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Acquired Simple:Press – A Fixer Upper

Highlights

Project Details

Simple:Press is a WordPress plugin for creating and managing forum discussion boards. I acquired Simple:Press in July 2018 but did very little with it until Jan 2019. The intervening six month period was used by the sellers to clean up the plugin, push a major new release and provide documentation among other things. In that time I chose not to make too many major changes until all those items were complete.

Strategic Mistake?

Once I started to delve into the business it became apparent that I might have made a strategic mistake with this acquisition. The more I dug in and tried to build the business up the clearer it became that my original thought process was flawed.

My original thought process was that it would be a great complement to the Awesome Support plugin. But that was sold in Dec 2019 leaving me with just this product. Still, my initial evaluation of the product assumed a stand-alone business anyway. The attractive business features were:

  • A 12 year track record
  • 16000+ registered users on the website
  • 60+ add-ons
  • Low prices which left room to increase them
  • Lots of room for creating additional functionality for upsells

With 16,000 registered users, I figured that the first major upgrade I pushed out the door would bring in a ton of new revenue.

I was wrong.

As it turned out, the ACTIVE customer base seemed to be no more than a few hundred users!

And new or existing premium customers willing to pay for the product was on a run-rate of less than 100 users over a full year!

Ouch!

Flaws In the Evaluation Process

As it turns out, there were a number of flaws in my assumptions and evaluation of the business.

  1. The original owners broadcasted their intent to shut-down the business about a year before I purchased it. A lot of users, especially the high-value business users, might have jumped ship to competing products during that time-frame. My incorrect assumption was that they did NOT do that – that that they would wait to see if the owners could find a buyer. I guess the high-value customers decided that waiting wasn’t worth the risk and moved to a competing product as soon as they could.
  2. The competitive landscape is fierce – there is a free plugin with 80,000+ users and two premium plugins that have a combined total of 40,000 users. Simple:Press, it turns out, isn’t even in the running when it comes to the number of real users.
  3. The product LOOKS old. It is the most feature rich forum plugin on the planet but the old-school look is a turn-off to users expecting a modern UI. I underestimated the length of time it would take to modernize the UI.
  4. Private Forums might be a dying discussion format – replaced by social media and new chat products like Discord. I figured privacy-focused business owners would prefer to run their own forums and retain control over their users data.
  5. The 16,000 users in the website database turned out to be only 10,000 after cleaning it up for bogus email addresses.

Pivoting and Scrambling

So, here I am sitting on a product that has the best functionality of all WordPress forum plugins but prospective customers do not know exist or who might be turned off by the old-style UI and the idea of paying for something they might get for free (bbpress).

How does one go about fixing this kind of Strategic mistake? Currently, my ideas are as follows:

  • Revamp the UI – this is in process but still has another month or two to go before a stable version can be released. How that will affect sales and perception is going to be a major indicator of the future of the business.
  • Use the Simple:Press brand name to release other products and create a product suite – I can charge higher prices for a customer-focused product suite that offers interactions across multiple channels

Jury Is Still Out

The Jury is still out on this investment. If the pivot fails, I’m out 5 figures. If it succeeds I might be able to recoup my investment.

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