Tell us about yourself!
My name is Mike de Libero. I've been programming since the 2000s, doing anything from web development to n-tiered development. The last 8 or so years I have mostly been focused on software security, specifically around testing. I still do quite a bit of consulting on the side with my business (Swim or Die Software), as well as build a freemium plugin in the WordPress ecosystem.
What's your plugin?
The RSVP Pro plugin is for anyone who has clients or is running an event using WordPress. It makes attending an event as easy as possible, and also makes it easy for the event coordinator to get an accurate count of how many people are coming. Users can customize almost everything from the admin area. It's very flexible.
How'd you get started working on it?
I've always enjoyed writing applications that help other people. I initially wrote the free version of the plugin when my wife and I were getting married. There were a few RSVP plugins, but they were either poorly maintained or didn't work the way we wanted. So, as many developers would do, I just wrote my own. Although I initially created it with weddings in mind, it's grown from there to accomodate any type of event that requires some level of registration to attend.
Building the plugin for WordPress makes it easy from a development standpoint, because there are a bunch of benefits you get building on top of such a platform (even though I get that it isn't "cool"). For example, it's really easy to deploy updates to the plugin, and the admin interface is fairly easy to use and extend.
I've been maintaining the free version of the plugin since 2010, but in the last few years I've been running a "pro" version that generates revenue. I've always wanted to move from trading hours for dollars to a more product/SaaS-based business, so making a freemium plugin seemed like a good step.
How'd you find the time and funding to build RSVP Pro?
I had the free version released back in 2010, and I started writing the pro version in December 2013 after my first son was born. However, with a cross-country move and a second kid on the way, I didn't actually finish and release it until October 2014. So it took almost a year.
Another reason it took so long to release was that I was afraid that it wouldn't sell. That's a common problem, but it's one that you have to get over.
During this time, I worked a day job, took care of my family, and had a side job doing consulting for companies. That's how I "funded" development. We all have the same amount of time every day no matter who you are and what you do, so I found time like any one else would: I scheduled getting it done, and either deferred other things or didn't give myself as many breaks with things like watching TV or checking Hacker News :) And of course, I didn't sleep as much, but that goes without saying.
How have you grown RSVP Pro's revenue from $0 to $700/mo?
I first started charging for the plugin in October of 2014. The price started at $19, and I've gradually raised it to where it is today at $69. I'll probably keep raising it, too, because the number of sales hasn't dipped. I'm guessing that's because I was vastly undercharging in the first place.
I'm pretty bad at attracting users or doing sales, but I attract them mostly through my free plugin and through some really horrible copywriting I have on the free plugin page. I haven't really done anything in the way of marketing. I mainly get people to pay based on the higher number of features I have in the pro plugin.
What are your plans for the future?
My financial goals have not changed. My plan for the future is to market the plugin more, and get it out in front of more people. I'm hoping more people use it, not just for the money, but because I want to make people's lives easier, and if I can do that through software, then that's a plus!
What have your biggest challenges been so far?
My biggest challenge has been to stop adding "one more feature" and instead do marketing and get the plugin out in front of more people. As with most things in life, people love to do the things they find easy and fun, and to avoid the pain of acquiring new skills. While I know this to be true, it's still hard to do!
If I could go back, what I'd do differently is try to build a bigger brand and market the plugin more, even when it had a smaller feature-set. I've gotten great feedback from my users, but more users means more feedback and more ways to improve it for everyone.
What do you think your best decisions have been?
My best decision was listening to my wife and writing the plugin in the first place. Secondly, just continuing to work on it and slowly raising the price to see what happens. Also, listening and talking to people who have done this before and learning what they did right and/or wrong.
What's your advice for those trying to make money on their own?
We live in a time where it's so easy to start something on the side, but because it's easy to start, it's also easy to give up. If you can get some people to buy your product fairly quickly with a small audience, then you can probably sell more with a bigger audience. However, sometimes growing into that audience can take years, so don't give up.
Where can readers learn more about RSVP Pro?
Feel free to get in touch in the comment section.