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Post Status Excerpt (No. 53) — Support Tips For Plugin Developers

“Settings expectations, communicating well, and being responsive are the top three things you can do to improve your customer support.” —Dave Rodenbaugh

In this episode of Post Status Excerpt, David sits down again with Dave Rodenbaugh, founder of Recapture.io. Dave has been involved with the business of WordPress plugins since 2009 with products like Business Directory Plugin and Another Classified WordPress Plugin.

Why This Matters: Dave explains how to set expectations for the support you offer, especially in the WordPress repository where users can download plugins for free and request — or demand — free support too. How you deal with problem customers and discover who has the skills to work effectively in support is important for WordPress product owners. If you have plugins or themes for sale inside and outside the WordPress.org repo, you'll find value in Dave's insights.

Every week Post Status Excerpt will bring you important news and insights from guests working in the WordPress space. 🎙️

You can listen to past episodes of The Excerpt, browse all our podcasts, and don’t forget to subscribe on Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, iTunes, Castro, YouTube, Stitcher, Player.fm, Pocket Casts, Simplecast, or by RSS. 🎧

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Transcript

Dave Rodenbaugh: So I used to run AW PCP, which was a classifieds plugin. I ran business directory plugin, which you can probably guess what that one is. Um, and then I had some other plugins that never really went very far went anywhere. So they're not really worth mentoring mentioning, but now, uh, I run recapture a, an email and SMS marketing for e-commerce specifically, uh, in WordPress, we support WooCommerce, paid memberships, pro restrict content pro easy digital downloads.

Um, so, uh, you know, I have a lot of experience with e-commerce and WordPress and using easy digital downloads. That was the primary way I sold the plugins for a long time.

David Bisset: And what you're doing now is that.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Yes. So recapture is a SASS and that's my, that's my gig now. So I sold the other plugins in 2020, uh, actually the awesome motive, uh, and they have taken over them and are doing a great job running them ever since.

So it's, it's actually nice to see, you know, you let your baby out of the nest and it flies away and it actually is taking on a new life of its own, which is cool.

David Bisset: It doesn't get immediately eaten by another animal. That's I feel like I've seen that in nature. Uh, who else besides yourself is part of the company.

Dave Rodenbaugh: So when I was doing the, uh, the classifieds and business directory plugin, I had. One time I had up to two or three other developers that were working on that. I also had a support person when I sold them to awesome motive, that whole staff went with them, so they could continue to maintain the plugins. And now with recapture, I have a full-time tech lead and a QA person, and then I have a person that's helping with sales.

And then I sort of do all the rest of the stuff, whatever that looks.

David Bisset: Why didn't you start recapture while you were owning the other plugins or did you start it from scratch?

Dave Rodenbaugh: I'm sort of a, an aberration, I think in the WordPress world in general, all of my successful WordPress businesses have not been things that I have started from scratch myself.

I actually bought them from other people.

David Bisset: Oh, so you bought recapture.

Dave Rodenbaugh: I did. Um, I bought the two plugins originally from a freelance developer and, uh, you know, I took those over and grew them from where she was at with them recapture. I bought it from the, a couple of brothers that were actually doing custom iPhone cases and they built this tool for their stores on Magento.

And then I took it and I was like, oh, well this has some obvious places that you could take it. I can move it to other platforms. I can add more functionality. It was literally just abandoned carts for Magento. That's it. So, and you know, the tool itself was well written. It was a very well-documented. It was already set up to be scalable.

Like I saw lots of potential in it. And I bought it and took that. Um, and I kinda liked buying businesses over building things from scratch because. It helps de-risk things. I come with a set of customers that I can already talk to. I come with a product that's functioning for those customers and doing something valuable for them.

They've paid me money for that. So these are all things that if you're building a product from scratch, you have to validate on your own, you know, how do I find the customers? What is it that they really need? How do I build that in the best way possible? Um, yeah, those are, those are tough things to solve.

Whether you're building it from scratch or you're buying something else you've got to, you've got to do a good job on all of those things in order to make your product grow. So my strategy was to buy things that looked attractive, that I felt were something in my wheelhouse I could really work with and then, you know, make better as a result of my equity.

David Bisset: So, did you ever have to rebuild your code base when you acquired the plugins like this or

Dave Rodenbaugh: The first two we did do some revamping. Um, and that was a slow thing over time, but I mean, consider how much WordPress changed. I think when I first bought the plugins, it was at WordPress one dot nine. Oh Lord.

David Bisset: I have dirt that's younger than that.

Dave Rodenbaugh: I know. And so there was. Every major release, there was huge shifts in there that we would have to go in and rip out sections of the plugin that were coded to the old way. Yeah. So, and you know, every, every major release, there was always this bridge that we would build that would be like, okay, here's all the stuff that we support for the new version.

And we had to keep the legacy stuff around for the old. And then you'd retire that every time you'd move up another major version. So by the time we got to three, we got rid of all the stuff from one dot nine. And you know, the first time we did that, we definitely made some enemies there. People were angry about that because they were still running old versions of WordPress.

There wasn't that upgrade or die kind of mentality back in 2011, 2012, 2013. So

David Bisset: is there anything that stands out in you as, if you would to compare WordPress and non WordPress businesses, how they would, how would they would stack up against each other pros and cons, that sort of thing?

Dave Rodenbaugh: No, one thing. I mean, there are definitely some things that kind of stand out that make WordPress businesses very unique.

Um, one is the whole plugin and theme model. And the fact that GPL is involved in that, which means that your code is licensed in a way that you, you can't really say this is mine and mine alone, and nobody can ever touch it. It's not a proprietary closed source model. So that means that, you know, smart competitors can go in and take a look at what you're doing.

Copy it, fork it, make their own version of it. In fact, that happened to me with, uh, with business directory plugin, somebody took my plugin, stole, laid, bought all of the, the, um, extensions for it and then forked it and put it up on embado. So, you know, and then I've, you know, attract their sales after that. And they made six figures selling it on vAuto and it was a long time before I ever actually noticed that it was over there.

Cause I wasn't like, you know, going around and scouring for directory competitors on a marketplace that I wasn't even in. But, um, but yeah, I mean, I could have done, they definitely had stolen some images and I could have done a DCMA take down or something like that. But by the time I discovered it, it was so late, it wouldn't have mattered.

They had already revamped a lot of it internally. So that's, that's a unique aspect of WordPress that I think. You know, discourages some business owners and it causes other business owners to be super secretive and not disclose their strategies and not disclose their plans. They only show what they have to show everything else they'll hide,

David Bisset: which is the code.

Right. I mean, they have to show the code.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Right, but, or they don't, or they don't put it in the repo. Like that's the other thing they'll do. They'll keep all of it and put it on their own private sites. So in order for you to download it, you got to pay for it. So, you know, this is, this is the model of definitely some larger companies that are out there at this point.

They don't they'll keep the free plugin. But then all the paid stuff is in a place that's totally protected. And that's ultimately the model I ended up doing for business directory and AWP, PCP, um, with recapture it's different. Cause I'm a service. So, you know, yeah. I was

David Bisset: about to ask you about that because do you think eventually most, um, companies that have a paid plugin in WordPress, maybe most let's, let's say a good, a larger chunk are going to be migrating to a SASSS model because of some of the reasons we've talked.

And I think I'm hearing a lot, um, from company owners and plugin developers is like, SASS is if I can just turn this into a SASS or we may be migrating to assess at some point, because you know, they don't have to share the code and they have a lot more control over their finances, their customers, and so forth.

Do you think that's going to be play a larger part in WordPress plugins?

Dave Rodenbaugh: I think that anybody who can make a SASS will probably start heading that direction. But with that said, There are many plugin and theme businesses in particular that you cannot Salsify. If that is a verb. Um, it is now I absolutely declare that SASSify is now a verb.

So you, you basically have. To ask yourself, this question is the value that my end user and customer receives. Is that something that is repeatable on a monthly or annual basis? And if it is, then you can probably make that into a SASS model. So like with recapture, my example here is that we're doing abandoned cart recovery and generating revenue for e-commerce sites.

So every month I can hand somebody a report to say, we sent this many emails, we made you this much money as a result of those emails. And here's how, what the conversions look like and all these other things. So that's a demonstration of ongoing value, but like with my business director, The value was captured right up front.

Like they would install it, they would configure it, they would set it up and then a year later it wasn't like they wanted to pay for the whole thing all over again. It's not like they got a new business directory. It's not like they got, you know, a totally different UI or a massive upgrade. They just got some minor updates and fixes.

So the value is captured mostly upfront instead of on an ongoing basis. And for businesses like that, you're not going to Salsify those. You're certainly not going to get people, you know, you might try to Salsify it, but I don't think you're going to get a lot of customers signing up for that. Because they're not getting that ongoing value and that's the difference.

So there's like a huge number of WordPress businesses, like themes. It's kind of difficult to capture that theme value on an ongoing basis, unless you have, like, I could see for freelancers, you could do theme subscriptions to say, Hey, we're going to have 15 themes this year. Next year, we're going to have 30.

After that, we're going to have 45. So we're releasing 15 new themes a year. If you're building freelance site. Great. Now you want an increasing library of things that you can offer your customers. I could see you. That makes sense in a freelancer paid plan, but for an individual, if I go and buy a theme, I don't need a new theme next year or the year after that.

David Bisset: What about support? Um, and a lot of business models go, you pay, you're paying basically. The support in for the maintenance and the bug fixes and that sort of thing. When, when do you think a product becomes mature?

Dave Rodenbaugh: Yeah, I, I don't know what officially makes something mature. I think there is a tension between bug fixes, new features and customer demand.

And when you kind of satiate the customer demand for the new features, and you've gotten to a point where the bug fixes are in. So you're not throwing out a new major fix every month then. Yeah. Something like that would end up being mature. So a great example of that might be Yoast SEO, right? You're not seeing like huge major new SEO updates coming out every single month that Yoast is having to put out if there's a major Google update.

Yeah, sure. They do an

David Bisset: update. I get an email like every other week from them, but I'm guessing it's Google updates.

Dave Rodenbaugh: It's probably a little stuff in Google updates in there, but yeah, I mean, I would consider that a pretty mature product that, you know, there are some tweaks that go in there and I, you know, I don't want to downplay the amount, uh, that the Yoast team puts into that. Cause it's huge and SEO is complicated, but it's definitely a very mature product because people aren't like, Hey, I need you to support this very basic thing out here that nobody's ever supported before. Like they've got that stuff covered. They have a lot of complexity in their product, a lot of configuration options, et cetera.

And then there's like newer stuff. So this might be more or less. Gutenberg blocks that are new and novel that do something that nobody else has ever done before, or that yours is the better one to do this slider or this kind of a layout or whatever. Something like that, that kind of stuff is more cutting edge because Gutenberg is not, well, it's getting more mature, but it isn't as mature as say other aspects in WordPress.

David Bisset: Right. I like to remind you, I, like I said, I do have a teenager in high school, so yeah. I'm the maturity is a subject I'm somewhat familiar with it. Yes.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Yes. Uh, I I'm, I'm right there with you, David. I have a teenager. Who's almost about to graduate high school and another one coming in.

David Bisset: Me too, this year.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Year. Hold his years.

David Bisset: 17.

Dave Rodenbaugh: 17. Yeah. Mine's 17 two. And I also have an eighth grader right behind her. So next year I've got two in, at the same time. So

David Bisset: it comes to maturity. Yeah. Some things, some things will mature faster than other. Whereas a developer as a company. I mean that, that's, that's kinda like a problem you would like to have, because I think before you get to that, you're, you're so busy.

You're doing 10 different things at once, especially if you're like a freelancer or a solo developer. Um, and you know, I've always been freelance for a very long time before I joined a few companies. So I always come business wise. I always come from the aspect of me starting something myself. Me alone, juggling so many balls in the air.

Um, have you ever had to outsource anything in the early days of capture or now, or any of your businesses? Um, even if it was, um, I don't know any, anything from financing or marketing or anything like that?

Dave Rodenbaugh: Um, yeah, actually I have and outsourcing is super valuable to me at this point because there are certain things where.

I, you know, there's a lot of stuff that I can just do because I've had to do it over the years. I've had no choice. So that means I was part accountant, part marketing person, part janitor, part, um, you know, developer part, customer support, just whatever. So you, you wear all these different hats and you can do all of these things.

But the problem is, is that you are the Jack of all trades master of none. Right. And. There are people who are very, very specialized at those things. And at some point making them be the owner of that piece is more valuable. So here's an example. So when I bought recapture, I was still freelancing at the time I still had the plugins.

So I was doing customer support over there and I was still doing product management. And then of course I was doing my own development. And then I had recapture on top of all that. Well, when I bought it , it didn't come with a staff. It was just the guy who was the two brothers that were running it. And I bought it from him and nobody came with him.

They didn't come with a plugin, then they didn't come with it. No, they were like, here, it's yours. Good luck. And

David Bisset: well, insert my children joke here later, but go.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Yes. Uh, so the problem immediately became, I had customers that were asking for new features or bug fixes, and I couldn't do any of that stuff just yet.

I mean, I could, if I invested the time, but a lot of it was time sensitive. So initially what I did is I paid one of the brothers that sold it to me to consult on certain things. Cause he could do things the fastest and he was willing to do that. It was part of the contract that we sold. Anyway.

David Bisset: There's usually that coverage period, you know?

Dave Rodenbaugh: Right. But the coverage period is only like 90 days. And I think I had him come and help me for like six months. So he was very nice. And was willing to do that, but it was clear that, you know, I needed more than he was able to give and he didn't really want to keep doing it for the longterm. So that's when I basically had to like go and outsource to somebody else.

That was more full-time. So I had, you know, cashflow from recapture itself. So I use that to invest in a developer who is now my tech lead for recapture. And, you know, he's been working on it for five years, but basically I made a decision early on, I am not going to do the technical development aspects of this SASS.

I'm going to let somebody else do it. I just, I can't do it and this other stuff. So I had to outsource something that was what I chose to outsource and I totally don't regret it. He has taken ownership of all that, and it worked out.

David Bisset: So, um, so what's your tip in terms of how do you know when it's time to outsource something?

Dave Rodenbaugh: When is it time to outsource something? So I would say it's a combination of, do you have. Some kind of way to pay somebody to do that. So like, if you are, you need income, you brand new, you need to have some kind of income, but it doesn't have to be from your project. So here's, here's, here's the caveat. I would say that if you are a freelancer and you are pulling in a nice salary and it more than covers your living expenses and you're putting stuff in savings, save that up for awhile.

And then you could use that savings to pay for somebody to out source something while you're doing something else. So you can leverage that time, that money in a different way. I always would buy something that was making income so that I could use that income to help hire somebody else. And that way it didn't have to come out of my savings personally, cause I already spent the money on the business and I didn't want it to spend a second time.

So those are the two, two ways that I would end up funding that. But if you are by yourself, you don't have that money. You're just getting started. Or you're kind of new to the whole thing. I would strongly encourage you to just try to wear all those different hats and become that Renaissance person.

Right. It's good to know what all those things are because eventually in order for you to outsource it, you have to understand it well enough to tell somebody else exactly what you want. And it's hard to do that if you haven't had experience in that yourself.

David Bisset: And I imagine too, that it helps. Not that everybody has the luxury of the privilege of this, but it also helps if you are starting brand new with a plugin, the rebuild helps to know if you do have plans on growing that beyond just simply what it is.

And because you, the sooner you start some sort of path to some sort of monetization, the faster you can have that money, automotive and buyer gallery, all these others, they have a pro version people pay and that's the, those people are actually paying support people to help with the light you know, the repo, The light versions in the repo and the support there that's being financed there.

But I mean, if you're starting from zero, um, it's charity at that point until, I guess, like you said, you gotta find the money from somewhere. If you get to a certain, certain scale. So what's your advice or what's your take on how much attention, um, business owners and entrepreneurs should be paying attention to in the WordPress space when it comes to competence?

Dave Rodenbaugh: That is a fantastic question. And the truth is you can be in one of two camps, so you can either focus solely on your competitors, or you can kind of ignore them. And if you're ignoring your competitors, then you should be paying very close attention to your customers. And, oh, I like to mix the two of those.

So like, I'd like to be aware of what my competitors are doing. Sometimes ideas come out of that sometimes like, Uh, I wasn't fully aware of what GDPR was until I saw some of my other competitors posting things. Hey, we're going to become GDPR compliant. Hey, GDPR is coming down the pike. Here's what you need to know.

And I'm like, what the heck is GDPR? And that's when I dug into it and I'm like, oh boy, I really need to take care of this because this is going to hit. Ton of bricks. So, um, you know, so you should be aware where your competitors at, you know, knowing about your competitors will help you understand what are their pricing models, who are they focused on?

Like understand who is the right customer for your competitors. But with all that said, you need to like, look at your product, your market, your audience, and. Understand them and talk to them deeply. And by knowing your competitors, you can say, look competitor a over here, they do all of these things, but that's too complicated because you're not making as much as the, the hundred million dollar a year business that uses this tool over here.

You're down here. And this is why we're better for you because we are simpler. We're easier to use. We're more focused on this. We have better support, blah, blah, blah, whatever your competitive advantages are, but you can't do that. If you don't at least understand your competitors, but you know, don't focus solely on your competitors.

If, if all you do is watch what your competitors do, and then repeat that you're always going to be behind. You're never going to be a market leader in that. So you have to have some awareness, but at the same time, really just be focused on your customers. That's my, that's my approach.

David Bisset: The uniqueness, is that something that you would probably say it would be good advice to, to people who doubt that there's any space left in the WordPress ecosystem for whatever product they're thinking of?

Dave Rodenbaugh: Uniqueness is, um, there's always some space left. So here's a great example. If you were to say, what is the most crowded space in WordPress? And, you know, you could probably give several examples, but I'll give one of the most obvious ones for. Right. You've got all the different form plugins that are out there.

You got formidable forms and ACF and, um, the WP forms and ninja forms and, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right. There's tons and tons. Gravity forms, tons of competitors out there, but yet there are new ones that come out all the time and. There's always an opportunity to look at that space with a fresh new approach.

So this is like, uh, you know, side bulky from automotive, talked about this when they released their competitor in there. And I'm pretty sure this is WP forms, but, uh, if I misspoke, it's basically the one that Syed

does

David Bisset: the one. It's the one with the bear.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that's the one that basically is focused on.

Uh, users that are non-technical and need the most hand-holding and have the most basic set of version of a form functionality available to them. So it's, it's kind of the polar opposite of like ACF by Brad, Tanard and delicious brains. Right. There's is like the most customizable, the most developer friendly, the most.

Everything product that you can think of out there. And Syed is the opposite of that. And yet both of them are serving very successful markets and Syed's came in like years after all the other competitors were out there and, you know, carved out a new niche. So, you know, if you can look at a very hot space in WordPress, it could be payments.

It could be e-commerce, it could be forms. It could be themes. Any of these things. If you could come up with a unique approach that serves an underserved market, then you can be successful out there. Don't come in and try to pick like the teeniest tiniest niche ever, and then hope that you can expand from that.

If there's no demand, you're going to have a hard time making that product work. So it's, that's my advice is that, you know, pick markets that have energy that are, um, interesting that have customers. Demanding things that are, you know, shuffling money around because that's how you're going to get your solution out there and find somebody to pay for it.

Each form. Competitor that's out there. They all kind of focus on different things. Some of them are focused on certain verticals, some of them on, you know, technical versus non-technical. And you just have to find that thing that you can go in and say, I can offer a solution to this group of people that need this thing that isn't served by these other products.

That's a successful, um, that's a successful product in a crowded. It's been a

David Bisset: pleasure talking to you and, um, let's, let's have people figure out where you are on the web to be able to follow you and reach out for more Sage wisdom that you may spew out from time.

Dave Rodenbaugh: Well, I don't know about Sage wisdom, but if anybody does want to talk to me about business, whether it's WordPress or non WordPress or SASS, or, uh, anything else, uh, you can reach me on Twitter at Dave Roden.

Last name is spelled R O D E N B a U G H. Or if you're interested in checking out my SASS, that is recapture.io and we support a variety of WordPress platforms that you are likely using if you're in the WordPress space. So please come check it

David Bisset: out. And you're also in post status. Slack is.

Dave Rodenbaugh: I am very regularly.

It is one of the few places that I check on a daily basis.

David Bisset: Yes. Well, thank you very much, Dave. Really appreciate it. And we will see you out there.

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