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Where does the General keep his armies?

In his sleevies!

The WordPress Economy is Changing, and Zao Is Ready For It

Not too long ago, Post Status’ newsletter covering Rainmaker’s move from a SaaS product model to a service-only model served as the catalyst for a lot of conversation on Twitter. We saw the esteemed Brad Williams tweet this thought about the WordPress economy:

And it sparked a conversation in the Zao Slack about the WordPress economy and how this impacts us, too.

Zao has been around for over a decade, and we’ve seen the WordPress economy grow and expand during that time. We’ve watched many amazing businesses pop up, incredible developers thrive, and observed the expansion of open-source software’s role in business and tech overall. So far, it has been a wild ride.

In some ways, the WordPress economy has slowed down, especially in the product space, and likely in the service space as well. More than anything, though, I believe this to be a correction, rather than a real dip in the WP economy.

If your goal is to build a solid business, with solid products, services and a strong foundation, this is not a true threat.

WordPress has been booming for the last eight to ten years, with the last five being especially lucrative and successful for many of us. The WordPress industry as a whole has done so well that a lot of folks who built a great product did well, regardless of the stability and structure of their actual business. While the correction will hit everyone, the agencies and developers who are being hit the hardest are the people who haven’t taken time to build a great business in addition to their great product.

It’s all about perspective. If you’ve been operating on the belief that the bubble we’ve been living and working in should be the norm, or that anyone should be able to offer any kind of WordPress service or product for a gold rush, you’ll likely see this correction as something to be feared. If your goal is to build a solid business, with solid products, services and a strong foundation, this is not a true threat. These things are mutually exclusive; a gold rush mentality is not a reliable business model for those who want longevity and stability.

During this boom, the competition has increased not just in the WordPress industry itself, but outside of it as well. Businesses that would have been really happy with WordPress are becoming familiar with and considering things like React, Laravel, Drupal, etc. WordPress isn’t the lingua franca as it was in 2012, and as a result, those of us in the WordPress industry are being challenged to offer more. That doesn’t necessarily mean focusing outside of our niche, but making sure we’re providing value outside of just technical WordPress knowledge and skill.

WordPress isn’t the only or even best use for every case. It’s causing people to refine who they serve, what businesses they are able to serve and serve well, or, for product based companies, it forces them to narrow in on what they actually want their products to do. The days of products that can do everything and prosper are over. There are too many other options.

For example, I don’t think we’ll see another WooCommerce plugin for WP that can do everything and flourish. When WooCommerce started five years ago, Shopify only had 1% market share, and the other options available were terrible. There simply weren’t many available solutions in the market. It was a good general use product that served a need that wasn’t being met otherwise. Today, there are a lot solutions that meet the market needs more specifically and efficiently, which means an acceptable general use project is not going to be as popular or successful as it was in the past.

This is what’s referred to as “solution maturity in the market.” On the product end, this creates space for companies to build good products to serve particular needs. It makes me think of WordImpress and what they do. They’ve done a really nice job of building a company around products that do something very specific and do it very well. You can see this in Maps Builder ProBusiness Reviews Bundle, and many of their other increasingly popular products. What they’re doing right is building a company, not just a product, and focusing on creating products that serve specific functions and needs very well. Companies that continue to do that in this economy will continue to grow and succeed.

This statement strikes me as a little hyperbolic. It makes it sound like everyone falls into either the bottom 2% or the top 2%. While there’s some truth to that, like how the middle class is thinning out, I don’t think it’s quite as dramatic as it sounds here. Let’s say, right now, 80% of the market is theme builders, implementers, and middle of the road types. We aren’t going to see that 80% disappear. It will shrink, and a big chunk of that group will continue to struggle and contract while the other 20% continues to grow and expand.

With the service agencies, there are obvious parallels. Agencies who pitch themselves as generic WordPress website designers will struggle. Agencies need to specialize, because increasingly, general service offerings aren’t going to be enough.

One of the things we’ve realized over the years that Zao has been around is that our market isn’t just “people who need a website.” Our clients don’t come to us merely for some kind of technology; they come to us for business solutions. While “business solutions” may sound like a buzz phrase, we mean it seriously: we analyze their business goals and apply them to what we’re building on their behalf. How can we make this more cost effective for them? How can we build technology that allows them to grow? What kind of timeline is their growth on? We’re not just handing them the technology, but custom creating work based around their specific business needs and dreams.

We know that we need to offer something more. Agencies that aren’t offering something that makes them different from some random CMO’s nephew may not realize that this was going to be a struggle because of the gold rush we’ve all been experiencing. Those struggles will start to become apparent, though, because without specializing, they have less to give.

The end of the WordPress gold rush is going to end up being a good thing for everyone, because businesses that have been built on a weak foundation, with generic offerings, will fade away. Being that there are so many incredible WordPress agencies and developers, I’m confident that many of us will continue to thrive. We will fill the space left behind with better products, better services, and significant open-source advancements. WordPress isn’t going anywhere, and many of us in the WordPress space will still be around for a long time to come.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for writing this, Justin!

    I completely agree with your perspective here! ?

    – You have to have to build a business (a company’s brand or your own) and not just your product
    – Solid developers and agencies are not going anywhere! Those, who were selling bad quality products and services are now worried! And are going to get what was coming to them.


  2. We’ve written about this subject too. While we agree that the theme market is saturated and some are seeing steep revenue losses compared to the past, we do not agree that the plugin market is slowing down at all.

    We are probably not considered a mature WP business, but since we started several years ago, we always saw a decent year to year growth. 2016 and especially 2017 are no exceptions.

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