Mike Jolley is the lead developer of WooCommerce by day, and has managed the very successful WP Job Manager plugin by night.
Mike created WP Job Manager (also on WordPress.org) as a side project for fun in June 2013. He released paid extensions through Gumroad (a hosted tool for selling digital downloads) in September 2013 and in May of 2014 — after the plugin had really taken off — he moved to WooCommerce.
WP Job Manager filled a void in the WordPress plugin space. It now has more than 30,000 active installs, according to WordPress.org, and the suite of add-on plugins and themes has been very successful.
WP Job Manager to be acquired by Automattic
As most readers know, WooThemes and WooCommerce were acquired by Automattic in May. Mike joined the other WooThemes employees at Automattic. Automattic has a strict policy that employees cannot have paid side projects, whether client or product work. For Mike to stay at Automattic, he had to figure out what the future of WP Job Manager would be.
Mike decided to sell WP Job Manager to Automattic after they expressed interest, and they have reached an agreement for a deal. While the terms of the deal are not public and Matt Mullenweg and Mike would not comment on the deal, I'm able to offer some additional insight based on conversations with others that have knowledge of the situation.
Revenue and WP Job Manager ecosystem
According to sources, WP Job Manager was bringing in $35,000-$40,000 revenue per month at its peak. I believe that Automattic paid greater than one year of expected income to retain rights to the plugin and paid add-ons.
The move from Gumroad to WooCommerce — and the addition of a bundle option, were quite successful, it appears. Furthermore, add-on products from third parties helped drive growth to WP Job Manager.
For example, Astoundify has two themes that utilize WP Job Manager — Listify and Jobify — which gross between $45,000 and $50,000 per month alone. In addition to their themes, they make another $5,000-$7,000 from WP Job Manager related plugins. So Astoundify makes around $55,000 per month on top of the WP Job Manager plugin, and in result drive considerable sales back to WP Job Manager's other paid add-ons.
There are other developers with add-ons and themes for WP Job Manager as well. It's a successful ecosystem with a mix of themes and plugins.
Mike was able to create the product with relatively low support costs as well. He hired two part-time support providers, but otherwise managed development and other tasks himself.
By all means, WP Job Manager is a ridiculously successful product, especially as a side project. It's important to remember that this is not the status-quo, but Mike did an incredible job finding the right market combined with a truly terrific product.
Q&A with Mike Jolley and Matt Mullenweg
I sent some questions to Mike and both Mike and Matt Mullenweg responded. Here are those questions and answers in full:
When did the acquisition take place? After WooThemes was acquired, same time?
MJ: The acquisition of WPJM came after the Woo deal was finalised.
I had known that an acquisition may be happening, but when this was official and it was revealed that Automattic were the acquirers I wasn’t actually aware of their policies surrounding paid projects. I should have read “Year Without Pants” 🙂
MM: We want for everyone at Automattic to be fully focused on our shared business and projects, it’s part of what brings everyone together. We had been aware of WPJM from pretty early in the process and thought it could be a nice complement to the WooCommerce business since its approach was so similar.
What options did you have for the acquisition? I know A8C [Automattic] doesn’t allow paid side projects, so did a change have to happen for you to stay on with Automattic to work on WooCommerce?
MM: Anything was an option, including making WPJM free or selling it to a third party, but I’m glad we came to the solution we did. Since WPJM is part of Automattic now there’s no real or perceived conflict to the continuing work on it or revenue from it.
MJ: I didn’t want to stop working on WooCommerce. It’s still the project I’m most passionate about and I’m not ready to walk away just yet. Although it was a really tough and emotional decision to make, I feel I made the right decision to part ways with WPJM to continue working on WooCommerce.
Did you explore other options? Selling to someone else, etc?
MJ: I looked into a few options before I knew the details of the deal from Automattic, naturally. I thought about offloading it to a developer-friend, making it all free, or doing it full time. Ultimately though, the appeal of working for Automattic, the benefits surrounding that, being able to continue working on WooCommerce and with the people I respect, and the acquisition itself won the day.
Did you have any support, dev, or other paid help for managing WPJM?
MJ: Yes; I’ve had help on the support front from both Bryce Adams and Scott Basgaard whom have done work for me on a freelance basis. They have both been a tremendous help, and crucial given the time I have available. Really thankful to those guys.
On the development side it’s been largely me, although Bryce and Remi Corson have both built an add-on, again freelance based.
Will you still be the lead on WPJM development at A8C?
MJ: This is not yet certain. WooCommerce demands most of my time as team lead so it may be difficult to work on both, however if possible I’d still like to contribute to the project and help where I can. The core project at least is GPL and public on Github so I can definitely see myself contributing there to keep my Github commit streak going.
What does the third party ecosystem look like on WPJM? Jobify, etc. How many folks have products based on it? How could life change for these products?
MJ: The 3rd party system for WPJM differs to that of WooCommerce in that I do not sell 3rd party items myself via a marketplace. All 3rd party stuff is external.
Plugin wise, Smyl.es has a cool field editor, Remi Corson, Tiny Giant Studios and Astoundify have several, and there are a few integrations with other plugins ranging from search to geolocation.
On the theme front, Jobify (and Listify) by Astoundify are the most prominent. Tiny Giant Studios have a few, I’m aware of some for sale on TemplateMonster (unsure of quality), and then there is one-that-shall-not-be-named on Themeforest which bundles paid add-ons (shame).
The theme side is diverse. Even though I’m targeting the jobs niche, Listify is a generic listings theme which can list everything, powered by WPJM. There are even also even more-niche themes such as Petsitter and Babysitter themes which customise the plugin further.
Overall, a lot of things going on in this space. If the plugin grows from a8c involvement (which I hope to see) these developers should benefit from an increased user base. Really glad they chose to back my little project.
Will the format for sales of WPJM change in the future, under the umbrella of A8C? Will it become free?
MJ: Short term, things should remain as-is, with Automattic taking over the site, sales, and support. Medium- to long-term I cannot say for certain what will happen, but with more time and resources devoted to it (more than my weekends and evenings) I hope to see the ecosystem grow and support for the plugin to continue.
What kind of revenue was WP Job Manager seeing in the months prior to the acquisition?
MM: No comment on the economics of the plugin.
How many paid users do you have?
MM: Still no comment on the economics of the plugin.
What kind of acquisition occurred? Cash and stock? Cash or stock only?
MM: Sorry we don’t comment on this.
Can you tell me the ballpark of the acquisition value?
MM: Definitely Astrodome.
What we've learned here
There's a lot we can take away from the WP Job Manager acquisition.
For one, it proves that a single individual can have a massive impact on the WordPress ecosystem. It's impossible to deny how influential Mike has been. He's the lead developer of the world's most popular eCommerce plugin, while he runs an incredible successful job manager plugin on the side.
His success is astonishingly impressive to me. I'm quite happy for him and everything he's achieved.
It also appears to me based on discussions that it was not well known that Automattic restricts side projects for their employees. It's a long standing policy and I think it works for them; however it does make for certain challenges when they hire self-employed product makers or acquire companies with different policies.
The acquisition of WooThemes brought a number of challenges. Mike being on board would have been a huge priority for me, if I were acquiring WooThemes. The half a million dollars or more (I am just guessing) to acquire WP Job Manager would be well worth it, even if I didn't have big plans for the product.
That said, I think in this case Automattic could make great use of WP Job Manager. It would be another terrific fit for their WordPress.com VIP clients, and if they actively develop it, it could receive even more adoption long term.
However, just as I thought with WooCommerce, I wouldn't be surprised if they make Mike's traditionally paid add-ons free, as paid plugins don't particularly jive with Matt Mullenweg's historical viewpoints. And WP Job Manager — while it has quite a bit of potential for a normal person — doesn't likely have the same growth potential as WooCommerce to be an attractive monetization avenue as an Automattic product.
So I would expect that the plugin model will change over the coming months.
Congratulations to both Mike and Automattic; this is a win for both parties. Mike is a huge asset to any organization, and I'm really glad he is able to be financially rewarded for all of his contributions making great WordPress products.