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Lazy Daze

Today, after a major release of a Sprout App, I relax, only handling support. A tradition since the days of freelancing, when after a major project was launched I’d go play golf, or play with the kids. Today, it’s uncomfortable.

I just have so much to do; Sprout Invoices’ next release keeps growing with “must do” features and Sprout Clients is screaming for v2.0. With the year’s end looming, I’m not going to hit my goals. So I reset, again.

Many of my personal obstacles transitioning from services to products are no longer around, easily attributed to creating routines/scheduling, automating marketing, and approaching things differently. However, whenever I need to “reset” my goals I get almost depressed (🙁 bad, not ☹️ or 😩 bad ).

It’s really a no-win situation for me, the reason I need to reset is the untenable schedule I’ve set, and when I plan for a more reasonable schedule I feel guilty (and almost ashamed). Thats my struggle.

I know I need to rethink my approach, honestly I’m doing that now. I just don’t want to lose my drive of building awesomeness, otherwise I fear of falling into a lazy daze of hopefulness.

Adding String Attachments (AddStringAttachment) with wp_mail

I couldn’t figure out how to add a string attachment to the notifications sent through wp_mail so I hacked something together — without modifying core files (as you might have seen in some Google search results).

So I pass an attachment that’s a json encoded array that will intentionally fail.

Since the attachment failed I’m looking at the error, retrieving the data passed and then using AddStringAttachment directly with the newly created string.

Hopefully this can be easier with this ticket.


I really don’t know how to approach this post. I don’t want to jump out there and say SiteGround is a terrible host because I’ve heard otherwise, although what they just pulled on me is bullishit. Maybe a simple story will work…

I opened a hosting plan with SiteGround a while back because I needed to test Sprout Invoices after a customer complained about some issues. Everything went well, I was able to setup a site fairly easily, test SI on a default configuration, and report back to my customer. Since I had paid for a year of hosting 1 I just let the site sit.

Months later I found myself with a charge for “Premium Support”.

premium support?

I don’t know what this charge is, it’s surely not a renewal since this is my complete billing history.

I did end up live chatting with their support, after a half-hour of back and forth they couldn’t/didn’t reverse the charge. The best they could do was credit my account, seriously WTF. I was under the impression from my conversation with him that SG pulls this all the time and by working in support he’s used it people bringing it up.

I still don’t understand their reasoning for the charge. I never used their support services. My logical guess would be that they’re re-couping their cheap hosting cost with up-charging, unbeknownst to their customers. The crazy thing, I’ve experienced this 💩 before with other companies and they’ve always refunded the payment. Sigh.

In case you’re wondering this is my support history! Nothing.

my support history


Talked to another support person in billing and they were able to refund the charge and make things right. They said that the Premium Support service is an option on the order form…which I know I didn’t check but oh well, it’s figured out now.


  1. I figured I might need to test on it again at some point because their setup is no ordinary.
Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.28.13 PM

Still in Business

Sprout Apps made it’s first dollar on this date last year! The best thing has to be that I’m still making dollars!

If you want to know more about all the things that happened over at Sprout Apps I’ve published (some-what of) a year in review. I tried my best to show how much Sprout Invoices has grown as a product, something that I found is rather hard to do without busting out stats on commits and code base changes. Anyway…Sprout Invoices had 10 major updates, Help Scout Desk had a few, and Sprout Clients was released.

On the business side I learned a lot — so much that I’m only able to cover a couple biggies.

A Monthly Subscription was a horrible idea.

I wrote about the pricing structure and the reasoning before launching…

[I] wanted to create a monthly recurring rate for Sprout Invoices for a few reasons…[I] think people can better relate to a monthly recurring charge…a similar pricing model will be easier to match up against the invoicing services.

…I also had two other business reasons:

  1. Low entry price would bring more customers.
  2. Monthly payments have a naturally higher renewal rate over a longer term.

I’ll let you in on a secret that I’ve only told a few others: both were 💩 ideas in practice. After about eight months I determined that the having this mixed monthly and yearly licenses caused some major issues:

First, it confused customers. While I had thought people would be appreciative of the monthly rate, especially since I wanted to pull the majority of customers from Freshbooks and Harvest, it constantly led to inquiries asking about the basics. It wasn’t a matter of messaging either, with an A/B test of the pricing page in April I found people either couldn’t find the value or felt overwhelmed with the mixed subscription option.

Now, I only offer a yearly license (which renews) and conversions are up, a lot.

Second, I found out with the customer value being so low to start that support was an issue and it would always be an issue. Regardless if the lifetime value was estimated to be $XXX, naturally having the majority of support front-loaded wouldn’t be cost efficient unless customers never cancelled. Never isn’t possible.

Third, the entry price being so high was mitigated by a “hassle free money back guarantee”. This allows prospective customers to give it a shot and hopefully find the value within 30 days.

Money Back Guarantees work!

My sense is that a MBG frees the customer to love the product, and find the value on their own. No one wants to be “stuck” with a product they bought regardless of great value, instead finding the value in something creates loyalty.

I’ve found that refund requests are down from before, reasoning:

  • People are waiting longer to ask for a refund, which allows for…
  • People asking for help. Providing support within those 30 days are unlikely to ask for a refund because…
  • Great support is a feature that customers don’t value until it’s seen.

I’ve had numerous incidents when a customer has asked for a refund only to change their mind after I simply asled “before I process your refund I’d like to know if there is anything I can do to help…”. Goes to show that customers are impatient with the help they need with a product they bought for a reason, and providing great support allows them to see the value in their purchase.

Discounts and E-Mail Marketing For the Win!

I wrote about this a while back, it simply works. Discounts work too, duh.

Discounts that don’t work: ones that discount the initial payment of a monthly subscription to about nothing. That was a terrible idea for just about every reason you can think of; now that you know relying on lifetime value to offset support costs is a dumpster fire of a strategy. Reviews

Asking for reviews to “help the growth of” your product is not only being honest with your customers but surprisingly effective. Not only do our happy customers write reviews but those reviews create paid customers. As you would have guessed the majority of sales come from Sprout Invoices users that downloaded from .org, with our rates so high it helps people decide between a plugin with terrible reviews and mine with great reviews. The strategy to focus on pushing happy customers to review helps combat the long term problem we will have with the competition — those damn “installs” count.


With those changes in late April I was able to turn the ship, as you can tell from the graph below. As you can tell earnings have drastically increased, which can obviously be attributed to removing the monthly subscription 1

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.28.13 PM

The most important point in this report is the yellow dot for July, only because that was the first month Sprout Apps hit a profit. Meaning, since Sprout Apps has been a full-time job for me for this last year, a “profit” simply means I didn’t have to dip into savings to pay myself for the time, instead I could write myself a full pay check.

Goals, am i right?

This has been a long time coming, it just so happens to be a year of a lot of work — taking twice as long as I would have hoped. Here’s to another year, hopefully with some help to grow faster.

Cheers! 🍻



  1. sales have also increased (it’s hard to tell with this graph since it includes sales from free products).

National Pastime ⚾️

Feeling a little guilt that I haven’t fulfilled my goals of writing weekly here and at here’s something…

Since early February most of my free time has been committed to Little League baseball. Managing my son’s team, volunteering as a board member, and now managing a 6-7 All-Star team 1. It’s been awesome managing/coaching, truly grateful, even with the 11 stitches in my face from being stupid at a practice. Dealing with the parents is another story…a long winded story that I won’t bother talking about here.

It would be very easy for me to draw a bunch of correlations between managing a team of eleven on 5 month project  and managing eleven 6-8 year olds playing baseball. So easy that I’m sure you can do it too; just let your imagination roam, knowing your assumptions of whatever went right and wrong for me this season are correct.

Here’s to three more fun weeks with this kid I love so much. Hopefully this time I can help him get a well deserved trophy.





  1. Which I’m very honored/lucky to manage

WordPress paginate_links Customization, with Bootstrap compatibility example

I’m not ashamed to say that I use Bootstrap, it’s one of the main reasons I was able to get Sprout Apps launched so quickly last year. It may be a bit bloated and there are some other great frameworks/tools for prototyping and this example should help.

What I am ashamed of is not getting around to adding pagination to SA until today 😁

Navigating the Mess that is PayPal APIs: Advantages of Express Checkout

I’ve been working with PayPal’s APIs for over six years and I still don’t completely understand what the fuck is going on over there. It seems every other year they have a new API and not once (to my knowledge) have they deprecated something useless. Just look at the “Classic APIs Product Page“. They even re-branded a while ago to make it simpler, Standard and Pro; only it caused more confusion because when we developers look at the docs the terminology is still out of date. I guess keeping a bazillion different docs for a single API up-to-date across hundreds of different sub domains of isn’t easy to do…sigh.

Before you get too far and start wondering [this isn’t a comprehensive post about how I can really figure out which API to use], it isn’t a comprehensive post that will help everyone. Instead the point of this article is to help developers specifically looking to use PayPal for basic payments and subscriptions with one basic rule…

Don’t ever use PayPal Payment Standard. 1

Why? There are a lot, seriously a lot but the main reason is the deficiency of PayPal IPN.

PayPal IPN can’t be trusted and if you’re relying on it to validate a purchase you’re going to have some unhappy customers. 2

If you’re handling subscriptions it’s even worse because there’s no way to validate the payment profile from a subscription payment made via Payment Standard. You need to rely on IPN 100% of the time to update the status of a subscription, which can easily cause a subscription to inadvertently expire 3, IPN issues can also cause a subscription to continue after it’s been cancelled 4.

Instead use PayPal Express Checkout.

With EC you can validate a purchase, check payment status, capture a pre-approved payment, and manage a recurring payment profile including checking the status. All you need to do is make a single API call with the transaction id, there’s nothing special, nor is it much more complicated to develop.

There’s are lot of misconceptions with Express checkout. One being that it requires that the PayPal merchant pay for PayPal Pro, this is wrong. The merchant will only need Pro for onsite CC processing.

Another is that Express Checkout requires the customer to confirm their payment on your site before processing. This is the feared “extra step”, the extra step that would cause people to reconsider their purchase, the extra step that someone might not notice because they thought they were done. Sorry but I don’t like these excuses one bit.

Extra Step: If the customer is going to reconsider their purchase and leave the checkout process without ever coming back because of the final confirmation page is absurd.  Yes, it’s likely to happen; do you want these customers anyway? Highly unlikely because they’re the ones that will ask for a refund a day later after causing hours of support. I want customers that truly want to purchase the product, you should to.

UX: You should be able to easily signify that the customer needs to finalize the payment by submitting the confirmation, if you can’t there are other areas of your site that need your attention. I “know of some” that have contemplated doing an auto submit after X seconds or just skipping the confirmation and eschewing the PP policy, “they” never did go that route because the numbers didn’t show a drop the purchase funnel.

Falsities: I’ve heard that EC limits payment methods, something to the effect that the customer couldn’t use a credit card, which is nonsense. The only difference that I’ve noticed is that the checkout pages at PayPal use their new design…which is great.

Anyone using PayPal Standard over Express Checkout? I’d like to know why.


  1. Not to be confused with the customer product of PayPal Standard.
  2. This is why I built EC into Sprout Invoices as the default payment processor. SI doesn’t even support PayPal Standard Payments. I can’t imagine the customer support that IPN incurs on other developers distributing a product that relies on IPN, e.g. EDD or Woocommerce.
  3. Expired account issues has been a real issue with Sprout Apps, since it uses EDD and for months ran the PayPal Standard because the EC extension didn’t support subscriptions. I’ll post about how I updated it another time.
  4. Over at Smart eCart we had around 100 active “subscribers” with cancelled accounts because of IPN
Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 12.09.18 PM

Making the Plugin Installer Easier for Premium Products

This morning I helped a new customer of Sprout Invoices install his recently purchase pro version. The customer didn’t know that the plugin they just purchased needed to be installed, instead they expected to input their new license key and the Pro features of SI would be enabled with the free version of Sprout Invoices already installed; along with that misunderstanding came the confusion that they couldn’t search for “Sprout Invoices Pro” on the Add Plugin screen to install the Pro version that is available for download within their purchase email receipt or their account page at

Obviously this was a rather frustrating support thread because I don’t want anyone’s first time experience with our products to be confused, especially this early.


What I’ll be doing is working on the on-boarding experience via triggered emails after purchase, improving the email receipts, and documentation.

Not an Oddity

That said, I’m still a bit nervous that WordPress users without (most of) our personal history with the platform that the ease of use is harming premium product sales. Consider that the new customer I described above isn’t an oddity, he’s definitely not; as WordPress becomes more user friendly to broaden it’s reach people will expect that the only place to get a plugin 1 is via the admin. Improving the on-boarding of these customers can only go so far.


I don’t expect .org having a plugin marketplace anytime soon, or while I’m still in the WP product business. Which leads me to a couple ways that I could prevent this type of issue again and improve the overall experience of purchasing a premium product:

Drop the freemium model – Like so many others don’t offer an upgrade at all. Build a business around a free product with extensions/add-ons, i.e. easydigitaldownloads. Link to your own marketplace or build one into the admin that allows for purchasing and easy installs.

Build an upgrade routine into the free product – I want to dislike this idea because it means that the free plugin (from the repo) would need to either: download the pro version from an external source, activate it, and then delete itself; or download & install files from an external source into itself. I could see this as being an issue for any plugin review team member.

Have the free version modify the search results – Have the search results return the pro version, which links to a download (or purchase) link. I don’t ever see this passing the plugin review team.

What am I going to do?

I already have plans on building the add-on marketplace into the admin, which will permit purchasing and easy installations/activations. That solution (I believe) resolves familiarity issue, where installing plugins from the admin is easy. The issue of someone expecting for those add-ons or pro upgrades in the main plugins search results will likely always be an issue regardless of how much I improve my messaging.


  1. This includes themes.

Thoughts about the Debate on Auto-Updating of WordPress SEO

Let me start off by saying that I have a hate-hate relationship with WordPress SEO; admittedly it’s not an objectionable opinion, even though I can easily find some faults, rather it’s a personal opinion because of how I see them treat their users. For that history alone I really wanted to hate the decision the API team made to force an auto-update WordPress SEO on millions of sites after a security exploit was released but I don’t, not one bit.

To have a team committed to the security of our sites and millions of others strengthens WP’s legitimacy (period). IMO forcing the update to millions of people, wether they knew about it, wanted it, or didn’t care, has more to do with a perception of security than any concern over a single site being hacked. Maybe the individuals on the team are more idealistic; regardless the bigger picture is that WordPress has had a stigma as “not being secure”, auto-updates has helped fixed that perception and actions like these will only help improve WordPress as a whole.

Now Fight!

Now, if you’re in the echo chamber that is the WordPress development community you’ll see that some valid concerns have been raised. I especially like the healthy debate on twitter from this tweet…

All of which can be boiled down to false expectations, hopefully now those expectations are being reasonably set, certainly looks like it.

Misdirected Frustration?

An indirect argument that isn’t getting traction is the increasingly distrust for WordPress SEO plugin, instead it’s a piece of the broader argument of trusting auto-updates. I strongly believe if WooCommerce or even All in One SEO was updated yesterday we would not have heard this outcry. I’m not alone in thinking that we can’t trust a WP SEO update.

So, I pose the question to those that were immediately concerned with WP SEO being updated yesterday:

Did you really have issues with your site receiving a security update to a plugin OR was there a fear over an WordPress SEO plugin update?

I would imagine the majority invested in this issue would agree with the later.

Let’s expect more from plugin authors, and appreciate the teams working hard to making WordPress more secure.


As I’m catching up on twitter and reading some more posts I’m seeing some great reactions. Tom’s “Is there a Lack of Integrity in WordPress?” compliments my post well.

E-Mail Marketing for the Win! I hate myself…

If that is your reaction to someone saying “email marketing” or “drip email marketing” I want to be your friend, I have the same reaction too but I’m going to get through this…

…and before I go into how I’m using for Sprout Apps, I’d like to share some personal history about why I had thought the only way for me to be productive in  “email marketing” involved watching a piece of my soul being slowly peeled off like a bandaid on a three year old, and eventually hating the monster I had become.

I have an idealistic stance on sending marketing email, it’s simple — it should never be sent.

The pointed eared hairy footed trolls in marketing think differently, they see the value of sending unsolicited e-mails. E-Mail is astonishingly cheap for customer acquisition when compared to any other channel; CPC (adwords, Facebook ads, etc.) isn’t just expensive, it’s tough to get right even with single digit conversion rates.

That’s why when I was a Director 1 at my last real job, “real job” means I was required to wear pants, I was tasked to send out millions of emails a week. Yes, millions; I’m not kidding. A lot of which were to people the company had absolutely no relationship with, past or present. Their idea, or belief, was an email address is simply another mailbox for them to stuff junk into; some people will bite just like some respond to junk snail-mail  2.

I cringed every time I scheduled those “blasts”. The result they saw and wanted: five figure returns on every blast, on a list they bought for very little; the result I saw, loyal customers unsubscribing from the bombardment, the company not caring because they could “buy more to fill the list”, ultimately a shit load of people now seeing the company as “spammers” & untrustworthy, 3.

E-mail “marketing” can be different.

Before Sprout Invoices launched I was directed by a few people that I needed to “build my list”, I threw up a little in my mouth and shook it off. Then came Pressnomics 4, where I was able to talk to a few others on how they’re using services like and I soon found out that it’s possible to send an email to a prospective customer with respect.

Build a relationship first, or partner with someone that has a relationship with the people you want to contact.

I don’t send e-mail to people that didn’t explicitly give Sprout Apps their email. Simple as that. I’m not about to buy a list and blast out an email to thousands of people that don’t know about Sprout Invoices or other Sprout Apps; leave marketing to those individuals to those that have a relationship already.

For example, recently sent out an email reviewing Sprout Invoices. Their users have a relationship with tidyrepo, so when those read the review, there’s weight behind it. If I were to send an email to that same list, an expected response would be “who the hell is this…where’s that spam button”, that’s not a first impression I would ever want to make.

Introduce yourself and offer help.

At the moment I only have a few triggered emails setup for  Sprout Apps; one in particular sent to someone that received errors during checkout and didn’t complete their purchase in the last 30 minutes. With this triggered email I’m not only helping someone with their purchase but I’m hoping to get their attention while they’re still considering purchasing; otherwise, they’ll just forget about it and move on.

I’ve found introducing myself helps, letting them know who I am shows I’m personally engaged.

There are a lot of creative ways to help your potential customers, one might be to send an email with a discount if they’ve reviewed the pricing page after reviewing the product details page for an extended period but never added the item to the cart.

If to help is promotional, bury the lead.

That last “creative way” of sending a message to help someone is on the verge of spammy. Remember, I want to build a relationship with the customer. This is especially true before trying to motivate them via a “discount”. Maybe I’m overthinking this because of my idealistic take on sending email, that’s why I’m currently running an A/B test to see if throwing something like “Hey you, here’s an awesome discount for my shit because I noticed you can’t afford it. Any questions let me know…” is better than “Hey, I’m Dan Cameron and I built this shit. You have any questions?…PS, I’d like to extend you a limited time offer…”. If the former wins I’ll question everything I believe in humanity, as if I just read comments under a political article.

Be personal, gain trust, bury the promotional motivation, and start small.

This is how I started…slow 5. chart

I only have four triggered emails at the moment, one is not automatically sent instead a draft is created. I can then review the user activity and understand if the person could be helped with the email, if not it’s deleted.

Don’t half ass it.

If you wanted to be a dick and just send out a bunch of email you would have stopped reading a while ago, maybe because they were offended with me calling them hairy trolls or they’re busy making google work off a “purchase e-mail lists for cheap” query, instead you’re vested. Reading this post proves you can take it slow and build write the introductions you need.

It took time me a while to write the integration I wanted; luckily for some I did the work for you. That said, the hardest part was writing all the emails for each triggered email and A/B split. Getting the introduction right is tricky, I don’t have the answer for everyone but helping people works.

It really does work.

On a pure marketing level, when compared to CPC and other channels these numbers are awesome. Not shown is how I’ve been able to get valuable feedback from the conversations started with these triggered emails, the hidden upside hidden from the “Converted” column.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.35.16 PM



  1. I was not officially in a “Director” position, although I had the same responsibilities without the paycheck.
  2. Obviously, a lot of companies do this, not the dirt bags I worked for.
  3. The company is still around, I’m not sure about their financials but I’m willing to bet their still cornering their market, spammers or not.
  4. That conference was awesome. I wish I had wrote a post about it a couple weeks ago…maybe in the future.
  5. That blip at the beginning can be attributed to testing and holding off a triggered email to be manually sent instead of automatically.
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Dan Cameron

I build stuff with WordPress

I'm currently building Sprout Apps to help small businesses and freelancers running WordPress.