Scott Kingsley Clark, lead developer of the Pods Framework, announced the project was seeking new donors on Thursday. Automattic, the primary sponsor, dropped out after funding the project since 2012. This has put the team in a position to seek help for maintaining and supporting the project. Automattic was previously covering around 90% of the costs.
The Pods Framework is a WordPress plugin that allows end-users or developers to create and extend custom post types, content types, users, media, and comments. Essentially, it is a complete content management framework for those who need more than the basics that WordPress offers. It has well over a dozen add-on plugins for extra functionality and currently has over 80,000 active installations.
There are six primary contributors to the Pods plugin. They have also brought on a React developer who is just getting started with UI work on Pods 2.8. Other than work from the team, the project receives patches and contributions from the larger Pods community.
With the loss of funding from Automattic, Pods is receiving around $700 each month from donors. “Once we found out that Automattic was going to focus their sponsorship funding towards other priorities of theirs, we put together a plan of action to reduce overall costs,” said Clark.
The team’s goal is to have at least 200 sponsors. The average recurring monthly donation is about $17. Coupled with their current 40 regular donors, they need an additional 160 at the same donation average to cover costs. This would at least allow the team to be efficient with their time.
“Right now our feature/fix development and support efforts will begin to suffer from lack of funding because we’ll be spread too thin,” said Clark. “I work a full-time job and can’t pick up the extra weight entirely on my own.” Clark’s job with Modern Tribe gives him some flexibility to work on the project, but it is minimal and only when time is available.
Automattic Was Crucial to Success
In his announcement, Clark said Automattic’s decision to pull their sponsorship was because the company wanted to put their funds toward native Gutenberg projects. Pods is a project that spans beyond Gutenberg. However, it does have some Gutenberg integration and more features in the works.
Since 2012, Automattic has been the largest sponsor of Pods. Their funding allowed the team to support and continue developing the plugin. “We’re so appreciative of Automattic’s support,” said Clark on Twitter. “They’ve sponsored Pods for over 7 years, I know their decision was a tough one for them.”
In 2011, Pods surpassed its goal in a Kickstarter campaign. The project raised over $4,000 with a goal of $1,500. The campaign was intended to fund the development of Pods 2.0. In hindsight, the dollar amount was far too low to realistically fund such a complex project.
“I naively thought that would be enough to accomplish everything and more we wanted to do for our big Pods 2.0 release,” said Clark. “I was really wrong. Adding developers at a late stage in a project can take even more time than you anticipate. I also had to work around those developers’ schedules and spend time coordinating with them instead of building things myself. It was a huge challenge as I hadn’t really led a team on a side project while having a full-time job before.”
Clark had to reach into his pocket and put money towards the funding problem. Yet, the team hit more roadblocks getting Pods 2.0 released. “That’s when I reached out to Automattic, which they offered to help out here and there to sponsor some more development”, he said. “I was at the right job and had the right developers in place to really make the most of that arrangement. I had tons of time on the clock at work to build projects with Pods and I could build features/fix problems every day. With the added help of the funding, we were covered for many years to come.”
The arrangement was a blessing for the project, propelling it forward for years. “Without Automattic, we surely couldn’t have continued on with the huge undertaking that the Pods 2.0 rewrite was,” said Clark. “We would have just shelved everything and only added minor fixes/enhancements to Pods going forward.”
Clark described the funding as crucial to maintaining a premium product for free. “Given what I know about many other free products out there, I can see why our support for Pods itself has sometimes been compared to premium support because of the people we could keep involved helping everyone with their project challenges and Pods questions,” he said.
After success with Pods 2.0 and several releases, the Pods team reached back out to Automattic. They were able to secure more funding with the agreement that they would diversify their funding and bring in more sponsors, which they were able to accomplish.
What the Future Holds
Clark is hopeful that they can meet their sponsorship goals. If not, they may have to explore some commercial options. However, he said Pods and its primary features will remain free of charge.
“Development is not cheap,” said Clark. “In fact, we’ve thought about diversifying our funding for a while, but ironically our sponsorship agreement with Automattic prohibited us from exploring premium add-ons to help fund more growth.”
While the funding was a blessing, it may have also been a crutch. “If we had suddenly gotten millions of active installs to support, we would have been in big trouble,” he said. “You can’t scale sponsorships with a growing userbase.”
Clark said he is committed to making sure the next three major feature releases go out for free as part of the main Pods plugin, regardless of the funding situation. “I believe in making it easy to build projects in WordPress and some of those features are just really crucial to normal projects,” he said.
The team is exploring the potential for premium add-ons. However, if going that route, the add-ons would be with useful features that go beyond the core needs of the plugin. “We have some really awesome features that we’ve always wanted to do and this could be the avenue to build them while giving huge value to our Friends of Pods,” he said. “This could be an added benefit to them for supporting our project, which they’d get as a reward for keeping their Friends of Pods membership active.”
The future is uncertain. The project is not in danger of disappearing at this point. However, the reality is that development and support have real-world costs that need to be met.
“It’s still too early to know exactly what we can do with the funding we have and what we can expect to get from our 2020 fundraising efforts,” said Clark. “We don’t know if those ongoing funding struggles will prevent us from spending time to build new add-ons to generate new revenue either. It’s all up in the air right now.”