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#59 – Corey Maass on How To Use WordPress To Kickstart Your SaaS App

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, how WordPress can be used to get your SaaS app off the ground.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL to most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you or your idea featured on the show. Head to forward slash contact forward slash jukebox. And use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Corey Maass.

Corey is a full stack developer who works with agencies and businesses, large and small. He specializes in advanced WordPress functionality and building products for, and using, WordPress.

Over the last decade or so SaaS, or software as a service, apps have become more and more popular. Not only are we using our computers more, but with the rise of smartphones, we’re connected to our services all the time. There does not appear to be any corner of life where online platforms don’t have some presence. From email to taxis, fitness to food planning and delivery. You can find it all in a SaaS app somewhere.

Now that many people are comfortable using SaaS apps, there’s been a deluge of new players coming into the market, but it won’t surprise you to learn that most of them fail to make an impact and shut up shop.

Corey is on the podcast today to talk about why he thinks that building an MVP, or minimum viable product, app on top of WordPress is a good way to start your product journey.

We talk about how WordPress comes bundled with many of the features that apps require. User login, roles, permissions, and the REST API. This means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for the things that WordPress already does.

On top of that, the plugin ecosystem which surrounds WordPress, might enable you to short circuit the need to build all the features that your service needs. It may be that there’s an existing plugin, which does most of what you require, and is ready to go right away.

Corey talks about how using WordPress in this way might enable you to see if there’s really a market for your app. And if there’s not, you’ve used less resources finding that out. And if there is, then you might have some revenue to develop the app in other ways.

If you’ve toyed with the idea of creating a SaaS app in the past, but never quite got there, this episode is for you.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading to forward slash podcast. Where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Corey Maass.

I am joined on the podcast today by Corey Maass. Hello, Corey.

[00:03:58] Corey Maass: Hey there.

[00:03:58] Nathan Wrigley: Very nice to have you on. Corey, we’re going to talk today all about the capabilities of WordPress as a SaaS platform. But as we typically do on this podcast, it would be very nice if we could orientate the listeners, allow them to figure out what your credentials are, what your WordPress chops are, if you like. So would you spend a few moments just giving us a brief potted history of your relationship with tech and WordPress more specifically?

[00:04:24] Corey Maass: Absolutely. Back in the late nineties in college, a roommate of mine introduced me to this internet thing and the first websites I saw were some of my favorite bands. And I was a aspiring musician at the time, and I said, well, I want to appear as famous as they are. How do I make one of these website things, and the rest is history.

I taught myself basic web design, web development. That led to learning some programming, JavaScript and then ASP classic way back in the day. But around that time there was the new trend of SaaS apps. 37 Signals was popular talking about this. Forums like Joel Spolsky’s, Joel on Software. And I caught the bug because I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak.

So I said, oh, this internet thing, building software, but not selling a download, but selling access to a website. So, I started going down that path, building websites for clients, but also building SaaS apps to try to sell on the side. And then WordPress took off and for a number of years, WordPress was pretty much my day job. Doing development or website setup or what have you, and then building Sass apps. Not using WordPress for a number of years.

And then suddenly the light bulb went off. One, the WordPress market was getting bigger and bigger, and I realized that there actually was money in it. So that led me to start building plugins, which I think is what had you and I talking last time. But also at some point it occurred to me that WordPress had matured enough and solved enough of the problems that I was encountering over and over building SaaS apps that I said, let me look at WordPress as a SaaS platform, and I’ve been doing it ever since. So now it’s been probably five years or something, and WordPress only continues to mature, and this conversation continues to evolve.

[00:06:27] Nathan Wrigley: So you, in the last few years, you’ve joined together the idea of a SaaS platform, but with WordPress handling some of the basic things in the background, if you like. I say basic, I just mean some of the things that we are more familiar with in WordPress. So user management, obviously if you throw some other things like WooCommerce at it, you may be able to handle billing or subscription or whatever it might be, and getting people to the right page depending on whether they’re logged in or not. Is it basically the promise of that? You can cut out a whole body of work, which you would need to build, well potentially from scratch, each time you create your own new SaaS app?

[00:07:04] Corey Maass: Yeah, I think that’s the way to think about it. So, when you’re solving problems for people online, these days it’s definitely more broad than it was five years ago and 10 or 15 years ago, of course. So if you’re building something that’s B2B, technically speaking. So if you’re trying to build an API or some sort of true service that other systems are going to talk to. WordPress is probably not the answer you want.

The REST API is, has come a long way, but it’s not really what it’s meant for, right? But if you think of most B2C apps, business to consumer, most of these apps are websites that you’re signing into. Well, WordPress accommodates that. You’re clicking through from page to page. WordPress accommodates that. You’re taking billing, you’re handling subscriptions. WordPress with WooCommerce or Easy Digital Downloads, or Restricted Content Pro or any number.

I’ve been paying more attention to the membership plugins lately, which are in some ways are specifically designed to handle exactly this problem. Users signing in and doing something, interacting. Interacting with the website. Interacting with each other, that kind of thing. One of the things that, an example that I pick up on a lot is, years ago when I was building apps regularly for clients, for friends, for myself. Over and over and over again, I had to implement some sort of user password reset. And it’s so mundane. Once you’ve solved it once, it’s boring to solve as a developer. But it’s crucial to every app.

And I got to the point where I was like, I just don’t want to ever think about this stupid problem again. But I had to integrate the code, again every time over and over again. It’s like with WordPress, I never have to think about that. And there’s a plugin called Theme My Login, that’s one of my favorites that you drop in and users can register for your website and immediately get access to a slash dashboard, which you can change. But arguably that’s the first huge leap, you set up a basic website.

You want users to be able to register and have exclusive access to a page that they don’t have if they haven’t signed in or haven’t paid or what have you. So, these kinds of plugins just solve all of these basic problems. The bottom of the pyramid, so to speak. So that you can get onto whatever problem, your unique problem, that your SaaS is going to solve. As opposed to spending days, weeks, months, tackling the not unique problems like user registration.

[00:09:36] Nathan Wrigley: So what you are suggesting here, let’s just lay this out. The audience that you are suggesting this to, is people who want to get something shipped quickly. And really, if you are at the beginning of your SaaS app journey, you’re not quite sure yet whether the market even exists. You’re just trying to float a solution to something that you believe might be viable in the marketplace, but you’re not sure.

So we’re creating a shortcut. We’re offsetting the billing, the user management and so on to WordPress, just as a, as a quick way of getting an MVP or a minimum viable product out there. Is that the idea? Just to sort of test the water? WordPress is a good bet for that, and then presumably at some point you would advise that if it turns out to be an out and out success, then maybe, at that point you might need to look at different tooling.

[00:10:28] Corey Maass: Not necessarily. There was a time when I would’ve said that definitively, but WordPress has come a long way. Hosting has come a long way. Optimization has come a long way. So it’s definitely the scenario that I’m using WordPress the most. I’ve got a new idea, or I’m working with somebody and they’ve got a new idea and this is how I want to get it off the ground.

But there are a number of companies, big companies, in the WordPress space that continue to work, use WordPress as the core of their SaaS app, and they’ve got plenty of customers. I think it really, when you get to that level of, if you see a, a good amount of success, then there’s going to be technical problems to overcome.

And so it’s either ramping up hosting, server power or optimizing queries or rewriting certain aspects of your app. We can talk about that. I had to do that for one of mine, about a year ago. Or again, depending on the amount of user inactivity or user, user interactivity, how much and how often your users are using your app, you may find that it handles it just fine.

[00:11:43] Nathan Wrigley: So right at the beginning you started talking about why you use WordPress. You mentioned a few plugins, which might assist you on this journey. So I think some of the ones that you mentioned were things like Easy Digital Downloads, WooCommerce, and so on. Whilst I don’t want to necessarily promote certain plugins, I’m just wondering if, given the experience that you’ve had, if you could give us some tips as to plugins that you have found to be helpful for particular problems that you’ve faced while you’ve been trying to build it. And then in a few moments we’ll get onto the subject of how you’ve had to amend WordPress to do things, let’s say more efficient.

[00:12:20] Corey Maass: Sure. So these days, I actually use Beaver Builder for building pages out. Beaver Builder’s a page builder. Elementor is another good one. But I find that doubling down and knowing these tools well, helps greatly with being able to solve a variety of problems because they’re not a theme, so they’re not locked into a certain layout or that kind of thing.

But most SaaS apps have a pattern called CRUD, create, retrieve, update, and delete. So if it’s Twitter, then you are creating tweets. You are retrieving tweets, meaning you’re viewing all of them. You can’t really update tweets, but you can update your profile, that kind of thing. And again, you can’t really delete tweets, but you could delete your account, and that kind of thing. Facebook, you can create posts, you can delete posts, your viewing posts, so your retrieving posts, that kind of thing.

So, a lot, a lot, a lot of software comes down to that pattern, and so using something like, Advanced Custom Fields and there’s a great plugin called ACF Front End, I think it’s called, that essentially puts an ACF form on the front end. So that’s how users can create and update. You could also use Gravity Forms. Or there are a couple of other plugins, form plugins, that you can then put on the front end, for again, collecting data from users or letting users post data. Essentially insert data into the database. And then using something like Beaver Builder or Elementor that have post modules.

So it’s like if I was recreating Twitter, I would create a form, and this obviously once I’m logged in, but I would create a form that said, what do you want to tweet? And that would insert it into the database as a post record. And then I would use Beaver Builder, me personally, but you could use Elementor or again, any number of page builders, with a posts module that says, okay, show all posts, meaning tweets, with the author of Corey. So then you’ve just created a way to create tweets and then for somebody else to go look at all of Corey’s tweets, that kind of thing.

So thinking, breaking it down to these kinds of patterns and then looking at these different plugins on how to solve them. A lot of the time I’m able to find ways to quickly implement. And it, again, it doesn’t have to be quick, and this doesn’t have to be forever, but a lot of the time it can be where WordPress and these plugins can solve these problems so that my SaaS offers the, again, the unique problem or solves the unique problem that I’m, the whole reason I’m building it in the first place.

To get back to your question about those other plugins in particular. If you only want users to sign in, I love the plugin called Theme My Login. Again, look at membership plugins. And then, if you want to charge, again, break down the problem. What are you actually, what do you want? Usually you want subscriptions, like that’s a SaaS pattern that most people are used to now. And what are users paying for? Usually they’re paying for access to a page or pages or content or some feature to interact with other users or something like that. And there are plenty of plugins that restrict content. Which is the way to think about that.

And so there’s literally Restricted Content Pro as a plugin. Easy Digital Downloads, which is e-commerce, but they have an add-on for restricting content. WooCommerce is really more e-commerce, but can handle this kind of stuff. And then again, membership plugins that are, as people are setting up communities, as at least some people are trying to get away from social media and get back to more private communities without relying on Facebook groups or Twitter or what have you.

Membership plug-ins have been mature for a while, but are, I’m seeing them become even more and more popular. And are designed exactly for this. So a user pays for access to features, pages, what have you. And that’s again, kind of the core of most SaaS apps.

[00:16:24] Nathan Wrigley: I suppose that if you are thinking of building a SaaS app, you must have some kind of kernel of an idea of whatever it is that you are trying to solve. So, you’ve got this fabulous idea, and the most important thing at that point is to judge whether or not this idea A, can be built, and let’s assume that after sitting down and thinking it through and mapping it out, you’ve decided, yep, yeah, this has got legs. This can be built with the technology that’s currently available on the web.

And then thinking, okay, is there an audience for this? Are there going to be enough people out there who are willing to open their wallet to make it worthwhile? And if you go down the SaaS route, you may very well be an incredibly adept developer, in which case this may be in your purview.

But if you are not and you are just trying to figure out whether the market is there and you want to do that affordably, then WordPress seems like a fairly decent bet, just because of what you said. The fact that with 60,000 plus plugins in the WordPress repository and countless more that you can purchase, in many cases for a very small amount of money.

It may be that you can get 90%, 80%, 70% of the features that you are trying to build, but without having to do much in the way of custom coding. It may be that you can’t get a hundred percent of the way there, and that would require some tweaking, which we’ll get into. But is that essentially it? You know, you might have to cut some corners or, on your roadmap, cut out some of the things that you really thought would be nice to have in and just go for the things which can be enabled quickly and affordably.

[00:17:58] Corey Maass: Yeah, I think it just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. I have a buddy who is non-technical, knows enough CSS to be dangerous, which he’s learned over times, specifically for this scenario. He wanted to create a mentor program, and so he needed scheduling for matching mentorees to mentors.

So we found a plugin that did that, or did that well enough. And then put I think a membership plug in. I don’t remember how he handled subscriptions. But basically put WordPresses stylized user management in front of it. Limited access to features based on a user being logged in or a user paying. And then a little bit of CSS to make it look a little more integrated or little more branded or what have you.

And that was kind of all he needed. It solved the problem. He was able to charge for it. He got some customers. And then at some point he did end up hiring a developer to add a few bells and whistles or whatever features he found that were missing. But yeah, it got him 70, 80% of the way. Arguably it got him a hundred percent of the way of solving the problem enough that at least users could start using it.

[00:19:10] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I suppose that’s it, isn’t it? If he’s got a core body of users, and he’s determined that, in this case he can use a calendar plugin or whatever it may be, and it will get him the user base that he needs. Then he can start to use the revenue that’s generated from the, let’s call it the SaaS app, to invest in having something done bespoke.

That’s really interesting. That’s kind of nice to know. I guess one concern, which I may have, and I’m sure you’ve come across this before. Is just the notion that if you did build this and you fully had the intention of it staying on WordPress for all time. Then you are of course very much dependent upon the plugins that you are using. The spaghetti of plugins being updated regularly.

In many cases that would very much be the case. It’s updated frequently. It’s made secure, and any vulnerabilities and things like that are taken care of. But there is always that chance that the developer of a key part of your SaaS app may just decide to call it quits, and then you might be left hanging a little bit.

[00:20:14] Corey Maass: And the scenario I’ve seen more often is a mature product. Meaning your own SaaS app evolves away from what the plugin that you purchased does. So I saw this with a very big company in the WordPress space, who long ago had built their platform on top of EDD, Easy Digital Downloads. But over time had hacked and slashed at it, so that they couldn’t update it anymore.

And that’s just a decision they had to make at some point of whether they were going to keep going with EDD and just lean into the features that EDD had and forego the other features. Or most good, big WordPress plugins are well documented and have hooks so you can add function extra functionality, or figure out how to sort of hack around them, to a point.

And then, yeah. They had to make the decision to just stop updating it, and there was discussion. Last I heard that they were going to maybe move to something custom altogether. But the idea being, one of my favorite phrases, we made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time, right?

So starting out early. It solves all your problems. Go for it. And then down the road you can migrate away from it. You can code around it. You could build something custom, what have you. But yes, that is certainly a risk. I mean, it’s also a problem that a lot of apps have broadly speaking. So it’s, you know, if you’ve built an app that uses the Twitter or Facebook API, you’re putting yourself in their, their hands.

Or if you are operating system dependent or even, something I’m seeing right now is, microchip dependent, right? If you build software for MacOS and it only works on Intel and, and they move to M1 or M2. So these are just risks that I think you assess over time.

But what I like is, the point you keep emphasizing, that this is a, a way to solve the technical problem. What I think that a lot of SaaS founders, small and large, real and imaginary, don’t take into account and, I struggle with, and most of us struggle with, is that these days the technical lift of building an app often pales in comparison to the marketing.

We hear about these wonderful, amazing stories, like Instagram selling for whatever it was, 8 billion after two months, and yada, yada, yada. Most SaaS apps fail. And so you, you want to build quickly with a low lift and then spend most of your time, like you said, trying to get it in front of customers, validating the idea, getting feedback from customers about what features they actually want, or now that you’ve built the features they want, does it actually solve the problem for them?

All of that is arguably way more important than the actual platform you use. But that’s what brings me back to WordPress as a platform, is in fact often a great way to get something out the door. Even if it’s just a form to collect data and then a page builder or a theme of some kind to then show the data back to the user, if that’s what solves the problem.

[00:23:36] Nathan Wrigley: It’s interesting because if there’s a body of people listening to this who are not building SaaS apps on WordPress, and they’re just building client websites, you’ve probably encountered that scenario where the client comes and they have incredibly grandiose expectations of what they want the website to do.

And because you’ve been building websites for so long, you just know, you have an instinct which says, well, we could build all of that. But how about we just start here? Because I would imagine it’s quite unlikely that your staff are actually going to start using some kind of intranet solution that we build as WordPress. Or some messaging system that we build in the app. It’s much more likely that they’ll continue to use things like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp or Slack or whatever it may be.

And so over the years you’ve become accustomed to figuring out what is plausible, what is likely to work, and I think I feel it’s the same with SaaS apps. It’s very easy to come to the table. You’ve got your blank canvas and you throw everything at it, every idea, every permutation, every possible thing that the app could do, and then decide that’s what must be built.

That’s it. Until that is all done, we’re not going to launch it. And I think history shows that you have to be much more agile than that. You have to be able to drill it down and say, okay, what’s the 10, 20, 30% of all of that, that we’ve decided upon, which is going to get us off the ground? And so that feels like where this goes. If you try to build everything, it’s probable that you’ll A run out of money, B run out of time, and nothing will be shipped.

Whereas in your scenario, offset the uninteresting jobs that probably don’t need to be tackled because they’ve already been tackled by plugins or WordPress Core. And just concentrate on the things which are going to benefit your users. And frankly, you don’t know what is going to benefit your users.

It’s always amazing to me when I open up a new SaaS app that I’ve never use before. And you think, oh, this will be perfect what I need. And you end up on support saying, does it do this? No, I wish it did that. And those companies that succeed tend to be, well in my experience, the ones who listen to their early adopters and quickly pivot their solution to satisfy them.

[00:25:45] Corey Maass: Exactly. There’s obviously no harm in thinking through what your dream app does, all the features. You make a long, long list. But one of the things that drew me to WordPress plugins, and selling WordPress plugins early on, was a rather cynical observation that I made.

I was building blogs for customers. I was building e-commerce websites for customers. And instead of writing another article, which is hard and work. Or instead of inserting more products, which is hard and feels like work. A lot of my clients would get in the WordPress plugin repo where all the plugins are free and go, oh, I could use a to-do list plugin and they’d install it.

Or, it’s winter. I should install a plugin that adds snowflakes falling over my theme. And they would waste an unbelievable amount of time on what felt productive and felt free. And I was like, well, if people are people, we are all human, we are all valuable and we are all, don’t want to do the things that are hard.

But I see all these people that are spending time just digging through the plugin repo, I’m going to start building and selling plug-ins, because the discoverability is amazing. And so I think you’ve touched on that for SaaS as well, which is, we generally shy away from the things that are hard.

We also tend to skew towards our own genius. What we think is the best idea. Because we thought of it isn’t necessarily the features, or it isn’t ecessarily solving the problem that your actual paying customers have. The real strength, and the real challenge, comes more in that side of things. Marketing, sales, talking to customers, getting over your own ego, optimizing your own time, all that kind of stuff.

[00:27:48] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It’s interesting the marketing piece you mentioned. Never ceases to amaze me how much of the overall budget needs not to be sunk into the development of the actual software, but in alerting people to its existence. A significant amount. And it’s not to be underestimated.

And obviously if at the beginning you sink a hundred percent of your finances into the code, that’s great, but I guess you better be a really good word of mouth, somebody that can spread by word of mouth incredibly successfully. Because experience at least tells me that it’s very hard to gather an audience from a standing start.

So we’re a WordPress podcast. We’re obviously very keen on WordPress, we think it’s amazing. But I’m guessing that there must be downsides to this. Let’s just talk about that for a moment. Any drawbacks to this system that you’ve encountered over time? Just some quick examples may be that, well, does it scale very well? Does WordPress tend to be doing a lot of things in the background that a leaner, more specifically custom-built solution may get you out the hole of? Just questions around that. Any drawbacks that you would alert people to if they do decide to go down this approach?

[00:28:59] Corey Maass: A few years ago, I was tasked with building a food subscription website. So think Blue Apron or Freshly kind of website, if you’re familiar with those. And for better or worse was told that I had to use WooCommerce. And so I spun up a WordPress website, installed WooCommerce, got subscriptions going, customized the choose the meals that you want, and then check out. And that all was okay.

But it turned out that, I think some of this has been changed, because this was a number of years ago but, WooCommerce was storing all of the data in a very WordPressy way, which was fine because it was a known pattern. But was not very optimal. And then for the business, because all of those meals were cooked every morning and then shipped out, all of the charges had to go through at the same time, at like two in the morning. And it turned out that WooCommerce subscriptions was built so that if you signed up for a subscription at 10:30 in the morning, it would renew at 10:30 in the morning. While we needed it to renew at two in the morning so that all of the orders went through, so then the chef knew how many dishes to make, and how many chicken dishes to make or whatever.

And that’s the kind of risk that you run into, right? So if you are using a third party piece of software, WordPress, and then with plugins. And you are essentially building it to your, or bending it to your will, so that it’s doing things that it’s not necessarily meant to do. You’re going to run into issues.

We found that our server didn’t have enough power to process all of these orders at the same time, because it’s essentially multiple threads need to be run at the same time. We wound up in that instance sticking with WooCommerce and WordPress for at least a little while longer.

But switching off of a hosting company that really was most popular for blogs and delivering content and not necessarily running process, CPU power. And moving to a custom AWS set up. And we watched the CPU go from 80% all the time, to 3% all the time. So in that instance, we just needed to throw more metal at it.

But again, we were definitely using a tool, at least slightly, in ways that it wasn’t meant to do. I also, during the pandemic, or at the beginning of the pandemic, my wife made the mistake of turning to me and saying, you know, my family plays this game called Mexican Train, in person all the time. Boy, I wish there was an online version. And she should just know better than to put that kind of idea in my head.

So within a couple of months I had spun up the only interactive online version of Mexican Train, which was great for our family, but it’s a very popular game in retirement communities. And naturally during the pandemic a lot of people in retirement communities were isolating a lot more. The game became quite popular, because it spread word of mouth. And the first Christmas, I think I built it early in the year, and, and the first Christmas it peaked at like 2,600 concurrent games or something. Which, for me, I had never built anything that needed quite that much power.

And it did eventually fall over. But initially I’d built it so that every time somebody played, all the other games, so four people are playing, basically all four games are sitting there pinging the server, looking for updates. That’s very inefficient because most of those pings don’t return anything, but the CPU still has to accommodate them. So I wound up switching to a pushing system. So I had to integrate with that. And originally I had built it so that the game itself, so when you’re signing into, that’s the website, the login screen you’re seeing is Theme My Login.

All of the delivery of content, so like when you go to the My Games page and you see all of your games, that’s just Beaver Builder. And then the actual game I had to build, so it was quite a lift as far as development goes. But that was what that SaaS needed. But I built an app in a JavaScript framework called React that then talks to the server.

Well, I built the initial version using the WordPress API. So my game talked to WordPress, functionality that was built into WordPress. And the API worked, until it didn’t. So, in that instance, again, too many people hitting the server too much. Aw, shucks, it was too successful.

I had to revisit it after a year or two and build a custom API. Now I’m a developer. I have that luxury, right? But these are things that, I got enough of a version out the door. So, thinking about it from the perspective of a non-developer. I could have set up most of it except for the game itself.

And the game is sponsored by donations. So I installed GiveWP, which is one of the bigger WordPress donation plugins. And I still used the free version. And so I got most of those sort of basic stuff using third party plugins out of the box. And then if I wasn’t a developer, I might have had to hire a developer.

And so yes, I would’ve had to put some money into it. But they wouldn’t have had to build everything. And I also could conceivably hire different developers, or I could by using WordPress. So one of the things we haven’t talked about is because of the popularity of WordPress, you also have a lot more developers to choose from if you’re going to hire somebody.

But anyway, if I wasn’t a developer, I would’ve had to hire somebody to build the game. And then down the road, presumably I would’ve proven that the platform was popular, hopefully in the form of donations, which would’ve been enough money to then hire somebody to rebuild the API, if I couldn’t have done it myself.

You know? So there’s sort of this evolution of, as you’ve said. Try things, see if it’s popular, and then maybe hire somebody if you have to, you know, if you’re going to grow parts of the platform, parts of the app beyond WordPress.

[00:35:40] Nathan Wrigley: It’s really interesting you mentioning about all of the very large number of WordPress developers. The developers I guess, go into different niches, don’t they? They might be experts in one field or another. Do you detect that there’s a lot of people doing this kind of thing? Building SaaS on top of WordPress. Or is it just you shouting into an empty room? What I’m basically saying is, is there a community, a subset of the WorldPress developer community who, like you, are interested in building SaaS apps on top of WordPress.

[00:36:10] Corey Maass: There is a book called Building Web Apps with WordPress that came out from O’Reilly. So it’s popular enough that people are writing books about it. I’ve given talks on it at a few different WordCamps as far back as I think four or five years ago or more. And I’ve come across a number of people who are doing it, or are thinking about it or have done it. But it’s definitely not, and even Mullenweg has talked about it, but it’s not the most common use case.

I think in part because people just don’t necessarily think about SaaS apps separately as much anymore. More and more websites do something. And so if they have functionality, maybe that people are paying for, and users are signing in to use the web app to do something.

It’s a SaaS app. But that’s, again, I think more and more commonly just how people view websites. So it’s not necessarily something that people are thinking about or searching for. Except for, I think, as you’ve mentioned a few times, if you’re looking for no code now means something different. But if you’re looking for a non-developery way to spin something up quickly using third party software, then it still gets some attention. But to answer your question, no, I’ve never found a community. I’ve thought about starting one, but never have. Because I just haven’t gotten a sense that enough people are talking about it.

Which is okay. Maybe at some point they will, or, you know, maybe some other better solution will come along and consistently solve the problems. But, right here, right now, I still find WordPress a great option.

[00:37:57] Nathan Wrigley: It’s really interesting because curiously, there’s a great deal of overlap with something that’s going on in my world at the moment in that I have been working with a developer on a SaaS app. I won’t go into the details, but reached a point where a couple of years ago, the interest in it, from my point of view, I think probably, is best to describe it. It waned a little bit and so it went on the back burner and it’s never been revived.

And as a couple of years have gone by, I’ve decided that, actually wouldn’t it be nice to revive this? And so with a couple of friends decided that, yeah, let’s give this another go. But actually, let’s just begin again, because I’ve noticed there’s significant things in what’s already been built that I would change.

And guess what we’ve decided to do? We’ve decided to do the MVP inside of WordPress. Basically for pretty much all the reasons that you’ve suggested. We’re familiar with it. There are sometimes free, sometimes commercially available plugins, which will do a significant amount of the lifting. Will it be exactly what we would like from our roadmap? No. Will it be close enough to get us to measure whether there’s an audience for this? Yes, I think it will. And so, curious that this is actually playing itself out in my life at this moment.

[00:39:19] Corey Maass: Nice, yeah. Depending on the problems you’re trying to solve, but I think that’s like most things, a bit of planning, sit down, design. I encourage everybody to do this. What is the all the bells and whistles version. We nerds are a big fan of what’s called the 80 20 rule.

So what’s the 20% that needs to be solved now, today to prove the idea? And then see what plugins align with that. How they can get you there. Will it solve the problem? Do you need custom development? Are there features that just don’t have solutions or aren’t solved by any of the plugins you might want to use.

And then go from there. See what you can do. The nice thing too about WordPress is you can start locally, which is free. Locally meaning on your computer, not locally in your town, although you can do that too. Most computers using software like Local WP, I’m a big fan of, and there’s a few others. Also InstaWP, which lets you spin up instances of WordPress online for free, for, you know, seven days or something, and then pay to keep them, or you can download them, I think, I don’t know.

I definitely have been guilty of getting an idea and I needed to illustrate the idea rather than just write the idea down. So I spun up an instance of WordPress real quick. Installed a couple of plugins real quick, and then said, what do I need next? Or what would the next step be? Or, if I was a user, what would I expect to see next? All that cost me was a little bit of time. There’s kind of that advantage too, where it’s, you can use it for wire framing means something specific, but conceptually you can use it for wire framing ideas, which I think is crucial. Without it costing you anything.

[00:41:04] Nathan Wrigley: Corey, if people listening to this, if they’re resonating with it and they’re thinking actually, do you know what, this is something that I’ve been doing for a while, or, I’m curious to get into the community that you said might need to exist. Where would be the best place to get in touch with you?

[00:41:20] Corey Maass: Honestly, the place that I talk about this the most is Twitter., c o r e y m a a s s. Just start a conversation with me. I’d love to hear people who are interested in this. If this resonated with them, if they’ve tried it at all. Because again, I’ve run into people who have done it. I’ve heard about people doing it. A book exists. So there must be people talking about it somewhere.

But I think it would be neat to have a community of people, or even just a network of people, helping each other out, solving some of these problems. Hey, does anybody have a good recommendation for a plugin that solves such and such a functional, or a problem that I have. Where should I start? Suggestions for hosting companies. I mean, there’s, there’s always information to be shared. And honestly, that’s one of my favorite things about the WordPress community is that it’s so open. So many people are talking to each other and willing to help each other. I definitely think there could be more conversation around using WordPress as a SaaS platform.

[00:42:21] Nathan Wrigley: Corey Maass. Thank you for chatting to us on the podcast today.

[00:42:25] Corey Maass: My pleasure.

On the podcast today we have Corey Maass.

Corey is a full-stack web developer who works with agencies and businesses, large and small. He specialises in advanced WordPress functionality and building products for, and using, WordPress.

Over the last decade or so, SaaS, or software as a service, apps have become more and more popular. Not only are we using our computers more, but with the rise of smartphones, we’re connected to our services all the time.

There does not appear to be any corner of life where online platforms don’t have some presence. From email to taxis, fitness to food planning and delivery. You can find it all in a SaaS app somewhere.

Now that many people are comfortable using SaaS apps, there’s been a deluge of new players coming into the market, but it won’t surprise you to learn that most of them fail to make an impact, and shut up shop.

Corey is on the podcast today to talk about why he thinks that building a MVP, or minimum viable product, app on top of WordPress is a good way to start your product journey.

We talk about how WordPress comes bundled with many of the features that apps require, user login, roles, permissions and the REST API. This means that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for the things that WordPress already does.

On top of that, the plugin ecosystem which surrounds WordPress might enable you to short circuit the need to build all the features that your service needs. It may be that there’s an existing plugin which does most of what you require, and is ready to go right away.

Corey talks about how using WordPress in this way might enable you to see if there’s really a market for your app. If there’s not, you’ve used less resources finding that out. If there is, then you might have some revenue to develop the app in other ways.

If you’ve toyed with the idea of creating a SaaS app in the past, but never quite got there, this episode is for you.

Useful links.

37 Signals

Joel Spolsky’s, Joel on Software

Easy Digital Downloads


Advanced Custom Fields

ACF Frontend

Gravity Forms

Beaver Builder


Theme My Login

Restrict Content Pro

Corey’s Mexican Train website


Building Web Apps with WordPress book

Local WP