S5B: E10: Garth Koyle and Darren Ethier – Event Smart

On today’s episode, Sam and Corey interview Darren Ethier and Garth Koyle the co-founders of Event Espresso and Event Smart. They discuss how to take your successful WordPress plugin and turn it into a SaaS. This is a lively technical discussion about spinning up a SaaS startup using the WordPress framework.

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Garth Koyle is a Co-founder of Event Espresso and has over 15 years of experience in business management and Internet marketing. He competed in the 2011 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge for Event Espresso, taking home the grand prize of 40k for the business plan. Garth has spoken at several WordCamps on entrepreneurship and plugin development.

Darren Ethier has been developing websites for over 18 years and has been a fan of WordPress since (WordPress 1.5). Darren is the founder of the WordPress development shop roughsmootheng.in, and creator of the popular WordPress plugin Organize Series. Darren first started working together with the Event Espresso team to help develop the new website and implement things to work with automatic updates. Darren still believes that all things are possible with WordPress.

What you will learn from this episode:

  • Event Espresso is a WordPress plugin that specializes in online events for registration and ticketing. (4:51)
  • Event Smart is the SaaS – the online registration product running in a WordPress multisite platform. You sign up, create an event, start selling tickets and get paid directly. This product is more economical and less technical. (5:29)
  • The plugin version is currently Event Espresso EE4. It is a total rewrite of the code and is not backward compatible. (8:11)
  • There is a migration for events from EE3 to EE4. (47:31)
  • There are a lot of add-ons for EE3 which were requested by users that still need to be supported and available for EE4. (9:34)
  • The requested feature sets have been reviewed and decided on before the rewrite of the object-oriented design. (12:26)
  • Users wanted improvements from EE3 so it was decided to improve the framework. (13:09)

Supporting EE4 with SaaS (Software as a Service):

  • The SaaS platform was in the future for the growth of the product. (14:27)
  • Developers wanted to work and build a scalable product. (14:54)
  • The original SaaS Event Smart was delivered January 1, 2015. (15:35)
  • It takes awhile (approx. 6 months) to set up and get the processes in place for users, etc. (15:56)
  • You have to believe in the philosophy to launch and manage the issues as they come up. (16:28)
  • The SaaS product needed to be responsive to allow users to sell their tickets quickly. (17:30)
  • The SaaS solution needs to address people that do not know WordPress and Event Smart is not marketed as a WordPress plugin. (19:09)
  • As the user base grew the platform was designed and developed to be platform agnostic. (20:33)
  • When you build in SaaS you need to approach development in modularity. (42:41)
  • The Saas support allows you to improve your customer experience. You can get to the customer’s issue right away because you are in the same environment. (43:31)

 Challenges With WordPress:

  • The admin panel is not customized for the SaaS model. (23:43)
  • The SaaS product does not necessarily need to have a custom UI to be successful to grow. (24:42)
  • Challenges exist configuring options around the interface. (27:31)
  • Most issues are around payments so most of the support is specific to API keys. (28:00)
  • The SaaS application is looking to focus around a wizard to fit specific types of events with a tailored setup. (28:41)
  • The scheduling service of WPCRON to the WordPress API does not scale well. It does not run in a multisite well. (30:52)
  • Finding a solution for scaling for specific services remains a challenge in WordPress. (30:24)

Multisite Challenges of the SaaS product:

  • Isolating services to run is a challenge. (32:44)
  • If you use WPMAIL as your mail server, you need to control that with your hosting. (34:38)
  • Offloading the mail transaction service helps with the multisite product. (35:00)
  • You need to make sure your product is cache friendly. The multisite does not need to load everything. (33:08)
  • When you use multiple servers you need to decide what needs to run quickly. (33:35)
  • When you are hosting a multisite you need to concentrate on monitoring and security along with load balancing for performance. (36:30)
  • You need a good partner for your SaaS that has experienced server and network administrators. (37:30)
  • You also need to be concerned with what type of firewall is in front of your WordPress application. (39:22)

Pricing Model:

  • The pricing model was set up as designed bundled plans for a particular use. (50:08)
  • There is a free tier. (49:21)
  • The SaaS model has a paid tier with add-on modules.
  • Event Smart has a personal plan for small events. (49:51)
  • Event Smart has a business plan for mobile tickets, etc. There is an a la carte option that was created to pick the options you need, but it is more cost effective to move to the business plan at some point. (50:34)


Event Espresso
Event Smart
Event Espresso plugin WordPress.org
“The Long, Slow, SaaS Ramp of Death”

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