In December 2018, it was time to start selling my first WordPress plugin. I started Googling around for solutions and quickly stumbled upon Freemius – a SaaS for selling plugins and themes. Like most other newcomers to the platform, I was thrilled at the prospect of how easy it would be to monetize my plugin. Little did I know that just three months later, I would become the Head of Marketing at this rapidly growing startup, a brainchild of the Founder and CEO Vova Feldman.
My WordPress Story
I started as a freelancer building websites back in 2010 and slowly worked on larger and larger projects related to marketing, mainly focusing on strategies for SMEs involving content, email automation, reputation management, and more.
After my experience living in China, I discovered the need for expats to have a more flexible way to accept payments from clients both in and outside of China, so I created a WordPress plugin to solve that problem for WeChat Pay and Alipay.
That’s when the research began on the best ways to sell the new product. In my research, I first discovered Easy Digital Downloads, but soon realized it wasn’t right for what I needed. I continued searching and found Freemius.
I was so inspired by Freemius that I decided to apply for one of their open positions.
The First Few Months
To show my passion at the idea of working for Freemius, I replied with a personal message directly to the CEO’s 2018 Year in Review email, CC’ing the careers email that was available on the website.
Vova Feldman, Freemius CEO, replied quickly thereafter, asked me a few background questions, and we started with the application process, which entailed a 2-step assignment covering a wide range of content marketing aspects in a reasonably sized package.
Overall, the process, including the assignment and two remote interviews took a total of about 8 hours.
The training and onboarding process was as thorough as possible, and the team was very open-minded to my input and creativity as a new-comer to the business, regularly requesting feedback on any opportunity areas I may have noticed during training.
After a number of high-quality and actionable sessions and reviewing all of the previous content and processes, I felt confident for success in the role and jumped right into managing content, picking up where the previous content marketer had left off.
This was definitely a challenge, as there were processes left in place that needed to be revamped and updated for the super-fast growth we were hoping to achieve in the next few years, but it also presented a big opportunity for a fresh approach and renewed creativity.
Those first few months were pivotal to understanding the needs of the organization and marketing team.
- How to join a rapidly growing startup and become a “net contributor” as efficiently as possible.
- How an effective interview assignment can be a very useful filter for applicants.
The First WordCamp
After a few months of getting into the role, managing content, and planning a few strategies for growth, we attended WordCamp Europe in Berlin, where I had a chance to meet some of our partners, make new friends, and see what WordCamps are all about.
WordCamps aren’t just meant for fun – conferences and networking are vital for success in this space, and this was just one of two times (later being WordCamp USA in St. Louis), that we’d have that opportunity before the coronavirus hit.
Luckily, at both events, we were able to film testimonials from partners, make new connections, and maintain the mutual benefits of those relationships in the long-term after the conferences.
We had even made big plans for WordCamp Asia, which was cancelled just two weeks before the conference was to take place. That was a particularly sad one – the entire team was supposed to finally meet for the first time, and we booked a boutique hotel right next to the venue planning to spice up the conference with a little retreat of our own – and even had an awesome venue for a Freemius Makers’ meetup, a tradition we started back in 2017 in WordCamp EU in Paris. Hopefully similar plans will actually pull through in the future…
- Take advantage of every networking opportunity because you never know what the future holds.
- The value of relationships can’t be overstated enough, especially in the WordPress space.
Expanding the Team
There wasn’t intense pressure to understand every detail about the company right away. Most processes and information were documented extremely well, and if anything was missing or new, I was encouraged to document it for knowledge preservation and training purposes. When presented with something new, we all learned together.
Documenting processes and other valuable information was a theme that would help us later with onboarding new employees and creating more efficient processes. As we updated our processes and the corresponding documentation, the same materials would be used for training, which meant we had a “live working template” of how we operated the marketing team so that almost anybody could jump in, understand what we were doing, and contribute effectively.
On a regular basis, I would record short, actionable videos explaining what a project was all about, so that a new team member could watch that video, and, within minutes, start building on that process and making it better.
At first, it was just me and our amazing designer and video animator, Vitalii Romaniuk. We quickly onboarded new team members for video production, content marketing, and design, including a new focus on the Freemius YouTube channel, which now has almost 2,000 subscribers.
Our goal was to connect with and inspire WordPress plugin and theme developers by providing the best advice we could to to grow their businesses (rather than reaching millions of people).
I should mention that’s definitely a big part of what made the role exciting – the impact we could have in a developer’s life if they were able to make more sales in their business based on what they learned. That goal gave us a lot of motivation and focus on how to share and structure the content we were creating.
- Documenting important processes with video/writing is one of the best ways to rapidly grow a team.
- The most successful content connects with and inspires your community.
How My Role Changed Over Time
After leading the production of over 60 videos and 70 blog posts over two years – covering the widest variety of in-depth marketing and sales topics I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on – my role changed quite a bit based on the needs of the company.
The main priority was always providing value to our audience in the form of educational, data-driven, in-depth content because that’s what helps developers who want to grow their businesses, but this isn’t the only thing that developers need in our ecosystem.
After gauging the needs of developers in our DEV Slack over months and months of discussion, a few opportunities became apparent, one of which was Partner Perks. We thought the idea of building relationships with review/promotional sites in the ecosystem that were willing to offer Freemius partners a discount for promoting their products would be mutually beneficial for everyone involved.
We structured it so that Freemius would cover the discounted expense of the developer promoting their product with the 3rd party promotional site (the invoice would be forwarded to Freemius), which would then get deducted from the developer’s sales revenue.
Because developers earn their revenue through Freemius, it made it easy to facilitate this kind of process, with the massive benefit of minimizing the negative impact on a developer’s cash flow, while bringing those marketing benefits into closer reach.
I also had the opportunity to structure and launch the Freemius Affiliate Program, so folks in the WordPress community can now refer developers to sell their products with Freemius and get a portion of the referred developer’s sales.
Supporting the company by taking the reins on building out some of these early-phase projects that were attractive in the WordPress ecosystem, while simultaneously helping prepare the team for future growth was an amazing learning process and opportunity for me.
- Listen to what your community needs. The answers are there, so just listen to them. Sometimes it takes reading between the lines, and thinking about existing relationships you have in a different way.
- Having a developer supporting your marketing efforts is essential in today’s environment!
Why I’m Leaving the Company
I originally discovered Freemius because I had the intention to grow my own business, and that’s been neglected since being in this role. We only have a short time on this planet, and I want to spend time creating something that I truly take part in the growth and actually own.
I’ve learned a great deal about marketing that I’m excited to put into practice in my own business, so I’ll be devoting the majority of my time to plugin projects I’m passionate about at Gaucho Plugins.
It’s been a great experience leading the Freemius marketing team through this growth phase, and I’m ready to pass on the torch to someone who is prepared to jump in and take the company ever further on its mission to help plugin/theme developers grow their businesses.
Why WordPress is a Great Place to Work
As with every experience in life, you get something out of what you put in, and in this case, there are a few key reasons why working for Freemius added value to my life in ways that other companies or experiences could not.
Freemius attracts some of the most knowledgeable people in the WordPress and software-development ecosystem. We were able to put that knowledge to work every day, and so inspiration came from within the team. I found Freemius to be one of the most inspirational companies to work for because it’s an amazing team of people that helps developers succeed using innovative solutions. The people make the culture, and the culture is team-oriented, focused on results, and highly motivated for success.
The diversity of the global team at Freemius was also very cool, as we heard updates from different members of the team based on where they lived, like the war in Armenia, and how Coronavirus was affecting team members in different parts of the world.
Rapid Innovation and Implementation
It was satisfying to see an idea come to life so quickly. When an idea was deemed a priority, there was no “waiting period” – we got started on planning and implementation as soon as possible (of course, taking into account other priorities).
The rapid pace of implementation applied to everything – content releases, feature releases – all done with a savage pace and level of quality that few other fully-remote startups can match, and part of that was the team’s skillset, but also the framework set up for us to work together from the beginning.
Making an Actual Impact
The impact was something I could see and feel when a partner made new sales or expanded their business with the support or advice I could provide. This meant they could put food on the table, support their families – all through their own hard work.
Connecting 1on1 with partners was always the best part of the job, but the second best part was the creativity, advice, and thought I was able to put into the job that was received well by bother partners and teammates.
From choosing and curating article/video topics, to analyzing paid advertising efforts, all the way to having input on the UI/UX of the Developer Dashboard – my ideas and feedback were valued in the process.
It’s Only Getting Bigger
I supported six amazing colleagues in my two years with Freemius, and the team has grown with three new team members in the last few months.
After experiencing the inner workings of the company, there’s a massive opportunity for Freemius to become one of the most successful in the ecosystem, which I think is inevitable given it’s rapid rise to success so far. I strongly recommend taking the leap of faith and working for this company, as it will make amazing changes.
It was a pleasure working for Freemius, and great experiences will surely be cherished as I sign off from this adventure and sign on to a new one!