GFChart is the first WordPress plugin I’ve posted about here that is an extension for Gravity Forms. This plugin lets you take all of the information you collect from Gravity Form submissions through your site and present the data in a visual way for your visitors or yourself.
Ben Ramsden, the owner of GFChart, answered my questions about how he found himself selling a WordPress plugin as a non-developer, what it is like to build a product dependent on Gravity Forms for success and some really interesting discussion about how he prices his plugin.
Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself and how you got started with WordPress?
I am an independent business consultant supporting small corporates to transform. In 2009 when the economic downturn hit consultancy hard, unexpected downtime gave me the opportunity to explore the online space. After various twists and turns I discovered WordPress.
Today I split my time between the business transformation consultancy, swimming related digital services including online training for technical officials, and the GFChart WordPress plugin. Note I am a business person not a coder.
How did the idea for GFChart come about?
I scratched my own itch.
The kids’ swim club had a classic administration problem. Every year application forms were emailed to members. They would then print, complete, attach a cheque, put in an envelope and snail mail back – sometime over the following days, weeks or months; if at all. The cheques were banked, except for the odd one that was rejected. The forms were collated and information transposed onto a spreadsheet. This was all shared with the organisers. Everything was slow, nothing was up to date, it took a lot of effort to manage. And it was a huge chore.
Online was clearly the solution but none of the existing systems (Eventbrite, Trybooking, etc) was entirely satisfactory for our scenario. We looked at WooCommerce that offered a good customer front end solution, but it fell down on the back end. In the end, a simple Gravity Form with PayPal gateway proved ideal.
All that was missing was a simple dashboard that event organisers could use to monitor bookings in real time. I hired a developer on Elance who built one for us. I wondered whether others may also find it useful, so one weekend I spun up a WordPress site, loaded Easy Digital Downloads, and offered it for sale to the world. I was right!
GFChart is the first plugin for Gravity Forms I’ve featured here. What are some of the technical challenges involved developing with Gravity Forms in mind?
If you are building an extension to an existing plugin then Gravity Forms is probably one of the best. It is mature, stable, and is targeted at developers to extend further. Specifically, it has a very powerful API, rich mix of hooks and filters, and is very well documented and supported. It is large enough to support an ecosystem of quality code developers who specialise on Gravity Forms, including Naomi C. Bush whom we hire.
In terms of technical challenges, clearly we are entirely reliant on Gravity Forms continuing and its direction. In the early days this bothered me, but now I see it as no different to relying on WordPress core. One challenge is the bewildering array of use cases that customers have for Gravity Forms and related technical configurations. Being able to support all of those is a challenge for us.
What has been your marketing strategy for GFChart and what has proven to the most, and the least, successful for you so far?
Despite starting off with no marketing strategy, most success has come from understanding our customers, listening to their needs and giving them what they want. The least successful has been hiring a marketing agency to support. We probably don’t realise how crucial it has been to be an extension to the ‘almighty’ Gravity Forms. Good customer service has also helped. Building and using a mailing list has had limited value – I have been amazed that people are more likely to give you their credit card details than their email address. We have dabbled with social media and always found it to be a massive time sink without any evidence of results.
As someone who is not a natural marketeer, I know we still have a long way to go. I am learning to ignore the hype and manufactured complexity, and focus on the basics. Indirectly, hiring a customer support agency (Kyle at WPSAAS) has benefited our marketing enormously simply by liberating more of my time to focus on it. Other sources of major marketing value for me are Seth Godin’s work and Justin Jackson’s Marketing for Developers book.
Was there any particular strategy behind your pricing setup? Was there trial and error to get it right or did you find a sweet spot early on?
We have been very deliberate with our pricing although I don’t claim to have cracked it. Our first version was priced the same as a decent cup of coffee: US$4.50 with no support, no refunds, no upgrades. We simply wanted to find out whether people would buy. They did.
Our next step was to test the price elasticity of demand by moving the decimal place to $45.00. Sales immediately declined and then quickly recovered to the same volume, but 10x the revenue. The type of customer shifted from hobbyist to professional.
From a value perspective, we save website developers, owners and business managers a huge amount of time. It would take a capable developer several hours to build a basic chart, and that’s before testing, presuming that their client knows exact needs up front, and can get a good test data set. Once our plugin is installed it is usually possible to produce powerful and insightful reports in less that 90 seconds.
By eliminating the need to login to view or download data, and by being always up to date, managers have a live status dashboard and can focus their attention where it is required. In ecommerce and event booking scenarios (two of our main use cases) this is enormously powerful. Hence I think that we should be charging several hundred dollars for GFChart. It has niche appeal, but it extraordinary valuable for that niche.
We have therefore since introduced higher priced tiers ($99, $149 and $499) with premium capabilities. Results have been excellent – increasing price has always helped us. During this time the price of quality WordPress plugins generally has been moving upwards. Today I believe that our entry level pricing is far too low.
What can we expect to see added to GFChart in the future?
To avoid customer disappointment we don’t generally talk about future developments before release, so don’t hold me to this please!
We have plans to release a ‘recipe book’ so that the full potential for GFChart can be easily explained in a simple ‘how to’ style. In common with many plugins, our existing documentation is good at the details, but struggles to give a good overview. This will also give us more value to share with the community on social media.
Our strategy is to focus on enabling customer use cases rather than simply rolling out additional features. A major new feature in the pipeline is to enable charts and calculations to be included in emails. We will also be reviewing our pricing.
Do you have any plans to develop more Gravity Forms related plugins going forward?
We focus on solving customer problems. If that solution happens to include Gravity Forms then yes we will develop something, but not simply because it is related to Gravity Forms. There is already a fantastic suite of other independent Gravity Forms extensions available (GravityView, GravityPDF, Gravity Flow, Gravity Wiz, etc). I don’t think that we in the community fully understand the opportunity from this capability.
In my business consultancy work I see clients spending huge sums on digital solutions that could be delivered faster and work better using Gravity Forms related tools. My hunch is that engaging a larger business market via re-focussed marketing and enabling a developer community is probably a larger opportunity than building more plugins. This opportunity is hidden in full view.