Is selling WordPress plugins your route to a multi-million dollar fortune? Or will you just end up living in poverty with your mother? Here are seven things you can learn from dealing drugs that might help you run a successful WordPress plugin business.

“Selling drugs is the worst job in all of America”

Substitute the word ‘drugs’ for ‘plugins’ and ‘America’ for anywhere you like and you have the perfect description for how it feels sometimes when sales are flat, support calls are mounting up, and you can’t find the cause of the bug you’ve been trying to fix for the last three days.

The quote is taken from Steven Levitt’s 2004 TED talk called ‘The freakonomics of crack dealing’ (around 55 seconds in). The talk is a few years old now but definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it already. Levitt is one of the authors behind Freakonomics and his TED talk covers the famous chapter in the original Freakonomics book which reveals the economic reasons behind why so many drug dealers live at home with their mothers.

In short, back in the early 80s you couldn’t really make any money selling marijuana because it was too cheap. And you couldn’t get rich selling cocaine because you needed to know a lot of rich people who wanted to buy it. So drug dealers – at least those at the bottom of the hierarchy – made very little cash and often had to live at home.

Lesson One: Be prepared not to be a millionaire

Here’s the TED talk. It’s around 25 minutes long but very engaging.

Create a need

Levitt goes on to describe how the arrival of crack cocaine in the mid 80s was such a boon for so many dealers (if slightly less of a positive event for their future users). Crack was a successful innovation because it was cheap to make, highly profitable, and extremely addictive. Suddenly, dealers found they had a market that was crying out for their product.

Lesson Two: Find the right product

The first one is free

Okay, you’ve figured out what your version of crack cocaine should be, now you’ve got to build your market. To achieve this, follow the advice of drug dealers down the ages and give away a free sample, just to get people hooked.

The plugin marketer’s equivalent of giving out pills in clubs or standing outside the school gates is the freemium model. Give away a version of your product that meets users’ needs, at least to an extent, then upsell to a more feature-rich version.

Lesson Three: Get your users hooked for free

Don’t get high on your own supply

Perhaps one of the most famous quotes in movie history, in Scarface Elvira Hancock warns Tony Montana not to get addicted to his own drugs.

But how does this apply to plugin development? Well, the advice here is don’t get drawn into endless development cycles with your plugin, spending all your time looking to fine-tune it and create new features. That’s all good stuff, of course, but the main thing is to get it out there – under people’s noses, as it were.

Lesson Four: Develop your market as much as your plugin

Here’s the Scarface trailer if you need a reminder:

Premium products command premium prices

Pablo Escobar, perhaps the most successful drug dealer of all time, is said never to have compromised on quality. If his cocaine was good enough, he could charge what he wanted.

According to The Accountant’s Story, a book co-authored by Escobar’s brother and accountant, Roberto, Escobar’s business was turning over more than $20 billion a year at its peak. Let’s put that in context – that’s even more than WooCommerce make, despite doubling their renewal prices.

Lesson Five: People are willing to pay for quality

Here’s the trailer for the Escobar film Paradise Lost:

Keep them wanting more

If you’re going to run a really successful narcotics empire / plugin business, it’s not enough to sell your product once to a client then never see them again. You need your clients coming back to you for more.

In the world of drugs, it’s addiction that keeps the client returning to the dealer. For the plugin developer, it’s new features, strong support and – crucially – recurring payments that ensure the income stream doesn’t dry up.

Lesson Six: Annual renewals are essential for sustaining your business

Diversify your products

Don’t rely on a single product, however well developed or successful it might be. There’s always someone who’s going to take a look at it and develop a competitor product; or you might find that circumstances outside your control affect sales. If you have a range of products, you spread the risk for yourself.

Lesson Seven: Spread your risk

You might find that some products are low profit / high volume – like marijuana – while some will be high profit / low volume – like cocaine. But, hopefully, one day you’ll develop your high profit / high volume crack cocaine.


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