In this interview, I talk to Brent Shepherd from Prospress. Prospress is the developer of the Subscriptions extension – one of he most popular extensions for WooCommerce. Other extensions by them include the WooCommerce Subscription Gifting, One Page Checkout, and more recently, the Subscribe all the Things extension. (I wrote about Subscribe all the Things in this post, and interviewed Manos who worked on that extension.)
Here is a brief summary of the interview with Brent Shepherd about Prospress.
We’ve been experimenting over the last year and a bit with feature extensions for Subscriptions. People have been asking for these features for a while now but it doesn’t make sense to include these features in core if only 20-30% of the users want them. So we’ve been experimenting with extensions for the Subscriptions extension, which itself is an extension for a plugin. So it gets a bit crazy which is why we’re working through the idea and how best to deliver them.
We have a few now on Github and we’ll be moving them over to WordPress.org over the next few months. That’ll give us better version control. For most of these, since they’re in their initial experimental phase and some of them were collaborations, we wanted to release them for free for now.
The beginning is probably around 10 years ago. I had used PayPal to sell some things online. I had looked at WordPress and what it was doing for publishing, and had wondered why nothing like that exists for selling online. So one of the first things I had worked on was Prospress the plugin, which as an auctions plugin for WordPress. At its core, it was about marketplaces where you could also do crowdfunding.
When I saw WooCommerce, I thought that these guys have done it in terms of making selling easier on WordPress and I wanted to develop something for WooCommerce. After building a payment gateway, I developed the Subscriptions plugin because a lot of people wanted to sell subscription products.
The publication is smallwoorld.com which is a book and a blog. Initially we wanted to attract good talent by showing on our site the types of people we affect. So early on, these were interviews with businesses that used our extensions.
Last year, we decided to put it all together into a book. At first we wanted to create a large coffee table book but cost and time factor just wasn’t feasible. We ended up building a smaller book and then built a separate blog around the idea. It’s easier to get interviews if we’re telling people it’s for a publication rather than our company blog.
When we first started, we had a team of about three and a half when you account for freelancers. Today we’re a company of six people and we’re looking to add one more person. So far we’ve had engineers rotating between development and support, but are now looking to add a dedicated support person.
For growing, I started writing a lot of documentation. Turns out by writing tons of documentation, it really improves your ranking. So that has been a big factor for attention when people are searching for subscriptions.
Hiring is a big challenge for sure. I waited too long before hiring to start. If I were to go back, I would be able to connect the dots and anticipate when I needed to hire people. Finding good people takes a lot of work. Initially, you don’t really know what it’s going to take to get the right candidate.
Another problem was product-market fit. Basically, Subscriptions 2.0 was the first time we had product-market fit and there was a lot of effort into getting rid of old code to fundamentally change what people wanted our product to be. The fundamental change was treating a subscription as its own entity, rather than another product.
People get a lot more information and a lot more control by having the subscription as a separate entity.
(Brent talked about subscriptions at WooConf 2016.)
The best thing you can do to be a developer is to get people to review your code. I know it’s natural to be conscious of your code, but the more you can get feedback, the better you’ll become. The other thing is to write as much code as you can.
- Get good hosting which you can find out through articles on reputable publications.
- Ideally, only purchase themes and plugins from official and reputable vendors.
- Be deliberate in the choices for the plugins you keep on your site.
- Treat managing the software as a journey that includes updates, rather than a one off where you install it once and don’t update for a long time.
Subscriptions is a really good foundation for the company that I’m really happy with. So the mini-extension ideas is something we’ll be working on over the next little while.