Published 21st December 2011
I should start this article by explaining the fact that I am not a born and bred entrepreneur. I’m a developer at heart who has literally stumbled upon “success” just as I was beginning to get interested in the whole business side of the web. I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while to simply explain the process of how the Nivo Slider grew to be successful and some of the decisions I’ve made (and lessons I’ve learned) a long the way.
I suppose I should start by defining “success” in this context. The Nivo Slider has been downloaded more than 890,000 times and sales have generated more than $40,000 USD in the first six months and have increased every month so far. Put it another way, the Nivo Slider will generate way more than double my day job salary in its first year. That is where I’m at just now. But how did I get here?
The Nivo Slider script was created over a weekend in March 2010 in my Uni flat. I was in my final year at the time and had spent most of my degree teaching myself web development and was always creating scripts and plugins (check out my portfolio for evidence). At the time a lot of ThemeForest themes featured the awesome looking Cu3er flash image slider. I had made a few ThemeForest themes to generate some cash so I knew the community a bit.
One day I spotted that the Cu3er slider was changing its license so you were going to have to pay to use it in premium themes. Lesson 1: spot the gap in the market. I figured I could make an image slider that was free and open source that looked great that people would be able to use in their premium themes. Ok it probably wouldn’t look as good as the flash slider, but I would make it using pure JS, HTML and CSS and I would make it as easy as possible to implement.
Nivo on Reddit front page
So over a weekend I set about making the Nivo Slider, and remember telling my brother at the time “I’m not going to try and sell this, I’m going to get my name out in the community first”. And boy did it work. On Saturday the 20th March I launched the Nivo Slider and the following Wednesday it was featured on the front page of Reddit, bringing in almost 80,000 visits in one day. People loved it.
It’s worth noting here that I’m no marketing whizz and did almost no marketing for the slider. I simply blogged about it and announced it on Twitter. The rest was done by other people sharing the word.
So I guess lesson 2 is always be creating side projects. Not only does it keep your creativity fresh, but you never know which small projects might actually make it big.
So the slider continued to grow in popularity and was being used in premium themes all over the place. For more than a year I continued to develop the slider but didn’t think of making any money from it as I fully expected it to die out eventually. I honestly thought it was just a fad that I had started (which was cool enough) that would grow but then start to die off.
However more than a year on, 600,000 downloads later and it was still growing. It began to dawn on me that there must be some money to be made from this. At the time the site was getting the best part of 9,000 visits a day and I was earning about $200/month in advertising revenues (which I thought wasn’t bad).
I had been wanting to create a WordPress plugin for the slider for a few months (this is June 2011 by now) and I had been toying with the idea of selling it (and keeping the jQuery plugin free and open source). So the calculation I did in my head was “if 1% of 600,000 downloads buy the WordPress plugin, at say $15, I would earn $90,000 in a year”. Wow. It shocked me that I hadn’t even thought about this till now. Suffice to say I went ahead and started creating the WordPress plugin.
So on the 1st June 2011 I launched the Nivo Slider WordPress plugin. In the first month I had a daily average of $194 USD in sales per day. Yes per day. It had worked. I couldn’t believe it. Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid to ask if your software can make money.
While I’m here lesson 4 might also be that the “freemium” model works if you have a market already established. Because I was a first mover of sorts it seemed like I had gained a significant market domination. And all that traffic means that even with low conversion rates, you can still earn a significant amount of money.
Site redesign by John O'Nolan
Making money is great. But if you want your business to survive, you’ll quickly realise that you need to spend money to make money. After the slider had been around for a while I got my good friend
John O’Nolan to redesign the site, for free. I appreciated the fact he was keen to help me out, as he is a busy guy. By this time I had made a few connections in the industry and I had admitted that I was no designer. Getting a real designer to help me out was a must.
So after I had made some money from the WordPress plugin I decided it was time for a professional full-blown redesign. I asked for some help and James McDonald kindly offered his services and produced what is now the current design of the slider site. This was the first money that I had earned and reinvested it straight back in to making the site better. I was now bootstrapping and it felt great.
So lesson 5 has to be never underestimate the importance of design. I fully believe that having a well designed product and site are crucial to a successful business venture. And you don’t need to invest loads of cash to make it happen. For instance lesson 6 is ask/trade/beg for help until you can afford to buy it. Admit you can’t do everything and that sometimes it is best to outsource.
Something I have only recently began to experience is how to tweak your business and learn from mistakes. For instance I recently changed the pricing scheme for the WordPress plugin. A pretty big move that seems to have paid off pretty well.
Since I first launched the WordPress plugin there was a “single license” $20 option and a “Pro” $10/month option. While the idea of recurring monthly income is attractive, it simply didn’t work in this model. I never had more than 40 monthly subscribers at any one time. So after listening to my customers and seeking some advice (from more experienced entrepreneurs) I made the bold move of completely changing the pricing scheme and removing subscriptions completely. And so far it has paid off well.
Lesson 7: Don’t be afraid to take your time and make mistakes. The process of learning makes you a better entrepreneur and, in theory, your decisions will make you more successful in the end.
So that’s the story of how the Nivo Slider got to where it is today. The Nivo Slider continues to grow and I still can’t believe how popular it has become. Who knows what the future holds for it. I very much take one day at a time, and while people will probably tell me I should have a long-term plan for the slider, I’m happy enjoying it while it lasts. If it allows me to continue to create more awesome stuff on the web and do what I love, that’s cool. If it eventually dies out or someone acquires it, that’s also cool. It will still have been an amazing experience and my first “success”.