Interview with Alexander Gilmanov from Amelia and wpDataTables

In this interview, we talked Alexander from TMS-Outsource. A company that is behind 2 well-known WordPress plugins – wpDataTables and Amelia. He shared some very useful insights on how to start out in WordPress and why you should or shouldn’t sell your products and marketplaces.

Hi everyone. We’re here in WordCamp Europe and we’re talking with Alexander from the TMS-Outsource – a company that’s behind two well-known WordPress plugins. It’s wpDataTables and Amelia. Could you a little more information about yourself?

I was born in Tyumen, It’s a small town in Siberia. I was living there for 27 years old. I’ve done Ph.D. studies. And then decided to relocate to Europe. So since 2011, I live in Belgrade and during the first year, I developed the core of the plugin that became wpDataTables. So back then I had a full-time job so I could do that after office hours till like 1:00 a.m. 2:00 a.m. each day. And then after some time, when I started selling and it started going very well, I had to leave the job and start the company which is now TMS-Outsource.

As I mentioned before you have two successful plugins and one’s been around for a while and Amelia is a newer one. So how did those ideas come to mind? There are probably two separate stories. One of sleepless nights apparently. So what about Amelia?

Exactly. So the first one was built like a totally developers tool. So I was building it with a developers mindset. I did something similar for my then employer and I thought it would be good to have something for WordPress where users that aren’t tech-savvy could just upload their Excel tables or link to their Google spreadsheets and just have this data in a table that frontend users could then filter and sort. And do many other things with that like export data.

So I started developing that without any particular marketing in mind. So it started very well because there were not so many competitor solutions back then. After I released it, I was following the users feedback a lot. So the new features were quite community-driven. I was following what was requested the most and implemented it one by one. Like support for the server side, tables, support for frontend editing, et cetera et cetera.

In the end, it has so many features that it became a little bit hard to do marketing for that. Because it’s a solution for everything and everyone. And it’s very hard to find the target audience when the product is like that. So I had to invest a lot of effort into marketing. And I think that we succeeded because we had a really large user base. Right now it’s almost 30 thousand users of wpDataTables. And that’s more or less the short story of how I started this plugin.

For Amelia, it’s a different one because I wanted to launch another plugin quite soon after I launched wpDataTables but I always felt like we aren’t quite there yet with the first plugin. We need to improve quality and add more features. And I had the idea of a booking plugin in mind from the very start.

It was a bit painful to see because when I just had the idea there were almost no solutions for booking appointments in WordPress. But then the first solution appeared and it wasn’t so nice. And then the other one. And while I was postponing the kickoff for development, the solutions got better and better and they got super good sales and I was missing so many opportunities.

Then at one point at 2017 I just decided I’ll kick off now. I prepared a lot of specifications a lot of descriptions and found a very very nice UI/UX designer who was there from the start. And I planned everything from the start. It was totally from wpDataTables. It wasn’t that much community-driven. We analyzed the market, prepared the marketing plan, and knew exactly how we would market that. We have a plan with dates when we launch. Maybe that’s why we kicked off even more successful than the first plugin because it’s 1 year old and now we have 3 thousand paying costumers already and we’re getting almost 3 hundred every month. The number is growing. So yeah that’s the end of the story.

wpDataTables is a regular on the Envato Market top plugin list, Amelia is something that you sell on your own website. So what made you choose that route?

Actually now we’re selling both plugins directly. They’re still listed on Envato but mostly for our existing customers to be able to access the updates, because back then we left then updates and we can’t just kind of cancel that all at once because they wouldn’t be very happy about that. And it wouldn’t be fair from our side.

We decided to leave Envato because honestly for a very long time we’ve been doing all the marketing and promotion on our own. We were driving like 90 percent of the traffic on our own. They do give good visibility to authors and they’re good when you start. They gave us a great kick-off in the beginning. But then when we’ve grown they became more like a very expensive middleman. Not really much value to us. We were more using them as a payment provider and then we just decided to use real payment providers instead of a marketplace. Because sometimes we saw a thing like, we generated a lead who landed on our page, he liked the solution. Then he went to Envato, and he saw “ok, that’s a marketplace” and he found an alternative solution. So we didn’t really like that.

In April we made the switch and now we are selling directly. In the beginning, there was a bit of disruption but now we are getting back to the same numbers that we had before.

So what would you say are the pros and cons of selling in the marketplace. Not just when you start, but in the long run.

I would still recommend it for guys that just start because in the beginning we don’t know much about marketing and they do generate a lot of traffic. And authors that just start, I think they should find it valuable to sell the marketplace. So the pros are the traffic that is generated by the marketplace. The credibility of the marketplace because when you just start no one knows about you and people feel not so comfortable with purchasing directly from you. Also, they take care of many things in the back because you don’t think about frauds, about high-risk transactions and things like that. Marketplaces take care of that. Maybe there are other pros but I can’t think of them at the moment.

And the cons are – they care much more about the clients, they care much more about their own marketplace and they also have to, if speak about Envato, they also have this Elements thing and they are much more motivated now to drive traffic away from CodeCanyon or ThemeForest marketplaces to the Elements. Form what I can tell. Also, their commissions are super high especially if you’re a non-exclusive author or if you are a beginner.

As I already said if you generate traffic to your items. Then they’re commissions don’t make sense. It’s the biggest con for us. Also, we think that the subscription model is much better. Both for the clients and for the authors because clients can be assured that authors won’t stop the development at one point which happens a lot in marketplaces. Because when you sell lifetime licenses it’s not sometimes viable to keep developing the product. Revenue wise it’s just not viable.

So many authors have stopped developing a product at some point and then users that did use it for their websites had to switch to some third solution. And with a subscription they know that authors will keep developing the product and marketplaces rarely provide this model. They just provide a lifetime license.

Now that you have this experience with both plugins, do you have any tips for companies that don’t want to start on marketplaces but they want to start to sell it on their own right from the start? Is there anything you could suggest?

There is no magic pill. There is nothing that you can do and you will get great sales from the start. It’s just not possible. And I remember these first days when we just launched. We received the very first sale in like several hours from when it was published and it was a super magic moment. Everyone was super excited. And then for two days, we were just pressing F5, F5, F5 and there were no sales and we very frustrated. We did everything right. We had a nice launch campaign, we had a great spike of traffic on the website. So even if you do everything right there is always no onboarding curve. And this is always a long run.

What I would recommend that works for us is to build partnerships to generate traffic. Including reviews about your plugin or theme or whatever you do. On popular web sites have someone speak about you. To get some references as early as possible from well-known WordPress resources and of course from the customer because that’s really something that helps to sell. For potential customers considering buying your product, it really helps to make the decision when they see good reviews on your web site. It’s very important not to post fake reviews there as some people do.

Of course, paid traffic. It’s something that is always working. But it’s very very tricky to configure it properly because when you launch a campaign you can really burn all your budget, but it may not really bring you any potential customers. So it’s very important to go in baby steps and configure it little by little – the audience, the geography. We need to really find the sweet spot. And it’s never like you’ve found it and it stays like that, we also obviously need to do reviews every week. We do this constantly. So I would also recommend that. But I recommend starting with smaller budgets and increasing it by little.

And I think the best way to get more visibility for the product is to understand who is your target customer and what are the problems that they want to solve. And then give something valuable, relevant to these problems and the customers. I think the content on the website is crucial because since we started doing content writing on our blogs twice per week, not immediately but after six months we started to see an increase in traffic and also it was high-quality traffic. Also, it’s not like I write a post and forget it. You always need to monitor which posts get more Google attention. But this is actually what they call real estate which stays there forever. ROI wise, return of investment wise it’s the best way to generate high-quality traffic and more sales. For us.

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