Divi Sensei: Jan Thielemann’s Story of Traveling the World While Building a Plugin Business

Today we’re excited to interview Jan Thielemann — a self-taught Divi module developer who built his WordPress business Divi Sensei and sells a host of other Divi modules and add-ons! He not only learned WordPress plugin development, but also built his business while traveling the world. His Divi modules started gaining organic popularity and gained traction from there! Let’s jump in and find out more…

Jan, it’s a pleasure to connect with you and thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! Please tell us, where are you from and what’s your background? How did you get into coding and development?

Jan & Annika

I mainly developed backend systems in Java, but in my free time, I explored other languages and technologies. For example, when I was studying and working part-time, I bought my first Mac and started developing iOS and Mac apps.

About a year ago, my wife and I paused our world trip after 3 years so we could have our son, and we are now living in Germany again. I accepted a job offer, and I’m currently work as a Java developer, developing the backend for the mobile app of a German telephone provider. I run the Divi Module business on the side now.

I heard that you started developing WordPress products while traveling the world. Pretty amazing! What inspired you to get into WordPress development and what were the challenges?

https://janthielemann.de

At the same time, a viewer who owns a marketing agency gave me a license for Divi — a very popular premium WordPress theme and builder — which I used to build the new page. At one point, I was in desperate need for a certain functionality (a good looking day counter to count how many days we were traveling). I couldn’t find any plugin which satisfied me, so I started exploring the Divi source code to see if I could simply develop something myself.

I love this kind of challenge: exploring something completely new, learning new techniques and coming up with something cool. I started learning how to build a WordPress plugin that could contain my independently created Divi module. It took me a while to understand all the core principles of WordPress. PHP, CSS, and JavaScript were also completely new languages to me, which all have their own specialties — especially if you compare them to the object oriented Java language. However, there are thousands of good articles and videos out there that helped me a lot.

I started learning how to build a WordPress plugin that could contain my independently created Divi module.

Tweet

What does developing extensions for the Divi theme involve and how did you come to decide that selling this product would be a good idea?

It never came to my mind that somebody would pay for this, as I always saw WordPress as this neat, free plattform with all the free themes and plugins you ever needed. Who would pay for what was, in my opinion, a simple plugin? But this guy convinced me and even suggested a place where I could start selling the plugin.

So after getting some success with the first module, I developed another two — and the third module really took off. It was exactly what people needed and I was blown away! I could hardly believe that with only a few days of work, I earned a whole months wage and could use that money to continue to travel.

Battle Suit for Divi — Jan’s Free Plugin Available for Free on the WordPress.org Repository.

Developing Divi modules was hard work back then, because there was no official third party API and every Divi update could completely break your module. I spent hours digging through the source code and would have some strangest issues. I guess all it takes is a strong will and a bit of PHP/JS/CSS knowledge to get started with Divi. The rest is practice, practice, practice — and maybe a good mentor. 😉

What makes your product unique compared to other modules for Divi?

It could be that my modules are well developed. I put a lot of effort into arranging settings and functions so that my modules are powerful and easy to use even for beginners. I took care not to forget the little things like descriptions on settings fields, which are cumbersome to write but make all the difference.

I also take pride in providing excellent support for my plugin. My goal is to satisfy my customers 110%. I respond to every question, and I often provide support that goes far beyond what others would do. The more I help without expecting a return, the more that comes back to me.

My goal is to satisfy my customers 110%. I respond to every question, and I often provide support that goes far beyond what others would do. The more I help without expecting a return, the more that comes back to me.

Tweet

What was the trigger to start selling from your own website / store?

Why did you choose Freemius for the job? How long did it take to get up and running on our platform?

The setup of the SDK took only a couple of hours, but it took me a few days to fully understand all the bits and pieces and the possibilities Freemius offers. It took some time to come up with a plan and structure for my new plugin.

What was your main concern before starting to sell with Freemius? And how do you feel about Freemius today?

I was also afraid that marketplaces would punish me in some way, but in hindsight the opposite happened. Today, I’m selling my older plugins side by side with my newer plugins on the very same marketplaces, thanks to the Freemius affiliate platform.

What is your all-time favorite Freemius feature?

Can’t you guess? It’s the Freemius affiliate platform! It allows me to make my customers my marketing department. They recommend my products anyway, and now they can even earn themselves a little bit of money for doing so!

Tweet

What is it about Freemius that has fostered your business success?

Also, the great advice that Freemius provides behind the scenes has made a big difference. I chose the freemium pricing model, which is a free base plugin with paid premium add-ons, and so far people seem to like it very much. My add-ons have a 14 day trial period — which is another really nice Freemius feature — people can convince themselves of the quality before purchasing.

Finally, the very flexible pricing options help. I can not only offer subscription plans, but also lifetime licenses for the very same plugin. So normal users usually stick with the subscription plans, which I make affordable enough for everyone to not really think about.

How was your experience working with the Freemius team?

What would you be your top 3 tips to fellow developers who want to get started selling WordPress plugins or themes?

Tip number two: Always make sure to add value. Never just copy a plugin or theme that already exists. It does not have to be something completely new, but if you just copycat a product, it will never be as good as the original. At least improve the things which do not work well, but please don’t copy/paste others’ code. Ideally, find a problem and then solve it by coming up with your own solution. Don’t forget to always give 110% for your customers, even if it does not earn you money immediately — it’s never a waste, as people will remember you and recommend you.

Always make sure to add value. Never just copy something which already exists. It does not have to be something completely new, but if you just copycat a product, it will never be as good as the original.

Tweet

The final tip is: Don’t give up.

Do you have plans to expand your WordPress business? What opportunities do you see in the future?

Besides this, I started to do freelancing in my freetime. Why should I spend my valuable time in the evening, when wife and child are asleep, in front of a television when I can do something I love: developing software. And since I love a good challenge, I started to build a highly customized WordPress functionality using Toolset (one of the best and most powerful plugins for customizing WordPress). I could go on, but I guess I have said way too much already so let’s finish for today! Thanks for having me here!

Thank you for being with us Jan! It’s been a wonderful conversation, and we appreciate hearing your story. Best of luck to you in your business and personal pursuits. Until we meet again, goodbye Freemians!

Monetization & Insights platform for #WordPress #plugin #developers.