M Asif Rahman, the WordPress entrepreneur behind Essential Addons, tells us how Matt Mullenweg encouraged him to develop his first plugin and talks about Essential Addons’ upcoming releases.
What Distinguishes Bangladesh as a Developing High Tech Nation
Born and raised in Bangladesh, Asif did his B.Sc in Electrical & Telecommunication Engineering. After living in the US for seven years, he went back to Bangladesh 2 years ago, where he continues to invest in local startups. His leading venture there is ARCom, a media company that does everything in WordPress, helps Enterprise-Level WordPress clients and serves several Fortune-500 Clients.
We were curious to hear what distinguishes Bangladesh as a developing high tech nation, as we can see many developers and WordPress entrepreneurs, in particular, coming from there:
“It’s very strange. You see, the first thing is, Bangladesh is a highly populated country. We have nearly 170, 180 million people, and our government is actually pushing education, especially like tech education a lot for the past 10, 20 years. I do see lots of computer graduates, like an unbelievable number of computer graduates coming out every year, and WordPress is very popular here. I did a presentation back in WordCamp San Francisco in 2014. I presented this slide where it says, in Bangladesh, in that time alone, we have over 40,000 WordPress programmers only in oDesk. It’s a very high number of WordPress programmers here. A lot of people work at Fiver, Upwork, and a lot of these small work kind of things. Elementor especially is extremely popular here. I am involved with Elementor from the start, and we are also leading the Elementor community here in Dhaka as well.
I do see like if I open up a meeting only for 50 people, it will get fully covered in only maybe a half-day or something. So people are very interested in new things, especially maybe, we have a very large number of young population. In Bangladesh, we say right now in this way, that about 70% of the entire population is actually either from age zero to 35. So most of the people in Bangladesh are very young right now. This generation is very young.
A lot of things are happening here. At the same time, Bangladesh is a very different country if you want to compare with anything in the world. I have been heavily in India, so a lot of people think India and Bangladesh will be a lot similar because we look probably the same. I think it’s kind of you should expect it’s a nation that is actually moving forward very high because of the high GDP growth, that maybe you will also expect like the tech ecosystem is also moving fast, so a lot of things are happening.
At the same time, the startup ecosystem is also moving very fast. One of my main reasons to come back to Bangladesh is, I have a lot of vested interests in the country. Back in like 2017, I was feeling like this is actually the right time for me to stay here in Bangladesh because I could do much more here, the kind of movement is happening in here. You couldn’t understand why we are trying catching up so fast and why so many things are happening here.”
It Was Always About People
Asif’s first successful venture was The Tech Journal, a tech magazine he launched back in 2008. But his affiliation with the media world is nothing new, as his family has operated a media and printing company for two generations. “You could say like just in my blood, the media, press, and everything.”
But does he always choose ventures based on personal interests, or are his decisions sometimes based on market needs and demands?
“My answer would be very different. It was always about people. I invested in a venture that I thought the idea is not really good, but I really liked the founder. For me, from my experience in my life, I have started many ventures in my life, many of those failed. But one thing was always common, if I got some level of success, it was always like one people was crazy passionate about that idea, and he always sticks to it. So it was always about people.
I really wanted to get involved with people first, and if the idea is something that I could help, then maybe it’s actually a good synergy between both of us. So it’s not just me, it’s also them if they feel like they would be comfortable to talk with me whenever they need to, it’s kind of like all those have to be a good package.”
How Matt Mullenweg Made Me Develop My First Plugin
What was the first plugin that Asif developed?
“It’s actually very hard to answer because I was developing plugins or customizing things from the very start, but I have not released actually any of those. Back in 2010 or 11, I met Matt Mullenweg for the first time; he was a good friend of mine for a very long time. In that time, I remember we were working on a coworking space. A day after the conference day or something, I mentioned what we are doing in The Tech Journal and other things. For Tech Journal, we developed a lot of internal plugins that we never released. Then Matt told me, for the passion of WordPress and the opensource community, even if I do not want to make money, I should still reuse those plugin, maybe somebody else will find it useful.
So I was always thinking like if I need to release something, it needs to be well polished. They need to have good descriptions or other things. I released my first plugin back in 2011, and it was something very simple. It was not like the Pro plugin; it was just like a free plugin.
What was the first addon that achieved success, that made you think: “Okay, we have something here”?
Actually, that also happened in different ways. First, I was involved with the Analytify. There, I have a partner, Adnan. We started Analytify back in 2014. We released the premium version in 1st January of 2015, but we got like instant success. It was very popular. It was the first Google analytics plugin that brings the dashboard inside WordPress. We are getting like a good sum of revenue from there.
I was involved with weDevs, another large WordPress product company, as a partner back in 2015. weDevs is a very big company; it has a lot of remarkable plugins. Later on, in 2017, I became the CEO of weDevs when I came back to Bangladesh. I served weDevs as CEO for almost like one-and-half year. You can say I was always involved. I try different things. I had different companies, but I had some level of success with all of those. That’s how it sustained it. I never had shut down any plugin company ever in my life, so all of those are still running. Essential Addon was like an extreme big break like we never expected that. Essential Addon could have like 200,000 or 300,000 active installs within two years. That was like a big break for all of us.”
How Essential Addons Started
What was the moment that Asif decided to create a complimentary solution for Elementor?
You see, that would also be a very frenzy story. So all of my companies, I was always involved with plugins. They are always bringing new solutions. All the weDevs solution is very complicated. They have ERP WordPress, just like very, very, very complex. weDevs doesn’t want to do any of the theme work like involved with theme. At the beginning, because I was very much passionate about Elementor, I remember, I started using Elementor when they had probably less than 1000 active install. In my life, I always hated Page Builders.
I’m a developer; if I wanted to actually have a lot of like ready-made things, I do not want all of those shortcode data like visual composer or all of the other like Page Builder was doing. Elementor was a very refreshing feeling to me.
I jumped into Elementor, and we started using it in my blog. In the beginning, I tried to convince a few of the like theme developers, ‘Do you want to do something for Elementor? Maybe you could actually…’ made a new theme. Nobody is making good themes in Elementor. Maybe we could make it like a multipurpose theme or blog. Nobody took me seriously.
I spoke to like two, three big guys, none of them took it seriously, and weDevs kind of actually do. Then I talked with one of my ex-employees, that time he was working with Themeco, the company behind X Theme. He was their head of support and taking care of that UIX. That Guy, Nazmul Hasan Rupok was one of my oldest colleagues, and he was very, very, very good in UI/UX.
I was able to convince him: ‘Leave this job and let’s build something in Elementor.’ Maybe he could bring in his experience from XT and create that kind of what developers need to build something really unique. Instead of looking at what other people are doing in Elementor, let’s try to build a tool that will really help me to build whatever I want to. Or if I look at companies like weDevs, or companies like Analytify or other things that I’m involved, let them build their learning base with Elementor. Help them do whatever they want to. That’s how Essential Addon started.”
Deciding on the Next Widget
How does Asif decide what the next widget or feature will be that they will develop? Do they check users’ feedback? Is there a dedicated community for Essential Addon’s users?
“We have a dedicated community. We have a like a very engaging Facebook community. You can’t believe what the people requested. So we have tons of things that people requested. Generally, like in each quarter, we have a focus, like where do we want to focus? We are always improving. So if you think about all that we said we have, the design element and other things, we are continuously improving. At the same time, each quarter we have a goal, like what we are actually focusing. For the second quarter of 2019, we focused more on the speed and optimization. All of the stuff looks really, really robust, it loads very fast. Elementor itself actually changed a lot of things.
Right now, we have to actually keep up with the pace of Elementor, so we spend like one whole quarter to optimize and speed up all our things. For the next two quarters, we will be focusing on the designing stuff. Like Elementor, we feel like Elementor started like base builder, but then it transitioned to more like a website builder. Instead of just working for people that help them to create a good learning base or doing dynamic things, we will actually help them more with integration because Elementor did a tremendous job to bring a lot of integration. We feel we could take those for our website builder.
Think about learning management system. Think about even membership plugin. We want to build very close ties with all of those platforms. So if we could create whatever they want, they don’t need to actually be dependent on a theme. If they could use Elementor to build those kind of complex websites, I think that’s the future we are looking at. It’s good we have a really good partnership with Elementor, so we understand each other. We also have few dedicated partnership with few of those ecosystem builder. That’s probably going to be our future.”
Essential Addons' Unique Selling Points
What would you say is Essential Addon’s unique selling point?
“From the start, that was a very, very intriguing question because you see, there are tons of extension coming up, tons of Elementor plugins. Do you know, we are actually the first plugin that was focusing on Elementor. Before us, there was a header/footer element, the Anywhere Element, or those kind of tools that were actually serving in different ways. We were the first plugin to bring in elements for Elementor.
And you see, from that time, we focused only on Elementor. If you look at all the other big or small competitor, they tried a lot of different themes. Not only Elementor, they build for other page builders. But for us, as soon as we got a really good playing ground, we never focused on anything. We even had Cornerstone.
Before even starting for Elementor, we never even like focused on that anymore because we felt like we need to focus on here, it’s like a very good community that is actually begging us. If you talk about unique elements, we have tons of very unique elements, like protected content.
In the beginning, it was an element, you could actually apply and put content that will be protected. You could actually decide user level or password or different kind of elements, where people could access. Later on, we converted it to an extension. So right now, you could use that extension on any content. So whatever you are building with Elementor, you could apply protected content extension over any of those. We have Advanced Accordion, Advanced Tab, those are like very unique.”