Studio Wombat’s 2023

Illustration of 2023

At Studio Wombat, we value being honest and open as we grow. We want to show you that we plan to service our WooCommerce customers for the long haul. That’s why – since 2020 – we share a “year in review” report on our company’s performance and future plans. You can follow along with our journey!

You can read our past transparency reports here:

Now, let’s dive into our 2023 journey!

The year in numbers

  • Sold 3,922 new plugin licenses, compared to 3,275 in 2022. That’s a ~19% increase. Last year, the number of licenses sold decreased quite a bit (though revenue grew). It’s nice to see we’re bouncing back.
  • Revenue grew by 48% this year. Of course, our expenses increased too.
  • Average order value is $79 USD, which is up from $75 last year.
  • Released 0 new WooCommerce plugins: more on that later in this post.
  • Released 74 plugin updates across all plugins and add-ons (12 in total). WooCommerce has been shipping some larger features that required us to ship updates too. Popular plugins were updated every 4 weeks.
  • On average, we get 13.6 new support threads per day; that’s 2 threads/day more than last year. We received a whopping 15,452 messages this year!
  • Support ticket distribution: 23% pre-sales, 9% licensing questions, 68% technical questions.
  • We wrote 24 additional help articles this year. The knowledge base now contains 148 articles.
  • Our free plugins are now running on more than 50,300 websites.
  • We have amazing customers in 154 countries, from the US to Kyrgyzstan.

How we grew our WooCommerce plugin business this year

Last year, we focused a lot on product development. This year, we continued that trend but also invested a lot of time and effort into spreading our name. After all, it’s hard to grow if nobody knows we exist!

Let’s have a look at what we did this year.

Stop focusing on the WordPress repository

For years, we relied on traffic from the WordPress plugin repository. It’s easier to work with than Google, but ultimately we didn’t want to keep all our eggs in one basket. If the WordPress team decides to make changes to their search algorithm, we might be negatively impacted. The same can be said about Google, but that’s exactly why it’s beneficial to spread the risk.

Case in point: in late 2022, the WordPress team took away the only useful statistics product developers had access to. They did this without warning and without openly discussing alternative solutions. Since then, a part of the community has tried to reverse this decision or find out if something else can be done. Leadership responded vaguely and made it clear they’re not interested in a solution.

This left us with a bad feeling and proved that – as product developers relying on the repository – we’re quite vulnerable.

This year we decided it was time to stop focusing on the WP repository as our largest source of traffic.

A proper content strategy

If we’re no longer focusing on the WordPress plugin repository, how do we keep our business afloat? We needed to be found through other search engines as well.

We’ve partnered with a marketing agency to help with our content strategy and position in the Google search rankings. They handle everything from A to Z: they come up with content ideas and write blog articles. As a result, we’ve doubled the amount of articles compared to last year.

This is by far the biggest project we took on this year, and it didn’t go without hiccups. A lot of our focus was necessary to make this a success. Luckily, we’re already seeing a small increase in traffic after it being stagnant for more than a year. SEO is a long game, so we’ll need to be patient and let Google do its thing!

Graph of 2023 traffic on our site
Our Google Analytics graph of 2023.

Subscription renewals

As you may know, we switched from one-time payments to subscriptions fairly recently (in the course of 2021). As a result, 2023 is the first full year where we saw the compounding effect of subscription renewals. Last year, we only enjoyed half a year of subscription renewals coming in. As predicted, part of our growth can be attributed to this move.

As a customer, we understand subscriptions are a bit of nuisance and can be hard to keep track of. But as a business, this is what allows us to continue improving our products (which is a must when WordPress is evolving so quickly). Simply put, if it wasn’t for yearly subscription renewals, we wouldn’t be able to hire a support or marketing team.

Affiliates

In March 2023, we started our affiliate program in the hopes of spreading our name further. Bloggers and content creators who write or talk about our work can enjoy a 20% commission on each referral.

We quickly gained more than 50 affiliates, but in reality only a handful of those bring in actual sales. First, we auto-approved new affiliates, which meant anyone could sign up – even those just trying to get a discount. That’s against the spirit of the affiliate program, so we quickly switched to a manual approval process.

Since the program is quite new and not well-known yet, we’ve only paid out $1k to our affiliates so far. It’s a start and it will continue to be a part of our 2024 plan too.

Joining a mastermind

Illustration of the Wombat Plugins team

Studio Wombat is run by a team of three, with one solo founder at the rear. Needless to say, making decisions is a lonely practice. That’s why masterminds are a huge help: you meet with like-minded business owners once or twice a month and share struggles, questions, or ideas.

This year, our founder joined 2 masterminds: one specific to WordPress and one specific to WooCommerce.

The WordPress community is already one of the nicest tech communities around, but wait until you join a mastermind where everything just clicks and its members are on the road to becoming friends!

If you’re a business owner reading this, I can recommend spending time to find such a group, as it will make your life a lot easier.

Participate in the community

This year, we attended 3 large WordCamps: WordCamp Europe, WordCamp US, and WordCamp The Netherlands. While this has a relatively small impact in terms of wider brand awareness (at least for us – other brands may have a different view on this), it’s always fun and educational to meet and network with the WordPress community.

Friends from Studio Wombat, PublishPress and Sunshine Photo Cart
Meeting friends from PublishPress and Sunshine Photo Cart at WordCamp US

We also participated in our first podcast, which sounds small, but as a team of introverts, it takes a lot to put ourselves out there!

In the episode, we talked about running a WooCommerce plugin business. You can listen to the recording here:

Business Podcast with Studio Wombat

Enhancing our support process

As our company grows, offering timely support remains the biggest bottleneck. The more licenses we sell, the more people will contact us with questions. This year alone, we received more than 15,000 (new & replied to) messages! That’s a massive number.

We focused a lot on improving our support process. We’ll explain what we did below, but first, let’s look at some numbers:

  • 4,972 conversations, with 15,452 messages received (this includes customer replies).
  • 44% of those tickets are resolved on the first reply.
  • The average first response time was 7h 52m. This is slower than we’d like, but it includes longer response times over weekends and holidays.
  • 40% of the tickets are replied to within the hour.
  • The team has 1 dedicated support agent.

Here’s what we did to improve support:

Wombat AI

It was hard to miss: AI – and in particular ChatGPT – really took the internet by storm this year. It’s a new trend that’s hard to ignore and we’re big believers of using AI to our benefit without diminishing human skills.

Image of a robot shacking hands with a human

Naturally, we looked into how we could use ChatGPT to our advantage!

Most basic questions can be answered by checking the documentation. However, we understand that customers prefer quick solutions without having to go into too much detail. So we hooked up ChatGPT to our documentation and our contact forms. Whenever a user has a question, ChatGPT will try to find an answer first.

Our documentation now works with 3 steps:

  1. Customers can formulate their question in a clear way:
    Support form step 1
  2. Wombat AI will try to find an answer first:
    Support form step 2
  3. If the answer was not helpful, users can send their question to our support staff.

The aim of this project is two-fold: we want to help customers get an answer quickly, while also relieving some stress for the support team.

But AI is not without its faults either:

  • Customers often have questions relating to their specific scenario. AI technology is not smart enough yet to answer those, so the user is left with an extra step in our contact flow.
  • You’re leaving it up to the user to decide if an AI reply is true or false.

For now, we don’t have exact numbers on how many tickets have been solved via AI. It’s on the 2024 to-do list to implement analytics for it. However, what’s clear is that we get less basic questions and our support load is still manageable with 1 dedicated agent (which may change soon, though).

In 2024, we’ll have to measure whether the AI agent helps more people than it irritates.

We want your feedback

If you're a customer and you had an experience with our AI, please share with us how it went.

Improved documentation

AI forced us to look at our documentation in a different way. If it wasn’t able to find answers that are clearly outlined somewhere in the docs, it means we did a poor job of explaining it.

This was a great exercise to make things more understandable for both humans and AI. As a result, we rewrote a bunch of documents, added additional information, or reworded existing bits so AI can find them more easily for its replies.

On top of that, we also wrote 24 additional help articles this year. The knowledge base now contains 148 articles.

We’ve grown but haven’t created new plugins

We work differently to most other WooCommerce plugin shops: we don’t launch new plugins if we feel our current offering can be enhanced feature-wise (without bloating the code of course). That’s exactly what we did the past 2 years: we focused on the plugins we already have and made them some of the best in the market (we know how this sounds, but it’s true for some of our plugins!).

When a plugin is solid enough, we’re ready to move on to something new. This doesn’t mean older plugins don’t get updates or new features. It just means we can divide our focus to other areas. In fact, we will always circle back to older plugins. Every few months, we go through the code base from scratch and check where we can improve speed and frontend script size.

Unfortunately, there’s going to come a point where revenue will stagnate as there are only so many people we can reach while keeping costs in check. Simply put, we’ll need to work on new plugins if we want to keep growing. With that in mind, we’ll have to step up our game in 2024!

Did we meet our goals?

Our main goal for the year was to focus on producing interesting content, and we successfully got the ball rolling on that front. But just like last year, the answer is: no, we didn’t quite hit our goal. We wanted to release 2 new plugins, but didn’t release any.

It’s definitely challenging to divide time between lots of different tasks. When you’re part of a small team, everyone is wearing different hats and learning about new things all the time. That’s what makes it interesting, but also challenging to put focus where it belongs.

The only solution is to hire extra hands, so the work can be divided and everyone can focus on their niche of the business, whether that’s offering support or developing new plugins.

Goals for 2024

A better checkout

We’re using Paddle to help with payment processing and tax calculation. While we’re generally happy with the tool, the checkout popup has very minimal settings to customize it. As a result, users are often confused about where to add discounts or business information (address and tax ID).

Paddle checkout popup

In 2024, we’d love to improve the checkout by building our own checkout page (if this is even possible with Paddle).

Release 2 new plugins

We’ve always liked the idea of becoming a one-stop-shop for quality WooCommerce plugins. To get there, we need to increase our plugin count. In 2024, we should at least release 2 new plugins that complements our current offering.

Brand awareness

Sadly, not many people know we exist or what we offer. We’ve made some good first steps to improve our search rankings, but there’s lots to be done still. In 2024, this will remain the largest focus point.

Check costs and processes

As our revenue grew, so did our costs. We’re happy investing money to grow the business (and to create more cute wombat illustrations), but we should vet our current costs and see where we can improve. For example, we might move from HelpScout to FreeScout for our customer support.

Divide and conquer

We’re very happy with what we’ve achieved this year: the business has grown by about 50% while we kept the core team small. But that comes with its own disadvantages: one dedicated support agent can’t really handle 15,400+ messages. In reality, the whole team is helping out. As as result, our founder is involved in all aspects of the business and can’t really afford to focus on one task at a time.

This needs to change. While we won’t fully get there in 2024, we should prioritize focus and hire extra help to fill in the gaps.

Personal 2023 takeaways

I (Maarten, the founder) wrote this year in review through the eyes of Studio Wombat, but want to offer some personal takeaways too:

  • I still love helping out with support. It’s the best way to learn about our customers and find out what they want. As the business grows, I will always set aside time to keep doing this.
  • I thought I was a typical developer, but I’m enjoying some time away from code to work on business growth too.
  • I love spending time with the wider WordPress community. This year, I spent more time chatting with WordPressers than any other year (in Slack, on Twitter, or through video) and I learn a lot from these conversations. I’ll happily set aside time to talk and see if I can help others.
Are you a Woo product owner?

If you're a WooCommerce product owner reading this, please reach out for a chat, I'd love to connect and see how we can help each other grow!

Wrapping up

Overall, 2023 was a great year for Studio Wombat! It was the first full year where working on the business took priority over working in the business.

We have allocated more time and resources towards marketing and growth (without neglecting existing products) and should continue that trend in 2024.

Thank you to our readers and customers

We’d like to thank you, our customers and readers, everyone on Team Wombat, and our friends and colleagues in the WordPress community. Without you, this journey would not have been possible!

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