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Selling WooCommerce Plugins: Interview with Katie Keith

We’re happy to interview Katie Keith, co-Founder and Operations Director of Barn2 as part of our series on WordPress SaaS founders: Weglot SaaSy.

Like many plugin developers, Barn2 started out as a website agency back in 2009. Discover how they managed to make the leap to full-time plugin developers!

Thank you Katie for the great interview.

PS: Of course, Weglot is fully compatible with all Barn2 plugins. Discover it live on our demo site 😉.

What is your background, what should our readers know about you?

Hi! I’m Katie, Co-Founder and Operations Director at Barn2. We’re a WordPress and WooCommerce plugin company in the UK.

I studied English and Philosophy at University, and had a range of jobs in my 20’s where I learned about project management, marketing and how to manage websites. My husband Andy is a software and web developer, and we always used to talk about quitting our jobs and building a business together. We felt that it would bring the lifestyle we wanted, as well as better opportunities financially – but we didn’t have any killer business ideas!

Eventually, we took the plunge and started Barn2 at the end of 2009. Initially, we built websites for small local businesses because it was easy to get started and a good way to combine our different skills. Before long, we became one of the UK’s leading WordPress agencies working with clients all over the world.

barn2_website

In 2016, we made the switch to selling WordPress and WooCommerce plugins. Since then, the business has grown rapidly and we haven’t looked back since.

We now have six premium WordPress plugins and three free ones. They include WooCommerce Product Table, our flagship plugin which creates a one-page order form or list view; and Posts Table Pro, which lists any type of WordPress content in a table and is popular for creating a WordPress document library, member directory or list of blog posts. We also have a WooCommerce Quick View plugin and a suite of protected content plugins for WordPress and WooCommerce.

What’s your main activity within WordPress today?

I’m responsible for the day-to-day running of Barn2. This includes managing customer support, overseeing all our marketing activities, and developing the business. I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities and gaps in the market, and feed into plans for improving our existing plugins and finding new ideas to develop.

I also try to give back to the fantastic WordPress community when possible. This includes sharing my expertise on WordPress and WooCommerce-related Facebook groups, building links with other WordPress companies, writing blog posts, and attending WordCamps.

For example, I’ve recently enjoyed working with Weglot to test our plugins with their excellent translation plugin and discuss how our plugins can benefit each other’s customers. I look forward to building many more partnerships like this in future.

Why did you choose an annual subscription model? Did you change your model from your beginnings?

When we started selling WordPress plugins in 2016, bigger companies such as WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads were just starting to adopt an annual subscriptions model. While it was fairly new and many WordPress users still expected to pay once and receive lifetime updates and support, it was clear to us that this model was not sustainable.

We wanted to be part of the drive to change this culture and show that it’s ok for a WordPress product company to be financially viable. This is better for everyone because it reduces the risk of letting down your existing customers if sales for your plugin decline in future. This has happened too often with WordPress themes and plugins in the past.

From day one, we sold our plugins under a 12-month license. Six months later, we introduced automatic subscriptions. Just like the other companies who had recently made the same change, this made a massive difference to our recurring revenues.

And more importantly, it has allowed us to continue supporting our earlier customers long-term – both by keeping all our plugins actively updated in line with new versions of WordPress and WooCommerce, adding exciting new features, and providing ongoing customer support to help them get the most out of the plugin.   

What’s the key metric you’re closely watching on a daily basis?

I keep a daily eye on sales, revenue, and support volume. This data is readily available in Easy Digital Downloads (which we use for selling our plugins), and in HelpScout (which we use to manage customer support).

Having this information at my fingertips allows me to make quick decisions and tackle any problems as soon as they happen. For example, if sales suddenly drop then it could indicate a technical issue with our website or a wider problem that we can address through marketing; or if there’s a big increase in support then I need to ensure that our support engineer can handle it and there isn’t a backlog.

How do you handle support? And how important is it to you?

Customer support has been the biggest challenge of growing a plugin company, although it’s also a valuable opportunity.

I handled all the support myself for far too long, as I couldn’t imagine anyone else ever understanding our plugins as well as I do. However, it eventually got too much and was taking me away from actually building the business. We now have a full-time support engineer who is fantastic – I wonder how I ever managed without him!

Our plugin support is provided via email and the wordpress.org support forums. We’re currently trialling live chat on our pre-sales pages and have had some really interesting conversations.

I firmly believe that plugin support isn’t just about helping customers. It’s also about learning about how customers are using our plugins, and how we can improve usability and the documentation. It’s a way to get insider information about gaps in the market and new features that will boost sales.

Sometimes, customer support even leads to opportunities for brand new plugins! For example, we built our latest plugin – WooCommerce Quick View Pro – in direct response to feature requests from customers using our bestselling plugin, WooCommerce Product Table. While we could have just added quick view as a feature in our product table plugin, we realised that all sorts of store owners could use quick view lightboxes to speed up the buying process – whether or not they were using product tables. As a result, the two are perfect companion plugins and work alone or together.

What will be the next big move for you within the WordPress ecosystem?

We plan to continue improving our existing plugins, and building new ones.

With the existing plugins, we want to make them more user-friendly and add the features and integrations that our customers are demanding. This is the best way to ensure that each plugin keeps its “best in class” status as the best plugin in its category.

In terms of building new plugins, we will continue focussing on niche WooCommerce plugins that meet a specific need. I have a long list of possible plugin ideas, and we will build the ones that have the most potential.

More widely, I would like to remain at the forefront of finding new and better ways to sell WordPress products. This includes experimenting with different models such as monthly vs. annual vs. lifetime pricing, gathering data to find the best results and sharing our findings with the wider WordPress ecosystem.

What’s your favorite SaaS reference?

HelpScout for customer support, as it makes it easy for us to manage support as a team while remaining seamless for our customers. (I hate support platforms that use tickets and send constant emails and feedback requests!)

Trello for project management, as it provides a simple visual way to allocate and prioritise tasks. Many project management tools are far too complex and you end up wasting time “feeding the system”, so Trello is a good balance.

Dropbox for file sharing, as it’s an excellent backup system while also making it easy to share files with people in and outside of our team.

What was your toughest challenge in your entrepreneurial journey?

My biggest challenge has been learning how and when to get help, instead of doing everything myself.

Andy and I are both quite independent people and are very hands-on as Directors. We have always chosen to grow the business in directions that haven’t required taking on staff, because that wasn’t what we were interested in.

That has allowed us to scale to a certain level, and already work with some amazing people to help with tasks such as marketing. We’re now at a stage where it’s clear that we have to take a step back and continue building a team, whether this is in-house or remote.

Having a full-time support person is turning out much better than I expected, so I’m trying to use this experience to grow the team further. My new Virtual Assistant starts on Monday, and I’m trying to get into the habit of adding tasks to her Trello board instead of doing everything myself! After that, the next step will start working with other developers and find some amazing people who can bring our plugins to the next level. Exciting times!

Whom should we interview next & why?

I recommend interviewing Pippin Williamson from Sandhills Development because he has had a fantastic entrepreneurial journey. He has gone from being a freelancer to a plugin developer where he did everything himself, to building a large team and growing one of the most successful WordPress companies around. Given my own challenges in growing a team, I’m very inspired by Pippin’s story.

About the author
Thomas Fanchin

In charge of Webmarketing & Partnerships @Weglot - Translation as a service.

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