Meet the Business – FastSpring by Hamilton Kiah III

Published in Inside Nelio.

During the last few years, we’ve been interviewing different WordPress professionals for our blog. Given its success, we’ve decided to expand our interview section and show the other side of the coin, this time talking to great business that, one way or another, use WordPress. We’re sure that you’d love to know about how real businesses use WordPress on a daily basis. And what a better way to start than interviewing one of our own customers? Please, welcome Hamilton Kiah III from FastSpring!

Thanks for joining us to share your experience, Hamilton. It’s a pleasure to have you here! For those who might not know you, tell us a little bit about yourself.

It’s great to be here and thank you for the opportunity. So a little about me… I’m a southern boy who loves his tech. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and moved to Los Angeles, California in 2003 and now currently live in Santa Barbara with my wife and 2 girls. Yes, I’m out-numbered. The only boy in the house that has my back is our Norwegian Forest cat, Wall-e.

My career path has been an interesting one. As a kid I loved watching Japanese anime, reading old Heavy Metal comic books, and reverse engineering my father’s computers he would bring home from work. Let’s just say he wasn’t too happy about that. Soon after, I started authoring interactive CDs and creating animated presentations using Macromedia Flash and Director (now owned by Adobe) to help change management consultants better convey their ideas. This is where my love for digital storytelling began.

Fast forward to today. I am now currently the Digital Media Strategist @FastSpring here in Southern California. I believe unique businesses deserve unique strategies and I’m adamant that competitive results stem from original ideas.

Hamilton, regarding FastSpring (also our SaaS billing solution provider), what are the biggest challenges that you face with your customers?

I always prefer to see challenges as opportunities. At FastSpring, being a full-stack digital e-commerce platform, we face a plethora of opportunities. Customers have the capability with the FastSpring Store Builder Library (SBL) to hit the ground running and completely customize the entire user experience using their favorite front-end development tools, frameworks, and APIs. With a basic knowledge of HTML and JavaScript users can make their integration as simple or complex as they require. Therein lies our “challenge” so to speak; the FastSpring platform allows you to do anything you want, but… you have to know what you’re doing!

As you know, at Nelio we specialize in WordPress and we often write about it on our blog. Your business uses WordPress on your site. Could you tell us why you chose WordPress among the different CMSs available in the market?

There are a multitude of reasons we chose to go with WordPress but I’ll touch on the top 3 that made our decision a no-brainer.

  • AGILITY: We needed to maintain a scalable and reliable presence to stay competitive. Our family is small but we’re scrappy. Our SVP, Scott Halstead, wanted a solution that didn’t require expensive web solutions requiring proprietary support while our Creative Director, Mark Hemmis, wanted something that would allow our team the flexibility to concentrate on creative for sales and lead generation. WordPress was the answer.
  • TECHNICAL: I’ve been a WordPress user since 2010. Witnessing the evolution from a blogging platform to now being a fully-fledged application framework used by Midmarket to Enterprise level businesses has been gratifying. The extensive marketplace for themes and dedicated plugins allows our small team to move quickly in terms of prototyping and actual deployment. Not to mention our favorite plugin Nelio A/B. Our Web Developer, Will Etling, has created and implemented some great projects utilizing Nelio that I will touch upon later.
  • SEO: Organic search is crucial to our digital business. SEM strategies have many moving parts and the last thing our team needs is a complex CMS. Being able to quickly move on insights and adjust our strategy to serve up qualified leads is imperative. WordPress provides us flexibility and functions well in regards to being able to quickly update and monitor title & alt tags, meta descriptions, and perform keyword density checks – basically anything on-page SEO.

Many of our readers are plugin developers like us. One of the problems we all have is reaching our target audience, as the plugin marketplace is huge. What process do you follow to find the plugins you’re looking for? Any recommendations on how to help developers reach potential customers?

Our team is very resourceful and well-connected so meetups and forums offer value. Typically, we look to the WordPress community during our discovery phase and if we don’t find a solution that matches our requirements we turn to a paid community like Envato.

In regards to helping developers reach potential customers, I can only speak to my personal preferences. I’m a visual being. I tend to follow the best marketing trail first. Second, I analyze reviews and comments to verify the plugin meets our requirements. If there are 2 plugins comparable to each other, I’m going to choose the plugin that has better marketing and the better UI. Offering up a free version in the WordPress Plugin Directory always helps. When I see a plugin that only has a free option I continue to search. Something about only having a free version doesn’t persuade me. I feel confident in the plugin and the developer when there is a paid alternative. I assume with a paid version I will have better support and a higher frequency of updates and patches if needed.

Speaking of how to reach your target audience… You’d probably agree with us that, first and foremost, you must offer a product or service that deals with a pain your customers have. So, let’s help our readers here: what problem(s) do you have right now with WordPress? Is there anything you’d like someone to improve (or even create from scratch)?

We want to be everywhere—and WordPress is everywhere. It’s hard to outright say that we have a problem with WordPress; we chose it because we had complete faith in it as a reliable CMS, blog and publishing platform. I would say that it creates an interesting degree of freedom within a previously rigid business model, where we don’t need to bake all the functionality into the platform itself. As developers are now building truly decoupled WordPress themes there is now more flexibility and control within the WordPress platform for ecommerce businesses than ever before.

However, what I would love to see integrated into WordPress is a marketing automation solution. There are a great deal of solutions out there that already provide integrations with WordPress. Solutions like Marketo, HubSpot, and Pardot but they all offer their own CMS. Having access within the admin side of WordPress would be phenomenal.  Having to jump back and forth between different UI’s isn’t a bad thing but having a consistent user experience would dramatically increase efficiency.

In Nelio we aim to help our customers succeed with their marketing goals. To do so, we offer two services: Nelio A/B Testing and Nelio Content. You’re currently using Nelio A/B Testing on your own website, but that’s only one part of the equation. How does our plugin help you? What other marketing actions do you take to increase the effectiveness of your campaigns?

Nelio A/B is extremely useful for us, and a perfect fit since our marketing site uses WordPress. Some A/B testing platforms are very narrowly focused and just allow you to swap out little bits and pieces of the DOM after a single page has already loaded. With Nelio A/B we can test widgets across the entire site. This has been great for us, since we’re experimenting with reducing friction, and having fewer steps between landing and conversion: things like forms that slide out of the side, account creation in modal windows, and so on. So having the flexibility to test not just a single page, but actual components throughout the site, is amazing.

Beyond A/B testing, we are really pushing on the data side of things. As bandwidth increases and analytics tools improve, we’re finding new ways to collect a complete and accurate picture of how our users engage with our site. It’s not just about driving conversions, we want to figure out how customers are engaging with our site: if they are looking for support, if they need help with something they purchased from one of our sellers, if they want to partner with us, if they want to talk to our sales team. There are so many unique needs that users have–and we help people all over the globe–so constantly analyzing how users engage with our site, and then iterating our UX and UI to better meet their needs, is a big deal for us.

You learn more from failure than from success. There’s plenty we might be doing wrong with our marketing campaigns and it’s quite common to carry out marketing actions that are less effective than what we’d expect. Could you share one of your worst experiences on this subject with us?

We’ve always had the luxury of living in a passive/inbound world, where new customers just seem to come to us through referrals and word of mouth. To have such a strong and effective product that backs our marketing and sales initiatives, it can be easy to get comfortable. That’s to say, when you’re seeing steady growth it’s easy to just let the machine run itself. But things change quickly in the digital commerce space: competitors pop up, get acquired, or disappear entirely. To combat this, we’ve assembled a strong and diverse team of marketing minds and subsequently embarked on a mission to try things we’ve never done before as a company. Our team coined this term “innovating from front” which basically means innovation doesn’t have to come solely from software developers. Rather it can come from many places, supplementing product innovation, particularly areas like effective marketing and high-quality customer support that convert passive prospects to active and successful customers.

A perfect example of this was the complete re-imagining of our legacy sign-up process. While the process worked well, and prospects increased steadily week over week and year over year, we wanted to see if we could improve it further yet. As a result, we build a self-service flow, which allowed users to get an account in minutes, rather than hours. Effectively creating a 99% reduction in time-to-account! The lesson learned was that there is always room for improvement, even if things appear to be high-functioning. Never get comfortable!

Finally, did we miss something you’d like to point out? Any final words of advice?

What we’re doing in the subscription billing space isn’t just homebrew. We’ve been on the grind for over 10 years and since Chris Lueck took over as CEO in 2013 we’ve been expanding across the globe, adding new functionality, and enabling businesses to control their entire customer checkout experience, not to mention keeping them out of trouble with our back office capabilities. It’s solutions like Nelio that allow us the flexibility to focus on areas for improvement. That information and those decisions ultimately help us learn more about our own customers and help us make better decisions on behalf of our customers. Sell. Digital. Global. Now.

Thanks, Hamilton, for answering all our questions. And thank you all for following us and reading these interviews. Stay tuned for the next one!

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