Adii Pienaar is a serial entrepreneur best known for founding the successful and multi-million dollar company WooThemes in 2008 which he also built from his home country South Africa. Since WooThemes, Adii has started a few new businesses, most recently Conversio (previously Receiptful), a SaaS business for all-in-one ecommerce marketing including features like email receipts, cart abandonment, follow ups, recommendations, product reviews, search, and feedback.
When Adii started out in business, he just wanted to be an entrepreneur and work for himself. He got into Wordpress out of necessity because he needed money for school. So he started doing some consulting for clients and he got to a point where he was building free Wordpress themes as a way to gain traction and find customers. That’s how he started WooThemes.
That was before the ecosystem around Wordpress products even existed and there were only 2 to 3 other entrepreneurs who were selling premium Wordpress themes. Back then, one could only offer free opensource stuff or consulting services. Today, there is a vibrant community of different kinds of products, services and business models around Wordpress. Adii never thought Wordpress would become so big and that WooThemes would grow sustainably as far as it has.
On 2nd November 2007, he launched the first theme, The Original Premium News Theme, that eventually became WooThemes. The theme sold widely. He had started working on themes a year before that and he used to sell them through his blog.
Adii says that Wordpress has become a tougher place to build and sustain a business.
Tip: If there is a way to productize and some way extend some kind of service that you are doing, especially cost efficiently, then you will always have a market
Core revenue streams
He says with Conversio, they apply a Saas (Software as a Service) business model. That’s unlike what he did with Woo Commerce/Woo Themes which only offered one-off downloadable content.
In 2013, he was hoping to try his hand at building a new business. So, he stepped out of the Woo Themes operations and took a non-executive position. He then started working on a new product, Public Data, which was an online developments and learning community for entrepreneurs. While working on that, he was also negotiating his exit from WooThemes which concluded at the end of 2013.
He eventually shut down Public Data as a product. In early 2014, he came across a blog post about Email Receipts and when he read it, he became very interested in the idea. The first version of the idea before it became Conversio was called Receiptful, and it allowed people to include some form of marketing in their email receipts, this became very successful. From there, they slowly evolved into building complimentary tools including email marketing tools (now includes email newsletters and widgets).
Adii believes that anyone who read the blog post that inspired him could have just as easily started the same business he did. He says that what helped him was the fact that he had more understanding and experience in terms of building solutions specifically for people who were building ecommerce stores.
Building up on the idea
The first thing he did was Google to find out who else was doing something similar. His idea was slightly different from the existing ones. Addi identified Stripe (a payment platform) which was going through a massive growth phase as a potential business partner. People could build apps on top of the Stripe gateway exclusively and get a lot of success.
Adii outsourced the development of Receiptful’s first version which was an app that would work with Stripe. It was geared towards other SaaS companies instead of ecommerce ones. He didn’t want to target ecommerce customers because he wanted to initially build Receiptful as an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) as it would be easier. Once it was built, he had a few users test it and what he learnt is that people were engaging with the receipts and their main upsell was the annual billing.
Adii realised that there was no conversion through that but the engagement on the receipt was significant enough for him to move forward with the full development of the Receiptful software and focusing on ecommerce clients. He hired a full time team of 2 at that stage who are still with Conversio to date.
Getting the first set of clients
His initial idea was for Receiptful to be a paid product and that’s how they launched but within the first week he realised that that wouldn’t work in getting them the necessary user feedback so he changed it to a free model and that remains to date. They needed a lot of feedback so they could determine what kind of marketing to input in their receipts. The first month they sent 250 receipts and the second 1,000 receipts. Today, they send over 4 million receipts a month.
In June 2015, they released the first non-receipt product which was a recommendation widget (that says other customers who bought the item you have bought also bought this or a similar worded buying recommendation) and they started charging for that. By then, they were sending 250,000+ receipts per month and had 10,000+ free customers using the receipts. From there they were able to release more paid tools.
The receipts are still the ones that make them stand out among a vast majority of customers. Since the consolidation of all their tools into a single dashboard and rebranding to Conversio, they have seen the adoption of the idea of having an all-in-one marketing dashboard. That has proven to be so convenient and cost effective for users that they eliminate all the other tools they use and move to Conversio. There has also been a massive benefit to users in the way that they get to have all their customer and marketing data in a single dashboard without having to use other apps to connect things into another central location.
Current receipts function
Adii says they do upsells but they also send post-purchase follow up emails. Once a customer purchases a product and gets the receipt in their email, they always open the receipts to verify that they were charged the right price.
Growth strategy at the beginning
Adii says they try loads of things and hope something works out. They have continuously focused a lot on word of mouth and it has worked very well because they have maintained a great reputation through their easy to use, convenient and cost effective products.
Their customer service has also played a major role in ensuring growth. They do paid ads minimally and do content marketing through their own channels. They also try to incentivise referrals. The Shopify app store is their number one user/customer acquisition channel.
Tip: Marketing is always the hardest thing. You have to do marketing in a way that you know exactly what is working and to what extent it’s working
Shopify App Store
Adii says that one of the ways Shopify ranks things is through a combination of 3 things which include looking at period usage (installs and uninstalls of an app) and considering the ratings and reviews of the app.
Size of business (statistics)
Conversio has a team of 14 full-time people including Adii and they use freelancers when there is a need. In the last few months they passed $2 Million in annual revenue run rate. Their user base is mostly North American (60%) followed by Europe (33%+), and the rest is scattered all over.
Adii says that in mid-2015, they raised a small angel investor seed funding of $500,000 which was a great experience for him. It reduced his personal anxiety over the business’ success. They were able use that funding alongside their revenue growth to get to where they are today, which is to grow within their own means.
Cape town, South Africa base
He loves living in Cape Town and he calls it home. He is very grateful that he gets to build his entrepreneurial career without leaving Cape Town. Being located there was initially challenging because Cape Town didn’t have a vibrant tech startup community, so Adii felt disconnected and had to build relationships with friends internationally. He even had to sometimes fly to the US to meet people in person. Time zones and logistics have been a con to being based in Cape Town because most of their clients are based in the US. That forced him to work evenings and have very unbalanced, unhealthy lifestyle.
He now enjoys working in the early mornings and sometimes he works in the evenings if it’s required. He usually leaves work at 5pm.
Book recommendation for entrepreneurs:
- When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
To leave something valuable behind for his kids – Adii.
@adii – Adii’s Twitter Handle
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