A quick look through the WordPress developer interviews I’ve done so far here will show that I’ve talked to lot of people building plugins for WooCommerce. That trend is going to continue today as I talk to another developer who has started a successful business built on extending WooCommerce’s core functionality through plugins.
Iconic offers quite a few plugins designed to improve WooCommerce-powered store fronts. These plugins were initially on sale through CodeCanyon but are now available on the company’s official website only. This switch to independent sales is another popular trend I’m noticing more and more with WordPress plugin developers.
The founder of Iconic, James Kemp, answered my questions about how he got started building WooCommerce plugins, what his switch away from Envato’s CodeCanyon was like and the hazards (and advantages) of building a plugin business reliant on a third-party product.
Can you give me a quick rundown on how you got started with WordPress and the background on how Iconic began as a business?
Back in 2009 I started my first web design job with a local company. It was here that I was introduced to WordPress and I soon became one of the companies WordPress experts.
The company had only just adopted using WordPress, and it was often bolted onto Magento sites. It was at this point where I started experimenting with plugins.
I created a free plugin called Magento WordPress Integration which allowed you to grab blocks from your Magento store and use/display them in your WordPress theme.
As the plugin grew in popularity, I started to release some premium add ons for it.
After parting ways with the company, my focusses turned more towards WooCommerce. I sold the Magento based plugins to another company through Flippa (they seem to have stopped developing it now, which is shame).
In 2011, I released my first WooCommerce plugin, WooThumbs, on CodeCanyon. The plugin came about after one of my clients requested the functionality. It was the first plugin in the WooCommerce space that allowed you to add multiple images to a variation. WooThumbs is still going strong as one of my most popular plugins, and also now allows you to customise you product image gallery, embed media, and more.
Since then I’ve released a number of other plugins for WooCommerce, with my most popular being WooCommerce Show Single Variations; a plugin that allows you to show your product variations on the WooCommerce shop page.
You were a long time CodeCanyon author but have now transitioned away from that marketplace to sell plugins on your own. What was the main factor in that move?
That’s right. I was an elite author on CodeCanyon, with a combined rating of 4.5/5.
I wanted to focus on my plugins full-time, and CodeCanyon restricted me in terms of knowing who my customers were, offering ongoing support, and offering yearly licences so i could afford to keep developing updates for the plugins.
In order to take Iconic to the next level, I needed to make the move. I found Freemius and started the transition.
On that note, what were some of the most difficult parts of the transition away from CodeCanyon? Are there any specific steps you took that were very smart in hindsight?
I had a few concerns about moving away, and it took me a while to take the leap.
- I will lose the audience that CodeCanyon brings in.
- My existing customers may be annoyed about the pricing changes (yearly licences).
- My existing customers may become confused about how to update the plugin they purchased.
In order to combat these potential issues I updated all of my CodeCanyon plugins to run a version of Freemius that did not require a licence.
This version also had a notice on the settings screen informing uses that I would be moving away from Envato and they should go to my website to generate a licence key based on their Envato purchase code.
The licence generator also gave them an additional 6 months of support and updates after their original expiry date, as well as a link to the full Freemius version of the plugin with licence requirements.
This gave me the opportunity the transition customers over before turning the plugins off on Envato.
During this time I was still selling on Envato as a non-exclusive author, so for any sales I was getting on Envato, I would only receive 30% of the transaction. I had to get switched over ASAP.
It took me a while to finally disable the Envato plugins, but I was convinced to do so once I asked Envato if I could “soft-disable” them. Should anything go wrong, I could just turn them back on again on CodeCanyon.
I’ve talked to a lot of WordPress developers who are building plugins for WooCommerce. What are the pros and cons of building products that rely on a third-party to exist?
The main pros are:
- You know there’s a huge audience of people who would potentially be viable customers from the get-go.
- There will likely be forums where people are struggling with an issue that you can solve.
- You can release using the freemium model. This way you can reach a large audience immediately with your free version (I don’t currently do this).
But, there are also a number of cons:
- If the third-party release large code updates, then all of your plugins have to be brought up to date to ensure compatibility.
- There are an unlimited different number of setups available; different plugins, themes, servers, etc. Your plugin has to work as well as possible in all scenarios; something you wouldn’t face with a SaaS business.
- The third-party could release an update incorporating your functionality, writing your plugin off.
How do you come up with ideas for what plugin to make next for WooCommerce?
Originally, most of my plugins were built to solve the needs of my clients when I was a freelance web developer.
These days I keep my ear to the ground and decide which plugins to build next based on existing pain points, and customer feedback.
Have you tried anything in terms of marketing that has been successful that you would be willing to share?
I have two main sources of marketing: SEO and content marketing.
I’m constantly evolving my product pages. Just recently I made sure they all had proper schema, incorporating ratings, reviews, and product data.
Content marketing is something I’m still experimenting with. Right now, most of my content is targeted towards developers, but it will begin to shift more towards store owners, as they are more my target customer.
What’s in the future for yourself and Iconic?
My plan is to keep building new plugins, and to keep adding features to my existing plugins.
Communicating with my existing customers is key. As long as they’re happy, then I’ll be able to stay in business.
I’d love to eventually hire another developer, or perhaps a marketing expert.