There's a very good chance that you've visited at least one website in the past 24 hours that's built using WordPress. That's because WordPress is an open source content management system (CMS) that powers over 29% of all websites on the internet.
While SaaS and iOS apps get all the glory, the WordPress ecosystem quietly fuels a multi-billion dollar economy.
In the heart of it all is a little-known company called Awesome Motive that employs over 40 people around the world. Led by entrepreneur Syed Balkhi, this company creates marketing / growth tools like OptinMonster, MonsterInsights, WPForms, and others that collectively power over 4 million websites.
However, long before Awesome Motive was ever a thought and before WordPress had truly evolved into a proper content management system, Syed was an average 12 year old kid whose life completely turned upside down when his parents decided to migrate from Pakistan to the United States.
After taking the placement test, he was told to skip a grade and start high school at age 12. Not knowing the English language and being in the United States shortly after the 9/11 incident forced Syed to spend most of his time in the school library, where he learned how to code and started building websites for small businesses. Syed wanted to succeed, but given his family's financial situation, his hunger for success was insatiable.
This was in 2006. As a junior in high school, Syed was sitting in his parent's living room searching Google to expand his skillset, when he discovered WordPress. At the time, the three-year old open-source platform was focused on building blogs, but Syed saw it a way to make his website creation workflow more efficient.
He spent the next three years learning the WordPress platform, hiring a small team and building hundreds of websites for his clients. During this time, Syed found that the most frustrating part about WordPress was training clients how to use it. At the time, most resources were written by developers for developers. He saw a huge opportunity and decided to take advantage of it by launching a tutorial website for beginners called WPBeginner, in 2009. Today, it is one of the largest free WordPress resource sites containing thousands of free WordPress tutorials and videos.
WPBeginner allowed Syed to learn about users' problems first-hand, and he helped them solve it with his free tutorials. This earned him goodwill in the community, and quickly elevated his status as one of the most reputable influencers in the Wordpress ecosystem. Syed was invited to speak and keynote dozens of WordCamp events across the United States.
Leveraging the power of his media platform and understanding the user pain-points, Syed went on to launch OptinMonster in 2013 to help website owners convert abandoning visitors into subscribers & customers. The launch was a massive success thanks to the influence of WPBeginner.
Following the successful launch of the product, Syed and his co-founder, Thomas, agreed to merge Thomas's other two companies, Soliloquy and Envira Gallery, into the Awesome Motive umbrella. Both of these products also saw huge bumps in sales growth due to the WPBeginner influence.
Syed realized that he had found the magic formula for success in the WordPress ecosystem. "All I had to do was ask my readers what product they wanted and just build it," Balkhi says. His team built and launched numerous free utility plugins to help solve the problems that WPBeginner users were having.
After looking at the WPBeginner annual survey results in 2016, Balkhi acquired the most popular Google Analytics plugin for WordPress from Yoast, and rebranded it to MonsterInsights, with a goal of making analytics easy for beginners. As of today, this plugin has been downloaded over 21 million times and is active on 1.9 million websites.
In 2016, he also launched WPForms with the goal of finally building a WordPress form builder plugin that's easy to use for beginners. In less than two years, the plugin is running on over 800,000 websites.
With the rapid growth of WPForms and the email deliverability issues that his users were facing, Syed acquired the most popular SMTP solution for WordPress in 2017, currently active on over 700,000 websites.
As I talked with Syed, now 27 years old, he described his success as a "complete surprise". He credits all of it to the power of email marketing. What started out as a list of 1000 people whom he helped improve their website, grew steadily over time. The loyal WPBeginner readers shared their problems with Syed, and he solved them with free tutorials and his suite of plugins and tools.
Today, the software created by Awesome Motive is used by over 4 million websites, including high-profile brands and companies in just about every vertical possible. Syed's goal is always to deliver value, and he emphasizes leveling the playing field for small businesses by helping them grow and compete with big brands.
After almost nine years of existence, WPBeginner continues to produce daily free WordPress tutorials. He tells me that in today's economy, the most important thing that you can have is a loyal community who trusts your brand.
Every successful company, including the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon, have a loyal community that trusts their brand. Syed has an acute understanding of building a community and using its power to launch successful online businesses, and he says he'll continue to churn them out. Obviously, this WordPress media empire will grow into something even greater over time.
3 Steps to Launching a Successful WordPress Product
To end this piece, I want to share a piece of advice that Balkhi shared with me. If you want to enter the WordPress ecosystem and launch a successful product, follow Syed's 3-step blueprint for succeeding in the WordPress ecosystem:
Step 1. Become part of the WordPress Community
Unlike other ecosystems, WordPress is 100% community-driven. If you want to launch a successful WordPress product, then you need to embrace the community. This involves attending your local WordPress meetups, going to WordCamps, taking part in the WordPress support forums and Facebook groups.
You need to understand the core values of the WordPress project and embrace the spirit of GPL (General Public Project). It's nearly impossible to find success in the WordPress ecosystem without being part of the community; this is why billion-dollar companies like Godaddy, EIG, and others spend millions supporting community efforts.
Step 2. Identify a Problem and Offer a Solution
After you've become part of the community, and you have identified a major user pain-point, you need to offer a solution. If you want faster growth, freemium is the route you want to take in the WordPress ecosystem. The WordPress theme and plugin directory is a large source of traffic and new leads for WordPress businesses.
You need to have your product listed there if you want maximum exposure.
Step 3. Invite Feedback
As you build your product, invite feedback from your users as well as community influencers. This will not only help you improve your product, but it will help you earn five-star reviews and get press on popular WordPress media sites.
When attending or sponsoring WordCamps, don't just try to sell; have meaningful conversations. WordPress community events are different than any other marketing conferences. Having conversations and gathering feedback will make your company approachable and the users will see you as someone who understand the ecosystem. If you try to be salesy, you'll quickly earn a bad rep in the community.
If you follow this simple three-step formula, you'll be far more likely to succeed. Of course, there's a lot to be done along the way, but you simply can't ignore the community and succeed when it comes to WordPress.