Two years ago I wrote a post on this site to introduce my latest plugin, AffiliateWP. The plugin quickly became a staple in my company’s product portfolio and has done quite well for us. Today marks the second anniversary of our version 1.0 release so I would like to take a few minutes to look back on some of the highlights and the journey of building one of my most successful plugins.
The AffiliateWP project began for me after I got fed up for the last time with some of the existing platforms that were available for WordPress eCommerce plugins. Since my team and I were running Easy Digital Downloads, it was incredibly frequent for us to get questions from customers that wanted to know what we recommend they use for their affiliate programs. At the time, there were a few different plugins that we would recommend begrudgingly to our customers. We had used several of the plugins ourselves and found them to be largely unreliable, unpleasant to use, and generally not a good fit for us. After a particularly painful support ticket where it was discovered that one of our customers had paid (or not paid) thousands of dollars to the wrong people due to a bug in their affiliate tracking plugin, we decided to do something about it.
It was time to build our own affiliate management plugin that was built the way we wanted it to be and was one that we could comfortably recommend to our Easy Digital Downloads and Restrict Content Pro customers.
For the first few months, I worked alone to build the foundation of the plugin. Most of the development happened in my “off time” in the evenings and late at night while sipping on a few bottles of my favorite sour beers. Once the primary development was complete, I reached out to Andrew Munro, whom had been working with me extensively on Easy Digital Downloads for quite some time, to see if he’d be interested in partnering with me on the project. He agreed.
Today, the AffiliateWP team has grown beyond Andrew and me and now includes six individuals:
- Andrew Munro
- Lisa Gibson
- Rami Abraham
- Michael Beil
- Drew Jaynes
- Pippin Williamson (me)
Other members of my team occasionally spend time on the AffiliateWP project as well, but those listed above are the full time team members that work exclusively (or almost exclusively) on AffiliateWP.
There are many aspects of the AffiliateWP project that I’m proud of, but most of all I’m exceptionally proud of the team we have assembled. It humbles me to think that my little side project could go from an after-hours project to providing for the full time jobs of an entire team.
In the end, very little matters more than the people we spend our days with. I am honored to have the opportunity to work beside my team. They make me so much better in so many ways.
I am also thrilled and humbled by just how often I come across a WordPress eCommerce or membership website that is running AffiliateWP. Aside from contributing to the success of the commercial product, it’s great to see that we’ve successfully made a positive difference for a lot of site owners. That is, after all, the goal of any good project.
Another area that I’m very pleased with is how much we have been able to engage outside developers in the project. As of today, there have been contributions to AffiliateWP from more than 49 different developers. This is a stat I’m particularly proud of considering AffiliateWP is a commercial product, a category of WordPress plugins that tends to get very little development from anyone outside of the core development team of the product. We chose to make AffiliateWP 100% open on GitHub with a public repository specifically to help facilitate contributions from other developers. I believe firmly that this was a good decision that has worked out quite well for us.
As a commercial product, AffiliateWP has been quite successful for us. Last year I mentioned that AffiliateWP was the fastest of my projects to reach $100,000 in annual revenue. In fact, it took only nine months to reach that mark. I also mentioned that I believed AffiliateWP would surpass $30,000 in monthly revenue before the end of 2015. I’m pleased to say that this goal was met and surpassed. Our first month to break $30,000 was April, 2015, when we brought in $32,904.90. Since then, we have had only 3 months that were below 30, and they were only just barely below the 30 mark.
Unlike Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP does not depend on commercial extensions for its revenue. Instead it is sold as a commercial product without a free version, and then there are two sets of add-on plugins that are made available to customers. There are Professional add-ons, which are available free of charge to customers that purchase the Professional or Ultimate license levels, and then there are free add-ons that are available to all customers. Our team has built and released 10 Professional add-ons and 14 free add-ons. There have also been at least 16 add-on (free and commercial) built by 3rd party developers. One of the 3rd party developers has been able to successfully build an entire business around add-ons for AffiliateWP.
Utilizing this business model is without any doubt one of reasons AffiliateWP accelerated at the rate it did. This model has not only been lucrative for us, I personally think it’s superior in many ways to other models common throughout the WordPress ecosystem. I like it enough that we recently chose to migrate Restrict Content Pro to the same model. If I had the opportunity to start over with Easy Digital Downloads, I would almost certainly opt to use the same model there as well instead of selling each add-on individually.
Our total revenue for 2015 was $379,078 and for 2016 we’re estimating at least $420,000-$450,000.
The growth of AffiliateWP as a commercial product is what has enabled us to grow our team from just Andrew and I to the 6 that it is now. It would not surprise me if we extend our team further in the near future as well.
In January earlier this year, we also changed our license keys from manual renewals to automatic renewals through subscriptions. This was a move that we had been planning for more than a year. It coincided with the recent 2.4 release of our Recurring Payments plugin for Easy Digital Downloads. AffiliateWP served as our real world beta test for the plugin and also the first test we’d done with automatic renewals. While we knew that automatic renewals would significantly increase our renewal rates, we did not yet know whether subscriptions would scare off customers and drop our monthly sales numbers.
It has been nearly three months since turning on subscriptions for AffiliateWP and I’m pleased to say that it has not lowered our monthly revenue at all. Our sales volumes simply did not go down. In fact, last month was our second best month ever for AffiliateWP. With the success of subscriptions on AffiliateWP, we decided to make the same changes to Restrict Content Pro and Easy Digital Downloads. As of last week, both of those platforms now use automatic license key renewals through subscriptions. This will put us in a very good place one year from now.
Overall, I’m really happy with where AffiliateWP is going and it’s a project I continue to look forward to working on in the years to come.