Interview with Pippin Williamson from PippinsPlugins


Last week, we ran a successful giveaway and fundraiser to celebrate WPBeginner’s 5th birthday and help build 2 schools in Guatemala through Pencils of Promise charity. This would not be possible without our Platinum sponsors who donated $5000 towards the campaign. I want to highlight each of them by interviewing them about their business.

In this interview, we have Pippin Williamson, founder of PippinsPlugins and Easy Digital Downloads.

Pippin and I first met at the WordPress community summit. We started talking more after hanging out at several WordCamps across U.S.

I have always been a big fan of Pippin’s work specially with his Easy Digital Downloads plugin. We use his plugin to sell our products such as OptinMonster.

Pippin always gives back to the community, so it was no surprise to me when he stepped up to become a Platinum level sponsor.

Having that said, let’s jump into the interview.

1. What was your first experience with WordPress?

During high school, my brother became very interested in 3D modeling and ran a small business where he would build and render models for clients. His site ran on WordPress and was built by a friend of his. At the time I had no idea what WordPress was but I was beginning to get interested in general web development (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc). My brother eventually asked if I could learn about WordPress so that I could make some modifications and improvements to the theme that his friend had built a year previously. Reluctantly, I agreed, and I hated it. The first time I looked into the inner workings of a theme I thought “what are all these PHP files? Why can’t we just use straight HTML? Why is this so complicated? This is dumb.”

It took several months before I warmed up to the software, but once I did, I quickly became enamored with it.

2. When did you create your first plugin and what was it?

After my brother managed to convince me to begin learning WordPress theme development, I was busy building sites for clients on WordPress. One particular client wanted a special feature for his site that would allow him to upload custom fonts and then apply them to any element on the page. This was before Google fonts. I managed to build the feature for him and then proceeded to write a tutorial about it, which was then published on shortly after. The tutorial is still available in the archives.

Once the tutorial was published, I began getting requests from readers for a plugin that offered the same functionality. Since the tutorial I had written was showing how to build the feature into a theme, it wasn’t quite plug-and-play.

My gut reaction to these requests to write a plugin was “no way, I have no clue how to do that. Plugins are hard and scary”. After a bit, however, I realized that learning to write a plugin would be good for me, so I started researching. Turns out, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought and a few days later I had the plugin ready to go. It was called Font Uploader and was still available up to just a few months ago.

After that first plugin, I never stopped writing plugins.

3. What was your main concern when you started selling your plugins?

To be honest, I don’t think I had any. My first commercial plugin was also the very first plugin I had ever written. I was very naive and knew next to nothing about business and, in fact, had no intention of creating a business out of it when I started. I had simply written a plugin and thought it’d be cool to see if I could make enough money off of it to buy a few cups of coffee.

It took releasing three or four additional commercial plugins before I really started to realize there was potential for a full time business and career in commercial plugins. At that point I began to have more concerns and began thinking about some of the bigger picture issues, but early on I just liked writing plugins, so I did.

4. With a growing list of plugins how do you mange the time needed to support all of them?

Even though I have a list of over 100 plugins I have written, the number of them that take effort of any kind to support is less than 10 or 15. Of those 10 to 15, only three have significant levels of support required to maintain them. These three are also responsible for 99% or more of the business’s revenue, so it makes sense that they take the most to support.

Providing quality customer support and doing so consistently is a challenge, however, but it is a vitally important aspect of maintaining a successful business, and for maintaining a good reputation among customers and colleagues.

Discovering a system that worked well for me and my team for handling customer support was crucially important. Early on, the systems used didn’t work very well, and it cost me. Sometimes it cost the respect of customers because of poor management of support requests. Sometimes it decreased the efficiency with which customers will helped with their questions and issues.

Once a high quality system was established, the most difficult challenge is simply keeping up with support tickets and not allowing the more difficult problems, or the more difficult customers, to have too much of a personal affect on moods and attitudes.

5. When you create a plugin, are there any universal rules you try to follow?

For me, I try to never write plugins that I would not personally use. If I do not have a use case for the plugin, it makes it far, far more difficult for me to maintain a high level of interest in maintaining the plugin.

Another rule is simply that of quality. I want to only ever ship code that I’m proud of. If I can look at it and think, “that’s not good enough”, I try to always work harder and longer to get it to where I am happy with it. Whether that has to do with the formatting of the code base, the organization of it, or even how the plugin’s features work.

It is also vitally important to me that I always strive to be a good citizen in the plugin development world, and that means working to never write code that adversely affects other developers or users of other plugins.

6. If someone wanted to create plugins or themes to sell, how would you recommend they start?

Start by writing a plugin or theme that scratches your own itch. Attack a subject matter that you have a personal interest in. If you are passionate and care deeply about the problem you are working to improve or the product you are creating, others will follow. It may not be a smashing success out the gate, but be consistent in your passion and your drive, and others will absolutely notice.

7. Why did you decide to support this cause and what does it mean to you?

I was raised in a moderately privileged environment and was blessed with access to a good education and the freedom to easily access tools (computers and technology) that have played a huge part in what I have managed to achieve this far in my life. If I can contribute to opening the doors to a good education and the tools to aide in achieving the hopes and dreams of children around the world, I cannot think of any reason not to. I have been blessed in many ways; I only hope I can share some of my blessings with others.

Thanks Pippin for your time and the very generous donation to help build schools.

Everyone, please check out PippinsPlugins and Easy Digital Downloads.