Danny van Kooten talks about working with WordPress plugins – Balancing priorities with that of the business

Danny van Kooten talks about working with WordPress plugins – Balancing priorities with that of the business

As promised, we continue with our series of interviews with WordPress plugin developers, in an attempt to find out, through the stories they’re sharing, how they are planning to grow their businesses and, of course, what are their thoughts on the entire WordPress ecosystem. Today, we’re talking with Danny van Kooten, the developer behind the popular MailChimp for WordPress plugin.

Danny lives in The Netherlands and is the founder of ibericode, a company focusing on building products to help other small businesses. He started working with WordPress almost 8 years ago and started from the bottom, doing client work. However, 5 years ago, he decided that it’s time to take it one step further and began selling plugins.

His first plugin was called “Newsletter Sign-Up” and it was followed by a lot more, some of them being downloaded by impressive amounts of users. Still, the actual ‘fame’ came after MailChimp for WordPress was released and managed to actually beat the official MailChimp plugin. Since July 2013, when the plugin was first released, it managed to surpass 6,500,000 downloads.

Besides this, Danny is also working on an ambitious project, an open-source alternative to Google Analytics, but maybe he will tell us more about this in the future.

How big is your team?

The team is actually pretty small, to everybody’s surprise. Basically, it’s just me and two more friends doing all the work. We’re fully remote, working from wherever we want.

How did you start with WordPress? Why WordPress?

It was actually a bit weird, since I wasn’t planning to work with WordPress at all. One of my first clients owned a WordPress site and asked me to help him with a much-needed liftover. At that moment, I had no prior experience with this platform, but still accepted the job, since I thought I could use the money.

Apparently, WordPress was very easy to pick up, even considering my lack of experience, and the project turned out to be a success. However, even though I was planning to continue, I had to stop working with him, since my product business was proving to be way more lucrative, but otherwise, we’d probably still be working together, even these days.

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

Well, most of the plugins we develop are marketing related. We’re targeting mostly small business, but also non-tech savvy users, who are looking for efficient plugins, easy to operate, even with the minimum amount of knowledge.

How do you monetize?

Even though our company offers several plugins, just two of them are paid. I’m talking about MailChimp for WordPress and Boxzilla. Of course, both of them have free versions as well, but if you want access to the premium features, there’s a yearly fee.

Can you share a few numbers in terms of active users/downloads or website monthly traffic? How do you acquire visitors/users/customers?

Right now, our entire plugin portfolio managed to reach a total of over 9 million downloads combined. However, just like mentioned above, MailChip for WordPress is the most successful one.

Until now, it surpassed 6.5 million downloads and has 850,000+ active installs. As for the customers who are paying for it, in order to enjoy the premium features we were talking about earlier, they’re over 20,000. Finally, the same plugin generates over 50,000 monthly website visitors.

What are your current struggles? How are you planning on overcoming them? Can you share a tough moment in the course of your business? What were the takeaways from it?

I like to consider myself a true nerd, so I must admit that sometimes I struggle balancing my own priorities with that of the business. To be more specific, the developer in my is always trying to find out as much as possible about new technologies to apply. As you probably guessed, this doesn’t play well with WordPress, as we all know that it’s a content management system basically refusing to catch up with the rest of the PHP ecosystem.

I’m constantly trying to balance this by allowing myself to apply newer technology for our in-house applications and the platform we use for selling our plugins right now is the best example!

What would you say are your biggest strengths?

Hmm…let’s say balancing my perfectionism against actual priorities. For example, I wouldn’t delay the launch of a product just because things could be better when it’s actually far more important to get the product out.

I really like spending a few extra days adjusting user experience to the tiniest details for a widely used feature. In the end, it’s what matters the most, right?

What are your plans for 2017?

Even though at first it looks like, my focus won’t be solely on WordPress. This year, I would like to continue working on one of our most important projects, an open-source alternative to Google’s Analytics platform and eventually release a first stable version.

For those who want to check it out, you can find more details here: https://github.com/dannyvankooten/ana

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

I must admit that I really like writing small Bash scripts, mostly to handle repetitive tasks – who likes these, right? – like releasing a GitHub plugin to WordPress.org or even substituting strings throughout the plugin files. For example, Blackfire is a great tool for profiling PHP code and I totally recommend giving it a shot, if you’re into such things!

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

Honestly speaking now, I think that right now there are just a few good WordPress plugins up for grabs. The funny part is that there are tons of opportunities which can be exploited and I’m talking about simply picking a popular plugin from the repository, see where the developers did wrong, learn from its mistakes and, most importantly, see what users are saying about it. After this, everything you need to do is build a better version of it.

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

Besides having a clear business model, even from the first day, which is basically a no-brainer for any business, I’d say that it’s very important to get your product out and work from there!

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