The Advice You Need when Considering Crowdfunding with Thomas Umstattd
Thomas Umstattd is a plugin and agency owner who has had great success in crowdfunding his products. His take is a fantastically interesting one and he offers lots of great advice – so much that we even have a bonus over on Patreon. This is definitely one of my favorite conversations – I learned a ton here that I was able to immediately apply to my own crowdfunding efforts.
Get Part 2 of our interview with Thomas on Patreon
Hey everybody! And welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, my guest is Thomas Umstatdd. He’s a plugin and agency owner who’s has great success in crowdfunding his products. It’s a fantastically interesting take and he offers lots of great advice. This is definitely one of my favorite conversations – I learned a ton. Let’s talk about all of it after a word from our sponsors.
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Joe: Hey, everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks how did you build that. Today my guest is Thomas Umstattd. Thomas, how are you?
Thomas: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
Joe: Hey, thanks for being on the show. Thomas reached out and asked about being a guest on the show, and then we realized that we had met about four years ago in Austin for a cigar … Well, WordPress event and then subsequently a cigar event following the WordCamp. Very cool to reconnect with you. We’re going to be talking about crowdfunding, specifically crowdfunding of plugins today. Is that right?
Thomas: That’s right.
Joe: Cool. Why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do?
Thomas: My name is Thomas Umstattd and I run Author Media. Back in the day, we focused on building websites for authors. We were a WordPress agency. We were relatively early to the WordPress world. I think we got started in WordPress 2.3, 2.4. One of the challenges that we found that we kept running into was authors that had lots of books. When you have two or three books, you just create webpages for them, but what do you do for an author who’s got 40 books and there’s different genres? What we started developing was a plugin just to make our own lives better, which was to create post types and taxonomies.
You can like click on the romance genre and see all of the books by that author in that genre and even additional authors. About that time, the industry went through this big transition away from traditional publishing. Authors used to get a check for $5,000 for their book. Now most of them have moved to self-publishing where they pay $5,000 or $3,000 to publish their book. What got squeezed out in that window was their website budget. Suddenly authors are like, “I don’t want to pay somebody to build my website. I’m spending all my money on editors and cover designers,” and all of this. We were like, “What do we do?”
Our whole business model was based off of people getting these checks from their publishers and spending some of that on a website. We have a lot of people asking for our plugin that we developed internally. People would see sites we’ve done for our clients. They’re like, “Man, that’s amazing. I want that kind of functionality on my WordPress site.” I was like, “I don’t know.” This is a lot of work, and I don’t want to build this plugin and like five people buy it and I lose all this money. We put it on Kickstarter. We were I think the second or third ever WordPress plugin on Kickstarter. We put it. We had a goal of $2,500, and we had a bare bones version of our plugin.
Like a core functionality to make it work with other themes that weren’t our own in house framework we were working with. We were like, “What do you want, world? Do you want this plugin? Tell us you want it,” because you can ask somebody, “Hey, I’ve got this idea. What do you think,” and people will always tell you it’s a good idea.
If you ask them, “Hey, would you like to pre-order a copy of the plugin for 50 bucks or $25,” then they’re like, “Oh well, it’s not that good of an idea,” or they’re like, “Oh my gosh. It’s amazing. Shut up and take my money.” We wanted to see what kind of reaction we got. We put it on Kickstarter, and I think within two, two and a half weeks we hit our goal. We’re like, “Wow. This is really exciting.” We still had a couple of weeks left with our campaign on Kickstarter. We started adding features from our wishlist of features as stretch goals.
I’m like, “Well, we’ve got Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but if you want buttons to these other stores, we need to hit $3,000 or $3,500 and then $5,000.” We kept going. Then we hit $10,000 of our original … Our goal was originally $2,500. We’re at $10,000. This one person really wanted us to add a feature. I don’t remember what it was, but they’re from Germany. They spent 30 minutes on our last day sending Twitter messages to every single person on Twitter that had WordPress in their bio. Just one after another, they were handcrafting these messages.
I was simultaneously like really honored that this person would put in all of this work and also horrified that they’re spamming Twitter on our behalf. We’re like, “We have nothing to do with this guy.” I mean we like him. I was like, “I now understand how political candidates were.” We were like, “I like the support, but I don’t necessarily want to be associated with these crazy people.” At the end of the day, I think we ended up raising I think around $12,000 for our plugin and that gave us the money to really invest in making it the best plugin we could for authors. When we finally released it, our Kickstarter backers are the first ones to use it.
We let them have early access, which was a great way of having people pay us to be beta users. They gave us all kinds of feedback and requested features. We’re like, “Oh, that’s a good idea. That’s a good idea, and we added those features into it. Over the years, we continue adding features. We had that long head-start in a sense. A couple of years ago, we actually did a second Kickstarter for MyBookTable 3 and raised another $12,000. Our users are used to backing us on Kickstarter I guess. I think it was quite $12,000 the second time. I don’t remember exactly the numbers, but it was really encouraging. It was a great way to test the idea ahead of time.
Joe: Yeah, that’s fantastic. A quick follow up on that, I mean we’re going to talk all about crowdfunding, but you said that like you hit your goal. Then you started adding features and then like you jumped from $2,500 in like two weeks to $12,000 by the end. Do you think those stretch goals made the difference? Like those stretch goals were the thing that people were like, “Oh yes. That is what I’m willing to pay for.”
Thomas: Absolutely. We had stretch goals, some of which were features people really, really wanted. We were able to develop the plugin kind of in collaboration with our future users because we’re able to hear from them what they wanted. We were interacting. We could see oh, people are really excited about this feature. They’re not excited about this other feature. When someone’s spamming Twitter on your behalf because they really want to unlock a stretch goal that allows them to interface with a store that they use, it’s like okay, this person really cares. What’s interesting is that you find a software developed, but not everyone cares about all the features equally.
Thomas: You have this feature and a very small but vocal minority of your users really care about that. Well, crowdfunding has a way for them to put their money where their mouth is in a sense and be like, “Okay. If you want understand that feature, we need you to help us get to this goal.” They’re sharing the word and talking to other authors. We also incentivized people to back the campaign in that if you backed the Kickstarter, you got the plugin at a discount. The retail price was higher than what you could pre-order it for. It allowed us to have the money ahead of time. We didn’t have to get a loan from the bank or investors or take money away from our other operations.
Joe: That’s the real beauty of Kickstarter, right? First of all with Kickstarter, I don’t know how many people listening who have backed a Kickstarter project, but generally you’re like pre-ordering something that doesn’t exist yet. That’s essentially what you’re doing on Kickstarter. You’ll have an amount of time to get the funding you want. It’s all or nothing on Kickstarter. If you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get any money and people aren’t charged. Then you set a date essentially, “All right. Well, we’ll have it by May 2018,” or whatever.
Especially in manufacturing, especially in Kickstarter projects that just completely blow their goal out of the water, there’s a delay of at least six months, right? Kickstarter has gotten a little bit of a bad rep because I paid for this thing and then it’s taking me forever to get it. With software, you don’t necessarily run into that, right? You don’t have to deal with like scaling, manufacturing or anything like that, right?
Thomas: That’s right. We had to add the additional features that everyone unlocked so to speak with their stretch goals, but it wasn’t like manufacturing. It was like, “Wow. We were planning on making a hundred units, but now I have to make 10,000 units. We need to find more factories in China.” It wasn’t like that at all, so that was nice. We did launch on time. Part of the advantage was we had a head-start in the sense that we’d already built a working version of it that we used internally. We weren’t starting from scratch, although it ended up basically feeling like starting from scratch because there are so many different WordPress themes out there and some of them are coded very badly.
Like having a plugin that interacts with themes and working with them all is almost impossible. We work with the top themes. If you have some obscure theme you downloaded from ThemeForest that you really like, it may or may not work, which is why we have the refund and a free version. Today the plugin’s still free. Most of our users use the free version. There’s a pro version that has some extra features, but it allows us to kind of … People who it’s not going to work on their environment, they can find that out for free.
Joe: Got you. That’s cool. That makes a lot of sense. Just again before we get into like the weeds of crowdfunding, I’m really interested in the niche that you chose, right, which was Author Media. Can you tell us a little bit about how you chose authors as you main clientele?
Thomas: Yeah. I was at a writers conference with a book I was actually wanting to write. I went to the obligatory marketing talk. I had been building websites since I was 13 years old, so I was very familiar with websites. I’m in this marketing talk and the lady giving the talk was like, “You have to have a website. You have to have a blog.” All of the authors were looking around terrified. They’re like, “Who do we call? How do we get help with this?” The lady who was giving the talk had found some like high school student who was an intern who has set up all of her stuff. She’s like, “Oh, just find a five year old in your neighborhood. It’s no big deal.”
Everyone’s like, “I don’t know a five year old in my neighborhood who could build me a website.” I didn’t know anything at the time, so I just turned to the author next to me. This was my first writer’s conference. I was like, “Wow. She’s a real author.” I was like, “Oh yeah. I’ll build your website for free no problem just as a friend.” She loved it, and she recommended me to all of her author friends. I charged them. At my next writers conference I went to, I just printed out a brochure for websites. Again this was in the days where all these authors were getting big checks from publishers. I had authors I’d never met before writing me checks at writers conferences for websites.
Part of it was that I was way under priced at the time. I didn’t know what the market was, so they were all getting crazy deals and they knew it and I didn’t. I realized that it was an untapped market. There’s actually a really powerful business principle here. In many ways, authors aren’t any different from any other kind of business, but they think they’re different. Because they think they’re different, they want to be treated differently. You can give them entirely the same advice that a small business would get, but what we did is we have this blog and it was marketing advice and social media advice for authors.
It’s the same fundamental principles you would get on some big blog, but because we were tailoring it for authors using examples of authors, we were able to be in Writer’s Digest and all of these other lists of best websites for authors because the niche wanted something exclusively for them. There are tens of thousands of niches on mind that want somebody to say, “We’re just for you.” What’s interesting is that back when we were doing websites, it didn’t keep us from doing small businesses. Authors would have us do their website for their writing and then they’re like, “Oh, by the way, I’m a financial advisor or I got such and such company. Can you build my website for that?” We’re like okay because they were getting a really great deal because we were so cheap.
Joe: Right. Right.
Thomas: Some lessons were learned there. The other thing is that having that niche it made it really easy for us to design the software. We could have built something like … Because MyBookTable is it’s an eCommerce platform without the eCommerce. Instead of buying from your store like you would with WooCommerce, it’s got a button that sends you to Amazon or a button sends you to Barnes & Noble. We very easily could have been like, “This is for any kind of product. You can sell CDs here. You can sell DVDs here.” By focusing it on just books, it allowed us to make it a lot easier to use. It allowed us to know who we are designing a software for specifically.
We had specific authors who had specific problems and we were wanting to solve their problems.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean like that is excellent advice, right? You can take the things that you’ve learned generally. If you apply them to an industry, you’re at least making the attempt to have some domain knowledge to understand the problem that your client is trying to solve and that’s what people want. Somebody can go to Squarespace and just make a website, but Squarespace doesn’t understand the problem they’re trying to solve. A person understands the problem you’re trying to solve. That is excellent advise. I will say, this is not … I wish I had thought of this because I am a published author. I got a big fat check from a publishing company, like in advance.
Let’s just say they’re very smart about the advance that they give you. It’s probably going to shake out … At least I didn’t see a royalty check, right? They gave me the advance and they’re like, “This is how much you’re going to make on the book,” but I mean a website can help that, right? My book was very niched, but I am a web developer so I’m like, “I’ll just make a website.” The publisher was like, “You should probably have one.” I’m like, “Obviously I should have one. I make one. It’s about making websites.” Not WordPress powered though funnily enough. It’s just like a static page. Anyway, let’s get back to crowdfunding, right?
Kickstarter requires a lot of information upfront to make sure that you’re not just some guy trying to get some money for like potato salad, which by the way is a real Kickstarter. What kind of research did you do and what kind of research went into making a good Kickstarter page that got you five times, right, five times or so what you were asking?
Thomas: Yeah. We did it wrong at first. In fact, if you go to our original MyBookTable Kickstarter page, you can find it if you google for it, the initial video we did everything wrong. Basically I had a friend who’s a videographer and I was like, “Just film me for 30 minutes and pick the top five minutes worth of information about the plugin.” It was a total disaster. I felt so bad for him. He had this huge editing job and I was totally incoherent. As the campaign was getting speed, one of the things we did is we created an explainer video. This is back when explainer videos were really popular. One of these little cartoons kind of explained how the plugin worked and what it did.
We still use that video actually and it’s been very helpful to kind of explain, “Here is what an affiliate program is. Here’s how this plugin integrates with my Amazon affiliates to help you get paid twice, one’s from your publisher and one’s from Amazon,” and things like that. The most important thing if I could give a single piece of advice is to know who your audience is. Since we’d already been working with authors in real life, we knew exactly who they were, like how old they were, what their genders were in general, and we could craft it for specific people. That’s really valuable. I recently restarted up this business. I took a break.
I was a marketing director at a marketing firm for a while. When I got back, I just gave away a bunch of free consultations to authors just to get refamiliarized with the kinds of problems they were having now. Because the problems they were having last year aren’t the same problems they’re having now. They were getting advice from me and I was excited for things I can teach them, but I was also learning from them because the kinds of questions they were asking were very, very valuable. I think it’s very important to be very close to your end user. One way that people do this is they create software that scratches their own niche and I think that that’s good.
In a sense, we did that. It’s also important to have specific people you’re coding for. We have this one lady. She’s probably a 60 year old author. She uses our plugin. She has a not that attractive theme. She’s not that sophisticated. The best piece of software on her website is our plugin. Every time we make a decision about a feature, we ask what would this lady think. Her name’s Barbara. We’re like, “What would Barbara do? Would she know how this feature works?” Typically if I’m having a discussion with a developer, whoever can invoke the name of Barbara best wins the debate. Because ultimately the plugin’s not for me. The plugin’s not for him. The plugin is for Barbara.
She’s the one who’s using it. She’s the one who has to be happy with the plugin ultimately. What that’s meant for us is that we’ve had to work really hard to make the plugin as easy to use as possible. Some cool feature is we have to find ways of either making decisions instead of options, which is a part of the WordPress Philosophy. We found that that’s really important and almost impossible to do if you don’t know who you’re developing your software for. When you have a specific person that you’re trying to thrill, then it makes it a lot easier to make those decisions.
Joe: Awesome. Barbara is your user story, right? In software engineering, you talk about user stories. You craft these personas that are your ideal users. It’s fantastic that you have a real life one that probably could not be more different from the developers creating the software, right?
Thomas: When she grew up, there was threat of nuclear bombs and the TVs were black and white. Her experience with technology is just a totally different experience with technology than somebody who’s never known … Because my developer is this young bright tech guy who’s never known a time when he didn’t have the answers to every question in his life in his pocket.
Joe: Right. Right.
Thomas: Fundamental difference.
Joe: That’s so funny that you say that, right? Like my parent’s generation, technology was like a looming threat, like a horrible thing. Sure. There are threats with technology today, but like the good I think outweighs the bad, which is so interesting. That’s fantastic. You made this video and you also have to list … How long ago was this? I know that at some point in Kickstarter’s history, you also had to add the risks of the project to say like, “Hey, we understand that we’re not just taking your money. It was going to be like sunshine and rainbows. That there could be problems.” Did you have to evaluate those risks?
Thomas: Yes. As far as I know, you still have to do that on Kickstarter today. You have to list the risks. We listed some risks. The primary risk, and I think everyone should list if they’re doing a Kickstarter, is that the project will be delayed. People tend to be overly optimistic about the future, especially developers, software developers. Because they think the technology is good and things are getting better, they’re like, “Oh yeah. The future is going to be rainbows and butterflies.” The reality is is that Murphy also gets a vote on how your software development goes.
The new version of WordPress comes out and some of the functionality doesn’t work anymore and you have to figure out how to accommodate it. The other thing that’s really important though is with making a Kickstarter work. It’s not just having a a good video. It’s also having reward levels that are rewarding. If your rewards levels are buy the thing now that you could buy later, why would they buy the thing now? It has to be some extra thing that they get. One of our most popular levels was you get to be the demo book in the demo bookstore that people install when they’re figuring out how the plugin works, which was a really fun reward.
Joe: Yeah. That’s a very smart reward too.
Thomas: It’s a really reward. 12 people backed it. That reward is $250. It was a pricey reward, but now five years later, they’re having their book when somebody installs MyBookTable. It’s like, “Would you like to install demo books?” We could have very easily picked like Catching in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, a bunch of classic books, Lord of the Rings. In fact, in the demo version, that is what we had. We were like, “Hey, this is an opportunity. We could install other people’s books.”
The author of Writing Fiction for Dummies, Randall Ingermanson, backed our campaigns and now he gets his book Writing Fiction for Dummies installed right there at the top, which I mean I think is a good market for him.
Thomas: People building their book websites. That was one of our levels. We had another level that was lifetime free support and free updates. That was $150. Those people have ended up getting a great deal though because they got MyBookTable 1 for free. They got MyBookTable 2 for free. They got MyBookTable 3 for free. They believed in us early. As a way of saying thank you, it’s like, “Hey, you’re taking a risk on us that this is going to be something that’s going to be worth having five years now,” they got a really great deal. We did other Kickstarters for other products. One of the other things we started doing is bundling.
We had another one called MyBookProgress, which lets you put a progress bar on your website and get email subscribers to your MailChimp campaign. At one of the levels, you also got the paid version of MyBookTable. We’re able to cross-sell our products. Each Kickstarter cross-sold our other Kickstarters and at big discounts. It creates a sense of urgency and scarcity and without really cannibalizing your regular sales because somebody who’s just come to your website isn’t going to like, “Oh, I wonder if these people have a Kickstarter,” and they’re going to your Kickstarter, right? These are for your like core fans.
It’s a way of rewarding your core fans and basically saying, “Hey, thank you for following us on Twitter. Here’s a link to our Kickstarter campaign.”
Joe: Man, that’s really interesting. I wonder how well the demo books converts for your authors. Look, I wonder if like the fiction for dummies author feels he made his money back on the investment. I don’t know if there’s a way for him to tell, but I’m just curious. That’s really funny.
Joe: That brings to another question, right, is that you continually do these Kickstarter campaigns, right? There’s some criticism of … Don’t worry. I’m not going to like nail you to the wall here. I’m just kind of thinking out loud. This is not like Nancy Grace. There’s been criticism of companies that only rely on Kickstarter, right? It’s been very good to you, right? It’s almost like having a very easy pre-order mechanism with some more fun and rewards, right, because pre-order is just like give me money now and I’ll give you the thing later. Kickstarter it’s like give me money now and also here’s a little something extra for supporting me early.
Thomas: Right. What I like about Kickstarter is that it turns it more into an event and it provides some kind of third party validation. If we put on our website “200 people have backed this project,” they may or may not believe us, right, depending on our relationship with them. If our project is on Kickstarter and says “200 people have backed us,” well, they trust Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a neural third party. We did it both ways. MyBookTable 2 we just launched it normally. We didn’t do a Kickstarter, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun. People didn’t back it. Not everyone saw it. People didn’t upgrade to it as quickly.
It wasn’t as successful of a launch, and it didn’t have that interactive element because part of what’s fun is that during those 30 days, you’re getting tons of feedback from your users. You’re seeing what they’re posting. It’s building this anticipation and this excitement. They’re like, “Hey, can you add this? Can you add that?” We didn’t have that with our version two launch, which is why we went back and launched version three. I know a lot of people shy away from relaunching products on Kickstarter because they don’t want to share because Kickstarter takes a cut in addition to the credit card fee.
I find that they bring far more than what they cost when it comes to that cut that they take. Especially for products that are physical products, I think it makes a lot of sense, right? If you’re building a board game and if you make accidentally 2,000 more board games than you’re able to sell, that could be your entire profit margin. You sold 50,000 board games, but the 2,000 board games you had to pay for are sitting in a warehouse. You have to pay storage fees for them every month, and it eats away at all of your profits. Oh, by the way, you had to pay for those board games.
What I like about Kickstarter and Indiegogo and other crowdfunding platforms is it gives you an idea of the demand for how much you need to make, which can be hard, right? Apple made that mistake with the iPhone X. They thought it would set the world on fire and now they’re going to their manufacturers and they’re like, “Cancel all the orders. Don’t make anymore iPhone X. Nobody wants it.” I mean that’s not true. People are still buying the iPhone X, but they’ve had to cut the production. It’s easier for them, right, because they’re selling … For them they are selling a million a week instead of two million a week like they thought.
They will just reduce the production. It’s harder when you’re a small operation. You don’t have hundred billion dollars in the bank. Having that money ahead of time and that knowledge of how much to make is really helpful.
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Joe: Wow. That’s really some great points, right, because I have a Patreon. It’s okay. I just revamp the rewards. More rewarding rewards. Somebody asks like how come I’m not using GiveWP. I love the people at Give. They are amazing. They’re super supportive. They’ve been on the show, but Patreon gives that third party validation, right? They tell people how many other people are backing. I don’t have to support any kind of infrastructure, and it puts me in front of an audience that maybe I wouldn’t otherwise be in front of.
Thomas: Don’t underestimate the power of having people’s credit cards on file. I back a bunch of different people on Patreon. After you back your first person on Patreon, backing your second person is really easy. Once you backed your first Kickstarter campaign, they already have your credit card on file. It’s like buying something on Amazon. Once Amazon gets your credit card number, it’s one click and you’re done. Everywhere else it’s two clicks because of the patent. That’s way less than oh, I’m on your private website and I have to decide if I trust your encryption and your security. Then I have to go downstairs and get my credit card and type it in.
That’s a lot of hassle. Having a site that already has all of that information on file, you get to participate in that community. GiveWP is a great platform as well. What they’re doing is a good thing, but there is some benefit in being a part of that ecosystem. Also, people know what a Patreon is now more than they did three years ago, right? Every popular YouTube person now is promoting Patreon and a lot of popular podcasters are. There’s some really powerful … You can have special Patreon RSS feeds. A listeners only episode or a Q and A episode. It makes that really easy to do. I’m a big fan of crowdfunding in general.
The platforms all have something good about them, even Indigogo. I’ve done a couple of campaigns on Indigogo and they have some cool things about them too.
Joe: Nice. Very nice. Yup. You’re absolutely right. At the end of this episode, listeners will hear my pitch for Patreon. Hear like behind the scenes interviews and extra stuff. That’s what I’m driving at, right? Very cool. Let’s get to the title question because man, we’ve been already talking for a half hour. Maybe they’ll be a bonus episode on Patreon. How did you build the campaign? I guess we talked a little bit about this. Maybe we could talk about like building the campaign in conjunction with building the plugin where you …
Did you say, “We’re not going to touch this until we are funded,” or where you like at some point, “Well, it looks like we’ll probably get funded. We might as well get a head-start.” What was the decision making like there?
Thomas: Kickstarter requires you to have a prototype for your product to launch it. Now they are not very specific as to what constitutes a prototype. For some people, that’s just like a pencil drawing of what it is that they’re designing. For other people, it’s like we have a glitchy buggy version of the software we’re ultimately going to have, which is kind of what we had. We were at early alpha stage. What’s really powerful about Kickstarter and doing things crowdfunding in general is it’s a great way to validate your ideas in a lean startup way. In a sense, you’re building the marketing for the product before you build the product itself.
It allows you to see which features people really get excited about because you’re building this great thing, those of you listening. It’s got all of these bells and whistles, but you don’t know is which of the features of the product that you’re building actually appeal to your users. I remember being at a WordCamp and somebody from Automattic was giving a presentation about the next version of WordPress. He’s mentioning technical feature after technical feature. People are nodding and they’re smiling. Then he talks about how they’re improving copy and paste from Microsoft Word and he gets like a standing ovation. Everyone freaks out and he’s just dumbfounded.
He’s like, “That’s the feature they all are excited about? Better copy and paste from Microsoft Word?” The reality was back in the day, copying and pasting from Word is something you do all the time as a WordPress user and it was a terrible experience because we’re bringing all this weird code. It messed up your pages. They knew that it was an important thing, but I don’t think he fully appreciated just like how passionate his users were. If you’re crowdfunding a project, you’re able to see what people are passionate about ahead of time especially with stretch goals and with feedback. What a lot of campaigns will do, and I’m a big fan of this, is surveying your users.
A common if you’re doing a physical product, it comes in white, right? The stretch goal is it’s going to come in another color or three additional colors. Well, you don’t pick the colors. You say, “Hey, fans. What colors do you want? It’s going to work with the iPhone. If we hit a stretch goal, it’s going to work with an Android phone. Which Android phone do you want us to pick?” You’re not getting feedback from like random people on the internet. You’re getting feedback from people who’ve given you money already. These are the people who are actual customers. It makes the development a lot more successful. It also reduces the cost of failure.
In fact, we made this mistake. There was a product that we’ve put together for professional speakers called MySpeakingPage. What I should have done is put the actual cost of the plugin, which was probably $5,000 to develop. Instead, put about $2,500 goal, same as we had for MyBookTable. With this one, we are building it from scratch, and I think we had every professional speaker who was in the market for this plugin back the plugin. There was about a hundred of them. We still have a hundred happy speakers using it, and the problem was, and we didn’t realize this at the time, is that the window of speakers who want an event calendar on their website is really narrow.
Most professional speakers aren’t doing enough speaking to want that and the ones who are doing enough speaking to want that, most of them have like people to handle their website for them. What we had built was a solution to a problem that no one really had. What we should have done is have the realistic goal and then we could have failed very inexpensively. We posted the campaign online. It failed to fund, which is one of the brilliant things about Kickstarter. It’s all or nothing. You’re not stuck being on the hook if you’re trying to develop this big expensive product and you failed to raise the money to make the product, you don’t have to raise the money.
Those people’s credit cards are not charged. You’re not obligated to make the plugin. Man, that is way better. Trust me. As somebody who’s been there, I succeeded in a Kickstarter that should have failed. I would have been much happier now. If that campaign had failed to fund, I wouldn’t have gotten the $2,500 and I wouldn’t have spent the $5,000 making a really great solution to a problem that only a hundred people had. Now I’ll say for those hundred people, they love the plugin. They’re still using it because it precisely fits just their problem, but we identified too small of a niche. We could have found that out very inexpensively with Kickstarter if we weren’t quite so optimistic about the future.
Joe: Right. That’s a great point, right? You’re not on the hook. With Patreon, you kind of are. For a while, I had one backer at like the $10 level. I’m like, “Well, I’m not going to create like brand new weekly content for 10 bucks a month,” but I’m still beholden to that person who is pledging their money and they’re supporting me. It’s an interesting grind. I know that we are coming up on time. I want to ask the last couple of questions I normally ask, but I’m wondering if you will stick around for an extra couple minutes for our bonus episode. Tell me like your top five tips for a successful Kickstarter.
If you’re listening and you want to start a Kickstarter, head over to Patreon.com/howibuiltit. I do want to ask, as far as … Let’s talk about your plugin specifically here since you now had a couple of Kickstarters to fund it. What are the big transformations from let’s say the first Kickstarter campaign to the most recent? What does it look like for 4.0? Are you going to kickstart that? What are your plans for the future?
Thomas: The biggest surprise with plugin development, and this totally blindsided us, and it’s because I’m an American and I have a very American centric view on the world, but it is that people use WordPress in other countries. When we launched MyBookTable 1, we had no thought to internationalization. We didn’t think about it or consider it all. That was a huge mistake because half of the WordPress user base are in other countries. Now a lot of those other countries are English based countries, so like the UK or South Africa, but a lot of them are in Japan and Italy and Germany.
One of the things we’ve been doing and we’re still working on this, we’re most of the way there though, is making the plugin where it’s easily translated into other languages. What’s been cool is that somebody will buy our plugin or download and use the free version and they will translate it. Sometimes they’ll send us the translation file and then we’re able to then have it translated for everyone else. We’ve been slowly adding translations. It’s fun to see oh, here’s somebody using MyBookTable in Italy. I have no idea what any of these books are about, but he sure does have a lot of them on his website. I think this one’s romance.
I can’t read Italian and Google Translate’s not doing great on this page, but he’s happily using MyBookTable. Just this week, I’ve been interacting with somebody who’s doing the MyBookTable in Japanese, and I really can’t tell what’s going on that site. It’s just totally foreign language to me. That’s been a challenge of kind of figuring out how do you support people who are in other languages. We don’t offer Japanese support, so they’re contacting us in English, but their English is not very good. It’s like a reverse version of what happens when you call tech support and they’re in India.
They’re English is not very good, except we’re the ones who are the native speakers and we’re trying to help people who aren’t. That’s been a real challenge. MyBookTable 4. Right now we’re still working on our like dot releases. A lot of the features we’re just rolling out for free for our 3.0 folks. The big thing that we’re watching very closely is the effect of Gutenberg on our plugin. For those who don’t know, Gutenberg is this big new WordPress 5.0 update that’s going to really change how you edit WordPress pages. It’s going to have an impact on our plugin. Our hope is for the better.
Joe: I will say like at this time of recording, it’s in development. By the time this recording comes out, Gutenberg could also … Like it just could be 5.0. It might be out. You might be experiencing that already.
Thomas: Yeah. I heard Matt Mullenweg say that it will be out in April. If that happens, I will be very surprised. I’m expecting Gutenberg to arrive in late, late 2018. November or December. They’re wanting it to land in April. They never launch on time hardly ever, especially with a big project like this. Right. That’s the big kind of elephant is being compatible with Gutenberg and knowing when they’re kind of done. Then we’re like, “We’re finished coding Gutenberg and so now we work to make it compatible.” A lot of it is just adapting to the changing world. When we launched MyBookTable five years ago, the bookstores that people used online were very different.
Several of the eBook stores have gone out of business. There’s whole new ones that have emerged. That’s a big thing that we’re doing is we’re constantly having to adapt to this changing publishing landscape. Authors are different now. The ones who are making money are writing more books and they’re writing books faster. They’re more in need of a plugin like MyBookTable. Those are the big features that we’re looking at. We don’t have plans for 4.0 anytime soon though.
Joe: Got you. Cool. That’s really interesting. Maybe we can dig into that a little bit in the extended episode too. We are at time, so I do want to ask you my favorite question which is do you have any trade secrets for us?
Thomas: Trade secrets. This isn’t really a secret except it is sadly because no one really knows it, but it’s the WordPress Philosophy. It’s buried on WordPress.org somewhere. Believe it or not, WordPress Philosophy is like the secret to creating amazing code. WordPress 1, the war for internet dominance. It runs the most number of websites of any platform. It accidentally became the number two player in eCommerce. If you want to know how WordPress did it, there’s this manifesto. It’s a one page manifesto. I’m pretty sure Matt Mullenweg wrote it one time. It was never edited, but it’s brilliant. We follow that WordPress Philosophy very closely with our plugin.
We find that it’s a really great programming philosophy. There are other good programming philosophies, but we find that decisions, not options, and code is poetry, and ignoring the vocal minority is really important, right? Those two people who really want you to make the plugin more complicated to accommodate their special need really need to be ignored even if they’re making a lot of noise because adding that complexity hurts everyone. It’s not that different from the Apple philosophy. As you read the WordPress Philosophy, you’ll see, “Oh, this is similar. I can see this sort of thinking influenced Apple products as well.”
Even if you disagree with it, having read it, you can at least start having that conversation in your mind as to like how to approach code, how to approach themes, how to approach plugins or any other kind of product. I think the WordPress Philosophy applies even to writing a book. It’s a great philosophy.
Joe: Man, that’s great. I love that. I’m going to link that in the show notes. It’s really cool because it also kind of gives you some insight into… Matt has been catching a lot of flack for Gutenberg and other decisions that he’s making at Automattic as the CEO and stuff like that and on the open source project. I mean it falls in line with the WordPress Philosophy. He really believes in what he’s doing. I mean as we record this, WordPress is powering 30% of the web, right? He’s definitely doing something right.
Thomas: I have a lot of respect for Matt Mullenweg. I watched his State of the Word address and he’s addressing a room full of people who don’t like him at the moment. He dedicates an hour to question and answers where he lets people ask their hardest questions. I’m like I have a lot of respect for him. Ultimately I agree with the direction. You can’t ever decide that the developers are more important than the users.
This change with Gutenberg is saying, “That 60 year old lady who wants to have a blog, her needs are more important because the developer can accommodate himself or herself to these changes much easier than this new internet use can. Ultimately if we can make new user’s lives better, that’s what’s going to make the platform succeed.” I’ll say for those of you who are Patreon backers for Joe, I have a course on Kickstarter, like how to crowdfund a product, and I’ll have an exclusive discount for the folks who get the bonus episode.
Joe: Oh, look at that.
Thomas: Put some bonus content.
Joe: Very nice. Well, I love that. I had a thought, but I want to close on that. Thomas, thank you so much for joining me for part one. If you want to hear part two, if you want to get some great information on starting your own Kickstarter project and you want a little bonus, a little special offer for Thomas’s course, head over to Patreon.com/howibuiltit for part two. Until then, Thomas, thanks so much for joining me. I appreciate your time. Where can people find you?
Thomas: You can find more about our plugins at AuthorMedia.com.
Joe: Thanks again to Thomas for joining me today! If you liked this conversation, you can hear the bonus episode if you’re a patreon backer…it’s a top 5 list and lots of actionable items there that I’m implementing, starting today.
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