Resilience with WooCommerce Products in 2020 with Colin Daniels

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Resilience with WooCommerce Products in 2020 with Colin Daniels
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Colin Daniels, co-founder of Grenade and maker of Foo Sales and Foo Events, talks about moving from a bootstrapping agency to creating products. But what if these two products took a hit from 2020’s pandemic? Event ticketing and management and point-of-sales were hit hard in April of 2020. This is the story of not only how his team took a negative situation and turned it around, but how customers used the products to satisfy unique needs in creative ways.

A Chat with Colin Daniels from Foo Sales and Foo Events

In episode 87, Mendel Kurland and I talked with Colin about:

  • The journey for Colin from the early days of WordPress to creating products for WooCommerce
  • How they funded and started products while bootstrapping their agency
  • The challenges they faced in 2020 with two products: one for event ticketing and the other for point-of-sales
  • How their business and others have adapted to the new way of online events
  • When and how they saw the need to reevaluate Foo Events and bring in Zoom integration
  • What they have done as a company and what others can do to harden issues around in-person events and unexpected shifts
  • Why point-of-sales is starting to rise with the new eCommerce business and what the future holds
  • The overwhelming solutions available and how Foo Sales and Foo Events have differentiated themselves

Connect with Colin

Don’t forget to check out my new WooCommerce Builder Global Meetup

Mendel: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. Welcome to Do the Woo, episode 87. Hey Bob, how are you doing?

Bob: Doing good. I like it that we are so inclusive of all ages.

Mendel: Yeah. I was going to add in like, monsters and Klingons and Stormtroopers. By the way, I know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. Nobody send any hate mail Bob's way for me, including both of them in that example. Anyway, I hope things are good with you. Things are good with me.

I'm super excited to get into this show, especially because we have Colin Daniel's with us.

But, before we do all of that... I want to say thank you, a million times over, to PayPal. Because, hey, they have paying in four. And it's super easy to throw onto your site. Super amazing. And, it's something that you should try out... If you haven't tried it out.

So PayPal, thank you. And everybody else go download the PayPal plugin and install on your site. Super easy to do. There's no reason not to do it.

If you're doing eCommerce and also WooCommerce. Now, I know many of you on a WooCommerce podcast may not know what WooCommerce is, but today I'm here to tell you, all you have to do is go to WooCommerce to check out WooCommerce. And you can also check out the latest update on the mobile app. You can now add products, simple groups, and all other types of products using the WooCommerce app. So check that out, download it. It's free. Isn't it, Bob?

Bob: Yeah, it is. So you can't go wrong there.

Mendel: Because it's crazy. How is WooCommerce even free? Nobody knows. It's wild, the magic of open source.

Anyway, without further ado, I just want to welcome Colin Daniels to the show and ask you, because I'm super curious. How do you Do The Woo?

Colin: Thanks for having me on the show. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Grenade and we make products for WooCommerce.

Mendel: That's simple enough. I dig it. And so, specifically, you work on Foo Events, right?

Colin: Yeah, that's correct. So, we've got two products. One of them, which is our first successful product, is Foo Events. Which is an event and ticketing extension platform for WooCommerce. And, the other product is a software as a service point of sales system called Foo Sales.

Mendel: Cool. So I would love to get into exactly what those products do and are, so that everybody can kind of know a little bit about Foo events and Foo Sales. But, before we do, we'd love to hear about your journey to become a WooCommerce person. And, to build a products company and now a product-as-a-service company based on open source eCommerce. So, how did you get started? And, and what's, what's kind of your origin story?

The Early Days of WordPress and Moving into WooCommerce

Colin: Well, I think it goes back... Pre-dates WooCommerce. I was quite an early adopter of WordPress back in 2003. When I was still a student, I installed one of the first beta's and started playing around with blogging. Then, proceeded to help friends and family set up blogs and got into a bit of freelancing at the time. Just to make an extra buck or two.

And then my career path kind of merged into digital publishing. And I went to work for a couple of media companies and help them sort of commercialize and set up blogging and multimedia platforms based on, on bolt-on-WordPress, which at the time it was very early days and it was kind of quite a taboo.

WordPress was just seen as a blogging platform. So to get, like, listed companies to accept it into their kind of realm and open source, to be accepted, was quite a big deal.

So it required a lot of education back then and then kind of fast forward to 2012 when I started Grenade with my co-founder Robin. We started as a digital agency. That's, that's how Grenade started, which I think is a common theme amongst many of your listeners.

And we basically became experts in WordPress and WooCommerce. And focused mostly in the media entertainment and publishing space. That was where we specialize and helped a lot of brands, build sites on WordPress and WooCommerce.

We saw a lot of opportunities. We got a lot of feedback from clients in terms of extensions that they needed, and we just couldn't find them in some cases. So we dabbled in a bit of products. Most of them failed, but through events, , was one that really stuck. And that was based on a client need for a ticketing extension. And we couldn't find one that met all their requirements.

That's when we decided to just build our own and the client was incredibly happy with it. It was just a single plugin at that stage. And we decided just to put it on Code Canyon and see if anyone would buy it.

The uptake was amazing and it's kind of evolved from there and to eight extensions now. So, it really is its own platform. And we've recently added a booking extension so that people can also sell bookings and reservations on these sites.

Bob: Cool. One of the things, and this is, I think we're going to kind of go back and forth between these two products because the Foo Sales and the Foo Events, and I know you had mentioned the whole idea of omni-channel.

First of all, what have you learned specifically about that with Foo Sales? And secondly, with Foo Sales, being a point of sales instrument, what has played out with that particular product over this last year with the challenges?

The 2020 challenge with Foo Sales and Foo Events

Colin: Yeah, it's a great question, Bob. And it's something we never really anticipated when we launched Foo Sales. So, if I just take it a step back in terms of how, how Foo Sales came about. About a year after we had launched Foo Events, we were sort of browsing for ideas and we came across many of the WooCommerce community that were sort of asking for a point of sale system for WooCommerce, which nothing existed.

So, the basic origins was to build an app-based native point-of-sales system for WooCommerce. So, that idea came about in about 2016, but it took us until 2018 to, to launch the product.

And yeah, the concept was that it needed to just be a simple native app based point-of-sale system for WooCommerce that would allow store owners to capture orders, edit products, do very basic kind of things like that, in a much nicer interface than if you had a computer in front of you at your store, for example.

So we launched the free beta for that in 2018, basically to collect feedback and to try and get product market fit. And that was a very useful experience. It was free for a number of months whilst we figured this all out. And some of the things we learned was that firstly, people were very suspicious of a free points of sale system. I mean, how can it be free? How are they making money? It's obvious that you cannot trust them because it's, it's something I'm building my business on, essentially.

So, that was one of the things. And then the other thing was that people wanted more enterprise functionality in the points-of-sale system. So, we thought that just having a basic, nice, easy to use app based interface would be enough. And ultimately we learned that the market was hungry for more hardware integrations, payments integrations, different tailored management, store management, all these things that were way out of our comfort zone, at the time. And, but it told us that we were onto something.

So what we've really seen materialize over this past year is obviously there have been some weird months where stores were kind of shut down throughout the world. And, you kind of wonder if life is ever going to return to normal and whether they'll ever need points-of-sale systems again, but we've seen two very distinct types of customers emerge that are starting to use Foo Sales, which is very interesting.

The first kind of group are existing WooCommerce online store owners that are looking at moving into the kind of real-world environments, physical environments, by opening up pop-up shops or selling their goods at fairs or things like that.

And, that has started to pick up again that that did go very quiet in the middle of the year, but we're starting to see a lot more people moving their online stores into physical stores. Either for promotions, for promoting their brand, or just to reach more customers, which makes a lot of sense.

So, that's really picked up and then the other interesting one are new businesses that are looking for solutions. They don't necessarily need to know about WooCommerce. They're looking at launching a new business. They might've been laid off and they've had a few business ideas and they are looking for something that can essentially allow them to sell online and also sell in person.

And that's how they've come about Foo Sales. So it's interesting. We thought that WooCommerce would be the gateway, but in actual fact people find Foo Sales and some of them, it converts them into WooCommerce.

So, it's very exciting for the growth of WooCommerce in the sense that something like Foo Sales and obviously there are other services that can do similar. It's turning WooCommerce into a legitimate omni-channel eCommerce platform. There's a lot of scope for growth there that we've seen.

And, as I mentioned, we've decided to double down on integrating, doing real enterprise point-of-sale types of integrations with things like card payment systems, scanners, cash drawers, print, thermal printers. All these types of things, which we never anticipated doing. And, at the moment Foo Sales is on three platforms. We've got a web version that was also based on customer feedback. We didn't think that there would be demand for a web version and we thought people would just use their WooCommerce site.But, a lot of stores would be running cheap, kind of, MacBooks and they want a much nicer points-of-sales experience then the back end of WooCommerce. And then we've got native apps for iPad and Android tablets.

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Mendel: Yeah, I think we've talked about this on previous shows. That there's this really interesting trend to make your WooCommerce site, your point-of-sales. To integrate very closely with your web, your website, or your web store.

Part of that is inventory management, right? That's super hard for a physical store that wants to go online or an online store that wants to go physical. And I think I've also seen this trend that there are a lot of people that are starting to build out pop-up shops and the like.

Adapting online events

So, it's super interesting from a web sales perspective. I'm curious what you're seeing on the events side too. Unfortunately, you have to two businesses that have had to adapt in a very interesting time. And so, I'm curious how maybe the online events stuff has changed and what you're seeing there as well.

Colin: Well, I think for us, it was interesting because within a space of two months we had our best sales month and our worst sales month, in our history. So, that was something I never thought that I would see happening.

But yeah, literally, in February, , we hit our first kind of record. We've had a series of record months for Foo Events this year and got all excited. And then, by April, we had some sleepless nights and yes, one hundred percent right, Mendel. Both our products rely on in-person types of activities.

And, that's something that we've really had to adapt to. And, with Foo Events especially we're very agile as a company. And once we saw what was happening in terms of lockdowns happening around the world, and we could see ourselves starting to drop, we made a very quick call that we needed to move into virtual events.

The Zoom integration

So, within a space of about two to three weeks, we managed to fold in Zoom integration to Foo Events. And that was, that was a really big move for us because it required, , we had never really considered that. It wasn't even on our roadmap up until that point. It hadn't really even been requested that people would want to sell tickets on their own website for virtual events.

So that was, I would say one of the biggest moves we made in the early part of this year and it's worked incredibly well for us. And one of the trends now that we've seen on that front is that obviously virtual events are all the thing, and will probably be around for a long time. But, we also see in people, changing their business models. Events, organizers, conferences, actually changing their business models now where they will, in the future, be able to sell tickets off their physical events.

Instead of just capping an event, there'll be able to sell tickets for, , virtual stream at the same time. Which I think that's one thing this pandemic has taught us is the borders have definitely been dropped. So if we'll allow anyone to attend events, that aren't allowed to go... That can't make it in person.

Harden your business for future issues around in-person events

Mendel: I always think that's interesting, how adversity sometimes strengthens business models, right? In your case, it seems like it's, it's created some resilience, right? That you've actually created a new opportunity for yourself in business. And you've also figured out how to harden your business against future issues that might impact in-person events.

As we know in the past, however many years, whether it's terrorism or whether it's natural disaster, whether it's a pandemic, there are new challenges, unfortunately, for in-person things. It seems like a really awesome call to fortify your business in that way. I've seen this happening in local businesses, too.

Like restaurants or bars that start to sell the flour from their providers. To sell baking goods and things like that out of the front of their shop. And they're figuring out how to adapt in the face of uncertainty. And I think that's a really cool way to go about things and also probably the sign of a business that's here to stay. So that's super cool to kind of hear how you've adapted the business.

Colin: Yeah, thanks. I agree with you. And I think another example of that is with our new booking extension that we launched. We are in the process of also integrating that with Zoom and that will then allow anyone from consultants to tele-medicine, to yoga studios, pilates studios, that type of thing, to be able to sell bookings for virtual events or virtual one-on-one in-person sessions.

So yeah, hundred percent. For us, it's also been very encouraging to see how these types of businesses have adapted, because it's one thing for us to adapt, but an event organizer that maybe organizes four in-person events a year... When something like this pandemic hit them and they didn't have any contingency plans, you think, well you're dead. You're dead in the water.

But, we've really seen the true resilience, especially, of small businesses globally. Because we have got our customers all over the world and has been so encouraging to see how they've adapted their business models.

Firstly, by starting with say a virtual... Running virtual events instead of fully canceling their physical event. But now to see them planning running different streams of virtual and physical events into the future. So yeah it's amazing how resilient, as human beings, we really are.

From bootstrap agency to selling products

Mendel: Now you're a hot shot now, but before you were bootstrapping your own business. So how did you get from bootstrap business focusing on only agency stuff to actually selling products?

Colin: Yeah, I think it's been a very tricky road. We started the agency because it was easy. It required very little capital. And I think for many of us out there, it's a great way to get into WooCommerce and WordPress, into the community.

If you've wanted to start your own business, that's probably one of the easiest, cheapest ways to do it. Especially if you've got some contacts, some clients, you get money in immediately and you get to learn and see opportunities. So, that's why we did it in the first place. Our heart always told us that we wanted to do products. And the challenge though was, how did we get there with our capital? And I think that's something that many listeners face. We've always enjoyed bootstrapping. We've enjoyed being in control of our own destiny.

So when the opportunity came with Foo Events starting to hit some traction and we moved it across to our own website where we started selling the plugins instead of just on a marketplace. Really starting to market using ad-words and Facebook advertising... Concentrating on SEO, the usual things.

The revenue started to come in, but now it was about balancing the scales because we had an existing client base on the agency side we had retainers in place. So, it was a very tricky and slow moving act where we had to start to put more time into our products without losing too much of the agency revenue. But I'm happy to say that we finally have arrived at that point where we didn't need that revenue anymore, but it required us to make quite a few sacrifices.

I mean, we closed on our physical office in 2017. Downsized a little bit too, and went completely remote and distributed... Which has helped us in these times too. I think having practiced for the last three years has really put us in good state for what happened this year.

But yeah, it required a lot of changing our processes, finding different tools, things like Slack and Zoom. We were quite early adopters of those. Different project management systems and then also balancing time zone differences because we spread across North America and South Africa.

So, it hasn't been an easy task. I think the cash flow has been probably one of the trickiest things to manage because you're dealing with completely different business models. And obviously when you're an agency, you selling your time and if you're busy it, doesn't leave you with much time to focus on your products, but you need that time to bold your products so that they eventually become your main revenue stream.

Colin: So it's been a work in progress, but I can honestly say it's been a very rewarding journey. I think if hadn't done the agency thing, we wouldn't have seen the gaps in the market. We wouldn't have learned from our customers who gave us the ideas for our products, essentially.

The next transition for point of sales

Bob: I hate to be flipping around back and forth to these products, but with the Foo Sales... I was reflecting on what you said as far as, kind of the new businesses that are looking at both of your products.

It seems as if now, before with point-of-sales, maybe you had a brick and mortar, how do I use a point of sales here? How do I use it as I get more mobile or whatever, but now you've got this entirely new industry of people starting up at home.

When we go back to whatever normal is, at that point, that could almost bring an uptick in that particular product. Because those people that are working at home may not be, yeah... They don't want to go open up a brick and mortar shop somewhere, but they may be looking at other opportunities, like you said.

Whether it's events or something where they can sell that. So that could possibly be a future trend. Moving back up is a whole new industry of people saying, how do I get out there and make in-person sales, but without having to rent or lease a building to do it.

Colin: Exactly Bob. And I think, yeah, if one good thing comes out of this pandemic, it's that it's encouraging people to be more entrepreneurial. I think all of us, even people with day jobs, have had a lot more, kind of, time to think at home. To think about opportunities that they might not have had if they were sitting at a desk in a busy public office space, for example.

Yeah. I think obviously we're not through the dark times just yet, and we still got to get through this, this pandemic. But, I'm really optimistic and excited about the future for the world and for businesses as a whole. Because, I think there's going to be a lot of exciting businesses that we're going to see being both now and in the next five years are going to be the new Googles, for example, that have come out of this adversity.

I think what's very exciting for us, as WooCommerce builders is that we're building for an incredibly popular platform that still has so much room to grow. I mean, we've seen huge growth in eCommerce platforms in general this year because of people launching these stores.

But I think for us, as builders, adding products and services on top of WooCommerce. There's an incredible amounts of opportunity. And if I just use the points-of-sales example, I mean, here, you've got WooCommerce, which has millions of online stores... People running their online stores on it already that are thinking about pop-up shops, markets. Being able to, just out of the car, run a business. Pull out an iPad and make some sales running on WooCommerce. I mean, it's we wouldn't have imagined this five years ago, for example.

And the best part is, that one of the biggest advantages that WooCommerce has over, say a traditional points-of-sale system, is that you've got this incredibly active community and literally thousands of extensions built for it. Which a traditional point of sales system can compete with.

That's one of our biggest challenges, as a business, is how do we integrate with the popular ones, because that's what people want. They want integrations. So, that's definitely something we're going to be focusing on.

We've also seen huge demand for advanced integration with Foo Events on the Foo Sales side. So, people want to be able to actually have a box office solution where they can sell tickets for their events or their theme park or museum or whatever it may be. Online, on their own website, but then also be able to sell tickets at the door and have them printed out. That's something, once again, in the past year, we wouldn't have imagined that there would be such an overlap between our two products, but I think it's all got to do with what's happening in the industry and these trends and all these new businesses that are just emerging. It's created a whole bunch of opportunities for all of us.

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Thanks for PayPal for being a community sponsor at Do the Woo. And now back the conversation.

What differentiates Foo Sales and Foo Events

Mendel: Well now, I'm going to ask you something that's going to put you on the spot a little bit. But, a lot of people are looking for event solutions and sometimes they go to places like the events calendar and things like that, right... And ticketing solutions.

Then, on the POS side Oliver POS and other types of POS that are available and you can get them from Code Canyon. You can get them from woocommerce.com. You can get them from, , all of these different places. Why, why Foo Events? Why Foo Sales? What's cooler and better about your product? What differentiates you?

And I'm not asking this to be super obnoxious and ask you to define yourself. The reason I ask is because I think a lot of people have a hard time understanding the different benefits of the different platforms. And I don't think everything's made for everybody. Right. It's a cool opportunity for people to hear straight from you what makes your software special?

Colin: Great. No, it's a very good question. If I could maybe start with Foo Events, I think what makes Foo Events so special is that it's actually... It's not just the plugin or extension. It's a platform, which is something quite unique.

So, as I said, it's got these eight extensions for Foo Event, so it's incredibly flexible. We find, , we've got over 10,000 customers using it for just about everything under the sun. It constantly amazes us what solutions people can hack together using Foo Events.

People are running multi-site ticketing services using Foo Events, for example. People are selling tickets for track days. People selling tickets for karaoke bars, for tattoo artists. So it's essentially not even what we designed it for. Which was more for traditional events, conferences, workshops, that type of thing. People are using it for passes now.

I think the reason is, because of its flexibility, you can basically buy individual Foo Events plugins that add different functionality to the core plugin. Or, you can buy the bundle, which allows you to do a lot of different things.

As time has gone by we've introduced free check-in apps, which is also something that we feel gives us a bigger advantage. Native event check-ins apps for iOS and Android, which are really cool. They support QR codes and barcodes and allow event organizers to quickly scan in attendees. Free themes. We've got free ticketing themes. So there's quite a lot that comes with it.

Then of course the virtual events stuff is also something that I think is quite unique. I feel like our integration is possibly one of the best with Zoom and, that's been incredibly popular over this past year.

So, I think as a platform, that's what makes Foo Events so special and its flexibility. So, for a pretty low price, you could build an entire business around Foo Events, if you've got a good idea. That's how we feel about it. And of course, it's all unlimited ticketing and it's commission free. So, when we compare competitors outside of the WordPress WooCommerce space, like Event Brite, or some of those platforms, we find a lot of people moving across to us. Which is great, because that means also they're setting up WordPress and WooCommerce sites, , as opposed to just say using Event Brite and the main reason is if it gets too expensive. Once you're selling a lot of tickets and they're taking commission on your ticket sales, it really does eat into your profits. And some businesses have very small margins.

That's another benefit, are the fixed costs. So yeah, that would be Foo Events. On the Foo Sales side, while I think the fact that we've got native apps. The iOS and Android apps are completely native and there's no bridging software or middleware, which is one of the biggest reasons why we launched Foo Sales. Was that, there were other solutions, there was some kind of plugin that would sync different orders and products between WooCommerce and the payment system. And that would cause a lot of problems for people.

So, the fact that it's all seamlessly integrated into WooCommerce. So, in real time, when you place a sale on Foo Sales, it deducts the inventory on your website, for example. Creates the order in WooCommerce, that's very slick. It works offline, as well, because it's app based. So people can go into the desert and have a party when the pandemic settles and be able to sell t-shirts there with no internet access.

Then when you get back home, you can sync all your orders. I think that's a huge benefit. And yeah, and then a lot of the other solutions are only web based. So, that's another thing. We have a web version, as well, as I mentioned, but really we seeing the biggest demands with the apps because of the flexibility and the, the user interface and the user experience and the ability to integrate with hardware. I think that's something else that, , we've already integrated with the Impact, which is a Star Cash Register printer thing, which has been very popular. But we've got a lot more integrations lined up and integrations with payments systems as well, which we're quite excited about.

Bob: Yeah, I can attest to the... On the Foo Events side of things. Because, I know that consultants and coaches that do bookings often will also do events, vice versa. When I was doing both coaching and, consulting and events... I had a booking plugin and I had an events plugin, and I had to have two systems, two separate things in that. And at that point, nothing worked. This was before even Foo Events came out. It always drove me nuts.

Because I'd shift between those two a lot. And I didn't have just one nice interface that I could depend on. So that, yeah, that is... And a lot of times those booking things can come naturally with some kind of events, whether they're either virtual or in person.

So yeah. Cool stuff, for sure. Yeah. We could talk all about virtual events forever. I think with maybe someday we'll actually remember this and remember when all we talked about was virtual events, right?

Colin: That's definitely one of the buzz words of 2020, that's for sure.

Bob: Yeah. This has been great Colin. I look forward to getting you on and, , hearing about the products and hearing a little bit more about yourself... And, Mendel may be having a lingering thought as well. Who knows?

Mendel: I don't have any thoughts. But, I think it's super cool to hear about both of these products and kind of how you there's so many companies that start as an agency and then make their way to products. And, it's cool.

Cause, I think a lot of people that run agencies have these problems that they solve for customers and they may decide not to productize it. But when you get that request day after day, or if you see in the forums, , day after day that people have these needs, why not? ...Or at least try it out, . And, if you don't have a good product market fit or something like that, you still have your agency work.

So I think it's cool to hear that story. And, and I think it's awesome that you're adapting in this weird business climate. And it's been a pleasure. It's been a pleasure chatting.

So where can people find you if they have questions?

Colin: So, they can either find me on LinkedIn at Colin Daniels or on Twitter, my handle is @youngblood.

Bob: Cool. Alrighty.

Mendel: With that, Bob, take it away. Close us out.

Bob: I'm ready now.

Well, we'd like to thank our sponsors once again, WooCommerce. As we, since we were talking about apps. Yeah. Check out their mobile app. I actually did add a product to my site, although I'm selling it, but I was able to add one quite easily and yeah, it was pretty cool, pretty slick.

And of course, PayPal, check it out. Paying four, that is the thing to do, break down those payments, help your customers be able to buy even more on your site. So, do checkout paypal.com and check out the free extension, PayPal Checkout extension on WooCommerce marketplace.

And just one last thing, I just want to throw out there. WooCommerce Builder Global Meetup has officially launched. This is a new meetup that I'm putting together. Cause I don't have enough things to do. So I thought, why not do something else to bring this community together? That will be starting in January already discussing some great formats to that. You just go to the meetup.com search for WooCommerce builder global meetup and yeah, join it. And you'll be seeing some diverse and interesting and meetups on the way in the new year.

Mendel: So sign me up. Sign me up right now. Yeah,

Bob: You're there. Right? You're doing it right now. As we speak. I know you are so you, by the time you get there, you'll see Mendel's little face. They're just smiling at you and he's ready to go. So cool. We are, we are good to go. Everybody have a wonderful holiday season and again, Colin, thank you very much for joining us.

Mendel: Thanks for having me on the show.