Wow, 2017 flew by! And seeing as it’s January 11 already, 2018 won’t be going by any slower. Time to reflect on the past year in business and hopefully make this an annual tradition.
January 2018 marks exactly 3 years of going full-time on products. Before that, it was all a side hustle on top of a full-time job as a web developer. If you want to hear a snapshot of my journey up to that point, check out my 3-year-old interview on Startups for the Rest of Us.
Since this is my first annual business review post, here are my annual revenue growth rates (from the previous year) going back to when I made my first product sale in May 2012. Although I’m now down to one product (WP Simple Pay), this wasn’t always the case, so this list includes all past products I’ve owned.
- 2017: +28%
- 2016: +45%
- 2015: +68%
- 2014: +80%
- 2013: +338%
Highlights of 2017
Simple Calendar was acquired. For the second time, I sold one of my plugins in order to double-down on another product. You’d think I’d have learned my lessons about Shiny Object Syndrome by now. If you’d like to get more details about the acquisition, read (my post, Freemius) or listen (Rogue Startups, Mastermind.fm) at your leisure.
WP Simple Pay 3.0 launched. This was 9 months in the making and a complete rewrite of our main product from scratch. Along with the 3.0 launch included a brand new marketing site (using Beaver Builder), a price increase and automatic annual subscriptions (sans renewal discounts). These all had an immediate effect on revenue growth, but I can’t wait to see the auto-renewals kick in later this year.
Masterminds kicked up a notch. My main mastermind of other WordPress product founders already included John Turner and Brian Hogg, but we added in Dan Cameron in 2017. All 3 of these smart guys have had a positive impact on my business last year, but I’d say the highlight was getting all 4 of us together in person at WordCamp US in Nashville last month. On top of that, I started up a new mastermind with my friend Andres in my hometown of Fresno.
Business help for WP Simple Pay. My wife, Cori, started helping out with content, marketing and business strategies for WP Simple Pay in 2017. She’s still balancing this work with running her photography business and taking care of our two boys. But it’s definitely been helpful in getting the ball rolling in a few areas I’ve neglected for too long. It’s also been a blast going to some WordCamps and business conferences together.
Attended more conferences. I hit a record 5 conferences in 2017. More than the usual for me, but they’ve been super helpful and fun. I’ve been to every MicroConf Las Vegas (7 years) and Pressnomics (5 years), and again I can’t express how valuable those have been over the years. Cori and I had a great time at WordCamp Sacramento, which was just a 3-hour drive for us. She and I also were lucky enough to attend CaboPress for the first time, which was a unique business mastermind experience on its own. Attending my first WordCamp US was a fantastic way to wrap up the year.
Got on more podcasts. I had the opportunity to a guest on four podcasts in 2017, all in Q4. Many thanks to the hosts who invited me on.
- Mastermind.fm – The Business of Business (WordPress businesses, business models, and selling a business)
- Rogue Startups – Cashing Out (selling Simple Calendar)
- LMScast – Validating Course Ideas, Upselling, and Cross-Selling via Stripe
- WP Builds – Taking online payments, simply
Became a WordPress meetup organizer. I took over the reigns of my local Fresno WordPress meetup here after our fearless leader, Bet Hannon, moved to Bend, OR. But I have some help, and I’ve had a great time meeting and learning from other folks.
Themes for 2018
I admit I don’t have any specific goals set out for 2018 yet, but I do have some “themes” and areas I’d like to focus on. I hope to nail down and share more details soon.
Pace of growth. What speed do I want to grow the business? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to hire and grow as fast as possible. Nor do I want to be overwhelmed with too many tasks and unwilling to bring on talented folks. Currently, I have some part-time marketing help (my wife Cori) and support help (using wpSaaS), but I’m back to being the only person focused on product and development. I’m leaning towards continuing with a minimalist business, but I’m not sure how long I want to stay there.
Focus & roadmap. As mentioned above, selling Simple Calendar meant focusing on products that appeal to my existing customers in the payments space. But there are still many things to build that customers are asking for. Continuing to talk to customers to figure out the priorities here is key.
Learning & sharing. I need to read more. Plain and simple. I have the lists of recommended books. I just need to stock up my Kindle and Audible library and set some daily reading goals. I also need to continue to share my time and expertise more frequently. I’ve learned so much from others to get to this point in my business so it’s time to give back more. What forms this takes is to be determined.
Well, there you have it. In short, 2017 has been a fantastic year in business for my company. Looking back through my entire product business history there’s been many ups and downs, hits and misses. But I can’t help but feel very blessed and fortunate to be where I’m at now.
Wherever you’re at in your journey, I encourage you to focus, learn, share and ship more in 2018 than any year prior.
I’m excited to announce that Simple Calendar has been acquired by SureSwift Capital. As a solo founder, why did I choose to make this transition? In a word: Focus.
For too long we’ve been trying to run two separate products: Simple Calendar (Google Calendar events for WordPress) and WP Simple Pay (Stripe payments for WordPress). In their current state, both products serve two very different sets of customers with very little overlap.
For about the last year, we’ve diverted most of our attention to WP Simple Pay. We’ve been able to keep up with support and minor features for Simple Calendar, but we’ve felt spread too thin. With our small team, we simply got to the point where we could not give either product the full attention they each deserve.
Around November 2016, I decided that we needed to choose one of our products to focus on and start looking for a new home for the other. At that time, WP Simple Pay was bringing in about 75% of our total revenue, while Simple Calendar made up the remaining 25%. In addition, as much as our team enjoyed working in the calendar and event space, we enjoyed working with Stripe and the payments space even more.
Finding the Right Buyer
We weren’t just going to hand over the reins to the highest bidder. I personally reached out to several companies that had very established calendar and event WordPress products. It took about 6 months before I found the right buyer, but I wasn’t rushing things and wanted to approach these folks privately before posting to the open market.
I also asked the potential acquirers to agree to a couple things. The free plugin on wordpress.org should be maintained and regularly updated. Premium add-on customers should be given ongoing support. These may sound like a given, but it’s not too uncommon to see products die a slow death after an acquisition.
I first met SureSwift Capital’s co-founder Kevin McArdle at MicroConf in Las Vegas last April. In fact, we first connected virtually in the conference’s private Slack group in the weeks leading up to the event. I was organizing a dinner meetup during the conference focused on WordPress products and he reached out.
Note to conference organizers: In my opinion, both an attendee directory and private chat room dedicated to the conference are invaluable for us attendees. It makes it so much easier for us to connect with the right folks and make the best use of our time. Besides the WordPress-focused dinner I organized at MicroConf, there were attendee-scheduled meetups for Shopify apps, info products, e-commerce businesses, and more.
- When to use? When you need extensive forms and/or want to record each transaction as a form entry within your WP site.
- The Gravity Forms Stripe add-on requires a paid developer license of Gravity Forms itself.
- Setup is a bit lengthier. You need to both configure Stripe feeds in your WP admin and webhooks in your Stripe dashboard.
- WooCommerce core has always been free, but now the WooCommerce Stripe add-on is also free.
- When to use? When you need to set up shop and sell physical products.
Easy Digital Downloads
- Easy Digital Downloads core is free. The EDD Stripe add-on is premium.
- When to use? When you need to sell digital items along with additional actions, such as distributing software licensing or offering other payment options such as PayPal.
- wpsimplepay.com, in turn, uses EDD with its Stripe add-on.
WP Simple Pay
- Disclaimer: These are plugins I own and sell.
- When to use? If you need a standalone Stripe plugin without a full shopping cart, extensive form builder, membership site, etc.
- All data is stored and viewed in your Stripe dashboard. Not within your WordPress site.
- WP Simple Pay Lite (free) – Or simply search for “stripe” in your WP admin plugins area. Adds the simple Stripe Checkout overlay to pages without coding.
- WP Simple Pay Pro (paid) – Adds features such as custom fields, user-entered amounts, coupon codes and subscriptions integration.
I had the huge pleasure of being interviewed on my favorite podcast, Startups for the Rest of Us.
You can listen to the episode here, and by all means, keep them at the top of your feed if you’re at all interested or involved in small self-funded startups.
Many thanks to my friends Rob and Mike for inviting me on!