About a year ago I wrote an article called, “The Future of WordPress Is In Containers”. Since then, I’ve given several dozen presentations to WordPress developers, and brought many of them onto our platform to assist them in launching their own WordPress service businesses. I even launched one of my own proof of concept over at CloudPanda.co.
To put it simply, WPdocker is an automation platform to sell customized WordPress on any major cloud provider. Using a software as a service business model, our platform enables developers to sell WordPress with plugins and themes pre-configured to prospective customers by automating the hosting, free trial and upsell process.
WordPress + WPdocker = WordPress As A Service
For those of you who are not familiar with Docker, it is essentially a software wrapper that goes around WordPress, or any application, that includes the tech stack the application requires to operate. What this means is we can take any application and put it on our platform on any cloud provider without the need to change a single line of application code.
In the case of WordPress, you’re essentially wrapping everything from the WordPress application itself, to all the various components that power WordPress including most of the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP). This allows for full configuration and customization of whatever stack components a developer desires including a range of caching options. By packaging WordPress into a container it enables a developer to easily expand the capabilities of a typical WordPress install including the ability to save an entire WordPress install with its stack, clone it, back it up, and potentially move it between providers (at least when using our platform). These capabilities alone set the foundation for our automation platform.
The Value Proposition
Container technology is unique in that it solves a number of problems for any software business including improved cost efficiency, data isolation, improved data portability, and versatility.
Almost every WordPress hosting company currently suffers from at least one of these problems, if not all of them. Meanwhile, none of them offer software as a service automation or revenue sharing business models.
The WPdocker Solution:
Build and Configure.
To get started simply signup at for free at WPdocker.com, and login to your account. Once in your account go to Packages, then select + New Package. From there select WordPress, name your package, select your default memory allocation (I recommend 256 or 512 to start), and select “Yes, Create This Package”.
Once your package is created, it should load to show you the interface for the container, or you can view it again under Packages.
From here simply select Login to automatically login to the WordPress install you just created.
Once logged into your WordPress install, you’re now free to install any plugins or themes you want. Once you’re done building the site you want customers to receive when they sign up for a free trial, simply return to the Stratus5 dashboard, and select the green Publish button.
This will save all your changes to your WordPress install.
What we’re doing here is creating a master WordPress install, which our automation platform clones into a new container every time a customer signs up.
Note: To make future changes simply login to your WordPress install, make changes, go back to your Stratus5 Dashboard, select Snapshot, then Publish to push your latest changes to future customers.
Once your WordPress website is configured, and published you need to create a pricing plan, customize your sign up page, and then start driving traffic.
From the Container Template page select “Pricing” on the left, and then + Add New Pricing Plan. Define your recurring pricing, trial period, enter a lowercase single word plan code, memory allowance, amount of sites included, description, and then select Add Pricing Plan.
From there you will be provided with a sign up page URL that you can send to your customers to sign up for free trials.
Additional settings can be found in our Settings tab, including the ability to white label our solution, use custom domains, and customize marketing automation e-mails.
Each customer gets their own container with each trial, so they’re separate from your other customers. Once they become a paying customer we keep the container active, and the customer pays monthly. If someone does not pay monthly we simply deactivate and eventually delete their container.
From a business standpoint, all you have to do is build a WordPress install that creates value, drive traffic to your sign up link, find new customers, support your existing customers, and collect a monthly payment without having to worry about hosting bills, payment processing or anything else. We take care of everything for you at a fixed cost per WordPress install typically between $2–$5 per container (depending on the size and complexity of your ideal WordPress install).
Most web hosts use virtual servers such as what you see above. They’re slow, resource intensive, barely scalable, and have so many layers it is easy for something to go wrong. If anything goes wrong in just one of those tech layers your website goes down.
With the current price of web hosting, you’re looking at a minimum of $83.88 per year for just one WordPress install at Go Daddy (based on the regular price without discounts). Meanwhile, other WordPress hosting companies charge up to $29 per install per month ($348 per year). Think about that for a second, a single WordPress website now costs at least 1–4 Netflix subscriptions per month.
Meanwhile, all that money goes to hosting companies, and the developers whose themes and plugins actually power those websites only receive 1-off purchases, if they are getting paid at all.
We need to build a better system.
We Must Democratize Web Hosting
The famous 5-minute WordPress install is now an eternity in 2016 compared to other content management systems, and eCommerce platforms.
The Future of WordPress Is Containers In the Cloud
Docker replaces at least 3 different software layers compared to the current approach to hosting WordPress.
So what are Docker containers? Docker containers are a piece of software that wraps around code, system tools, system libraries, and anything else you can install on a server. Using docker containers you can essentially run WordPress like an operating system, and deploy it like an application.
Like an application, you can now automate WordPress deployments, save snapshots of existing installs, and clone them for other projects. Imagine being able to clone a WordPress instance with all your favorite plugins and themes already installed.
That’s the power and magic of containers.
Instead of selling development services, with containers a developer can now sell an entire WordPress website in a box direct to customers in a single click, and even offer them a free trial before the user enters payment info.
Better yet, containers make WordPress more scalable, and more efficient bringing down the economies of scale per install. What this effectively means is we can host more WordPress installs with less server and management resources bringing down the cost per install, while also improving performance. We can then pass the extra revenue this generates to developers to provide them with recurring revenue, and more customers with less support for the hosting companies.
Better yet, someone can even move Docker containers between servers, or even their local computer, so if they want to change hosts they can just take their entire WordPress container with them as is, and never go through a WordPress migration ever again. Now that’s freedom.
WordPress as an Operation System
Right now if you want to launch a WordPress install you have to purchase hosting before you even get access to WP-Admin, and if you want to buy a theme or plugin you already need to have hosting and WordPress. It’s pretty much one of the worst onboarding experiences of any modern platform. Even Joomla, and Drupal have figured this out.
WordPress can do better.
This problem can easily be solved with containers and an automation platform. Lets take WordPress.org for example, you could add a “Free Trial” button next the download button to launch a user into a WordPress container in under 10 seconds (fully enabling users to launch into a WordPress install from a mobile device), and let them actually try a self hosted WordPress install. From there, when the trial ends the user can then select a provider, move their container over with a click, and pay monthly with the provider of their choice. This simply wasn’t possible two years ago, but it is today, and this is just one of many exciting use cases of containers matched with an automation SaaS platform to turn WordPress into its own web OS.
The WordPress API In Containers
So this is where things get interesting. Containers open up a whole new world for apps like Calypso, because now you can deploy Calypso in a container, and deploy a full WordPress install with API in its own separate container.
A Letter to Matt and Automattic
At the end of the day, the company behind WordPress.com is a software as a service hosting company. While that isn’t entirely what defines Automattic, it is where they make their money.
The fact of the matter is there are a lot more WordPress developers in the world than there are skilled DevOps, and if there is any hope for self hosted WordPress installs powering an additional 25% of the Internet we have to bring down the cost of hosting, democratize monthly hosting revenue, and share it with developers to build a more sustainable economy.
They say sometimes to change the world you have to invent it, and everything I mentioned in this article is possible today. I know, because we already built it over at WPdocker.com.
Former CEO and founder of CyberChimps WordPress themes, you can reach me direct trent-at-stratus5-dot-com.
I learned a number of lessons with my last business. At the time I thought I had everything figured out from distribution to my upsell, and I was going to either get funding or acquired. I even moved to San Francisco.
Over five years ago, when the very concepts for my company were just forming, I never considered that an a la carte business model would ultimately doom me to the same kind of cycle as the client work that I started my business to avoid. At first, I was just so happy to be making money, I never really thought about what would happen if sales stopped trickling in. I mean I was profitable within 90 days with almost no investment, what could go wrong?
How was I supposed to know that in 5 years time Google was going to radically change their ranking algorithms and devalue tens of millions of my backlinks? Or predict the rise of Themeforest, let alone that WordPress would restrict the user experience of selecting a theme for your website?
Now don’t get me wrong, I did consider the possibility that some of these things might happen before they did, but ultimately I set myself up for living month-to-month as a business in the worst way possible way. As I gained new customers, my overhead grew erratically. I needed to support my products and the more sales I got, the worse the burden became. There was no way to scale properly as I didn’t know what kind of resources I would need for the next month. Meanwhile, the world changed, and I didn’t have the cash flow to change with it.
I eventually sold the company for a respectable exit, but I’m hardly retiring off it. Which is why I’ve spent the last several months trying to solve this problem, so that you can learn from my mistakes.
Lesson #1: Don’t go after the wrong customers.
Someone willing to buy something once for $30 dollars is not the same kind of person willing to spend $30 per month, or even per year. When someone buys your digital good or service from you, and just takes it and runs, there’s no further relationship or commitment to build on. The opportunity is typically gone. There is no guarantee they will buy your next product.
Lesson #2: Recurring revenue is king.
I wasn’t Apple, I was foolish to copy an iTunes-like download based business model. Even Apple is now pushing their monthly subscription service in place of downloads with Apple Music. While it is reassuring Apple made the same mistake I did, unfortunately I didn’t have billions in the bank to pivot with.
Recurring revenue is the most important component of any software service based business.
Had I built my business to be a recurring revenue service model I could have lived off that revenue potentially for the rest of my life, and would have been able to expand my team and grow with my business. Instead I was burning money I didn’t really have working on future predictions that didn’t always work out. Which was stressful, to say the least.
So what is software as a service?
Software as a service is a software licensing and delivery model that is centrally hosted by the software developer who then charges the user a monthly or yearly fee in order to continue to use, and get support for the product. In other words: it’s software that lives in the cloud that users can subscribe to, much like Netflix, or Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
Recently, many older companies like Adobe, have switched to SaaS or subscription based models and many newer companies like SalesForce, are simply based on them. Even recurring monthly box models have taken off such as the Dollar Shave Club, where customers pay a monthly rate for physical goods.
Software as a Service ensures that when you find a customer, they’re committed to using your product, and will provide feedback to remain a customer. It also ensures that you will make money from them again in the future, as long as they don’t cancel.
The key to software as a service is by providing ongoing value for your customers. Your software actually needs to solve an ongoing problem or pain point for your customers so that they continue to subscribe.
The problems I was solving for my customers wasn’t enough, it didn’t provide for an ongoing revenue model. However, there are now solutions such as what we’re doing with WPdocker to not only solve this problem, but automate it.
So please learn from my mistakes, and focus your attention on building a sustainable software service business. Selling one off solutions isn’t going to put your kids through college.