This is the second interview in our WordPress plugin business owners series. We want to inspire WordPress enthusiasts to get into the plugins ecosystem by sharing real stories from plugin leaders.
This time I’m excited to chat with Adam Warner, the Co-founder and Lead Hand Shaker at FooPlugins. Adam has a very interesting stroy, starting from office furniture manufacturing, and now leading a WordPress plugin business.
Thanks Adam for answering these questions which I’m sure will inspire our plugin developers and business owners. I want to start off by asking you about your background.
Did you study computer science or web development? What have you done before WordPress?
I hold a degree in Advertising Design. At the time I was studying there was only one computer graphics class offered with this degree and my most outstanding project was creating my own postal stamp by scanning an image of a cat and coloring it with a Macintosh Classic with 4MB of memory.
After college, I went straight onto the manufacturing floor creating office furniture. It wasn’t long before I started learning to program CNC cutting and drilling machines.
I had always had an entrepreneurial spirit, thanks to my Dad getting me started with my own paper route at age 12 and although I’ve worked in many corporate positions, I’ve always had some kind of small business on the side.
You are in the WordPress sphere over 9 years – wow! Do you recall when and how your love story with WordPress begun? Tell us the story.
I know exactly when my love for WordPress started. It was in early 2005, and I was running a DVD memorial business for a local funeral home. It was my first real foray into using a website for marketing my business in earnest.
I created the site using static HTML and was looking for a blog platform to add to the site and after trying a few, I stumbled across WordPress.
Of all the platforms I had tried, WordPress made the most sense to me visually. Even back then, it was easy for me to understand and navigate the backend. Not only that, but after discovering the beauty of themes and plugins, I was hooked.
Of all the platforms I had tried, WordPress made the most sense to me visually.
~ Adam Warner – CEO, FooPlugins
It wasn’t long after that I started my WordPress tutorial blogs to share what I was learning and also as kind of an archive for myself.
What was the first plugin that you’ve built? Did you do it alone?
I am not a developer. I don’t write code (well). I tried to write plugins, and I tried to create themes. Both were lackluster at best.
That said, because of my years of experience using WordPress and understanding the history and the ever-changing community, I made the decision to focus on my skills at teaching business building and marketing as it relates to WordPress powered websites.
I wanted to create a plugin business for years, but it took a time to find the right partner. One with the programming skills I lacked and one that needed a business development and marketing guy who could also build out decent WordPress sites.
What was your “aha moment” when you realized that WordPress plugins are an excellent opportunity for a business?
I had been following people like Vladimir Prevolac, Justin Tadlock and Corey Miller in those early days and saw how they were creating communities around their plugins and themes.
It was when Vladimir released a premium version of SEO Smart Links in 2010 that I knew the plugin business would grow.
Two years later, he confirmed this in a blog post about how this premium plugin kick started his online business opportunities.
Most of the early WordPress businesses were actually WordPress theme shops, why plugins?
As I said before, I found out early on that I am not a designer nor a programmer. My strength is in creating solutions that are easy to use for the end user and plugins fit best into that skill.
It was also about finding the right business partner and that partner happens to be a skilled plugin developer, Brad Vincent.
Did you have anyone who guided you when starting the business? Or did you just follow your hunch?
There were many people and businesses in the community who inspired me, but in retrospect, I wish I would have reached out personally to avoid some of the hurdles we experienced early on.
For the most part, I followed my hunch and had to pivot when things didn’t work as expected. However, I don’t regret those experiences because I’ve learned an awful lot of what NOT to do.
How did you come up with the name FooPlugins? What does it mean?
When Brad and I decided to work together on our first product, FooBox, he already had his FooBar plugin for sale on CodeCanyon.
“Foo” is used in a lot of coding examples and since he already used that term, we decided to apply it to our plugins and our business name.
Your LinkedIn title says that you are the “Lead Hand Shaker” – that’s great job title, how did you come up with that?
I was really tired of seeing terms like CEO, Business Manager and didn’t feel like those were descriptive of what my part in the business really meant.
Because I attend so many WordPress Meetups, WordCamps and other events, shaking hands and meeting others is a core part of what I do and who I am.
Can you tell us how it was scaling from a one-man show to a team of three full-time members and several contractors?
This is something we still struggle with after four years in business. We are completely bootstrapped, and all work on other projects while we scale FooPlugins.
This is frustrating as you might expect, and we feel we’re always “on the cusp” of focusing 100% of our time on FooPlugins but as of today, we still try to find the balance.
How does your daily schedule look? Are you working from a home office? How many hours a week do you spend on dev vs. support vs. marketing vs. management?
I left my corporate job one month before our first son was born in 2012 and have been working from home since. He’s now almost 4, and we also have another 2-year-old boy.
My day starts between 5am – 6am. I scan my inbox and support tickets and follow up on what I can until around 7am when I wake up our boys and start the morning routine.
After dropping the oldest at preschool and the youngest at Grandma’s house, I get back home around 10am and start my work day in earnest.
I work until 3pm when it’s time to get the boys and start the afternoon and evening routines.
When the kids go to sleep, I usually do another inbox scan and head to bed after following up on anything urgent.
What are your goals for 2016?
One of our business goals is to continue growing the free FooGallery plugin user base and create more extensions, free and premium.
We have dozens of extension ideas scoped and just waiting for our attention but in order to release those on a schedule we’d like, we’ll need to get more developers involved.
My personal goal is to travel to more WordCamps and other events to connect with people more regularly. It’s been difficult to schedule travel while also making sure the needs of our families are being met.
In one word, scaling is the goal.
What is the most important business advice you can give to plugin developers?
My best advice is to get your plugin in use as soon as you can. “Minimum viable product” should be your mantra on a daily basis.
My best business advice is to get your plugin in use as soon as you can!
~ Adam Warner – CEO, FooPlugins
You can work for months (and we have) on a feature set or product you think people will love only to find out that it lands with a thud.
The only way to be sure your plugin is meeting the needs of users is to get people using it and listen to feedback.
“Minimum viable product” should be your mantra on a daily basis.
~ Adam Warner – CEO, FooPlugins
Thank you so much Adam for your time!
Please use the comments to ask Adam any plugin or business related questions.