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Katie Keith of Barn2 Plugins

Katie Keith – Co-Founder & CEO at Barn2 Plugins

May 30, 2023 / Plugins / 0 comments

My name is Katie Keith, Co-Founder and CEO at Barn2 Plugins. I was born in 1981 and spent my childhood living in South West England. My family lived opposite a park, where I spent many hours with my sister and friends climbing trees.

We would play in the streets, wander miles from home, and do all the things that children rarely do these days.

I left home at 18 and went to Sheffield University to study English and Philosophy. I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up and chose to study the subjects that I was most interested in.

I didn’t really think about what sort of career it would lead me to. I met my husband Andy at university, where we lived in the same student halls.

After graduating, Andy and I moved back to South West England where we lived with my parents for a year and then bought our first house. In those days, people could afford to buy a house much sooner than young people nowadays.

We both got jobs fairly quickly – Andy was a software developer, and I went through a few jobs. My first job was as a technical author, writing the help pages for a software company.

I found that incredibly boring, so I got a job as Trainee Manager and Public Relations Officer at a small local company that sold magnetic health bracelets.

I loved the small business atmosphere and being able to evolve my role in different directions based on my skills and interests, instead of just following a rigid job description.

After 18 months there, I moved on to a better-paying job recruiting foster carers and adoptive parents for the local Council.

This was an excellent opportunity to improve my project management and marketing skills, and I loved doing work that made a difference in people’s lives.

However, I didn’t like the rigid structure of working for a large organization.

I find it interesting to reflect on everything I learned from my early jobs.

I discovered that I work better in a small organization that can be flexible and move rapidly.

I enjoyed marketing, even though I hadn’t had this in mind when I chose my subjects at university.

I also enjoyed working with websites and did some level of web design in each of my previous jobs, although I never learned to code and wasn’t interested in the technical side of things.

The Journey Began

Before getting into WordPress, I had designed and managed websites using Dreamweaver and my employer’s bespoke CMS.

However, I had not known of any way to create an entire website as quickly or as flexibly as WordPress.

Andy discovered WordPress within a few weeks of quitting his job and starting our web design business. He was researching the best way to set up a website for his first client and read about WordPress.

He was impressed with what he saw, but I was very skeptical when he explained it to me – it sounded like a blogging platform and not something for business websites.

How wrong I was After trialing WordPress for our first project, we both agreed that it was the way forward and quickly developed into a specialist WordPress company.

Back then, not many people specialized in WordPress which made it easy to get work. I’m happy that we backed the right horse.

The Need for “Barn2”

While I enjoyed building websites for clients, I often found the demands of client work frustrating. While we could scale a bit from selling services like hosting, we were essentially selling our time.

Barn2 Logo

Barn2 Logo

I would prefer the business model of selling scalable software products like themes or plugins. In early 2016, we got to work building our first plugin – WooCommerce Password Protected Categories

WooCommerce Protected Categories

WooCommerce Protected Categories

This was a success so we kept launching more plugins, each one filling a gap that we had discovered in the market. Happily, we could afford to stop taking on new clients after about 6 months.

For years, we only built plugins where there were no competitors. Back in 2016, there were far more gaps in the market for WordPress and WooCommerce solutions.

For example, our WooCommerce Password Protected Categories and WooCommerce Product Table plugins were the first plugins to offer this type of functionality. This made it easy to get full market share and rank in Google for our keywords.

Over time, we have become confident enough to launch plugins where there is already competition. When we do this, we look for something that will make our new plugin unique.

This may be a generally different approach, different features, or better usability. However, we still return to our roots from time to time and launch a very niche plugin where this is no competition.

For example, we have recently launched plugins called WooCommerce Express Shop Page and WooCommerce Product Page Shipping Calculator, both of which are completely unique.

The biggest challenge for me has been letting go and building a team that I can trust to do a great job. I’m very independent and my instinct is to do everything myself, as that way I have full control over quality.

This meant that I was slow to build a team. The biggest example of this is customer support, as I struggled to believe that anyone could understand our products and be as responsive to customers as I.

As a result, I continued taking care of all our support tickets until it was quite overwhelming and took up a lot of my time.

I should have spent this time on business development. When I finally hired my first support engineer, I was astounded by the results and never looked back.

My proudest moments are when people who I respect in the WordPress community want to connect with me and have heard of Barn2. Although it happens quite a lot, I am still surprised every time I discover that someone has heard of us.

We now have 22 premium plugins and 5 free ones. Most of these are WooCommerce-related, and our most popular plugins are WooCommerce Product Table and Document Library Pro.

Document Library Pro

Document Library Pro

Our product table plugin creates quick one-page order forms for store owners, and our document library plugin makes it easy to add a searchable resource library to any WordPress site.

Myself with my Brilliant Team

We are a strong and determined group, fueled by our passion for excellence and the relentless pursuit of success.

Katie Keith With Team

Katie Keith With Team

Advice for Business Owners

I waited far too long to start my own business – and when I finally did it, I never looked back.

If you’re thinking of starting a business, my advice is to just do it! Get to work, work hard and smart, and launch a minimum viable product as quickly as possible.

It doesn’t matter whether your first product is a success, although that definitely helps! What matters is that you get something out there into the market.

Once you’ve done that, you will start receiving valuable feedback and insights from your users. Use this to learn about what people want, and either plan improvements to your existing product or brand-new products.

That way, you have a proven route to a product that people are actively demanding.

I think that plugins are a great area to focus on because you can create plugins that are as simple or as complex as your resources allow for.

If you have significant resources then it’s fine to be super ambitious and start with a big idea that is hard to get to market.

If you’re bootstrapped like we were at Barn2, then I’d recommend choosing a niche. Amazingly, there are still plenty of gaps in the market for plugins to solve specific problems.

You can easily discover these gaps when you specialize in WordPress and use it every day. Find a gap that you’re passionate about fixing, target it at a niche, and get to work.

 

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WordPress & Beyond

This year I plan to launch two major new plugins. WooCommerce discount and pricing plugin, and a plugin to improve and customize the WooCommerce checkout.

These are both mass-market plugins and I look forward to seeing their impact. After that, we plan to have a period of consolidation where we spend the medium term perfecting our existing plugins and improving our internal processes and automation.

I’m excited to improve our data monitoring and reporting systems using the latest AI tools so that I have the insights needed to see exactly how we are doing and how we can grow.

This will allow us to maximize the potential of each of our plugins, while also putting us in a stronger position to continue building more new plugins in the longer term.

I’m excited to see what WordPress looks like in five years. By then, the various phases of the Gutenberg project should be completed.

Finally, WordPress will provide a world-leading full-site editing experience that will be intuitive and accessible to all. It has been a long journey, but the future looks good.

There are plenty of threats to WordPress from competitors such as Wix, a user-friendly website builder, and Shopify, a highly-resourced e-commerce platform.

However, WordPress is so far ahead of these in terms of market share that it is hard for anyone else to take over. WordPress is well beyond its tipping point.

I have been disappointed by how long it has taken for the block editor and full site editing to rival the ease of use of other website-building platforms, but we’ll get there in the next few years.

That, coupled with the REST API for connecting WordPress to other platforms, puts it in an incredibly strong position for continuing to dominate the web design market well into the future.

My Love for the WordPress Community

I try to be as involved as possible with the WordPress community. I attend both WordCamp Europe and WordCamp US, and this year Barn2 is sponsoring WCEU for the first time which is very exciting.

I’m constantly communicating with awesome people from the community. This includes an expanding network of contacts on Twitter, talking to people on the Post Status Slack workspace, and regularly liaising and partnering with other WordPress product companies.

I am a Co-Host of the WP Product Talk podcast, which is a great way to give back to the community and share my experiences with fellow product founders.

It’s also an excellent opportunity for me to learn and talk with some incredible people who are further along their journey.

Almost 4 years ago, I was invited to join a mastermind group with other plugin company owners whose companies were a similar size to Barn2.

Over the years, we have become a close-knit group and they are now my best friends in the WordPress community. We have called every 2 weeks, where we each have a chance to discuss a topic where we would benefit from each other’s insight. In between calls, we talk daily on Slack.

Katie Keith With Fellow Company Owners

Katie Keith With Fellow Company Owners

As fellow company owners, they have a different perspective from my team colleagues and it’s like having a built-in management team who I can bounce ideas off, as well as help them out at the same time.

I’d encourage other WP founders to form similar groups, as it can provide an excellent support network as well as actionable tips on building your business.

I am inspired by Justin Ferriman’s story because he did an impressive job starting LearnDash from nothing and building it into a hugely successful plugin.

I respect the way that instead of retiring on the proceeds from selling his company, he is now launching a new startup called GapScout. I think that his story would be an interesting addition to WPfounders.

How I Keep Myself Updated

I subscribe to various WordPress newsletters including The WP Weekly, WP Mayor, WPMail.me, and WPLift.

These are great resources for skimming reading the latest WordPress news. I also watch WPBuilds’ The Week in WordPress podcast most weeks and keep up to date with the latest developments on Twitter and Post Status Slack.

This seems to work pretty well because I usually hear about major WordPress news from several sources within a couple of days of it happening.

I Have a Life Other Than the Work

Andy and I have worked hard to build a business that allows us to work flexibly from anywhere, and we’re incredibly proud of this.

However, we can’t actually travel wherever we want because our daughter Sophia is still at school. In 2021, we were feeling frustrated at not being able to make full use of these freedoms.

As a result, we started thinking about what sort of compromise we could make that would allow us to live more flexibly without affecting Sophia’s education too badly.

We decided that the best option was to spend a year living abroad as a trial, with a view to either staying or returning to England. Andy in particular had always dreamed of having a home on the Spanish island of Mallorca, where we had been on holiday several times.

We were attracted to the climate and also the beautiful coastline, mountain scenery, and Mediterranean lifestyle.

Fortunately, there are many international schools in Mallorca and we easily got Sophia into an English-speaking school that followed the British curriculum.

We moved in September 2021 and made the decision to stay longer term the following May.

Katie Keith With Family

Katie Keith With Family

In my free time, I enjoy hiking with Andy and my friends in the mountains of Mallorca, and doing stand-up paddleboarding on the sea when it is warm.

I go horse riding with a friend once a week and also eat out a lot. I spend a lot of time learning Spanish, which I enjoy although I am not a natural at learning a new language and find it really difficult.

In the holidays, I usually travel back to England to see my family. This is important now that I live overseas. Sophia is especially close with my parents and they help to look after her so that I can work when I visit them during holidays.

I always had cats growing up but am very happy not to have a pet at the moment. This gives me more freedom to travel. I enjoy feeding the stray cats that live in the area, as that way I get a feline companion without the commitment.

I Reward Myself by

I reward myself by going on holiday and taking time out from work to spend time with Andy and my friends. To be honest, I don’t do this often enough because I love my work and tend to prioritize that.

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