WordPress Product Founders on What They Would Do Differently

Unbelievable as it sounds, WordPress was first released back in 2003. And it has evolved a lot during that time. It’s a mature, if evolving, platform for building websites.

Its massive theme and plugin ecosystem has also seen its share of changes. We’ve seen individual entrepreneurs launch products, sustain their growth, and eventually sell to large companies.

Meanwhile, there are many success stories. Some products born in the days of the Classic Editor have happily adapted to the Gutenberg block editor. But that doesn’t mean it was an easy transition.

With that, I set out call for WordPress product founders. I wanted to ask them about the changes they have seen during their time in the community. And, if they were launching their product today, what would they do differently.

I got a lot of responses! The following is a sampling of what these entrepreneurs had to say. Note that some answers have been lightly edited for clarity/brevity.

A Sample Answers

Cameron Jones

Brand/Product: Mongoose Market
Address: 2018

What has changed in WordPress: The biggest change to the ecosystem is undoubtedly the introduction of the block editor.

What I would do differently: If I were just starting out today, I would approach most of my plugins with a block-first attitude. As I’m more of a PHP developer, I tend to build widgets and classic shortcodes before I think about building a block, but if I were starting out now I’d start building one block and only think about shortcode and/or classic to add. widget if there was enough demand for it.

Derek Asher

Brand/Product: Sunshine Photo Cart
Address: 2013

What has changed in WordPress: The biggest change affecting Sunshine Photo Cart was the consolidation of add-on companies. Instead of small developers competing with limited time and resources, suddenly one gets the support of a larger company with experience and marketing resources and can really run there. For me, that’s what happened because NextGen is a major competitor and they have a lot of resource support now that I’m still just one person doing it as a side gig.

What I would do differently: If I were to start over, I would definitely partner with at least one other developer and ideally a marketing person. All the larger plugins that became companies (that I know of) were founded by multiple people. It’s too hard to do everything by yourself even if you know everything and grow.

I also want to start smaller in scope for the first project. I should have done smaller plugins first before going for an ecommerce plugin first.

Kathy Darling

Brand/Product: WooCommerce Name Your Price
Address: 2012

What has changed in WordPress: I think the WordPress ecosystem has become bigger, more mature and more competitive. I was one of the first people to build this feature for WooCommerce. So I took advantage of their growth. And now I also benefit from being around and having a solid reputation within my niche.

What I would do differently: But now there are countless options for almost any feature you can think of so you have to find ways to stand out for yourself. If I were launching today, I think I would spend more time on marketing and actually talking to potential customers about what their pain points are. If you can address those pain points with really good interfaces and back them up with strong customer service, I think there are still niche markets that need to be addressed.

Jack Arturo

Brand/Product: WP Fusion
Address: 2015

What has changed in WordPress: The move to JavaScript frameworks in the admin is probably the biggest change. React + Gutenberg of course, but also many companies choose to go with Vue or Angular instead. The kinds of integrations we do with other plugins are much more difficult.

What I would do differently: If I were launching something now, I’d probably start SaaS-first, and then build a helper plugin to connect to the SaaS. That would give us better reliability (since we manage the servers), and probably reduce plugin conflicts. In addition, then it would be easier for us to move to other platforms (Shopify, Squarespace, etc.). I love how Weglot managed to build something that works on all platforms.

Gareth Harris

Brand/Product: Republic plug
Address: 2018

What has changed in WordPress: The biggest changes in that time in the ecosystem are:

The move towards consolidation – even a few years ago it seemed that a single developer was running many more stores.

The move away from marketplaces – it seems to me that CodeCanyon et al are not the first places people look for plugins (probably a good thing).

What I would do differently: If I were launching today, I would spend a lot more time on marketing. I spent far too much time adding great features to plugins that no one knew existed.

Mark Westguard

Brand/Product: Form WS
Address: 2018

What has changed in WordPress: I think the biggest change we’ve seen since the launch of WS Form is the progress with Gutenberg (now Block Editor). It was released days after we sent Form WS and we made sure we had a block ready from day one. I remember talking to Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp Nashville in December 2018 and his first question was “Are you Gutenberg ready”, which I was happy to say we were! Gutenberg has evolved significantly since then and continues to do so and that is something we, as plugin developers, need to keep up with. We’ve rewritten our Gutenberg block twice.

What I would do differently: The Marketing WS Form would definitely be done differently. I learned that the WordPress community, as well as being awesome, is divided into many small interest groups and there is no single channel you can go to to promote your product. It’s about participating in that community and offering real value, not just in the content of your product, that helps get your brand name out there. We try to contribute to the WordPress ecosystem as much as we can both in terms of sponsorship and also with our time.

A Variable WordPress Landscape Requires Customization

For those who launched a WordPress-related product or service even a few years ago, one thing is certain: the ecosystem has changed. That led to the evolution of WordPress core and the subsequent string of product acquisitions.

Taken together, the landscape is indeed different these days. And entrepreneurs had to adapt to new ways to build websites and meet increased competition. It wasn’t just the end users who were affected.

Ultimately, whether a product will survive or not will depend on how it evolves alongside WordPress. In addition, it will need to identify and reach a very niche audience.

Thanks to all the entrepreneurs who took the time to answer my questions! Their stories reflect the current state of WordPress, and I feel many others will relate.

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