Announcing Branch – Stats and what’s next

24 hours ago I announced a new project I have been working on: Branch – a continuous integration service for WordPress developers. I was pretty transparent throughout the day on Twitter and thought it would be fun to do a little summary on how it all went.

Before

Branch is a product I’ve been working on for the past few months. It feels like the natural progression from my other product WP Pusher. However, compared to WP Pusher, Branch is a very large project and a big technical challenge. What I launched yesterday was far from a product that someone could actually sign up and use. So what exactly did I launch?

After a lot of tinkering I am finally at a point where my working prototype can clone a Git repository with a WordPress theme, fetch the PHP and JavaScript dependencies, compile the assets and deploy them to a WordPress site. This is far from production ready, but it is working well enough that I felt comfortable recording a screen cast showing it to the world. I had decided in advance that a screen cast of a working prototype would mean a hard stop of the development of the product. I simply cannot spend more time developing this product before it’s been validated better. That’s what the announcement yesterday was about – gauging the interest.

In addition to the screen cast I had written a manifesto titled “WordPress developers are developers too”. It goes into something I feel pretty strongly about, but won’t re-state here. Read the manifesto if you are curious. I have previously written a lot of blog post targeted at WordPress developers and I felt pretty comfortable that my manifesto would be provocative enough to get people’s attention, but not too much to derail everyone’s attention from Branch. I would say it worked pretty well. The main inspiration for writing a manifesto came from Derrick Reimer and Ben Orenstein.

On the landing page I did a few things before launch: Added Fathom analytics (privacy, yay!), added an email opt-in and linked to a pre-populated Tweet after sign up. The pre-populated tweet did alright, nothing crazy, but I still think it’s a good idea to encourage people to spread the word:

The day before the launch I made sure to queue up an email to my email subscribers on my WP Pusher email list. It’s about 2500 WordPress developers. I accidentally messed up the time zones, so the email actually went out an hour before I had planned – 11am UK time, instead of 12pm. I also tweeted out asking for people to help me spread the word the next day as I had a big announcement to make. This is a trick I’ve stolen from Adam Wathan and I think it works really well if you can make sure that you already have a few people cheering for you.

Finally, I reached out to a few Twitter friends and acquaintances to ask for feedback. This helped me tweak and fine tune the landing page a bit. A big thank you to everyone who had a look!

Launch

I had planned to Tweet out at 11am UK time, which was an hour before the email was supposed to go out. This would give me an hour to fix any immediate errors that people would potentially be pointing out. Just when I was about to hit “Tweet” I realized that the email was already going out. Well, I guess we are live then! A few minutes before the actual tweet went out I also let people on Twitter know that I was about to make my announcement. After the tweet was out I quoted it and encouraged people to help me spread the word. Quickly a few people started retweeting it to their own followers.

I’m really happy with how the launch went. I’m not used to my tweets getting a lot of attention, so yesterday’s tweet was definitely my most popular tweet ever. So far it’s had almost 17.000 impressions, which is way more than I had hoped for. Here’s how the website stats looked after yesterday:

Later during the day I also shared the link with the Advanced WordPress Facebook group. It was pretty well received in there as well, but most of the traffic definitely came from Twitter. About 10% of the visitors subscribed and about 70% checked the “I want beta access” box.

At about 5pm UK time I made another small push on Twitter targeted the US west coast. This Tweet got a bit of attention as well with almost 5000 impressions and definitely helped keep the ball rolling:

In addition to this tweet I also made sure to be really active on Twitter in general throughout the day.

I think these stats are pretty good and I definitely got more attention than I had hoped for. But more importantly I reached a lot of people and many of them sent me very encouraging messages and emails. Tweets like this definitely made my day:

Even on Facebook people said nice things!

Some of my existing WP Pusher customers chimed in on email as well:

All in all I feel like Branch was really well received yesterday and it feels like it’s definitely something that WordPress developers care about.

What now?

I’m super happy that people seem to be interested in Branch, however it is a big project and I need to have a pretty solid gut feeling before fully pursuing this project. That was the whole point of this launch. The number one question I need to answer now is: Do I think people will use this and will they be willing to pay (enough) for it. My experience with WP Pusher is that, yes, people need this and are willing to pay for it. But will they pay enough to make it a profitable business? I consider WP Pusher a side project because I haven’t actually worked on it full time at any point. I’ve had the intention a few times, but something else has always come in the way. It has sort of had its own life to be honest. At the moment WP Pusher is able to pay (most of) my bills, but it’s not profitable enough to invest a lot of money into a new venture like Branch. That leaves me with a lot of consideration to do!

It’s obvious to me that the next step is to talk to as many interested people as possible. I signed up for Zoom today and will try to set up all the meetings I can to better understand the people that already showed interest. If I decide to fully dedicate myself to Branch there a few things I’ll have to consider:

  • Should I consider raising a bit of seed money to fund the development or maybe join an accelerator/incubator? Or should I just try to bootstrap with the income I have from WP Pusher (might be tight because Branch is quite ambitious)?
  • Should I find a co-founder or otherwise find someone to help me build Branch? In addition to a lot of coding, there is a lot of marketing and product development to do if I want Branch to be successful. Also, speaking from experience, bootstrapping as a solo founder can be pretty lonely.

If you have any questions, inputs or thoughts about any of this, please tweet me or send me an email.

Why I’m Keeping The Free Version Of WP Pusher

This morning, while taking a run in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria (Yay! Location independence ftw!) I decided to no longer offer a free version of WP Pusher. This was quite a big decision for me and something that has been on my mind for a long time. 4 hours later, during my lunch break, I decided to keep the free version after all. Here is why.

Some Background

Throughout the (short) history of WP Pusher, I have had 3 business models. First, WP Pusher was meant as a Software as a Service business, where users paid a monthly fee to use it. This model was great because it allowed me to do stuff on my own server, instead of having to mess around too much on customers WordPress installs. However, when building the plugin, I kept making it simpler and simpler. In the end I felt like the SaaS model was overkill and decided to rewrite everything to be just a plugin. Business model #2 was a free version, available on WordPress.org and a paid version with some extra features.

Then I got this e-mail:
WP Pusher banned from WordPress.org

There went business model #2.

Business model #3 still involved the free version, but now that it wasn’t allowed on WordPress.org, I had to offer it through my own site. Actually, this wasn’t too bad, since this allowed me to collect e-mails from the people who wanted the free version so I could stay in touch.

Fast-forward to this morning.

For a while, I have been kind of upset with the free version. A lot of people are using it, so maintaining it, answering e-mails and the likes all takes up quite a bit of time. And then one more thing. People love the free version! Actually, most of the users I have been in touch with love the free version so much that they do not upgrade to the paid version. Actually, most people who paid to use the plugin did so from the beginning and never used the free version. There went business model #3. At least that was my conclusion this morning.

Why Keeping It Is A Great Idea

So, even though the conversion rate from “Free” to “Pro” is not as high as I would like it to be, I still decided to keep the free version. These are the “why’s”:

  • I have about 20 times as many people using the free version compared to the pro version. These users provide me with invaluable feedback that also relates to the pro version.
  • Most of the bug reports I have received are from people using the free version. I think that people using the free version are actually thankful that they get to use it for free, which encourages them to submit very detailed and useful bug reports.
  • I get to collect e-mail addresses from users of the free version, which means I can stay in touch with them, get their feedback and tell them about the pro version.
  • People using the free version will potentially talk about it and attract new potential customers. (I don’t know if this is valid as I haven’t tested it.)
  • Even though the numbers are not large enough, I still have people convert from free to pro. I think some people use the free version as a free trial before they decide to go pro.

The Unresolved Case

I am still left with a dilemma. I have concluded that either my free version is too good or the pro version needs to be even better.

Should I make the free version worse or should I come up with a better pro version? In my world, the Push-to-Deploy feature from the pro version is without doubt the best part of WP Pusher, but apparently that (and support for branches) is not enough to convert people from free to pro – in most cases.

The main issue is that the pain-relieve when going from not using WP Pusher to using the free version is pretty large. Somehow, I need to make the pain-relieve when going from free to pro equally large.

Anyways, I am keeping the free version for now because in the end, I think it gives me a lot of valuable feedback and user interaction that I otherwise would not have. It is a dilemma, since worsen the free version just does not feel right. At the same time, the free version was originally meant to be a teaser for the pro version – not a replacement. Personally, I think the pro version is killer. Maybe I need to communicate it better. Or maybe add an extra killer feature that users of the free version simply cannot resist.

I am trying to figure out if I need a business model #4.

How WordPress.org Did Me A Favour

In the beginning of this week, I wrote about my (non-existing) marketing strategy for WP Pusher, and boy, this week has gone by fast. The day after I wrote the blog, Sara Gooding decided to write an article about WP Pusher over at WP Tavern – a popular WordPress blog. I got pretty excited and realised how effective content marketing is. It works even before you start doing it!

In other news, I didn’t quite get the amount of traffic I would have expected from the Tavern. The day of the article, according to Google Analytics, 270 people stopped by my the landing page. Not quite a Hacker News kinda thing, but actually, I was pretty satisfied. See, out of those 270 visits, I got 50 free downloads which is almost 20 %.

Remember how WP Pusher is not allowed in the .org repository?

WP Pusher banned from WordPress.org

Since then, I have asked for people’s e-mail addresses upon download, so I can keep in touch and send them updates. Had WP Pusher still been on WordPress.org, 50 downloads in one day wouldn’t be anything exceptional, but think about it. 50 e-mails in one day. That’s not too bad and hence the title of this post. Maybe WordPress.org actually did me a favour by removing the plugin from the official repository.

To sum up the WP Tavern thing, I did not make any sales (that I could directly relate to the article) and I got roughly 100 downloads (the article was tweeted multiple times in the following days).

Content marketing it all

This week, I have been trying to work out how I am gonna strategically work with content marketing. I have been really busy with my clients, but every morning I have been reading articles, PDF’s and I have been jotting stuff down in a spreadsheet. I have also started a makeover of the WP Pusher Blog. At this point, I don’t think there is a lot of value in sharing the spreadsheet, but here is a recap of the most important things:

Main channel The WP Pusher Blog
Main focus Develop Thought Leadership
Target audience Freelance developers and agencies that work with version control on client projects.
Main Topics Deployment, version control and best practices

I think there is a demand for quality information about these topics, that hopefully the blog can help satisfy. I really believe that great content is the way to go. The article on WP Tavern was highly based on the few posts that are already on the blog, which leads me to an important point: Writers and journalists are busy people with deadlines. The easier you make it for them to write about you and your product, the more likely it is that they will do so. It’s really a great lesson for me that I will keep in mind.

Now that I have a better content strategy for the blog, and a fresh design, I’m ready to start creating some great content. Hopefully, that content will help drawing more attention to WP Pusher and ultimately more sales.

It has been almost a month since I launched and I am quite satisfied with the results so far. If I was still living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, WP Pusher would already pay for my rent and basic meals. That’s not quite the case here in Copenhagen, Denmark.

A Content Marketing Strategy For My WordPress Plugin

To me, online marketing is intimidating.

As mentioned earlier, I like to consider myself a devtrepreneur. I love using my technical skills to build products that people wants to use. However, I am no marketer. I do know the basics of marketing, I have a bachelors degree from a business school and I have been involved in many startups, but honestly, I still find it intimidating. It feels like there are so many things to do and everything has to be timed and planned out for it all to work.

Last month, I launched my first WordPress project, a deployment solution named WP Pusher. The only marketing I have been doing, is telling people about it on Twitter, which has been enough to generate the first few sales and free downloads. While building WP Pusher, I thought about marketing from time to time, but I never did much about it, which I guess was because I felt intimidated. Actually, after launching, instinctively I just wanted to move on to the next project, like I have done many times in the past, which would be pretty stupid. I have everything I need in order to start a proper marketing effort. I have a useful product that people really seems to like and a nice landing page.

All of which is why I decided to document everything here.

Sharing the journey

Sharing everything here, is my own way of trying to tackle an intimidating task. By sharing, I will be forced to reflect and evaluate everything I do. In the long run, hopefully, it will lead to feedback and discussions on Twitter or here on the blog.

I will share what I have been doing, both the things that worked, and the ones that did not. I am really busy these days and work +40 hours a week for clients. This leaves me with evenings only to work on WP Pusher. I have to prioritise my time and try not to waste it too much.

The plan

Right now, I do not have a plan. I know I want to focus on content marketing, which I think is a great way of attracting traffic and followers. Here is a list of things I think I need to do:

  • Make a SEO strategy, so I have something measurable
  • Re-launch the blog on blog.wppusher.com, including a content strategy
  • Make a strategy for external content, such as guest posts, reviews etc.
  • Consider paying for content on popular WordPress websites
  • Find a way to get more (@WP_Pusher) followers on Twitter

Probably, one of the first things I will do, is to make a more detailed plan. Preferably, the plan should include a few goals with actionable steps. Stay tuned for this.

If you have any feedback or ideas, please post a comment or ping me on Twitter.

That’s all for now.