Anyone who has ever done freelance WordPress work for clients is familiar with the issues surrounding deployment of updates. It can be a constant struggle to FTP files and keep everything in order. This process can be all the more frustrating if you use source control to manage your plugin and theme development but still use basic file transfer to keep your updates and changes in sync with a live WordPress site.
Peter Suhm developed WP Pusher, his solution for deploying plugins and themes via Git repositories, out of the need to solve the very problem I just described. His plugin takes the fuss out of deployment by offering a one-click solution for keeping your production setup in line with your code updates as they are pushed live to to source control.
Peter took some time to answer my questions about the plugin’s interesting launch, the uniqueness of his customers and his plans moving forward for the plugin.
As a developer myself, WP Pusher really solves an obvious pain point. Did you initially start building it to use for yourself or did you see a potential market for it immediately?
Initially, I built it for myself. I was out of WordPress development for a while, working mainly with Ruby on Rails and Laravel PHP framework. I was still maintaining a few old WordPress projects and every time I had to make any changes to the code bases, I had to deal with FTP and all the other legacy that still exists around WordPress development. No one has seen an FTP editor in the rest of the PHP world for a decade! In the Ruby world, no one even knows what it is… While working on it, I tried to be very vocal about it on Twitter and it became obvious to me that I wasn’t the only one who hated FTP.
WP Pusher is no longer on the WordPress.org plugin directory after it was removed by administrators there. So many plugin developers rely on the directory to get their first users and to funnel them towards pro versions that I imagine the delisting was a huge downer at the time. What was your initial reaction to being delisted and were you ever given a specific reason as to why? What were the immediate effects to your business at the time?
I’ve gotten several different explanations from the WordPress.org team. Some say it’s against their terms, other says it’s competition. They want you to install plugins and themes from WordPress.org – not GitHub. Even though WP Pusher is intended to install plugins and themes that are private client projects, you can install anything that’s on GitHub which is quite neat.
At the time I wouldn’t call WP Pusher a business, it was 5 days after I launched the first version of the plugin. I think it’s been both a blessing and a curse. I’ve had to rely on traction from content marketing, PR and search engines, but at the same time I haven’t had to deal with the support burden of free users from WordPress.org.
Speaking of the free version, you have written in the past about maybe dumping the free version of WP Pusher. The one reason that caught my eye immediately was the idea that maybe your free version was just too good which is a feeling I’m sure many plugin developers share. Do you still feel that way today or has your attitude changed?
I feel very good about the business model behind WP Pusher today. It’s changed a bit over the lifespan of the plugin with all the feedback I’ve gotten from customers. I try to make you pay more the more “commercial” you are. So if you only have public stuff, you’re probably not an agency. If you have 200 private repositories, WP Pusher is probably saving you a ton of money and you are happy to pay more.
One of the main reasons I wanted to reach out to you was to talk about what it’s like developing a product that is geared towards more technical users than most plugins on the market. How difficult has it been to market and promote a plugin like WP Pusher that is targeted towards professionals and agencies and not the general consumer building a brochure WordPress website for example?
The best thing about running WP Pusher is how technical my users are. If I get a support ticket it’s most probably because I didn’t do a good enough job. Most of my users are very technical and professional, so when they have an issue they usually send me very detailed bug reports. That is obviously making my life a lot easier.
In my marketing it’s always been a challenge to figure out how technical to be. It’s very different to sell to a developer working at an agency than to a non-technical owner of the same agency. So it’s important to know who you are targeting. With many of my customers paying hundreds of dollars a year I can obviously spent more time having conversations before and after they decide to purchase. That helps as well.
Support is a such a huge part of plugin creation and I feel a lot of the trouble dealing with customers is built around that customer’s basic background and understanding of how WordPress functions. Do you find supporting WP Pusher easier or harder because your customers are technically proficient and development oriented?
I love my customers because most of them are nerds like myself. Support has never been a big issue of running WP Pusher. Marketing is definitely what I (should) spent most time on, since I’m not listed in the directory. Technical customers are great for support, because they are used to describing technical issues and often will fix the issue themselves and just attach a patch to their bug report. That’s something I really appreciate.
I would assume offering pricing plans for agencies, who have larger budgets than most plugin buyers, allows you to charge a comfortably higher price than many plugin developers can. What was the process like for finding just the right price for WP Pusher?
In the beginning I just had 2 plans and they didn’t make a lot of sense. A lot of people were complaining that it was too confusing. So I’ve actually just tried to keep it simple. Since moving to the tiered pricing I have now, I have never had an unlimited plan. I’ve always kept a cap on the amount of sites you could install the plugin on. Adding new tiers has mainly been a growing issues when customers outgrew their licenses, running WP Pusher on hundreds of client sites. So it’s actually been a very organic process.
What’s the future hold for WP Pusher now that it’s established and running smoothly?
That’s a very good question. WP Pusher is one of those products where ideally people forget that they use it. You know, it just sort of runs in the background doing its thing. I feel like the product is pretty feature complete, but I still have a ton of ideas… We’ll see how many make it into the product. There’s quite a bit of maintenance keeping up-to-date with APIs, web hosts and WordPress core. As Git becomes more and more popular among WordPress developers, I expect the plugin to keep growing. The more users, the more feedback I get and the more new ideas I get for where to go with the product.