1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
Hi there! My name is Jordan Johnson and I am from Chicago, Illinois. I am the Co-Founder of RipplePop, a WordPress support service for agencies or people managing many sites. My journey started around 2014 when I was working at one of the top advertising agencies in the country, Ogilvy & Mather. It was a good job with good pay but I found the work to be very unrewarding. It still felt like I was on an assembly line, just waiting for the person before me to pass me something for me to tinker with and send on to the next person in line. It was labeled as this creative and wonderful position, but in reality it still felt like I was a small cog in a large machine with little creative freedom. It was at that point I decided to take a risk and leave Ogilvy & Mather for a small startup called Build This, who made websites and other software for their customers. Build This was a great change of pace, it allowed me to experience startup life and made me wear a lot of different hats on a daily basis. Around a year into working at Build This, it was purchased by a larger company and they decided to scrap all of the employees and almost all of the customers we had and just keep the name Build This.
Michael (our other RipplePop Co-Founder) and I were both working at Build This when they decided to sell the company. We were out of a job and had a lot of old Build This customers who still needed help with their websites. We put our heads together and started RipplePop. It would allow us to keep the momentum that Build This started by having some initial customers to serve and gave us the freedom to take the business in whatever direction we wanted. Early on we mainly did website builds but we quickly devised a monthly support plan for WordPress to focus on building our MRR (monthly recurring revenue). Soon after doing this, the monthly support plan became our main business model and focus because it was doing so well.
That leads us to today. Our plan has changed a little since its early days, but we are still a WordPress focused support service. Our plan used to be a single site license plan. It cost $79/mo and was a simple solution to get help with a WordPress site you manage. The change we made was to raise our price and change the plan to cover unlimited websites. We decided upon $399/mo as a good price point for the new plan. With the plan covering unlimited sites, it allowed us to position ourselves to market to agencies or people managing many sites. They could get a developer to help them with all of their sites, at one low monthly cost. No additional fees for extra sites and no contracts. This change was huge for us and really changed who our customer is and how we market to them. We were no longer concerned with getting the corner donut shop to sign up with a support plan with us and were instead focused on forming relationships with larger agencies who might manage 100+ websites.
Our final piece of the puzzle was figuring out our marketing and advertising strategy. We hate marketing emails and when companies bombard you with emails, so we generally keep our email marketing fairly light. The game we decided to play was Facebook ads. We spent a lot of time and tested a lot of ads and audiences before things started to click. We started seeing a great return on our ad spends and it simply became a numbers game. The more money we pumped into our ads and campaigns, the more revenue we were seeing. This is when everything really clicked and we finally had a way to find our audience, target them with ads, and convert them into paying customers. At this point, our focus became staffing. Since we knew we could pump money into ads and see our business grow, we needed to make sure we had a hiring system in place to properly vet new developer talent. Since we could see large spikes in new customers per day, we needed to have a system in place where we could easily have new developers start working for us knowing that they already were vetted, passed their code tests, and were interviewed by a senior level developer. This gives us the flexibility to easily scale up our developers to meet any surge in new customers.
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
Our first customers came naturally after Build This closed its doors. Build This had a good amount of customers who still needed help and we decided to create RipplePop to start servicing them. We had a strong start out of the gate because of this which was a huge relief and something a lot of agencies or one-man-bands can struggle with.
After we rode that wave for a while, we decided to figure out how we were going to find and target new potential customers. Facebook ads were the clear choice because Michael and I were running the business by ourselves and we did not have the time to do a bunch of guest blog posting or cross-promotional work. We wanted something we could set once, test it, and analyze the results. Facebook ads can be a difficult game. Test a $100 ad spend, see no return from it, and then Google “Why are my Facebook ads not converting?” It can be frustrating, but I promise if you stick with it you can find great success with Facebook ads. It is all about learning how to target effectively and then providing a compelling ad to gain interest from your audience. We started to find a few ads that were performing well in a few different audiences. So we tested different ads to those audiences and kept working to find variations that would perform better than their previous versions. This strategy helped us find both audiences and ad creative that worked and converted for us. Now all we do is run ads to our audiences we know work, and then continually test ads on new audiences to see what else might work.
We are able to retain our customers really well due to the quality of developers we hire. We do not mess with junior level or entry level developers. We hire experienced and quality developers we know we can trust with even the most complex WordPress tasks. This turns into a great customer experience because you are working with a developer who has an in-depth knowledge of WordPress and development to help with whatever you need. We made sure to staff customer support agents and build out a larger team to make sure our customers knew that we had them covered at all times. Retention is important when you are playing the MRR game, and we do all we can to provide the best experience (onboarding, quality of service, customer support, etc) possible to keep our churn low and customers as happy as possible. It is all about keeping your customers happy. A happy customer won’t leave your service if they can afford it or if they are able to make a profit from your service. Keeping your customers happy is the key to developing strong and long-lasting relationships. Now, if a customer is a jerk, you don’t have to try and appease them. However, if you want to keep your churn numbers low and keep retention up, all you really need to do is focus on your customers and their experience with your brand or service. Ask them for feedback, schedule phone calls with them, check in and see how things are going. Communicate early and often so that you can always have your fingers on the pulse of what is working for your business or what might need to be fixed. If you are keeping up with your customers and always working to improve their experience and the quality of their service, retention will not be something you have to worry about as your customers will naturally stick around.
3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?
We have faced a few challenges as we grew our business. The first one was how do we find our customers and bring them to our site. We solved that by figuring out how to effectively use Facebook ads. The next challenge we faced was thinking about our differentiating factor. Why choose us over a different support plan similar to ours? This is when we put our heads together and changed our plan from a single site license to an unlimited sites plan. It allowed us to differentiate ourselves and created a new customer demographic to target. Almost none of our competition had an unlimited sites plan and this was our way of figuring out how we stand out in the crowd. One of the other challenges we have faced is hiring. We needed to have a steady influx of good developer talent so that we could always scale up our business when needed. We decided to come up with our own application, testing, and hiring process that helped feed good quality candidates on a regular basis so we knew we always had someone ready to start working when/if needed.
A big mistake we made was one of the first things we did as a business. Before we started offering a monthly support plan, we were just looking for site builds or larger projects to keep us afloat. That can be a dangerous game. Land one $15,000 website and you are set for a few months. Don’t land a website and you are eating ramen and saving every penny you can. It didn’t take us long to learn that the stress of winning new business on large contracts was just too much to sustain and compete with larger agencies. We had to think smaller and had to think in a way that had revenue coming in every month versus landing large one-off projects.
We have pivoted slightly since our initial days. As I have mentioned, we changed our plan from a single site license to an unlimited sites plan. That pivot made a huge difference in how our business operates. We also recently made another pivot. We often get asked things like, “Well I love your WordPress support, but what if I have a Shopify site I need a developer’s help with?” or “Do you guys know of a copywriting service similar to how RipplePop works?” We took these as a sign at what could be next for us. We have always been a WordPress focused business, but what if we could still help people find the creative talent they need for other platforms or other services? We began working through this idea and how we might begin to offer different roles outside of WordPress to our customers. We call it RipplePop Splash and its our latest offering that has seen a ton of success. It allows you to hire creative roles (WordPress developer, Shopify developer, copywriter, graphic designer, video editor, etc) for 2 hours, 4 hours, or 8 hours per day. This offering is meant to be a way for agencies or people to create a larger team to serve their needs. You can assemble whatever roles you need, for however many hours per day you need them, and have a team constructed and assigned to you quickly. This new modular approach allowed us to offer our customers more services and more ways they could grow their relationship with us. Some customers have used it to hire roles to start offering their own customers new services. Some customers have used it to simply get more help supporting their existing clients. It is meant to be flexible and a way for you to assemble the creative team of your dreams.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
No one gets anywhere entirely by themselves. You often hear, “It takes a village to raise a child” and I think that also goes for a business. There are a lot of useful tools out there which can help you learn how to grow your business. The key is to always understand what is your skillset and what does the market need/want. If you can find something the market needs or wants within your skillset, you can most likely build and grow a successful business. You simply need to make sure you have good margins and growth should happen naturally, but that is not always the case. There is a lot more you can do to grow your business beyond hoping it just goes viral. Here are some of the books, blogs, podcasts, and authors we have enjoyed learning from that have helped us grow our business:
- Rework (Book) – Jason Fried – All of his books are great
- Principles: Life and Work (Book) – Ray Dalio
- Blue Ocean Strategy (Book) – W. Chan Kim
- Anything You Want (Book) – Derek Sivers
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Book) – Robert B. Cialdini
- This is Marketing (Book) – Seth Godin – All of his books and videos are great resources
- Paul Jarvis (Blog) – https://pjrvs.com/
- 37Signals (Blog) – By founders of Basecamp (Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson) – https://m.signalvnoise.com/
- StartUp (Podcast) – https://gimletmedia.com/shows/startup/episodes
- The Russ Perry Show (Podcast) – https://russperry.co/show/
Some of the best decisions we have made were due to the contents of the books and media above. For example, early on we were debating what our monthly plan should be. Just WordPress? Should it cover all other web development platforms? How open or closed off should this service be? Seth Godin is a big proponent of niching down. So instead of trying to come up with a support plan that works for everyone, create a support plan that works really well for only some people or a particular platform. That is exactly what we did by targeting WordPress. We wanted to pick something specific so that people instantly knew if our service was a fit for them.
5. What is your advice for those are starting productized services?
Consider your margins and consider charging more. With productized services, you typically see a decent churn rate so you need to be able to feed people in faster than they are leaving. You want to make sure your margins are in a place where you are making enough profit. We typically aim for a 60-70% margin. That includes all expenses (developer expenses and internal software expenses). If you have a good margin, it makes it a lot less stressful to grow your business because you have the capital to do so.
If you are considering offering your services at a higher rate, do it. You can always test it out and see how it goes and revert back if its not selling but overall raising your rates or prices can have a profound impact on your business. For example, we used to sell our $79/mo single site license support plan. Now for $79/mo, one would think customers would have a good idea that the plan wouldn’t be the same as having a full-time developer. That it is limited in just how much we can do per day for $79/mo. However, some customers expected us to be on standby for them at all times. As if their $79/mo was paying an entire team of people to monitor their requests 24/7. When we changed our pricing to $399 and had our plan cover unlimited sites, it changed our customer. No longer were we servicing small businesses and their one single site, we were serving agencies who managed hundreds of sites under one account. This shift made a huge difference in how our business was perceived. A small business with one website is going to care extra if their site has an issue. Their site is their world, and when something is wrong we are going to hear about it loud and clear. When we raised our rates and began working with agencies, no longer were our customers expecting us to be waiting on their every beckoning call. We no longer had to deal with customers who thought $79/mo was a lot of money and who thought they deserved the attention of a full-time employee. At that price point we were attracting people who wanted to pay as little as possible for the most help they can get. It really becomes a lose-lose scenario. We finally hit the right price point and the right target audience who understood what they were getting with our plan when we raised our prices. This simple change in price changed our entire business for the better. It may seem scary, but raising the cost of your service can really do wonders with how its perceived.
6. What are your plans for the future?
Our plan for the future is pretty simple at this point. Keep driving traffic to our site through Facebook ads and convert those visitors to paying customers. As we keep feeding that system, we are going to start working on advertising our new RipplePop Splash plan more and finding new audiences to test. Our plan is to let our main RipplePop plan keep growing steadily while we focus on RipplePop Splash and making sure our latest offering is fundamentally sound as we scale it up.
We have doubled in size each year since we started and we plan to do that again in 2020. Outside of Facebook ads, I will often do podcast interviews or interviews like this one to help bring more attention to our business and reach new audiences. We also are working to improve a lot of internal email systems to better tag and segment our email lists for better email marketing. We also have our own custom built web app which our customers to submit requests into our team. We plan to keep improving it and adding new features that customers request to keep improving our customer experience. The overall customer experience is going to be a big focus in 2020 as we continue to grow. We want to make sure that customers feel like they know everything they need to when they sign up. We want them to feel like they have a point of contact if they need help and also what other resources are available to them. Focusing on these smaller things can really help us keep our churn low.
7. Where can we learn more about you?
You can always check out our site at https://ripplepop.com or our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/RipplePopWP/. We do have a Twitter and Instragram but those accounts are pretty inactive these days as we shifted our focus away from those platforms. Also, here is my personal LinkedIn for anyone who wants to connect: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jordan-johnson-ripplepop/
My question for the community is, what is preventing you from taking the next big step for your business? Fear? Insecurities? Doubt?