JetSloth’s Blaz Robar Talks About Selling Gravity Forms Plugins

JetSloth

My focus on Gravity Forms continues here again on the site.

This time we’re talking to Blaz Robar, from JetSloth, who makes Gravity Forms plugins for WordPress designed to help improve the end-user experience and make the mundane tasks of maintaining and editing forms faster and easier.

Blaz talks to me about how JetSloth got started (and how they chose that name), how the ideas for all of their plugins came about, building a Gravity Forms-focused business, the ups and downs of their marketing and more.

This clocks in as one of the longest interviews here on The Plugin Economy so I want to thank Blaz for taking all of this time to answer my questions so thoroughly.


First things first, how did you get started building WordPress plugins and how did you choose the name JetSloth?

Like any good startup, our first plugin, Bulk Actions for Gravity Forms, came about when we were working on a client website. We had developed a custom WordPress theme for their site, which was a finance portal of sorts. They had a number of Gravity Forms, each with a tonne of sections and fields, as you can imagine.

Every time the client came back with updates to the form, you can probably imagine how painstaking editing dozens of fields per form was. As much as we love Gravity Forms, there was just no quick way to bulk edit fields within the default form editor.

We needed to move entire sections or groups of fields around the form, and doing this one field at a time took hours! So after the first couple of rounds my co-founder and I whipped up a Javascript snippet, copy-pasted it direct into the developer console in Chrome and tested our little hack out.

Not only did it work super well, it saved us a stack of time on the project. From that little code snippet we wrote, we knew other Gravity Forms users around the world could do with this gem, and just like that JetSloth was born!

We still have that code snippet saved on our computer today! We obviously built upon that initial hack, rewrote it into a proper Gravity Forms addon, and Bulk Actions for Gravity Forms has grown with even more functionality. It’s still one of our favorite plugins we’ve released to date!

JetSloth the name? Well no amazing story here. It was actually a fairly clinical process. We knew we wanted something interesting and left of center. It probably only took a couple of hours over lunch to come up with it.

We knew wanted to use some kind of animal in the name, so that we could include that in our logo mark or as a mascot for the brand.

We Googled interesting animals and fairly quickly realised, who doesn’t love Sloths? More importantly, they related to our personalities perfectly!

We loved the idea of playing with words and juxtapositioning something slow like a Sloth, with something all about speed, a Jet. Hence, JetSloth was our new brand name. The domain was available, the brand had its first product, and a great name we all loved.

We’ve been collecting Sloth toys ever since!

Can you go over your plugins and tell me how they came about and any of the unique development challenges you encountered while building them?

Our product development process is super exciting. It’s a creative space for us to come up with new ideas and prototype them. Most of our plugins focus on how to improve the front end user experience of Gravity Forms. Take Image Choices and Collapsible Sections for example. These plugins both simply came about with us wanting this functionality for ourselves when working with Gravity Forms, to improve how users interact with forms and making it easy for clients to manage.

JetSloth Screenshot: Image Choices
Gravity Forms Image Choices

Image Choices

We’re pretty certain anyone that’s needed to have images in their Gravity Forms radio buttons or checkboxes has just had to enter the raw HTML markup for the image into the field or choices labels (and many still do!). That’s exactly what we were doing for a long time. We’d use them in survey forms, competition entry, product forms and others, all easily built and managed with Gravity Forms except for those images.

Most clients don’t know or want to be digging up absolute URLs to images, editing HTML etc. and so invariably they end up continuing to ask us to make the updates. This pain point inspired us to look at how we could add some UI within the form editor to easily manage these images. So we put together a basic prototype to see what we could do, and Image Choices was born.

It’s super easy now. With the addon installed, you enable images on a radio button or checkbox field and each choice has a Media Library button for uploading/attaching an image. The default styling of the image choices is pretty simple, but with an area in the form settings for custom CSS and some examples on our site, users can style them in almost any way.

JetSloth Screenshot: Collapsible Sections
Gravity Forms Collapsible Sections

Collapsible Sections

Dealing with large forms a lot, and wanting to improve the end users’ experience completing the forms, again drove us to create our most recent addon. We’d often use Section fields to break up large forms and group relevant fields together. We’d also use the accordion UI in website/theme builds several times (outside of forms) to organise groups of content. So much like we’d done with the others, we started by hacking together some Javascript and played with collapsing the fields in Gravity Forms sections. It worked well, and in a matter of hours we had our next plugin, Collapsible Sections.

Adding them to forms is simple. With the plugin installed, any Section field in your form can be set as collapsible. Just as with Image Choices, the default styling is quite basic, but we provide a settings page with an area for custom CSS allowing users to style them in their own way – eg to match their WordPress theme. Our site again has some example of what can be achieved.

Since you deal in Gravity Forms plugins, what are the biggest advantages and disadvantages that come with producing products that rely on a third-party’s software?

Great question. To be clear, we don’t exclusively only release add-ons for Gravity Forms, we’ve got another 2 plugins available (not yet live on the website) that are for other plugins such as WooCommerce and another which works within the WordPress dashboard.

We’ve unintentionally released four plugins now all focused on Gravity Forms, purely to the fact we work with the plugin a lot ourselves in our web design agency. Spending so much time within Gravity Forms I think just naturally gets us in the creative space and how to improve on the plugin.

Growing our customer base into new add-ons for other large plugins such as WooCommerce is definitely something we are trying to do. However ultimately, we’d love to one day release a stand alone plugin that doesn’t rely on another 3rd Party plugin, something we can truly call our own.

Thinking back on it now, I actually think it’s been an immensely positive business decision, only focusing add-ons for Gravity Forms. This was purely accidental but the benefits have been apart of our huge growth over the past year.

By keeping our products focused on Gravity Forms, we’ve seen the following:

  • We’re unintentionally becoming a Gravity Forms Add-on specialists, while this is a very small niche, we’re finding our customers are very loyal, compared to offering add-ons across multiple 3rd party plugins.
  • Our plugins rank fairly easily in google for the specific problem our products target
  • We can fairly easily leverage the current Gravity Forms social media audience
  • The other 3rd party add-on developers are all super great people so we find each other all working together which is super cool
  • We were quite quickly able to offer a Gravity Forms add-on bundle as all the plugins were relevant to Gravity Forms, making for a great product bundle at low price and great value

How do you go about marketing your plugins and what techniques have proven to be the most successful for you?

No surprises but our marketing is not great. We run all the typical channels, such as:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Blog
  • Newsletter

All of which have not yielded amazing results over time but we still feel it’s something worth doing for our growing community. Hands down the two best marketing solutions we have are organic search results and affiliate marketing.

SEO

Our add-ons are very niche and serve a purpose, so unless you’re looking for that solution within Google, chances are you wont come across our site. This is good and bad.

JetSloth Screenshot: Bulk Actions
Bulk Actions for Gravity Forms

The good thing is, something like Bulk Actions for Gravity Forms, for us ranked really well. We spent a little time making sure that page would rank well for terms related to the problem the plugin addressed. Thankfully, those search terms had no competition and we snapped that search up fairly quickly, giving us our initial sales. The ranking efforts from that point on seem to also have helped the overall site and now ranking new products is slightly easier.

The conversion rate of organic traffic is also great. We’d like to think that this is due to a mixture of great landing pages and the product meeting the customers needs.

Affiliate Marketing

We recently joined with another website who now sends us traffic as an affiliate. They run a Gravity Forms related blog and this partnership has been amazing for the growth of our business. Their website ranks really well for Gravity Forms related searches so leveraging their traffic has increased sales overall by double. This is a great partnership and whilst we pay out a percentage of the sale to the affiliate, it’s 100% worth it’s weight in gold.

The traffic they send us is quality traffic as their blog is a great source of learning so the conversion rate is extremely high.

Marketing We Should Be Doing Better

Blogging

Our user base is predominantly a DIY WordPress user base so we could be doing more “How To” type articles to help get user traction across the site and on social. We also see increases of traffic and sales when other blogs write about our plugins so this is something we need to be encouraging, reaching out to other blogs and offering guest posts.

Newsletters

We’ve got a decent newsletter list but have been very inactive about sending to them. We only send to them for product updates or new product releases.

Videos

Videos are a great way to showcase how our plugins work and the amazing things you can do with them. We need to produce more videos and get them into the social-sphere!

Viral/Brand Marketing

Something we’re doing this year is being really creative with our brand and marketing strategies. We’re looking to build tools and resources that bring in viral traffic but also have fun with the brand. A much softer approach which we hope turns into sales.

We’ve prototyped and built “Pimp my Sloth” as a fun way to engage a bigger audience and grow our brand awareness. Something that probably won’t generate huge amounts of sales but still a fun expense that no other plugin developers are doing in the space.

It allows you to pimp your sloth and share it with the world on social media. Again, more of a brand exercise than a sales one.

JetSloth: A Pocket Guide to Gravity Forms

We’ve also started on a pocket guide for Gravity Forms to help users with tips and ideas on how to use Gravity Forms to its fullest. More of a content marketing approach and SEO.

Do you have one piece of advice to offer to developers who are thinking about building and selling their own WordPress plugins?

Easy, start today. It’s been a slow burn but the journey has been so amazing and immensely gratifying. We’re not only building our customer base but building a community of people that love what we do.

The biggest reward for us however has been building a brand that we love. JetSloth is more than just an add-on shop for us. The brand sums us up to a tee: innovative and fun. We’re not limited to a big corporate style guide or brand guidelines. Our guidelines are simple, innovate as much as we can, and above all else, have a great time doing it.

Being a two man team with NO red tape in our business allows us to be us and enjoy what we do, resulting in great products and a brand we hope people can relate to.

The financial rewards that come with that mindset just prove to us we’re doing it right. It gives us the freedom to continue growing the business, in the timeframe, and direction we want.

Don’t just build a product, build a brand, build an experience… and most importantly, do it differently to everyone else. Take risks, push boundaries, say things you’re not meant to, market in ways no one else does.

Be bold and customers will find you.

What’s coming next for you and for JetSloth? New plugins, updates or products not related to Gravity Forms at all?

The main focus for this year will be releasing a new add-on we’ve prototyped for Gravity Forms, then going back and updating our sales website, and pricing model.

There’s a lot involved to ship a new product. Product development, testing, refinement, sales page creation, marketing copy, videos, artwork etc. This takes up a lot of man hours.

We’ve grown the site to a point where we feel we owe it to ourselves to step-up the sales experience online. We launched the sales website with one product in mind and we’ve now outgrown that site. So we need to redevelop a sales experience to match the brand we’ve built. Fun and exciting but a huge job to complete.

We’ve also got a couple of ideas to help with marketing of the brand, which we hope will go viral and help with reaching a broader audience. These ideas are super fun and we can’t wait to launch them around the middle of the year!