This is the second interview in a row where I’ve found someone who has a WordPress plugin that adds a huge application right inside the existing admin. This is also the second straight person who talked to me about their plugin who purchased it from another developer. Awesome Support, this week’s subject, is a helpdesk and customer support plugin that aims to be the last support application your business will ever need.
Nigel Bahadur, the owner of Awesome Support, answered my questions about how he came into ownership of the plugin and then gives insight into competing in the difficult market of customer support products, their revenue strategy with bundles and his advice to anyone looking to get into the WordPress game themselves.
Can you start by telling us about yourself and how you get involved in WordPress?
Getting this intimately involved with WordPress was accidental. I started using WP in 2015 to build some e-commerce sites and used Awesome Support as a help desk system. There were some features I wanted but, as with most software, you had to wait a while to get them, if you were even going to get them at all. It always seemed like the kind of product with great potential but I never actually thought of doing anything with it. Until the developers sent out a note about it being up for auction on Flippa.
I’ve always been someone that trusted my gut and my gut told me this was something to pursue. Plus, I had a background as a trader where I was used to being wrong – so if I was wrong I already knew what my downside was going to be (a trader always knows his downside risk). So I made the bids – some bidders on Flippa were surprised that things went as high as they did and assumed I overbid on it. But as a user I had seen the potential and kind of knew where I wanted to take the product even before the ink was dry on any of the contracts.
So, before I knew it I went from being just a WordPress user to a WordPress vendor – with an inkling of a plan and gut instinct.
Awesome Support seems pretty full-featured. What parts of its development have proven to be the most difficult and why was that so?
The original developers did most of the difficult parts. And they did an amazing job of it. The more I got into understanding the code, the more I realized how elegantly it was constructed. That base made everything that came afterwards much much easier.
Once I acquired it the most difficult components to build out were the Paid Support add-on (a niche product for pay-per-ticket or pay-for-support operations) and the Business Rules Engine. Paid Support is probably the most complex piece of all of Awesome Support because it integrates with WooCommerce,WooCommerce Subscriptions and has all kinds of various combinations of one-off and subscription plans.
You are in an incredibly crowded field. What have you done to set Awesome Support apart from your competitors?
I have staked out the high-end of the market place – at least in the WordPress world. I consider the SaaS systems to be my primary competitors and have tried to match their feature set. There are niche features that SaaS systems will never build – so we try to build as many niche features as we can. If we’re the only one offering a feature, then chances are a customer that needs that feature will purchase additional components over time. Our features also run deeper than our WordPress competition and sometimes even deeper than our SaaS competitors too.
If you were to create a list of features you needed in a helpdesk plugin and then started drilling into those features we’re likely to have more switches and toggles on each feature than our competition. It still takes less than five minutes to get up and running with the product but once you’re up and running and start needing to personalize things, our personalization and configuration options are far more extensive. I believe I heard somewhere that WordPress has an “opinion, not options” approach to things. That might work great for the average end user but in the B2B world and in line-of-business applications, I think options are a much much better way of handling things.
Related to the previous question, what have you tried in terms of marketing and sales for Awesome Support that hasn’t been successful and why do you think it didn’t work out as well as intended?
Initially we tried to bring users to us with active marketing, targeting existing SaaS users. But we quickly realized that users will find us when they need us and that spending marketing dollars that way was silly. Instead, we do brand-awareness marketing on Facebook so that if/when WordPress users are thinking about helpdesks we end up on their short lists.
Nothing we do for marketing will make a user switch or set up a new helpdesk when they’re not ready. And a SaaS user that is looking for a cheaper alternative will find us if WordPress is an option for them. So, we just have to be able to offer them what they need at the time they need it and make sure we’re on their radar when they start looking.
You sell Awesome Support in bundles and with individual add-ons as well. Which approach has proven to be the most successful and do you have insights into why?
I think the bundle approach has been most successful in that you have a higher average revenue number per customer. But the overall revenue split is about even between individual components and bundles. Some months one is greater than the other of course but I think over time it ends up being about even between the two approaches. If someone forced me to pick one or the other I’d go with the bundles but I’m glad I’m able to offer both options. I think having the ability to bring in the smaller customer while still staking out the high end is important.
Can you offer one piece of advice for anyone interested in selling premium WordPress plugins that you wish someone had told you before you started?
My only experience selling plugins is with this product and my experience in selling in this industry is about about 2 ½ years old. So I’m not sure I’m qualified to offer advice. Granted, we’ve built up the product and the revenue stream quite nicely but that could be as much about luck as it is about smarts.
I think the thing I’ve learned the hard way is that the smartest, most expensive developers will be the ones you can depend on the least. We use contractors for everything – it’s a virtual operation. And the most reputable developers are the ones most willing to quickly throw something over the wall and move on their next project – not exactly what I was expecting. That, of course, has nothing to do with actual selling though.
As far as selling or marketing I guess I wish someone had told me how difficult it would be to get good marketing help at a reasonable price. There is a distinct lack of WordPress specific marketing resources. For example, I’m still looking for someone to create a small series of good five minute “how to videos” for our product. The quotes I’ve gotten start at 10K. There’s probably a business opportunity there for someone because 10K is way too high for a business our size – yet we still need those videos and more. I wish there was a service that I could give our products to who would create a good WordPress.org page, five minute how-to videos and product pages on our site. Those are important sales channels and need to look professional – I’m not sure we’re there yet and can certainly use the help.
Lastly, what can we look forward to in future releases of Awesome Support?
Our next release of Awesome Support is right around the corner – you can see all the new stuff coming on our site.
- Additional GDPR features
- Ticket Printing that doesn’t print out the browser and wp-admin artifacts
- Email templates
Those are nice things for everyone. But, moderated registration targets a very specific type of user as does audit trails and automated deletion of attachments. So the release is split between general features and niche features. It really should be a 6.0 release given the number of things in it. But its likely to be released as 5.5 instead.
And of course, we have new features in some of our add-ons that will be available shortly after. By the time this year is over we would have easily added 100+ function points to the free plugin and add-ons. That’s a development pace our competition cannot match right now.
Looking beyond this year, we’ll need to round out our product suite. We want to be the one stop shop for all things helpdesk related in the WordPress world – that means a full-featured knowledge base, integrated chat and more. There are small WordPress vendors who make a living selling Knowledge-base plugins. So we know that there’s a good revenue stream to tap into there which can be an entirely new line of business for us and would complement our current product line very well. Online web chat integrated with a full-featured help desk is a powerful combination, as Zendesk and Helpscout are proving so, we have to match that next year as well.
And we’re working on an entirely new idea for helpdesks that will be targeted specifically towards WordPress developers! It will either be very successful or a spectacular failure.
One thing to consider is that right now we’re in a very positive business cycle and cost is not a consideration for many larger companies. But eventually the business cycle will turn and companies will look to reduce their cost structure. If we can give them the same SaaS features they have now at a much lower cost that would be a great position to be in. The way to do that is to make sure we have a full suite of products for help desk operations. And for us to keep a close eye on what the SaaS vendors are doing.