2023 Year in Review: Shipping Well, Growing Slowly

TL;DR – We shipped features at a good clip in 2023, but we grew very slowly despite our marketing efforts. We have a good path ahead of us to unlock some growth.

This is my tenth year in review post since I started writing them: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022.

Team

We started the year with the return of Caillie, our Marketing Manager from parental leave, Ash, our Lead Developer leaving, and trying to hire a Senior DevOps Engineer. We also had new customer support agents from LevelUp agency.

It was far from ideal to lose our Lead Developer, but not the end of the world as we have George and James, two solid Senior Developers. We had had performance issues with one of our other developers though and so I let him go in May. I’m very happy with what George and James shipped this year (more on that below). And Ash has returned in a limited capacity, doing a bit of consulting work with us late in the year.

Lewis, our world-class designer, pumped out impressive work all year long. New UIs for the app, new pages for the website, and custom animations here and there. And did I mention he did just about all the HTML/CSS work as well? Awesome stuff.

I was excited to have Caillie back on the marketing side and had high hopes for what we could accomplish this year. It was certainly great having her back getting things in motion that had been dropped and working with Sam, our Marketing Assistant. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the results we were hoping for on the marketing front (more on that below).

One of my top goals for 2023 was to reduce the amount of time our developers spent supporting customers down to nearly zero. And I’m happy to say we succeeded in this.

Although the agents we hired in late 2022 through LevelUp were a big improvement over those from the previous agency we used, they still weren’t at the technical level needed. They were still escalating lots of support requests to our developers.

We decided in January that it might be a good idea to hire a Senior DevOps Engineer that could take on escalated support requests as well as coach the agents and help them get better, to handle more themselves. Of course they’d work on our infrastructure and help with app development as well.

We hired a Senior DevOps Engineer, Liam, in April but had problems with the agents from LevelUp and ended up dismissing them. In August, with Liam’s help, we hired two new agents ourselves.

One agent didn’t work out, but the other, Andre has been amazing and I feel so fortunate to be working with him. It’s one of the biggest wins for the company in 2023. He’s the best technical support agent SpinupWP has ever had and his enthusiasm for the role is wonderful. Our customers are receiving the best support they’ve ever received and our developers have been freed up to focus nearly all of their time on coding and shipping. 🚀

Product

I’m very proud of what our tiny team shipped in 2023…

  1. Todos: Your personal server coach
  2. Advanced domain redirects
  3. Improved server size selection
  4. Site backup improvements
    1. Amazon S3 backup storage classes
    2. Add notes to site backups
    3. Backups are now downloadable
  5. Akamai/Linode integrated server provider and storage provider
  6. Support for PHP 8.2 and PHP 8.3
  7. Public folder option when adding a new site
  8. Simplified account settings

Most of these were works in progress or up for review at the start of the year. Many of them were started by developers who were no longer with the company. It was a huge relief for our dev team to get through that backlog and work on things that hadn’t been started by someone else.

Shipping the Todos feature was a huge milestone as it’s been central to my vision for SpinupWP since we started on it six years ago. We’ve received some great feedback from customers about it and we’re planning on tackling phase two in 2024, better integrating Todos into the dashboard and our notifications.

I’ve had far more discussions with people about SpinupWP in 2023 than ever before. Mostly discussions in our community forum, but also through reviews, on X/Twitter, and via email.

It’s been a huge help. I believe that I have a better understanding than ever of what our customers want and need from SpinupWP as well as why people don’t sign up after a trial and why customers cancel. These conversations have been shaping our roadmap in a big way.

The next few features we’re shipping were bumped in priority in mid 2023 as a result of conversations with customers. However, late in 2023, conversations with customers who canceled and trialees who didn’t sign up lead to some important realizations. It turns out that some features that we weren’t planning on building anytime soon are deal breakers for some people who love everything else about SpinupWP and wish they could use it. 1-click phpMyAdmin, 1-click login to WordPress, a file manager, and complimentary testing domains are examples.

Some of these overlap with what existing customers want and so will be prioritized very high in an effort to give customers what they want but also broaden SpinupWP’s appeal.

Marketing

It’s been another poor year on the marketing front for SpinupWP. Like last year we managed to just maintain our traffic despite all our efforts. We updated just a few articles, published one new article, ads didn’t work well, and our DigitalOcean Marketplace listing that we finally launched has received exactly zero installs.

Our developers used to write our articles, but we put a stop to that so they could focus on shipping features. Instead, we tried building a Writers Program and recruiting contract developers to write articles for the site. It’s been challenging to get developers who are good writers but we’ve had some success with this and plan to keep at it.

After discussions with customers who’ve canceled and those who didn’t sign up after a trial, I now believe that we don’t quite have product-market fit. The people that SpinupWP currently appeals to is a narrow band of the market and we need to broaden that. If I’m right about this, shipping just a few key features could broaden SpinupWP’s appeal considerably and unlock some growth. Until then we shouldn’t be spending on ads.

I operated the company at a loss this year with the idea of investing in growth. If the company had good growth, it would be more valuable, and the investment would be worth it. Obviously that didn’t pan out and so it’s time to course correct.

I’m planning to pull back on spending, get the company into a more sustainable financial position, and focus on building the missing features that are causing people to not sign up and customers to cancel. We’ll still do some marketing, but it will be very focused, doubling down on what has worked, shutting down what’s not working, and resisting trying new channels.

Unfortunately pulling back on spending means some layoffs. Always a crappy thing to have to do, but that’s business.

Thanks

I’d like to thank my team for all the awesome work they’ve done in the past year. Especially George, James, and Lewis for their awesome work on the product. I’m very proud of what we’ve been building together and looking forward to continuing that work.

I want to thank those who brought things to my attention that were difficult to address. I’m grateful to have a team that isn’t afraid to speak up when something is bothering them so that we can constantly be improving things.

And thanks again to my fellow entrepreneurs for helping me work through the typical struggles of a solo founder and those unique to me.

Finally, thanks to our customers. Without you none of this would be possible. I feel very fortunate that you love SpinupWP, appreciate the quality, and are willing to reward us with your hard-earned dollars. We’re aiming to greatly improve the product you know and love in the coming months.

I’m looking forward to a renewed focus on building the product in 2024, making it appeal to more people, and hopefully seeing an improvement in our growth.

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Author

Brad Touesnard, Founder & CEO

As founder of SpinupWP, Brad has worn many hats. Although he has a background in development and system administration, he spends most of his time helping the SpinupWP team with product management, UX, roadmap, and marketing.

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