Free is not a feature, it’s a mission

I’ll admit that I don’t always do a great job of telling the story of my company, product, and perhaps even myself. Like other entrepreneurs, I can get so caught up in the the day-to-day tasks that our story gets lost in a cloud of productivity. Of course, this is counter-productive. I’ll share some of my thoughts on the importance of telling your story in the future, but for now let me provide an example.

As most of you know, I am the co-founder of a company called the WP Ninjas. Through this company we have a great product that we offer called Ninja Forms. This product is offered under what is known as the Freemium + add-on business model. Basically, we offer the core, feature rich plugin for free and then sell more complex features or integrations as add-ons.

The problem of FREE as a line item

On occasion me or my team will be having a discussion about Ninja Forms, usually on Twitter, when one of us will throw out the line, “Ninja Forms is free.” This is not an untrue statement, but it asks for greater scrutiny. Competitors and those on the sidelines start poking at the claim.

  • “It’s free unless you want to do x, y, and z.”
  • “If you want everything it’s more expensive than competitor x.”

These statements are also true. We charge for add-ons. Our all-in package is more expensive than absolutely every one of our competitors. This is not something we’re ashamed of and I’ll explain why in just a bit.

The problem is not with saying that Ninja Forms is free. The core plugin is free and very powerful. The problem stems from a matter of perception. There are many who may not already know what the WP Ninjas believe about community, expressing our values, and our mission. Many will see a profitable and successful business and confuse our assertion of free with a simple marketing tactic, and that’s a fair surface-level assessment. But that’s not the whole story. Our story, the story of WP Ninjas and why we place so much value on the presence of a high quality, zero cost form building solution for the WordPress market, is what I want to share with you today.

The story behind the FREE Ninja Forms

When we first started out we copied some of the other players and released Ninja Forms as a premium offering only. After a short while of not getting much traction, we thought we might get some more exposure by releasing a free “lite” version. A year down the road, that model had made very little impact. However, during that year we matured as product and discovered the kind of company we wanted to become.

In January of 2013 we launched Ninja Forms 2.0 under the Freemium + add-on model. It wasn’t just a new version that we released. It was a completely brand new motivation.

Ninja Forms is FREE because we wanted to give back to the WordPress community.Click To Tweet

It’s not just a business model. It’s not a competitive tool. It’s a sincere attempt to be good citizens of the community that we respect and appreciate.

We have learned so much from WordPress and its generous community that we wanted to contribute back to it in some way. We decided we could best accomplish this by providing a great form building experience for everyone at no cost. We added powerful features that aren’t available in any other free form plugin. In fact, according to our statistics, it satisfies the needs of almost 95% of all of our users. And we support those users like they are paying customers.

The core product is important to us not just because we have a business built on top of it, but because we know it’s being used by hundreds of thousands of users to enhance their WordPress websites. Forms are a necessary part of almost every site and want to make sure there is a fantastic form alternative for every user regardless of their budget. We think Ninja Forms meets that need.

Community is everything

I firmly believe this and hope that I transfer that sentiment to everyone on my team. Life is empty without community, so is business. Now you might say it’s easy for me to talk about giving away a free plugin when in fact it still is a core piece of my business. Ignoring the fact that our customer base is not much over 5% of our entire user base, the free Ninja Forms plugin isn’t the only way we give back.

Sharing information with our competitors

Gravity Forms ChangelogBecause we are fully open source we have plenty of people who freely help us make Ninja Forms better. We always try and pay that forward as well. When a security issue was reported not too long ago we reached out to a bunch of our competitors who we thought might also be vulnerable. This wasn’t good business, it was care for the community beyond our own user base.

Developing WordPress locally

No. I don’t mean developing on a local machine. I mean developing the WordPress community in our geographical location. WordPress doesn’t have much of a foothold in Chattanooga, an area known for a fast growing tech and start-up culture. This is unfortunate and so my company and team have taken upon ourselves to organize that community by way of an official Chattanooga Area WordPress Meetup. The group is young and not yet self-sustaining so we handle arranging the location, providing refreshments, and most of the presentations. We do this because our love of WordPress and mission compels us too.

I’m proud of what Ninja Forms has become

We are now leaders in our space. We are pushing innovation forward with an eye not just on our business, but the community that surrounds us. We didn’t start here. We worked hard and found purpose. This year alone we’ve invested over $40,000.00 back into the free plugins UI & UX. Just wait till you see Ninja Forms 3.0!

Do we charge for add-ons? Are we more expensive than our competitors?

Absolutely! Because of that we are able to continue to make Ninja Forms one of the most beloved free WordPress form plugins available.

That’s not a contradiction, or a feature. It’s a mission.Click To Tweet

We hope to continue to focus on our mission of helping others be successful by providing the best products, services, and resources available. Ninja Forms is just one way we’re accomplishing that. Starting to today and as we journey ahead I promise that we’ll do a better job of telling our story and doing everything we can to help you be successful in yours.