Talk to any business owner worth their salt and they'll likely tell you that you need to pick a niche.
Now, this can be a niche in a product like there are HubSpot or Convertkit experts. It could be a niche in a market like serving only a single parent who works from home. But there's one niche that I'm going to argue today might not be the best to get into. Because it's simultaneously too broad and too narrow. And that is the WordPress niche's full stop. We'll get into all of that in a minute.
Hello and welcome to WP Review for January 20th, 2022. This is a show that provides an analysis of what's happening in WordPress, what it means for users and business owners, and the eco-space in general. This podcast is brought to you by GoDaddy Pro. My name is Joe Casabona. And today I'm going to try to answer the question: Are WordPress-Specific Platforms Viable Products?
And before we get into that, I will just say, I know, I know WordPress 5.9 is on the precipice of coming out. As I record this, it is five days from release. As I record this, release candidate three is out. And as I promise, next week's episode will be titled: What's new with WordPress 5.9? But it's not out yet. And I want to cover this topic because it's something I've seen a lot.
So if you want to catch what's new in WordPress episodes, or YouTube video, you can head over to [wpreview.io/subscribe]. And subscribe wherever you get podcasts. Join the mailing list to get even more interesting information and insights from not just WordPress but other industries.
Okay. So around 2008-2009, a lot of people approached me with different ideas. Well, actually it was the same idea. And the conversations went something like this.
Person: Hey, Joe, you make websites, right?
Me: I do.
Person: I have a great idea for a website and I think we should do it. It's like Facebook for…
(and then whatever they thought Facebook didn't do a good job of doing), I would respond with,
Me: I charge $10,000 for websites like that.
(And invariably, I would get)...
Person: Oh. Well, I thought we could be partners in this business.
Now, I provided real feedback that I'll get to in a second. But the important bit about these conversations is that the takeaway for every single one of these conversations is the same. There is already a site like Facebook for dog lovers, cat lovers, HIV-positive people, skateboarders, singles in the same coffee shop, and people in/at/around whatever location we have to be in. And that site is Facebook. All of those ideas were real by the way. My friend wanted to call this HIV community or dating website :High Five” like “Hi” and then the Roman numeral for 5. I declined that idea.
FDr a while, I owned a domain that was called “likefacebookfor.com” that would just be a search box. It would redirect when somebody typed in a search term to Facebook's group search. When Facebook made one of their many changes, I killed that idea. But the point was made. If you're going to build something like Facebook for, You should know that Facebook is already that.
Each time someone came to me and would propose, we be partners, and it happened in 2008. But it also happened when apps exploded in 2012 and it continues to happen as we bring out new platforms and hot new technology. And every time someone proposed, we be partners, I told them that I would consider their proposal if they would do enough research to answer these five questions.
What competitors are out there?
How is your idea different from the competitors?
How much will it cost to create and run this? And how will we split the expenses and profit?
Do people actually want a site like this?
What is our relationship in this venture? Or put more bluntly, what do you bring to the table beside the idea?
Generally, I would never hear about whatever idea that was. Again, when you give people homework, they're less likely to do it than if you just blindly agree. But in the event, someone came back to me with something like “there are no competitors to my idea”, or “I think that people want it”. I would gently sometimes not so gently remind them that Facebook, MySpace, and any other website that connected people were competition. And that thinking people want something is different from knowing people want something, which brings me to a trend I've noticed more lately than in recent history. Sites that mimic big popular sites, but they are specifically for “WordPress”.
And it's disclaimer time. Look, I'm going to mention some projects - not necessarily by name, but you'll probably know what or who I'm referring to. I'm not doing this to out anyone or shame them for a bad idea. I'm simply stating observations of my own from experience and the mistakes I've made. If you can make a project like this work, fantastic. You can do something better than me, which honestly, the bar is not too high on that. But I don't like seeing people waste their time either. I used to waste my time a lot on projects like this.
Let me also differentiate between the types of projects that may cause some confusion. I don't want my point to be misconstrued here. There are projects that use WordPress like Groundhogg for turning WordPress into a CRM, Sprout for turning WordPress into an invoicing system, and KanbanWP for turning WordPress into a project management system. Some of these ideas (clearly) are viable products that do very well. But then there are also sites “but for WordPress people.” These are the projects I'm talking about.
And as usual, what I want to put into words is better said by my friend, Brian Richards, who took my thoughts and put them concisely. “Years of history suggest that a WordPress-centric platform will underperform broad topic competitors every time.”
let's consider some concrete examples. The first one is an online course marketplace, but only for WordPress development courses. This is like Udemy or LinkedIn learning, but only for WordPress. The problem is there's not a need for this anymore.. WP101 is an example of how this model worked well. But WP101 launched in 2008. If it wasn't the first to market, it was awfully close. It's also for beginners, which is a much broader audience than developers. And WP101 offers a plugin for agencies to help train their clients, which I suspect does very well for them.
I know Shawn Hesketh personally, and he is very dedicated to making sure that WP101 videos are updated with every version of WordPress as well. He's probably hard at work making sure his videos are ready for 5.9. But WP101 isn't a membership that only offers intro to WordPress courses launching in 2022.
In launching a marketplace like this, the value proposition is the audience. I might consider putting my course somewhere If I think it will get more eyeballs on that site than on Udemy or LinkedIn Learning. And granted LinkedIn Learning is very selective in who they hire to be authors or instructors. But again, they offer WordPress development courses. Udemy and Skillshare are not as selective. They'll let just about anybody make a course. All of those websites also happen to offer WordPress development courses, and have for a long time. So what's the competitive advantage in making a site like one of these, but only for WordPress development?
Another example is a, “Product Hunt, but only for WordPress products.” This is a direct analog to the, “like Facebook for” ideas. And the problem with a “like Product Hunt, but for…” ideas is your main competition is Product Hunt. The main reason owners want to be on a product hunt is to get their product in front of thousands of new people. In fact, they usually bring their own audience to upvote that product in hopes that it gets to the homepage. So if you're building a competitor, you absolutely have to bring the audience. You have to bring thousands of new people. You might be able to get away with bringing fewer eyeballs than product hunt If those eyeballs and those wallets attached to the eyeballs are much more likely to buy the product. But that is the value proposition.
I'm curating a WordPress product marketplace for people who are primed to buy WordPress products. Now, these sites aren't impossible. I'm not here to poo-poo ideas. But when you're considering a project like this, you need to consider the value proposition.
It seems like every year, for example, a new email killer comes out. And Slack to its credit got pretty close. But email is still around, stronger than ever. And that's because there's a ton of value in using email over something like Slack. No product deemed the email killer has provided a value proposition enough to kill email. The same thing goes for using something like Facebook over a community you've rolled on your own. Say, what you will about Facebook, the product. But lots and lots of people are already on that platform.
In episode 26, I talked about how owning your own platform for the sake of owning your own platform will do nothing but waste your time. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Well, what if nobody even wants to go to your water? Cause they already have water that they like. The same thing goes for products, “like” big names “but for” WordPress. Again, the Product Hunt, but for WordPress peopl. The Udemy, but for WordPress people. The Facebook, but for WordPress people. Why should I use your product over Product Hunt or Udemy or Facebook? You need to tell me the value proposition. A couple of good examples of this are my own WP Learning paths, and HeroPress’ WP Podcast. They're both free. They aggregate information and they have a clear value proposition: “easily find that WordPress course or WordPress product that you're looking for.” Could WP Podcasts be billed as “Apple Podcast, but for WordPress?” Maybe, but that doesn't tell me the value. What that tells me is there's a website where I'll see fewer podcasts than what I already see in the app I already use.
So how can we make these projects work? I don't like to end on a negative note. My brother, Robby and I both live by the maxim, “If you're going to complain about a problem, then you need to provide a solution.” My recommendations are from years of doing it wrong…but also years of glibly telling people to ask the right questions.
The questions I posed at the beginning of this episode, you need to do some research to determine if your idea is worth pursuing. Unfortunately, for many, myself included, it's easy to just build than to research. Here's the secret though. Your research doesn't have to be extensive. It doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be a whole vetted process. Not at first.
Justin Ferriman, in Episode 43 of my podcast How I Built It, that is over 200 episodes ago, but still as relevant today as ever, he talks about how he validated the idea for LearnDash through a series of blog posts and a newsletter signup. He basically knew people wanted an LMS for WordPress because his readers told him they wanted it. You can do the same thing. Put some feelers out on your blog or on Twitter. Get pushback and get people to ask you questions about the offering. This will allow you to change, calibrate or focus as needed. You'll know what people actually want from an idea like this. And then ultimately, you'll be able to answer the number one question, because you do need to answer this quick: How is your idea more valuable than the alternative?
To look at the examples we saw earlier, if the, Udemy for WordPress development courses idea offered a better community, better commissions or live cohort-based courses, well, now, we might have something here. This offers a different and better value proposition on Udemy. I can speak from experience, Udemy does not treat their instructors well at all. If the “Product Hunt for WordPress” ideas brought tutorials, live demos, or maybe an easy way to offer feedback, maybe that's something WordPress product owners would want. Admittedly, I'm not really a WordPress product owner and I'm barely a product hunt user. But if you ask WordPress product owners, the shortcomings of product hunts, well, then you'd be able to get some traction.
I'll leave you with this. My friend Shawn Hesketh of WP101 offered me some incredible advice while we were working together on a course. He said that when David tried to fight Goliath using Goliath's weapons, David lost. But when David used the weapons that played to his own strength, that is when he defeated Goliath. When you're considering a niche alternative to some Goliath in the tech or website space, you can't make the same promises as that product. There are things that you can do that those websites can't do. So you should consider those and make them part of your value proposition.
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All right. I hope you enjoyed that. As always, I am open to feedback and thoughts. You can head over to [wpreview.io] to comment on this piece. It'll be the first one you see there. Or you can tweet me (@jcasabona).
I want to wrap up with a recommendation as I always do. And in the spirit of offering resources for what I've just talked about, I want to tell you about a new podcast that's launching soon from my friends, Justin Ferriman and Ross. They are starting a new podcast and that podcast is called “NoFilter.fm”. They're going to talk about their experience in the WordPress product space. They're going to do commentary on WordPress norms and business practices. They are calling it no BS WordPress business commentary. It's going to be a Twitter space, but the archive will be over at [NoFilter.fm]. So I will link to those things in the show notes over at [wpreview.iq]. They are launching the conversations soon. So I recommend you follow them on Twitter or subscribe to updates at [NofFlter.fm]. I'm really excited about this because I think some of the things that I've been talking about on this show, the new mission for this show, in fact, will be even better reinforced if you will listen to what Justin and Ross have to say. They have different and more experienced than me in some of these areas. So check it out. It's over at [NoFilter.fm].
Also, they went and they went ahead and got the [.fm[. I ain't never been able. I've always thought about it, but I'm just like $80 feels like a lot of money for a domain name. But maybe this year I'll just have to do it. I'll just have to get the [.fm]. Good luck to Justin and Ross with this launch. I know I will be promoting it because those guys do great things. And I know that this show will be absolutely fantastic.
Thanks so much for listening. To get even more WordPress insights and to subscribe to this show, head over to [wpreview.io/subscribe]. You can find a…I think Evo Terra calls this a written for reading or something like that. Anyway, you can find an article version of what I just read over at [wpreview.io].
If you liked this episode, share it with a friend. Maybe share it with a friend who has an idea that's like “Facebook, but for WordPress people” over at [wpreview.io].
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And until next time. I'm Joe Casabona, and I'll see you out there.