The next in our series of success stories is Mark Zahra, CEO of RebelCode – the company behind WP Mayor, WP RSS Aggregator and several more WordPress plugins. His team launched Spotlight Instagram Feeds, a social feed plugin, which has risen to over 10,000 active installs on WordPress.org in less than 9 months. Let’s see how Mark and his team made it happen!
Hey Mark, it’s great to have you with us – let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from and how did you get into WordPress?
I started my journey with WordPress about 8 years ago. I built a basic website for a hockey club, without knowing much about WordPress – I just started using it because it seemed like the natural choice.
I was so inspired by WordPress that a year later, I left university, left my job, and signed up for online courses in web development.
Around that time my cousin Jean, the founder of our company, came to Malta and saw what I was working on.
He asked me if I wanted to do some work for WP Mayor, so I started as a content writer.
I moved on to do support for some of our WordPress plugins, advanced into managing support, project management, and for the last 2 years, I’m the CEO of the company and running our main products.
Please tell us more about your latest plugin
Spotlight started back in January of 2020.
Spotlight was inspired by what we were seeing in WP RSS Aggregator’s pre-sales support, asking for social feeds and specifically Instagram. In the past, some social networks had RSS feeds and others had connected services that created RSS feeds for you, but they were never that great of a solution for embedding valuable social media content on websites.
This product innovation fell in line with our company’s goal of trying something with a new set of plugins. Towards the end of 2019. we started looking into what was available in the social media space. There were a few good plugins with one being the clear market leader, but we felt they were lacking a good user experience and no one was really innovating in this niche, so we determined it was a good market opportunity.
In January, we started researching some ideas. sketching the UI, and started development in February. The free version launched in June, followed by the paid version in July, as we developed them side by side. The free version went live while we finetuned the Pro version, and it’s been growing since.
In just over 6 months, we’ve grown to around 10,000 active users on WordPress.org, hundreds of paid customers (with a very good conversion rate so far), and we’re now working on taking that success to the next level.
It’s quite a crowded market, there are many feed plugins – what’s your secret sauce and how do you differentiate your product from the others?
With Spotlight, it’s about doing something more fun and modern with the UI/UX, rather than a list of settings in the old WordPress style.
With Spotlight, it’s about doing something more fun and more modern, rather than a list of settings in the old WordPress style.Tweet
We took inspiration from Gutenberg – after you connect your Instagram account, your posts appear as a preview with a sidebar on the right where you have your options. Every change is live and instant – you can interact with the feed as you’re editing and it appears just as the live version on the site front. We added a few customization options – filtering by hashtags, phrases of the caption or the comments, there’s also moderation – you can handpick which posts to show or hide. We want to capitalize on this WYSIWYG interactivity that Gutenberg offers, as it’s inevitably the future of WordPress.
We’ve separated ourselves from other products in this niche by offering more customization options, automations (like running a promotion when the plugin detects certain hashtags on Instagram), and some other cool eCommerce features, for instance a Call to Action button, so if your feed is showing a product, you can have a “Buy” button included.
I’d say that we have a more robust feature set than most of the other plugins out there, and also a lot of focus on user experience and customer support, which makes a big difference.
Please tell us a bit about your pricing choice.
Mainly through competitor research and figuring out the value of our product. The best plugins in the niche were at a particular price point and many other ones were below. We don’t believe in competing on price and don’t think it’s good for the industry.
We did some price testing at the very beginning, started a bit higher and adjusted our pricing to optimize for conversion rate. We felt we could charge a bit more due to the quality of the product, its code, and our support. We continue to experiment with our pricing structure as we gather feedback and introduce new features, so it could change again in the future.
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How do you market and promote your product?
We used WP Mayor of course, as many plugins do for marketing their products, we had some content where we mentioned social media and Instagram feeds, so we included Spotlight, and worked on other new content for our blog.
Some of our key marketing activities included:
- Creating connections with other companies and products in the ecosystem.
- Reaching out to everyone in our network via social, email, etc,
- Getting Spotlight listed in blog posts on WP Mayor and in guest posts on major blogs, like WPEka.
We’ve now hired an affiliate manager, as in this particular niche, an affiliate program is probably going to help boost our marketing efforts.
How did you first hear about Freemius?
We’ve been in the WordPress space for a long time, and we’ve been using EDD for a number of years to sell our RSS plugin, so when it came to Spotlight, we did a lot of research on what would be the best licensing and checkout option.
As good as EDD has been for us, we did have some issues along the way and it does require a lot more involvement in terms of managing customers, payments, EU VAT, and so on. That’s why we researched other options including Fastspring, Paddle, Gumroad and Freemius.
We weighed the pros and cons, and the main benefit of using Freemius was the simplicity of setting things up – it took us only a day to get everything ready. We ran a promotion on WP Mayor and started seeing sales in a day or two.
The fact that Freemius handles everything for us – VAT and all – makes things so much easier!
What is your favorite Freemius feature?
The main thing that helped us are the analytics and insights. On our RSS Aggregator we had to do everything custom and manually – we were using Google Sheets, Zapier and other tools, so this was much simpler – automatically collecting valuable data in the background.
That definitely helped us early on, and it’s a great thing to have. I’d like to see it further expanded. We’re also using the affiliate program, which has made launching it much faster and easier without any extra plugins on our site.
How would you describe your experience working with Freemius? Please be honest 🙂
The experience has been great! It has helped us keep our minds focused on the things that are important to us, which has been brilliant!
That’s not to say that other solutions didn’t offer us some options, but they have things that you need to keep an eye on; and with Freemius you don’t have to think about a thing.
I recently spoke with Miguel, our CTO – he is very happy with our decision to go with Freemius – it made things so much simpler for us, both in the integration and deployment aspect, and also by letting us focus on our product, on support, and to continue developing it.
What does your day look like? How do you balance your time and resources?
Typically, no one day looks like another. My duties range from support to business management and HR. Given the size of our team and the fact we’re working on 3 main projects, I prioritise as I go. With Spotlight, most of my time right now is spent on market research, speaking with customers and doing support, and strategising for the future. It’s not the first time I would wake up with a plan for that day and by the evening it would have changed completely!
What are your plans – do you have ideas for new products or expanding existing ones?
Spotlight currently works with Instagram, but potentially could expand into additional social media platforms. Right now, we are focusing on what we have.
We are still a small team, but as we expand we will consider other products to develop, yet we’re always watching the market and how things are in the WordPress space.
If we find another niche, like we did with Spotlight, it could be something we refocus on.
I love your approach! It’s always great to hear how people got to where they are. Are there any tips you can share from your experience?
One thing I’ve learned, especially in the past year, is to speak to more people. Do reach out to people, ask questions, offer something in return, and be willing to help others as well. Building those relationships can open up collaboration or marketing opportunities you may not have thought about before and can have a big impact on your long-term growth.
I couldn’t agree more – the key is to experiment and validate!
Of course! Test and experiment with a number of things. If you are wrong – adapt, you have to! Don’t stick to something just because you have been with it for a long time. Adapt, change, everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made a few over the years, some small and some not so small, but you learn from each and every one of them.
Don’t fall in love with your ideas just because they’re yours 😉
Exactly! When it comes to your product, one thing I’ve learned with Spotlight, compared to other ventures that I’ve tried is – get an MVP, get it working.
It should work and look good enough, but launch. Don’t “sit on it” and try to make it perfect, launch! There’s gonna be bumps along the way, but start collecting feedback as soon as you can.
Thank you very much for sharing your story and we wish you the best of luck in your success moving forward!
Thanks, and feel free to get in touch with me in the comments below or DM me on Twitter @markzahra.