An Inside Look at VersionPress’ Crowdfunding Campaign

Version Control Featured Image
Version Control Featured Image

When VersionPress missed its crowdfunding goal by raising only 45% of $30K, I cited several contributing factors, including lack of trust, licensing confusion, and the campaign’s short length. The lead developer of VersionPress, Borek Bernard, shared the lessons he learned from running the campaign on the company’s blog.

Bernard explains that despite the campaign being a single page site, a lot of work went into it:

In our case, the website took over 250 commits and hundreds of hours to get prepared. And it was a seemingly simple, single-page site! This was partly related to the fact that the campaign was self-hosted, but still, some tasks just can’t be skipped. For example, writing copy alone is a huge task should it be any good and easily takes weeks of effort. There are more things like that so be prepared to spend considerable amount of time and effort on the campaign page.

After I introduced readers to the VersionPress project, several people voiced their concern over the lack of licensing details. I got in touch with Bernard and explained why so many people were concerned. I explained what the GPL means to the project and the WordPress community in general. I cited examples of successful WordPress product businesses that use the license. I also told him that he’s likely receive more financial support by being 100% GPL.

Although it took a few days, Bernard announced VersionPress would be 100% GPL licensed. According to Bernard, the announcement didn’t translate into more backers.

By the way, it was interesting to see what the GPL announcement did to the actual contributions. We were told how the GPL was important and that it would bring us many more supporters, but in actuality, it didn’t have any measurable effect. During the whole campaign, the only factor that strongly correlated with the contributed sum was the number of visitors on the website.

It’s not clear why adopting the GPL license didn’t have an effect on the number of backers. However, I think that being licensed 100% GPL eliminates potential roadblocks that may have resulted in using a license not compatible with the GPL.

One of the lessons I learned from VersionsPress’ campaign is that despite not reaching its goal, the amount of feedback from media coverage and backers was enough to verify the idea. The team continues to move forward with development and is nearing a 1.0 release.

If you’re thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign, I highly recommend listening to episode 156 of WordPress Weekly where Marcus Couch and I interview Scott Kingsley Clark, John Saddington, and Nick Haskins. All three describe their experience managing a crowdfunding campaign and share important tips and lessons to help reach funding goals.


8 responses to “An Inside Look at VersionPress’ Crowdfunding Campaign”

  1. Could it be that not a lot of people knew Borek? If some of the more popular members of the community do a crowdfunding project, they will get it even if it’s to fundraise for yearly supply of toilet paper.

    Anyone remember the guy who crowdfunded for potato salad?

    I honestly never heard of Borek. I don’t know everyone in the WP Community. If Chris Lema would crowdfund, more likely that I’d donate to him over Borek. Nothing against you Borek.

    • Miroslav, I agree that being well-known in the community would greatly help. To be entirely honest, I think the best chance would have someone who is US-based, well-know, possibly done some work for the community, etc. We unfortunately didn’t have that and it couldn’t be easily “fixed” but on the other hand, we had the idea and the determination to covert that into something real. There are campaigns where both things come hand in hand, see e.g. John O’Nolan’s Ghost project, but sometimes you simply have to accept that you’ll have some disadvantages and try anyway.

      In a way, I am amazed that our campaign went at least as well as it did. People contributed right till the end, even when it was clear that we won’t reach the goal. It was a humbling moment. There were many positive things about the campaign, and even though it certainly could have gone better in some ways we were reasonably happy with the outcome. And I guess that’s the most important thing.

      • I second this. If there is one thing I dislike about the WordPress Community, it is this. This is one of the reasons I try to use my company’s name over my own, whenever possible.

        Not being a ‘known’ name, it is also becomes a lot harder to get any prominent WordPress bloggers to talk.

        Inspired by the amount of effort that went behind VersionPress.

        • Well I guess that’s just natural and I wouldn’t blame the WordPress community for this – sorry if it came across that way. It is true that some things are harder for us but on the other hand, I would say that we were accepted just fine, or maybe even better than that.

          I can’t really complain – we have chosen WordPress and its ecosystem voluntarily, with all its advantages and disadvantages (for us). It is now our turn to build an amazing product for it.

  2. Thanks for the writeup, Jeff.

    > It’s not clear why adopting the GPL license didn’t have an effect on the number of backers. However, I think that being licensed 100% GPL eliminates potential roadblocks that may have resulted in using a license not compatible with the GPL.

    I completely agree with this. As for the zero effect of the GPL announcement on the number of backers, I was surprised by that too. I guess that the license is generally less important to the average WordPress user than it is believed. Having said that, going GPL was the right thing to do and I don’t have any doubts about that.

  3. @Borek

    Maybe when you started without the GPL license, it soured some people up on your project and that you adopted GPL because everyone was angry.

    I think it was great that you tried. It doesn’t always work. I hope you don’t give up.

    The WP Community has to go a long way and start “trusting” non US/UK/top WP Countries developers.

    I wonder what would happen if someone from let’s say Burundi (a tiny little country in africa that most people don’t know about) wants to start a crowdfunding project, if it would start. What about Nepal? Aruba? etc…?

    There are barriers we still have to overcome for WP Communnity members to be known outside their communities in their own countries.

  4. Funding, at least in the US, is a matter of marketing, OVERALL MARKETING. To leverage one venue, without publicizing in many others is useless. Even though you don’t have contacts, you still have access to social media of all shapes and popularity.
    It’s exactly like having a website: if you don’t consider it to be just one of many efforts in a marketing project, it’s surely doomed to fail.

  5. Thats correct Richard. In the USA its not just “make something and they will come”. Its all about establishing the brand. There are myriads of ways to accomplish that some more successful than others. Marketing is extremely complex, more so that software engineering. I am skilled at both.

    Brick & Morter has a variety of traditional marketing that can be applied to the web and web marketing has many many ways of being effective some well known, others not.

    I’ve known places that use Facebook and has great results “out of the can” so to speak. Others, dismal results. I’ve helped several with dismal results as Facebook was not the proper targeting.

    Its all about knowing the market for a product. recognizing if it is mass market or vertical market (or others) but most fall into one of those two demographics.

    Due to popular demand we are taking inquiries about people who want know such things and more. We are considering establishing a website so webmasters and developers can better understand how to use and leverage such matters.

    It is important to realize with many endeavors that region can also have a significant impact on product viability.

    In the case of lets say a plugin creator that is vertical purpose it might be completely out of sync with lets say how China or India operates as demographic. Contrary to common conceptions the Web is NOT a global nation and considerable work is being done to make sure that it doesnt continue towards becoming that, at least yet.

    Ignoring say China or India demographics for a vertical market item means that instantly the largest populated countries in the world are not being considered and two of the largest markets in the world as well.

    One of our first goals should we get this site “off the ground” is to start getting into the topic of marketing and more.

    If folks here are interested by all means, respond. The more “yes” votes I hear the more likely me and my com-padres are likely to consider sitting down together and mapping out a web for such matters and more.


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