Gravity Flow is a WordPress plugin all about making your business easier to operate. By combining the power of Gravity Flow with the popular plugin Gravity Forms you can begin to create scalable and efficient workflows to help automate various parts of your business. For example, you can build entire systems for common business problems like RFPs, case management and even employee vacation requests. The options are pretty much unlimited thanks to the power behind Gravity Flow.
Steven Henty is the man behind Gravity Flow and also the lead developer at Rocketgenius, the company that makes Gravity Forms. Steven came through big time with very thorough and interesting answers to my questions about what it’s like to build, market and sell such a massive plugin with such an enormous number of practical uses.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, your background and how you got involved with WordPress?
I’m from the UK, but I came to live in Spain after university in 1995. I soon started building sites for local businesses and later for some well-known brands. Over the years I’ve enjoyed working in a few large organisations, and I learnt a lot about business process management and leading large projects. I started building sites with WordPress and Gravity Forms around 2010, and I found the whole WordPress and Open Source ethos very refreshing. When I had the opportunity to join Rocketgenius as a remote developer the timing was perfect – it was around the time my son was born which allowed me to spend more time at home.
How did the initial concept for Gravity Flow come about?
I remember very clearly, when I first started using Gravity Forms it was on a small department-level project, and my first thought was, this is great but how can I build an approval process with this thing? It wasn’t until a couple of years later, after working on Gravity Forms day in day out, that I began to work on Gravity Flow as a side project with the support of my colleagues at Rocketgenius.
Was there any part of the process of getting Gravity Flow up and running that was more difficult than others and, if so, why?
I’d been thinking about it for so long and planning it in my head that when I finally came to writing the code, it just poured out at an incredible rate. My free time became entirely absorbed by it, and the process was almost cathartic – it was an exciting and very creative period.
I knew that Gravity Forms customers would need to add workflows to forms because I had needed to for projects years earlier. But it was clear that I would have to do some serious research and learn as much as I could about lots of real customer use cases. So, Gravity Flow was in beta for nearly a year before I launched it in October 2015. That extended beta period was incredibly important because it gave me time to build up a great collection of testimonials and produced strong sales from day one.
I found iterating on the features at speed without breaking existing workflows was a real challenge. So early on I added automated tests which simulate customers’ real workflows to mitigate the risks of introducing regression issues. “Move fast and break things” is definitely not an option when customers’ business processes depend on your software. Those tests still run every time code is pushed to the repository, and we add to them every time a significant change is made – it really saves a lot of headaches and gives us a lot of peace of mind every time we release a new version.
The most annoying part was getting the EU VAT collection and invoicing set up correctly. Now I have it set up I’m happy with it, but there was a notable learning curve. I use EDD to sell subscriptions in multiple currencies, and I needed an invoicing solution that would comply with accounting regulations in Spain. In the beginning, I pieced together a solution with various EDD plugins from multiple vendors, but it was too fragile. It got a lot easier and more reliable when I replaced most of the plugins with Quaderno which handles the EU VAT calculation at the checkout and follows EU invoicing requirements.
Gravity Flow is probably one of the most versatile plugins discussed on the site so far which, I imagine, makes marketing interesting. What has been your most successful marketing technique for Gravity Flow and what have you tried that was less successful?
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to convince people they need to automate their processes. They have to experience the pain themselves, and then when they’re ready, they start looking for solutions. Gravity Forms has such a large customer base that most customers find Gravity Flow via a search engine or a personal recommendation.
I sponsored some WordPress podcasts at the beginning which helped with general awareness and led to some positive press.
In terms of paid ads, we do a little retargeting, but that’s about it. We do run campaigns from time to time. For example, we recently promoted a free email course showing WordPress developers how to sell business process solutions to their customers. Of course, the daily emails were scheduled using Gravity Flow, and it generated a lot of leads.
Gravity Flow is not an impulse purchase, and I know from selling similar solutions in the past that the lead time for software like this can be around 6 months – this makes measuring the success of marketing campaigns tricky. We just have to keep reminding the potential customers we’re here and that the pain they’re experiencing with inefficient processes can be fixed with Gravity Flow.
We’ve published a series of articles, which you could call content marketing, but if the customer isn’t feeling the pain, they’re not going to find the articles anyway. I think of them as mainly for the benefit of existing customers – to educate them and hopefully spark more ideas for automating their processes. So they’re more about customer retention, and if they generate new sales, then that’s a bonus.
I’ve always positioned Gravity Flow as a product in its own right which happens to have WordPress, Gravity Forms and a web server as requirements. I’ve never thought of it as an add-on for Gravity Forms. So right from the beginning, I’ve had the ambitious goal of competing with the heavy-hitters outside the WordPress space. We’re still at the point where the majority of customers already have Gravity Forms installed before discovering Gravity Flow, but that’s changing as more and more customers discover Gravity Forms through Gravity Flow.
We’re also seeing more customers switch from their expensive big-brand solutions which require a team of developers just to get started. Marketing to these customers is challenging as the price of online ads for the BPM market is way out of our league. So we currently rely on our larger agency customers and partners to extend their service offerings beyond site development.
We also set up an affiliate system which helped enormously to get the word out from the beginning because we had customers who were keen to tell their stories.
Were you able to hit the right pricing for the plugin and its extensions or has that evolved over time through trial and error?
The prices haven’t changed since the launch, but I don’t think they’re right considering the value the software offers most organisations. Especially the extensions which were intended to be small additions but have turned into sophisticated products. In general, pricing is way too low for high-quality WordPress plugins. I’m optimistic though because plugin and theme developers are gradually increasing their prices to keep their businesses sustainable. Also, as more enterprise customers embrace WordPress, their expectations for higher quality products and services permits us to raise prices to meet them.
I’ve gone on a small run of talking to people making Gravity Forms plugins lately. As a full-time developer on Gravity Forms, what can you say are the best (and the worst) parts about building plugins to work alongside it?
The Gravity Forms Add-On Framework and APIs are powerful, robust, and well-documented. For example, if you want to build a payment gateway add-on, most of what you need is there already. You don’t need to be concerned with designing the database, the event system or the UI so you can get up and running quickly just by concentrating on the communication with the gateway’s API.
There’s also a strong commitment to backwards compatibility. This means that we sometimes have to move more slowly which can be frustrating. However, it does cause less disruption, and it pays off in the long-run through greater loyalty.
In the past, third-party add-on developers were left to their own devices with very little support, but we’re making an effort to have a much closer relationship – it feels somewhat like an extended team now. We have started opening up access to the Gravity Forms code repository, so all the major add-on developers now have access and are actively involved. Some are working on new projects with us, some are developing new features, some submit bug fixes or minor enhancements, and some just voice their opinions, but their contributions are always invaluable. They’ve become vital to the development process and success of the products. For me personally, it’s gratifying to see Gravity Flow code get moved into the Gravity Forms Add-On Framework so other developers can use it.
Lastly, the community of Gravity Forms users and developers is fantastic, and there’s always someone around to help.
Do you have any advice for people just beginning to think about building premium WordPress products?
I’ve only launched one premium WordPress product, so I’m hardly an expert, but I’m confident that some decisions I made did help contribute to its success.
I’m glad I allowed plenty of time for the beta period before launching – despite a lot of pressure to release the final version. It gave me time to discuss requirements in detail with a lot of customers, and it helped me get the important features right. It also helped me decide which features to postpone until after the launch. I’m incredibly grateful for all of their input and patience, and I enjoyed gaining their trust and support. In fact, I’m still genuinely pleased to hear from a lot of them when they get in touch again with a support issue.
Adding automated tests early on helped a lot, so I’d definitely recommend that to anyone starting out.
For me, sorting out the EU VAT collection was a personal challenge that I wanted to achieve, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone thinking of starting without a service that handles it for you. There are plenty of ways to accomplish it that don’t involve the headaches.
What should people be looking for from you, Gravity Flow and Gravity Forms itself in the near future?
I’ll continue to do what I love doing most – coding. I’ve enjoyed working with the brilliant team at Rocketgenius for about six years now, and I’m looking forward to the next six. Of course, Gravity Flow continues to grow so I can’t do everything on my own now, but I do have an exceptional team to help me with development, support and marketing.
The next 12 months will be phenomenal for the Gravity Forms ecosystem. Add-on developers are going to receive a significant a boost from some exciting new features in Gravity Forms and some ambitious community initiatives from Rocketgenius. It’s going to be great for customers and great for third-party add-on sales.
The primary focus for Gravity Flow is to continue to reach more organisations that are not currently using Gravity Forms.
We’ve just released the Gravity Flow WooCommerce Extension which adds e-commerce automation to orders, allowing payments, cancellations and refunds to be made at any point in any workflow. This brings an entirely new dimension to WooCommerce stores.
To make it as easy as possible for WooCommerce store owners to get started with workflow automation, we’re now including an official license for Gravity Forms at no additional charge along with the purchase of Gravity Flow and the WooCommerce Extension. It’s the first time this has been done so I’m really looking forward to seeing the results.