I’ve spoken to quite a few developers making plugins and add-ons for Gravity Forms this year. Few have been quite as ambitious as David Smith, part of the team at Gravity Wiz, the makers of the massive Gravity Perks plugin which offers over 29 improvements and features for Gravity Forms users.
David goes into his background with WordPress and his personal history with Gravity Forms and then talks about how Gravity Perks came about, what he and his partners have done to help market and promote the plugin and his thoughts on eschewing the traditional “freemium” model for something a bit different.
Let’s start with a bit of personal reflection. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you originally got involved with WordPress?
I started working with Rocketgenius as a contractor back in 2009. Gravity Forms was in its conception, and we were doing freelance work to fund its development. WordPress was the backbone of both of these projects.
What’s the history behind Gravity Wiz and the people behind it? Is it still just you and your brother and, if so, what’s that experience been like working with family?
After Gravity Forms launched, I began helping out on the support forums in my spare time. It really helped me learn the product and get a thorough understanding of its inner workings. This lead to writing a lot of snippets that provided functionality not yet available in the core plugin. These snippets began to convert into freelance gigs where users needed more advanced functionality or very specific features. During all of this, I thought it’d be helpful to better organize my snippets and make them more readily accessible. Thus, Gravity Wiz was born. Gravity Perks was soon to follow as I became a better developer and began tackling more advanced features, as well as polishing existing snippets into more robust solutions.
Gravity Wiz is currently a four person team: Jordan Smith (partner/handyman), Clay Griffiths (partner/developer), Rafael Ehlers (support) and me. Working with my brother is nice because of the absolute trust you get in that kind of relationship. It’s also been a good way to keep us close since we live in different states.
Your product, Gravity Perks, is probably one of the most thorough and ambitious plugins I’ve featured here so far. What was the inspiration and scope of Gravity Perks originally and how did it grow to have over 29 different pieces now?
The more free resources I put out via Gravity Wiz the more I began to realize that what I was making was really valuable and that if I wanted to keep pushing out more content, I really needed to figure out a way to monetize it. Gravity Perks was a natural extension of what I was already doing with Gravity Wiz.
It started out as a collection of 9 plugins (aka “perks”). These early perks were simple, single-purpose plugins. Since then, as Gravity Forms and its ecosystem have matured, Gravity Perks has matured along with it. The perks we’re releasing now are full-featured Gravity Forms add-ons. Development is slower but more advanced plugins also make Gravity Perks more future-proof.
Which perks have been the hardest to develop so far and why?
Gravity Forms Nested Forms is easily our most ambitious perk. The functionality is very complex and required a very intimate knowledge of how Gravity Forms works under the hood. It’s been very popular but given its complexity, it’s also required a lot more support than any of our previous perks. We’re pushing hard for the official 1.0 release, which will make it even better!
Gravity Forms Limit Submissions was another challenge. It’s based on one of our older snippets that we kept enhancing with features over the years. The challenge was not the functionality itself but creating a UI that was easy to use but also flexible enough to capture the complexity of what could be achieved via the snippet. I’m really happy with the final result!
In what ways does your day job with Rocketgenius impact what happens with Gravity Perks?
Working at Rocketgenius has been a huge boon to Gravity Perks. I spend virtually all of my working hours with Gravity Forms. This kind of intimacy with the codebase allows me develop perks for Gravity Forms very efficiently. It’s also great to be able to bounce ideas off of Carl and Alex (two of the Gravity Forms founders).
How do you go about marketing a plugin that, while obviously for users of Gravity Forms, offers so much variety that it must be difficult to pinpoint a target audience for?
Marketing is not a strength of mine, but… I’ve had one strategy from the beginning and that has been content marketing: free snippets, tutorials and even a few free plugins. When we release a new perk we try to write a few different how-to style articles highlighting features that people are searching for that the new perk can provide. Our focus is on marketing the individual perks rather than Gravity Perks itself.
You are not using the freemium model for Gravity Perks. If someone wants to try the plugin they must buy it first. How do you think that has impacted your sales in both positive and negative ways?
Haha, good question. I’ve heard mixed advice on this over the years. My instinct has always been that the freemium model would invite an undesirable support burden for our specific business. Gravity Forms is such a flexible product. There will always be a use-case we didn’t consider, a combination of add-ons/perks that we haven’t seen before, and consequently, issues that need to be addressed. We decided early on that we want to provide very high quality support, and the best way for us to do that as a small team was to only support paying customers.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone getting into WordPress plugin development that you didn’t know when you started yourself?
I think the most important thing is to be passionate about what you’re developing. It’s not easy to work on a plugin (or business) day in and day out. The initial excitement will fade and then it’s just a daily grind. There is pleasure in that grind, but I think that pleasure is derived from the underlying passion for the project.
To wrap this up, what’s next for you and Gravity Perks?
We are really excited for the rest of 2018! We updated our pricing model back in May to ensure we can remain a sustainable business for years to come. With that major internal project out of the way, we’re turning our focus to two things: optimizing support and developing new perks. The next perk you’ll be seeing from us is called Gravity Forms Populate Anything. It is a powerhouse plugin that will let you populate all sorts of data into your Gravity Forms!