This time, we're chatting with Tracy Childers, an entrepreneur who's behind one of the most celebrated internet marketing success stories, WishList Products. WishList are arguably most famous for WishList Member that powers thousands and thousands of online membership sites across the internet and around the world.
Tracy, it's a pleasure to meet you.
Well, thank you. Appreciate you having me.
You have been around on the internet now for many, many years.
Can I ask how your journey started?
Well, that's a great question. It's maybe a unique background. Well, when I was a kid, I had a father who was an entrepreneur and all kinds of businesses. The first, primarily, was automotive repair shops.
And then eventually, he just took his entrepreneur background and started investing in real estate. And then after he started investing in real estate, he started teaching people about how he invested in real estate. And back then, the only thing that was really around was direct marketing and also seminars. So, he did a lot of teaching at seminars. So, back then, at the ripe age of 11 or 12, I had my job was the director of shipping, which basically meant I duplicated audio tapes and packaged them up to send them to the people that purchased them at the seminar over the weekend.
So, I kind of took that and recognized just how the world was just, even way back then, this is a long time ago, I'm talking in 1982, people were hungry to buy information, all kinds of information. It wasn't just learning how to invest in real estate, but just all kinds of things. And just over the course of the years, it naturally kind of evolved into things were being sold online in terms of the internet. And I was just always fascinated with technology. So the internet just kind of became a real good fit for me.
Wow. Okay. I mean, it's amazing that that's been your journey into the online world.
I mentioned WishList Member at the very beginning of this, but for anyone who hasn't heard of it, I guess it's time for us to explain more about WishList Member. Could you just give us a bit of background and tell us what the software itself does?
Sure. So WishList Member runs, as you mentioned, as a WordPress plugin. And, way back in 2008 or so, a close friend of mine, Stu McLaren, and I decided that we would become partners and set up a company that would create software to run a membership site. And the backstory of it was, he was trying to set up a membership site of his own online, and was really, really frustrated with the current solutions that were available back then. Really, there wasn't much around back then. One was really inexpensive and was available to the masses, and it was really complicated to set up. It didn't have anything to do with WordPress. Then, there was another system that also had nothing to do with WordPress, and it was very, very expensive, but they kind of walked you through everything.
And so, we saw that the majority of the people that we were talking to were tired of building sites with HTML where they had to hire a webmaster. And things were starting to move in the direction of WordPress with plugins and themes. And, Stu said how frustrated he was. And I said, "Well, why don't you just build something?" He said, "I don't think you heard me. I'm having trouble using these other pieces of software that are already created, much less, be able to create one of my own." And I said, "Well, why don't we team up? I have been developing software for quite some time," at that point, "and I think that we could build something fairly easily." And, believe it or not, we built this, really in mind, that he could use it to run an idea for a membership site. And then, we would create a company that was also running as a membership site as well.
And it wasn't really our intention to create specifically that product the way it is today. We knew that we wanted to sell information. If you've been around WordPress at all, you've probably heard of a popular plugin for eCommerce called WooCommerce. Well, back in the day, that was a company called WooThemes. And WooThemes, they were one of the early companies that were building themes for WordPress. And if you know anything about WordPress, themes mean how it looks, and then plugins were how it functions. And so, they were creating all these themes, and they had a membership. "Hey, you can sign up for our membership, and you'll get a new theme every month."
And what we saw was there were two things with WordPress, themes and plugins. And everything was going in the way of themes, and plugins really weren't quite popular yet. There were a lot of plugins, but most of them were free. And we said, "Hey, what if we became the first membership that sold plugins. You would get a new plugin every month." And that was our initial idea. And in order to create that, we had to create our own system that would run our membership site, and that's what WishList Member was. And, at the time, we really had no idea how important that first plugin would be, and how many people had the same need for something like that.
Yeah. I mean, it has become the go-to membership site plugin on the internet. And I'm sure that many people who are either reading or listening to this have come across WishList Member. That was back in 2008 that you had the idea. How has it evolved over time, Tracy, and what challenges have you faced along that route?
Oh, wow. I don't know how much time you have. So, it's a great question though, because I'd say... First, I want to clarify one thing. When we talk about WishList Member, and we talk about a membership site, there's typically a little bit of confusion that comes up. And people say, "Well, what exactly does that mean?" They hear the term membership site, and they immediately think, "Oh, that's where I pay you something every month to get something." Well, no, that's actually a subscription model, a business plan. We charge you something per month. But a membership can come in many shapes or forms. It could be a free membership. Ultimately, we kind of break it down and we say, a membership plugin controls access to what people have, meaning, they have to log in first with their username and a password, and then they can get access to this, and these people can get access to that. So, that's kind of the clarification.
Now, if you move on to saying, "Hey, all the way back in 2008, what were the big challenges and roadblocks?" Well, really, when you look at it back then, there was not a clear example of how to structure a plugin business. I mentioned that there were a lot of people selling themes. There weren't a lot of people selling plugins. There were a lot of free plugins, and they put them in the WordPress repository, and then people would just download them for free. But, we were always about selling information or selling products or selling software. And so, we had to figure a lot of stuff out, in terms of licencing and stuff. And nowadays, so much of that has just been figured out, and you can just look at the space and say, "Oh, this is what people do in order to sell a plugin." So that was the number one problem, when you go way, way back.
Moving forward a bit, if you understand where WordPress was back in 2008, they were still fairly young. They had been around for a little while, but there were some other things like Joomla and Drupal and other systems. And, WordPress just continued to move forward and being the most popular. They got to be the most popular pretty quick, but now, they're, by far and away, more popular. They run, I think, over, it's between 35% and 40% of the websites online. And this is way back even before there was Wix and Squarespace and stuff. So, if you look at the way technology works, and it was always changing, it actually was a challenge, but it also created an opportunity for us, because I mentioned that we weren't really clear what the business plan was and how you sell plugins. But back then, Hey, buy this. For very, very short amount of time, we would sell the software. And then, okay, now, what about updates and support? There was a very short window when we were just like, "Let's just try to get stuff out the door." And we hadn't even thought through that.
As time went on, we felt like we need to figure out some sort of way to sell updates and support ongoing. And we had a big challenge. We said, "Okay, well, what about when it comes to new features?" And we would do our versioning based on new features, and that was a little bit of a challenge. Until finally, it all got sorted out, and it's just basically the way the whole, I guess, ecosphere works now. People basically buy software, in terms of WordPress plugins. And they buy them for, you get access to the software and you get one year of updates and support. It doesn't matter what version, like Windows 10 or Windows 11. It was basically on a timeline. And so finally, we've sorted all that stuff out, but basically, it's always a moving target. Many times I've said, it's almost like building an aeroplane as you were flying it.
That's a great way of putting it. What would be your top tips? For anyone who's thinking of starting or growing an online business, are there any insights you'd like to share?
Yeah, that's a really important one. Way back when, when I was younger, you kind of have to realise, okay, what is it that you're good at? Because, if you try to do something that you're not good at, it usually ends up failing miserably. And I'll give you a quick little analogy: I played baseball when I was a kid. But then, as you get a little bit older, that turns into softball. And, I'm not a real big, strong guy. I had a friend, one of my best friends, he had probably the most home runs in the league. But what happened, a lot of the times is, he would try to swing for the fence, and he would hit it pretty much straight to one of the outfielders, and they would catch it and he would be out. And I was like, "I'm never going to be able to hit this thing over the fence. But what I could do is I could decide where I wanted to hit it." And I could always hit it right over the first baseman's head. This is really easy for me. This is like, I just want to get a base hit. I just want to get a base hit.
You get your experience by just doing something. Just do something small. It doesn't have to be the next thing to change the internet. Just do something small, because in that small thing, you're going to learn a whole lot of stuff.
And, I kind of took that, and I kind of moved it into business. I see so many people that are trying. They've never done any real business yet, and they're just swinging for the fence. And, that's not where you get your experience. You get your experience by just doing something. Just do something small. It doesn't have to be the next thing to change the internet. Just do something small, because in that small thing, you're going to learn a whole lot of stuff. And so, I think that's probably the best piece of advice. I see so many people trying to build a site, and it has to have every piece of functionality. No, just make it