I am Mark Westguard, the founder of WS Form. I live in Columbus, GA, USA but I am originally from the UK. I moved to the US in 2005 after meeting my New Orleans native wife there.
We lived in New Orleans for 13 years prior. I’m a proud father of two. I studied Computing and Information Systems at the University of Brighton in Sussex, England, and graduated in 1998.
The Journey Began
During my placement year at the university, I worked for a company called Sequent Computer Systems which was later acquired by IBM.
Despite being placed on the customer support team, I quickly turned my attention to software development and became heavily involved in networking.
I developed software for the company for analyzing network traces on customer networks. I also wrote a book on CGI programming which was published by Sams Publishing.
It was during my time at Sequent that I found a passion for all things internet related, although the industry was still relatively young, I decided to pursue it as a career.
I had been doing freelance web work since 1996, but in 1997 a gentleman told me that two people locally were looking for a web developer (I cannot remember who that was, I owe him thanks!), I met with them and we formed a partnership.
We grew our agency, Absolute Internet, into the UK’s 2nd fastest-growing web agency within a few years. Since then the rapid growth and changes in the industry have kept me on my toes.
The Need for WS Form
WS Form Logo
As an agency, we never enjoyed building forms ourselves so we started using WordPress plugins to build forms for our clients.
Custom forms were always a security risk on a website so using a third-party plugin gave some peace of mind.
However, building forms were always like putting an “alien” on your web page and we would inevitably have to dig into the code to strip out unnecessary HTML and write custom code to get the form to behave how we wanted.
We identified a need to improve the efficiency at which our own agency was able to produce simple and complex forms for our clients in WordPress.
Web forms consistently presented unnecessary challenges and development bottlenecks.
WS Form represents over 4 years of ground-up development to bring you the very latest in WordPress form development innovation.
Our technology is now frequently imitated, even copied by other form plugins. Despite this, we’re committed to staying one step ahead.
Some of our key differentiating features include:
- Fully responsive forms
- Rapid form testing
- Form-centric conditional logic
- Bi-directional integrations
- Respecting accessibility
You can learn more about these features in a recent WordPress.com blog article: “How To Provide Next Generation Form Development with WS Form.”
Developing and growing WS Form has been incredibly challenging, but the hard work has paid off. Forms developed with WS Form are now featured on thousands of customer websites.
We feel a great deal of gratitude toward our loyal customers and ambassadors.
In addition to our goal of being the number one form builder for web developers, customer service remains our top priority.
This did not come without challenges though! As you can imagine, forms come in millions of different, err, forms. It has taken several years of testing and listening to customer feedback to get the product where it is today.
Starting any business, online or offline, is tough, and starting a WordPress plugin business is no exception.
Myself with my Brilliant Team
Mark Westguard at WordCamp
Like many WordPress plugins, we’re a family-run bootstrapped business with large ambitions, complemented by a large number of professionals and third parties that allow WS Form to operate on a daily basis.
Without the WordPress community, and there are too many fabulous people to mention, we would not be where we are today.
We run a tight ship to maximize profitability so that we can re-invest in our product.
Advice for Business Owners
Before starting your WordPress-related business, read. Read the stories of other founders on WPfounders.com & other websites, a simple Google search will get you started.
Read about how other business owners have started and run their businesses. Attend WordCamps and speak to other entrepreneurs.
One thing I always tell people that are starting their own online business is to realize that it will be like running any other business.
Running an online business doesn’t exclude the need for good accountants, marketing, and customer service.
Our number one focus is customer satisfaction and offering the best support we can, even if that means bending over backward at times.
Providing good customer service results in better feedback from you on your product as well as word-of-mouth recommendations in the industry, the best marketing you can get.
Reduce customer support requests by offering good online documentation. We analyze what customers type into our support form and offer knowledge base article recommendations.
Before they click the ‘Submit’ button to reduce support requests and help get our customers the information they need.
Encourage and listen to customer feedback. This has been key in molding our plugin to better suit the needs of our customers.
Listening and implementing also leads to good relationships with your customers and that in turn means good reviews.
As a plugin owner, if at all possible, avoid offering lifetime deals (LTDs). While LTDs offer a great way of generating upfront cash, annual or monthly recurring revenue will lead to a stronger business with compounded growth.
If your intended business is a WordPress plugin, consider the freemium model.
Offering a free version of your plugin in the WordPress plugin directory is a great way of introducing customers to your product at no charge to them.
That being said, don’t expect the plugin directory itself to bring you free marketing. As a new plugin, you’ll get next to no organic traffic until you achieve significant install counts.
We have a LITE version of WS Form but it only represents a small portion of traffic to our paid product. For performance reasons, we don’t require our PRO customers to have the LITE version installed.
Understand and respect your competitors, but don’t go head-to-head against them. There is plenty of business to be had in the WordPress world. We don’t compete directly with any other form of plugins.
WordPress & Beyond
While we have a lot of big developments coming for WS Form we’re currently very focused on growing our customer base and building partnerships with other leading businesses in WordPress.
This ultimately gets rewarded with further valuable introductions as well as fun along the way! I wouldn’t be writing on WPfounders today were it not for those relationships.
I’m excited about the future of WordPress and I must admit I feel ‘safe’ being in the WordPress space.
It is hugely dominant and while the likes of Wix, Squarespace, and other website builder offerings have tried to scrape away.
The hundreds of millions of dollars those companies have spent have largely been on marketing, but WordPress stands firm.
One of the great things about WordPress is that it is such a flexible platform that we also have lots of additional site builder options such as:
and so on, all of which have WS Form integrated.
I was fortunate to have attended the State of the Word in New York and I was encouraged by Matt’s words that he is excited about the WordPress ecosystem
My Love for the WordPress Community
Mark Westguard with WordPress Community Friends
It’s true, I love the WordPress community!
One of the great things about our community is that you can develop genuine friendships with those who are responsible for significant organizations whose budgets and revenues far exceed my hopes and dreams.
It’s rare to find an industry where almost everyone plays at the same level. I’ve very rarely come across boasting or vanity in the WordPress community.
As well as trying to attend as many WordCamps as I am able, WS Form also likes to sponsor WordCamp too, some of which we do not even attend.
WS Form Booth at WordCamp
It’s our way of giving back. We also sponsor others in the industry who, in my opinion, give excellent value back to the community.
I think of all the people featured on WPfounders to date, the likes of
- Andrew Palmer
- Shawn Hesketh
- Spencer Foreman
- Michelle Frechette
- Chris Badgett
- Adrian Tobey
- Vito Peleg
- Joe Casabona
- Donata & Hans Skillrud
- Tom Fanelli
- Davinder Singh
(In no particular order) have all been greatly inspirational or had a positive impact on my journey. They are all people I would encourage you to read about, great people!
How I Keep Myself Updated
Here’s a list of some of the resources I frequently check to keep myself up to date in the WordPress world:
I Have a Life Other Than the Work
Running your own business is both exhausting and rewarding. Expect late nights but a great feeling of accomplishment that comes with being an entrepreneur.
That being said, it is important to find time for yourself. I’m really bad at doing that(!), but when the opportunity arises I mainly spend it with my wife and two children.
We’re fortunate to have a beautiful lake house on Lake Harding and we enjoy spending time on the boat or wave runners, cooking food, having guests visit, and enjoying the sunsets.
I also love photography and I’ve contributed a few photos to the WordPress photo project. I enjoy motor racing, as well as more nerdy things.
I’m quite happy getting comfortable somewhere in the house and coding something new for WS Form, I find it fun and rewarding.
I love to travel. My favorite destinations to date have been Alaska, the British Virgin Islands, Italy, Porto (WordCamp!), Singapore, and Sri Lanka.
I recently enjoyed a driving vacation through the Bavarian Alps with my best friend and we intend on continuing that tradition. Getting away with a change of scenery is good for the soul!
Mark Westguard & Sons at Bavarian Alps
We also have a pet. Her name is Tillie. She sleeps a lot.
Mark Westguard Pet
I Reward Myself by
My primary reward is a week or weekend away with my family or friends. We’ll treat ourselves to a good hotel or property rental and enjoy one another’s company. I love visiting new places and experiencing new cultures.
Some of those weekends are reserved for just myself and a son. They always seem to want to go to Disney, I can’t think why?