Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, everyone! My name is Maarten, and I am the founder of Studio Wombat, where I create and sell WooCommerce plugins. WooCommerce is a platform that turns any WordPress-powered site into an e-commerce shop.
My customers are predominantly e-commerce store builders, whether they are individuals or agencies, who use WordPress as their platform of choice.
While WooCommerce is great, it can’t do everything. That’s where I come in: I create plugins that enhance a store with various features WooCommerce doesn’t offer out of the box.
I currently sell 5 different plugins, but I intend to create more. Each plugin costs about USD 49 per year.
I started this company in August 2017, mainly as a side project to challenge my own development skills. To my surprise, it grew into a profitable business and we’re now making well over $15,000 per month!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At the time, my story was pretty unique. By now, it has become a little more standard — and it may sound like a story you’ve heard before. Nonetheless, this is it:
In 2015, I quit my comfortable IT consultancy job to travel through Australia for a full year. For someone coming from a very different part of the world, it was such an eye-opening experience that I decided I wanted to make this type of freedom a part of my daily life.
I started wondering how I could travel whenever I wanted, without having to worry about the financial side of things. Since I had a background as a web application developer, I figured I would leverage my skill to earn an income online.
I looked at what I could do — something that was in demand. That’s how I stumbled upon WordPress. It was a well-established, popular, and growing platform, and therefore, a no-brainer.
I’m not a super creative person (well, maybe occasionally), so designing websites was off the table. Luckily, WordPress has a vibrant plugin ecosystem that I could dip my toes into!
From 2015 to 2017, I learned the ins and outs of WordPress, and more specifically WooCommerce. I loved how this large plugin could transform a site into a fully functioning e-commerce platform.
When I started, I didn’t even know what MRR stood for. I learned everything during the journey. If I had waited for a perfect start, I still would not have launched.
I started building plugins, mainly to learn more about how WooCommerce worked, and to my surprise, people were interested. That’s when I decided to sell them on Studio Wombat.
Take us through the process of building your first plugin.
The first thing to do when creating software, whether it’s a plugin or something else, is to come up with an idea. It doesn’t have to be something new; you can also have an existing idea and differentiate or make it better. Since the WordPress plugin market is very saturated, the latter choice is often the way to go.
My first plugin was by no means an exciting idea. I just needed something simple to build while learning the ropes of WordPress and WooCommerce. At that time, it wasn’t about the money or the business yet. Learning something new was front and center.
After doing some initial research, I decided to create a Business Hours Indicator. It started as a simple plugin that allows you to add opening hours to your website. Today, you can do a lot more with it, like adding dynamic messages (“Hurry, we’re closing in X minutes”) or disabling e-commerce functionality when you’re closed (specifically geared towards restaurant owners who don’t want orders coming in when they are closed).
The idea was simple enough to start learning. Moreover, an easy-to-use plugin for opening hours didn’t exist yet, so there was a decent chance of success.
Once I have an idea, I tend to focus on it non-stop for 2 to 6 weeks to program the plugin. Since the plugin will be competing with dozens of other plugins, it’s not easy to determine what an MVP version should look like. I want to differentiate or stay ahead of the competition, so I’m likely going all-in. It’s the best way to make sure that users see my plugin as a viable candidate. That’s why I often skip the MVP stage and immediately launch a “proper” version of the plugin. Of course, there is always room to grow a lot.
After a few weeks of learning a lot about WordPress, time zones, and how difficult calculating with time units can be, the plugin was ready. I launched it on the WordPress plugin repository and also created a simple landing page on my personal website. At the time of writing, I discovered that the page (which I had kind of forgotten about) is still available online!
I had no expectations, but to my surprise, people were downloading and using the plugin. They began reporting bugs and suggesting additional features.
Each plugin you upload to WordPress automatically gets a support forum where users come to ask questions and offer feedback. I was very active and replied to each thread within a few hours. People started to notice my dedication, which boosted the plugin’s popularity.
I listened to people’s suggestions and used them to create a larger, premium version of the plugin.
Did you start as a side project, when did you go full time?.
I started learning about WordPress around 2015 and launched my first free plugin on the WordPress plugin repository in 2016. I actually never considered creating a plugin business. I had a few free and premium plugins, but they weren’t really making enough money to justify a business. Those plugins were making ~$2,000 per year, which was a nice little extra, but nothing more.
Then, in 2017, I created my first successful plugin: WP Optin Wheel. It made more than a few $100 per month, so I decided to take plugins seriously and created Studio Wombat in August of that year. At the time, I had 5 premium plugins, 1 of which was making the bulk of my income.
It wasn’t until the end of 2020 that I decided to go full-time with Studio Wombat, as it was making enough revenue to replace my freelancing income. So in hindsight, my road to freedom took about 5 years.
Studio Wombat remains completely bootstrapped. Initial costs were very low and consisted of web hosting and a domain name.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
WordPress users can freely search and install plugins from within their site. You can make sure people find your plugin by uploading it to the WordPress plugin repository. Think of it as the Apple App store, but for free WordPress plugins.
Today, WordPress powers more than 40% of the internet. So potentially millions of site owners can see your plugin by searching for it on their website. That’s a huge marketing machine that shouldn’t be ignored. It attracts most of my customers, though I am also working on getting found through traditional SEO.
The repository’s search function works like Google: you can enhance your ranking to get to the first place. Each plugin is accompanied by a readme file, which is partly what the search algorithm looks at to rank your plugin in the search results. So by adding keywords to your readme, you can try to rank and attract more customers.
Deciding on the right pricing for a WordPress plugin is difficult. Do you go for a subscription model or a one-time fee? What about the amount? These are tough questions to answer because WordPress suffers from a few disadvantages:
- The plugin market is very saturated. The repository alone has about 60,000 free plugins on offer. For each niche, you can find a handful of plugins that do the same thing as your plugin — sometimes even completely for free.
- Subscription-based pricing is sadly not the norm and is only recently gaining traction. Instead, a one-time fee is common. CodeCanyon, which is a popular marketplace for paid WordPress plugins, doesn’t offer subscriptions. All plugins on their platform are sold with a one-time fee for lifetime usage.
- WordPress itself is free and open-source, so it attracts plenty of users that expect everything for free.
It’s safe to say WordPress has an uphill battle with pricing.
All plugins sold through Studio Wombat offer both a yearly subscription (around $49/year per plugin) and a one-time payment (sold at around 3x the value of a yearly subscription). The yearly subscription offers one year of updates and support. The one-time payment is more expensive but offers lifetime updates and support.
This double-option payment model is increasingly common with plugin sellers that choose to sell on their own channels (as opposed to marketplaces like CodeCanyon).
I find it works really well because you get 2 benefits:
- Recurring/compounding revenue thanks to the yearly subscriptions.
- The income from one-time sales means your business is profitable quicker.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As a one-man band, it’s hard to grow my product offering as I am dividing my time between creating products and running a business. I would love to grow my product offering through strategic acquisitions at some point. It would allow me to enlarge our plugin portfolio without having to spend months creating a new plugin.
Furthermore, while I love the WordPress business, I have an itch to create a SaaS too. So I’m waiting for a good idea to get started on that.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
During my journey, I’ve always been reluctant to hire extra help. I wanted to stay small and do everything by myself. But at some point, the workload just swallows you whole, and you’re focusing on everything but important tasks. 60% of my time was spent dealing with support requests!
Earlier this year, I finally made the decision to outsource the support load and the copywriting of SEO articles. I couldn’t be happier! It feels like a huge burden has been lifted off of my shoulders.
I wished I had done this sooner, but my narrow mindset couldn’t get past spending part of my profit to grow. I’m glad I have learned that lesson in the meantime.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The Studio Wombat site is built with WordPress. I use Levelup as a support team, and I hire the occasional writer (usually directly — not through freelance sites) to help me with blog posts. Slack is my preferred tool for communication. I’m using Paddle to handle payments and invoicing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
To be honest, I have read exactly zero books and regularly zone out when listening to podcasts, so they don’t really work for me. The advice I get mainly comes from followers on Twitter, who are in the same niche as me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My top advice is something we’ve all heard before: start today. If you have a dream of running your own business, creating software, or launching something: start today. You can finetune everything as you go.
I’m not advising you to rush things, but there’s no use postponing if you know this is what you want to do. When I started, I didn’t even know what MRR stood for. I learned everything during the journey. If I had waited for a perfect start, I still would not have launched.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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