How WP Simple Pay’s Founder Handled a Company Merger

by Sara Robinson
Phil Derksen

Have you wondered what might happen with your marketing if your smaller company merges with a larger one?

WP Simple Pay’s Merger with Sandhills Development

In this episode of the podcast, we’re joined by Phil Derksen, founder of WP Simple Pay, a WordPress plugin for accepting stripe payments. In late 2018, his company merged with Sandhills Development, making his product one in a suite of five. In the episode, Phil shares with us about his experience with the merger and how that affected his role and specifically the marketing that they do. 

Phil discusses the experience of going from a solo founder who worked with a couple of contractors to then being part of a much larger team. Prior to the merger with Sandhills Development, Phil began working with Audience Ops for his content. At that time, he knew he didn’t have the time to put into creating content. When the merger happened, Sandhill Dev already knew the importance of content creation so nothing changed on the content front when the merger occurred; we were able to continue smoothly creating content for WP Simple Pay.

Phil also shares what his company is focusing on next in marketing and has some great tips for founders looking for growth.

Transcription of This Episode

Have you wondered what might happen with your marketing if your smaller company merges with a larger one? We are joined by Phil Derksen, founder of WP Simple Pay, who merged with Sandhills Development in late 2018. He shares with us about his experience and how that impacted things like his role and marketing.

I’m Sara Robinson, a manager at Audience Ops, and on this episode of the podcast, we talk with Phil about what it’s been like to go from a solo founder working with just a couple of contractors to being part of a larger organization with five different products. Phil shares with us about why he started working with Audience Ops as the founder of WP Simple Pay and what happened with content creation when he merged with Sandhills Development. Thankfully, Sandhills Development was also using content creation for their marketing efforts so there was a very smooth transition and we didn’t miss a beat with content when the merger happened.

Phil talks to us about how his role changed and now that he’s not just focused on WP Simple Pay, what’s to come for all the products in their suite? He’s got some great tips for founders, even if a merger is nowhere in sight. Check it out.

Phil, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?

Great, Sara. Thanks for having me on here. Appreciate it.

Absolutely. Let’s get right into it. What’s the latest milestone that you hit that you’re really excited about?

Sure. Recently, WP Simple Pay, which is our only product from Sandhills Development that works only exclusively with Stripe. Recently, there was a big European regulation called SCA, Strong Customer Authentication, and it’s something that we needed to get out quickly for all of our European customers. We had a release go out recently that had that and also implemented the new hosted Stripe checkout that Stripe has out now. It took a lot of work and it had to be done by a certain date but it’s out now, and I’m really proud of the team for doing that in time.

Good. Congratulations. Those deadlines can feel motivating and stressful so probably a big sigh of relief that that’s now behind you.

Yes, definitely.

You mentioned Sandhills Development, which is a bigger company that you recently merged with. What was that transition like for you and WP Simple Pay?

Sure. It was late 2018 that I merged WP Simple Pay with Sandhills Development. At the time, it was just me as a solo founder with a couple of contractors. I was still writing code, running the business, doing the marketing, wearing a lot of hats. Now that I joined the company of, it’s 24 people now, fully distributed, now I’m not writing code anymore. I’m actually not doing much support, and I get to focus on leading one product and helping out a lot with marketing and growth for a suite of products. My role is quite different now.

What was that like for you to shift away from the founding and the coding and being in the nitty-gritty and now taking a step back from this product that was yours that you started?

It’s great because I felt like I wanted to focus more on the marketing side, but it didn’t have the time. Now with having other developers on helping out with the product, I can see that they’re ahead of me. They’re much better than I was at the time. They’re just taking the product further and faster now than I could have with just me and a little bit of help. I’m really happy about it. I’m liking the change a lot, and I’m liking how it’s helping WP Simple Pay move along faster and better.

Great. I can see where that might feel a little stressful or not really sure to hand over your baby to someone else, but it allows you to step back and really focus on other things that allow you to grow. Let’s chat about marketing. How has that changed, if at all, since the merger and what’s it really like to have this larger company behind you? I know you said you can focus on it more, but what does that actually look like to have this bigger company behind you now in terms of your marketing efforts?

It’s different now. I have several business partners instead of being a solo founder. Like I said, there’s some really good developers, some really good support folks taking care of those pieces of the company. It’s not just me. There’s a team of us working on the marketing side because we have five different products and there are differences between them but there are some similarities. It’s great having a team that we can work collaboratively on a bunch of marketing efforts such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday. That’s a big one for us coming up here soon. We can all work together to make sure everything is covered there and introduce some new strategies for all the products together.

Having that collaboration is really helpful to bounce ideas off of people and have just additional resources for whatever it is that you’re working on. What particular types of marketing, what are you up to that’s really working for you right now?

We have of course our regular content that goes out, but we have some decent email courses that are going out so email marketing. We’re working on improving those, but people seem to really like receiving these emails maybe after they purchased or while they’re considering purchasing to guide them, educate them about the product and then later on how to use it. Another thing that’s working pretty well and committees work well is integrations with other products and partnerships with those companies so that we can cross promote and say, hey, if you use ours then you can use theirs, and here’s the benefits of using both of our products together. That kind of thing is ongoing as far as pretty regularly, there are other products and other companies that work well with ours that we can promote these integrations with.

Definitely. You mentioned content being a piece of your marketing. Specifically, how does content creation fit into your marketing plans?

We have the suite of different products, and four of them have regular articles being published every two weeks. That’s been going on for a long time for WP Simple Pay, of course, with Audience Ops, but also we have a full-time writer that is working on those others. Anyway, just having those going I think and having them going for a long time, playing the long game and making sure we stay high in the organic search results for those products and the customers they serve but also helpful posts for visitors, for customers to refer back to, things like that. It’s just over time I can see there’s so much to pull from because they’ve been going for a long time.

Looking back, what originally prompted you to start thinking about getting outside help for WP Simple Pay when it came to content creation?

Back then before merging with Sandhills Development and as a solo founder, and I told you I was wearing many hats and I had a pretty small team, so I never made priority to carve out time to write regular good content myself or even hire somebody to do that in-house. The blog was pretty sparse for a long time. I knew that that was a hole where new site visitors weren’t finding out more about the product or the area that it served I guess. It wasn’t building up organic search rankings every time. I started exploring ways, well, how can I get some help here without having to go out and hire a writer basically with being a small company of two or three at the time?

Yeah, definitely. I think some of our founders really enjoy writing and that’s something that they like to do and they were good at but didn’t have the time. Did you fall into that camp or was it more like, oh, this is something I should be doing, but I’m not?

Yeah, I enjoy it up to a certain point, and I still would write the release posts and things like that. It takes a lot of time doing the research and getting that done say every couple of weeks or every week or whatever your schedule is. It was basically not being able to find the time or not considering that a priority compared to the other things on my plate.

Definitely. When it’s you and a small team, it’s not a priority. You just don’t have enough time. How did you decide to work specifically with Audience Ops for content?

I heard from several other marketing folks, other founders at other companies that I knew personally where Audience Ops was working for them. Just talking to them and seeing the results that they were getting over time, it just looked like something I should give a try. Also, when I was talking with Audience Ops before hiring them or the onboarding part, it was apparent that the writers that were going to be assigned were … The writers in the Audience Ops team were handpicked a little bit so that had more experience say in what the audience that my product served or that Simple Pay served and were more knowledgeable and so they could jump in right away. I was thinking itwould take a little more ramp up time for them to learn, but it was faster than I thought so that was nice.

We like to hire writers who are great researchers and who really can learn the information. We have writers who also are very skilled in certain areas, and so we definitely want to line those up well. When you did merge with Sandhills Development in late 2018, was there any transition period you had to go through in terms of the content creation for WP Simple Pay or were things able to stay the same?

Yeah, it was short transition time because they were basically able to stay the same. As I said, with the other products and Sandhills Development already having a full-time writer but her plate was full with the other products, so the other people on the marketing team and my other business partners, they liked the content coming from Audience Ops for WP Simple Pay. We basically decided at the time and ever since about a year now to keep Audience Ops writing for WP Simple Pay and not the other products yet, but we’re considering using Audience Ops for other things because our writers pretty much full on just regular content. These other things that we’re looking at doing, we may need some more help there. It was a very short transition and we kept things the same. It’s worked.

Good. We like to be able to grow with you as you grow. I think it’s an interesting point because sometimes, whether you’re merging or someone new is coming in, it can disrupt the flow of things. Given that Sandhills Development already had content creation going and saw how beneficial that was, it’s great that we were able to just to continue on nice and smooth. What benefits have you seen from working with us at Audience Ops?

Well, I really like the topic ideas as the Audience Ops folks help me with WP Simple Pay. I’ve really gotten to know the product and the topics our customers are looking for. The ideas coming out and the research coming out that are presented to me as ideas, they’ve been really good. For the most part, I’ve made small, minor changes or given ideas myself, but most of the time, they’re spot on and I think great topics for our audience. Over time, getting more familiar with our product, I’ve needed to review less and less with each article coming out. I felt like I was able to spend less and less time during the review period as time went on. It’s been nice not to have to spend a lot of time managing that process, I guess.

The more we work with you, ideally the better we get. That’s good. That’s what you’ve experienced. In terms of the outcome of the content, have you noticed any benefits or changes in your business? More visitors? I know you said organic traffic was really a goal of yours. Any benefits there that you’ve seen?

Yeah, in the traffic, there’s definitely some articles that just stood out and seemed to get landed on first more than others. Overall, traffic has definitely increased over time. I knew it would take some time for that to happen, but it’s definitely helped a lot. We get some people that even they’ll write into, during the pre-sales process, they’ll be replying to one of the emails that go out that link to an article that Audience Ops also sends, asking follow-up questions. It’s been nice to initiate some conversations with some prospects because of the articles too. That’s been great too. Just being able to have that store of good articles that we can use for resources later on that some of it might make way into our documentation or some email courses and things like that that we do later.

Absolutely. Obviously creating content is something you focused on and it sounds like will continue to focus on. Why do you feel like content creation is something to continue to put efforts into? Why is that a good idea?

Well, again, it’s the basic staying high in the organic search rankings in Google and stuff. Like I was just saying, being able to reuse that content later on, I’m seeing that now because that’s one of our strategies now. It’s like, look, can we create an ebook on these things that a customer might need to go through from start to finish when they’re starting their own business using our products and things like that. Just having that just store of some of the past articles to pull from and to keep building that up because then you can revise and make that even better.

Absolutely. In addition to continuing to repurpose that content, what’s the next phase of marketing for you?

We’re looking into better ways to segment our subscribers and customers because a lot of our products serve different verticals. Some might be … We’re basically … WP Simple Pay and our other products are in the eCommerce space, but there might be people selling their own eBooks or they might be selling music online or a membership course. Making sure at different points in the process where people either subscribe to your mailing list or just go ahead and purchase that we know more about them and ask the right questions and things right away or target some work content towards them and make sure we know more about them so in future content and emails, we can write more specific things for them.

The other thing we’re starting is doing more video content, some of the videos more describing our products, but some is more teaching and more learning. Even some live webinars we’re experimenting with., so just more video content overall.

Great. That’s exciting. Any tips for founders who are entering the next phase of growth, any things to focus on or even watch out for?

Lately, this is more on the product side itself than the content side, but talking more to customers. I know that’s a standard thing most founders knows. Talk more to your customers. Using short surveys maybe more often to better shape your product roadmap. There’s been some things coming out this year that are helping with that whole product market fit using short surveys and and building the right things, but just making sure you’re communicating with your customers and and getting that feedback from them before you build features that may be just this minor portion of your customers want and you didn’t realize that.

Yeah. Great tips. Thank you. Where can people find you?

Sure. Well, https://sandhillsdev.com/ is our main company site that will link off to all of our products, so you can find all our stuff there. Personally, you can also email me if you want at phil@wpsimplepay.com or find me, I’m @philderksen on Twitter.

Great. Well, thank you so much, Phil. This was really insightful and lots of great information for our listeners.

Sure thing. Thanks, Sara.

A big thanks to Phil Derksen from WP Simple Pay and Sandhills Development for joining us on the podcast and shedding some light on company mergers. If you have any questions about done-for-you content for your company, check us out at audienceops.com.