On Building WordPress Tools That Power Over 8 Million Websites

Published: December 15th, 2019
Syed Balkhi
Founder, WPBeginner
from West Palm Beach, Florida, USA
started January 2009
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Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

I’m Syed Balkhi, the founder and CEO of Awesome Motive. My mission is to help level the playing field for small business so that they can compete with the big guys. Our customers are mainly website owners that are looking for help in growing their business, whether it’s to increase sales on their eCommerce website or drive more traffic to their blog/website.

Some of our most popular products include:

  • OptinMonster - The #1 most powerful conversion optimization toolkit in the world.
  • MonsterInsights - The best WordPress analytics plugin.
  • WPForms - The most user-friendly drag and drop WordPress form builder.
  • SeedProd - The #1 coming soon page and maintenance mode plugin for WordPress.
  • RafflePress - The best WordPress giveaway plugin that’s easy and powerful.
  • WP Mail SMTP - The most popular WordPress SMTP and PHP mailer plugin to increase email deliverability.
  • TrustPulse - A social proof notifications app to instantly increase site conversions by up to 15%.

Our software powers over 10 million websites serving billions of impressions every month.

Aside from those software products, I also own WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource site that helps WordPress beginners learn how to make a website, or improve their WordPress sites.

I started WPBeginner back in 2009 as a way to help my clients. I noticed that I was sending the same emails over and over to help them customize their sites. So I started blogging step-by-step WordPress tutorials to have everything organized in one place. Today, over 60 million people read my blogs to grow their website traffic, sales, and conversions.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a competitive person. My entrepreneurial journey started at the age of 7. Funded by my mother, I sold holiday greeting cards for the Muslim festival, Eid, and tripled my mom’s investment in a month.

Seeing how well that went, I also sold flags for Pakistan’s Independence Day. At age 9, my mom and grandma helped me set up a snack shop which also made money.

There's no need to start from scratch when you can take a good product and make it great. That’s how most of our software was created; we saw that there were solutions on the market already, but they were lacking in various areas.

I was 12 when I first came to the US from Pakistan with my parents and siblings. Moving to a different country where I didn’t speak the language was extremely challenging. And seeing my parents work so hard to support me and my three siblings made me determined to help and learn as much as I could. It was then, at the age of 12, that I started my online career.

I began by picking up online tasks like data entry and forum submissions to make a few dollars. Later, I taught myself to code because I wanted to get around my school’s firewall to play games on computers. I created web proxies and learned how to build websites. Soon, I was selling sites to other people and businesses. I kept learning and eventually formed a small agency that helped businesses by building websites and getting traffic.

I learned about WordPress when I wanted to start my first blog in 2006. Once I started working with it, I was hooked. I saw the power of WordPress and realized that my clients would be able to make changes to their own sites if they adopted it.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

Throughout the early years of my career, I found various degrees of success in each stage of my journey.

As a 12-year-old, making money from banner ads was quite nice. Later in my high school years, building and managing client websites, and even running larger traffic campaigns for big brands was a great learning experience. Not to mention, it helped me save a ton for college and beyond.

To keep things focused on the WordPress part of the journey, I started WPBeginner in 2009. While it was to help our clients manage their websites on their own, many of my peers and friends found the resource helpful. Other WordPress developers also began to send their clients to the blog too, and we just grew.

OptinMonster is a great example of how we created something because our readers were asking about it. The lead generation and conversion plugins that we used before were buggy, incompatible with other plugins, and slowed the site down. So, we began to build our own conversion tool and used it on our website.

We soon had people ask us about what we were using. When we told them that it was custom code, they'd ask us when it would be released. In 2013, we launched OptinMonster for WordPress, and when people wanted it on other platforms, we built it as a stand-alone (SaaS) software that worked everywhere.

After the success of OptinMonster, we used our audience feedback to build new products. One year they asked for a tool that made Google Analytics easy.

This led to our acquisition of Google Analytics by Yoast as it already had over millions of installs and a solid user base. I don't believe in reinventing the wheel. If you can acquire a product at a premium that's popular and has a large user base, it's worth it. By acquiring Google Analytics by Yoast in 2016, we saved ourselves years to build up to over a million installs. It's now rebranded as MonsterInsights and currently powers over 2 million sites.

In 2016, we also launched WPForms even though there were several form plugins out there. Many of the available WordPress form plugins were hard to use or didn't look that great. Our audience also wanted a beginner-friendly form plugin that’s designed to help businesses win. We heard what they were saying, and built WPForms, the best WordPress form plugin in the market.

Since then we’ve also acquired several plugins like WP Mail SMTP and SeedProd. I am involved in over two dozen businesses and find that it makes sense to partner with people who are already talented at building products. I focus on using my marketing and business development skills to make these companies grow.

Our newest tools are TrustPulse and RafflePress. TrustPulse is a social proof notification platform that helps businesses increase conversions by leveraging the power of social proof.


And RafflePress is a WordPress giveaway plugin that helps users easily create viral giveaways to drive traffic, increase engagement, grow their social media followings, and most importantly get more email subscribers.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The future is looking great for all of our products. For example, WPForms just recently passed 5,000 five-star reviews on the official WordPress Plugin Repository—an exciting milestone.

We also continuously work towards making our software better by coming out with updates and powerful new features. Recent updates of OptinMonster include a brand new accounts dashboard that shows at-a-glance performance stats, a new display rule that lets you display or hide campaigns based on whether a website visitor has or hasn’t seen a campaign, new mobile popup templates, and much more.

Here’s an example of our mobile floating bar template:


We continue to listen to what our customers want and make the necessary improvements to provide the best products for them. And we look forward to all of the new features that will be released for our newest software, TrustPulse, and RafflePress, in the near future.

I’ve also really enjoyed setting up the WPBeginner Growth Fund that has allowed me to invest in, mentor, and help grow some amazing WordPress businesses. In 2018, I invested in MemberPress, Pretty Links, and Formidable Forms, just to name a few.

After our extremely successful first round of investments, I look forward to helping more new WordPress companies reach their full potential in 2020 with round 2 of our investments that’s in the final stages.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There's no need to start from scratch when you can take a good product and make it great. That’s how most of our software was created; we saw that there were solutions on the market already, but they were lacking in various areas. We asked our customers what they wanted. We listened to their feedback and went from there, creating our own solutions that were not only more powerful but easier to use. After all, the easiest customer to sell to is the customer that you already have.

Don't reinvent the wheel when you can collaborate with someone who already has a good product. It makes a lot of sense to buy and build up existing products and help them get to their fullest potential.

I also discovered the value of keeping business entities separate when I sold two plugins: Envira Gallery and Soliloquy. Keeping your business units separate makes it easier when you want to sell a company; important accounts like payments, bookkeeping, etc are easier to manage that way.

Above all, we learned that knowing your audience inside and out is the key to success. When you fully understand your target audience (their demographics, their goals, their pain points, and so on) you’re able to create products, content, and marketing messages that are more valuable and relevant to them.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

As a fully distributed (remote) company, we have team members that are located in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Singapore, and many other countries across the world. So, this means that we rely on online tools to manage work.

I’m a huge fan of Asana, and we use it for project management. We also use Slack for internal communication. We have different channels for different teams, and we also have channels that are company-wide. We post important announcements on them to keep everyone updated. We also have a lively family channel where we share pictures and get to know each other better.

Google Suite is a major tool in our business as well. We use it for email communication and to share content between team members via Google Docs and Sheets.

Of course, WordPress is the foundation of our sites and we work with our own tools to grow our business as well, like OptinMonster for growing our email lists, WPForms to create online forms for our sites, TrustPulse to drive conversions, and so on.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

There’s always something new to learn, some way to refine your skills. I read books that help me become more productive and let me do a better job as a marketer and entrepreneur.

One book I highly recommend is Atomic Habits by James Clear. It has very actionable tips for becoming more productive. It’s something that can help every entrepreneur in managing their work in the easiest and most effective ways possible.

I also recommend Traction by Geno Wickman for anyone starting a new business. Wickman offers a system that can make you and your team more productive and help you face your fears.

In addition, hiring the right people is one of the most important things you can do for your business’s health. Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street helps you attract and hire the right people for your business with confidence.

Podcasts such as Business Lunch and Growth Stacking by Dan Martell are also great resources for those who are interested in starting a business and looking for advice from people that have been where they are and reached success.

I read a ton of blogs from other entrepreneurs and am an avid listener of various other industry podcasts.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Don't reinvent the wheel when you can collaborate with someone who already has a good product. It makes a lot of sense to buy and build up existing products and help them get to their fullest potential.

Another reason to collaborate is that there's a lot of competition. Trying to outdo existing competition can be like pushing a boulder uphill—not worth the effort. Focus on rich partnerships where you can complement your partner's skills.

And be open to compromise when it comes to control and ownership. It can be better to get a smaller portion of a large pie than getting a large portion of a small pie.

Finally, surround yourself with people who are good at what they do. Learn to collaborate, and you truly have the chance to grow as a person and an entrepreneur.

This lesson was especially important to me. Instead of being bogged down in the day-to-day tasks of running each of my companies, I found smart co-founders to work alongside. Partnering with Thomas Griffin for OptinMonster, Jared Atchison for WPForms, Chris Cristoff for MonsterInsights, and John Turner for SeedProd has let me focus more effectively on overall business growth.

Where can we go to learn more?