How we ended up here: a story about SliceWP

In the past I was seeing digital products simply as tools. Want this thing done? Use this software. Want this other thing done? Use this other software. It was impersonal, like using a hammer. Simple as that.

But once I started building my own digital products I began realizing that it was actually quite different. It was personal. Much more than I would have imagined.

The reality is that all products have a story, some wilder than others, some so wild you couldn’t believe they’re true.

And all products have at least one person behind them, a person that one time worked overhours, drinking Coke and eating pizza, just so that one amazing feature would get into the hands of end users.

The same goes for our story. Welcome! I’m Mihai and together with my brother Mihai (yep, you read that right, we’re both named the same… a tale for another day maybe… told you, some stories are on the edge of truth) we’re working on building SliceWP into one of the best affiliate program management plugins for WordPress.

It was a long road until now…

And it all started in 2018

Back then I was working on Social Pug (which is now named Grow and is a part of the Mediavine family), a social media plugin for WordPress. Social Pug was starting to have some good traction and customers began asking about an affiliate program to promote the product.

At first I didn’t bother too much looking into building affiliate partnerships. I was already working almost full time on the plugin, and between development, customer support and some minor marketing efforts, I wasn’t eager to devote any more energy and time.

But requests for the affiliate program kept coming and coming, so I caved and started looking into options. Let’s just say I was a bit disappointed at what I found. Most solutions seemed overly complicated and user unfriendly.

So, without wanting to commit, I put the affiliate program on hold.

A sort of an “aha” moment popped up

In the fall of 2018 an article from Kinsta, a WordPress hosting company, started popping up in my social media feeds. Long story short, out of frustration, they’ve built their own affiliate system instead of relying on an existing solution.

That for me was an eye opener. Never considered making one from scratch. But, being a builder, that intrigued me and I started working on weekends on a prototype.

At the same time, my brother was looking into making a career change, from a testing engineer to a developer, but didn’t really know where to start. Knowing this, I proposed that we work together on creating a small WordPress affiliate program manager plugin to power my business.

Soon enough, the whole thing turned into a real project. We were debating features at length. Dissected these ideas into the smallest working bits. We added each one as a card in Trello. Set deadlines. And then started plowing through them like crazy.

But then… this happened

It was the 21st of March 2019 and I was out with my girlfriend celebrating. An email notification popped up. A new Social Pug sale. Nice!

Five minutes later, another email notification. Another sale. This birthday is better than I expected. Three minutes later another one. One minute later another one. New sale emails started pouring in every 30 seconds. Have you ever felt that weird sensation that panic is slowly creeping into you? More or less, that’s what I felt.

We ended the celebration early and quickly went home to assess the situation. What I was experiencing was what one could call a mass migration. In short, one of the biggest competitors in the social media WordPress plugins sphere, a plugin powering tens of thousands of websites, had been gravely exploited.

Customers panicked and jumped ship, only to fall in my little life boat. It was humbling to see so many people choosing Social Pug, but at the same time it was frightening. The plugin was a one person project and this sudden growth was overwhelming, to put it mildly.

Sales continued to come in. Support queries were starting to pile up. Just on the first day I replied to over 120 new customers and continued to for two months, almost all day every day.

Once more, I had to put the affiliate program on hold.

Surviving the flood

The first couple of months after the migration were hard, extremely hard. I was contemplating on blocking new orders just so I can be able to focus and reenergize.

Thankfully, there were people that helped me deal with the situation. Andrew from NerdPress and MaAnna from BlogAid have a special place in my heart for jumping in and writing articles on how to easily migrate over to Social Pug and also for responding to questions posted by community members. Thank you!

On the bright side though, feedback was pouring in like crazy. Alongside it, almost daily requests for, you guessed it, an affiliate program.

This time I decided to commit, but not to SliceWP, which was still too young to have it powering any website. I went with an affiliate network provided by the payment gateway I was working with.

Ultimately, this was a bad call.

While the network itself was good for me, as it streamlined a lot of my affiliate program management needs, it was awful for my affiliate partners.

It had a dated interface, to put it extremely mildly. If you’ve been around on the internet back in 2005, that’s the image I want you to have.

It was hard to navigate, hard to figure out what to click on, close to no reports or statistics for affiliates, being a network it had its own approval process, that had affiliates completing a 15+ fields form, it had no customization for affiliate emails, it was a total mess.

A lot of customers that wanted to join the program gave up because of the registration process. Some were rejected by the network, even if they had great blogs that I would have approved in an instant. Some even closed their affiliate account due to the user interface being borderline unusable.

Committing to SliceWP

Yet, with all the downsides, it kind of worked out okay in the end. Within 2 months, over 20 affiliates jumped through all the hurdles of joining the program. Over 12% of orders were driven by these partners and income was up more than 20%.

But all of these experiences combined, negative and positive, led me to prioritize the affiliate WordPress plugin started with my brother.

And we went all in. We set the release date to the 6th of January 2020. We articulated every feature, refactored what we believed could be improved, set crazy deadlines and, most importantly, we set a few guidelines for how we wanted to run our future business and build our plugin:

  • Make it extremely easy for someone to create an affiliate program on WordPress.
  • Debate each feature to make sure it’s easy to use and can bring value for both our customers and their affiliates.
  • Create content that would help our customers to grow their business, but also affiliates to grow theirs.
  • Get in touch with as many of our customers and their affiliates to understand their approach and be able to create the tools they really need.

This time we delivered. Everything went smoothly and we managed to release the first version a couple of days earlier.

Now that we’re finally up and running, we’d like to welcome you to be a part of our journey. Our inboxes and our Twitter account are opened for chats, so come say hi.