2020 Year In Review

When I was first starting ForGravity over four years ago, I was constantly searching for some method or measuring stick to figure out if I was on the right path, in terms of how the business was progressing with both adoption and revenue.

Every year, I would read Pippin Williamson’s year in review posts and they gave me a lot of insight into a successful WordPress plugin business, but his business was much further along than mine was.

After launching ForGravity, I wanted to do my own series of year in review posts so those starting their own WordPress plugin businesses could learn what the road looks like… but I never got around to it.

So, before we discuss how 2020 went, let me give a brief recap of how the business has done since it started.

2017

Having done a mix of agency and freelance work for five years, I was slowly building up a collection of plugins whose usefulness could extend past the sites they were originally created for. Seeing Rocketgenius colleagues Dave Smith and Steve Henty have successful Gravity Forms related businesses, Gravity Wiz and Gravity Flow respectively, made me want to give it a shot myself.

I knew I could handle making solid products, but starting my own business would give me the chance to learn all the other pieces of the puzzle: providing support, marketing products and actually running a business. I could then take the knowledge gained and bring it back to Rocketgenius, helping us make our offering even better.

Initial product suite

ForGravity launched in March with three products:

  • Easy Passthrough – a straightforward way to copy entry submission data from one form to the next, without having to use a laundry list of URL query parameters
  • Live Population – customize the form submission process by populating form fields with entered values while the form is being filled out
  • Entry Automation – simplify data related actions by automating the exporting and deleting of form entries

To keep things simple, all three products were available as five site licenses only. At some point during the first few months, I switched to offering three license tiers: one site, three sites and unlimited sites. This matched the license tiers that Gravity Forms sells and made it possible to launch Fillable PDFs.

Launching the fourth product

With the initial launch out of the way, I then launched the fourth product in June: Fillable PDFs, a plugin that generates PDFs from form submission data using existing editable PDFs as the templates.

While the product filled a need in the market, the pricing strategy was a disaster – something I wouldn’t learn for another two years.

As the PDF generation required a binary that couldn’t be easily installed in most hosting environments, all PDF related activities take place in the cloud. I priced the plugin with SaaS pricing as my server resources were being consumed anytime the user interacted with the plugin.

Rather than limit how many sites someone could use their license on or how many of their PDFs they could use as templates, pricing was structured around how many PDFs you could generate per month, with a discount if you go above each plan’s monthly limit.

Charging monthly led to having to convince the customer every month that the plugin was worth paying for. The provided free trial helped bring in potential customers to try the product, but ultimately did not convert the way it needed to.

Revenue

Overall, I did $15,271 in the first ten months. While this was a solid start in hindsight, at the time, it had me questioning if it was worth the energy as I could’ve made more freelancing with much less effort.

2018

Nothing significant happened in the second year of ForGravity.

The combination of rising rankings within Google Searches, continued referrals by the Gravity Forms support team and automatic renewal revenue allowed revenue to grow to $56,997, 273% growth over the first year.

2019

Changing up the product offering

With the impending launch of the fifth product, I knew it was time to slim down the overall product suite.

While they brought in a large amount of sales, Easy Passthrough and Live Population were a continual support burden and didn’t fit in my vision of having ForGravity be a business targeted at Gravity Forms power users.

Knowing they would fit in well to their product suite, I reached out to Dave at Gravity Wiz and negotiated an acquisition of both products. Easy Passthrough continues to be offered as its own product, while Live Population’s feature set got folded into the Populate Anything perk.

In May, the fifth ForGravity product was launched: Advanced Permissions, a plugin that empowers site administrators to limit Gravity Forms access at a per-form level.

Finally investing in marketing

Thanks to the Post Status Slack – which, if you aren’t already a member of the Post Status Club, I highly recommend joining… it’s worth it just for the access to the community Slack – I discovered Ellipsis, a marketing agency that works solely with WordPress businesses.

Based on multiple recommendations, I reached out to Alex Denning at Ellipsis and started with their marketing audit and strategy. That audit helped narrow down what marketing channels to focus on to grow the business, along with recommended changes to the sales site. The main recommended marketing channel was content marketing. I worked with Ellipsis to implement an initial content marketing strategy and the posts they created continue to generate significant traffic and conversions.

One of the major revelations from the audit was how incorrectly priced Fillable PDFs was. Monthly pricing does not work in the WordPress plugin space, at least not today. (More discussion about this in the comments.)

I implemented the pricing changes suggested in the audit and saw a dramatic increase in sales.

All three license tiers changed to annual pricing and, rather than limiting how many PDFs can be generated in a month, limitations were set around license activation and template creation.

From January 1st to September 17th, the last day monthly licenses were available, new Fillable PDFs licenses generated $477.

From September 18th, the first day of annual licenses, through the end of the year, new Fillable PDFs licenses generated $10,347.

The revenue increase from the pricing change paid for the marketing audit alone.

The forming of the Gravity Forms Certified Developer program

In December, Rocketgenius invited a number of prominent third party Gravity Forms Add-Ons developers to their offices to kickoff the new Certified Developer program.

The Certified Developer program provides customers with a collection of third party products that are guaranteed to work well with Gravity Forms and provides the developers with additional marketing opportunities to spread the word about their products.

The program launched in earnest in June 2020, so its effects aren’t fully reflected in 2019’s numbers.

Revenue

Sales revenue finished at $100,337. While this only resulted in 76% growth over the previous year, the reduced growth can be attributed to the removal of two existing products from the suite (along with their renewal revenue).

2020

Continued investment in marketing

One of the items from the previous year’s marketing audit was revising the home page and product pages to better communicate the worth of the products.

Rather than revising only those four pages, I did a redesign of the entire site, as the checkout flow and documentation section needed a lot of work. Ellipsis’ conversion-focused copy service helped with the home and product pages as they provided the copy itself and a wireframe for how it should all be displayed.

From there, I worked with Matt Bumby to redesign all the major pages and (later in the year) refresh the brand.

Since Fillable PDFs growth was accelerating quickly, I migrated the site over to Pagely as part of the redesign to ensure PDF operations would always be available without issue.

Throughout the year, we posted a few more content marketing articles to cover newly discovered keywords and contributed a couple blog posts on external sites.

Alongside the Black Friday sale, a ForGravity bundle was launched to make it easy for customers to get our full product suite at a reduced cost.

Team growth

With revenue growing at a healthy and steady pace, I was able to grow the company to be more than just myself.

In January, Karl Potter, a friend of mine for over a decade and fellow colleague at Rocketgenius, joined to help handle support requests from customers, along with building out our documentation and providing the occasional bug fix.

In August, Yoren Chang, another Rocketgenius colleague, joined to help with product development.

Thanks to their additions to the team, we’ve managed to keep the support queue at near zero every week and I’ve had an incredible amount of stress relieved from me as I’m no longer the only person responsible for developing all three products.

Product updates

Across all three products, we’ve managed to release two major and a handful of minor updates. The pending release of Gravity Forms 2.5 has stunted our own update cadence in a couple of ways.

For the first half of 2020, my time at Rocketgenius was spent finishing up work on the new Settings API ahead of my transition to the newly created Web Team. The Settings API is a result of over a year refactoring all the non-form editor settings screens into a standardized framework, allowing for a more cohesive and predictable experience throughout the product. This effort took up most of my development capacity due to the massive undertaking the project was.

On the other side, with Gravity Forms 2.5 including a visual refresh of the full plugin, I decided this would be the right time to do a visual refresh of our own. I collaborated again with designer Matt Bumby to re-examine and think through every screen of all three products. Not only did we make changes to all the features that exist today, but we also designed out features that we will build over the next twelve months to ensure the changes to existing features don’t box us into a corner in the future.

While the updated product interface designs will solve a lot of customer pain-points, we’re dependent on the release of Gravity Forms 2.5 to provide these changes to customers, as many of the new features take advantage of newly created frameworks.

Revenue

Sales revenue finished at $220,138, 118% growth from the previous year. Content marketing continues to be a huge driver of new sales, while our churn rate remains below 3%.

On to 2021

At the start of the year, Ellipsis will be taking a more prominent role in helping with our marketing efforts. Rather than doing marketing work here and there and monitoring their outcomes, I’ll be working with them to set year long objectives for the business with them handling implementation.

I’m confident this will see a marked increase revenue as we’ll be able to tie long-term marketing efforts more closely to the product development roadmap.

The first half of the year will also see us launch major updates to all three products, along with more consistent release cycles as we’re able to get past all of the redesign work.