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Well, this episode was a real monster, containing plenty of chewy insights and nutritious facts on the realities of running a WordPress marketplace with add-ons by third-party developers.
James returns and explains the sad reason for his mysterious two month hiatus, putting Donnacha’s gripes about relationship squabbles and man-flu into rather stark relief.
James has a plan to get back into shape, because no-one who knows Jean is allowed to be out of shape. Donnacha agrees that having a friend like Jean, who possesses a perfect life, can be tough. James and Donnacha agree that a man who has no actual problems has no business being so wise. Fuck that guy.
Donnacha compliments James’ studio design by calling him a twelve-year-old. The psychological impact of design upon performance. Spending obscene amounts of money on a microphone while children in Puerto Rico don’t even have lapel mics.
Getting into the meat of the show, Donnacha refers back to last week’s episode in which he and Mark tore into the realities of WordPress add-on marketplaces, resulting in a decision to somehow trick James, who owns just such a marketplace, to spill the real dirt.
Where was James’ business, Ninja Forms, when he and his business partner decided to open up and sell add-ons by third-party developers?
How has that decision weathered the tests of time as the business has continued to grow?
What are James’ future plans with regard to third-party developers?
How Easy Digital Downloads inspired Ninja Forms original decision to embrace the add-on model.
How a tweet inviting developers to submit add-ons resulted in their first third-party add-on just two days later – the MailChimp add-on by Pippin.
How writing an add-on that ties into a third-party API, such as MailChimp, might actually be ridiculously easy, especially if you are already familiar with that API.
How that gesture, by a well-regarded developer such as Pippin, was a bit boost to Ninja Forms.
How a marketplace allows you to have third-party developers expand the functionality of your product in return for giving away that slice of your future potential profits, and why that makes sense for a small business striving to achieve big things.
Why it makes sense to integrate your product, as quickly as possible, with as many CRMs and other services as possible, because you get to tap into their audience, and how it would be near impossible to create that many add-ons without third-party developers.
Why you can’t just hire some junior developer and have them spend all-day, everyday, banging out your own add-ons for all those services, and keep 100% of all those future add-on sales.
The dangers of selling someone else’s code under your brand.
What Ninja Forms expect from third-party developers, how the money is split, what their responsibilities are, and the level to which they must be familiar with the nooks and crannies of the services that their add-ons integrate with.
The background of their most prolific third-party add-on developer.
What happens when a marketplace relationship goes sour, who gets to keep the kids?
The one add-on that James really wishes they had built themselves, but it is still a mutually beneficial relationship when you consider the bigger picture.
Donnacha’s favorite Ninja Forms add-on, Videomail, and why he thinks its current marketing is a big fat missed opportunity for both Videomail and Ninja Forms.
How Ninja Forms $499 Agency membership, which includes unlimited use of all add-ons, works out for their third-party developers.
The difference between Ninja Forms pricing and Gravity Forms pricing, and why James could not have aimed for the pricing he did if earlier WordPress products, in particular Gravity Forms, had not laid the foundation, and how future products by other developers will, in turn, use Ninja Forms as a step on the path to even higher pricing.
Donnacha’s experiment, comparing both Ninja Forms and Gravity Forms while producing a “minimum viable product”, a website that serves one very specific useful task: verifying that you, the website visitor, are a native English speaker.
Why James would love to sell more Agency memberships, and why that would be good even for his third-party developers because it grows the overall audience.
The difference between Amazon and Apple marketplaces, and how that impacts third-party developers.
James: “Marketplaces are a great way to either start or supplement, but they’re not the place to stay. I wouldn’t build my business in someone’s marketplace, I think that would be a bad move … as a marketplace owner, I think that would be a bad move”.
James reveals that some add-ons, such as Videomail, simply have not gained traction, prompting Donnacha’s evangelical response that forms combined with video add-ons give WordPress users the potential to create an entire startup, an entire business model, for under a hundred dollars.
The experience of the Ninja Forms team in working with Michael Heuberger, the owner of Videomail and the developer of the Videomail add-on for Ninja Forms.
Donnacha’s email chats with Michael Heuberger, about the ability of his Videomail server to cope with an unexpected surge in usage (Donnacha being inexplicably optimistic about his NativeEnglish idea).
How making a video site with Gravity Forms works out at the same amount per year, despite the higher cost of the necessary Ninja Forms add-ons, because the video service used by Gravity Forms, Pipe, costs at least $300 per year, while the ongoing cost of Videomail is free.
Can James predict, when he receives add-on proposals, which ones will be big sellers.
How low selling add-ons can become big sellers through careful marketing.
Why, as a marketplace owner, you have to resist the temptation to develop, yourself, all the add-ons that you know will be top sellers, because you have to keep your eco-system healthy and profitable if you want to attract and retain the best third-party developers.
Donnacha criticizes the Ninja Forms blog article about Videomail, “Unlock Sign Language Contact Forms Now with Videomail” as being praiseworthy but just about as niche as it is possible for anything to be, and entirely missing the huge wider potential of asynchronous video messaging.
James explains that the power and flexibility of forms means that you have to reach out and unlock the imaginations of your users, so, each add-on probably needs ten blog posts highlighting different ways in which it can be used.
How Ninja Forms now has a full-time content creator to produce blog posts, and another guy to make product videos, and that fancy new recording studio, all of which will help to expand the Ninja Forms eco-system and further justify their 30% of marketplace sales.
Donnacha cruelly mocks the name of James’ other podcast, Adventures in Businessing.
Donnacha mentions that he once spent a summer working as a barman in a dry county in North Carolina, meaning that the sale of alcohol was subject to ridiculous restrictions but everyone still got drunk out of their minds, James reveals that he too lives in a dry county. Donnacha wonders how the Hell he got there, so, James gives a quick rundown of his spectacularly complicated family tree.
They discuss their fathers, the shadow of mortality and how to re-assess your life in your forties. James’ multi-decade approach to his business and his staff. Donnacha’s multi-day approach to his life.
The pre-WordPress history of James and his business partner, Kevin Stover.
The importance of knowing what you want.
Why James has zero interest in running a more general marketplace for WordPress plugins.
James make a very bad pun that really only works if you are highly familiar with the WordPress Forms plugin industry.
Donnacha theorizes that James’ priority of keeping his company together for decades to come makes his marketplace an excellent bet for third-party developers.
What sort of add-on proposal would James be most excited to receive?
James reveals a possible major new addition to Ninja Forms, an equivalent to the third-party GravityView plugin which makes it easy to display your Gravity Forms entries. He points out that this alone, given the high price of GravityView, would close the price gap between Ninja Forms and Gravity Forms.
Turns out that both James and Donnacha are fans of Jonathan Mann, the “Song A Day” guy who did the excellent marketing song for GravityView. Donnacha’s evil brain suggests that it would be pretty funny if James commissioned him to write a song for his competing add-on.
Donnacha asks what the hands-down dumbest add-on proposal he has received was, James is far too nice to think of one.
James reveals that, not only are some add-ons extremely easy to make – in some cases, you can pretty much just swap out one mailing list provider’s API details with another one’s – but Ninja Forms actually provide, in their developer site, a generator into which you can enter details and receive a basic, boilerplate add-on to start working on.
James’ ingenious solution to the eternal problem of finding good WordPress developers: hire local people who know nothing about WordPress and train them.
Binary Kitchen, the site of Videomail developer Michael Heuberger:
The Ninja Forms Videomail Add-on:
Blog post: “Unlock Sign Language Contact Forms Now with Videomail”
Ninja Forms Developer Site:
Collaborating Developers’ Guide:
Jonathan Mann’s GravityView marketing video: