ORION: 2019 IN REVIEW

I started writing about our year- end review post last year, to look back on how we improved, what we achieved, the challenges we faced and the different events that happened throughout the year.

 If you are interested in our progress, you can look at our 2018 Year in Review post here.

Fast forward to 2019, a lot happened but I will only focus on the most important events. 

I will go through the state of Orion Origin for 2019 in terms of:

  • Plugin Updates 
  • Customer support
  • Team growth
  • Revenue 
  • Team social life
  • 2020 goals

Plugin Updates 

Woocommerce Product Configurator plugin and Woocommerce Product Designer plugin Retraction from codecanyon.

In our 2018 In Review post, I talked about the main reasons we decided to leave Codecanyon. 

Gradually, two more plugins were removed in 2019, namely the Woocommerce Visual Product Configurator plugin and the Woocommerce Product Designer plugin, because we wanted to implement a new payment method, and also give better customer service to our customers. 

You can read more here and here.

 

SEO Improvement 

Before leaving CodeCanyon we started working on a marketing strategy, that will enable our customers to have easy access to our plugins. 

We implemented ways for old customers to have access and support to the latest version of our plugins directly on our sites. For example, we decided to use a subscription model for the Woocommerce Visual Product Configuration plugin, and those with expired licenses were invited to convert their old license into a yearly subscription of $45. Those with valid licenses could still upgrade for free and use the plugin until their support period on Envato expires. 

 

Lettering and Signs Designer plugin built from the Woocommerce Product Designer plugin 

Lettering and Signs Designer (LSD)  is one of the plugins we built in 2018. After a few of our customers requested it, we did a little research and we noticed that it was a need in the web-to-print sector. That is why we created a single plugin that could cover these needs. Along the line, we started getting complaints, support requests and different feature requests to be included in the plugin. At first, we were not able to notice the pattern. Finally, we realized that the LSD plugin had become too complex for our new customers.

Yes, we created a monster.

All our customers wanted was simplicity. So we decided to improve upon the plugin, the only way forward was to split the plugin into two. And that’s what we did. Today the Lettering plugin is called Nati,  and the Signs plugin is called Seme.

 

Woocommerce Product Designer becomes Ouidah

Another major change for us was the renaming of our plugin  “Woocommerce Product Designer” (our custom product designer plugin) to  Ouidah.  And it is now a part of our web-to-print product designer toolbox.

By now you will have noticed the new names look ‘different’. It is to pay homage to our origin, our beginning – Orion Origin was founded in Benin, and even though we have staff members from other parts of the world, Benin will always be home for us. 

What is Ouidah? We named the plugin after a city called Ouidah. A city on the Benin coastline, it has played a major role in the history of this region and has been one of the most active slave trade ports in Africa, but it is also the world capital of Voodoo, a religion that is celebrated by a huge festival every 10 January. Aside from that, it is known for its tourist attraction. Our top three are:

  • Zinsou foundation Museum, displays contemporary African art, sculptures and paintings, in a remarkable Afro-Brazilian villa.
  • Python Temple, a temple that houses many sleepy snakes, with a tour guide that explains the culture and belief of the temple.
  • Casa del Papa, a hotel between sea and lagoon, perfect for resting and spending time with loved ones.

 

New pricing model 

Like I said earlier in the first paragraph of this article, we changed our pricing strategy because every time Woocommerce released an update, we spent a lot of time to ensure our plugins stay compatible. The fact that Woocommerce releases updates almost every month makes it more difficult. This strategy didn’t allow us to thrive and provide our customers with the best service possible.

Another main reason was that, when we were on the Envato market, every time Woocommerce or WordPress released a major version, we had to rewrite a lot of code and support a lot of customers for free (Envato never mentions it) . Unfortunately, politics in our country recently changed, and we are now faced with a high cost of electricity, water, and internet. These are the daily necessities that help us provide the best support we can to our customers worldwide, so with increased cost of business came the need to change the tune. 

We’re charged either monthly or yearly to keep our customer’s store fully functional. And the one- time fee model is to our disadvantage if a year later a customer runs into an incompatibility issue in his store that we spend days to track, test and fix. 

Hence the need to find a better solution. After analyzing all those angles , my team and I decided to use the subscription model, and so far, so good, we have had a win-win outcome.

 

 New plugins

Apart from the new Letters designer, and the new Signs designer, Seme, we created another new plugin in 2019,  Kandi, our custom phone case designer. Making a total of 3 plugins for the year. 

 

CUSTOM SUPPORT

With three primary plugin brands and their add-ons, our support team is always busy. In 2019, three resilient and dedicated men joined our support team: Adeniran, based in Nigeria, Philippe, formerly our UX designer and Geraud, our web developer.

Customer support is the heartbeat of our company, and it’s also one of the most challenging. There is always work to do, it never stops, and those giving support are constantly back and forth as they assist customers with a wide array of questions and issues.

Here’s a brief overview of our support statistics on Intercom: 

  • New conversations – 4,803 
  • Conversations replied to- 6,959
  • Average time to first response- 23mn
  • Average close time- 18h

NB: this excludes support messages sent through social channels and WordPress.org support forums.

I want to commend our support team for the amazing job they do every single day. It is not easy, but they always make sure our customers are satisfied. For that I say, Thank you!

 

TEAM GROWTH

In 2019, four new members joined our team, growing our team size to 21. 

Carmen Dassi came on board as an intern, and after her academic internship she joined the Visual Product Configurator team as a backend developer.  

Adeniran Lawal joined the Conditional Discounts for WooCommerce customer support team. He works remotely from Nigeria.

Herval Noumonvi started as an intern for academic purposes, and gradually joined the Woocommerce Product Designer team to work as a back-end developer. 

Olympe Quenum also joined us as an intern for academic purposes, and later joined the Woocommerce Product Designer team as a back-end developer.

On the other hand, our main graphic designer Klados Maxence moved to Canada but continues to work with us remotely.

 

Mobile Internet for all

We were spending around $800 monthly on internet fees and it was still slow. That amount of money was invested in our office internet access. Since everybody was allowed to work from where they want as long as the job is done in time and quality, I decided that the next step was to give every employee a mobile connexion allowance, so they can work from anywhere.  And to do that, we simply reduced our office bandwidth and cost while making everyone happy.

Reinforce coding standards

Coding standards are a set of guidelines, best practices, programming styles and conventions that developers adhere to when writing source code for a project. A coding standards document tells developers how they must write their code. It’s particularly handy for onboarding new developers and ensures that quality code is always produced. Code reviews are also partially automated so it is way easier to complete them. In 2019, we started to use tools such as codesniffer to enforce the coding standard rules and make sure we don’t approve shitty code because we’re in a hurry. And we intend to be very strict on this principle.

 

REVENUE

In 2019 we ran three core products. Below is a breakdown of the number of licenses sold and our  gross revenue: 

  • Visual Product Configurator : 10734 licenses => $61,042.83 for 784 customers
  • Woocommerce Product Designer : 123 licenses => $5,300.00 for 110 customers
  • Conditional Discount for Woocommerce: 611 licenses => $28,649.90 for 606 customers
  • Additional customizations handled => $19612

NB: This excludes the licences we sold on Envato, because we were not able to trace them. 

 

TEAM SOCIAL LIFE

Lagos WordCamp 2019

I decided to make my team and I engage in more social activities in 2019. I attended the annual Lagos WordCamp for the second time with two of my team members. It was an occasion for me to physically talk with Adedayo (our Customer Success Manager based in Lagos) even though we communicate every day online.

I also met a few people from the 2018 Wordcamp who told me how my presentation changed their lives. I had goosebumps. That presentation was the first step towards curing my fear of speaking in public. After attending the Nashville WordCamp in December 2017, I decided to apply as a speaker for the Lagos WordCamp, and use my own experience to prove to others that building an entire business in Africa using WordPress was entirely possible despite the challenges we face in having access to necessities such as internet and electricity, which other continents take for granted. 

 

 

Training session with SEWEMA

I was invited by Sewema (a school that helps people boost their business through training) to train a group of students for free during 3 sessions of 4 hours each (we ended up exceeding the alloted time because of the interest shown by the students). It was a great experience for me to share my knowledge with other people for free. I realized that most of them have heard about WordPress but never understood what it was exactly and how to use it. 

 

Our First Donation

We realized before the end of the year, that one way or the other we had a social responsibility too. Therefore we decided to share a few of our resources with an orphanage called “Cité des anges” . We partnered with “Atelier Paon” a creative Web, Print, Brand & Motion Design agency. Team members from both companies raised funds, and with the amount raised we bought foodstuff and school materials, and during the Christmas season, we went to the orphanage and shared what we had with the children.

 

2020 GOALS

2019 was an exciting year. And 2020 will be better: “positive vibes always”! In general, I’d like to:

    • Optimize and stabilize all our current plugins;
    • Deploy new services such as handling our clients’ sites and everything related to our plugins;
    • Tackling one of the major wordpress issues: wordpress database merging and sync. Example: push the changes made on a staging site on a production one without overriding everything. PS: we can talk about the other existing solutions and what they lack;
    • Participate and donate to causes and other social activities.

 

That’s a wrap! Thanks for reading and may 2020 be good to us all!

 

-Hermann Lahami