Meta Box by Tran Ngoc Tuan Anh

Meta Box

Meta Box is simple on the surface: it lets WordPress users and developers quickly construct custom meta boxes and fields. There are other plugins on the market that do the same thing but Meta Box is interesting to me because of its large install base, variety of premium extensions and it’s Vietnamese developer.

Tran Ngoc Tuan Anh, from Hanoi, is the man behind Meta Box and he was very kind enough to sit down and answer my questions about his successful plugin. We talk about pricing in bundles, how his customers help inform him on matters ranging from pricing to which extension he should build next and more.

Can you tell me how Meta Box development started?

I started to develop Meta Box as a solution for my personal needs. Then I share it on my blog. And it turned out so many developers needed that. I kept improving the code for years and adding more features requested from user feedback. After a year, I put the script on and it had a great boost. People discover the plugin easier and thus, I have more work to do. All was free until 2014 (3 years later). That was when I decided to create something interesting for the plugin and premium extensions were born. And now we have! You can read the whole store on our About page.

What things have you done to help get Meta Box to over 200,000 installs?

I think there are 2 things that have made Meta Box popular:

  1. It’s the right solution at right time. When Meta Box was born, there was no such quick tool for developers to create custom fields for WordPress. Meta Box solves that problem, and developers love it.
  2. Focus on code quality. As the plugin is for developers, coding quality is a top priority. We keep improving the plugin day by day, making sure it has no bugs and just works.

I also receive a lot of feedback and contributions from users and that’s a big reason why the plugin is loved by them.

Meta Box Screenshot

On the flip side of that, what are some promotional and marketing techniques you’ve tried with Meta Box that didn’t work out so well?

I actually don’t do much marketing. I tried guest posting, and building a mailing list but none of them worked well. It’s still a tough question for me.

You offer extensions for Meta Box individually and in bundles. How did you come to that combination of sales techniques? Do you find people buy bundles or single extensions more often?

Selling in bundles is a common technique in the WordPress community. I learned it from Easy Digital Downloads, one of the most popular plugins for WordPress. Bundles work quite well for us. Developers love bundles, because they offer more functionality, especially the Developer Bundle and Lifetime Bundle which give them all the extensions and features.

Where do the ideas for the extensions come from? How long does the average extension take to develop?

It comes from users and our daily work with WordPress. Sometimes we take ideas from other plugins. Sometimes they came from a talk with other developers or from a forum chat. We keep our eyes open everywhere and catch all the ideas, as many as possible. We put all of them in a list and decide which will be developed first.

The time for developing an extension depends on the features. Some take only a few days (like the Columns extension), but some take months (like Conditional Logic or Builder). It varies. And it’s worth mentioning that not all ideas are feasible. Some of them have technical issues that we can’t solve in the current situation with WordPress.

How difficult it is to price each extension? Do you do any kind of research before hand or is it just done through trial and error to see what price people react to the best?

It’s a tough question. I priced extensions low at first, just to see if people really want them. Then I got some feedback from my customers saying that the price is too low. Only until then, I did some research on pricing, searched for other WordPress plugins to see how they do pricing. Then I decided to increase the price as it is now.

Meta Box Screenshot

What do you wish someone had told you before you started working on Meta Box?

I wish I knew these things:

  • Creating website earlier. All Meta Box extensions had 1 or 2 years at my personal blog. Moving to its own domain is one of the best thing I’ve done.
  • Making premium extensions earlier. I started developing premium extensions quite late, even when Meta Box was popular. I wish I could do it from the beginning.

What’s coming in the future for Meta Box?

We’re working so hard to release more extensions for Meta Box. We’ll be developing interesting features that can make developers’ lives easier. While doing that we hope to improve our code base to make it more lightweight and more structural. That’s all on my mind for now.