interviewed Katie Keith, Co-Founder and CEO
Barn2, a web design agency that has been selling plugins since 2016 to over 30.000 customers worldwide. We talked about the company’s beginnings, what services it offers, and what is in the pipeline for the future.
Please Present Barn2 To Our Audience. What Services Do You Offer?
Hi, I’m Katie – Co-Founder and CEO at Barn2 Plugins. We sell WordPress plugins which are designed to add specific features to enhance people’s websites. We particularly specialize in websites which help WooCommerce store owners to increase their sales. Our most popular plugins are WooCommerce Product Table (which creates quick one-page order forms) and Document Library Pro (which lets you add a searchable resource library to any WordPress site).
What Are Your Story And Mission?
My husband Andy and I started the company back in 2009. It began as a web design shop, creating websites for clients in England and beyond. We soon discovered that WordPress was the ideal platform for building any type of website, and styled ourselves as WordPress specialists. Back then, not many companies specialized in WordPress so it was easy to get work.
As we learned more about more about WordPress, we realised how much more flexibility we could have in our lives by selling WordPress products (i.e. themes or plugins) than carrying out projects for clients. We wanted the scalability from selling products, rather than selling our time.
As a result, we started building WordPress products as a sideline to the client work. Our first attempt was building a WordPress theme, which unfortunately was not successful. We wanted to sell it on ThemeForest, the world’s biggest marketplace for selling themes, because back then we weren’t confident enough in marketing a theme on our own. Unfortunately they did not accept our theme so we went back to the drawing board.
In our work with clients, we often discovered gaps in the market. We realised that we could use these as opportunities to build products that didn’t have any competition. As a result, we switched our efforts to selling WordPress plugins.
We launched our first plugin – WooCommerce Protected Categories – in March 2016. At the time, it was the only plugin on the market that provided an easy way to make specific parts of your online store private (e.g. for wholesale customers, or when you need to sell different products to different customers). I wrote some blog posts about how to set it up for different use cases, and we were amazed to see sales coming in within a few days!
The plugin business grew and grew, and within 6 months we were generating enough revenue to stop taking on new web design projects. Since then, we have growth to an international company with 20 premium plugins, 5 free plugins, and a team of 16 people who all work independently from their own homes around the world.
Our mission is to become the go-to place to buy extensions to improve your WooCommerce store. We want to continue building best-in-class plugins which are a pleasure for website owners and their customers to use.
What Are The Common Problems Your Customers Are Facing When They Come To You?
Typically, people discover our plugins when they are Googling to find a solution to a specific problem with a website they are building. For example, imagine that a WooCommerce store owner is creating an online shop which has a large number of products, and want an easy way for their customers to find what they’re looking for. Many people in this situation get frustrated with the basic filters which come with WooCommerce itself, and start searching for better solutions online. We designed our WooCommerce Product Filters plugin to solve this problem and provide professional-level filtering.
Can You Share Any Recent Success Story From Brands Using Your Plugins?
We recently received a positive review from the Town of Hamlin in the US, who used our Document Library Pro plugin to add a Document Center to their local Government website. They were looking for a way to create a searchable document library divided by year, which would allow local residents to download current and historic documents. They loved the searchability of our plugin, and the ‘Folders’ view which let them group their documents into different years.
You can see the finished Document Center at https://hamlinny.org/document-center.
What Makes You Stand Out From The Competition?
Our commitment to quality makes us stand out from the competition, because this underlines everything we do. Anyone can throw together a WordPress plugin (especially now ChatGPT can do it for you!), but it takes a lot more to craft professional-level plugins that are fast to load and compatible with different themes and plugins.
We have an incredibly stringent recruitment process in which we vet all potential developers to ensure they meet our strict quality standards and share our attention to detail. We also have well-established quality control and testing procedures, including extensive automated tests for all our plugins.
Usability is also very important to us. For example, we have spent a long time building custom-designed setup wizards for each of our plugins. These guide users through the setup process so that they know exactly what to do at all times.
We think through every detail, such as ensuring that all the options in our plugins have helpful tooltips and documentation links on the settings page. It’s essential that users aren’t left to guess what to do at any point.
Our documentation also makes us stand out. Our plugin knowledge base contains well over 500 articles, and in addition we have a huge library of tutorials and videos. Customers regularly tell us that our documentation is the best they have seen and makes it significantly easier for them to set up our plugins.
If You Were To Start An Online Business Right Now, What Tools And Technologies Would You Use?
If I were to start an online business right now, then I would use the following tools:
- WordPress to build the website.
- I would probably use a third party checkout provider such as Paddle or Lemon Squeezy which has reasonable fees and supports essential functionality such as selling software and subscriptions. We use the Easy Digital Downloads plugin on our website, which doesn’t really meet our needs and we have ended up making significant customizations to it. If I was starting again and really wanted to self-host my checkout, then I would use WooCommerce instead because there are more extensions available to add features to it, and it’s much easier to hire WooCommerce experts due to the number of people specializing in it.
- Trello for project management.
- Slack for team communication.
- Zapier to automate as much as possible and work more efficiently.
- ChatGPT to save time in drafting emails, sales copy, social media posts, and article outlines.
How Do You Think AI Will Impact Your Industry, And How Do You Plan To Use It?
Interestingly, I already included an AI tool in my answer to your previous question! I think this shows how much I think that AI will impact my industry.
I believe that marketing is one of the biggest ways that AI will be used in my industry. While AI isn’t currently good enough to produce entire articles unsupervised, it is incredibly useful in supporting tasks such as improving copy, writing outlines, generating ideas, writing headlines, and so on. I have tried to write entire articles using ChatGPT and while it’s very helpful, I always end up rewriting large sections to improve them and add the product knowledge that it inevitably doesn’t have.
While I’m not a developer myself, it will be interesting to see how developers incorporate it into their workflow. Again, it wouldn’t be responsible to use it to create entire plugins without the oversight of an experienced developer. However, it is definitely a useful tool for answering questions and providing snippets as part of a wider project.
A lot of people seem to be threatened by AI, which has created some push-back. I have felt some of this from certain team members when we have discussed how to incorporate ChatGPT into our jobs. I try to encourage them to use it as a tool to improve their productivity and generate extra ideas, rather than a threat that could potentially replace them. After all, AI is only a starting point and needs a human to check the work and fill any gaps.