The Challenges of Growing a Plugin Business (and what we’re doing about it)

It might surprise you to know that FooPlugins is comprised of just four people. I’m the Co-founder along with Brad. Steve is our jQuery and Javascript guru, and Leo heads up our support.

A Short History of FooPlugins

Brad and I met on the Gravity Forms forums in 2012. He created a Gravity Forms extension for one of my clients at the time. He’s a talented developer and well, I’m not. At all. I’m a community, business development, and marketing guy.

He had several plugins in the .org repository and had found success with selling FooBar on Codecanyon. I was (and still am) an Implementor.

We kept in touch after that first meeting and I pitched him some plugin ideas. One of those was a lightbox plugin with a social sharing layer. It turned out he had already been working on a lightbox plugin, so we put our heads together and v1.0 of FooBox was born.

We started selling FooBox and saw immediate uptake. We were on to something. Each of us was working full time and the sales of FooBox kept climbing. Slowly, but steadily.

After several months, the Florida-based company I was working for decided to close their local office and I was left with the decision to move to either Sweden or Kansas. This was in early 2012, 30 days before my first son was born.

It was then that we made the decision to expand our plugin offerings and officially create the FooPlugins business. I took my severance package, cashed out my 401k and we launched with a sponsorship at WordCamp Miami 2013.

The Plateau

The business and our brand grew fast. In retrospect, I was extremely naive thinking that the growth would simply continue. But then it happened. Our growth seemed to hit a ceiling.

Three and half years later, we’ve all learned so much. We’ve learned from our end users, learned from many people in the WordPress community, and from trial and error.

Where We’ve Excelled and Where We’ve Failed

We’ve done many things right.

We’ve taken actions like creating a free version of FooBox that have gained us 70,000+ active installs.

Instead of just supporting built-in WordPress galleries and some of the most popular gallery plugins, we built our own, FooGallery, which now has 60,000+ active installs and a 4.8 out of 5-star rating on WordPress.org.

But we’ve also done a lot of things wrong.

We moved from support tickets to forums and we now know that was the wrong decision for such a small team.

We spent the better part of six months building a browser extension screenshot tool that allowed importing your annotated images directly into your connected WordPress sites and tried to make that a paid service. It was beautiful, but the market just wasn’t there.

And probably most damaging is that we hadn’t set up a decent financial record keeping system to give us a clear indication of where our revenue was coming from, nor where it’s going.

And to be clear, we’re doing OK but we’re not where we envisioned we’d be when we started this adventure several years ago.

And to be even clearer, we’re not going anywhere. But we are pivoting.

Changes We’re Making

There are many areas of the business that have become unwieldy. In short, we need to simplify and streamline.

Here are a few changes that have been made already and some that are coming in the next few months.

  • Retiring unpopular plugins – with the goal being a better focus on FooBox free and Pro, and on FooGallery and it’s current and future extensions/features.
  • Freemius integrationthis service allows us better insights into the usage of our plugins and the ability to offer a shorter path to Pro versions, should our users decide to upgrade. This will also allow us to remove our custom licensing system, which will lower our development and maintenance time spent.
  • FooGallery Pro – it will still be the extensible powerhouse that it is, but we will be rolling in the features that extensions currently provide to a Pro version of FooGallery.
  • Support and documentation – we’re in the process of rebuilding our docs and support system and moving back to individual support tickets through HelpScout and running our docs through their Knowledge Base service.
  • Cutting the cord – on the reliance of so many plugins and other tools we’ve used to build our site. In other words, speeding up our site by simplifying the overall process we use to build and maintain our product pages, documentation areas, support requests, and many other areas of our site.

Our Promise to Current and Future Users

My intention with this post is not to make anyone nervous about the future of our plugins. It’s quite the opposite.

I hope by sharing these insights that our intentions are clear. We are committed to the future of our brand, our products, and their features (both free and pro), and most of all, you.

We plan to be around for years to come. And to keep learning and pivoting as necessary to make certain that happens.

Lastly, for the 400,000+ combined users of all our all publicly available plugins, we thank you for your support thus far and hope we can count on you to keep teaching us how to continue our success.

Sincerely,

Adam, Brad, and the entire FooPlugins team.

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