100K+ Active Installs: How FiboSearch Became the Leading WooCommerce Search Plugin — Freemius
A warm welcome to Damian Góra, the brains behind the most prominent WooCommerce search plugin, FiboSearch, and the latest guest in our Success Story showcase of awesome products and awesome people.
Previously known as ‘Ajax Search for WooCommerce’, FiboSearch now leads its niche with 100,000+ active installations and a 5-star rating. I sat down with Damian to find out what he had to do to achieve such impressive growth in a comparatively short period.
Hi Damian, it’s a pleasure to have you here! Please tell us about yourself
I’m an entrepreneur and full-stack developer from Poland. I love creating things that solve people’s real-world problems. My fantastic team and I are currently focused on developing FiboSearch, our WordPress plugin that takes search experience in WooCommerce to the next level.
Personally, I’m a happy husband and father of a three-year-old daughter.
What sparked the idea for FiboSearch?
We all know that search is a key feature in most online stores and it’s often the place that users start shopping. I figured out that the WooCommerce native search module is too simplistic for modern eCommerce. This discovery triggered the idea to create a search plugin that would be simple to install, ultra-fast, cheap, and tailored to the requirements of contemporary online stores and eCommerce.
I started with the MVP project by myself. So much has changed in the time between the releases of our initial plugin on WordPress.org in 2016 and our first Pro version in 2019 to where FiboSearch is today. During these 5 years, we have sent 20,000+ messages to our users, achieved 100,000+ active installs on WordPress.org, and become one of the best-rated WooCommerce search plugins on the market.
FiboSearch was born from the belief that everyone — even a novice entrepreneur — deserves a good search system in their store, similar to those used by the top eCommerce shops. Of course, we still have to do tons of things to realize our vision, but we’ve had really good traction so far.
Tell us more about the talent behind the product
Currently, we have three amazing people that work on FiboSearch with me every day. They are Marta and Clint from technical support and our software engineer Mateusz.
I know that delegating tasks is inconvenient for plugin or theme developers, and I had to learn how to transition myself from a one-man show who writes code and does dozens of other business-related things to someone who manages a product. The worst thing for me was to almost stop writing code, but it was the best move I could do from a business point of view. Now, Mateusz is in charge of development, and he’s also a better programmer than me and I can focus on other things.
Must have been difficult to ‘let go’ of the development 😉 Would you say that the breakthrough moment in your business was setting and delegating roles and responsibilities within the team? Can you think of other milestones in your business journey?
Delegating was key. It helped me start working on the business instead of in the business and — definitely — it was the ‘breakthrough’.
There were other significant milestones in our journey. In 2019, we launched the first paid plugin version. This event transformed a hobby project into a business, and in Q1 of 2021, we went through a rebranding process.
Please tell us more about your branding process and how it impacted your business
I didn’t think too much about branding in the beginning, but that was a misstep. We solved it recently with a rebranding process that included renaming the plugin, creating a new logo and mascot, and refreshing the plugin’s website.
We also had complications related to our previous name. From 2016 to 2021, the plugin was called ‘AJAX Search for WooCommerce’. The old name was good for SEO, but it was too general and it was difficult for users to identify our plugin among the others available. Imagine helping your friend catch the correct bus. Instead of mentioning the number of the line, you advise him to look out for the long yellow bus. Since there are plenty of long yellow busses, there is a high chance he will get on the wrong one.
Because our old name did not differentiate us enough from alternatives, we had several cases where people thought that they were using our plugin, when in fact they were using the plugins of competitors.
Changing to FiboSearch and going through the whole rebranding process solves this problem permanently.
In addition to changing the name, we created a brand hero. Many thanks to Justyna Bernacka, who designed the mascot. Our mascot is a cheerful and obliging cyber-sighthound who evokes positive emotions and helps users remember our plugin for longer. Also, it’s a key part of word-of-mouth marketing that we’re exploring.
Your rebranding has been a success and brought in tons of new users. What do your operations look like now?
Support is a significant part of our business. It’s a portal that helps us compare our point of view with the point of view of real users. There is an age-old problem in software development where developers create features that nobody wants to use, and this also applies to the largest companies like Microsoft or Google.
Empathy, patience, and good communication with users help us keep and improve the UX and features that matter. Support is an opportunity rather than another duty for us.
That’s great to hear. Your dedication to your users and the quality of your product has produced outstanding results: a beautiful website, over 100,000 installations on WP.org, and more than 1,000 reviews (of which 97% are 5 stars)!
These stats reflect a compound interest that comes courtesy of our rules and daily routine, accumulated over several years. Also, it must be said that Freemius contributed to the achievement of these results.
Business requires five fundamental processes: value creation, marketing, sales, value delivery, and finance. Common plugin developers, including me, only want to write code. But writing code is a small part of the first process — value creation. What about the rest? Freemius helps us with tasks in sales, value delivery, and finance areas. We don’t have to worry about EU VAT, checkout process, refunds, the license system, deployment, and dozens of other areas.
With most of the admin hassle out of your hands, you’ve probably got more time for promotion. What do your marketing activities look like? Besides WP.org, what would you say are your best traffic and revenue drivers?
Currently, we are exploring just two marketing areas: WP.org and word-of-mouth. WOM is difficult to measure and, unfortunately, nothing lasts forever so we’re going to explore other channels like email, social media, SEM/SEO, and others. We will test and see what will work for us best.
Besides looking for new users, we also want to focus more on building relationships with current customers. It’s better for me to build a deeper relationship with 10 current customers than to get 10 new customers. In the short term, the new 10 customers should be more profitable, but in the long term, the deeper relationships will give us stronger foundations and profits.
Having said that, it’s hard to always keep to these rules because people often know the best course of action but end up doing something else anyway. This behavior is called Akrasia, and I personally fight with this state every day.
Did you experiment and test different prices and conversions to get to your current pricing?
I’m a little scared of having to change something in prices. To collect correct data, an experiment should take a minimum of two weeks to eliminate random fluctuations; and it can disrupt the cash flow.
I am aware that our pricing could be better optimized, but we’ve decided to retain it for now because it suits our current needs (and I am afraid of touching it). I wonder about removing lifetime licenses and increasing prices and how it will affect our conversions. When we start with price experiments, we will do these things first to get to the answers.
What’s been your biggest business hurdle/challenge so far?
It was quitting my regular job in a software house as a WordPress Developer and focusing only on the WordPress plugin business. It happened in 2019, shortly after launching the FiboSearch Pro version. There wasn’t sufficient revenue at the time, but my prediction for the next six months in the spreadsheet was optimistic and I took a risk. My estimated data turned out to be true 😉
Can you share some tips or advice for developers stuck at a certain level of business growth?
It’s a difficult question because getting stuck can depend on many factors. I guess situations like these are related to a lack of product-market fit. Think about the main problem your plugin or theme solves. How big is the problem and who is affected? How did you make sure that this problem really exists?
It’s just easier to sell bottled water in the desert instead of sandbags.
If you are sure your tools solve real and serious problems, think about marketing. You have to inform people that you have a solution for the things they struggle with. In this scenario, there’ll probably be competitors. If your tool has similar features to these competitors, think about unique value propositions. It may be some extra feature or the best support service in the world — whatever makes your offer unique should be amplified.
How did you hear about Freemius and what convinced you to use the platform to monetize your product? What other options were you considering?
In 2015, I got an email from Vova who wanted to talk about the new project he was creating. I was fascinated by Freemius’s features and I started to test it out on my other plugins. Before that, I was experimenting with self-hosted solutions based on EDD, but I found the maintenance of self-hosted solutions was too complicated and took a lot of time.
What can you tell us about your experience with Freemius? You can be honest!
I must say that you have great support. I have sent quite a lot of tickets in the last five years, and Leo or Vova reply very quickly. They have always been very involved and proactive.
We’ve been waiting to fix the search in sites because this service didn’t work well via API. Finally, it was solved recently. Also, we’ve been anticipating a multi-store dashboard because we prefer to have a separate website and brand for each of our plugins. Now there is a beta version of this feature and we are busy testing it.
What are your favorite Freemius features?
We like the Freemius API, and we use it to collect and process business data or draw charts on our end. Mateusz has also created more amazing tools that use the Freemius API. One of these tools is a private Chrome extension for our support agents. It shows data from Freemius that is related to the URL of the website we debug. We can see, for example, the license expirations or all activated plugins without credentials for the user’s WP Admin. Another tool is a script that automates our deployment process.
The automation looks like this:
We make a commit with a specific message -> Gitlab checks code, prepares the package, and sends them to Freemius -> Freemius then makes Free and Pro packages -> both versions are uploaded on our website under no public URL and we can generate a temporary link for downloading them.
So in one commit and one click, we can have a URL to the package of the beta version in the clipboard. It’s helpful when we want to send our users a dev plugin version in which we fixed a specific bug.
Personally, I appreciate Freemius’s blog. It’s an awesome knowledge base, especially for plugin or theme developers who want to become entrepreneurs.
What are your plans for the future?
We want to support owners of WooCommerce stores with applying the best practices in the field of product search. There are dozens of items on our roadmap that we’re looking to create or improve in FiboSearch. Moreover, the complex eCommerce search system is not just a search bar but also a filtering/facets system.
We will inform our users within a few months of the next ‘game-changer’ tool we are preparing for them 🙂
Thank you very much for sharing your story, I’m sure it will help to inspire fellow developers and product owners!
Originally published on the Freemius blog on August 4, 2021.