The Week in Analysis

Is There a Future for Small WordPress Businesses?

Mark Zahra asks if there’s a future for smaller WordPress businesses in the midst of all the recent acquisitions. One thing seems certain β€” if you’re a solopreneur or developer looking to make an exit like Pippin Williamson in 5 or 6 years, that’s probably not going to happen. πŸ™‚


Mark shares a possible future for WordPress as a platform and an industry that is worth considering deeply. Recent acquisitions may give some companies a unique advantage:

“…if you’ve opted into usage tracking, there are a few things that are tracked that can be used in market research… this potentially gives one company access to information about the WordPress market as a whole that no one else has.”

Pippin β€” referencing Kinsta COO Jon Penland in conversation with Anchor Hosting founder Austin Ginder β€” emphasizes the threats to WordPress as a platform and community as the WordPress experience fragments across many different hosted versions.

David Mainayar agrees with Chris Wiegman that acquisitions are happening because WordPress has lost its simplicity. This raises the related concern about fragmentation, especially if WordPress core suffers “decay” from a lack of community contributors.

We’re not sure the increasing complexity of the tech and the ecosystem are the major motivator for established WordPress business owners exiting in a sale. One could look at the glass half full β€” instead of losing something, WordPress has joined the modern web, and even if you prefer the old web, it’s hard to see how this progression could be avoided.

We do think Chris and David are right that web hosts will continue crafting custom experiences that target their own audiences. Echoing Jon Penland and Pippin, this seems to be the one thing everyone agrees on. How it is good and bad, and who it is good and bad for are the important emerging questions.

We think there’s always an opportunity for anyone to start small. These “big” acquisitions don’t necessarily close out a space β€” not forever. Smaller players can come in and move faster to niche markets than larger companies can. We’ve seen it before. Back to Mark who mentions this too:

“You could build something completely new or just take a new approach to an existing problem. Differentiating yourself from the existing, larger solutions out there will be key if you choose to do this, but again, it can pay off nicely.”

But for small, new players to have a decent shot at success, the WordPress platform has to be everyone’s playing field. As the hosted platform space gets more competitive and more refined in creating unique WordPress experiences, it could wall off certain segments of the market β€” niche products and their users as well as developers. This would complicate the cooperation needed to move WordPress core forward.

β€”David and Dan

Awesome Motive Has Acquired Sandhills Development

Pippin Williamson, Founder and Managing Director of Sandhills Development, announced today that Awesome Motive has acquired his company β€” their whole team and plugin portfolio: Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP, Sugar Calendar, WP Simple Pay, and the Payouts Service. Syed Balkhi, Founder and CEO of Awesome Motive, outlines the commercial plugins and notes the deal includes several free plugins as well. From Sandhills, Chris Klosowski, Andrew Munro, and Phil Derksen will be joining Awesome Motive as partners, and Chris will continue to lead Easy Digital Downloads. Pippin, however, intends to take a very long break from WordPress and software development.


Pippin’s post about the sale of Sandhills is also a farewell letter. He says he intends to retire from WordPress after the transition β€” and close his laptop for a long time. There are a lot of reasons why a founder might make their exit, but there are only three ways it can happen, as Pippin notes. His choice is to pass the great products and team he built to a friend β€” and a customer.

As Syed stresses, he built his own business with Easy Digital Downloads and is intimately familiar with it and the other plugins he’s acquiring. According to Pippin, Awesome Motive has already “built a lot of really cool internal tools and extensions” that he is sure “will benefit the community at large.”

Passions, people, and companies come and go, so it’s good to see continuity amid the change. Syed’s vision and energy bode well for the future of the products Pippin and company pioneered and sustained for so long.

Congrats to Pippin, Sandhills, Syed, and the growing team at Awesome Motive. πŸ‘


Liquid Web Acquires LearnDash

LearnDash will join Liquid Web‘s StellarWP brand, and Chris Lema, Vice President of Products at Liquid Web, will step in as the General Manager of LearnDash.

πŸŽ™οΈ Get an inside look at the latest big deal in WordPress acquisitions with Chris and host Cory Miller on Post Status Draft.


Redefining Online Learning
It’s been a boom time in recent years for edutech companies, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. LearnDash, which debuted almost a decade ago, was well-positioned to ride that wave. LearnDash co-founder and CEO Justin Ferriman wrote a fascinating account of the year-long sale process of his company β€” it’s a detailed and thoughtful retrospective on how challenging success can be. It’s worth a careful read if you think an acquisition may be in your future.

As a leader (and arguably the leader) in the WordPress space for online learning, LearnDash makes WordPress an effective Learning Management System (LMS). Their plugin comes with a whole ecosystem of addons and integrations, so it’s no surprise LearnDash would be attractive as a platform for a hosting company to acquire.

Now under Chris Lema‘s leadership at Liquid Web, LearnDash will join the teams and products already acquired for StellarWP‘s portfolio: Restrict Content Pro, The Events Calendar, Kadence WP, GiveWP, and IconicWP. It’s easy to see how this all should add up to a well-integrated platform product and a dominant player in the LMS space, as Chris envisions. But Chris is thinking bigger than LMS β€” beyond “online learning” toward the complementary features in a seamless system that carries along whole cohorts of people through their day as they play a variety of roles and switch between different tasks and goals.

How this acquisition will shake up other third-party integrations and partnerships with LearnDash β€” BuddyPress comes to mind β€” remains to be seen. Chris sees StellarWP as “early” to the online learning space, at least as it exists today in the WordPress market. Will other hosting companies and deep pockets enter it as well or make similar plays to corner a specific niche with an integrated solution?

πŸ—„οΈ Post Status Archive: Chris Lema has a long history with edutech, and he recounts some of that history in the latest episode of Post Status Draft. We also ran across this 2014 post by Post Status founder Brian Krogsgard, about Chris’s entry into full-time work with WordPress.


Latest Post Status Feature

News for the WordPress Professional

⚠️ File Not Found

— I was reading this article from The Verge on the next generation (“Gen Z”) and how β€” thanks to modern technology, operating systems, and Google β€” university professors are being forced to rethink their lesson plans. For example, when a professor asked where students saved their projects they didn’t understand the question! magnifying-glass

WP Landing Kit Is Joining the Themeisle Family of Products!

— WP Landing Kit was created by Jason Schuller and Phil Kurth at the beginning of 2020. It has been acquired by ThemeIsle. ThemeIsle CEO Ionut Neagu explains that with Neve (ThemeIsle’s flagship theme) and Otter (ThemeIsle’s package of Gutenberg blocks and templates) they have a solid DIY solution for landing pages with WordPress. magnifying-glass

Keanan Koppenhaver Acquires Branch and WP Pusher

— Keanan Koppenhaver announced that he has acquired Branch and WPPusher. Keane posted similar announcements both to Branch’s homepage and the WPPusher site, relating to his newly acquired audience of developers: “As a fellow developer, I’m overjoyed at the idea of helping WordPress developers deploy their code more easily, no matter where they’re hosted and without having to resort to FTP.” magnifying-glass

6 Questions to Ask Before Selling Your WordPress Business

— The StellarWP Team has put together a list of six questions to consider before selling your WordPress business. While you make sure your books are clean and that you understand the acquiring company’s goals, it’s important to consider the impact the sale may have on you and your employees. Also important: Ask other founders about their experiences selling their companies. Many founders in the WordPress community are open and generous with their insights. magnifying-glass

WordPress 5.8.2+ Release Schedule

— The release schedule for WordPress 5.8.2 has been set for Tuesday, October 5th for the release candidate and October 12 for the final release. Currently, there are 19 open tickets for consideration in the 5.8.2 milestone. magnifying-glass

GiveWP Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Add-on

— GiveWP has taken the packaging off its new Peer-to-Peer Fundraising add-on. You can host your peer-to-peer fundraisers directly on your site, and your branding will carry through on your peer-to-peer donation forms. It includes fundraiser profiles, leaderboards, sponsorship options, team and individual fundraising pages, and more. magnifying-glass

Tove WordPress Theme

— Many people have started to notice this brilliant new WordPress theme from Anders NorΓ©n called Tove. It’s built entirely around the Full Site Editing features coming in WordPress 5.9. magnifying-glass

A Bright Future: SomewhereWarm Joins WooCommerce

— SomewhereWarm β€” the ten-year-old company behind WooCommerce plugins Product Bundles, Composite Products, and Gift Cards β€” has joined WooCommerce. There are no plans to retire any SomewhereWarm extensions “in the foreseeable future,” according to WooCommerce CEO Paul Maiorana. magnifying-glass

What’s new in Gutenberg 11.5? (16 September)

— Mike Schroder shares some tidbits from the latest release of the Gutenberg plugin, including Block Gap support. This allows users to choose the distance between items within a block, and it is now an opt-in feature. Flex Layouts are supported within the Social Links and Group Blocks, Global Styles are available to themes by default, and the Heading Levels menu has been redesigned. magnifying-glass

2 Days Since Last Acquisition

September 23, 2021 - ThemeIsle acquires WP LandingKit

πŸ‘‰ We’ve created a page for WordPress acquisitions going back to 2007. We’d also like to gather major investment data. Help us make this table more complete by adding additional deals, data, and links.

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September 14, 2021 - Podcast Episode 3: Essential Skills in the Remote WordPress Workplace