It’s alway great chatting with someone who works or owns a company that puts out WooCommerce plugins. But chatting with someone about their 100+ plugins is a different story.
A Conversation with Ronald Gijsel from YITH
In episode 44 of our podcast, Brad Williams and I chat with Ronald about:
- How their focus on WooCommerce plugins came to be
- What it takes for the team to push out so many plugins
- How plugin ideas are born
- Will every plugin idea come to inception?
- The true power behind user feedback
- How he began with WordPress and doing the Woo
- His first four months at YIThemes
Thanks to our sponsors
Talking with Ronald about all that goes behind 100+ WooCommerce plugins was the catalyst for getting the conversation started.
Of course we had to dive into learning more about why the focus on WooCommerce extensions. It’s always interesting to see how a company that starts with creating themes makes this transition.
Ronald also walks us through how their team of developers oversee and maintain such a large library of plugins. As you can guess, it is a team effort.
With Ronald having been in the Woo market for some time, and creating so many plugins, we look at how plugin ideas are born. As you will learn, user feedback is a significant approach and asking the right questions is very critical, as Ronald explains.
Of course, there is also the question of how many of these plugin ideas never transpire.
We wrap back around to the user feedback and how that plays into the pushing out of plugins. He gives us a great example with their most recent Elementor compatibility.
Ronald takes us back into how he started with WordPress and WooCommerce. And like so many others, former jobs were not always working with tech.
We round out the conversation by asking Ronald, who has been full-time with YITH for four months now, to give us a look at how that transition from ambassador to employee has gone for him.
- WPMainline Brings Us New Forums, Including WooCommerce Junction
- COVID-19 Guidance for Meetup Organizers via WooCommerce
- Ronald Joins as New Co-Host for WooCommerce London Meetup
- YITH Plugins Compatible with the Elementor Page Builder
Where to find Ronald on the web:
Brad: Welcome back to another exciting episode of Do the Woo. I'm Brad, one half of the amazing group we have here. And we also have Mr. BobWP. What's up, Bob?
Bob: Doing good under the circumstances. We're surviving here. I'm a homebody anyway, so I have self-quarantined my entire life.
Brad: You have been preparing for this forever. Yeah, definitely interesting times. I'm sure we'll be talking about some of the things going on around the virus that's got everyone's attention— for good reason. But before we do that, let's thank our sponsors for the show. As always, we have WooCommerce as our community sponsor. We love WooCommerce. It's what we're talking about here. So we definitely want to thank WooCommerce for supporting this show.
We also have Fooevents.com. If you're looking to add ticket functionality to your WooCommerce website, sell tickets, track tickets, RSVPs, all that good stuff, it's a really powerful tool. Check it out. FooEvents.com..
And the the newer product in the space, WPSiteSync, is a super cool product that lets you sync content between different environments: local staging or dev production and syncing content to and from. It's always a challenge people have. How do they sync content without just copy and paste. So check out WPSiteSync.com for all that goodness.
With that, let's get right into it. We've got a really exciting guest. I'm excited to talk to him a little bit about what he does, but I'll let him introduce himself. We have Ronald Gijsel. Hey, Ronald, welcome to the show.
Ronald: Hi, I'm good. Thank you very much for having me. It's really a privilege.
Brad: Awesome. We're excited to have you on and hopefully I I didn't butcher your last name too much. I tried.
Ronald: No, perfect.
Brad: Great. Well Ronald, for anyone not familiar with who you are, why don't you give a quick bio: who you are, what you do, how it relates to WooCommerce, and we'll dig in from there.
Ronald: So, hi, my name is Ronald Gijsel. I live here in the UK, but I work for a company which is based in Tenerife or at least 50% of it. The other 50% is based in Sicily, in Catania, and the company is called a YITH, which stands for your inspiration themes, the mother of the company Your Inspiration Solutions.
We create and develop mainly WooCommerce plugins, all sorts of plugins, from the moment where you come on the site all the way to the end of checkout and admin. In total, we have well over a hundred plugins now on our platform which are all available. A lot of them have free versions as well. I think on the free versions alone, we have had over one and a half million installations.
Focusing on WooCommerce Plugins
Brad: That's really impressive. Just the amount of products you have, over a million installs, you said. That's awesome. I always love to hear good success stories like that. So, maybe we can kind of dig into how you got to where you're at today. I would imagine from YITH, which stands for your inspiration themes, you started out in themes. Maybe tell us how you got to the WooCommerce world and where those decisions came from to put more of a narrow focus on that product.
Ronald: Yeah, so in 2009, the founder and CEO, Nando Pappalardo, was working for a an IT company in Italy. He noticed that the Italian web development and the WordPress ecosphere wasn't as advanced as some of the other countries, like in the US and the UK. So his inspiration was to create a blog and teach Italians better web design, web development, and WordPress use. So outside of work, he would blog and blog and blog. And slowly that evolved into creating themes for WordPress. In three or four years, he became the number one theme seller on Envato, generating several millions of dollars creating those themes, which some were compatible with WooCommerce. They can load it with functionality. You probably remember the time that themes were the all-in-one packages with everything attached to them.
One of the first plugins was Ajax Search and it was very well received and the request was to have that as a standalone plugin. So that was the first plugin. From there, the additional WooCommerce functionality was set apart as individual plugins. And in the last five, six years, it's been a Woo focus with plugins and a few themes still available.
However, we've just released another theme, a free theme. It's called Proteo, which is a bit of a vanilla starter theme to get your WooCommerce site looking really well from the start, but also just to make sure that all our plugins are compatible with it and work with it as a testing blank canvas.
Brad: Yeah, I think it's interesting because I remember, and Bob, I'm sure remembers, that two years ago like you said, Ronald, there's a lot of theme markets out there, marketplace theme companies out there over the years in the market and it got really saturated.
One way that I think themes are standing out, which is it looks similar to what you are doing is to to have those specific themes with built in functionality for a restaurant or something. To take a theme a little bit further and to stand out in the crowd. Focus more on a specific niche or vertical. I think a lot of people had a lot of success with that. I know a number of companies with the exact same path where they started with themes or taking more functionality into themes, and then as that market got so saturated, they realized, we can actually extract this functionality into a plugin.
It vastly opens up the market for customers rather than just switching out your whole theme. Get the restaurant plugin or whatever the feature that you actually want and use it with whatever theme. I know a number of companies that went that route and I don't think many have been quite as successful as you guys have, because with the amount of plugins and downloads and everything you have, it's quite an impressive portfolio. It's an interesting evolution of how companies started with themes and then really focused on plugins and were very successful by doing that.
The Team Behind the Company
Ronald: Yeah. I joined a company about four months ago although before that I was sort of a brand ambassador working for them. But I'm really amazed and surprised how they created this portfolio and how they maintain it. Over the last few months as I started talking with developers, overlooking what they were doing, asking lots of questions about how they create this plugin library and maintain it. Only last week WooCommerce 4.0 came out and I think pretty much all our plugins were ready, tested and compatible with the latest WooCommerce version with our team of about 30 developers.
The way they do it is you have one person, they look after their own plugin, we call it the babies because they created the plugin and know it inside out, so they look after it. But under that person, you have a group of support developers that know the plugin really well and offer support for that plugin. But that group of developers changes.
So for the next few months, we have three developers that support this group of plugins and then they move on to another set. So everybody knows the plugins inside out and moved through our whole portfolio. In a surprising way it's become very effective. The other thing, as well, is we have one framework on which all the plugins are built, so the structure isn't recycled. One upgrade affects all plugins.
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How Plugin Ideas are Born
Bob: I'm curious. You have this many plugins and it's a market that you've been in awhile, which explains also why you have this many plugins compared to a lot of people who are just stepping into the WooCommerce extension market at this point. Where do those ideas come from for the next plugin you create? Can you walk us through how your ideas are born?
Ronald: Yeah, it's a mixture of things. Of course, it's feedback from customers through support. And the web developer or designer comes up with things. But the most popular scenario is we have this club membership whereby you can you pay an annual fee and you can use all the plugins in the library for 6 or 30 site licenses. This is a very popular way of making use of all of them. And that's very much our focus. We want to add value to this club membership. And one of the ways of adding value is also engaging with these users. So we ask them a bit after they sign up and send them an email. How you getting on? Do you have any suggestions? Is there something you'd like to see? And one of the biggest questions is what plugin do you think we should develop next?
Of course everybody has their own opinion because, if you're on a project, you think, I could really do with a shipping plugin or a a multi-vendor extension to do payments into my vendors’ accounts. So these ideas are being harvested through these club members. Then we look for a pattern where quite a few people have requested this. We then get our UX developer, a designer, to do all the research and think outside the box, for the absolute best scenario to manage this plugin. It's completely with a blank canvas. What would I like to see it do as far as the whole user interface?
Then these designs are parceled to a group of one or two developers who lay it all out. It's overseen by a senior developer and then within weeks, months, it evolves, depending on the size of the plugin, and the plugin is born. Once the plugin comes to market, it's a really nice team effort because you know the deadline is coming nearer and nearer. We start writing blog articles about it. We link it from other pages to the tutorials, the documentation. Everybody gets a briefing of what the key functionalities are, and so on and so on. And then of course, the big release out into the wild web. And off it goes.
Is Every Plugin Idea Finished?
Bob: That's interesting because I think of the UX designer and the developers. Anything ever fall on their table and they go, “You gotta be kidding. This sounds like a great idea. But what world do you live in?” And I'm assuming before it even drops on the developers table, is it even realistic to do this?
Ronald: Yes. A lot more research goes into it and a lot more thinking even throughout the process. You have your ups and downs and think, yeah, it's great, but this will take a little bit more time.
And I think a key example that I've experienced in the last few months was the release of the Point of Sale plugin. That was completely designed from the ground up and was in development for more than a year or so. It had several starts with new developers to bring it up to a really good standard. So yeah, there are definitely quite a few challenges within, but the pool of developers that we are working with now who have eight, nine, ten years with the company and at least eight years of dedicated WooCommerce development, I think we have quite a good pool of talent.
Brad: Yeah. I love what you said about gathering feedback and ideas and thoughts from your user base. That's an area that you obviously have a leg up on, having a really large base of customers using your current products. So I'm assuming a lot of the information back from them is super valuable.
I would imagine you also have a really active beta testing group of users who are loyal to your products and interested in what new stuff is coming out and are happy to try out either major updates to existing products or new products. Which is a huge step up from someone starting out fresh who doesn't have access to any of that.
Pushing Out Plugins and the Power of User Feedback
Ronald: It's a scary world to bring out a plugin into the WordPress and WooCommerce ecospheres because people can be quite harsh when it comes to feedback. We've learned a lot of lessons and are still learning. But you just pick yourself up and improve and keep going until you know exactly what you're doing right and what to improve on.
And on user feedback, one of the things that was very much requested was the integration of Elementor and it's not something we've looked at because it's a page builder, is something that lives on the site and suddenly, boom, it's there. You know, what do you do? So we took the bold decision to say let’s embrace this and make every plugin compatible with Elementor. It took quite a bit of a convincing for all of the developers. But I think in the last couple of weeks they all took it in and learned how to do it, how to create these widgets and then moved on. It's surprising how fast a customer requested a thing and it became the norm as part of the development project.
How Ronald Got Into WordPress and Started Doing the Woo
Bob: So personally, I'm curious, you've been with them for about four months and you were a brand ambassador before that. Personally, maybe in a nutshell, how did you get into WordPress and when did you start doing the Woo?
Ronald: Doing the Woo? Yeah, well, I've been doing the Woo for seven, or over seven years now. I owned a restaurant with my wife. And we fell into that because we were both studying. She was studying computer science, I was studying marketing. So the plan was there, but then we fell into owning an Italian restaurant. Anyway, after seven, eight years, ups and downs, we were flooded. We had a son and we realized we can't carry on. So we took the brave decision to say we are going to change our career. And we're doing it now. For several years, slowly. She finished her degree while I carried on working as a chef in pubs.
I started to learn affiliate marketing back in the good old days. You learn very quickly how to publish content. I was working with Joomla at that time. A job came up for a WordPress web designer. So within, I think it was three days before the interview, I learned WordPress from some video tutorials. It was an OS training. And I don't know if you're familiar with Topher DeRosia. He was my my tutor and he taught me, although he didn't realize it, how to use WooCommerce. So that's really when I started doing the Woo from that moment and realized that with a few clicks and adding a PayPal account you can actually earn something. And that was a great Woo moment.
Since then I’ve been a web designer, owned a micro agency together with my wife, got in touch with the guys at YITH, met them at WordCamps and from there, the conversation grew to the moment where they said, Would you like to work with us, because we can see you can add some value. So here we are.
Brad: Very cool. I love to hear where people started before they got into WordPress. I feel like the demographic is younger in terms of people working on WordPress, but they're still old enough that people have had a career before getting into WordPress full time. And it's usually not related to WordPress or tech, which is always always fun to hear. Like my business partner, Lisa Sabin- Wilson, who many people know was a nurse prior to getting into WordPress. So it's always fun to hear those stories of the path you took and where you landed.
Ronald: I agree. And I think everybody's story gives us a bit of a history, whether it's business, nursing or any side business. It gives you more experience one way or another.
Brad: Yeah, absolutely agree.
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The First Four Months at YITH
Bob: Well, this is good stuff. Anything else you want to add, maybe something about the past four months? Anything you've learned by moving to working for them full time?
Ronald: I spent a week in Tenerife where the head offices are and the guys from Sicily came over. Working with these guys who are so dedicated, I've got huge respect for them. But it's also now my job to share that with the wider world that these developers who work tirelessly creating these functionalities, supporting customers and sharing this with the WordPress and WooCommerce community, that we're all part of this economy and doing our bit. I just really, really enjoy it. I absolutely love what I'm doing.
WPMainline and the WooCommerce Junction Forum
Bob: Excellent. Well, a couple of bits of news I wanted to just touch on. We did go into 4.0 in depth last week when we had Paul on the show. But one thing I did want to bring up is, I'm sure a lot of listeners already know this, but WPMainline, just started by Jeff, the previous founder and who ran WPTavern for years and years, has started a new news site as well as some forums. He's included a forum called WooCommerce Junction in line with his love of trains and the theme of this site. So he's trying to build forums with less friction and more help. So we'll see how that goes, but you'll want to check that out over at WPMainline.com.
COVID-19 and WooCommerce Meetups
Then last week we touched on a bit with Jonathan, the cohost, about the corona virus and WooCommerce meetups. So we're all talking about this. This has pretty much absorbed our lives, the virus. And there is an actual document that gives some direction of where they are going with WooCommerce meetups. I know that I had this wonderful idea of re-starting the Seattle WooCommerce about three months ago and was moving towards it and then this hiccup came along. So needless to say, I'll be looking at virtual options.
But anyway, it's just something you can check out if you're interested in WooCommerce meetups and what's going on with that. As far as announcements. I want to shift over to Ronald as he had something to share that segues exactly into what I was just talking about as far as WooCommerce meetups. So why don't you tell us a couple things you have going on?
Ronald Joins as Co-Host of the the London WooCommerce Meetup
Ronald: Yeah. I think the main one is that I am now one of the co-hosts of the WooCommerce London meetup. It's a meetup that existed for quite a few years, but the last meeting was two years ago. And since then it sort of fell asleep. So Lisa, who’s the other cohost, and I are now tasked with reviving it, but it couldn't come at a more unfortunate period of time. We still want to go ahead but will probably start out digitally. And we've had some interesting conversations on the Slack channel, haven’t we, Bob?
Bob: We have. I know everybody's working it out as far as meetups and other virtual events and it'll be interesting to see where that goes. So that's cool and you gotta start sometime. That's how I feel because if I just let it sit for this indefinite amount of time, we might as well do something virtual. What's going on with the meetup in Philly, Brad?
Philly WordPress Meetup Goes Virtual
Brad: Our meetup is this Thursday and we're just doing it virtual so we don't have to cancel it. We want to keep as much normalcy as we can. There's a lot of awesome online tools like Zoom and others. We're using SquadCast here but there are other ways that you can easily do this. We're going to have speakers come on remote and everybody can join. We will use zoom for this particular one. We don't have the webinar option and we are going to do it just as a normal Zoom call so we can have up to a 100 people. If it's successful and people like it, there's a Zoom add-on, I think it's 40 bucks a month, where you can push it to YouTube live or Facebook live.
So then it would be accessible to really anybody on the internet while we're doing it. We might look at that option for a future meetup. But in a pinch, it's an easy way to do it, right? It's certainly not the same as sitting in a room together, but right now that doesn't seem to be like a good idea. So we can still get that information out and still connect with the community and be together for a little bit, even though it's virtual.
Ronald: I'm really excited to see what comes out of out of this period because people come up with their creative solutions when the need is there. So to see in just a very few days that meetups create an online community, but then also have listeners from the other side of the world. For the local WordPress meetup tonight, we will not be online, but people have committed to coming join us from the other side of the country. And I can see that just growing more and more.
Bob: Yeah. That's what I think is interesting. You can actually dabble in some other meetups and kind of get a taste of that community easily. I think there’s going to be some cool stuff going on.
I know you have another thing you wanted to touch on Ronald around how you're working with Elementor.
YITH and Elementor
Ronald: Yeah. So I mentioned it earlier. It's quite a new thing and something we've been experimenting with. Looking beyond the standard WooCommerce/WordPress integration and working with other partners. Elementor is the first one that we are working with closely. We are sharing code and making sure we do best practices. We're now working on 100% compatibility with all our plugins. It's just an extra thing for the users. We have no idea how people will take this.
Bob: Brad, anything on your end? Any announcements or anything exciting?
Brad: No, hunkering down for the lockdown period here, like I think a lot of us are doing. So you know, just trying to keep business as usual, right? It's different times that we're in right now, so everything's changing a little bit, but luckily many of us are already remote and very comfortable with it, so we can help those who aren't. Especially clients, friends, colleagues, things like that.
Ronald: Yeah, it's a very uncertain time for many businesses and quite a scary time as well because how long is this going to last?
Brad: Yeah, I think the unknown is a scary part. But I think on the positive side, what I've seen and hopefully what you both have seen, is the local community rallying together and trying to help each other out. Help the elderly, bring them supplies so they can stay home. Even all the online stuff for kids. Museums and libraries that are closed down but are doing live streaming shows for kids throughout the day, sharing curriculum to keep the kids busy. I think it's just really cool to see local communities and the global community want to tackle this together and do what we can to get through it. So on a positive note, I think that's pretty, pretty encouraging to see.
Bob: Yeah, I agree. We gotta pull together and that's what's gonna make it happen. We're all gonna get through and we're resilient, flexible and creative. And I totally agree that we can do this together. So Ronald, before we all head out, where can people connect with you on the web?
Where to Connect with Ronald
Ronald: Well, if they want to check out the company I work for, YIThemes, it's YIThemes.com. But I would also love to meet people in person. Fortunately, we can't do that now at WordCamps. We were trying to beat our 20-WordCamp target from last year, but there's no way that's going to happen this year. It will have to be social media. So Twitter I think is the easiest, it's @Just2Ronald. Look me up on LinkedIn. I'd love to have conversations, maybe book a hangout session with me.
Bob: All right, excellent. Well, it's been great having you on, learning more about the company and what you've done yourself in the space.
I'd just like to thank the sponsors one more time before we head out. FooEvents.com. As I mentioned earlier, you can get 100% free license for a full year at FooEvents.com/dothewoo,.
WooCommerce.com. Don't forget to check them out. They are having a sale right now with 40% off everything. No coupon needed. It ends March 20th, I think it's midnight Pacific standard time.
And of course WPSiteSync. Check them out at WPSiteSync.com. I was playing around with it myself the other day and it's pretty slick. It works seamlessly and it was so easy to update stuff, even though I don't have a store. I was pretending I had a store and pretended I was really excited because my stuff was updated. But, it's an excellent new product out there.
And as usual, you can always subscribe. You can find us on your favorite pod platform. You can sign up for Woo news, become a friend, all that good stuff at BobWP.com. Again, Ronald, thank you very much for joining us. It was a true pleasure.
Brad: It was great, thanks Ronald.
Ronald: Thank you so much. A real privilege, thank you.