Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
At first, I was doing collaborations with other designers as my main qualification is programming. After several successful partnerships with various designers, I’ve partnered with a great designer and we have launched a top-selling theme called Kallyas which generated sales of about $90.000 in the first month. At this point, the site builder solutions were at their early stages and we were one of the first theme developers to include a page builder into a WordPress theme.
After this success, I’ve worked full time on improving this theme and growing the business by hiring extra staff to help with the development and increase the quality of the support we provide for our customers.
Being a perfectionist by nature, I wanted to keep the high standards for the theme by making a first big update which included our first frontend page builder into our theme back in 2016, a page builder called Zion Builder.
After this, in 2018 we started the discussion for another big update for our themes and, after looking at the site builder solutions found on the market, we decided to build our own solution as none of the existing products matched our high standards ( quality of code, ease of use, high performance ). With this in mind, we’ve started working on our new and improved site builder for which we kept the name of Zion Builder and released it as a standalone plugin that anyone can use for free.
This decision seemed like the right decision for us as after we launched it, we got great feedback from our customers and we are confident that with time, it will be the go-to tool for most website creators since it has a strong base and we are constantly improving the product and it gets better and better with each update.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started programming when I was about 8 years old by copying code from a programming book into an HC 90 computer (it was the type of computer that read the code from a cassette tape). Since then I was hooked into the programming world and started to learn more and more about programming as new programming languages were introduced until I learned about web development ( PHP, JS, and CSS ).
When I was 20, I started to create developer frameworks for various CMS like WordPress and Joomla and this got me my first partnerships with other developers and designers ( I gave my code for free for anyone who asked for it ). After frameworks, I wanted to step up my programming skills and created one of the first page builders for WordPress and introduced it in our first big product called Kallyas. This was a time where most of the websites were very basic by having only a hero section, 3 text boxes, some additional images, and a footer.
Since then, it has been a roller coaster as I always wanted to improve the page/site-building experience for users while still maintaining a solid builder when it comes to performance. The problems I was facing were related to the tools I have chosen to build our product on (jQuery and Bootstrap) which, in time, became less popular in web development. This led me to search for an existing site builder solution that I can incorporate into our product. After several months of research and testing all the existing solutions, I had the idea to build our own site builder as none of the existing solutions checked all our boxes:
- Ease of use for end clients
- Overall performance
- Clean code output
It was the perfect time to put my skills to work and I've managed to create one of the fastest site builders for WordPress.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we first started to work on the new Zion Builder, we first made an idea document starting from the feedback we received from our existing customers. We even made a survey asking our community members about various aspects and expectations from a site builder so we can build the tool for them. After this, we looked at the existing solutions on the market and updated our document. This research included testing the products, looking at their client’s feedback, feature requests, and problems they have. I believe that the most important research is to look at the problems of the existing products so you know what to avoid and what to include.
After this first initial document, we started to work on the interface and UX and created several wireframes for various aspects of the product. This step involved long meetings and many hours spent at the whiteboard sketching various wireframes before taking all the ideas and adding them to a proper wireframing tool that we used to create the final designs and user experience solutions.
The third step was to make small proof of concepts for various features we wanted to incorporate into the product. For example, we now offer a unique tool for our clients to create unlimited layers of gradients and for this, we have created a special tool built into the builder. Some of the proof of concept remained just that, however, most of them made it into the builder.
Never give up on your idea. Even if your idea is just a small one, you should grow it until it becomes a fully working product.
Our final step was to make a clear calendar for the development and release of our product. This was the time where we needed to decide the features we will have at launch and the features we will add with updates. In the end, this calendar suffered many modifications as we always got new ideas that would make our product more unique and we had to change the planning before launching so we can release a product that offers great and unique features.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our launch strategy was made in a rush as we were already working on the product for about two years. We created our product website, we decided on the pricing model and marketing strategy. Since it was a new product and we had some features that we still haven’t implemented, we decided to keep a low profile until we fully update the product with all the features our customers would want. In the end, it is hard to say if this rush was a success or a failure. It mainly depends on how you look at the results. If you are looking at the product, with an early release we have gathered great feedback from our users and we had time to shape our updates based on our client's requests.
Since we are also the owners of Kallyas, we had the finances to market the product, however, we wanted to be honest with our users and didn’t put much money in the marketing campaign until we fully updated the builder so it could be a real alternative to the existing solutions.
After a year, I believe that our strategy could have been better in terms of marketing and pricing model. As a new product, I now believe that it is best to have a pricing model based on the existing product features rather than having a price based on the features you want to include in the end.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
After this, we went in the direction of growing a community by creating our very own Facebook community where I can talk directly with our users. This seemed like the best strategy so far as I can get valuable feedback from users while learning their needs and expectations from us.
The third step was to get our product on App Sumo. This was the time to increase the builder visibility as at this time, we already implemented many new and unique features into our product and were mature enough to be used on live websites. This was the best decision as it brought us many customers, increased our Facebook community, and most importantly, we received valuable feedback that now helps us to further improve our product.
The downside to the App Sumo launch was the fact that we already sold many licenses directly on our website at a higher price and we now have to come up with extra benefits for our existing customers. We decided on the final deal price after talking on the Facebook community with our existing customers and I am very grateful for having such a beautiful and involved community.
The final step we took to retain our customers was to launch a feedback tool that our users can use to add their ideas and vote on them so we could have a clear vision about what we need to improve and prioritize the new features we build into the product.
After this experience, I believe that the most important thing anyone can do is to get involved and talk directly to their customers. In the end, a happy customer can bring you to add new users and also learn more about their expectations for your product so you can improve it.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The first time we got profitable was after the AppSumo campaign. We started this campaign by offering just 1000 licenses as after we’ve done some math this number of licenses will help us to hire additional programmers so we can add more value to our product and increase the marketing budget.
Try to work on the ideas that you relate to and enjoy working on.
At this moment, we have two channels where we sell Zion Builder ( our website and App Sumo ), however, after the campaign ends, it will only be available on our website so by the time it ends, we need to improve our marketing game.
Our short-term goal is to update our product and add all the features that our competitors already added in years of development while our long-term goal is to provide a tool that can be used by all users with joy. As an example, even if we just launched, we are already working on a big update that will incorporate most of our user's feedback in terms of UX and UI.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
During all these years, there were many challenges that I had to overcome. In the end, it is my job to learn from every mistake and prevent it from happening again. The hardest thing to do is to provide clear milestones for the features I want to include in the product. This is because I usually work many hours a day and I believe that I can incorporate a lot of new features in each update. With time, I realized that even if I work many hours for the features I already set a milestone for, there will always be new features or bugs that can mess with the planning.
As a funny story, after releasing Zion Builder, my wife started to send me away from home so I can take a break from the computer (little does she know that I take this time off the computer to answer to our Facebook community from my phone even if I am at a bar with my friends).
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Email marketing: Mailchimp
Feedback platform: Frill
Other platforms and tools:
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Personally, I am the type of person who prefers movies. In terms of books, I mostly read self-improvement books and I believe that the last book I've fully read was a book called How to win friends and influence people. I believe that this book opened my eyes when it comes to talking with people in general (co-workers, clients, friends, and even my wife).
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The biggest advice I can give you is to never give up on your idea. Even if your idea is just a small one, you should grow it until it becomes a fully working product.
I am talking with a lot of people about their ideas, however, many of them see the roadblocks it can bring instead of seeing the benefits.
Another tip I can give you is to try to work on the ideas that you relate to and enjoy working on. In my case, since I liked programming so much, all my ideas are related to tools and services that can be made with code. It is now a pleasure to work on them even if it means I have to spend many hours in front of a computer.
Additionally, if you launch your product, you should listen to your users as they will bring you valuable information on how you can improve your product.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At the moment we are looking to hire additional programmers that can implement the features our clients request over at our feedback platform. If you’re interested in joining our team and you think that you are up for the challenge, you can contact us at this link.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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