This article is part 1 of a 2-part series written by the founders of Divi Den. Look out for part 2 coming soon.
Let’s start at the beginning and go over how it all started! On May 16, 2017, we launched our first Divi product, The Unicorn Bundle. The Unicorn was a huge success and sent us on a wild ride, with highs and lows, and everything in-between. Was it worth it? I hope my personal reflections in this article on our successes and failures will answer that for you.
For more about our background and how we got into this, read The Divi Den Story.
For those who don’t know us yet, let me give you a quick introduction:
I am Kyra, co-founder and lead designer at Divi Den. We’ve been making products for the Divi theme niche for the last 6 years. We are now a fully remote team of 6 people. Likewise, we spend our days brainstorming, designing, and doing Divi stuff.
In our time as Divi product creators, we’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. In this post, my team and I will attempt to share the lessons we wish we’d known before we started — enjoy!
- 1 Lesson #1 – Plan for your own success
- 2 Lesson #2 – Don’t just listen to your customer — understand where they’re coming from
- 3 Lesson #3 – When people rely on you, act fast and get it done
- 4 Lesson #4 – Keep improving your product
- 5 Lesson #5 – Recurring income takes time to accumulate
- 6 My advice to anyone starting out
Lesson #1 – Plan for your own success
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, when we started researching the opportunities for Divi products, we didn’t think it was going to be our core business. We were thinking about a side hustle. It was all the rage about 4 or 6 years ago. Everyone was talking about it.
Your side hustle should make you extra money while you sleep. Wow, sounds awesome! So naturally, we thought, how can we also make money while we sleep? The golden egg, so to speak. We were hungry and wanted a bite. We came up with a bunch of ideas.
The basic criteria were:
- Make one, sell many.
- It must be a digital product.
- We must make it ourselves.
- It must be sold online.
- Recurring income ideally.
I won’t bore you with the bad ideas we came up with, but ultimately we decided to design and build premade Divi layouts and sell them on our website. At that time, we were building about 60 Divi websites per year. If there was one thing we knew how to do, it was building high-quality Divi websites. It was logical to extend that to building Divi products for other people to use too.
It was a solid idea, but upon reflection, we were perhaps too casual about how we launched it. For example, our side hustle didn’t have a name or even a logo yet. So one weekend I just stuck a heart on a shopping bag and called it a day. The thought was… “You want to buy something?” Click the shopping bag.
And now we are stuck with it. Sigh.
Fast-forward 6 years and now Divi Den is our main business along with side projects. The logo is just one way in which we didn’t plan to succeed from the start. In hindsight, we should have treated it like a standalone product with its own domain name, logo, and business plan. Sure, we were caught off guard by how successful it was, but we still could have done some basic business best practices from the start that would have made growing our side project much less painful.
Our advice: When you start something new, do it on a budget by all means but, make sure it can grow fast if there is interest. Start small but think big.
Lesson #2 – Don’t just listen to your customer — understand where they’re coming from
This really happened to me: In 2021, due to the pandemic, we got stranded in Spain. Everything is in Spanish. Even the ducks quack in Spanish. Luckily for us, we have a Spaniard on the team.
It all happened innocently enough. We had to drop off a document in town. We parked the car and Christiaan hopped out to “drop it off.” Mom and I were sitting in the car chatting. 5 minutes go by, and then 10 minutes. In the corner of my eye, I see the dreaded parking attendant. We didn’t pay for parking. We jump out of the car, coins-in-hand, to attempt the parking meter machine.
Easy right? Ha! Everything is in Spanish. We try this, try that. It’s not working! A few minutes later, in a flat panic, I text Josh, our Spanish team member, with a picture of the parking meter screen. Caption – HELP!!!
What does Josh text back to me? “Try to click on the little British flag for English.”
Oh man, the flag was right there, staring me in the face. But still, it was not obvious to me at that moment. I completely missed the English option. And here I am designing products for other people. Go figure. But that’s exactly my point. What may seem so clear to you personally, is not always as clear to everyone else. And this is the same approach we take with supporting our customers.
Support interaction is now one of the key elements in our business. It’s humbling, and I think it’s almost as important as the product itself. The key to providing good support is to be flexible. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Be ready to react quickly. The reason they are emailing you is that they are frustrated. They just want it to work.
Even if you get a rude email, it’s likely because the person tried to get it to work and failed. Now they have to stop everything, find the support form, fill it in, and wait for you to reply. (Still, I’m not sure how some people think being rude will get a faster reaction. In reality, it just makes you feel uneasy.) Despite the occasional rude person, we try to not see it as a problem. Rather, an opportunity to help.
It’s worse, but still, if the person gives up altogether and stops using your service — that’s a lost customer!
Lesson #3 – When people rely on you, act fast and get it done
Because we create layouts for Divi, people tend to email us first when they encounter a bug with a layout. While the whole Divi community gets excited with new feature updates, we get a little concerned. The reason is that we have more than 2500 library items to review each time a new update rolls out. And we’ve had some challenging Divi updates in the past. People rely on us. Our layouts must work as expected.
When new updates roll out, we literally stop everything. The whole team gets into bug-fixing mode. We read the Divi changelog to see if any updates might impact our designs. Then we start testing. When we find an issue, we log it, fix it and schedule it to be included in the next plugin update. When customers email support with an issue, we often provide the fix by email, before the update goes out. No need to wait for a plugin update when the solution has already been found.
The demanding GDPR update
One memorable update was about 4 years ago with the GDPR update. All our contact forms broke. The update was sent out on Thursday afternoon, which is typically our Friday morning. We spent the whole Friday and weekend making fixes while pushing out updates as fast as possible. Contact forms are critical for every website. It must collect and send info at all times.
Our European members were most affected by this update. We even had a guy phone us. He got my mom on the phone, who had no idea what was going on, and he shouted at her. She came into the office looking a little pale and asked what was going on. Of course, we received the 5 email support tickets he sent. We already replied twice and were working on a solution. This is how it goes.
With web design, many things can go wrong. What matters is how quickly you respond and find a solution to the problem. It’s almost second nature for us now, because we’ve been building Divi websites since 2014.
In the last 5 years, the Divi updates have been smooth sailing. The introduction of the rollback feature in Divi was huge! It gives you breathing space. When an update fails… roll back baby. Such a great feature.
Right now, we are excited about the new Divi 5 update. We are thrilled there is a beta we can test, so we are confident we will be ready for this update.
Lesson #4 – Keep improving your product
When Elegant Themes launched the Divi Theme Builder update, I dropped everything to design new layouts for it. To make it available to our subscribers, we added a new tab in the layout finder of the Divi Den Pro plugin. We sent out the notification email, thinking we covered all bases.
And here we come back to the parking meter example I gave earlier. Our user interface was not obvious enough. We got a string of emails from people trying to add the library items via the normal expected procedure. Except this was not the right way to do it. With Divi Theme Builder layouts, there is a two-step process. You must first download it to your local machine, and then upload it via the Divi Theme Builder interface.
To distinguish Divi Theme Builder templates from the others, we added a colored banner to each card. We also added a link to a knowledge base article, explaining how it works. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely effective. Support emails on the topic disappeared overnight. A great result in the end because we were ready and we acted fast.
Lesson #5 – Recurring income takes time to accumulate
After the successful transition from serving web design clients to product sales, came a different set of challenges. Without a client, you suddenly don’t have creative briefs, no content or images, or anything you are used to as a web designer. This basically makes product design a bit like roulette. You have to make calculated guesses about what your future customer might want to buy.
By then we had a loyal following of people who bought all our products. We started getting feedback that people didn’t want to have to install multiple assistant plugins to get a Divi blurb from the Unicorn collection and a person module from the Pegasus collection. We realized it would be better to just combine all layouts and make them available in one plugin. This was going to be a real coding challenge.
Once all that work was done, we launched the plugin and library membership with some immediate success. Memberships require dedication and take time to grow. And you must keep producing quality work. In the beginning the income was just a trickle. With the subscription model, we lost the ability to do a once-off product launch. Things were tight in the beginning, but we kept working at it.
Two simple steps to keep your membership growing
Step one, get the member. Step two, keep the member. A lot easier said than done.
I can honestly say it took us many months to build up our customer base. While it was tough going at the beginning, we are so happy we persevered. The world is unpredictable, and it was undoubtedly the membership that got us through the pandemic. It also means I can relax a bit more. Get more experimental with designs because there’s no big pressure to launch the next shiniest product bundle that everyone wants to buy.
While trying to build up our membership in the early days, we ran only one sale promo. What a flop that was, lol. What happened was people canceled their memberships and signed up at the new lower membership price. How to sink your own ship. So needless to say, we haven’t had a similar subscription sale since.
But that does mean we have nothing for Black Friday. Christiaan (my co-founder) had the idea of selling a product lifetime deal for Black Friday. To be honest, I was not a fan of this idea. The whole point of going to membership was to not have to worry about where the next sale was coming from. But I relented, and it ended up being a great idea.
The tricky part was to try to put a value on our product. We decided to calculate 3 years of full membership and then add the Black Friday discount on top. This strategy has worked for us. We used to do regular sales with our product bundles before we started our membership. There were sales for Halloween and Labor Day. You name it, there’s a sale for it. There’s even a sale for national Unicorn day!
In the end, we realized people just wait for the sale. Meanwhile, your business is struggling with cash flow. So we now patiently wait all year and resist all temptations to have a sale. We just focus on Black Friday. This year will be our 7th Black Friday, and we already start Black Friday preparations in September. We always launch a new collection for Black Friday, 🙂 Our team typically takes off in August, so everyone is fresh and ready to tackle it.
Enter the Divi Marketplace
In 2020 Elegant Themes launched the Divi Marketplace. We didn’t join straight away as we were unsure how it could work for us. The Divi Den Pro plugin required lots of changes to comply with the Divi Marketplace approval requirements. But ultimately, we knew we had to join to be a part of their Black Friday promo. It turned out to be a nice-added bonus each year. And it’s definitely cool to get in those extra sales.
For us, the true value of our product lies in the monthly revenue we get. On the Divi Marketplace, you can only offer unlimited yearly plans. Our product is built in such a way that it’s not practical or desirable to break it into smaller products. This makes Divi Den Pro one of the biggest products in the Divi Marketplace.
Not everyone requires unlimited sites or can pay a big sum upfront. That’s why we offer alternatives on our own website. You’ll find subscriptions for 1 site, 5 sites, and 10 sites with monthly or yearly terms. This pricing structure allows people to start small, test it out, and then switch to a bigger plan as they grow.
My advice to anyone starting out
Plan small – think big, so you don’t get stuck with a brand you don’t love. There is no gold pot at the end of the rainbow. You may have made the sale while you were sleeping, but with that sale comes support. It is your approach to support that will make or break you.
Also keep in mind, if you drastically change your core business, you should be financially prepared. We changed our business 3 times, and it always takes longer to grow than you might expect. Just keep working at it. Try not to make the same mistakes twice. And always have a plan B up your sleeve.
And remember step two, if you have a membership, keeping the member is almost as hard as getting the member. You have to consistently keep your product fresh and updated.
In closing, I would like to say a big thank you to all our members. Some of you guys have been with us all 6 years now! Your continued support has helped us grow, and for that, we are truly grateful, 🙂 Some of you we know, but to those of you who have never emailed, don’t be shy to pop into our inboxes and say hello. If you’re having a problem, please don’t struggle. We know our product pushes the boundaries.
Or if you have an idea for a layout or a module, send us a feature request. We love designing things for you.
Stay safe folks, Kyra :=)