🎙️ Episode #18

Freemium to Premium: Amir Helzer Reveals Key Lessons from WPML’s Business Model Transformation

Amir Helzer - Founder at OnTheGoSystems & WPML

Show Notes

Amir Helzer is the founder of OnTheGoSystems, the company behind WPML, a leading multilingual plugin used by over a million websites. Originally, WPML was a freemium plugin, but due to unfortunate — even somewhat controversial — circumstances, Amir and his team decided to make the product paid only. This business model shift would end up transforming his company for the better.

In this episode, we dive into the challenges and dynamics of taking a product from freemium to premium successfully, from community buy-in and market positioning to pricing models and retaining users. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or a budding entrepreneur, this episode is a must-listen for anyone navigating the ever-changing landscape of software monetization.

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Thanks to Amir for joining us and providing such valuable advice about building successful distributed companies. Join us next week with Yoast founder Joost de Valk for his insights about the power of raising funds in bootstrapping ecosystems.

plugin.fm is brought to you by Freemius, your all-in-one payments, subscriptions, and taxes platform for selling software, plugins, themes, and SaaS. If you enjoyed this episode, head over to plugin.fm to check out previous episodes.

 

Episode Contributors:

Amir Helzer — Guest

Patrick Rauland — Host

Vova Feldman — Content quality control

Scott Murcott — Content research and preparation

Zee Hazan — Audio and video quality control

Emiliano Pioli — Audio and video editing


Chapters & Episode Notes

00:00 – Intro

1:16 – From Hardware Engineer to WordPress Entrepreneur: Amir’s Journey

8:31 – WPML: Transitioning from Free to Paid & Setting Expectations

20:40 – Prioritizing Stability Over Features: The Key to WPML’s Success

28:00 – Lessons Learned from Transitioning to Premium: Understanding Client Needs

34:52 – Navigating Awareness: From WordPress.org to Self-Promotion

38:55 – Hindsight Insights: Investing in Quality for Success

40:26 – Outro

Transcript

Amir: The client is not forcing you into anything; it’s not his fault that you set very low pricing that doesn’t allow you to become profitable.

Patrick: Amir Helzer is the founder of WPML, the leading multilingual plugin that’s used by over a million websites.

Amir: There’s all these sorts of human behaviors that I think are more important to understand when you’re thinking about pricing than 2% or 3%.

Patrick: WPML was a premium plugin; Amir and his team decided to only make a premium product.

Amir:  People don’t like to pay for what they’re not using.

Patrick: How did you not make people pay for something they didn’t want to use?

Amir:  We keep putting in features and taking out features, things which made a lot of sense 7 years ago; nobody needs them today and they’re just extra luggage now.

Patrick: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of plugin.fm. Today’s guest tackled a business model shift that transformed his company for the better. Amir Helzer is the founder of OnTheGo Systems, the company behind WPML. In this episode, we’re going to dive into the challenges and dynamics of taking a product from freemium to premium successfully, how to keep trust and community buying, and how to change your market positioning and pricing. It is not all about the tactics; there are a lot of foundational issues that we discuss in this episode.

Amir, welcome to the show.

Amir:  Thank you for having me, hello, Patrick.

Patrick: All right, I’m ready to go. So I want to get started with just, I think it’s helpful to understand your entrepreneurial journey before WPML. So how did you start as a software creator and how did you eventually get to WPML?

Amir:  I really wanted to have a business. I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager, basically, and I was looking for opportunities. I was looking for what I could do to have a little business. And I wasn’t working in software before that. I was a hardware engineer, an electronics engineer, and actually, I was working for something which requires a whole lot of infrastructure where every round for releasing a product costs millions, millions of dollars. Wow, and that you don’t do by yourself. You’ve got to be part of a big business and I was actually even responsible for a few very expensive bugs, two bugs which I personally didn’t catch and I, I caused, I think, cost in total over a million dollars to the company I worked with. Yeah, quite a lot. Oh, wow. And yeah, but then the saddle, the thing which was a lot of money at that time, it was a lot of money for us, the company closed down. And it wasn’t because of me. It wasn’t because of my mishaps. That’s another thing which I learned. It was because of incorrect management decisions. We had an excellent manager, a very nice person which I really adored but he liked technical things more than he enjoyed management work. Mhm. He was a great engineer, MH, and he really, really liked being part of the product development, which means nobody was running the business, nobody was doing his job, and that was a very expens a very interesting lesson for me to kind of control myself later on. So I had to apply this lesson years, years later, but it was deep in my head because it was a business that I loved. I really liked working in that business. So I had all these, you know, ups and downs, and I knew what I wanted, and I did several attempts on my own to create something. And yeah, now we’ve got OnTheGo Systems.

Patrick: How did you get into WordPress or was that like website development?

Amir: For one of my initiatives, I needed a website, and at that time, I think that world just got Pages. It had posts just until then, and as soon as WordPress got Pages, it became possible to create a website with WordPress. And I created the little website for my little Enterprise on WordPress, and it was at the time when me and my family were living in southern Argentina, okay, Ponia, so the business, the website had to speak English and Spanish. English because I knew it and Spanish because everyone else needed, and yeah, we were working on Solutions. My first situation was actually to have several websites and do some PHP hacking so that we control the site language and the instance of what was still launching, that was multisite. I don’t know that multisite existed at that time, little hack, you know, instead of the Sunrise script that runs with a multisite, I think, yeah, we did that before multisite came along, okay. There was some role in Apache to pass the URL and from that, figure out which WordPress site to run, give it a part of the URL for the page, keep the rest for the which website one, one was in English, one was in Spanish, Mhm, it worked great, and that experience showed me the shortcomings of using multiple SES spell languages. I can go through a whole list, but there is a whole list, and you need to run it yourself in order to see it yourself, yeah. And I was looking for Solutions, there was one solution available at that time, I think it was Q translate by someone who’s doing a great job volunteering his time, but I didn’t like the way it approached storing languages storing translations for the content. I started creating on, and it wasn’t a plugin, it wasn’t anything, it was some PHP files that we would run for ourselves just to make our site multilingual, and when it actually worked, I said, well, okay, I will publish it on WordPress.org as a plugin, and then that plugin became a vehicle for actually acquiring clients to a translation service, which I started a little later. I had these two independent properties, that plugin that I created for serves for my own need, and we had the translation service, and I the obvious connection, we’ve got something that can get can help people build sites, multilingual sites with WordPress, we’re looking for people who need translation work, okay, let’s use it as a lead generation method. WP plugin, it went on WordPress.org, it did bring some leads, I was surprised by how few leads it managed to bring compared to how many people already used that.

Patrick: I’m always curious, do you know roughly what percentage, you know, if you have a thousand websites using WPML, did you get 10 leads?

Amir: Yes, but out of these 10 leads, many want big clients that could actually build the business form. Today we’re working with big translation services who actually know what they’re doing, okay, so they’re working with us with WPML to get clients for themselves, but they know better how to identify these clients, they know how better how to approach them and to make the WordPress translation a part of a larger package which they offer to their clients, right? And now the partnership makes perfect sense to them also because it solves what they need, but just as a lead generation for people who are building sites and looking for plugins on WordPress.org, that was not incredibly efficient. It did allow the business to grow, so we go from just me to another one to another one, but I saw that we’re getting limited here, we’re not going to go that much from this PL source.

Patrick: There’s one thing that Amir misses from being on WordPress.org and it’s essential to any business, especially new businesses, listen on and see if you can figure it out.

So WPML was a free lead generation, I mean a free plugin that you used primarily for lead generation for translation services. When did you decide to take it off of WordPress.org and then make it only a paid plugin?

Amir: I didn’t decide; two others made the decision for us, but I was lucky enough to pay attention to this and to understand that we need to kind of join into this decision. So we accidentally violated a requirement that we didn’t know existed on the WordPress plugin repository. I think it was a relatively small thing. Anyway, their policy at that time was if someone violates something, your product becomes a draft. You need to understand, at that time it wasn’t a big business like it is today, so it wasn’t a big deal. Okay, I think today if someone maintainers on WordPress.org decide to take, let’s say, Elementor off as a draft, there should be some sort of backlash, right? Justified or not justified, there should be some sort of backlash just because so many people rely on this for their livelihood. But at that time, it wasn’t like that, you know, it was a community thing. There were, I don’t think there was anyone making money from plugins at that time, definitely not from themes. There was some big in the WordPress ecosystem about one person who tried to make a business out of that. It was difficult to digest but it wasn’t anything to the scale that we have today. They drafted it, it wasn’t a big deal for anyone, but then an interesting thing happened. We started getting traffic directly to our website and people asking us questions. What’s going on? Are you planning to abandon the project? Why did you remove it? But we saw that they’re finding us on our side, not necessarily only on WordPress.org, but they know where to come to. So I decided let’s ask because it was a stressful project, the amount of because of the low conversion rate, the number of people using it for free was a lot bigger than the ones were generating a little bit of revenue, yeah, you know, they have needs, they have requests, and even just to read these requests and respond to them takes effort, takes time, let alone maintain the product, maintain the PHP. So I published one blog post asking people what, how would you feel if we stayed on this website, you’d pay us and in return we do this and this and that. I listed a number of ongoing issues that I guarantee you that we’re going to, we’re going to fix, and I told them this is what you would be able to expect of us in terms of quality and support going forward. And I don’t remember if anyone objected to that. I remember many people leaving comments, yes, please, the $79 that you’re proposing is much less and we’re wasting today dealing with bugs, slowness, whatever you. I just don’t remember, maybe I’m screening this out in my head, but I don’t remember any objections to that. And I concluded and said, okay, we need this time. So this is when we committed it when I committed to the a. So I told them, okay, here’s a zip file with a version that we have today, which was in WordPress.org. We’re not going to return W to WordPress.org, because we didn’t manage to make it work commercially. We’ll stay here on this site until we’re ready. Here is the version that was there. Here is a deadline that we’re setting for ourselves, and this is what we’re planning to do until that deadline. And at that time, that new version and on, this is what we’re going to ask you in terms of money. And I just remember getting support for this from potential clients, and then later when we launched it, I was very anxious and it was in one of the evenings and I remember sitting there, okay, now what’s going to happen? Now because now we’ve invested, yeah, when we bought into the idea, then we started actually investing, we stopped doing anything else, and we just improved. We spent there for four months, the few people that were working in the business adopted everything else, and we made sure that we lived up to our promise. We get rid of these bags, we clean this, we pull that, and the first version we deliver, maybe it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to do what we promised, and then we were all very interested. So how is it going to play out? Are they actually going to buy? They said they’ll buy, what are they going to actually do, yeah, and they did, and I actually saw many of the first clients in the first couple of days from the people who left these comments. It was really nice.

Patrick: Yeah, this to so far to me this sounds like the perfect, like you had, you know, lemons and you turned it into lemonade where like something bad happen and you were able to go, “Okay, we kicked off WordPress.org for many plugins that would be like a death sentence, right?” But you took it and you realized you weren’t getting that much commercial success from WordPress.org and you already have a group of users who love your product. Did you raise prices much like were the prices higher for people who wanted the premium service?

Amir: When we released it, when we had the first commercial version, we asked for $79 for that, yeah, and that was way back in 2010, I think.

Patrick: Oh, that was a lot back in 2010.

Amir: Yeah, and today the same plugin with the same name, which does way more, costs 99 EUR. So from that time until today, I would say that the price went down significantly.

Patrick: Wow, fantastic. I guess I love hearing this because, again, I think for a lot of software companies, they would give up if they’re kicked off of WordPress.org and figure something else out if it didn’t work, so it’s nice knowing that you can figure out a different business model.

So let me talk about trust. I think you talked about trust earlier. You wrote this blog post and you said, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing this,” and you set deadlines for yourselves about what you’d want to do when, and you set, I think maybe you included some features or bugs that would be fixed or included. I think I’m gonna ask you this question about trust. I think the default assumption is if you go from free to paid that those people don’t trust you anymore, but it sounds like the few people who did move trust you so much. Did anyone feel betrayed? Did anyone leave angry comments on your blog? It doesn’t sound like it.

Amir: No, and I think that if you work out a deal where everyone gets better off, then nobody’s going to feel betrayed. If it’s a deal where you really benefit and you can kind of make it look like everyone else is also going to benefit, they don’t like it. You probably get emails from subscriptions that you use, like from streaming music and what have you. You get these happy emails now once every few months and said, “Hey, we’re raising prices. Congratulations, you’re going to pay more. We’re so obsessed with quality and with service, and we’re really dedicated, so we’re raising prices and congratulations, you’re going to love us for that.” Yeah, why? I mean, the music is not any better, there’s nothing better with the service, why am I going to love you for that? You can just be upfront and you can say, “There’s inflation, we’re paying more for rent, we’re paying more for salaries, we’ve tried to cut down as much as we can, but if we don’t raise prices, we’re going to go out of business, so that’s what we’re doing.” I would feel better about this kind of email than about these very weird emails that I’m getting every few months. Yeah, “We’re… we’re so upset.”

Patrick: “We love you so much, that’s why we’re making you pay more,” yeah.

Amir: Exactly, “We care about quality,” yeah, thank you for caring.

Patrick: I get that and that’s kind of what you did with WPML. You said the product as it is right now doesn’t work so we’re going to go to a premium-only model and here’s what you’re going to get for it. That feels more direct and honest with the user than you know getting a pricing update from Spotify or whoever that says we love the quality so much we’re increasing prices. Those are essentially the same thing, similar things are happening, but I feel like yours is a much more honest and plain way of saying it as opposed to a PR version of saying it.

Amir: Well, it doesn’t assume that people are stupid. I mean, you really need to assume that people are stupid in order to write emails like that.

Patrick: Wow, I love that. I’m sorry, I had to drop that down as a note. It doesn’t assume people are stupid, yeah, that they can’t read through your simple exaggeration, your fabrication, your spin, right, so that people don’t see the way you’re spinning it.

Amir: I mean, if for instance, if your audience keeps asking for something that is really great and is really expensive and now you’re saying, “Okay, I need to ask you for a little higher payment so that we can afford it and we can get it to you,” okay, and I understand the transaction going on here, otherwise just say it to us. I think it’s going to fly better.

Patrick: Okay, and I think the bonafides, the credentials are that basically none of your users complained, right, so you spoke plainly with your users and none of them seemed to be upset or that you were doing something wrong like.

Amir: No, it doesn’t, I think it doesn’t feel deceptive towards anyone, nobody wants to be deceived.

Patrick:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So okay, so let me just ask, were you inspired by anyone, did you see other companies go from freemium to a paid model, was there was there some model you were following?

Amir:  Well, we were among the first, maybe the first ones to ask for money for WordPress plugin. There were a few cases that inspired me towards the other direction for what not to do for the same reasons that we’re using WPML. We created a module for Drupal, plugins are called modules in Drupal, okay, and I was pretty active in the Drupal ecosystem at that time as well, and seeing how they do things inspired me not to do the same for ourselves.

Patrick: Sorry, I interrupted you, sorry, I’ll just say that I have to say learning what not to do is sometimes way more important than learning what to do, like if you can just avoid the catastrophic mistakes, sometimes that is good, better than like learning how to do it the perfect way, sorry, go on with your your answer, I interrupted you.

Amir: Exactly, you just said what I wanted to say, learning from someone who succeeded is really difficult because you need to replicate all the conditions and sometimes you don’t even know what all the conditions are, this is quite difficult, but just learning from a specific thing that people are doing and seeing the consequences of this, this is just easier.

Patrick:  People love paying for more, it’s a very human thing. Amir is one of the few people who really appreciates giving people less and I mean that in a good way, how can you give your users just the essential features? Amir and I discuss that later in the episode.

Okay, so let me talk about, I’m a big fan of like using models to understand, so I did a pricing change a couple years back for someone, and we did some models of this is the best case, this is the expected case, this is kind of the worst case, and you know, we had different amounts of users and different price points, and we modeled it all out and tried to see where the business would be. Did you do any of that with WPML? Did you look at, if 5% of the users who are really engaged on WordPress.org become paying members, we’ll have this much money, we can afford five engineers. Did you do any of… I think retention, yeah.

Amir: No, I try to avoid that because at the beginning you make some assumptions and then everything is going to change quite a lot if these assumptions were just a little off, so something like 2%, 3% sounds little but it’s a 50% difference, and I don’t have a way to just throw out these numbers with any sort of validity. What I try to do in WPML and in other projects as well is really think about this from the client’s point of view and try to avoid the obvious things like people don’t like to pay for what they’re not using, nobody likes that. Most people prefer to pay a little more for something that they’re using, and everyone hates paying even a little for something that you don’t use. The other day I was booking a flight for me and my wife, and we know the flight’s expensive for whatever reason, I don’t know, this specific flight is expensive, okay, we didn’t have a problem with the price of the flight, it’s okay, we’ll pay it. Usually, sometimes we get a cheap flight, sometimes expensive, it averages out, but we need one suitcase, and I picked the option of on Expedia, the flight that includes a suitcase, but I included, I checked it for both of us, one, okay, so we felt really bad, we paid for a really expensive flight and we felt bad about wasting the price of one suitcase, alright, so you don’t really, you understand flights fluctuate and sometimes it’s, but you really feel bad about wasting a suitcase because you’ve paid for something that you’re not using.

Patrick:  Yes, that is such a good example, right, you might, you know, the same price going so I have some relatives in Florida, from Denver to Florida during any other time of the year is fine, but then during Christmas time when everyone wants to go to Florida it’s like two or three times as expensive, and I won’t, I’ll feel a little bit bad paying for the expensive flight, but if I pay for the bag and I don’t use the bag, you’re absolutely right, I would hate that.

Amir: Yes, so there’s all these sort of human behaviors that I think are more important to understand when you’re thinking about pricing and what you’re going to give to your clients, I think these are way more important to think about than 2% or 3%.

Patrick: Okay, so you had pretty good communication with your blog post and moving people over, you also thought and you were very plain with them, you spoke plainly and they no one felt betrayed or like you’re doing something sneaky, but you also wanted to make sure that no one feels like they were paying for something they weren’t going to use or would never use. What did you take anything out of WPML? Was there like functions or features that no one used and you were able to chuck them? How did you not make people pay for something they didn’t want to use?

Amir: We keep doing this. We keep putting in features and taking out features because sometimes things which made a lot of sense seven years ago, nobody needs them today and they’re just extra luggage now. So, this is something that we do anyway when using any system. You need to sometimes cop down unused features or at the bare minimum separate them out into a separate plugin so that only people who need them can activate them and everyone else doesn’t need to suffer for the extra file sizes and memory concern. So, this is something that everyone needs to do anyway. You add stuff, you need to remove stuff. There’s no way that everyone’s going to need everything that you’ve just added.

Patrick: Lots of engineers think that features are the be-all and end-all of software development, but Amir points out that there’s something far more important than just the features. Listen on to find out. 

I’m going to pause you for a second. So, having worked for a couple different WordPress plugin companies, it is very hard to remove features and the smart way to do it is to move it into a separate plugin that people can auto down. There’s some smart ways of doing it now, but this is back in 2010, right?

Amir: No, so I’m talking about things that we’ve been doing continuously since then, okay? At that time, what we were focusing on was getting rid of bugs. There were a few bugs that we did not manage to deal with and that were pretty nasty, nasty things. And it required the time and attention from developers to actually understand what’s going on here and come up with a good solution. So, the main focus of that release was to get rid of bed bugs and I don’t think that I can learn this aha moment. This is something that was pretty clear I think from day one of doing anything that stability is more important than features. Because the last thing that you want for yourself or that our clients want for themselves is that something which is working and you’ve moved on, you’re no longer working on it, you finished that project, you delivered, you got paid, yeah, and now it stops working spontaneously. Nobody likes this. I think that there’s nothing that compares to that okay, in any point but especially in something like this. So, this is something that I understood quite early on in the project that stability is pretty important here and it goes together with security obviously because you’ve left a hole that someone can just break into to someone else’s site due to your mistake that’s not going to work for anyone. And with this in mind, we worked from the time when we made the project commercial and until now to remember what are the core things that clients need of us and stability and security were the top.

Patrick:  Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So I think WPML, the product itself, if it stops working like people can’t even read the website, you know what I mean? Like if a contact form stops working, yeah, people can’t send you messages. That’s annoying, but maybe you only get one a month or one a week. But if people can’t read the website, that’s such a fundamental issue that stability is so important. Yes, it needs to be there and people will notice immediately if it breaks. That’s wild. Okay, so let me just go back a second. Was there anything else that you sort of changed about how you sold because you sold WPML on your own site? Was there anything else that, like, did you highlight different features once you made the transition to premium only, or was it still kind of the same product?

Amir:  No, if you’d go to our website today, you’d find the three main points at the top of our site, which I wrote at the time when we went commercial, and it hasn’t changed. Wow, being stable, being compatible, and being reliable, that’s it.

Patrick: Fantastic. There’s something simple about your business model which I think people like. Let me, did you learn any… So let’s talk about the transition. So did you learn any lessons, both positive and negative, about transitioning from freemium to premium? Is there something that you can share that’ll guide someone else who might want to do something similar someday or mistakes to avoid?

Amir: Being realistic is really good. Not making too many assumptions is also really good. Being in direct contact with your clients and actually listening to what they have to say is really good. You don’t have to automatically accept everything that they say, but you have to understand them. You have to understand why they’re saying too many times people consider their clients as enemies. Like, clients are attacking us, clients are trying to hurt us, whatever. There’s no way clients are not your enemy generally in this ecosystem. You have very few enemies. Okay, yeah, we don’t have enemies. It’s not a zero-sum game. Feeling defensive about what your clients are telling you is really bad. Makes you not hear, not understand them. If a client keeps badgering you, keeps nagging you about something, there’s a reason. I mean, there’s a cost to this client to write all these emails to you. It takes time, it takes effort. He’s doing it because there’s a reason. And the reason is not, “Today I want to make a mess life miserable.” First, I think it’s a human behavior, it’s a psych basic psychological thing. We feel threatened, then there are some very built-in responses in us that make us behave before we really digest the situation, before we think about that. I think it’s pretty natural. But then we don’t have to do it. Yes, we’re built to do that, but we don’t have to do it. So I think that when you realize that this person needs something from me, yeah, okay, there’s something which I have and can help him with. And all he’s trying to do now is use whatever methods he has to get to give him what he needs. I think this changes the better the way you understand the situation.

Patrick: Yeah, there is. I’m trying to think of why people definitely do sometimes really don’t like customers. And maybe it’s, I think so having worked for some WordPress companies in the past, you know, if you sell a plugin for $20, which and you know, our industry should have raised its prices years ago, but if you sell something to someone for $20 a year, I can fix bugs, I can make sure it works right, but I can’t build new features. There are some customers who are very demanding for a very tiny amount of money. But it’s still probably a good idea to listen to them and understand the problem and then maybe someday in the future make that a separate feature or a separate plugin that they could buy. That’s an add-on to your existing stuff like that’s what you should be doing is, “Hey, I can’t do this for $20 a year, but we can put it on the development roadmap. We can build one for you as a premium thing. We, there’s ways of being more symbiotic with your customers.”

Amir: Yes, but you determine the pricing of your product. You determine what’s written in your terms of service. Yep, you determine your support policy. You determine your development roadmap. The client is not forcing you into anything. It’s not his fault that you set very low pricing that doesn’t allow you to become profitable.

Patrick: I agree with that. Yeah, I’m learning a lot here. Sometimes I think I’m going to learn about growth tactics in the latest software marketing trend, and I feel like we’re talking about business fundamentals in this episode, which I think is really cool.

Amir:  Sorry, can I jump back to something that you asked about and I forgot?

Patrick: Please.

Amir: So at the beginning, we had this attempt. We also had clients who are very support heavy, and we tried for a few months to offer premium support, so everyone got to use WPML for free, but if you wanted to have better support, you’d pay us something. We tied that one. We tried different things. We don’t know what’s going to exactly work. We tied that, and that did not work at all, not even close to working. Now, when that happened, we got into the same mindset of clients are trying to take advantage of us or trying to explore others. They do all sorts of manipulative things that appear to be manipulative. Clients would ask us a free question, and then when we told them that they need to pay in order for us to work on that, then they went into a shaming campaign against us on Twitter, where it’s public or Facebook. So it’s not like every business model that you come up with is going to work, but there’s always a reason. The interesting thing is that when something does not work, there’s a reason behind it, and I think that the productive thing to do is to try to understand the reason. What’s making it not work?

Patrick: Yeah, there’s still a problem in the software that’s making someone upset, and maybe they’re not handling their upset in the right way, and maybe you need to have better support policies, terms of service written down, etc. But also, if you can solve the core fundamental issue, this all goes away. Or instead of having 50 angry clients a year, you have three, and then that’s just not such a smaller problem to deal with.

Amir: And for us, when we were in this situation, well, I sat myself down for a few hours, I looked at the requests that these clients are sending to us, the free and the paid ones, and I tried to understand better what’s going on here. And it was pretty easy to actually understand the reasons. But in order to do this, you have to be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, why is this not working before you go and fix it? You need to understand first why does this not work today.”

Patrick: I think that makes a lot of sense. So you’ve tried freemium, you’ve tried premium. Is there anything you miss about being on WordPress.org? Is there anything that you definitely wish you could have still being a premium product but not having that free marketing channel?

Amir: It was over a decade ago, and today things are different. So what I missed at that time, I don’t think applies today, and I know for sure that getting people to be aware of what you’re doing is extremely important, and it can be extremely expensive as well. I think that we should all be feeling very lucky about being in the WordPress ecosystem. That at least the awareness part is not so difficult inside our ecosystem.

Patrick: You’re right.

Amir: We do not need to pay for TV ads or Super Bowl ads in order for people just to know that we exist. We don’t need to go to very expensive conferences, blow off hundreds of thousands of dollars just to be on the map in other ecosystems, which are more disconnected and they’re less of a community thing. Just passing this first door, getting people to be aware of your existence, that is difficult, and I think that the community resources, they are very valuable. All these community resources we take for granted, not just the WordPress repository, the whole thing, the WordCamps, people talking with one another, it’s important. And by the way, it did not exist in other free open-source content management systems and they won’t be as successful as War, they had this little up and down, and that’s it, the product vanished.

Patrick:  How do you get your awareness for your product today since you’re not on WordPress.org but WordPress is pretty old and established and many people just know it because of its large user base? Is there a flywheel now, like once you get to a certain size, it propels awareness?

Amir: Yes, today it feeds itself, but this is not a recipe for someone else entering the business today. So what’s worked for us from the beginning with WP before we were the size that we are today, I was working with partners. I think that is a very, very cost-effective and also constructive thing because in order to have a website working on WordPress, someone’s going to have to use various tools together on one site. It’s very rare to see a commercial world site with two plugins. And what our clients want to get from us is that all these disconnected things would magically work together. So by working with partners, you actually build a value for your clients. Yes, there’s a very nice marketing opportunity here. I’ll tell my clients about you, you tell them about me, but there, you’re also building value. You’re making these two things actually work together, you’re not just writing blog posts. So I think creating value is always a nice thing.

Patrick: Yeah, again, another core business idea, like creating value sounds like you’re just very customer-focused. You’re very user-focused on making sure that they’re getting something from you, and then you ask for money in return. I think I like that way of thinking about creating value for people first and then asking for money as opposed to trying to extract as much money from someone as possible. That feels antagonistic to our earlier point, all right? I feel like I’m rambling now.

Patrick: So Amir, let’s go one last question here. If we’re going to go back in a time machine, what is one thing you’d change about the transition from, again, freemium to premium?

Amir: I would spend even more on that.

Patrick:  You’d spend even more.

Amir: Yes, because we delivered on what we wanted but still it took us a long time in order to have a version that we were really, really happy with. So we solved all the issues that we originally identified, which were the most expensive issues, but in retrospect, if there had been more competition to WPML at that time, I’m not sure it was enough. It would have been enough. It worked for us because the competition was so weak, but I think that when you understand that you’re going to make something your business, your livelihood, yeah, give it a little push.

Patrick:  Yeah, it also just seems like standards have risen in the world. I mean, especially in software but in the world in general, and you can’t push out, I think in 2010 you can push out a mediocre plugin and people will be happy with it because that was the best that was available in 2010. And now in 2023, that’s just not the case. We’ve had so much software development, there’s so many alternatives on different systems. You have to be high quality now. Got it, I like that. Amir, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your insights.

Amir: Definitely, it was a pleasure to talk with you today, Patrick.

Patrick: It was absolutely wonderful, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. If you enjoyed Amir’s insights, like and subscribe so we can carry on enticing awesome guests with amazing entrepreneurial journeys to join us here on the show. If you’re on the plugin.fm website, hit subscribe for early bird access to our future content, or just share the episode on your socials so we can get the word out to help fellow entrepreneurs on their journeys too. plugin.fm is brought to you by Freemius, your all-in-one payment subscription and taxes platform for selling software, plugins, themes, and software as a service. If you’re struggling to grow your software revenue, send a note to [email protected] to get free advice from Freemius’s monetization experts. My name is Patrick Rauland, and thanks for listening to plugin.fm.

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