Generating $10,000 Per Month from a Freemium Business Model

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi, my name is Adrian Spiac. I'm the co-founder of Cozmoslabs and part of the team behind TranslatePress, our latest product that aims to make translating your WordPress site easy and intuitive.

I graduated with a degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering, specializing in Multimedia. I began writing code in high school and quickly fell in love with it. Right after college, I teamed up with Cristian and started a web development agency. Due to its simplicity and all the resources available, WordPress became our main focus.

Four years in, we launched our initial product, Profile Builder. This allowed us to make the transition from a full-time WordPress development agency to building and supporting our own products. It's also what allowed us to work only four days/week (Fridays off).

Today, TranslatePress is making over $10,000/month and the free core plugin is being used on more than 30,000 active websites.

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What motivated you to get started with TranslatePress?

Our journey building multilingual websites started in the days when we were doing custom WordPress development. Our projects varied from simple presentation sites with a few pages to complex multilingual setups that needed ongoing development and maintenance.

While there were quite a few WordPress multilingual solutions out there, we weren't happy with their added complexity and translation workflow (non-visual, out of context, found in multiple places). While as developers we could make it work, there was always a lot of friction for the end client. This resulted in broken things when the client tried to modify translations, and repeated emails and requests on how to change specific things which should have been straightforward (but weren’t).

Once our products started doing well, we had the option to allocate resources for bootstrapping a new product. We were flirting with the idea of creating a new WordPress translation plugin for a while, so this seemed like the perfect time to start.

What went into building the initial product?

We wanted to build something that will allow the user to translate the entire page directly from the front-end, using a visual translation interface by simply clicking on a certain string and entering the translation (real-time).

translation

The only translation plugin on the market that had a similar visual approach was Weglot. However, our concept was much different in its implementation since we wanted:

  • a GPL plugin (access to the codebase)
  • everything stored locally, in your database (you own your translations)
  • support for dynamic strings (get text strings)
  • to make TranslatePress work out of the box with any WordPress plugin or theme (not the other way around, where developers need to add support for translation plugins)

This included full support for WooCommerce.

Also, if you've used a page builder to create your WordPress site, you can easily translate it with TranslatePress. That's because our approach deals with the content on the front-end after it has been generated as HTML, so it doesn't matter what type of editor you used to create the content.

Development-wise it all started with Madalin (our third co-founder) testing the core of the plugin, a PHP DOM parser class to see if we could work with it. It worked fairly well; we could do string search and replace from the database without slowing down the test site, so we moved forward with starting the project. Our colleague Razvan was to be the lead developer and he would be 100% in charge to deliver the alpha and beta versions at which point we would allocate more resources to the project. While not ideal, it was all we could do without hiring more people.

Our development estimations were way off. We expected to have a beta version of the product within three months. It took us almost eight months to ship the initial version. In total, there were four people actively involved in the launch of TranslatePress, three of them focused on development (only one full-time) and one on marketing.

How have you attracted users and grown TranslatePress?

TranslatePress is a freemium product, having both free and paid versions. This model has worked for us in the past, so we decided to stick with it.

We knew from day one that the key to turning TranslatePress into a solid product and a sustainable business was to get as many users as possible for the free version. Therefore our main focus was building a really easy-to-use, free product that people can use without limitations.

Getting some initial traction is always the hardest. For us, it didn't happen overnight. But we really believed in the product and its purpose, so we kept going.

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Here's a list of things we did to spread the word about TranslatePress:

  • Built a beta testing list by emailing our existing customers and using Facebook ads, which got us around 160 signups
  • Launched the core plugin for free on wp.org and optimized it for keywords like translate and multilingual
  • Looked for ways to cross-promote TranslatePress in our existing products
  • Added the free download to the account page of all our clients over at Cozmoslabs and sent a second newsletter
  • Sponsored a WordCamp and talked to theme shops and agencies about recommending TranslatePress (ThemeIsle and adding it to their recommended plugin list, and Themefuse included it in their Unyson framework
  • Outreach, mainly contacting sites that we have a relationship with to write about it
  • Started to publish tutorials, speed tests and transparency reports related to our product on our blog

This helped the free version to get some initial traction and get to nearly 1,000 active installs.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

TranslatePress revenue comes from its premium versions. Each package is basically a yearly subscription that renews automatically and can be canceled at any time. We're using 2Checkout for handling payments and subscriptions.

An active subscription gives you access to all pro add-ons from a certain package (plus new ones we release), regular updates (new features, bug fixes, WP compatibility), as well as access to premium support. The majority of the pro add-ons are a result of constant requests by our free plugin users (we’re writing each one of them down).

The core of the plugin is free (and will remain so) and allows users to translate an entire WordPress site in a second language without any limits (like number of words, theme/plugin compatibility, etc.). It also integrates with Google Translate.

However, if someone wants to add things like Automatic User Language Detection, Translator Accounts, or make their site available in multiple languages, they will probably opt for a paid version.

Here's a detailed graph of how last year looked like in terms of revenue:

2018 revenue graph

I think the revenue growth is an effect of the increasing number of free users and their positive reviews, plus the fact that it’s been around for a while now (about one and a half years) and more people see it as a viable and easier alternative to existing solutions.

Eventually, more and more people started using the product, trusting it and opting for a paid version.

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The last month's revenue revolved around the same amount, $10,000 (which is about 8,800 euros). Revenue in February 2019 was 9,645 euros (about $11,000). The free version remains our best converting channel for paying users.

Our traffic also saw significant growth in the last 12 months, nearly five times what it was previously. This is mostly due to the popularity of the free version, the increasing number of websites talking about TranslatePress (most of which I've personally reached out to), and our blog posts focused on multilingual topics.

2018 traffic

Having an easy-to-use and reliable product is key. However, due to the fact that the WordPress plugin ecosystem is a pretty crowded space, this is not enough anymore. You need to do a lot of reaching out and work on quality content to get noticed.

What are your goals for the future?

I would be really happy if we managed to achieve the things below by the end of the year:

  • Power 60K+ websites
  • Get to over $20,000/month in revenue
  • Double our website traffic

These numbers are not really under our control, but we can influence them by:

  • Having a clear marketing plan and hiring extra help for this part (publishing two to three useful tutorials every month, launching an email course on multilingual sites, growing our email subscribers, writing guest posts, attending and sponsoring WordCamps, developing partnerships, etc.)
  • Offering great support, improving our docs, and being receptive to our users’ needs
  • Development-wise, adding more integrations (like DeepL), new features (like media translation), fewer bugs (by writing more unit tests) while also keeping in mind that ease of use is TranslatePress's forte.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?

I think getting some initial traction is always the hardest. For us, it didn't happen overnight. In fact, the first couple of months after the launch were really slow. We got very few sales. But we really believed in the product and its purpose, so we kept going. This was for sure the biggest challenge.

Eventually, more and more people started using the product, trusting it and opting for a paid version. To put things in perspective, one year after starting to work on TranslatePress we made less than $2,000.

The fact that we had revenue coming in from our existing products was crucial for TranslatePress's existence and growth. We could focus on doing the work without panicking too much about a slow start.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

  • Build something for an audience you know, you understand, you're part of (WordPress has been our niche for the past nine years)
  • Don't be afraid to talk about your product (try to do it by providing value and educating others)
  • Find a co-founder (even two, like I did) but make sure you share the same values. Knowing you'll have each other's backs is both relieving and motivating at the same time.

Where can we go to learn more?

Adrian Spiac , Founder of TranslatePress

Want to build your own business like TranslatePress?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

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Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

  1. 2

    Love your point about having revenue from existing products and how this took the pressure initial slow traction.

    A VC may not be be so understanding about initial slow traction.

    1. 2

      Thank you Gary! Bootstrapping is definitely more up our alley. VC adds pressure, sometimes sacrificing quality or user experience for the sake of fast growth. The truth is we never looked for funding elsewhere.

      We bootstrapped our first product as well, Profile Builder. Basically the extra revenue that came from consulting went into developing the initial version.

  2. 2

    This is awesome! Nice work.

    Question, you use 2Checkout, how do you account for VAT and all the weird global sales/VAT tax rules?

    With the revenue you have, I imagine you're over some thresholds for countries with VAT rules.

    Thanks!

    1. 3

      Well, that's the thing, we don't have to handle invoicing, nor VAT.

      We use 2Checkout (formerly Avangate) mainly because of that. They act as a re-seller of our products, handle invoices, VAT charges and we simply send them an invoice that contains the total amount to be paid to us, at the end of each month.

      If you can "outsource" this part, I suggest you do it. It simplifies accounting and allows you to focus more on the product.

      1. 2

        Sorry @adispiac, another question -- or maybe more of a clarification (because I noticed 2Checkout works with Restrict Content Pro)...

        Does 2Checkout handle everything completely, tax-wise, for you? As in, charging taxes based on global laws and also remitting the withheld taxes/filing as required?

        You simply create an awesome product, sell it, customers buy, and they handle the "dirty back office" work?

        1. 1

          Yes, Avangate handles everything. Not sure if this was imported to 2Checkout after the acquisition as well, but I'm assuming yes.

          1. 1

            Gotcha. Thank you.

      2. 1

        Awesome!

        I use FastSpring, same concept. They resell my products and handle all the tax stuff so I don’t have to.

        Didn’t realize 2Checkout did that too.

  3. 2

    Great interview, thanks Adrian!

    Could you expand on this item?

    "Increasing number of websites talking about TranslatePress (most of which I've personally reached out to)"

    What do these emails look like?

    1. 1

      Hey Danny,

      I don't have a defined template for this. I basically started learning more about each website/owner, their interests & audience and contacted only those where I believed TranslatePress was a good fit.

      When I reached out I used a casual tone and tried to build a relationship, not simply push my product. This of course takes time and you won't see instant results. But it works.

  4. 1

    Thanks for all the sharing!
    When you "talked to theme shops and agencies about recommending TranslatePress", what do you have to offer them in exchange?

  5. 1

    Wow! This post is really inspiring for me, because I'm trying to make a freemium web too, and reading this make me believe more in my product and be a better founder!

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. 1

      Happy to hear that Giancarlo & good luck in your freemium business! :)

  6. 1

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