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Year in Review and What to Expect from 2018

Year in Review and What to Expect from 2018

2017 was the year we doubled down on Progressive Web Applications and we did that by concentrating our efforts on building more PWA themes for our WordPress Mobile Pack plugin and also launching 3 new related WordPress plugins: Progressive Web Apps, PWACommerce and WP AMP Themes.

As for our flagship product, WordPress Mobile Pack, here are some 2017 numbers:

  • 6 major releases: January, March, April, May, August and September.
  • ~100,000 downloads
  • v2.0 has 35,3% active installs, v3.0+ has 9,7% active installs; there’s also a legacy of 31,8% active installs still on v1.0+
  • Approximately 2,500 support conversation over e-mail, Intercom.io (the customer support system we use), via GitHub or WordPress public repositories
  • A total of 23 posts on our blog
  • Our tweets earned 180,000 impressions last year

We’re also proud that we had the opportunity to give talks at WordCamp Bucharest and Athens, evangelizing Progressive Web Apps in the WordPress community. You can watch below the “Building an E-commerce Progressive Web App with React and WooCommerce” presentation, delivered by our CTO, Alexandra Anghel:

In terms of technology advancements, a big question mark last year gravitated around Apple and the support of service workers on Safari. With the introduction of Safari Technology Preview 46 for macOS Sierra and macOS High Sierra that seems to be heading in the right direction.

Service workers could find their way onto iOS devices in 2018, opening up the web for a whole new range of possibilities. Already available on Android, some sites have begun to take advantage of service workers to provide browser-based push notifications.

As far as we’re concerned, we’re dedicated to helping developers out there built awesome Progressive Web Applications, whether that’s on top of a popular CMS (WordPress, Drupal or Joomla), eCommerce platforms (WooCommerce, Magento or Shopify) or any other 3rd party API and with that in mind we’ve already planned some interesting partnership throughout 2018. More to come soon.

Here’s to a productive 2018 for all of us! 💪

Tech-Biz in between guy. CEO at WPMobilePack.com. Organizer at BucharestJS & JSHacks. Passionate about entrepreneurship. Love to play 🎾, squash and 🏓.
Julio Potier Talks about Web Security and Running a Company all by Yourself

Julio Potier Talks about Web Security and Running a Company all by Yourself

For our latest interview with WP developers, we have Julio Potier, the man behind SecuPress, a freemium WordPress security plugin, and an experienced Web security consultants. He is also a passionate speaker and a big Marvel fan, secretly hoping that one day he will be as cool as Deadpool or Iron Man.

But enough with the intro, let’s see what Julio has to say about his work, his company, and WP plugins!

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Joe Anderson Talks About Developing Plugins And Maintaining A Single-Man Company

Joe Anderson Talks About Developing Plugins And Maintaining A Single-Man Company

A new interview with another WordPress plugin developer is ready for you guys! This time, we’re talking with Joe Anderson, the man behind Metaphor Creations, a company offering – you guessed it – WordPress plugins and themes.

With a background in graphic design Joe started his company all the way back in 2008 and, since then, has been running it by himself. In regards to WordPress everything started 7-8 years ago after he decided that Flash no longer had a future.

Let’s find out his story together and see why he prefers to use WordPress and what his future plans are with this amazing CMS!

Tell us a bit about yourself and the business/plugin(s) that you’re running

I own and operate Metaphor Creations, LLC, from my house. In a nutshell, I build and sell WordPress plugins and themes in addition to taking on (mainly WordPress-related) freelance jobs.

I currently have quite a few plugins available, with the most popular being Ditty News Ticker, along with its paid extensions. Another popular plugin is the Post Duplicator, which is also available for free on the WordPress repository.

How many people are working in your team/company? How big is your team?

It’s just me. Metaphor Creations is a one-person show. I wear many hats.

How did you start with WordPress? Why WordPress?

I started using WordPress about 8 years ago after I was convinced that Flash was no longer going to be a viable product and income source. I am a self-taught programmer, who started with ActionScript and animations. As Flash died out I had to learn something new in order to keep my business running. So, I started learning HTML, CSS and Javascript.

After building a few static sites for my clients, I had many requests to implement CMS systems which forced me to learn PHP as well. Before sticking to WordPress, I tried a few other CMS systems like Expression Engine and Concrete 5. I rotated between them until WordPress finally included custom post types into the core. Once that happened, I have stuck with WordPress for 95% of my work.

Initially, one of the reasons I started using WordPress is the amount of resources that were available. When you’re trying to learn how to program on your own, the ability to track down solutions to problems can be a pretty important factor. And, I still prefer to work in WordPress due to the continual improvements, the community, security, and ease of use.

Can you please describe your user/customer base? Who is using your plugin(s)?

Well, I can say that there is a broad range of customers for Ditty News Ticker and it could be used on any type of site.

How do you monetize? How are you making money? Who pays you?

The biggest part of my revenue is generated by Ditty News Ticker extensions that are sold directly on my website, metaphorcreations.com. Ditty News Ticker itself is available for free on the WordPress repository and it allows users to manually create, in a very simple way, tickers for their sites.

The extensions I sell for Ditty News Tickers gives users additional functionality, like the ability to easily populate tickers with a wide variety of data that they don’t need to enter manually. Currently, the most popular extensions are Ditty Posts Ticker, Ditty RSS Ticker and Ditty Twitter Ticker.

Can you share a few numbers in terms of active users/downloads or website monthly traffic?

Currently there are over 40,000+ active installs of Ditty News Ticker. I don’t know the exact number of Ditty News Ticker extensions that are in use throughout the web, but I have over 5,000 unique sales between all of them.

How do you acquire visitors/users/customers?

I believe that most customers come across my plugin after searching the web for a news ticker to add to their site. I also send out occasional emails to existing customers with new products or deals, and as soon as something new is happening on my site.

What are your current struggles? How are you planning on overcoming them?

As you probably guessed, my main struggle is finding new customers. My time is split by many different activities, as I also do freelance work and my own support, along with a wife and 3 kids. However, I do hope that I will be able to gain more customers by simply increasing exposure to my products.

This year, I would really like to build out an entirely new product and sell it on my site. Right now, I’m still debating on what that may be, but I do have some ideas. I also have ideas about major changes I want to make to Ditty News Ticker that I would love to implement within this year.

What would you say are your biggest strengths?

Definitely my determination. Over the past 5 years I have been selling plugins and themes, but the sales don’t always match up to the amount of effort I have put into the products… but, I keep trying!

Can you share a tough moment in the course of your business? What were the takeaways from it?

Right after going out on my own, all my freelance jobs dried up in the first few months. This wasn’t what I was expecting at all! I was on the verge of putting together a new resume to find another 9-5 job, but luckily new freelance work started coming in again before I got to that point.

During that time I realized that there is always work to be done. Even when things are going well you need to think about different avenues to generate income. Wether it’s a new product or searching out new freelance customers and jobs, you always need to look to and prepare for the future… But, you also need to relax a bit and enjoy your successes!

What are some of the tools you’re using in the development process?

I use Coda 2, CodeKit, SourceTree, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Google Search.

What do you think about the WP ecosystem in general? Where do you think the opportunity lies in the following years?

WordPress is one of the easiest content management systems to work with and customize. As with any technology there’s a learning curve to it, but once you start figuring it out you can create pretty much anything you can dream of. There is also a lot of information and resources available compared to other CMS systems. With a little Google searching you can find out answers to pretty much any question or issue you come across.

It’s hard to say what the next years could bring. Generally speaking, I believe customers are simply trying to find the best solution for their needs. In some cases cost is a factor. But, for the most part, if you build something the people really need (or works better than an existing product) they are willing to spend a little extra money to make their lives easier.

What would you recommend to anybody that is looking to start their own WP business?

Just start. Begin with developing a few plugins, build some themes, then put them out there for the world to try out. It’s almost impossible to come with the “perfect” product, so don’t wait until then to put something up. Then, improve your product as you see fit and as you get feedback.

It’s great to have freelance customers with a specific need and money to pay for your time, but you will grow the most if you have a large variety of people using your code. My suggestion is to start with a couple of freebies, plugins or themes, and learn from the responses you get from the general public!

PROs and CONs of Using WordPress with ReactJS

PROs and CONs of Using WordPress with ReactJS

ReactJS took the WordPress community by surprise when it was introduced in November 2015 by Matt Mullenweg announcing Calypso as the culmination of more than 20 months of work by dozens of engineers and designers. Calypso was described as being:

  • Incredibly fast;
  • Written purely in JavaScript, leveraging libraries like Node and React;
  • 100% API-powered;
  • Fully responsive.

Suddenly, thousands of PHP developers had to become fluent with JavaScript to be able to take advantage of the newly proposed tech-stack and build apps ontop of WordPress the React way.

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Tech-Biz in between guy. CEO at WPMobilePack.com. Organizer at BucharestJS & JSHacks. Passionate about entrepreneurship. Love to play 🎾, squash and 🏓.
Evan Herman talks about building high quality plugin solutions for WordPress

Evan Herman talks about building high quality plugin solutions for WordPress

We have a whole new piece for you guys, as part of our series of interviews with WordPress plugin developers, who agreed to share some of their stories, alongside growth plans and, of course, their vision of the WP ecosystem as a whole.

Recently, we talked with Evan Herman, the lead developer, and founder at Code Parrots, a company well known for offering high-quality solutions for WordPress sites. They are well known for Timeline Express, which allows users to create highly customizable Timeless within the WordPress platform. However, they have a few more aces up their sleeve, since new and exciting products are currently in development and should be released in the near future.

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Digital Communication and Multimedia, Evan has a strong background as a developer, while his story with WordPress started years ago when he was in college. Let’s see what stories he has for us today…

How big is your team?

It’s hard to say that we’re a big team, since, right now, it consists just of 3 people. Specifically, there’s me, another developer and somebody in charge of marketing, who is also in charge of managing our social media accounts, as well as email marketing and other campaigns. As for the second developer in the team, he helps out with plugin maintenance, alongside support requests and, of course, developing some of the new products which we should introduce soon.

How did you start with WordPress? Why WordPress?

There’s a long story, which began back in college when I was graduating. Actually, my senior thesis was closely working with a local business, based in Philadelphia, in order to relaunch their web presence. And the project included building a theme from scratch, as well as some highly customized plugins.

I was part of a team of 3 members, but the funny part was that none of us had any experience with this. And yes, you guessed it, I had no other choice but to learn a lot about this mysterious – at that time – content management system in just 6 months.

By the end, I was proud to have my very own YouTube plugin allowing the client to upload videos from their WordPress site directly into a YouTube account, then eventually assign it to a playlist which was supposed to appear on the home page.  Sure, the code wasn’t perfect, since it was my first real product, but I was very proud of it, not to mention that this got me instantly hooked on coding.

Can you please describe who’s your user/customer? Who’s using your plugin(s)?

What if I told you that we actually have a pretty wide customer base? People interested in our plugins are usually users who are in charge with a single site and want to display a timeline on it, showcasing the company’s history or milestones that occurred in their life.

On the other side, we have another category of users interested in our service, which we didn’t account for initially, consisting of non-profit, universities and government organizations. For example, a few police and fire departments, as well as colleges use our Timeline Express plugin and we’re very proud to provide such a great solution for them! We offer full support for everything they do and also offer a 30% discount to non-profits, schools, and fire or police departments.

How do you monetize?

We opted for the freemium model for our products, offering a free product on WordPress.org, then upsell to either a pro version or add-ons, which extend the functionality of the plugins. You can buy a license in a group of 1, 5 or 10, with the possibility of renewing it yearly. Also, all the licenses and products we’re offering come with a full year of updates and priority support.

Can you share a few numbers in terms of active users/downloads or website monthly traffic?

From this point of view, there’s nothing mind blowing, but we do have a solid and consistent growth rate since the launch.

Currently, we have 10,000+ users for Timeline Express, with an average rating of 4.5 stars, with a large number of them using the free version of the plugin, after coming across it on WordPress.org. Eventually, they opted for an upgrade, in order to get access to support and the additional features.

As for our other product, WP SVG Icons, it has 40,000 active installs and over 110 5 star reviews, being one of the first products we released 3 years ago. It has been a solid solution for a lot of users wanting to add this type of icons to their site, without the need of writing any code or uploading files.

How do you acquire visitors/users/customers?

Most of them come from WordPress.org. We also get a decent amount of organic traffic, but again, the main source remains the WordPress.org plugin repository.

What are your current struggles? How are you planning on overcoming them?

It’s pretty obvious that when you’re a member of such a small team, it’s pretty hard to scale and grow a product base. A big part of the day is dedicated to responding to support requests and answering issues on the WordPress.org forums for our products. For us, it’s easy to introduce a new add-on for the Timeline Express, but when it comes to building out new products, we really have to spend a lot of time for this, so we often find out that our support channels are pretty slow, compared to development. In a nutshell, building new products or feature, while supporting our current ones, has always been a hurdle for our team!

Can you share a tough moment in the course of your business? What were the takeaways from it?

About a year and a half ago, after releasing an update to Timeline Express, we began serving product ads through an RSS feed, the product website, https://www.wp-timelineexpress.com, and displaying them on the admin dashboard on the Timeline Express pages as well.

Shortly after, when things were going quite well, we had a huge spike in the number of users who updated to the latest version, so, instantly, we began receiving tons of support requests to our ticketing system, as well as on WordPress.org. Users were claiming that their sites were extremely slow, while some of them were even inaccessible.

After a bit of research, we found out that we were hitting an RSS feed without actually caching it, without a timeout value and without providing a fallback for then the RSS failed. Now imagine that with over 10,000 active users hitting the RSS endpoint on every page load we were actually getting hundreds of thousands of requests hitting the server. And yes, you guessed it: this took down the Timeline Express site, preventing users from submitting support requests and purchasing new products. Obviously, this would’ve cost us thousands in sales.

One release of our product directly affected our bottom line for around a month and a half, until we sorted all the issues. Eventually, we pulled the RSS feed ads and opted for serving them locally, something which we should’ve done from the very beginning. Lesson learned.

While developing Timeline Express, we had a lot of requests for features that the majority of users would never use. Automatically, this leads to the creation of our add-ons, that run alongside Timeline Express and are compatible with both the free and pro version of the plugin.

Basically, these allow users to keep using the free version, but also pick and choose exactly what they need from our add-ons, in order to develop the exact timeline they need. And instead of packing all these new features into one bloated plugin, we wanted to give them a bit of flexibility.

Our most successful plugin is definitely the Timeline Express – Toolbox bundle, including the Timeline Express Pro add-on at a $10 discount, when purchased together. ($39.99).

As for the pro version, it has some of the most requested features, while the toolbox add-on can be used for controlling things that most users never actually asked for. For example, using a UI in the dashboard, they can specify the timeline date format, as well as announcement image size and many other things.

To our surprise, this has been very well received by customers who want such functionalities, while those who don’t need it just don’t buy it. Practically, it’s a win-win situation for everybody!

What would you say are your biggest strengths?

There’s no doubt that one of our biggest pluses is the support. Actually, we like to believe that we go above and beyond the usual call of duty, providing solutions specific to what our customers need. This often includes CSS tweaks, depending on their theme, or even shifting or filtering functions based on the desire of our customers.

Overall, this is not very hard, but it’s definitely time-consuming. And providing a well thought out and great solution will always take time! If you take a quick look at our support forum reviews, you will see that a big number of them mention that they were delighted with the support we’re offering. And hey, this is something out of which we’ve always made a priority!

Can you tell us a few things about the development process you use? What about some of your favorite tools?

Well, it’s pretty streamlined, but this allows two developers to maintain all of our products. We couldn’t work that efficient with Grunt, a tool able to handle a large number of automated tasks, like minifying/uglifying CSS/JS files, bumping the versions when we have new releases or even tagging and deploying to the WordPress.org repository.

Besides this, we also rely on CI/CD pipelines for code quality checks and automated testing, using PHP Unit. We think that code should remain backward compatibility and should always be QA’d, right before releasing it. Using things such as Travis.CI allows us to test for breaking changes and code that doesn’t fit our standards.

What are your plans for 2017?

Our focus is on expanding our offerings at Code Parrots, by launching a couple of new products that we believe people will actually love. Also, we plan on expanding the product line for Timeline Express, by developing some new add-ons, which were actually suggested by her users. And we really believe that these will pair very well with our main product!

What do you think about the WP ecosystem in general? Where do you think the opportunity lies for the next years?

Oh, I’m one of the biggest WordPress fans ever, but I also strongly believe that there’s still room for improvement. The WordPress.org repo is somewhat of the wild west, as basically anyone can develop a plugin and make it available, but the problem is that there are no checks in place to make sure that the code is written both properly or efficiently, as well as safely.

There are a lot of outdated plugins, with deprecated functions and database queries that are improperly written or don’t pass any safety checks. Ironically, while this is one of WordPress’ strengths, it’s also a big minus!

There’s no way of observing which plugins are actually good, except checking the install and ratings, but these don’t tell everything about it! There is a huge opportunity here and some developers are already attempting to tackle it, but this should be done at a larger level. I don’t have an exact solution for this, but again, this is a big opportunity!

What would you recommend anybody that is looking to start their own WP business?

First of all, anybody who wants to start a WP business should be very passionate about it and care about the ecosystem. Of course, we shouldn’t forget about some long nights…

Be very flexible, listen to what your customers have to say and never be afraid to fail, it happened! Remember that ‘overnight success’ is just a myth. Slow and steady growth, as well as building a loyal user base are what you should be after.