For today’s article on validating and scaling WordPress products, I asked two seemingly simple questions of two people whose opinions I respect on the matter. While I’m really proud of the resulting article and how I used their words to make my point, I feel like you, the reader, are missing out on the incredibly detailed and well thought out responses they gave to my questions. So, we are sharing the complete transcripts of those interviews below.
Patrick Rauland on Product Release
Patrick Rauland is the Product Manager for WooCommerce. You can find him on Twitter @BFTrick.
Q: What steps does your team use to validate a concept for a new WooCommerce product and to determine if a new product is worth putting resources into refining once it has been released?
A: This is a HUGE question and one I could talk about for hours. There are a couple tools we use for new ideas. The first and most measurable is the ideas board. The ideas board has over 2,000 ideas for WooCommerce the vast majority of which have one to five votes. A few of these float to the top and have several hundred votes. We can easily sort the list by the most popular ideas and work on those. For example, we’re currently working on eight out of the top ten ideas in addition to many ideas that aren’t in the top ten.
I often survey and talk to store owners. When we think there might be a an opportunity for a new product like integrating with a POS system, we’ll send out surveys via social media, our newsletter, and any related ideas on the ideas board. We use this to gauge the idea, get an idea of how popular each of the POS systems are, and then collect email addresses for follow-up questions and one-on-one dialog.
For example, for the POS systems that we’re working on right now, the two most popular systems already in use among our users are Vend and Square with Square having a slight edge. We’re working on Square and once we put it out there we’ll have an idea for how popular those types of products are to see if we should continue integrating with them and make more products.
Something people don’t often bring up is when NOT to build a product. Someone approached us saying they’d be willing to build a Revel POS integration for us. Looking at the data we already collected 0/64 people we surveyed mentioned Revel so it’s an easy no. Not a no forever but for right now it’s a no. If POS integrations take off we could re-explore (if that’s a word?).
For existing products we used to just add features if we thought they made sense. This is actually a terrible way to build software. You end up building features for one percent of your audience that just clutter up the experience for everyone else.
Our ideas board is our best asset here. We can often use our gut with a little bit of data for new products. For existing products it’s very important we have the data. A feature that we’re most likely going to be implementing in the near future is importing license keys for our software add-on. It has quite a few votes for an extension.
Although we also have to weigh business opportunity here. Importing license keys might generate a couple new orders every month but we could spend that time building a POS integration that sells dozens of orders a month. That’s why voting is so important. There are many, many, many ideas with just a few votes and we can’t work on those until more of our customers vote and show us they want those features.
Q: What do you think you would do differently with new products if you didn’t have the Woo name /platform size to leverage?
A: Well I can’t speak for all of WooThemes here but I’m against line extension. I’m a product guy so I want a product to stand up by its own merit. If a product isn’t good enough to succeed I don’t want to keep it on life support with a brand name. It’s best to take a step back, make a better product or change the marketing, and try again. I like to think of Bounty, Charmin, Tide, Crest, etc. These products have their own brand and they don’t need to brand name to strengthen them. They’re all made by Proctor and Gamble but no one knows that or needs to know that.
People are confused what WooThemes does. “Don’t you just make themes?” “Who makes WooCommerce?” No one says that about Bounty. It’s just Bounty. You could ask your significant other to go to the store and pick up a roll of Bounty and they’d understand exactly what you mean.
Bottom line if your product can’t stand up on its own, you either messed up the product or the marketing. Go back to the drawing board and try again. If you’re interested in learning more about the pitfalls of line extension read Positioning.
Matt Medeiros on Product Validation
Matt Medeiros is the co-founder of Slocum Studio, Slocum Themes, and Conductor plugin. He is also the host of The Matt Report, a WordPress podcast for digital businesses. You can find him on Twitter @mattmedeiros.
Q: What was the validation process for Conductor that you went through before deciding to build it, both in terms of deciding it was the right product, and having a product was the right move for your business?
A: I’d be remiss if I didn’t preface this by saying, I don’t think any team or founder could ever be one-hundred percent sure of their product. Launching version one is risky and inevitably, no matter how much validation you do, you/it will pivot. Is this the right move for my business? I’m not sure. I can say the product is still growing, sales are still increasing, and I have a lot of market interest.
We built Conductor for our agency portfolio clients and over time, made it a very big part of our development workflow process. The plugin helped us with sales pitches, demonstrating WordPress, and developing sites faster. Even if it didn’t survive as a product on it’s own, we knew that it was working for us and we would keep using it and improving it. There’s nothing else we would want to take it’s place.
One thing that often gets overlooked, the by-product in all of this, is the education and experience we’ve had launching a different product. Our themes sales still exist and still grow, the business is very predictable. Conductor, on the other hand, is very new and it’s unlike other products. Launching, even if you’re embarrassed of your offering, puts you so far ahead of others still waiting to launch. Even if their launch looks and feels better, you’ve got a tremendous amount of intel from the market they haven’t gathered yet.
Q: How are the challenges in scaling and growing the product-based business different from growing your client-service business?
A: For one, the numbers are a lot smaller. Our agency work continues to climb as we serve bigger and better clients. We’re hovering in the $15k – $25k projects these days—far from where we started. Scaling that business isn’t easy, but a lot more obtainable at a faster velocity. It does, however, fund the development of Conductor and our themes. Also, there’s a sales cycle, for better or worse, that exists in the agency world. You can afford a few hours on the phone or a pitch session to land a gig. It’s a lot harder to do that with Conductor (or any small product), but I try my best.
Time is also the enemy. The best piece of advice was from when I interviewed Garrett Moon of CoSchedule on my podcast. He mentioned that he simply shifted the mindset of his team during weekly meetings. Instead of kicking off with the client work, we discuss the upcoming features of Conductor, talk about marketing strategies, and generally get pumped up about that space.
Lastly, everyone expects free. Conductor is paid only at this point. This means it’s certainly harder to distribute and get more people using it than some of the perceived competition. I’m countering this by offering the companion plugin, Note, for free on WordPress.org. With 4,000+ active downloads, it’s certainly become a respectable channel that I can build on top of.