The other day I received an email about a new site (gplclub.org/club) that was offering over $2500 worth of premium WordPress themes, plugins and WooCommerce extensions.
Then, two nights later, at our San Diego WordPress meetup, someone else stayed late to ask me about sites like these. Are they legal? What’s the hook? How do these work?
My answer was pretty simple:
It’s easy to start a company and hard to build a business.
Easy to Start a Company
Starting an online company requires 3 steps. First you have to pick a name. Then you need to get a domain name and set up a web site. Lastly, you have to set up a way to take people’s money.
If you’ve done these steps before, you know that you can accomplish every one of them without talking to a human, and do it from 2-3 am any night of the week. It’s seriously that easy.
Hard to Build a Business
Building a business is a bit different. Most importantly, while starting one can take less than an hour, building a business will take considerably longer. Weeks, months and years are often involved.
At minimum, you’ll need a strong value proposition and the right pricing. But there’s more.
Strong Value Proposition
You need a strong value proposition that makes sense to people. In other words, you need to scratch and itch that many people have—not just you.
Pricing is tough. Most people get it wrong and only narrow in on what’s right after several rounds of trial and error. Too low and people don’t pull the trigger (suspecting something’s up). Too high and people don’t pull the trigger (because they can’t afford it or don’t value it that much).
A Reason to Return
Assuming that you’re not building a business that requires only a one-time purchase by customers, you’ll also want a reason for people to spend more with you.
In other words, the business you build assumes I’ll come back again and that I’ll tell others, who will also come back again.
A Word About GPL
When companies like the GPL Club pop up, people right away call it out as wrong, unethical, or illegal. It’s not true. What they’re doing is legal. Completely.
I don’t think it’s good for business, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.
GPL is about many things, but one thing it’s about is distribution. It’s designed to ensure that the code licensed under it is available to others without restriction. So when a company releases software under a GPL license (regardless of whether they’re doing it for free or for a fee), they do so knowing someone else could distribute their software.
When someone buys a WooThemes extension for WooCommerce, nothing stops them from putting it on their site and selling it (for more or less) or giving it away. GPL ensures distribution is possible and legal.
Other People’s Code
So is it fine to give away other people’s code? Under GPL it is. And if you want to sell it cheaper in a bundle, go for it.
Here’s why it doesn’t worry me:
The customers you get from those sales are the ones who want something for nothing. That’s what they’re saying as they purchase bundles at the GPL Club, and other sites like it.
Clients who want something for nothing is not a target market you want. Ever. It’s not good business. So let GPL Club do their thing and keep those customers.
It’s likely, when those customers realize they can’t get any support for those products, that they’ll not buy from them again. And that’s why we don’t see companies build sustainable businesses.
Building a business is hard. Customers who want lots for free are still going to have problems, still want support, and will likely want it cheap. I rather leave that segment to sites like GPL Club.
Here’s another reason it doesn’t worry me:
Real customers, the ones I want, want more than the code sold by these companies. They want to have their questions answered.
When sites like GPL Club (which at least tells you they don’t provide support) promise community forums in the future, who exactly is going to add the value in those forums?
The reason those sites don’t worry me is because we, as a community, provide much of the content, in the forms of articles, how-to’s, reviews, top ten lists, and answers in support forums. When we don’t feed sites like those with our help, those forums just fill with questions.
And that’s not a reason to keep coming back.
It’s easy to tell who is serious about building a business and who isn’t. The latter just want to start a company and reap some quick rewards.
Like I said, starting a company is easy. It’s building a business that’s hard.
Chris Lema is the VP of Software Engineering at Emphasys Software, where he manages high performers and oversees product development and innovation. He’s also a blogger, ebook author and runs a WordPress meetup in North County San Diego. His coaching focuses on helping WordPress businesses, or businesses wanting to leverage WordPress.