Going from Agency to Products: The Story of Barn2 — Post Status Draft 125
From client services and agency work to a successful product business — Katie Keith tells Cory the Barn2 Plugins story in this episode of Post Status Draft.
Estimated reading time: 60 minutes
Katie and Andy Keith started out as a WordPress agency almost a decade ago and then tried to break into WordPress products, first with themes and then plugins. Challenges arose with reliable project management on the agency side while they tried to establish a foothold in the WordPress plugin market after a first attempt with themes. The WooCommerce Extensions Store is where their business took off. With niche extensions that had no competition, they ranked very quickly. Other ideas for plugins solved problems in custom development projects for clients. Eventually, the Keiths developed a formula for evaluating new plugin ideas. Learn from their challenges and successes — there are a lot of interesting details that only come from experience.
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Cory Miller: [00:00:00] So, hey everybody. I’m talking to one of our great post status members, Katie. Keith. I got to meet her in person a couple weeks ago at work camp US in San Diego, and got a little bit about her story there and she’s got so many compelling things to part of her story that’s gonna be valuable to our audience and our membership.
Um, particularly how do you go from client service and agency? To successful plug-in business, particularly, you’re gonna hear all those stories about, um, Katie and her work and her team’s work at Barn two. But Katie, thank you for, um, coming on, uh, post draft today and being willing to share your story.
Yeah. Thank you for having me. Okay, so tell us a little bit about yourself. You’re the co-founder of Barn Two, but I want to give you an opportunity to just kinda say a little bit about yourself.
Katie Keith: Um, yeah, so I’m Katie. Um, kind of one of the two directors at Barn, two plugins. I run [00:01:00] the company with my husband Andy.
Um, we’re English, but last year we moved to, uh, New Yorker, Spain, um, because of the flexibility you get with this industry, which is amazing. Um, So that’s kind of what’s new with me at the moment and new country to live in. And we have a kind of a team around the world. So, um, we were able to work from anywhere.
Cory Miller: awesome. Um, and we could talk about New York all the time cause I remember you mentioned that and I love that, uh, story. But I’m gonna stay the topic here today. Well, so tell us about, Okay. Currently today, um, Your business is primarily around plugins, but WooCommerce plugins, and I wanna get to that, but I wanna talk about the story of the beginning.
Um, mm-hmm. , you, you and your husband started in 2009, but could you tell us the story about how you started in web design and development and WordPress and all that?
Katie Keith: Yeah, sure. So, um, Most of the [00:02:00] time when in, when we were in our twenties, we had normal jobs, um, both in the public sector in England, and we would always talk about we wanting to run a business together and we never did it for ages and ages and, um, just kept taking our salaries and not doing it.
And then eventually, um, Andy in particular was, um, quite fed up with his job and so we thought, Right, we’re gonna take the plunge and do something. And we couldn’t afford for us both to do it. So he quit his job and I kept my job and we started freelancing together, basically building websites. Uh, we thought that was a fairly easy thing to get into because, um, you can attract quite small clients and work your way.
So, um, he’s a software developer and did the technical stuff and I have a marketing and project management background, so I managed the clients and did their SEO and content and everything. So it worked quite well as, um, something we could do together. So we started freelancing, um, fairly quickly. We [00:03:00] discovered WordPress as being the best way to build a website.
So all our projects were built on WordPress. Um, it wasn’t something the clients were asking for, that was just our decision. And then after about a year, I thought, Well, what if I actually advertised this as WordPress specialists? So this was in late 2010. So I ran a Google AdWords campaign focusing on keywords like WordPress experts and things like that, and it was amazing.
We. I think I spent 3000, uh, probably pounds, and we got within couple of weeks, more than 10,000 pounds worth of work out of it. I realized it’s not that easy now because there’s a lot of WordPress specialists, but back then there was a gap that we kind of fell on, and so the agency grew from there.
Cory Miller: Okay, so then you’re, and then you were able to come full time at some point, of course.
And, uh, what, what happened? So you, you found WordPress, you started to build this, and how did the next [00:04:00] couple of months, years or whatever until, um, the plugins go, what were you, you were just, you were building websites and all the things around it. Did it get, did it broaden out to anything specialization wise, or?
How did that grow? Grow from there?
Katie Keith: Yeah, we specialized in doing more bespoke, uh, client projects in WordPress because we’d found this gap that there was at the time. And we recruited a team of freelancers, um, from websites like Upwork, which wasn’t called Upwork then, and people per hour and found good people and, you know, we thoroughly vet them and things.
And so we managed to build a freelance team. We didn’t have any employees or anything. Everybody was just freelance. And that way we could increase capacity. We were really pleased at first that we were running our own business. We quit our jobs, and that was really great. And then we started to think, actually, it’s still kind of not the perfect lifestyle because clients work, [00:05:00] as I’m sure all your listeners know, can be quite demanding.
They want things done straight away. They have problems with their website, which you have to sort out immediately and you don’t really get any time. So we have that in the back of our minds that what is the ultimate sort of lifestyle type business where we can be successful and have that flexibility.
And being in the WordPress industry, we could see that WordPress products and the growth of that. And, um, at the time you could see how well people were doing with themes, particularly, um, on theme forest. So in about 2013 we spent like literally a year building a theme, which we were gonna spend on sell on theme forest, and it was rejected, so that was disappointing.
Um, we spent so long building this product that in the time we were doing so that market changed and it became very competitive with the big themes like Avada and Jupiter coming out, uh, which were huge [00:06:00] pieces of software, uh, with tons and tons of features, which we. Possibly do, um, ourselves. So we kind of gave up on that idea for a while.
Um, and then in, but in 2016, we thought, let’s go down the plugin route because plugins can be small and very niche, or do I have to say niche, um, . Um, and so we launched our first plugin, um, and um, it went from there.
Cory Miller: Okay, so let’s back up just a second. So, started themes, what was the, was the desire there to kind of diversify income, explore this?
Did you have, you obviously had some time to be able to, like your, your agency work is going well and start to, Okay. Hey, how, how did the product and the themes, uh, idea kind of get started and, and what were your thoughts around that? Like,
Katie Keith: We found the capacity to develop it, um, through the freelance team so that [00:07:00] they didn’t do the theme.
Um, they did the client projects and that freed up Andy as the technical director to work on the side projects. So because we had people that we could outsource the technical side of projects, Two, he was able to do that. And then I was able to take over the marketing when things were launched. And so that was, um, if it was just him doing all the client projects, that would’ve been very difficult because he, you get dragged onto those.
Of course, whenever something urgent happens or he, you need some money, then you’d end up doing the work yourself. So through the, um, freelance team, that was helpful.
Cory Miller: I feel like I hear a lot of stories where it’s, you get up to kind of cruising that altitude and you’re able to have just a little bit more time and space to go, Huh?
What else would we like to do? Um, you mentioned lifestyle in a second ago, but what was the spark that goes, Okay, maybe if this is true, we had one more time in space where [00:08:00] Andy, for instance, in this scenario, Do that more. What was the spark that led to that? That initial theme product? The
Katie Keith: spark was that we reached a ceiling in the growth that we were realistically able to achieve.
If we had taken on a lot more risk and full-time staff and gone down a much more traditional company model, then we could have continued to grow. But basically the limit we faced was project management. So we found good people that could do design websites and plugins for us, for our clients more specifically.
Um, but whenever we tried to find project managers, it didn’t work. And I spent a long time training some freelance project managers and they just didn’t have the WordPress experience, the relationship with the clients as I did in. Managing myself. Um, so, and the clients were less happy. Um, and one time [00:09:00] in 2015, um, it, our daughter was just about to start school.
And as you will know, that holidays get very expensive when your child’s at school. So before that, we decided to take a month off. And we hired a motor home and drove around France for a month, and that meant we had to take a step back from work. And I got one of my project managers to handle everything, and it was a disaster.
The clients were unhappy, projects failed. It just didn’t work. And it became clear that that was the ceiling I had to manage all the project. Um, I obviously didn’t have the skills to recruit and train project managers. I know some people are good at that, but I wasn’t. And, um, so we couldn’t grow any further because I couldn’t manage any additional projects.
And so then we started thinking, how can we grow, uh, products?
Cory Miller: I see. I, I love how you described it as ceiling, cuz I can totally see that, you know, you get to a point where, kind of a fourth in road too of what do you, [00:10:00] what do you wanna do? And we feel like we’re right here. So that’s, that’s, that’s inspiring too.
Um, okay, so we had the same product and that didn’t go well. We, you sp said you spent about a year doing that. Um, and then we get over to plugins. I think you said two. 16. But I, I hear from a lot of, um, agencies that have transitioned or offer products that often they start as, uh, client work and you go, Oh, it’s a discovery of there’s a need here.
So how did the plugins and I wanna talk about, and actually talk about what the plugins are, but how did that, uh, spark get started there too with the plugin?
Katie Keith: Um, well, we launched two plugins very early on. One of them we got the idea from the WooCommerce Ideas forum, where you can publicly see where the gaps in the market are.
So we just went through the list by the number of votes and found the idea that was, had the most votes. That was realistic for us to develop. So, um, that was our first [00:11:00] plugin, which was called WooCommerce, Password Protected Categories. So it was very simple. It loads of people wanted it, there was nothing at the time that did it.
And it just lets you password protected category for your store. Like if you wanna create a, a hidden area in your shop for members or wholesalers or. So we launched that and our other initial plugin, we got the idea from a client. So this client, uh, hired us to create a searchable table for his blog. So he had hundreds of blog posts about this spiritual leader that he followed, and they wrote all these things about his teachings and things, and there was this massive blog and he wanted a much more searchable, filterable, indexable way.
Than a normal WordPress blog where you just have the posts in reverse chronological order. That wasn’t how he wanted it to be. And so we built this j query table plugin for the client, which he obviously paid us for. And then [00:12:00] independently we built it into a sellable plugin. So we, uh, added a lot more features.
We added settings, pages, the kind of things that you wouldn’t realistically do on a client level project. So we put a lot more into. But the original idea came from this client. Um, we actually released that as a free plugin, which is still available on webpress.org now. It’s called Post Table with Search and Sort.
And that’s basically the, um, bells and whistles version of what we did for the client. Um, but then once we’d released the free plugin, we started to get feature requests. As you do when you put something out there. So people started asking for two key things. One was the ability to create a searchable table of custom post types.
So that might be documents or members or articles, videos, audio, all these sorts of custom post types. Um, And the other was specifically W commerce products. So later in 2016 we built our [00:13:00] post table pro plugin, which lists custom post types in a searchable table and our product table plugin W Commerce product table, which takes your W Commerce products and puts them in like a.
Table, which is basically a one page order form. So that works really well because you’ve got your variations and your quantity boxes and add to cart buttons all on this one page order form. So it’s, even though it looks the same as the original table of blog posts. So it’s actually a totally different purpose because it’s an eCommerce order form.
Um, but the idea all came from that one client. And both of those projects have always been, those plugins have always been amongst our most successful. And WooCommerce product tables sold something like 1.2 million worth over its lifetime. And it is our biggest, um, lifetime selling plugin.
Cory Miller: Oh, that’s excellent.
And I, I never asked revenue numbers, but thank you for sharing that, cuz I think that’s, uh, inspired people to see how [00:14:00] you’ve come and how it, you know, evolved as a framework for how they can do that in their own world. Um, the back to, so I, I love that kind of little mini story of how that post search table, I’ve gotta look this up by the way.
Um, cuz I think we might need to post that, um, from, From that product came on our client. I hear that a lot and you gave such an amazing, um, example of how something can. Birth out of client work WooCommerce marketplace. You said the other one came from an idea on the Mark WooCommerce ideas place, but did, how did you get to WooCommerce?
Were you doing WooCommerce type projects for clients or did you say, did you just see that this thing called WooCommerce was coming, this big, big thing, or how did. Has it lead you to the marketplace to find that idea?
Katie Keith: We just knew that we commerce was big and we had also heard or felt, I don’t remember that.
Um, people are more inclined to buy premium [00:15:00] products, premium plugins, when that will make them money. Which makes sense, doesn’t it? Mm-hmm. . So, uh, we particularly wanted to sell plugins for e for eCommerce because they would be easier to go premium.
Cory Miller: Yeah, I, So for my time at Ithe, um, we built, mostly, we ended up building, we meandered in the path to plugins and then we kind of found our niche was utility plugins.
And I always said, um, Hey, we’re saving people money, time, and things like that. That’s the stuff you think about, like insurance. I go, I gotta have insurance. Um, but it’s not sexy. What sexy is making. You know, and, uh, we never got to this part of the making money part. We felt like we were helping people by extension make money and build their business.
But it’s, it’s so neat to hear you all saw, okay, this is something that people, if you help make them money, it’s a really good thing. Cuz I said, Hey, nobody grabs about the bill of something that, like if you have your [00:16:00] PPC campaign or whatever going and it’s convert. . Nobody complains much about that Bill, but you complain.
I complain about our, our house insurance bill. You know, we gotta re up our house insurance bill because I don’t think about like, well I don’t want a fire to burn the house. I want to take care of itself. But on the other side to make money part is, is always felt easier to make that self. Cuz you’re not a cost item per se.
You’re more like, No, this is essential to helping us keep making the money.
Katie Keith: Okay. And not just for the initial sale either, but for ongoing renewals because obviously most plugin companies now sell annually. And if the customer sees that value coming in from the product, they’re more likely to keep paying as well.
And we do quite a lot of analysis of our pricing to see what, um, is the best balance between sales. A cost per product and, and the W commerce versions always will justify a higher price than a general WordPress plugin. So, W Commerce Product Table and [00:17:00] Post Table Pro are good examples. Post Table Pro has never been able to justify the same price tag as product table because people are displaying information in a useful way rather than selling something.
Cory Miller: Okay, so were, Was there a point. After these two plugins start to have success and maybe others that you do, where you said we’re, we’re gonna, we’re gonna thin down client work and we’re gonna focus on, um, our, just our product and our plugins side of the business. And how did that, Yeah, how did you get to that decision?
Katie Keith: It happened surprisingly quickly. So we launched our first paid plugin in early March, 2016. And by August we were making decisions, Let’s stop taking on new clients. So we’ll follow through on existing projects, ex if existing clients want a new website, we’ll do it. So we kind of slowed it down gradually.
So by then the plugins were probably making, I dunno, [00:18:00] $5,000 a month or something, which was less than the client business, but enough to live on. Um, so we could feel fairly confident. And we also had the safety net of a large number of clients that we were hosting and maintaining their websites. So we kind felt that we could take that risk and not be, keep taking up our time building new client projects surprisingly quickly.
Cory Miller: So I’m sure looking back, it feels like a magical time. It was for me when you go, Okay, this thing that we did, Is working and there’s another opportunity here to, uh, you mentioned lifestyle in, in the beginning here is, and, and that’s what motivated me too, is always to have this, Oh, this is working. Where could it lead?
And it feels, it feels magical to me, but how, how does that, reflecting back in 2016, those six months or so, from. Wow, this could actually be a thing. Oh, this is, oh, we should make these [00:19:00] decisions to do this. Reflecting back, how does that whole time period, uh, feel and how do you think about it?
Katie Keith: Well, the first sale was amazing cuz we just, so we used our existing website, which firstname.lastname@example.org uk.
We eventually went to bantu.com but that took years. Um, so we had quite good SEO from the client business, so we didn’t want us. Start again with a new domain or anything. So we put up a, a plugin section on our agency website. So we were advertising web design services and plugins on, you know, different menu tabs, basically, um, added some blog posts.
And because our first plugin, we commerce password protected categories was unique in the market, uh, there was no competition and we ranked very quickly. Which was amazing. And so, um, it actually was literally a few days before the first sale came and we were like, What? We saw this email, new plugin sale.
That’s not one of our [00:20:00] tests. That’s a real person. Oh my God. And we didn’t even know it would ever sell. Um, so the first sale was really interesting because that’s the first kind of evidence that people might actually find our website that way and buy things on it.
Cory Miller: That’s awesome. Okay, let’s fast forward a little bit to today.
What do you, what do you offer and what are you doing with Barn two? Let’s see, what if I’m doing my math? Six plus years later, almost six years later, you’re kind of coming up, You’re already past your anniversary of that big decision. Now what? What are you doing at Barn two? Um,
Katie Keith: so kind of more of the same really.
So we’ve taken what worked and kept doing it. Um, we now have 19 premium plugins, plus maybe four or five free ones. And we have a team of about 14 people, um, who are all, um, working independently around the world. Um, [00:21:00] so from their, their. Uh, so we’ve got like a support team and a development team and a marketing team, which is amazing.
Um, but ultimately we are just trying to kind of replicate what we started and scale it up cuz it works.
Cory Miller: Yeah, it, it for sure did. Congratulations on your success and what you built so far today. Um, it’s uh, I think a lot of people dream, Oh, I’d like where Katie is now. That’s where I want to be. And how do you get there?
And I think you’ve shared so many key parts to the story. Definitely resonate with me, um, about building product, business. And I go back to what you. Find what works, keep doing it and if it stops working, find something else that’s working and doing that. Um, I know we talked about some of the original ideas that came from Woo Marketplace looking in, seeing, seeing an opportunity there, and the other side was clients.
Any other thoughts about how, how you go about, or how someone else could go about finding the opportunities for [00:22:00] products as they’re building their.
Katie Keith: Just keep it in mind really, the information, the insights are probably there. If you are in the WordPress industry, you’re doing projects, you’re building websites for people.
I would be surprised if you weren’t coming across gaps in the market. And, um, if you do a bit of research, you can find out if other people are looking for the same thing that your client has found that doesn’t exist. Maybe you’ve recently done some custom code and customization for, I dunno, the events calendar or something that what, there wasn’t a feature built in.
And so you’ve written something bespoke that might be a plug-in idea for an extension you could sell. Um, there’s tons of things like that in all the major plugins, um, like eCommerce. Easy digital downloads, gravity forms and so on. There’s all these gaps. So if you are using these tools and customizing them, there’s then to have a think about whether that’s a product idea,
Cory Miller: it, it’s part of your experience, part of your expertise, and seems [00:23:00] like a good place to start for me.
Um, when we started, I think we started with themes. And, uh, eventually we got into plugins because it was, it was definitely part of conversations I was having, uh, seeing that there was this opportunity with plugins, but it came out of a need for us in those, Just listening to customers, like you’re saying, is just.
What are the things that people are bumping into that are problems that probably are valuable if you can solve those problems, Like your, um, your custom posts searched and organized plugin came out of that one person with this massive site. And then did you start asking like, what were the questions you started asking for me with, for instance, back, but when that, that was not my idea.
It came from our team and I go, Oh, a backup. Click in. My first question was, everybody needs a backup of their web WordPress website that came out of our own pain. Um, but where were some of those questions you started asking as you determine like, this [00:24:00] is feasible for us to take time, resources, energy, You know, I, we’ll talk about like getting things off the ground to, from a marketing side.
I know, um, too, because I want to tap into that experience you have and expertise. But, um, what were some of those questions you asked when you’re like, How do I. How do I determine, make this decision? This is worth some time.
Katie Keith: Well, to be honest, we did had a lot of randomness and luck and instincts. We weren’t brilliant at establishing that data.
Um, we’ve worked a lot with ellipses to reduce randomness. Um, you know, the marketing company for WordPress, uh, product companies, sis, and, um, because we. Checking that it didn’t exist. So we were checking, there was a gap, but we weren’t establishing the, the demand. Sometimes we would just do it because it was new and have a go.
Um, so that, yeah, we probably [00:25:00] wasted some resources there. Uh, and um, so that has been an ongoing challenge and not something we’ve always been brilliant at, but the data is there and if you hire an SEO company or something, you can find out about search volumes or, or just go on Google Trends yourself and see.
Cory Miller: I love your authenticity though to say that because that’s so reflective of my own experience and I think of many others. We don’t just look into it crystal long. Go. There it is. Sure. Maybe that that’s out there. I have this great idea. I think it would work, but there’s probably so much backstory to it.
The story I tell often, and so much of this is experiments and over time I tried to make my experiments, uh, cost less and less and less because I made some very expensive. Experiment, failures, you know? Yeah. But I just love your genuineness of saying like, it, we didn’t have it all together and neither did we, by the way.
Um, when you’re starting and you start to hone that process, like that laboratory process, [00:26:00] I read a book called Little Bets and I back in the day and I go, Oh, I shouldn’t just go. Um, see an opportunity. Let’s run for it. Maybe there’s some nuance there. Uh, one of the mistakes that we made that I often say when people ask me about my failures, particularly in product, I say, uh, I call it, I think it’s exchange.
Back in this day, we were seeing the WooCommerce market really grow and explode and, um, it seemed very complex to me, and our opportunities started at, or the, the thought started. There should be a simpler way to do e-commerce for the person actually running the site, putting their products on the site.
And so we started, I think, exchange with that kind of premise, but we didn’t do a lot more thought past that. And it ended up costing us probably 400,000, $500,000 fixed cost. Not to, not to mention opportunity costs. So I use that as my thing. It’s like, okay, why did I. Why did that fail? Where did we go [00:27:00] wrong?
But I’d say that like there’s so many failures that get to like, you know, get to, Oh, this is it. But I just keep anchoring back to your client’s story when they birth out of either your experiences, like you said, or a client that see and like, Oh, could other people use this? How much do they value those things?
And I sometimes probably get thought, get paralyzed in that over analysis. But there is some here of. Those basic questions of like, is this something that we think could go and going from hunch to actually, let’s put it out there and test it. Do you have any thoughts around that too? Um,
Katie Keith: yeah. I’ve never been a big risk taker and I like small risks, um, that aren’t like gonna break the bank if they’re not successful.
Uh, so. The, you know, where we haven’t established the market first, it wasn’t a huge amount of development time to get the product out there, for example. Um, we now have a formula which [00:28:00] we use to evaluate new plugin ideas, which looks at factors such as, uh, search volume. Other searches for that, um, concept going up or down, competitiveness, um, difficulty to develop that kind of thing.
So we’ve got this, this whole spreadsheets that we plug new ideas into with some data, so that helps. But yeah, I, I’ve always been scared of themes because I perceive them as being really huge and a big risk to develop. But you were very brave starting with
Cory Miller: themes. It was much more complex in two thou. I mean, I’m sorry.
Much more simple in 2008, by the way, than it is today. Um, for for sure.
Katie Keith: Yeah. Yeah. Cause it was about 2013 that it changed, which is when we were trying to build a theme and suddenly these multipurpose themes flooded the market, didn’t they?
Cory Miller: Yes, absolutely. And, and that’s the other part I think you even mentioned in there is competition is seeing what other people are doing out there in the space.
When we did backup Buddy, there wasn’t really [00:29:00] anything that, what we felt was a holistic backup plugin to do backups, migrations, restoring of websites. And so, but, but again, it was early enough where there wasn’t a lot. Now, today, totally different story. If we’re going, we want do a backup plugin, well, There’s, look at the landscape.
It’s pretty competitive. The other side, and I love your input on this too, is that so many people, as we the theme market, got so competitive. And people would say, Do you think you could build start, Someone could build, Not even me, just someone could build a theme company. And early on in my, uh, naiveness, I said, um, I don’t think so.
I think it’d be really, really tough. Well then probably right as, as I say that companies like Beaver Builder come out and I’m. Wow. Even the competitive, what I viewed as a competitive market, they saw a way to innovate that changed the game. Now they would say, I think [00:30:00] it’s a plugin versus a theme, but I, But to me, they had a different perspective and they looked at some of what I was buried in complexity and go.
No, there’s this, and then, then this whole page builder market starts. Um, and so that’s always interesting too, is just when I, I, I always say never because when I have said, I don’t think so, someone ever else goes but here, and it’s so cool with the innovation that you can do in market. And
Katie Keith: that’s an interesting example cuz I think a lot of the, uh, Beaver Builder diehards are developers and people that are quite, uh, into WordPress.
And, and I know that’s not their whole market, but I think they go more in that direction in terms of their fan base. So they kind of found a bit of a gap as well from say the visual composer types who are very much not that group at.
Cory Miller: Um, well, okay, so let’s, we’ve talked about kind of getting plugin, evaluating it and all the story that goes a part of that where [00:31:00] Barn two is today.
Um, the other compelling question that we talked about before, uh, before we had this, we started recording, was the whole marketing of plugins. Um, and. Particularly, I know this was something that you started with, with the agency back in the day, was your emphasis on marketing too, but how do you think about marketing plugins?
Okay, we’ve gotten past decision, we’re building it, we’ve got it ready to go. And then just that big, broad question of how do you market plugins?
Katie Keith: Well because I’m not a big risk taker, I try to keep it small, but fi cuz with WordPress, in particularly with commerce, small, is a huge market because even the tiniest things there are loads of people searching for.
So if I was going to launch, An events plugin or a membership plugin, I don’t think I would be that successful, to be honest. Uh, because it’s so competitive. How are you going to rank for WordPress membership plugin? Never gonna happen, or you’d have to be very, very good. But [00:32:00] to rank for something really specific that doesn’t exist in the market is actually quite easy, particularly if you already.
Say an agency website that you can start selling your products on and blogging on about your products and that you’ve got some domain authority built up. So my advice, um, if, if you’ve not got a huge budget and massive marketing skills is to go for the niches and find something specific that you have got a reasonable chance of success.
Cory Miller: As you’re looking back to, do you think there were, where were the catalyst moments when. You know, you’re, you’re starting to get a flow in of customers that’s kind of growing. Um, and like, oh, this point here, when this happened, things started to take off from marketing or customer, you know, incoming customers or things like that, that you think made the difference that you think about quite a bit today in terms of the marketing and growth of [00:33:00] the products that you offer.
Katie Keith: Um, it’s funny cuz what we do now is kind of the same things that we always did, which is finding content opportunities that fill a gap that isn’t already catered for and a bit of ads and things like that. So it was just about really getting, there wasn’t really a catalyst moment because we did that from day one based on experience of marketing the agency business, it’s more.
Reducing the randomness as I talked about earlier, and fine tuning that process so that you can predict the chance of success more before you start throwing things out.
Cory Miller: Yeah, I, The first month, that first eight months of item I tell people a lot is that I was doing support cuz I was the only person and um, oh yes, but I cannot take that experience back.
I would never want to because I learned so much about the who I thought. For, for the tenure, I [00:34:00] was, uh, part of Mythe. I always thought I’m our, I’m our base user. I’m not very technical. I’m technical enough. I can take a plugin, I can use it, um, but I’m not gonna get into PHP or anything like that. And that helped us maintain our cut or who we were and what we did.
But that first eight months was so interesting, just like when I’ve talked to our agency owners at post status. Um, you, you said this from the beginning, I just kind of assumed, if you like, from the agency mindset, um, you’d start. And then you’d hire a full-time person. That’s a wrong assumption. I’ve, I’ve heard over and over you started with contractors or freelancers that helped you with your capacity of the work, and I’ve heard that so many times.
That was a nuance because I haven’t been an agency owner that I learned, but those eight months that I themes, I realized. Um, a couple insights that now in reflection, you know, a long time past, it drove all of our key values because I was getting to understand the actual customers. They were freelancers, [00:35:00] solar printers out there, just kind of doing Lance web, WordPress web design on the side.
And eventually it would birth into something like you all did too. Um, and. Just knowing that helped me. And then just seeing the customer. We had a forum at the time. Everybody’s asking about CSS customization. We would do a theme with the right sidebar. Now remember, don’t make, this is 2008. So like they’d, we’d release a theme with the right sidebar and they’d say, Well, they wanted on the left, and we’d help ’em with the css.
And it was this thing of just noticing and observing what people were actually asking for and putting the head their headset. Headset on and saying, Okay, I wanted to be able to have this flexibility that helped us figure out what next products and what next features we would do because we kept really close to the customer.
Yeah. Are there things that in your experience, you’ve seen too or kind of, It doesn’t have to be that, but I was trying to give an example to say, I know some of those [00:36:00] things were critical to our success, staying close to the customer, but there are other things that Jesus go, This happened, we learned from.
We’re gonna do that over and over and over. Yeah.
Katie Keith: Um, there’s a few things to unpick there. We’ve definitely listened to the customers, not just our initial clients. So I did the support myself for much longer than I should have done until it basically just became unmanageable because it was so many tickets.
And, but that gave, as you said, that gave me. Such a unique insight into our products and how people are using them so that then I could use that to inform new product decisions, new features, that kind of thing. But even now, we have a support team, which I think is six people as of a couple of weeks ago.
Um, we have a very comprehensive feature request list for each product where they put things on every days and that we, you know, We got formula again to say, uh, the demand and the difficulty and the impacts and stuff like that, and how [00:37:00] many people are waiting so that I can go in there and see what people are asking for.
Uh, and we have quite a loose interpretation of what makes a feature request. They may not be explicitly asking for something, but if that would meet their need, then we put it on the list, if that makes sense. Um, so we try to be quite, um, open. That so we’ve got more feedback, um, recorded. So that really helps because you get that insight to, as you say, reduce randomness and know what to build that will work.
Um, so for example, tons of our eCommerce product table customers were asking for quick view buttons in their table and they were asking for us to add that to their plugin, which makes sense. Can you add quick view? And we thought, hang. Quick view is not just for product table, that is for any store. You don’t have to be using the product table layout to want quick V buttons in order to, uh, view more information and add to the cart without [00:38:00] visiting the separate product pages.
So we built a WooCommerce Quick View plugin, which again is still available today, uh, and integrated it with product Table. So when we buy Product Table now, you can either buy it on its own or there’s like a bundle with Quick View, which quite a lot of customers go for. Um, and you can buy Quick View as a standalone.
So you would kind of look at what the customers are asking for and then make business decisions around that. Uh, but the other side of what you were saying was about building a team and, um, hiring staff straight away. And because I’ve always been a bit risk averse, I’ve waited until we’re making money, um, until committing, um, particularly big commitments like staff.
And rather than freelancers. But it’s interesting seeing more and more at the moment WordPress companies with the more of the startup model where they’re seeking funding and so on. Cause that’s something I’ve got no experience of personally and I’ve, we just [00:39:00] bootstrapped it, done the work ourselves until we can afford to hire people.
Um, and that’s worked for us. So I watch with interest people with a different model because it’s like bringing. Big business into WordPress. And you see that more and more the last couple of years, don’t you?
Cory Miller: Oh yeah. And, and that was one of the primary drivers for us selling. Um, And being, being acquired is that there is a lot of money, big money coming, coming, continually coming into the space.
Um, okay. So Katie, I, we’ve talked about this past, thank you so much for just sharing that cause I think that’s so inspiring and helpful for others trying to do. Even just the agency part, you know, And then get to a, what you said, the ceiling and going, Okay, what’s next? What do we do? And oh, there’s, there’s these things that come out and, uh, then the present we’re born to is now, but what is exciting about you and Barn to in the future?
What’s getting you revved up about what you’re doing, where you’re going and [00:40:00] want to share with others about barn? Um,
Katie Keith: I think kind of keeping going and, uh, it’s working, um, doing more, We are getting more ambitious with the sorts of plugins that we will release now. Our SEOs better and we know what works.
Um, I still don’t think I’d have the confidence to do something really generic like a membership plugin. Um, but we are trying to have a ban to version of all of the Major W. So, for example, last month we launched a filter plugin. Um, actually there isn’t a major version of that. There’s a, There wasn’t, Yeah, that’s a bad example because there wasn’t a major, major competitor.
But, um, that was quite a, it was our most complex plugin that we’d built. So, um, we were ambitious in that. Sense. And, uh, in the next week or so, we’re going to launch a, uh, product option plugin. And there is a very strong, um, official version of product add-ons and we, but we’ve looked at what the gaps are and um, in what ways that plugin is not [00:41:00] like, and, uh, fix that in our own.
So that’s exciting to see how that does, um, and just keep, um, doing what we’re doing. All right.
Cory Miller: Well Katie, can you tell the, tell, tell listeners where we can find more about you and also Barn two in your work?
Katie Keith: Um, well the best place is our website, barn two.com. Um, and you can also find us, um, on Twitter at Barn two plugins.
Cory Miller: Excellent. And, and also I’m post out a slack. Um, but I don’t want people bombarding you, but I know you’re so generous with your expertise and your success story and everything like that. Katie, thank you so much, uh, for coming along and sharing your story. We need more like this, more willing to kind of share the story as inspiration, and you’ve been so generous and kind to share.
These parts that others can look at and go, Gosh, I need to think about this part that you shared. So thank you for sharing your story and thank you for your time today. And I’ll see you in post at Slack.
Katie Keith: Yeah. Well, [00:42:00] thanks a lot.