Recently while doing an interview, I was asked “what do you attribute the overnight success of OptinMonster?”
I chuckled a bit before responding.
For most folks OptinMonster, our WordPress lead generation plugin, seems like an overnight success.
However that was not the case. The first version of OptinMonster was a failure.
But for those who think it was an overnight success, here’s my version of the 10 month long overnight success story.
I came up with the idea of OptinMonster in 2012 because I was tired of trying to find a WordPress popup plugin that actually worked as advertised.
Out of my frustration, I put together a few open source jQuery scripts and made my own popup for List25, which looked like this:
This was working so well that I approached Thomas Griffin with an idea to build OptinMonster together (see my tips on finding the right business partner).
After having several meetings and calls, we decided that it was best for us to build OptinMonster as a SaaS application which works on all websites.
I knew that there was a huge market for a good popup solution that actually works. However neither of us had any experience building a SaaS application.
I quickly went to the drawing board and started building sketches of the dashboard and how I wanted the whole interface to be. In the meantime, Thomas worked on building the script.
Because we loved WordPress and neither of us had any experience building a SaaS application, we decided to use WordPress as a framework for our application.
We thought it was the cool thing to do, and it will get us some brownie points in the WordPress community. Also because it worked for my friends over at HelloBar.
In hindsight: this was a good / bad decision, and you will see why.
I handled most of the design part while Thomas handled all the development. Because both of us were familiar with WordPress, using it as the platform for OptinMonster SaaS meant less of a learning curve.
OptinMonster started out as a side project. I was running WPBeginner, List25, speaking, and managing my other affiliate sites. Thomas had Soliloquy, a WordPress slider plugin, along with several consulting clients.
Despite of existing projects, we worked late nights and weekends on OptinMonster (I thank my wife Amanda and Thomas’ wife Laura for allowing us to do that).
Over the course of 8 months, we built a super cool SaaS application powered by WordPress.
We were ready to test it on a handful of live sites.
Both of us put it on our personal blogs, and everything was going great. Then I put it on WPBeginner, and we found several scalability issues that we tinkered with and fixed.
Out of excitement, I decided to tease the product on my social accounts and even put up a coming soon landing page to build an email list.
Failure and Pivot
As we get closer to launching, I invited a few close friends to check it out and use it on their sites. Everything was going great, and I even hinted at a possible launch date on Twitter.
The last step was to add OptinMonster on List25.
That night was the longest night ever.
Once we added List25 along with few other sites, our servers crashed. Since neither of us were sysadmins, we couldn’t get the servers to scale properly.
We consulted with a few sysadmins and long story short the issue was our reporting.
The WordPress database couldn’t handle that many rewrites. We were tracking impressions and conversions for every site (imagine the amount of database writes).
We really had two options at this point: completely pivot in 30 days or close down shop.
Why 30 days?
Because we had already spent too much time (8 months) building this product. At the same time several competitors had already entered the market, and we needed to push out our product fast or risk being behind.
It wasn’t realistic for us to completely rebuild OptinMonster SaaS from scratch, so I suggested that we stick to our strengths and launch it as a WordPress plugin.
Because of such a strict self-imposed deadline, we had to make OptinMonster v1.0 a MVP (minimum viable product). This was slightly easier because OptinMonster SaaS was built on top of WordPress.
However the code was messy, undocumented and lacked the general extensibility (from Thomas’ standards). Thomas had some real internal struggles because he wanted to make this a perfect product. After some talking, I was able to convince him that our product as-is was better than every other solution in the WordPress market.
With a lot of hard work, we made our self-imposed 30 day deadline and launched OptinMonster.
Launch and Onward
We had a very successful launch. We knew that our product wasn’t perfect (from our standards), but everyone else appreciated our work because it was significantly better than anything else in the market.
From that point onward, we made it our goal to improve OptinMonster and strive for perfection however not at the cost of user needs.
After almost a year from our launch, we released OptinMonster 2.0 last week.
This was a major rewrite. Both Thomas and I were very proud of what OptinMonster has become. This new update will allow us and other developers to further extend OptinMonster to build new functionality.
As you can see, we just spent a very long night to become an overnight success.
Although I’m not the one to quit (you can ask my wife because she turned me down 14 times before saying Yes), I needed some motivation to keep going. This quote by Napolean Hill helped a lot:
Before success comes in any man’s life, he’s sure to meet with much temporary defeat and, perhaps some failures. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of men do.
– Napolean Hill
The most important things to learn from this journey:
– Be disciplined and set hard deadlines.
– Two minds are better than one. Always seek expert advice.
– Perfection is a curse. Innovation can be messy. Learn and Improve.
P.S. If you have a website and want to convert visitors into subscribers and customers, then you should definitely try out OptinMonster. Use the coupon WPB10 for 10% off.
Update: I wrote a follow up of this story that highlights the next chapter of OptinMonster and our journey as a SaaS product.