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Interview with James Laws – Co-Founder, WP Ninjas

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james-laws-blogOut of my many job responsibilities at WisdmLabs, interviewing WordPress professionals happen to be my favorite. It gives me the opportunity to interact with some really “awesome” individuals and widen my horizons on many things other than WordPress.

Chatting up with James Laws (Co-Founder of WP Ninjas) was no different!  

James was frank and forthcoming from the word go and that’s what made the process enjoyable.

One very interesting fact I got to know about James from my conversation with him is that he is a thorough professional and he expects the same from his team. So, when he failed to get back to me about the interview after WordCamp Denver 2015 he did not hesitate to acknowledge the slip-up and apologize for it. *Respect*

Let’s find out how a web & graphic designer goes on from being a WordPress user to a WordPress developer. That and more exclusively with James – Entrepreneur, Public Speaker, WordPress Meetup Organizer, Blogger, Internet Marketer, and an avid Runner.

janmes-laws-interview-1Tell us a bit about yourself, and your journey with WordPress so far.

I got started using WordPress about 8 years ago. I was just starting to blog a little bit and tried Blogger and Typepad but wasn’t really happy with the experience. I came across WordPress and fell in love with the control that it gave me.

My career at that point was freelance web and graphic design. I was building mostly static HTML websites along with dabbling a little in Flash. WordPress was actually my first connection to the open source world and more specifically CMSs.

My main purpose of using WordPress at first was as a user. I wanted an easy way to maintain my blog. I wasn’t a developer, but it didn’t take long before I wanted to start tinkering under the hood. I started by just modifying the theme I was using, a little. It quickly progressed to building my own theme from scratch which was my gateway into WordPress development

Since those early days, I’ve built themes, plugins, volunteered in the WordPress.org support forums, helped with the theme review team, created a WordPress Meetup in our area, and started speaking at WordCamps.

I now co-own a WordPress plugin development company named the WP Ninjas, LLC that employees a team of eight.

What is your typical day at work like?

My job entails leading the vision of our company and all the tasks that come with that. In most cases, I do everything that I haven’t yet hired someone else to do.

A typical day for me doesn’t have a lot of structure or repeatable tasks. There is administration like communicating with accountants, payroll, taxes, and other critical elements to make sure the company is stable and moving forward. Marketing and branding development is also a common task of mine. I also maintain all of our business web properties which includes all of the development. The truth is that it’s impossible to explain everything I do in a single day. That might take an entirely new set of questions.

What prompted you to build Ninja Forms around the Freemium model?

Ninja Forms didn’t actually start that way. It was originally a premium only plugin. We sold it as a one time purchase for only $15. We did that for about 6 months. Sales were not great in those early months so we decided to experiment with business models and pricing.

In December of 2011, we released the “free” version and raised the “pro” version to $29. Still as a one time purchase. It remained that way for the entire year of 2012. During that year, we really didn’t see much change in sales. Sales increased slightly, but nothing that indicated a product that could one day be a business.

It wasn’t until January of 2013 when we switched to the Freemium, paid add-on model that we use today. Ever since then we have been growing extremely fast. We still experiment frequently, but for now, we are locked into our business model for Ninja Forms.

janmes-laws-interview-2What factors according to you make a plugin successful?

Success is really subjective. Do sales cover your car payment or mortgage? Perhaps you need it to make up at least 50% of your required annual salary. Success may be supporting the owners and a small staff, It could be something else altogether. Each of these, require different things to make the plugin successful.

At its core, a plugin has to have a large enough market share to support the revenue desired. It’s best if you only need to get a small portion of that market to achieve your goals. Getting your plugin seen by the right people, solving a problem that no one else is solving, and of course, building a good product are all big contributors to success.

The factors for what makes one plugin a success over another are actually numerous and sometimes can come down to just plain luck. No one likes to hear that because we all like to think we control our every outcome. We can increase our chances of getting lucky, but we can’t ignore that luck is a factor.

What is the USP of Ninja Forms over other form builder plugins?

I don’t think there is “the” USP of Ninja Forms, but many. Ninja Forms is accessible to various market segments. People can use it for free, purchase only the one or two add-ons a small business owner may need, or purchase an all-in bundle which is perfect for freelancers or agencies. Our business model makes us the perfect choice for any level user.

Even with all that we occasionally get asked why to use Ninja Forms over another plugin. That answer depends on the individual needs, but I have yet to find a scenario where Ninja Forms wasn’t a perfect fit. I’ve also answered this question in a blog post on our site.

What should we expect from WP Ninjas in the coming future?

We are a team of passionate product and service providers. We have several other products on deck, but our complete focus is on Ninja Forms right now. It’s simply growing too fast to spread our team too thin by doing something else right now.

We are working with a professional UX/UI company to completely re-envision the form building process and hope to have that implemented by the end of the year. In the meantime, we are constantly making improvements to Ninja Forms and it’s add-ons as well as releasing new add-ons all the time.

janmes-laws-interview-3Your views on the misuse of GPL and its effect on the industry as a whole.

I’m not very familiar with anyone misusing the GPL. I am familiar with some who redistribute plugins they didn’t develop for free, for profit, or with malice. The first two are perfectly within the freedoms defined under the GPL. The final one isn’t a GPL issue as much as an issue of fraud. These people insert extra code that acts as a backdoor into users websites.

This kind of thing isn’t exclusive to open source software. People who care about their websites and business should purchase the software from the original developer.

What color would you paint the WordPress logo?

I’m happy with the logo. I wouldn’t deface it with some random color.

Developer, Marketeer, Entrepreneur, Public Speaker – Which role do you like the best?

I would say Public Speaker. It’s something I’ve been doing for a very long time and it comes very naturally to me. I’m a terrible writer so I’ve many times contemplated starting a blog. The entrepreneur is a very close second though. I love the feeling of starting something new and uncharted.

Which is a WordPress eCommerce plugin of your choice?

I use Easy Digital Downloads for all of our products. I’ve used a couple of others, but for our use case, I really think EDD is the standard. I do have plans of selling our swag on one of our sites someday and for that, I think I would use Exchange by iThemes.

janmes-laws-interview-4A ‘James Laws’ tip for budding entrepreneurs.

Success isn’t promised to anyone no matter how great your idea is or how hard you work. You can increase your chances of being successful though. You must engage your community and prospective customers. You must experiment with everything. Your business model, pricing, product scope, market, etc. None of it is sacred. You must also endure the short run failures. Failing is just another way not to get lucky. Many successful businesses are simply those that outlasted the competition. Remember to engage, experiment, and endure and you will have a better chance than most.

So, that was James Laws, unplugged on WordPress, Entrepreneurship, Success, GPL and the Freemium Business Model.

Thanks again James for your time, it was a pleasure 🙂

If you’d like to connect with James Laws then Twitter is the best place. (And hey guys I would recommend reading his blog. It’s FUN)

Adios 🙂

Tahseen Kazi

Tahseen Kazi

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