As I have stepped back from Yoast, something happened to me. I’ve given it a name: “confidence after the fact”. At the time when we were running Yoast, coming up with new product ideas, growing that company like crazy, it did not feel like we were doing anything special. It did not feel like an accomplishment. At all. I really thought that everybody could do it.
I don’t think that anymore. A little distance has given me a clearer view of the matter.
Building a WordPress plugin or product business is super hard. It is the whole open source aspect of it. Everybody can copy every new feature you come up with (and they do!). It is the fact that your paid plugin competes with free plugins. Perhaps with your own free version! It is the reality that if your plugin powers say 2 million sites, it also means that there could be a million conflicts with other plugins. It is madness. And it is heroic if you succeed.
You can’t be too salesy as a plugin owner, because you’ll be criticized by our community. And criticism will lead to the risk of your open source plugin being copied by someone else. You’re very vulnerable. At the same time, you have to make money, because you’ll need a team in order to secure high-quality code, extensive testing (which you have to do with millions of installs) and support. It is madness. It is heroic. I’m repeating myself.
My conclusion: building a thriving plugin business is superhard. So, the fact that we’ve done it with Yoast means that I have earned my confidence afterwards. At the same time: research clearly shows that about 40% of the success of startups (and the biggest predictor with that) is based on timing.
I see a lot of successful business owners in and outside of WordPress share their wisdom (on X, on WordCamps, on the web). Same as I am doing in this column. But take everything we so-called experts say with a big grain of salt. We might be very good at what we’ve done (because growing that plugin business IS heroic), but we also just had a lot of luck with our timing!
This is the second post in the weekly column Two Worlds of WordPress by Marieke van de Rakt, veteran entrepreneur and leader in the WordPress space, and partner at Post Status, sharing her perspectives on what she’s seeing in WordPress.