Over the past couple years, BuddyBoss has emerged as a leader in the BuddyPress products marketplace. Founder Michael Eisenwasser launched the business in 2010 after discovering BuddyPress while building an international job site to help online workers find employment.
“BuddyPress blew me away,” Eisenwasser said. “It allowed for a sophisticated and fully customizable membership site while still benefiting from the WordPress ecosystem. We launched our online community almost overnight, and a year later 30,000 people were logging in every day and hiring each other.”
BuddyBoss entered the BuddyPress ecosystem while it was still in its infancy. Eisenwasser saw an opportunity to help other entrepreneurs launch communities by creating products that solved common problems. In addition to the products, his team also offers development for custom requests.
“I’ve been focusing on BuddyPress for so long now that I sometimes forget you can run WordPress without it,” he said.
Growing a Business in a Small Niche
As BuddyBoss products are targeted towards a small niche market, hiring has posed a continual challenge for Eisenwasser.
“A company is only as good as its employees, and our biggest challenge has always been finding the right people to hire,” he said. “We need talented people who can move the company forward, knowing that we’re in a niche market and skilled developers who understand BuddyPress are harder to find.
“It’s taken us many years to put together our current staff, and even now I still spend a considerable amount of time on hiring and training.”
The BudddyBoss team is now up to 14 people who collaborate on design, development, support, and marketing. They currently serve several thousand customers, thanks to tremendous growth over the past couple of years.
“Our revenue is 12.5 times larger today than it was three years ago, and most of that growth has been in the past year,” Eisenwasser said.
“In the past 6 months, product revenue has grown 5 times larger due to improved product offerings, word of mouth from our customers, and better marketing. When I speak of products, I am combining themes and extensions together.
“Currently we have several thousand paying customers, with an average checkout order of $130. Many customers purchase two or three products in one order, as we design our themes and plugins to work together for a unified experience,” he said.
Despite the success of BuddyBoss’ themes and plugins, the company’s time is still divided 50/50 between product support and custom client work.
“Custom development generates an important part of our revenue, and our product revenue is quickly catching up,” Eisenwasser said.
“We actually have two teams, each equipped for development, support and maintenance. I personally manage our product team, while my business partner Tom Chedd manages our client team.
“Many of our clients start as customers, and so when we develop products we’re always thinking about how our clients might use them. I think this has contributed to better products, because we actually use what we build,” he said.
Focused, Intentional Product Growth
In the early days of BuddyBoss, Eisenwasser took a job managing SongLyrics.com. Although he learned some valuable skills from the position, theme development at BuddyBoss was slow for the first few years.
As product revenue has grown, BuddyBoss is looking to invest in adding more offerings to the store.
“We’ve been working hard on assembling a team of talented developers who can help us build more products, however we’d rather spend a couple of months working on a theme than pushing out a bunch of themes fast,” he said.
Instead of pumping up the BuddyBoss store with a proliferation of products, Eisenwasser and his team have intentionally kept the number of offerings on the smaller side. For years, their primary product was the original BuddyBoss theme before adding the new Boss theme this year. Branching out into BuddyPress plugins was also a more recent development.
“Designing for social networks requires a lot of thought, and we take our time considering every aspect,” Eisenwasser said.
“Our customers give us all kinds of feedback about what they want, and there are many more themes coming down the road based on what we’ve learned.”
Current Landscape of the BuddyPress Theme and Plugin Market
Despite the fact that BuddyPress is now an eight-year-old plugin with a solid community of contributors supporting it, the marketplace for BP themes and plugins remains relatively small. Eisenwasser does not believe that the market is large enough to sustain a full-time theme business, but his team is working to expand its audience outside of the traditional WordPress/BuddyPress community.
BuddyPress has an active developer community and it’s been growing every year. Even if there are not enough people building on BuddyPress to sustain a larger theme business today, we can help change that.
By building quality products we can improve the usability and perception of BuddyPress and encourage other people to come and join the community. There are many people building social networks every day – the question is whether or not they choose to build them within the BuddyPress ecosystem.
As BuddyPress core cannot encompass all the functionality required by the many varied social networks people want to build, part of making BuddyPress more appealing is providing third-party add-ons that are compelling and reliable. BuddyBoss has started carving out a name for itself with useful plugins that extend the platform to support media uploads, activity editing, global search, and a Facebook-like wall functionality.
“We always envisioned ourselves building both themes and plugins,” Eisenwasser said. “I don’t really see a distinction. To me, we’re building solutions.
“Layout issues are best solved within themes, and functionality issues are best solved by plugins. All of our products are designed to work together seamlessly, and work great with other themes and plugins too.”
In the future, Eisenwasser said that BuddyBoss may open up its marketplace to third-party developers, but his primary concern is to maintain the same level of quality that customers have come to expect from BuddyBoss products.
“For now, we are focusing on the theme market and bringing value / creating solutions for different niches,” he said. “We plan on evolving with the market as we grow. This could eventually require integrating with other platforms and putting more focus on other types of devices.”
While there are a handful of successful BuddyPress themes on Themeforest, BuddyBoss is arguably the most dominant independent BuddyPress theme development shop at the moment. Eisenwasser’s experience indicates that the landscape of the BuddyPress product market is not yet wide open. Businesses looking to push into this space will need to produce top quality products while simultaneously tilling the soil to expand the WordPress + BuddyPress market in general.