugins out there. And there were even plugins; one was called yet another social media plugin, that was the name of the plugin. So, there were tons out there. But if you, really, create a good plugin, maybe, with a slightly different angle to what the other plugs did, of course, ease of use is key.
Then, you still have a chance, and so don’t be afraid of tackling the big topics, which is creating backups, our backup plugin is also, I don’t know, number 20 who entered the race. But if the quality is there, I strongly believe that you do have a chance. And regarding the, yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: I’ve tried them all. Because when I was an active developer, I tried them all and I won’t go into all of my lessons learned about [Inaudible – 00:22:07] plugin. I found they all had streps and very strong weaknesses, so I learned the hard way to have multiple backup vectors.
One thing that occurred to me, because I always feel that it’s, and I’m not having a go at your selection here, but one of the things that occurred to me, and we chatted about this when I first approached you to come on the podcast is you have a very diverse selection of different plugins here in different niches of the WordPress ecosystem. Did you, intentionally, decide to do this, that you were going to have a very diverse group of plugins or is this just how it’s just naturally ended up?
Nick Ahmann: Yeah, I think it’s the latter. It also depends a bit on our other products. So, basically, we’re trying also to create synergies between those products, so, maybe, on the face of it they look very different, but there is a connection also. So, one of our main services is not a plugin, it’s a news website, a news distribution platform called Follow It, and we’ve, for example, launched a plugin in order to get more users for that platform.
And for that platform, we then also created the popup service for which we then needed a plugin, so there is, at least regarding some of the plugins, there is a connection in the background, even though it’s not that obvious to see. Having said that, some of them were also opportunistic, where we thought, okay, this is an interesting market, but we don’t believe in the current solutions out there, so there’s an opportunity and because we had some plugin knowledge, we just decided to create a solution for it.
Jonathan Denwood: So, you’ve mentioned about quality still being, really, important and like any product, for you to have any traction or it has to be competitive, but are there any other things that you would like to point out that you’ve learned that starts getting you traction in the WordPress plugin ecosystem that you think people don’t understand that are important?
Nick Ahmann: To think about it, the WordPress repository was always number one for us, and then getting the free users and then upgrading to premium. We tried a lot of other things; we tried blog posts and we tried collaborations and partnerships, we tried affiliate marketing, but those, actually, never moved the dial. So, basically, simply put, our path to success was always have a great free version, which gets seen in the WordPress repository, and then it spreads via word of mouth, we assume. So, the quality is just everything, quality is the best way of making it spread.
Jonathan Denwood: So, you said about your backup, but it is tricky when you have a premier model because you’ve been very honest, you said that not enough people with your backup and migration plugin are signing up for the premier, they’re just satisfied with the free version. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned, is that the real tricky bit as well?
Nick Ahmann: Yes, but the final word isn’t out regarding that, because this is just now a certain point in time, we have now a lot of momentum in terms of growth, the free plugin, and that also, of course, increases our premium sales. And in the long-term, I think it’s still a good strategy, but you just need to have stamina to wait all of those years until it pays off, so for short-term monetization, it’s not a good plan, but in the long-term I think it’s valid.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. But I think one of the strengths is I think there are over 60,000 plugins now in the directory. And I think it’s the thing that grew WordPress, themes and plugins have been the driver to WordPress, plus a solid core, but it is very much the Wild West, you, really, don’t know what you’re installing. Do you think there needs to be some, kind of, arrangement, where if you have a premier plugin that you could go somewhere and it could be quickly checked over and you get a blue tick saying that this plugin matches some, kind of, predetermined quality standards?
Nick Ahmann: Yes, it’s a good point. There is discussion going on about this and also just to create in the app store, where people can upgrade quickly to the premium versions of the plugins, which would be sweet from our perspective as plugin creators because they would make it very easy. Now, it’s all a bit de-central, very diverse, but that can also be an advantage, so it’s hard to say. Anything that helps making sales is good, so if there’s some vetting and some stamp of quality, which you can achieve.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, the way I saw it, because they do that. It’s always been strange to me, Nick, because they’ve always done more check-in, more hurdles around themes, I’ve never put in a theme, but I understand the checks and the standards and the processes can be quite painful. Where with the plugin, it’s always seemed very much looser, I never, really, fully understood that or do you think I’m not correct in that statement, Nick?
Nick Ahmann: Right. Yeah, I don’t know the theme business at all. We thought about submitting a theme at some point, but we never did; with the plugins, the question is, yes, it’s averse, yes, there are sometimes questions of quality, you’re talking about the free versions now, doesn’t that get fixed by just the feedback system and people using the plugin and so you can see how many sites use it and the ratings and so on. It’s not frequent.
Jonathan Denwood: I think it, really, depends on the person that’s doing the reviewing. I think your general user or small non-profit or small business, even up to a medium; I classify a medium, anything between 25 to 500 employees, you’d be amazed at the people that know nothing about it, they just do a search, they see something that seems to fit and it gets installed directly on their production site. And when it takes the site down or it causes the site to be hacked; well, bloody WordPress, it’s useless, I’m going off to Squarespace, so I’m going over to Kajabi. This is the problem with the system at the present moment, I feel.
Nick Ahmann: That is true, although, we’ve noticed that when we had vulnerabilities in our plugins and some ethical or not so ethical hackers identified those, then WordPress was very quick to react and just take the plugin off the directory immediately. And I’m not sure who would then be doing the quality checking because in order to.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, they do a similar system with the themes to my understanding, they do check over the coding standards of the theme. But I might be wrong, Nick, but that is my understanding.
Nick Ahmann: Yes, they do, but there will never be, I think, the guarantee that they catch every possible vulnerability, because it’s so complex, I guess.
Jonathan Denwood: No. Yeah. Yeah. Well, we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show, Nick’s agreed to stay on. You’ll be able to watch the whole show on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. So, Nick, what’s the best way to find more about you, your company, and the plugins that you produce?
Nick Ahmann: All right. I think the best thing is just to head over to inisev.com, that’s the company which has all of the plug-ins listed. And also, you can just go to TasteWP and spin up a site, which already has most of our plugins pre-installed.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh.
Nick Ahmann: So, you can just go ahead and try them out that way.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great, Nick. And thanks for being so generous with your time and being so frank and honest with your answers to my delving questions. As I said, Nick’s agreed to stay on for the bonus content. As I said, you can see that on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, and please subscribe to the channel, it, really, does support the show. And I have a new show I’m doing, which is the Membership Machine Show, it’s all about membership websites, automation; it’s a great show, going to be turning that into a podcast next month.
Please join that, that’s on Friday, you can join that live every Friday at 10:00 AM. And we’ll be back next week. We’ll see you soon, folks. 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.
Sign-up For The WP-Tonic’s Weekly Newsletter
Sign up For WP-Tonic’s Weekly Newsletter, Where You Read The Latest WordPress News & The Best Deals! Join The Tribe?NEWSLETTER