Chapters & Episode Notes
0:00 – Intro
1:25 – From Rockstar to WordPress Product Owner: A Journey of Passion and Skills
5:09 – Discovering Product-Market Fit: How WP Feedback Found Its Niche
12:37 – Strategic Beta Testing: Activating and Engaging Beta Testers
19:16 – Planning and Executing a High-Value Product Launch
26:50 – The Danger of Lifetime Deals: Why Restrictiveness Was Key
29:05 – Persona-driven Marketing: Starting with ‘Vito’ as the Target
31:36 – Facing Adversity: Overcoming Negative Feedback and Attacks
35:21 – Embracing the SaaS World – Atarim’s Transformation Story
41:58 – The Birth of Bertha.ai: Empowering WordPress with AI Technology
49:09 – Sustaining Growth: The Art of Launching and Celebrating Product Updates
54:56 – Outro
Vito: It took us about a year to get to something like $25k ARR, and it took us the next year to get to $150k.
Patrick: What is up, everyone? Welcome back to the plugin.fm podcast, brought to you by Freenius. In this podcast, I chat with product makers about their experiences and entrepreneurship life and everything in between to uncover actual practices and strategies that you can use to succeed in your own business journey. Expect a healthy dose of ambition, inspiration, and plain old bootstrapping.
My name is Patrick Rauland, an e-commerce and marketing geek who loves podcasting. Today, I’m excited to welcome Vito Peleg to the show. He’s a former touring musician turned freelance developer turned agency owner and CEO founder. Vito is an expert in product market research, marketing design, and making them work together to successfully launch a product. And not just a little launch, but a large successful launch.
In 2019, Vito and his team launched WP Feedback, earning $100,000 in revenue in the first 30 days. And then it grew to become the leading solution for website feedback in the WordPress community. Since then, Vito and his team have ridden the waves of growth and reconfigured WP Feedback into Adiram, which has gone on to become one of the most successful products in its vertical.
Today, we’re going to be diving into what it takes to build a solid foundation from which to launch a product. From product-market fit to marketing and growth tactics. First of all, welcome to the show.
Vito: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Patrick: Awesome, let’s start with the fun stuff. It’s pretty crazy to think that the man in front of me right now, you look like a professional WordPress developer if I had to just stereotype you, but you also have this rock and roll background. Tell us about how you went from touring Rockstar to, you know, a WordPress product owner.
Vito: So it’s actually very much intertwined, and that’s the cool part about it. I learned to build websites because the band needed a website, and so someone had to do it, and it had to be me. And so that’s how I started. And even before that, I needed to learn somebody to do flyers and t-shirts and things like that, so I picked up Photoshop. And someone needed to manage social media, so I learned marketing. And everything really started from the fact that I was a musician between the age of 14 to almost 30. And then from there, basically, originally I’m from Tel Aviv, from Israel, and we got signed in the UK through the band, which allowed us to move over here. And we started touring, right? But as a bootstrapped band, it’s pretty much like ramen profitability for startups at the beginning, right? So we had to make some additional income somehow. And so I started building websites, literally from the back of the van as we were traveling around the world. That grew into a freelancing business, and then eventually when we turned 30 and it wasn’t really nice to live in a smelly van with four other guys anymore, we put an end to that chapter and settled in London. And then I started building an agency here in the city that quickly grew to a team of 12. We built hundreds and hundreds of websites for small businesses here. And through that, we found the product, and it all feels like it’s just a continuation of the journey of that kid that played guitar back in Israel almost 20 years ago, really.
Patrick: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy how if you follow your passion and you pick up all those little skills along the way, you can—I don’t say you can do anything—but there are a lot of jobs. Like, there are a lot of jobs that people train for professionally that you just learn the skills because you had to learn them yourself. Right? You learned Photoshop. Like, lots of kids go to school to learn how to use Photoshop, and you just have to figure it out because you had something that needed to be done. You had real-world problems to solve. So, it’s pretty cool that you just learn by doing everything.
Vito: And I think that this is something that is very common to startups or entrepreneurs and musicians. That’s why you see a lot of them, a lot of musicians going into tech and building products and things like that because there are a lot of inherent skills or shared skills that can be acquired at an earlier age and then implemented into business at a later operation. So, and we—I see that all the time. Like, you know, people see the guitar in my background and say, “Oh, you play? Oh, I’m a drummer and I’m a bass player, and I want to listen, you know.” And now they all—we all do tech. You know, so that’s really cool.
Patrick: Wow, a lot of your musician buddies do tech. That’s very cool. I would have never guessed. I love it. So, I mentioned WP Feedback in the intro. So initially, this was an internal product for your agency, Ace Digital, but you obviously must have seen some sort of potential in it and decided to turn it into a commercial product. Now, I want to talk about the launch because launching is a cool thing that we haven’t talked about on the show yet. But before we get to the launch, how did you figure out that there was a product-market fit? How did you do the development, the design, and basically, how did you make it a product? How did you make it go from an internal tool into a fully-fledged product?
Vito: So, the process was interesting because I was looking for ways to scale up the agency, and scaling up a service business is very hard and very heavy on the manpower, you know? And so, we could have continued the agency and just kept putting bodies in seats, and that would have grown exactly like it did before. But I was looking for a different path, and wherever I looked, there were really a few ways to go about this, but the answer was one word: product. And so, I was looking into creating a course about the stuff that I learned as an agency owner, and we came up with a bunch of different product ideas for small plugins that I thought would be useful for us at the agency and therefore, maybe others would want them as well. And while I was thinking about all this stuff, the agency things kept coming back, coming back. All the struggles with the clients and trying to get them on the same page as us, and my team were getting frustrated with waiting on clients and following up and all of those kinds of different annoying things that happen at a service business.
And then, just as a by the way, we were kind of saying, “Why can’t they just click any part of the website and just leave a comment where the problem is instead of us trying to pull this out of them?” And so, I mocked it up really quickly on a whiteboard at the office, and I showed this to one of the developers, and I was like, “Let’s try and build that. Let’s try and do this because I think that’s going to help them so that I can focus on finding what would be the product that we will build. In the meantime, you build that to serve the clients, you know?” And so, we did, and it worked like magic, and all of a sudden, we saw the project delivery reduced by weeks and sometimes months. Wow. And then I was like, “Okay, I’m looking for something to build, but looks like we already did it. Let’s see if this is a problem that only we have or if this is something that is shared by other folks.” And so, what we did is, with—and it was extremely basic, Patrick, it was like, you know, it was before Alpha, you know, it’s like minus beta, minus B, you know? And I took a video screencast of it, and I talked to a friend, the bass player from the band, who was doing, like, video motion graphics and things like that, and asked them, “You know, there’s a few things that I think would be better for it to look like and to feel like, but I don’t want to invest more development time into it. So let’s fake it in After Effects and just make it look like it should look.” And we put that video together. It’s like 15 seconds, looks like a screencast, but actually, there were some After Effects on it. And I put it on a few Facebook groups along with a form that just asked people, “Will this help you? And if it will, click here and sign up, just give me the email, your email address, so we’ll let you know when we’re ready for something.” And then, the flow was basically the email address. Once they gave us the email address, there was a survey that was trying to figure out exactly what you were saying, the product-market fit, and what are their exact problems, how do they do it now, and all of those kinds of different things. And yeah, and within a couple of days, we had 1300 sign-ups. And then I was like, “Okay, there is something here.”
Patrick: I mean, you had 1300 sign-ups in a couple of days, which is very good feedback. A product solving an actual problem that people are really struggling with. Yes, there’s a gap in the market. I love that.
Vito: Yeah, so we had 1300 sign-ups, and out of them, a little more than 500 actually went through a 20-question survey and gave us information. So you could see that it’s not that they only had a problem. Half of them had a severe problem strong enough to take the time to go through the pain of filling out a 20-question thing, you know, with someone they have no idea who it is, you know.
Patrick: Yeah, so number one, you were validating that your product solves a problem, you’re making sure that there’s product-market fit. But then also, did you get feedback from them? How much of that feedback did you implement before the launch? Like, did you do a whole lot?
Vito: So not only then, we took that survey, because it wasn’t all calculated stuff. It was a lot of it was like, “Oh man, look at what’s going on, look at how many sign-ups we got last week. This is crazy, what’s going on here,” and all this kind of stuff, right? All these early-stage excitement that was going on. And so, what I also wanted is to take all this information and give it back to the community. So what we did is we created some interesting stats out of it, created a report, printed it out, and printed like 600 copies of it. And I was walking around in WordCamps and just giving those booklets to 600 people. And that had the final page talking about the brand new product that we’ve created, but most of it was just like, “Check out how 600 other agencies are doing things.” Like, what page builders they are using, what is their, how do they communicate with clients at every stage, how do they gather content, how many and what is their average deal size when they actually sell a project. So, it became super useful information for a bunch of other people. And that got me into that kind of building-in-public concept as well because I saw that it was helping people, and I just decided to do more and more of this stuff.
Patrick: So first of all, I love that you made a paper report. You know, in the digital age that we live in, it’s really easy to just make everything digital. I would definitely make a digital PDF download. Thinking of bringing it to WordCamps, right? Where like, and I would at least glance at it, right? If I download a PDF report, I might not read it. I might save it in Evernote and say, “I’ll read it later,” but it’s not. So I love that you made a physical paper product. That’s fantastic.
So why not just make the pre-beta and then just launch there and see what happens? Because that, I think, that’s what a lot of WordPress developers do. They have some sort of good idea, and they make up a beta, alpha, whatever you want to call it, and then they launch it, and then very little happens.
Vito: Right, so I actually took a bit of a different approach. I’m very much about speed to market and the time between. So everything that I’m telling you, Patrick, this is like weeks. So literally in February, the idea came in. In March, we were testing it out with some clients at the agency, and mid-March, the survey went out. And in April, I’m already out handing out these booklets, you know. And the beta started, and the official launch was just like in May. And again, this is a very short amount of time if you think about it. It’s literally. But what I wanted to do with the beta was, first of all, get some feedback from people that are actually running businesses so that I can bring not a beautiful product, but a minimal product that can actually be useful. I also remember about myself that as a business owner, I bought into a bunch of different products, especially with all of those lifetime deals and AppSumo and all those kinds of things. You buy into early-stage products, and they’re crap, you know. And you never, you just use them once or try to use them, and then that’s it, and you never see the person again. So I didn’t want to burn the audience early on. I wanted to have something that would be useful but still extremely basic because time was, okay, we have this deadline, and we’re gonna launch it because in the way that the deadline was set was based on an event, WordCamp Europe was coming up in Berlin 2019, and so it’s an unmovable deadline, I’m gonna be there, and we’re gonna talk about this. So the website should be able to sell it. And so that’s really how the whole thing went on. And that gave us a whole bunch of drive to make sure that we’re activating the beta testers because a lot of times you get beta folks, and they just don’t give you the feedback that you need. And then you get tempted into just launching something that is half-baked, or you get tempted into giving it for free to a bunch of other beta testers in the hopes that maybe they will give us some feedback. So what we did is we said, “Okay, you’re getting it, but we’re actually gonna take it from you if you’re not gonna give us feedback.” And that really activated a whole bunch of them, and we set rules. You have to give us two reports at least within the next four weeks, and we’re gonna send you weekly surveys that you’re gonna need to fill out. And if you don’t do two of them, then you’re gonna get locked out of the product and these kinds of things. And we did lock out a bunch, but out of a hundred people that we allowed into the beta, we got feedback from 70-some, which is great.
Patrick: That’s really good.
Vito: Yeah, that’s how it all started there.
Patrick: So what’s interesting about it is, I think it’s pressed and also just a person alive today. I say, he can beta feedback whenever you want, but I think my assumption is I want to be really nice, be as nice as I can to them so they give me precious feedback. And it’s funny that sometimes, if you’re a little mean, isn’t the right word, but if you’re strict, and maybe it’s like you’re protecting your time, right? Like, hey, look, we want to launch this product in a month or two months, so we need all the feedback in a month. And if you’re not going to give us feedback, that’s fine, but we just, we’re just gonna end this beta relationship, and that’s the end of it, because we need this feedback in a month. We implement it, we launch..
Vito: This is something that, well, the product was called WP Feedback, so that we played a lot of that, of course, you know, it was very easy to talk about these kinds of things. But really, it’s one of the things that we preach, is the principles of good project management. And when you’re working with clients, you can’t be that guy. You can’t be just nice all the time, and you have to be the dad. You haven’t, you have a newborn yourself, so maybe, maybe she’s even too young for you to start setting some ground rules there, you know. But it’s coming, Patrick, it’s coming. She’s gonna ask for the cookie, and you’re gonna have to say no, you know. And so, these ground rules are important to set, not only with clients, but also with users. And we even call this internally, and we use this very often, even with support requests or with partners that we work with, or even now at the summit, we have our yearly event coming next week. And so, we do this with sponsors and speakers, and the question that we pose is always the same: Are you the alpha of this relationship? If not, become the alpha, because that’s how you influence things. You can’t be, you can’t influence things if you’re like that, please sir, kind sir, you know, please just give me some feedback, and can I please get two dollars? Yeah, no. You gotta say no. This is super useful. We’re gonna help you, and you’re gonna pay for it, and you’re gonna do it right now. Here it is, do it. I’m here waiting, do it.
Patrick: So, I would reframe that as, like, you take all the control. Like, you take all the control because if you don’t, someone else, or if you don’t take control, then you don’t know what happens. Whereas, it’s like, here’s the rules, expectations.
Vito: Yeah, you take ownership of what you need to get done.
Patrick: I’m a big fan of that, love that. All right, so let’s talk about the launch. So, from a high-level perspective, how did you plan and execute that product launch? And I don’t remember if I said the number already in this podcast, but you made a hundred thousand dollars in the first month. So, I mean, this is only a couple of months, right? This is like from the idea in February to the beta in… Sorry, was that March? April?
Vito: Yeah, launch in May.
Patrick: Yes, and the launch of May. So, like, that’s an incredibly compressed timeframe to have a lot. If you had a launch that made five thousand dollars, like, yeah, that makes sense, right? Like, you know. But this was a hundred thousand dollar launch. So, how did you plan that, and how did you get such a big pickup? How’d the launch get so big?
Vito: So, I was looking into my initial, that initial contact list, that 500 people that signed up, and I was like, okay, what can we do with them? They said they want it, but I was also looking at the financial goals of setting up a company and how much is that gonna cost? We weren’t even talking about profit at this stage. It was just more about like, how can we get this to a place where we have a beta or we have a minimal viable product, you know, that we can launch, but how do we get this to where it will actually be impactful, not just useful but massively impactful for every person that is going to use it?
And I was also looking at this from a standpoint of what would be cool, you know? What would be a cool milestone? And I tried to look online to see if someone does like 100k in a month in our space? And I found that, you know, third time products and like people that are there already have an audience, yes, they can do a whole lot more, of course. But first-time founders coming into the space with no background of product or anything like this, I couldn’t find anything like this. And so, I thought, okay, that sounds like a good goal to aspire to. How can we get there using the list that we have? And this is going to actually help us build the company and start hiring a few folks that are or even just stop doing client work with the agency and focus on this solely. And so what I looked into is, if we’re gonna do this, starting to build MRR, it’s going to be a long journey. If we’re going to do the AppSumo route, which a lot of people were doing at the time, especially in 2019, then we need to sell about 3,000 of these or 5,000 of these for the general revenue to be 100K, but then we will be getting like 20, you know? So, that was out. And instead, I decided, okay, I can already see from the beta that we’re saving people about 20 to 30 percent of the time that it takes to build a project. And if we’re doing that and they charge this amount, let’s say two grand for a project at least, then we’re saving them about 400, 500 every time that they run a project through this system. So let’s charge five hundred dollars just once. Let’s do a lifetime deal, 500 bucks. And that means that I need to sell only 400 or sorry, only 200 of these so that we can make that goal. And if I can sell 200, 500 deals to 1,500 people, probably. So, that really is what initiated the whole thing. I’m just gonna pound that emailing list. And there was even like a viral type of component to it that if you, if you, after they bought, announced to others that you did, and let us, let’s all grow together. And, you know, it was super genuine, just like, I’m an agency owner, I just want to help more agency owners. I’ve been doing this for many years. I think that this can help. I think you think that this can help you, so share this with others. So they did, and, and that’s how we got to that figure in the first 30 days. But really, in the first quarter, we were almost at 300K.
Patrick: Yeah, that’s a really impressive launch, and it’s funny that there’s something about digital products and pricing where, and you know, I have a couple AppSumo products, and it’s like, of course, you sell it for fifty dollars because everyone else was selling for 50. And then you go, but then you added a zero to that and it sold just fine, and for a second, I’m like, man, that’s expensive. And then you explained it, and I’m like, “oh, I would personally absolutely spend 500 on a WordPress product or some sort of software solution that helps. If I can launch one website faster, that’s worth it to me, right?”
Vito: Yes, and if you know, you’re a proper agency and you do even the small agency does 10 projects a year, you know, a small one, yeah, you know, a standard agency, a micro agency does like 50 projects, 100 projects a year, and this is just money, free money, really. Yeah, that’s the mindset, and it worked out great, really. And the point was that we’re gonna do it until we get that revenue and then stop because it’s so tempting to keep going. And we stopped, and then we had a relationship with another person that had a marketplace, and he was like, Vito, let’s do it again. I think I have a list of 60,000 people, not fifteen hundred. I think we can sell a whole bunch of these things through the platform there, and I was like, no, I don’t know, you know, it’s, we’re fine, we have what we need. It’s like, but the money, man, the money. And so eventually, I gave in, but I told him, alright, Andrew, and he later became, he later sold his marketplace, a lot of it is because of this launch that we did through the second launch that we did there, and then it became an investor in Atarim as well, and now he’s the co-founder of Bertha because we talk about this later as well, but, but that’s how this relationship started, and I told him, Andrew, okay, we’ll do it, but I do everything. I don’t want you to send an email from your side. I don’t want you to send anything. We control the launch 100%. We’re just going to pull up the playbook of what we did the first time, and which is the playbook that is published on Freemius’s blog as well, and we’re just gonna do it one to one, exactly the same, the same amount of emails, the same copy in those emails. We’re gonna do a video together instead of just myself telling people how awesome it is. Same landing page, just adding your logo on top. Next two hours, and that’s it. You know, we’re like not doing anything more, anything less. And we cut it off when we said that we will.
Patrick: What was the goal of all? Why be so restrictive with the second launch?
Vito: Because lifetime ideas are dangerous. They are a huge danger to an early-stage startup. So now, almost four years in, I see why it was such a smart move. And this is why all of these AppSumo products never last. They never last because what are you gonna do when you get 2,000 people coming in for support a year later? Yeah, you can’t do it, you know, unless you keep selling and unless the market is big enough to keep doing that, then maybe, you know, but for most products, it’s just gonna kill you. And it does, it kills most products. So it was very important then, and it kills valuations later on because you have a drag on your business. Because you have, you need to serve a few hundred clients or sometimes a few thousand clients that already paid and the money was already used. Then you’re never gonna see any a dime from them ever again, and they’re gonna expect everything for free forever, you know. And so, so it’s very dangerous, and it’s an easy balance to break. So what we did there is we said, okay, we did 100 deals on the first one. Here, we’ll do 200 more, but we’ll up it to 600 dollars because this one worked, and now we have a bigger list. So let’s do that, you know. And so we did that, and we stopped it after, and now here’s like 400 of these lifetime deals wandering around the WordPress space. Most people are hanging on to them, and we still talk to those users pretty much every day, which is an example of why it was also dangerous because they imagine if there were more than this amount.
Patrick: Yeah, certainly, lifetime deals are not sustainable. They give you a huge amount of revenue up front.
Vito: But sustainable is a kind of a nice buzzword that people say. It’s freaking dangerous, you know, okay?
Patrick: Yeah, no, I agree, yeah. So, okay (29:04), so let’s take a couple, did you do any like segmenting? Did you have different personas when you were doing this, or was it all sort of one agency owner persona?
Vito: Yeah, so we didn’t know much about those things at the time. Now there’s a lot more segmentation in place. It was just like, this is what we got, hopefully, you’ll find it useful so here it is, you know.
Patrick: That’s pretty cool because I’m a big fan of using personas for marketing as well as other things, but it’s nice to start with one persona, and you can always expand later and go, “Okay, this is really three separate personas. Here’s the small one, the medium, the large one. Cool, so just start with one.”
Vito: So, well, it was like, who is the person? We had these discussions like, who is this for? How are they? Why do they need it? And you know, all of those kinds of basic questions that you ask. And who is this for? It’s for Vito, you know, let’s find a few hundreds of Vito’s out there and sell to them. Why does he need it? Because he doesn’t want to deal with all the crap and the clients, and his team is struggling with it and all those. So they basically interviewed me, and I wrote down why I needed it, and that was the copy.
Patrick: Oh, very cool. I’m a big fan of using myself as the very first persona. I like that you labeled your persona, in this case, yourself. But it’s good to have, like, how do we sell to Vito, right? It’s so much easier to say, how do we sell to Vito, than how do we sell this product to everyone? Like, if you say, how do you sell this product, you’re kind of implying to everyone, right? You should say, how do we sell to Vito? You know, you throw out half the stuff and you include half the stuff that might not work for everyone else. Cool, exactly.
Vito: Yes, what makes me not buy something, and let’s address those objections earlier in the moment. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and I think this is one of the things that I’ll, for many products, generally, just be your own client initially, you know, scratch your own niche, and it’s always the best way to start and not necessarily to scale. Because later on, we found personas that are not me, that have a lot more money than me, that can pay for a whole bunch of bigger deals and stuff? But early on, it’s great that you have that clarity.
Patrick: Love it. Did you have any challenges in the launch, before, during, after? You know, did anything go wrong? Emails go wrong or people writing in, saying this is broken or I don’t know, influencers say this is a bad product? Like, what challenges popped up? I’m sure you had some.
Vito: Well, there was one thing. It was pretty early on, but there was another product in the space that was already there doing some of the same things. The same mindset, not the same focus, not the same passion, and to make it a big thing. But there was one more competitor that we identified, and he freaked out because he was on his own for a few years. And so he started lashing out at us. And we were like, “man, we’re like three weeks old. What are you talking about?” And so he started lashing out on social media and creating comparison pages where I was even, I didn’t know how to handle these things myself, and I got offended and responded, and all those kinds of things. It became a drama thing, you know? And the whole thing, now you know, there are people literally copying the copy of our home pages and I’m like, fine, you know, if you can make it work, there’s enough to go around. But usually, they don’t last long because if you’re not yourself, and if you’re just copying someone else, then you’re probably not gonna have respect for your own product and your audience and your own business. So that’s the mindset that I adopted later on, but early in the early stage, it was very stressful, and it just shifted my focus from what mattered, you know what I mean?
Patrick: Yeah, okay. So how do you handle that? Do you respond? So if someone listening to this launches a product and then, some water…
Vito: So yesterday, I had a founder that just released a plugin in the WordPress space reach out to me and told me exactly that. And he said, “I’m pissed off, and these guys have nothing to do with us.” It was just like trying to pick my brain into what exactly you do, asking exactly this question. So there’s not much you can do, honestly. What I would say nowadays, looking back, is play the underdog card. That’s fine, you know, make them look like they are the evil ones, you know, the evil empire trying to squash you, and play the victim a little bit. But do it consciously and do it for a little bit. And it’s not a business strategy being the victim, it’s a political strategy a lot of times. But it’s not good for business to be in that position. So only if it fits, if you are early on and you can see that someone else is trying to be aggressive. I wasn’t taking it, you know, I wasn’t like, “Please hit me.” I was being the alpha of that situation as well, and I was being more like, “Look at this guy who had a few years in the sun. He was there on his own, and he didn’t do half of the stuff that we did in three weeks.” So, which team do you want to be on, you know?
Patrick: That’s good, very cool. Okay. So eventually, WP Feedback becomes Atarim, which is this more, a little bit more of a comprehensive collaborative SaaS tool. Why did you reconfigure it, right? And yeah, why did you, why did you evolve it?
Vito: Cool, pretty early on, we realized that because of what it does, it basically allows people to click any part of the website, leave comments where the problems are and everything, right? And it was a plugin, it was installed on a client’s website, and then you would be able to annotate it like a Google Document, if you will, you know? But agencies run more than one website, many times they run dozens of them and hundreds of them. And so, what do you do? How do you consolidate all these different requests into one centralized concept? And so, we had to pick a way to help them. It was literally user-led because they were saying, “Well, I need to go into each one of my… I put it on 50 websites, and now I need to go to each one of them every morning to see if the client left comments.” You know, it’s like, okay, cool, let’s build a dashboard that will consolidate all those installations. And that was the, like, a response to a user request, right? But it was a big response because we had to build a platform, going from a plugin to actually having a hosted solution, like a SaaS solution. So, we did that, and we ran that for a while. But then we ran that under the WP Feedback brand, and everyone was like, “Okay, cool, WP Feedback, it’s a plugin for WordPress for feedback, right?” Yeah, that’s what it is, it’s WP Feedback. And, SaaS is a completely different ball game. You have different costs, you have different technologies to learn to work with. Now, we’re not working on WordPress only. We have the plugin, but we also have this Laravel and React dashboard that needs to be managed and hosted on AWS with DevOps and all of this crap, you know? It’s a different animal and a plugin is already underpriced. While a SaaS can have a perception of, you can charge a little more, you can even charge monthly. Most plugins don’t even charge monthly, so you charge your most. Target charges yearly, and then you have this challenge of creating revenue on a monthly basis that will help you facilitate payroll and all of those kinds of things. So everyone was seeing us as a plugin, while I was everywhere saying, well, we’re not, but we’re a SaaS. Just look at this, we’re a SaaS with a plugin. We have a dashboard, you know, forget about it. I know it’s called WP Feedback, but we have a dashboard, you know? This costs associated, and I was trying to train the market on something, and instead, I was like, “okay, you know what, screw that, let’s rebrand the whole thing. It’s gonna be a pain but we’re already seeing that the product is evolving to something way beyond just WP Feedback, just WordPress feedback. So let’s just find a name that is a bit more broad that will allow our vision to grow with a product instead of confining it to just WP Feedback. And so we chose Atarim. Atarim in Hebrew means websites. And it’s super broad, you could do whatever you want, right? And no one knows what it is. It’s like Asana, what is it? What is Asana? I don’t know. So, I was looking at those tools and I was like, okay, what is Kinsta? I don’t know. It’s probably means something, but I don’t know. So let’s find these kinds of names that make nothing, no sense. What is Trello? I don’t know what it means. So we did, we did that and we rode that relaunch or that rebrand to reset the positioning of the company as a SaaS product rather than this, even though we were that for almost a year before the rebrand.
Patrick: I love in my brain these were two things that happened at the same time, where you rebranded and you turned it into a SaaS, but they were two separate things, and they were because of two separate problems. The SaaS is because people have 50 different websites, they want to review all the feedback in one place. Totally get that. But then you still have the problem of people calling you a plugin, and you really are a SaaS at this point. So you’re trying to rebrand, so I’m okay, let me tell you my bias. My bias is towards really simple product names. I actually love WP Feedback, right? However, when you switch to something like Atarim, it’s broad, but then people might not know what you do. So here’s my question: Did you lose any WordPress business? Like, you know, did you used to get a hundred sales a month, and now you’re down to 80 sales a month? Or did the sales keep going even though the name is slightly less intuitive?
Vito: Well, with this, we also 10x star prices because we were selling yearly, and then we started selling it on a monthly basis. So really, the way that it was is like the base plan was like $79 a year, right? And the top plan was like $300 a year. And then we went to the base plan being fifty dollars a month. And it makes sense, wouldn’t you pay a SaaS 50 bucks a month? You know, it saves you $500 per project, you know? So that all happened at the same time. So I don’t know to tell you how that affected, but I can tell you that a year after, it took us about a year to get to something like $25k ARR, and it took us the next year to get to $150k. So, a lot of it is because of the rebrand and all of those kinds of things, and the new pricing model, but also momentum, you know? Momentum constantly.
Patrick: That is a great story. I love hearing this. This is great. So, I do want to shift gears a little bit because you have other products. So, you have Bertha.ai with Andrew Palmer, another WordPressor. Okay, so are you still working on that? And then also, I feel like AI has gone through a lot in the last six months, 12 months. But Bertha.ai was before that. So, what would you have done differently? What’s up?
Vito: It’s a year and a half old now.
Patrick: Oh, so you’re just ahead of the rest of it. Wow.
Vito: Well, with that, it was like Atarim was fully bootstrapped for a few years. And we started seeing stuff coming out with AI. Okay, like that was like two years ago or so, right? Really early stage, like Jasper type of stuff, you know what they were called, even the first thing they changed. They changed the name twice, these guys. And then copy.ai and things like that. And I thought, I tried it and it blew my mind. And I was like, “Oh my God, if we can have Atarim users use this to get content, to create content for clients instead of waiting for them to do it, then that would be a game changer.” So, we started building it internally. But because we were bootstrapped, so building it felt like we’re building another product? And then the other thing was, as we were building it internally, it was like, “Man, this can be so much bigger than just for agencies. This can be like for every WordPress website in the world.” And so, I called up Andrew, who is the guy from Elegant Marketplace, the guy that we did the deal with before. And thanks to that deal, he sold his business and we became friends, good friends after that. And, you know, like pretty much a call every other week and things like this, right? Tell him, “Andrew, I have an idea for a plugin,” and he’s like, “Let’s do it. What is it?”
Patrick: He said let’s do it first?
Vito: Yes, he said, “Let’s do it. What is it?” So, I told him what it is, and he’s like, “Brilliant! Let me talk to my team.” And he already had like a small Dev team, you know, lined up. “So let’s talk to the team and let’s make it happen.” So we did, and like three weeks later, it was out, and this was literally the first WordPress plugin. And now there’s like eight and a half thousand users.
ChatGPT, it’s basically evolved way beyond. I’m not that involved that much with it recently. Andrew took over completely, and he is loving it, and he’s growing it all the time. It evolved significantly internally as well because we started with just like, “Okay, let’s do some prompts for websites,” but now there’s images in there, and it’s integrated into a bunch of different plugins inside WordPress. So, it kind of works with your workflow. There’s a Chrome extension now. So I even have it here on my screen, and I use Bertha before I go to Google. Literally, this is my go-to and there’s a chat because ChatGPT kind of like was a big thing, so we added the chat in there, and it’s all running on a couple of those different things. And so I think it’s way better than Chat GPT. We don’t have the 20 billion for Microsoft to drive this in that same way, you know? But it is using open AI in a lot of the things as well, as not confined to just OpenAI, which makes it a whole bunch of other use cases in there as well, even for podcasters. You should look into it.
Patrick: Yeah, I was going to say, my personal right now, people think companies, my thinking is every tool that we use today will have AI technology embedded in it, right?
Vito: This was the initial idea. It was, let’s put AI into Adorable, but the market was so open at the time, so we said, “Alright, let’s just build a dedicated tool.” And now it’s like Atarim is the collaboration tool for WordPress, and WooCommerce is the sales tool for WordPress. Bertha is the AI tool for WordPress. That’s how we look at it, at least. But I agree, and we already see that happening. And what I see with that is that, that’s true, many people are gonna build AI tools. Even more than that, with Atarim, many people have visual collaboration tools baked into products. Even, you know, you see it in Google, you see it in Figma, right? And things like that. They see it in Dropbox, you can click the image and leave a comment on there, but it’s a feature. It’s a ‘by the way’, it’s not a focus. And that is really the difference between tools like Atarim compared to Google Notes, you know? And we go, and this is really on the two levels of how we look at the product and the vision. And the vision of the company is we centralize and we go deep. These are the two things that we do. Because with Google Docs, even that you need to go into the Google Doc to see the notes, there’s no centralization of it in that way, you know? This is how we’re kind of looking at the long-term vision as well. We’re here to centralize and expand deeper.
Patrick: I love that and I’m a big fan of focusing on your core problem which it sounds like is what you’re doing. so okay so you have these two projects it sounds like you took a step a little bit of a step back.
Vito: So that’s because we raise money for Atarim just about five months ago and so with that I made that God’s decision that now it’s not just me and it’s not just the team, there’s other people that I need to account for and so not just the users even but I wanted to first give the product the focus because we’re building it to be a 100 million AOL product and so that requires hyper focus. so Andrew took over Bertha and is doing an amazing job on that and I’m focusing on Atarim and hopefully, doing a good job there also.
Patrick: Well, I was going to ask you, you’re clearly a master of launching products but how do you maintain growth so it continues for years?
Vito: More launches, so basically, yeah, so I’ll tell you when this again comes back. It’s like a full circle to the music space, right? And when we were playing as a band, as a tiny band in Tel Aviv, right? There’s a, in Israel, it’s a tiny country. There’s like seven million people, right? In the whole country. And in Tel Aviv, it’s even smaller. Just for comparison, London is bigger in terms of population than the entire country, you know? Yeah. The only thing you can do as a musician in Israel is do a show in Tel Aviv once a month. That’s good. That’s, you reached the capacity of your market, yeah.
So what we did, especially as a small band it’s like, okay, we can do a show once a month in Tel Aviv. How do we get the same people to come to the same show every month? Let’s do launches. So what we did is we basically reframed the same show from different angles every single month with different themes and different concepts and different holidays and different things like what is… And the team meeting or the band meeting was like, okay, why is there a reason to party in November? Okay, there’s this. There was this and we looked into like Wikipedia back in the day, in the early stages, and trying to find where, what happened in November that we can latch onto on that exact date that we managed to book a venue and see what happened on that day. And let’s build a show around that. And we even ended up doing like stupid stuff like, there was a dog landing, the first launch of a dog to space on the day of the show 50 years ago, you know? So I think it was called the Leica or something. It was like Russians launched the dog to space 50 years ago on that day. Let’s do a show around that. And we got close, and we did like all kinds of decorations to the thing and the flyers. We had us photoshopped into spacesuits, you know? Yeah, all those kinds of things, right? And we made it, we launched it like it’s a brand new thing, even though it was the same. So now with the product, every time that we push a release is an opportunity for a launch. And we release every month exactly the same way. Once a month, there’s a push and that push has one or two awesome features that are visible, that are tangible, and the user can actually see and interact with. And then there’s a bunch of bug fixes and improvements to all kinds of other things. But we ride on those two new things that we’ll create mock-ups for and landing pages about, and you know, it’s all about these kinds of things.
Patrick: Cool. So It’s all about showing the new, the new hotness, the new cool thing. And it’s like, new stuff.
Vito: Yeah, people like new stuff.
Patrick: And it’s about getting the excitement up, right? It’s about making users excited that there’s new things coming out.
Vito: And it doesn’t always work, you know? It’s not that every month we hit it out of the park. But I even remember Yoast, the SEO plugin, early on when we were doing those releases, and we were kind of like, we’re making some noise about this. But it kind of felt weird to make a whole bunch of noise around, I don’t know, releasing bulk updates to the plugin, to the product. Fine, bulk updates. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, you know what I mean? But then I saw that there were articles, press releases about the latest Yoast update. And that was really early on in our product, and I was kind of, and I looked into, “okay, cool, there’s a product release. What, what did they update?” And they changed the border radius of the widget. That’s it. And a bunch of bug fixes. But the featured thing is that our UI completely changed because now it’s round, you know? So this kind of gave me the okay, it’s okay to make some noise about nothing like we used to do back then with the band, you know? So let’s see how we can do that systematically. And I’m not saying that we don’t want people to think that our releases are nothing. And we do build a lot, and we build fast. And we do try to make sure that the releases that we do do matter or make some kind of an impact or bring something innovative to the space.
Patrick: Well, I think what you’re saying is, make fanfare of what you do. Like, highlight what you do, which I think is really cool.
Vito: Celebrate the successes every time, but also think about it in that way. And every time that you have a release, you need to do bug fixes constantly, but you also need to make sure that something, this candy, you know, that you can’t keep releasing those candy stuff for the users.
Patrick: Love it. Well, Vito, we are out of time. So I want to thank you for being on the show. Really appreciate having you. Thank you so much.
Vito: My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.
Patrick: And thanks to all of you for joining us for another episode of plugin.fm. On plugin FM, we sit down with exceptional product entrepreneurs and business owners who share their unique stories, as well as actionable tips and strategies based on their own first-hand experience. If you enjoyed listening to this episode, head over to plugin.fm to check out our previous episodes. plugin.fm is brought to you by Freemius, your all-in-one ecommerce partner for selling software, plugins, themes, and SaaS. If you’re struggling to grow your plugin revenue, send a note to [email protected] to get free advice from Freemius’s monetization experts. My name is Patrick Rauland. I’m out of here. Another episode. Bye-bye.