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2021 Year in Review

January 1, 2022 Year Review

This is my 10th year of writing a review of the year, and like the previous year, 2021 was both good and bad.

I finished last year’s review hoping for “a healthy and prosperous year for my family and me”, but by two weeks into 2021, COVID had hit my family hard and we had a tough January.

At times it’s felt like we’ve been recovering ever since. 😬

On reflection, as hard as 2021 was personally, it has been generally successful for me professionally.

Projects

Plugin Rank

Plugin Rank was a SaaS project I started in May 2020 to help WordPress plugin developers track and improve their rankings in WordPress.org search results.

The year started strong, hitting $1k MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and adding a bunch of new features in February. I also had some big features planned, including making it easier to find plugins that were potential opportunities to acquire.

In May I started to chat with Syed Balkhi from Awesome Motive who was interested in using Plugin Rank to replace a similar internal tool which wasn’t as feature rich. These conversations led to an offer to acquire Plugin Rank, and after some deliberation and negotiation, we signed the purchase agreement on the 19th May and publicly announced the sale at the start of June.

Syed mentioned the reasoning behind the acquisition in the recent ‘Gamechangers’ video series:

Selling Plugin Rank was one my biggest achievements of 2021, it allowed me to focus on other projects, and give me a decent return on investment for such a young project. I wrote more about the journey from creating a SaaS to selling it here.

WP User Manager

2021 continued the strong revenue trend that WP User Manager closed 2020 with, and it was becoming clear that it could become a key revenue stream for me going forward.

I’m pleased to say that 2021 revenue increased 104% from 2020.

Although I started the year with a major release and another in April, the cadence of larger releases really slowed as the year went on with no new addons being released. However, there were some significant releases to existing addons.

I didn’t manage to release functionality that would allow site owners to charge for registration which was disappointing. Although the WooCommerce addon has integrated checkout functionality in the registration flow that is merged and awaiting release once I start work after the festive holidays.

Development of bug fixes and new features started well with two freelance developers working across the plugin and addons, but due to a combination of their mixed availability and me being busy with other things, meant it took longer to get code shipped. This is something I’m looking to change in 2022.

A huge positive change that I took in 2021 was to hire a dedicated support person (through LevelUp) to manage my support inbox for an hour a day. It’s been a massive change to my life, allowing me to only work on the tickets that need my attention and giving customers much faster support. Having someone constantly replying to support tickets has been a large weight off my mind and has helped improve my mental wellbeing.

I’m hoping 2022 is another year of growth for the plugin.

FlipWP

I partnered up with Alex Denning in June to launch a new private acquisition marketplace for WordPress product businesses – FlipWP. We’d been talking for a while and collaborated due to the intersection of Plugin Rank and his WordPress product marketing agency, and it became clear that joining forces on a project made a lot of sense.

FlipWP launched well and we’ve had a continual stream of businesses listings for sale and new buyer membership sign ups ever since. It’s great to see deals being done. There’s room for improvement, building a two sided marketplace is a challenge, but we have plans and drive to make it better in 2022.

It’s also proved that Alex and I work really well together. He’s a strong marketer and I build things quickly. We are excited to see what we can do next together.

Other

Intagrate hasn’t had enough of my attention this year and revenue and product quality has suffered as a result. WP User Manager has rightly taken the majority of my focus, but Intagrate still deserves more. I aim to change that this year.

Sellwire continued its growth that the pandemic had kickstarted last year. 2021 saw a 100% increase of revenue from 2020.

In February, I acquired a small free plugin WP Social Preview from Gilbert Pellegrom but I’ve yet to have chance to build out the Pro version.

Clients

I continued working with Delicious Brains as a product manager, helping the team ship more great releases to our plugins. In April we finally shipped v2.0 of WP Migrate DB Pro and hitting that milestone enabled us to ship more features faster as the year went on.

The biggest Delicious Brains news of 2021 was the acquisition of Advanced Custom Fields in June. This was and still is simply huge. ACF is my favourite WordPress plugin and to have been involved in bringing it to the Delicious Brains family of plugins, and now managing it day-to-day is mind blowing.

Podcasting

It was a bit of a slower year for Pressing Matters, where Jack and I only recorded 7 new episodes. This was due to both of us being busy with projects, and house moves/renovation. It’s disappointing but we always said the podcast should fit around us and not be something we stress about. That being said, I’m looking forward to getting back to a more regular recording schedule next year.

I was involved in a number of other podcasts and interviews this year. I was part of Freemius’ second round of the ‘Experts Corner’ video series, chatted on four episodes of the Delicious Brain Waves podcast, brainstormed WordPress opportunities with Jakob Greenfield, appeared on the Week in WordPress panel, chatted on WP Café about selling plugins, and chatted with Alex and Joe Howard about WordPress acquisitions on the WP MRR podcast.

Writing

I seemed to write less this year in terms of blog posts. I never quite made it to hitting publish on my WP User Manager retrospective since acquiring it, and didn’t write any new posts on the Delicious Brains blog.

I did however start a new email newsletter in March. WP Trends provides WordPress market insights, trends, and acquisition opportunities. Although at times I found it hard to keep the monthly schedule, it became my main writing outlet, writing 6 long-form emails.

I also was the guest editor for a WP Owls newsletter and was interviewed on the Convesio blog.

Personal

It’s clear to me that in the first half of the year I was working too hard, and doing too many things. After the sale of Plugin Rank I slowed down. I found myself unmotivated to work on my projects night after night into the early hours. I needed to slow down before I burnt out.

My attention was also taken elsewhere. In the second half of the year, with lockdowns ended and life slowly returning back to normal, my wife and I made a big effort to finish off the renovation of our house. It was busy and stressful but ultimately rewarding. We finished the year with the house finished and allowing us to enjoy it with the children rather than constantly thinking about what work needed to be done.

When the children returned to school in September after the summer holidays, I started regularly going to the gym for the first time since before my youngest was born. It felt good to be regularly lifting weights again and I could feel the positive effect it was having on me. Focusing more on my health and fitness also meant trying to get better sleep which helped curb the late night coding.

Rex turned 7 and Pearl turned 4 🤯 We didn’t attempt a holiday this year but tried to make the most of our garden and surrounding areas despite the weather being much worse this year than the heatwave lockdowns of 2020. I’m lucky to have a great family and look forward to making more memories in 2022.

Looking Ahead

My biggest goal for 2022 is to continue to grow my businesses whilst working smarter, to allow me to spend less time working and more time with my family.

I hope 2022 will see COVID rule less of our lives, and for my family and I to have a happy and healthy year.

Iain I’m a WordPress developer based on the south coast of England. I develop plugins like Intagrate and WP User Manager. I write about the WordPress ecosystem over at WP Trends.
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