2021 Year In Review
January 15, 2022 • 11 Min Read
Starting last year, I’m trying to write a post that recaps my experience running a WordPress product business. As I had never written a recap before, last year’s post covered my journey from starting ForGravity up until the end of 2020.
This year’s post is solely focused on what happened in the last twelve months: switching to a full time focus on the business, starting to build out a new product, an increasing focus on marketing and more.
An Increased Focus on Marketing
As I alluded to toward the end of last year’s wrap-up post, we continued our partnership with Ellipsis Marketing by taking advantage of their new Chief Marketing Officer-as-a-Service offering.
With Alex and the team having a more involved role in our marketing process, we were able to create a properly focused marketing effort. This all began with charting a strategy for the first six months of the year and establishing KPIs (key performance indicators) that would get us to our revenue and business goals.
One of the first marketing initiatives we pursued was increasing the prices of all three products. This is the first time prices have ever changed since ForGravity started in 2017. I was initially hesitant about raising prices, afraid of revenue dipping significantly, but since we were doing this as a test and I had tremendous faith in the value our products bring, we pushed forward.
Intended as a two week experiment, the initial results were promising enough to make the price changes permanent. Our base licenses went from $99 to $129, with the middle tier seeing a similar increase. We instantly saw an increase in revenue without seeing a drop in conversion rates or the number of sales.
Around the end of February, we sent out our first ever customer survey. While I feel we understood our customer base very well going into it, conducting the survey was worthwhile to actually confirm our assumptions. The survey asked standard questions about who our customers are, what they like/dislike about our products and more, but we also asked questions to gauge interest about a fourth product idea we were exploring. I discuss this in more detail below.
Our investment in content marketing continued as it still remains our top customer acquisition channel. This was accomplished with a mix of publishing new content focused on our upcoming fourth product and utilizing Ellipsis’ Falcon AI to refine our existing content.
After multiple attempts at implementation and a switch to a separate platform, we finally implemented proper email marketing workflows. Initially, our workflows were built out on Mailchimp, but their automation controls and reporting tools are far too limiting. A combination of migrating to Drip and implementing WP Fusion (to handle customer creation and tagging) let us create the email campaigns we set out to achieve.
When adding the email marketing campaigns, we focused on the two most impactful options: abandoned cart emails and an onboarding flow. With the onboarding flow specifically, I made sure to keep the messaging focused while not sending emails too frequently as I didn’t want us to push customers to unsubscribe or, even worse, cancel their license. Both campaigns prove to be a success with the abandoned cart emails driving almost $5,000 worth of revenue and the onboarding flow continuing to help retain customers long term.
We also participated in Gravity Forms’ Certified Developer Week promotion, though in a somewhat limited fashion. Outside of promoting the certified partners during the annual Black Friday sales, this was the first promotion Rocketgenius ran dedicated to Certified Developers, timed around the one year anniversary of the Certified Developer program.
The week focused on highlighting all seven developers on the blog and social media through content contributed by each developer. Due to limited resources at the time, we were not able to provide any content though we did run a sale during that week. Since the promotion ran toward the end of June, the impact to sales wasn’t as high as I’d hope, but wasn’t entirely surprising as it’s our slowest revenue period of the entire year. If we were to participate in a similar promotion in the future, I’d aim to have it occur during the spring, when we have more potential customers primed to purchase while having distance from the annual Black Friday sale.
With the momentum ForGravity has been gaining, it has slowly but surely been consuming more of my time and attention. This led to the inevitable decision to transition to pursuing the business full time and, after over six years, leaving Rocketgenius at the end of June.
While the timing was ahead of my initial schedule, revenue grew to a healthy point where it could successfully provide a proper salary, something I had never taken up to this point. Not only was the revenue able to support one person’s salary, but it could support two, as Karl exited Rocketgenius at the same time and also joined ForGravity full time, as the new Head of Customer Success and Support.
The transition was difficult at first, leaving a group of over thirty people, many of whom I worked with for my entire six year tenure, to pursue a business that consists full time of only two people. It opened up an incredible amount of free time in my life that, to this day, I haven’t been able to entirely fill up. After a few weeks, though, the lifestyle shift started to feel a little more comfortable and opened up the opportunity to push the business forward at a quicker pace.
I talked about this transition, and the lead up to it, with Matt Medeiros on The Matt Report.
To support our quicker pace of development, we also brought on designer Matt Bumby via a proper monthly retainer, rather than working with him on a per-project basis.
With the release of Gravity Forms 2.5, we were able to publish a lot of long awaited changes to all three of our products. The majority of queued up changes were dependent on interface and API changes that were introduced in Gravity Forms 2.5, so that dictated when we could push our roadmap forward.
Fillable PDFs saw a complete visual refresh of every screen in the product, bringing it inline with the new style of Gravity Forms 2.5 and addressing frequent customer confusion. We also made the product more holistic with the broader Gravity Forms ecosystem by adding support for plugins by Gravity Wiz and Jetsloth.
The most controversial change in this update was making uploaded templates accessible by all sites registered to a license key rather than the site the template was uploaded on. This resolved a lot of issues when customers would switch between staging and production sites, but also resulted in some complaints where customers using one license for multiple clients unexpectedly had templates be visible to the other clients. We addressed this by adding a filter to only show templates uploaded by the current site, restoring the previous behavior.
Thanks to infrastructure changes made in Entry Automation 3.0, we were able to ship three major updates to the product over eight months.
Similar to Fillable PDFs, we spent a lot of time overhauling the settings screens of Entry Automation to resolve confusion with the scheduling and targeting options. We accomplished this by adding presets for common use cases and displaying previews of the options the user selected.
We also continued to expand our export functionality to cover items that Gravity Forms does not support: exporting draft submissions created by the Save & Continue feature and including uploaded files with the export entries.
Exporting entries to the Excel file format was a long standing customer desire that we added amongst these major updates. Requests for this feature dated back to 2019, but were never prioritized as customers could export entries to a CSV file that could then be opened in Excel. This changed when GravityView acquired the Gravity Forms Entries in Excel plugin. I immediately pushed adding support for Excel files to our primary focus and Yoren was able to complete the feature in just eight days, allowing us to ship the Entry Automation update on our initial schedule.
Expanding the Product Line
While we have a lot of plans for our existing product lineup, we started investigating a fourth product early on in the year. After some discussion and feedback from our customer survey, we landed on a fairly fully formed idea. The discussion reached the point that we built out a full feature roadmap that covered the initial MVP and several major updates past it.
However, about mid-way through the year, a separate idea became all to evident as the proper path forward.
One of the main use cases for Fillable PDFs is generating signed contracts, often by multiple parties. This can be achieved using Gravity Forms by chaining together a few Certified Add-Ons but it’s not a seamless experience. Most of the products dedicated to contract signing exist outside of the WordPress space and are priced as such. Not only are they priced incredibly high, but the user does not own the data at any point.
Initially, contract signing was going to be an extension to Fillable PDFs, available to the higher license tiers, but as we continued to explore that idea, issues were discovered. The target market for customers looking to generate legally binding contracts is a separate market from those looking to just generate a PDF. Attempting to add those features into the existing product would make the higher license tiers too expensive and too confusing.
This led to us spinning off the contract signing extension off to its own product: Legal Signing for Gravity Forms.
Building Legal Signing
Up until now, all ForGravity products were architected by myself; I handled the feature planning, UI design, development and testing. Legal Signing is the first product being built with a full team around it.
Once the core team of Karl, Yoren, and myself settled on the idea of pursuing Legal Signing, we then discussed the product with Ellipsis. They were able to research the market viability of the idea and, once validated, continued on to develop a full strategy for the launch of the product. This strategy included product pricing, a pre-release content plan, sales page wireframes, and more.
With a marketing strategy in place, we then refined the features to be included in the initial version of Legal Signing and mapped out the full development plan. I reached out to Rian Kinney, of The Kinney Firm, to vet our feature set and ensure our approach was legally sound, both to protect us and our customers. After the features were legally vetted, we reached out to designer Matt Bumby to start crafting the interface.
And that brings us to today, where we are deep into the development process of the product. We aim to release Legal Signing in the first quarter of 2022 and I’m incredibly excited for what it will do for the trajectory of the business.
Sales revenue finished at $334,477, 51% growth from the previous year. Our renewal rate continues to be around 70%, above average for the standard WordPress product company.
With eyes now fully on 2022, there’s a few goals I would like to accomplish before the year is out.
Launch our fourth product, Legal Signing for Gravity Forms.
This is a key focus for the first half of 2022 and where all of our development and marketing efforts are being poured into. We’re planning to release the initial version by the end of March and I’m cautiously optimistic for what the response will be. The steady stream of newsletter signups for the product has helped confirm that we are onto the right idea.
Grow the size of the team.
Our ambition is quickly hitting the limits of our available resources. The launch of Legal Signing should provide the additional revenue boost needed to expand our development resources and allow us to fully deliver on everything we have planned.
Get a better handle on revenue and projections.
With the business now responsible for the full time livelihoods of multiple people, making sure I have a complete grasp on the numbers is important. Up until now, I have understood the revenue, but that was pretty much the endpoint, as I was never dependent on the business for my income.
My goal is to have a better understanding of all the aspects that make up the revenue (current renewal rate, amount of recurring revenue in the next thirty days, etc.) and establish proper projection reporting, allowing for more intelligent decision making about expanding resources.
Join a mastermind.
As I work to take the business to its next level, being able to talk with fellow business owners in the WordPress space will be important in avoiding common potential pitfalls and growing as an owner in ways I have probably not even considered yet.
Are you apart of or know of a mastermind that is open to new members? Let me know!