I just launched a new business with Fx Benard this week. It’s called “Hexagone“, and we’re focused on WordPress products and support for a French-speaking audience.
Although I’ve been selling products through WordPress for over three years, this project was really fun because it gave me the opportunity to rethink all the services and infrastructure involved and build something new from scratch.
It’s clear that WordPress has grown into an excellent platform for launching a digital products based business. I thought it would be worth sharing some of the great tools, products and services we relied on to get the job done for those interesting in launching a similar type of business.
Hosting and E-mail
Hosting and e-mail are the obvious foundations of any online business. We’re using a $10/mo droplet on Digital Ocean (which I’ve written about previously) for hosting WordPress, and Google Apps for e-mail ($5/mo). Site notifications and e-mails are handled by Mandrill. The domain and SSL certs were purchased through name.com.
If you’re not comfortable managing your own server droplet (which can be time consuming), one of the several managed WordPress hosts might be a much better option.
Aside from WordPress, the piece of software we rely on the most is Easy Digital Downloads. It’s a free plugin originally developed by Pippin Williamson and supported by an excellent team. It also has a number of paid extensions we’re using.
Software Licensing allows us to deliver automatic theme updates to customers. Stripe Payment Gateway allows us to handle payments through the site. Auto Register creates a new user accounts when a product is purchased. EDD Download Info gives us a few more metaboxes to link to our theme demos and change logs.
We’re using Stripe for payments. They just launched in France and are an excellent way to handle credit cards. They charge 2.9% per transaction + 30c. All payment information is safe and encrypted over SSL. We also don’t hold any of the payment details (other than name and e-mail) on our site.
Design and Theme
Hexagone sells themes, and of course we wanted to use one of our own products. We’ve launched using the theme Reunion, which integrates nicely with Easy Digital Downloads and looks great on any device. We made slight customizations for our custom account dashboard, home page, and to use different sidebars across the site- which was super quick compared to building something from scratch.
We’re handing all our support via e-mail for the moment, and used Gravity Forms to set up the submission forms. We considered using bbPress (forums) or HelpScout (service), but decided to start it off as simple as possible.
We’re still working to expanding our documentation, and we used our own custom plugin to create a Documentation Post Type. It’s on GitHub, and you’re welcome use it too.
Fx and I set up a Slack account for internal communication. We also use GitHub, Trello, and e-mail for tracking projects. Before we agreed to start the business, we also had face-to-face Google Hangout.
Communication with our customers is also super important. We’ve both used MailChimp for newsletters in the past, but on this project we wanted to support other France-based business and are happy to be with MailPoet. New customers automatically get signed up for one of the newsletters, but can easily opt-out if they don’t want great tips about using WordPress or more information about our themes.
We’ve been using WP DB Migrate Pro (commercial) to keep databases in sync between local and production while we develop the site.
WP Rocket plugin (built by a French company) and Nginx Helper for page caching and performance.
User Switching allows to make sure customer accounts are working correctly.
Custom Taxonomy Sort, Login Logo, Google Analyticator, and SEO WordPress are a few of the other plugins we’re using.
Obviously everyone’s products business will be different, but we’d happily recommend all of these tools and services mentioned. If you have any questions, please post in the comments!
That’s a very interesting transatlantic collaboration you two are kicking off here. Great to see you’re supporting local companies as well. I’d love to ask you a few questions about Hexagone for my blog in a few weeks, when you’ve got some first impressions on how everything goes.
Since this is a post about the infrastructure, I want to ask some questions in this regard:
– Are you happy with Google Analyticator (free or pro version)?
– I guess you are using nginx with the ngx_cache_purge module? Does it work properly? I tried it once, but my pages are only cached for ~1h and I found that automatic cache purging wasn’t really necessary.
Hi Pascal. Yes, we’d be happy to talk in a few weeks about the project.
I am happy with Google Analyticator. It just takes a minute to set up, and I like that it shows a basic traffic graph in the dashboard. We’re using the free version from .org. I also use it here on WP Theming.
Honestly, I haven’t done much testing with the purge cache module. Easy Engine (which I used to the ngnix stack with WordPress) recommends that module and installs it by default. I’d be concerned if you let the caches expire naturally, certain pages might expire at different times- which would be an issue if there were significant js or css updates.
Congratulations, this seems like great idea.
What are you using for for Mandrill support?
How are you managing the VAT?
Hi Ulrich. Thanks!
At the moment we’re using the actual Mandrill WordPress plugin (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wpmandrill/), though some folks have reported issues and I am keeping an eye on this drop-in by Daniel and Rob (https://github.com/danielbachhuber/mandrill-wp-mail).
We’re setting up VAT support this week. Likely using the Taxamo integration: https://easydigitaldownloads.com/extensions/taxamo-integration/.
As someone who’s about to launch a similar project, I’m just putting it out there that all of this scares me a bit. I mean I have a pretty good handle on what I need to use and how, but I can see how it all can become overwhelming, especially as a 1-2 person team.
At the same time, the best way to overcome fear is to just launch! Not that you should launch a broken product, but “ship now, tweak later” is something I should do more of myself. So I applaud you for this! (adds post to the secret folder)
Launching something like this always takes longer than I expect. But, I think if you just push it forward a little bit each day, it eventually gets there.
Looking forward to seeing your new project!