Success Stories are back with a 💥 In July, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vinod Dalvi, the creator of one of WordPress’s leading search plugins, Ivory Search. Previously known as ‘Add Search To Menu’, Ivory Search has since notched up 100,000+ active installs and an impressive 1165 five-star reviews on WP.org.
For this showcase, Vinod and I explore his indie-developer roots, what it’s taken to achieve such impressive growth, and how user feedback has factored into his product’s success.
Hi Vinod — welcome! Let’s start things off with a bit about you: where are you from and what are your interests/hobbies?
Hi! My name is Vinod Dalvi and I’m from India. I like coding, reading, investing, playing games, doing workouts, etc. I have a small daughter and nowadays I spend a lot of time playing with her.
What got you interested in WordPress plugin development?
I studied computer engineering and worked for various WordPress agencies once I was done with my studies. After two years, I moved on from agency life and became a full-time contract worker and freelancer developing WordPress websites, themes, and plugins for clients.
It was during this time that I thought of developing a free plugin for release on the WordPress.org repository. This initial plugin was called ‘ Publish Date Picker’. It got a good response from users so I was motivated to start developing more plugins as well as a theme. Eventually, this led to Ivory Search.
Let’s go into greater detail about how Ivory Search came about and what made you pursue it over other potential product ideas.
I was reading posts and interviews on Indie Hackers frequently. This motivated me to develop software products and create a technical blog called FreeWPTP to earn extra income. Even though I worked on the blog for several months, I couldn’t make it successful because of high competition and my content writing skills (I was pretty inexperienced back then 😅).
During this time, I also developed a theme and several plugins that I released on the WP.org repo. Again, I was met with challenges: I wasn’t able to generate much traction because I was a late entrant in an already matured theme market and I didn’t understand user requirements properly, which hampered my plugins.
All wasn’t lost, however, and even though I spent a lot of time on these experiments and failed, I learned a few valuable lessons:
I realized that instead of creating a product from my imagination and guessing users’ requirements, the requirements should come from users and I should first develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and later extend its features based on user feedback.
How did this shift in thinking work for you?
I put this thinking into practice when I was working with WPMU DEV as a technical support person. During my tenure, I noticed that many users wanted to add a search icon to their navigation menus. The problem was that many themes didn’t provide this feature and there were no plugins available, so I had to develop custom code to do this according to each user’s requirements. Though it was extra work for me, I believed in the idea and started developing a simple plugin to fill the gap I’d spotted.
This ‘simple plugin’ was called Add Search To Menu and I released it on the WP.org repo to positive user response. Even better, it ranked high because of the specific keywords I included in the name.
Once the plugin started to gain traction, I received many feature requests and started implementing several of them. The new features meant that Add Search To Menu became more than what its name entailed, so I decided to rename it to something that reflected that.
In the past, I spent a lot of time thinking about naming products. For this plugin, I wanted to avoid wasting time that I could be spending on product development or other critical things. I basically just picked ‘ Ivory’ — from my apartment named ‘ Park Ivory’ — and combined it with ‘ Search ‘. And that’s the story of how Ivory Search came about.
Since then, how have things progressed for you as an indie-developer?
The transition from full-time employee to freelancer wasn’t smooth for me. One of the major problems was that my village home had frequent issues with the internet and electricity. Because of this, I relocated to the city area, but I was faced with new problems pretty soon.
As I was working alone, I got disconnected from my friends and colleagues, which made me even more introverted. I started reading more books and playing more computer games to overcome boredom and loneliness.
I also leaned heavily into work, but the improved earnings came at the cost of my health, which led to some issues. To get better mentally and physically, I became friends with daily workouts and a healthy diet, and they’ve since become life partners 😊
I got used to this positive lifestyle and I’ve been able to enjoy the freedoms of an indie-developer ever since. Overall, I’d say my experience has been very good and I feel accomplished looking back on my solopreneur journey of developing something from zero into a successful product.
It seems you turned a corner once you committed to positive changes and a healthy lifestyle. What does a typical business day look like for you?
My typical routine is almost always the same. I get up at 6 am, freshen up, and then have an early breakfast before going to the gym.
After working out, I get ready for work. Previously, I worked from my home office but nowadays I prefer to go to a co-working space to be around other people.
I start my day by replying to priority support requests and then any other support requests that are in the pipeline. Then, I do development-related work that includes bug fixing, feature enhancements, etc. If I find the time, I also do documentation and development planning for the future.
In the evening, I spend time with my family. After dinner, I read and go to sleep at 11 pm.
Please share the core values of your business and how they feed into your audience’s needs.
The core value of my business is ‘ user first ‘.
Providing excellent user support is a high priority and I also take suggestions from my user base to make Ivory Search as great as it can be. Case in point: one of Ivory Search’s users requested that I add media search functionality in combination with AJAX search. I agreed with the suggestion and it added so much extra value to the plugin.
Your product’s value and your willingness to listen to user feedback have clearly paid off. Ivory Search has 100,000+ active installations and 1165 five-star reviews on WP.org at the moment. What other features set you apart from competitors in your niche, and why?
As mentioned, I provide top-notch support and get top ratings. Plus, the plugin provides many other great features (free of cost).
Here’s what I think sets Ivory Search apart:
- Performs faster searches thanks to an inverted, index-based search engine.
- Provides AJAX search functionality.
- Indexes and searches shortcode content.
- Searches custom post types, categories, tags, taxonomies, custom fields, WooCommerce products, images, files, and attachments.
- Provides the option to customize the search form.
- Tracks searches in Google Analytics.
- Allows users to create an unlimited number of search forms and to configure each search form separately.
- Allows users to create/configure search forms to search specific content, exclude specific content from search results, and display search forms anywhere on the site.
- Supports multilingual search.
- Integrates with popular plugins such as WooCommerce, Weglot, Polylang, bbPress, WPML, etc.
That’s quite a list 😅 I’m wondering what your dev environment looks like to implement and deploy the above…
My dev environment is super simple. I use Ubuntu, XAMPP, and Visual Studio Code.
Nothing wrong with simplicity! Do your devices and apps follow suit?
They do 😉 I only use my Dell laptop with an external mouse attached to it, and then XAMPP helps me create my PHP development environment pretty easily. In the past, I used Trello to manage tasks but now I do all these things in Github along with Google Docs.
From simplicity to complex decisions. When did you know it was time to turn Ivory Search into a business?
In the past, I spent way too much time on development, support, and documentation (I was doing it all for free too). Once I started receiving more and more feature requests from users, I decided to monetize the plugin by making some of the new features ‘paid only’. I figured the time was right to make my blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile 😅
But I obviously couldn’t reliably handle the monetization myself, so I started searching for a solution that could.
And we’re glad you did 🤠 What made you go with Freemius to monetize Ivory Search?
I was after a simple, ready-to-use solution to get payments from users. I found Freemius after a bit of searching and was sold on the platform because it provided me with everything I was looking for and beyond. Along with handling payments, Freemius takes care of licensing, subscriptions, plugin updates, and customer data. It also provides analytics and usage tracking.
I was so satisfied with Freemius that I didn’t search for any other solution after using it.
Can we get into the specifics of what made you stop searching? Which Freemius features supercharge your business?
- I get the hassle-free monthly payment
- I get reasons for why users are uninstalling plugins (if any)
- I get sales and user analytics, which you can click to embiggen below:
How has Freemius helped grow Ivory Search?
It takes care of my entire commercial stack and saves me valuable time that I can invest into developing Ivory Search further.
Great! And what about working with the Freemius support team?
It’s always a pleasurable experience. The Freemius support team demonstrates an in-depth understanding of their platform, and support is always quick!
Speaking of support, let’s get into how marketing/promotion has supported the growth of your product. What tricks or hacks work for you and why?
You’ve got me there! Up until now, I haven’t done any marketing as I’ve been focused on the engineering side of things and getting the product to where it needs to be. Because of this, I haven’t bothered much about marketing or promotion. Soon, however, I’m going to change that by getting into guest blogging and affiliate marketing.
What is one thing you’d tell new product makers NOT to do, and one thing you’d say they HAVE to do?
Don’t add too many features without taking feedback from users into consideration. Initially, instead of developing general-purpose products targeting a vast market, choose to rather research and identify a specific niche to fill a gap.
Sage advice, for sure. Now that you’re established, how do you foresee your role changing in the future? I.E. will you be shifting away from product making and diving into a leadership/growth role?
Definitely — I’ll transition into a growth role when I start expanding my team. Up until now, I haven’t thought too much about team growth as I’ve been enjoying doing everything myself. But after your question, I’m seriously considering adding my first content writer to the business. Once I’ve found them, I’ll start looking for a developer to help me with the engineering side of things.
Thanks for the peek into Ivory Search’s future in terms of team growth. What does the next year look like for the product itself?
The future is bright! Many website creators are using WordPress (with more to come) and the amount of data they generate is growing exponentially. This means it’s going to be a critical necessity to use search plugins to make website content easily accessible for users.
At the moment, I’m only focused on Ivory Search, and I want to implement some more features — such as searching document content — to take the product even further away from what competitors are offering.
Thanks for the interview, Vinod, it’s been a pleasure. Please share your social handles so that people know where to find you.
Thanks, it’s been great! You can reach me using any of the below links: