Every business has it’s ups and downs, and finding success selling products online can be a windy road.
We’ve learned a lot about selling products, through both good and bad decisions. It’s been a fun journey, and while we still have a lot to learn, but we hope to help you by sharing some of our story.
Idea to Execution
Getting an idea and deciding to actually go for it is an exciting time.
It can also be sobering, as you learn that your idea is about 5% of the puzzle, and execution is the rest. A good idea can fail miserably with poor execution, and a mediocre idea can become great if executed well.
When we first had the idea to start a company that made mobile apps for WordPress we had no idea how it would work. We just thought it was a cool idea that no one else was really dominating, and there had to be a way to do it.
Nobody knows exactly how things will work out when they start, don’t let that deter you.
Our first idea was to build our own framework that allowed WordPress to access things like the device camera, which we thought would be difficult, but doable. As we started working on it, we realized the time it would take to build something like this from scratch wouldn’t be feasible for us.
Luckily we found Phonegap, and we realized they already built a lot of what we needed. Phonegap is open source, it’s mature, and it did just what we needed. Well, sort of.
Early Challenges and Wins
“Calm seas don’t make good sailors.”
Everybody doing something new and different will attest to encountering roadblocks. If you are committed, you just find a way around.
In our case, Phonegap only worked with static hybrid apps, so our next challenge was to make it work with WordPress. That required a bit of hacking, and there weren’t any tutorials online for it. I still remember the first time we added code to a WordPress page for the device camera, loaded it up in the Xcode simulator, and it worked! That was really exciting.
We still didn’t know if all app features would work, especially things like push notifications, or loading data into WordPress from the app. We knocked out one issue at a time, and started making each integration into a plugin. There were times we weren’t sure if it was all going to come together, but one piece at a time, it did.
The next big issue was if Apple was going to have an issue with our hack of Phonegap. We were using a remote webview, which was not anything new, but the way we used it wasn’t common. If Apple rejected our app, we were dead in the water.
I was pretty nervous after submitting our first app, the 2 week review time was torturous. Finally I got an email that they approved our app, and I was ecstatic. We were actually going to have a business!
We finished building our product and had a successful launch in January of 2014. Lesson learned: you can do more than you think you can.
One of the decisions you face after you’ve successfully launched is what to do next.
Do you continue building features for your current product, or expand with complementary products? Listening to your customers is a great way to determine your future path.
As we continued building and supporting AppPresser, we realized one of the main feature requests was offline support.
Since AppPresser loads your website in an app, offline support was similar to supporting offline for your website. It wasn’t easy. We experimented with a few different ways to do it, but nothing really made sense. Integrating with WordPress means you have a dynamic website that uses the server to generate each page, and making that happen offline is impossible.
We began to look into building apps using the WP-API, which offered some distinct advantages, but also some disadvantages. Eventually we settled on this being something we wanted to offer our customers, but building apps this way is not a job for a plugin. A SaaS (Software as a service) application makes much more sense for this type of thing, so we built Reactor.
What we did wrong
Business is messy. We all strive to make perfect decisions each step of the way, but no one does.
The sooner you accept that your path is going to be messy, to sooner you can let go of perfection and just get things done.
We’ve certainly made our fair share of mistakes, many of which were related to our launch of Reactor in December of 2014.
Competing with ourselves
AppPresser makes mobile apps with WordPress, and Reactor makes mobile apps with WordPress. They are fundamentally different products, but they essentially do the same thing. Releasing Reactor meant that we didn’t expand our customer base or increase revenue with a complementary product, we actually took sales away from AppPresser and sent them to Reactor.
This sounds pretty dumb, and I’m sure we could have found a better way to do it. We could have mulled it over for a few months to come up with a better plan, but it probably still would have caused problems. I’m a fan of the ready, fire, aim method, because it saves you from analysis paralysis. Your decisions are never going to be perfect, so you might as well get on with it.
I still believe this was the best choice in the long term, even though it caused short term problems. Reactor can do things that AppPresser will never be able to do (offline, non-WP integrations), and AppPresser will always do things Reactor can’t do (easy plugin/feature integration, putting the whole site in an app). Even though the products compete, this is the best way to offer our customers everything they need in the long term.
One of the worst parts of the Reactor launch was that now people had 2 choices for making their app, and they had to figure out which was best for them.
That means we got a lot of “Should I use AppPresser or Reactor?” emails, which probably hurt sales. We should have had a clearer separation for Reactor at the start, but it took us some time to figure that out.
We also gave off the impression that Reactor would kill or replace AppPresser. That was a mistake, because AppPresser continues to be the best way to build an app if you have a lot of feature rich plugins active on your site. We have no plans to discontinue AppPresser, and it continues to be a simple solution for WordPress apps.
Our plan now is to separate Reactor into it’s own domain and brand, and expand it beyond just WordPress. We believe the technology behind Reactor allows for more advanced mobile apps, so we will continue to push its development.
Confusing your customers is never a good thing, I highly advise against it.
What we did right
Even with all the mistakes we made, we have a successful business that is growing.
AppPresser sales are up from last year, and Reactor is really starting to gain traction as we continue to improve the product.
The best thing we did was to create something exciting that filled a need. We didn’t execute perfectly, but nobody does.
No one is doing everything perfectly, and you don’t have to either.
Business is messy, it’s impossible to do everything right. If your core message resonates, that can cover a multitude of sins.
I believe in our products, our team, and where our development is headed. We’ll most certainly make more mistakes, but that won’t stop us from growing and improving.
That’s our story up until now, and I hope we have lots more to tell in the years to come.
What’s your story?