How to Develop a WordPress Plugin Business, Part 1: An Interview With CaptainForm

Everyone’s moving to WordPress development. That seems to be the clear trend nowadays.

You can see it clearly when comparing searches of different CMSs.  At one time, back in 2009, WordPress had just as many searches as Joomla, even less. The scales have since tipped, and now many companies and individual developers are focusing their efforts on building tools specifically for the WordPress CMS.

This is a great opportunity to create a thriving business in a relatively new booming market. Companies nowadays are even shifting some of their current product mix to WordPress.

Such a company is 123ContactForm, a company that has been providing forms and surveys solutions since 2008. They have recently released a new WordPress form plugin, CaptainForm, and are now trying to duplicate the success they had on other products, specifically in the WordPress market. This is not an easy task, and entails facing such competitors which include free plugins like Contact Form 7, and paid plugins like Gravity Forms.

In this interview with Alexandra Draghici , Product Owner of CaptainForm, we wanted to find out just how CaptainForm tackles this challenge.


1. Can you describe the main value that you bring your clients in comparison to other form plugins and services?

CaptainForm is a WordPress plugin for building forms of any type. There are three main benefits that CaptainForm provides compared to similar services.

  1. CaptainForm comes with many advanced features: form templates and a multitude of form fields (digital signature and star rating included), integration with 35 other apps (payment apps, email marketing apps, project management apps and others), various notification options (multiple and custom recipients, PDF and SMS notifications, custom confirmation messages etc.), multiple publishing options (popup publishing included), quiz functionality, multipage and multilanguage forms, reports, SSL encryption. And the list goes on. Although CaptainForm has been launched towards the end of 2015, the product belongs to 123ContactForm, a company with 8 years of experience. The functionality is largely the same, but the market is different. Most of the features developed during these 8 years are present in the CaptainForm plugin as well.
  2. CaptainForm requires no add-ons. Competitors provide extra-functionality through add-ons (also known as extensions). These are basically additional plugins. CaptainForm has all the functionality within one single plugin. The user experience is consequently better: the interface is coherent, the process is streamlined, users save a lot of time and are more efficient in their work.
  3. CaptainForm provides support by email and chat to all users, irrespective of the service plan they are on (even if they are on the free plan). Competitors use support as an upgrade incentive or direct users towards forums, where they receive answers from other users. We prefer to assist users ourselves. CaptainForm’s success is determined by our users’ success and we allocate support resources full-heartedly.


2. Your company has been in operation since 2008. How did you first decide to focus on forms? Did it come from experiencing a personal pain or by noticing a potential market?

It came from a personal need. Florin and Tudor, our co-founders, were working on various web projects. They were spending too much time on building forms from scratch, so they decided to build a simple tool instead, which would allow them to create forms easily. Then, they realized that this tool had potential, that other people might want to use it. They launched it on the market and that’s how the snowball started rolling. The growth of 123ContactForm (the mother product) has been impressive, year by year, ever since.

3. There are a lot of free form plugins. Premium plugins offer many advantages over free plugins (support, quality of code and updates to name a few). How do you communicate this advantage over free solutions to your potential clients?

CaptainForm provides one free plan and three paid plans. Paid plans come with advanced functionality (like accepting payments through forms or allowing users to save and resume a submission). But our free plan is also fully functional. Free users can build forms with up to 15 fields, receive notifications by email, accept file uploads and do many other things. Free users receive support and product updates, and the code is written the same way for all of our users.

We care very much about user feedback and we wanted to make CaptainForm available to everybody – paid user or not. Free users also have very valuable feedback and help us spread the word about CaptainForm.

In short, we offer a product of the same quality to all users. The difference between free and paid is made through advanced functionality. Once users engage with the product and see how reliable it is, they are more likely to upgrade when they need advanced functionality.

CaptainForm Team 4

4. Your company offers a form builder for other platforms, not just WordPress. WordPress has grown in popularity in the last few years, taking a large bite off of other platforms like Joomla. How have you experienced this growth in your business? Do you expect this growth to continue in the future?

123ContactForm, our mother product, is a form building solution that works almost anywhere, from websites made from scratch to WordPress or Joomla, to social media channels or website builders like Wix (we also have a dedicated product for Wix).

WordPress is the most popular CMS on the market. It was a natural business decision to specialize on the WordPress market as well. We have a good product, the market is stable, we are able to develop market-specific features, we are eager to listen to user feedback and we have a well-thought marketing strategy.

Our WordPress competitors have been market leaders for quite a while. But, given the amazing interest that we’ve seen from WordPress users towards CaptainForm and the high conversion rate that we are measuring now, in our early months, we are confident and enthusiastic about the future.

5. Are there special considerations for handling customers in WordPress in comparison to other platforms? In terms of pricing, support, customer acquisition or any other aspect.

We are honestly very fond of WordPress users. We speak the same language. Cheesy as it may sound, we feel very close to them. They have very objective and constructive feedback. Both they and we are building something. We’re in this together and, most of the time, the relationship feels like a collaboration. This is what makes us work passionately on CaptainForm.


In terms of positioning, we studied the market closely long before launching CaptainForm. The price/value ratio that we are proposing is (we believe) the best on the market. Some of our competitors do not have a free plan. Others do have one, but the price for advanced features is higher than ours. We have features that competitors don’t, we have a friendlier interface and we care a lot about the quality of our code. What we tried to do is offer better quality at a lower price.

Support is another major differentiator, as I stated before. During our previous years at 123ContactForm, we understood that support plays a major part in the success of a business. Not only helping users do this or that faster, but mostly listening to their feature requests and implementing new functionality based on their needs. With WordPress users, requests are more technical than on the general market. We actually enjoy this.

As for customer acquisition, techniques like AdWords, paid reviews or automated email marketing do work on the WordPress market as well, but most of our energy, in this respect, is focused on getting involved in the WordPress community and producing high-quality content. This is what works best. And our frequent plugin updates also help a lot! Bait-and-switch does not work here. We didn’t even try it. We respect our users, we respect our work, and that’s the basis for our marketing or product decisions.

6. What was the major stepping stone for you in terms of growth, a point where you understood: “We’re on to something here”? Was it a product launch, a sales goal you reached, customer feedback?

If you are referring to CaptainForm, it is a bit early to say that we had a major stepping stone. It came out of Beta in November 2015, so only four months ago. But I can share the fact that all of our activity (on the mother product and on the other products) is tracked and forecast. The forecast estimates for CaptainForm were, let’s say, optimistic. Revenue should have doubled from month to month. We did what we could, product-wise and marketing-wise, but there was still no guarantee that it was going to work.

And it did! Product engagement numbers show that users are happy with our product, revenue did double from month to month, and the feedback that we receive is sometimes overwhelming. Some users simply write to thank us for the product, others mention that they are leaving a competitor product to use CaptainForm. It’s a very nice feeling to know that your efforts meet users’ needs successfully.

7. Your products are very intuitive and easy to use. Have you seen changes in interface and usability generate actual and measurable results?

Yes. We have many types of metrics, generated weekly or in real time. A great part of them are focused on user engagement. They show us, among other things, the sections where users are experiencing difficulties. Such metrics, combined with direct user feedback, help us prioritize our task backlog. Furthermore, every change that we implement is measured. We have also started to use A/B testing inside our products and validate assumptions.

At this point, the UX updates that we make do not involve restructuring entire sections inside the product. They are rather small, but they always have a clearly defined purpose. If we notice that users can’t find a feature they are looking for, we place it there where they are expecting to find it. If the process of enabling a third party is not straightforward enough, we rethink the steps. If we notice that a certain page is a bottleneck in the upgrade funnel, we test a couple of new variants.

Such updates help us improve engagement and conversion. Measure everything, decide and implement, then measure again.

8. With any product, there has to be a tradeoff between ease of use and capabilities. Photoshop in comparison to Canva is a great example. How do you decide whether to go with capability or usability?

Believe it or not, we value both the same and invest in them equally. At this point, functionality is doing a bit better than usability, meaning that we have a lot of features, but the ease of use can be improved. That is why we are trying not to develop new capabilities for a while, but optimize the user experience, as mentioned before.

We started implementing the Agile Scrum methodology about a year ago. Now, when we develop new features, we do it incrementally. We launch MVP features and then build them further according to user response. This helps us balance functionality and usability.

9. You have a Freemium service. How did you decide between what to put in the free and what in the paid service?

Through competition analysis and common sense. By common sense, I am referring to the fact that our free version provides a fully functional product that users can put up on their websites and benefit from. We do this for the reasons previously mentioned.

In what the competition analysis is concerned, we try to offer the features that we have in common with our competitors at a lower price. The features that we have and our competitors do not are placed at a certain service plan based on user typology. For example, if we have a power feature that only power users would need, we place it at the highest plan. If we have an advanced feature that would be useful to more users than the power ones, we use it as an incentive for upgrade to the medium plans.

10. How do you turn a free user to a paying customer? What one advice would you give plugin developers concerning monetizing plugins?

We turn free users to paying customers by not pushing them. Users can stay on the plan for free forever. First and foremost, they need to be comfortable using our plugin. WordPress users are smart and know what they are looking for. They need to test a plugin and feel it is trustworthy before deciding to stick with it. Respect the market and offer real value – that is what I would recommend to plugin developers.

Support also plays a major part. It’s easier to commit once a good relationship has been established. Apart from this, you can try serving marketing messages (in-app or by email), but do it at the right moment. First, you need to isolate a presumed need and, second, to address it. For example, if you track the upgrade messages that users see inside your product, you can then target them with feature-specific messaging.

11. There is a current trend of drag & drop. You have had this technology for several years. What are your insights about it? Do you think it will take over web design and development?

Drag & drop is used to increase usability. It does, but we’ve also seen it posing technical difficulties (depending on the browser, the operating system, the connection speed) that, in the end, interfere with usability.

Personally, I would recommend using drag & drop only there where it is the best option for users – for example, when your plugin’s purpose is to build interface sections out of different elements that can have different positions. It is a lot easier, quicker and more natural to drag those elements than to click on left-right arrows or do other 1995 moves. You can study big products outside of the WordPress market to see drag & drop applied wisely (like Wix, Weebly, Evernote, Jira, to mention just a tiny few).

Don’t use it just because it is fancy, but because it helps your UX.

12. Every professional has the Magic tools that are vital for their business operation. What 3 Tools for web developers & designers do you use, and can’t live without?

I am going to mention five tools that we use daily (among quite a few others):

  • Jira – for agile project tracking
  • BrowserStack – for testing the product in different environments
  • Grafana – for product metrics
  • – for various things, from user segmentation to marketing automation
  • InspectLet – for a better understanding of user behavior


I hope this interview was as insightful to you as it was to me, and gave you a deeper look into the WordPress plugin industry. This is the first in a series of articles we are doing on the subject of how to create successful plugins. Stay tuned and sign up for our newsletter to get updated on the next parts.

I would like to thank Alexandra for being so open and honest with us, and giving us such an accurate depiction of the operation.

I’d love to get your feedback on everything we’ve discussed: Are you facing a similar challenge? Do you have any follow up questions?

2 Responses

  1. Kobe

    Interesting answers to great questions. Thanks for hosting this interview!

    I actually was not aware of the Captain Form plugin, and they seem to be headed in the right direction. I especially liked their non pushy approach to marketing & sales.

    • Ben Pines

      Thanks for the feedback. It was indeed a very insightful interview. Like you said, it’s clear that instead of doing what most competitors do – push as hard as possible on marketing, CaptainForm prefer to first analyze the market and gain an edge over competitors, and this is a very smart approach.