Jamie Madden has been involved in the WordPress community for a long time now. He’s been involved in many WordPress-related projects but he’s here today to talk to me about his plugin called WC Vendors. With WC Vendors, WooCommerce owners can turn their sites into multivendor selling platforms. This means anyone can build their own marketplace online using WordPress. There’s an online demo of WC Vendors available for anyone who wants to check out the plugin for themselves.
Can you tell me a bit about your personal background and how you got started in the WordPress community?
Sure! I’ve been in and around tech since the late ’90s. I’ve worked as a systems administrator, programmer and a bunch of other tech roles over the years. I have always tinkered with open-source software. I managed online communities and online radio stations in the early 2000s. We used PHPNuke, phpBB and b2evolution to name a few of the platforms I setup and configured.
As you know, b2Evolution was where Matt Mullenweg got his start with WordPress. I came across a couple of posts from Matt and started following the development of WordPress. I built personal blogs with the early systems while still tinkering with other solutions. I started using WordPress for my commercial clients around version 1.5. My buddy and I wrote a plugin called DJCorner to manage DJ/Music producers websites about 13 or 14 years ago.
WordPress became my platform for building client sites and have continued to this day.
How would you best describe what WC Vendors does to someone who has never heard of the plugin before?
WC Vendors transforms your WooCommerce store into a multivendor selling platform. It’s an entire business in a box. You can set up a self-hosted dedicated marketplace. People can then register to sell their products on your marketplace while you take a commission of every sale. It provides the ability for you to build your own Amazon, Etsy, AliExpress or eBay. You can configure it to sell any kind of product from physical goods to digital downloads, services and bookings.
WC Vendors provides a complete integrated front end dashboard for vendors so they can manage their products, coupons, orders and settings without the need to access the WordPress admin area. By providing an integrated user interface it reduces the time to onboard vendors and gets them selling sooner.
The plugin has been battle-tested for over five years now by thousands of marketplaces and we continue to develop and evolve the product every week.
People have used WC Vendors to build all kinds of marketplaces including a sports memorabilia auction house, second-hand book shops, cooking class, coupon sites, music stores and art galleries to name a few.
What sparked the idea for WC Vendors and how long did it take to go from that initial concept to a function product people were able to download?
Just like WooCommerce, WC Vendors is a fork of another plugin. It was a paid plugin called Product Vendors by developer Matt Gates. I was using his product for a client project, to build a fashion eBay site, when he stopped developing the product. I had been working with the product for about 9 months by this stage and had created a fork with all the fixes and new features that I wanted. I and another user Ben were answering questions in his support forums for six of those nine months when we decided to make it official and fork the project. From the decision to fork, to releasing our new plugin for free, was about two months. That was in July of 2014. We made the transition for existing users seamless so they could continue to operate their marketplaces. Due to health issues, Ben left the project.
Was there anything especially difficult to develop for WC Vendors in terms of the base plugin or any of its add-ons? Why was it more difficult than other features to develop?
The biggest challenge was building the initial pro plugin. A six month time frame was chosen to get the premium plugin completed. I was still working a full-time job while developing the plugin. I worked nights and weekends non stop until the launch day on October 1st, 2015.
The biggest challenge when building the plugin was the front end dashboard. From day one I wanted to create a dashboard that fit seamlessly into the user’s existing theme. I have a bachelors degree that had a major UI/UX focus which has forced me to think about how people use interfaces. Creating an experience that doesn’t look like the rest of the site breaks ease of use. This has been an ongoing challenge as themes and techniques change. How do you build a front end dashboard that works with every theme? The short answer is you can’t, but you can get close. Which is what I was able to achieve.
The pricing for WC Vendors seems to cover all of the common approaches: yearly bundles, individual extensions and even a “lifetime” license. How much experimenting have you done with pricing and what did you try in the past that didn’t work and led you to your current setup?
I haven’t done much experimenting yet because when you change a pricing structure there are a lot of various aspects that need to be considered. From the user value side of things, to how we charge, change and license the products.
I only introduced the lifetime license as a way to get our recurring customers to upgrade and say thank you so they wouldn’t have to keep paying every year. Lifetime licenses can be tricky which is why for the first three years of our paid products we only offered the annual, single site licenses.
We will begin experimenting with multi-site licensing options as we are getting more and more requests from agencies for this. We are also looking at creating an all you can eat bundle in the new year.
What kind of marketing effort have you put into WC Vendors? What has proven the most successful and the least successful?
To be honest, we haven’t done much marketing at all. We have sponsored a couple of WordPress/WordCamp events. We mostly use email marketing for sending out updates and promotions.
I participate in WordPress meetups and WordCamps around the world. I give talks related to WordPress, WooCommerce and marketplaces. I’m also a co-organizer of our local WordPress meetup Saigon WordPress here in Vietnam.
The big focus for the next six to twelve months is to work heavily in the area of content marketing focusing on building educational content for our users. We want them to succeed in all aspects of their marketplace business. We are starting to use some marketing automation tools and digging into our data with the help of tools like Metorik.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to anyone interested in developing their own plugins for WordPress? I’m specifically interested in advice you have for people working in the WooCommerce ecosystem.
Automate your testing and support systems. You can build an amazing plugin but if you can’t automate your tests then you won’t be able to scale. Providing great customer support is one of the most important things you can do once you’ve launched your plugin. If you take days or weeks to answer queries from your users it’ll drive them away quickly.
When it comes to building integrations with WooCommerce, follow the WordPress coding standards and testing standards. Integrate your tests with WooCommerce and pay attention to all the changelogs and announcements from the WooCommerce core team. Idle in the WooCommerce Slack so you can get a better understanding of the product and help out when you can by answering questions from other users.
Along that theme, what are your thoughts on the WooCommerce ecosystem in general right now? Do you see enough opportunity for small plugin developers?
The WooCommerce ecosystem is huge. There are millions of websites running Woo. There are solutions already out there that could be better and there are solutions that don’t even exist yet. There is plenty of opportunities for small developers to solve interesting problems. The best plugins are plugins that solve a problem that a lot of people experience. If they need an idea just trawl through the WooCommerce ideas board or participate on Slack and forums. You’ll see people asking the same questions and that’s an in for a possible plugin that needs to be developed.
What can we expect from you and from WC Vendors in the future?
We’re currently working on a big consolidation and update project for our free and paid core plugins. We have 5+ years of technical debt we’d like to clean up if we can. We will be focusing on creating a more seamless integrated dashboard between the two products. Providing more business tools for marketplace owners and vendors alike. I believe that running the marketplace is only part of the puzzle. Building more integrations with marketing tools, tax systems, shipping systems and payment gateways is how we can solve more problems for our users.
We will also be launching a marketplace next year for other developers to sell their plugins and themes. That’ll include an integrated update and license system, support tools and more.
I built a license server that we have been using internally for a couple of years that’s also being released. It is getting the finishing touches required to make it available for sale. This will be launched in the coming weeks as an independent product from my parent company. You can sign up to hear about the release over at https://licenseserver.io.
I’ll also continue to attend meetups/WordCamps and help out online when I can. Thanks for reading.