WooCommerce Marks 10 Year Anniversary of Forking Jigoshop

WooCommerce is celebrating 10 years since WooThemes launched the first iteration of the WooCommerce plugin. Paul Maiorana, WooCommerce’s current CEO, covered a few high highlights of the plugin’s rising popularity over the years in his anniversary post. After 16 months in the wild, WooCommerce had been downloaded 500,000 times and passed the 1 million downloads milestone just 137 days later. In 2014, the night before the very first WooConf, the plugin celebrated passing 5 million downloads. It was acquired by Automattic in 2015 in a deal rumored to be more than $20 million.

WooCommerce’s anniversary post, which glossed over its checkered origin story, reignited some of the controversy surrounding the Jigoshop fork. While the post mentions that WooThemes hired two Jigoshop developers “to create a dedicated eCommerce plugin called WooCommerce,” it neglected to mention that the initial version was actually a fork of Jigoshop. WooThemes had convinced Mike Jolley and Jay Koster to fork the work they had done for their previous employer, Jigowatt, after failing to make a deal with the Jigowatt team.

In a post titled “Our forking views,” the remaining Jigoshop team shed some light on what transpired privately before WooThemes announced its fork:

Woo’s bid to buy out the Jigoshop project grossly undervalued the business and didn’t come close to covering our initial development costs, not forgetting the planning, time and effort both the Jigowatt team and community put into the project.

Woo then made to an offer to ‘collaborate’ which led to their decision to fork Jigoshop. What hasn’t been made public is that collaboration offer included conditions which would have given WooThemes full strategic control over the direction and development of the Jigoshop project in the future.

WooThemes was well within its rights to fork the open source Jigoshop code, but convincing some of its key developers to leave the project essentially forked Jigoshop out of its momentum and fractured its user base. It’s clear from the reactions to the WP Candy news post on the topic that many people in the community frowned upon this move at the time. It was one of the most eviscerating, real-world applications of the GPL in the earliest days of WordPress product businesses.

Mike Jolley was interviewed earlier this year by HollerWP. When asked about the Jigoshop fork he said that his job at Jigowatt was 90% client work on e-commerce sites, and “Jigoshop felt more like a side-hustle than anything.” He found it draining to stay on top of both the client work and the open source project. Jigowatt had offered him no shares or vested interest beyond his salary. Jolley said his move to WooThemes “was inevitable” and that he was grateful to continue working on a project that he was passionate about.

In a post titled Lessons learned from the Jigoshop – WooCommerce fiasco, Delicious Brains founder and CEO Brad Touesnard said he agreed Jigowatt had received “a stiff kick in the crotch courtesy of WooThemes,” due to what he perceived to be a fatal error on Jigowatt’s part:

If you are a company with an open source project gaining momentum, your core developers absolutely must have a vested interest in your company. And not 1%. It has to be a good chunk of the pie. Enough that the developers feel your company is also their company. Then if another company comes along to hire them, the developer is much more likely to tell them, “Buy the company or take a hike.”

I think the whole situation would have been different if Mike and Jay owned a piece of the pie and had a vested interest in Jigowatt. In such a case, they most likely would not have entertained employment at WooThemes unless it was part of a buyout deal. 

These events have almost faded from memory for most casual observers after 10 years, but not for those of us who were there to watch it happen. Many of these websites referenced are no longer online but they are available via the Internet Archive.

In 2014, Jigowatt sold Jigoshop to Proxar IT Consulting. The new plugin they launched was available in the official plugin directory until 2020 when WordPress.org removed it, citing a guideline violation.

In 2021, WooCommerce is more of a force than ever before, installed on more than 5 million websites. Merchants around the world are building thriving, profitable businesses on top of WooCommerce and its diverse ecosystem of extensions. Ten years later, it appears the founding partners of Jigowatt have largely moved past the controversy and are now building all of their e-commerce websites with WooCommerce.

“A lot has happened over the past 10 years, and we’ve come a long way from our humble beginnings,” Paul Maiorana said in the anniversary post. The subsequent “trip down memory lane” omits the messy details of forking Jigoshop. The Jigoshop.com website has now disappeared from the web, with the exception of pages preserved through the Internet Archive. Before the rest of these historical references disappear, it’s good to remember that all the earliest contributors to the Jigoshop open source project were also part of WooCommerce’s “humble beginnings,” even if not formally recognized by the e-commerce powerhouse that benefits from their contributions today.

6 responses to “WooCommerce Marks 10 Year Anniversary of Forking Jigoshop”

  1. As an owner of a few open-source tools, it scares me that some large’ish company will come one day and just fork it. Makes me want to change a license to a much stricter one.

  2. Thanks for the story. I’m often horrified by the evolution of WP as money maker and it’s not very reassuring to see where WooC comes from. But it’s quite a good story to tell 🙂

  3. A really valuable piece, Sarah. It’s so ironic that if this were a print-age story the evidence would still be around in corporate reports and trade press stories. Now, so much history is disappearing almost as soon as it’s made. If the Internet Archive ever goes, we’ll be in real trouble.

  4. I started off with jigoshop beta back in May 2011, I used to love checking out thier new shop plugins every Tuesday and picking up a couple and spent hundreds getting custom plugins made. One being a delivery plugin that I had converted to woo and still lives on today with my local pizzeria – thanks jigoshop team!

  5. It’s so funny to read back about the past drama with the WooCommerce forking. I commented a few times in the linked WPCandy piece, being one of the few defenders of the fork (which was completely ethical and allowed under the license and the decision of the employees who made the decision to take new jobs), and I completely agree with everything I wrote then (which isn’t always the case after ten years).

    When you look at the massive success of WooCommerce and its place not just in the WordPress ecosystem but in e-commerce platforms, it is clear that forking and hiring Mike and Jay was the right move. And as Mike said in his interview, it definitely feels “inevitable.”

    Jigoshop didn’t see the plugin as a real focus area by Mike’s own admission, and Woo did. And that makes so much of the difference.

    It’s hard to think of another plugin that has had the impact or success of WooCommerce. Honestly, $20m for WooThemes was a tremendous exit, but six years later, looking at the valuation of Shopify and others, a hosted WooCommerce—as-a-Service offering could be worth much more. I think we’re all lucky it is part of the Automattic umbrella.

    As I said way back then, it is totally reasonable for the Jigoshop team to have felt burned and to be upset by what transpired, but this is how the real world works. I think back to those days when so many people in the so-called “community” (including a person who later went on to scam the community himself) were so critical of such an essential part of open source software, and I wonder if their position has changed. And if it hasn’t, I guess I still wonder why they bother with OSS stuff to begin with.

    In any event, happy anniversary to WooCommerce.

  6. Thanks for the great coverage, Sarah.

    While I think the fork is pretty ethically questionable, I doubt Jigoshop would have ever reached the popularity of WooCommerce had it not been forked. I remember looking through ecommerce plugins only a little while after the fork happened, and the Jigoshop code and WooCommerce code looked almost identical to me except for one important difference – WooCommerce had added a bunch of hooks and filters to make their plugin extensible, whereas Jigoshop had not bothered with that small step. I chose WooCommerce for that reason, and obviously I’m glad I did.

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