WooCommerce: The Rise of the Biggest eCommerce Platform

Paul Maiorana, CEO at WooCommerce, began his post about the platform’s ten year anniversary by sharing the first line of WooCommerce code ever written:

add_action( 'wp', 'woocommerce_init', 0 );

I found it highly fitting – the first line of a pastiche poem that continues to be written to this day. Like any pastiche, WooCommerce, by virtue of its open-source philosophy, draws from a wide variety of sources and, like any inchoate piece of art, it is a long way from perfect.

But, despite that, or perhaps because of it, WooCommerce has a lot to be proud of. Its shining asset is a highly prolific, tight-knit yet widely dispersed developer community, which now presides over the largest population of online merchants ever assembled by a single content management system.

More merchants call WooCommerce home than any other platform, and that simply would not be possible without its developers. I know I’m starting to sound like Steve Ballmer, but it’s true. 

But how did WooCommerce get to this point? Like Maiorana, I think some reflection is in order. 

WooThemes, Jigoshop, WooCommerce

Before that first line of code was ever written, WooThemes (the company that went on to create the eponymous WooCommerce plugin) had made a name for itself by developing and selling WordPress themes.

In the very early days, the company consisted of just three pioneering developers – Mark Forrester, Magnus Jepson, and Adii Pienaar. But it didn’t take long for the team to begin growing in a distributed fashion while maintaining an in-person hotspot in Cape Town. 

The Woo Triumvirate (from left to right: Adii Pienaar, Magnus Jepson, and Mark Forrester)

After spending about three years focused entirely on themes, the company decided it was time for a change. It was time to think about plugins, namely an eCommerce plugin. Although the team toyed around with the idea of making eCommerce functionality a built-in feature for each of their themes, they soon settled on the idea of an eCommerce plugin instead. It was the right call.

Initial specifications for the WooCommerce plugin (first version)

A lean and agile four-person team, including two Jigoshop developers, was responsible for the first version of WooCommerce, which had only 9 extensions and 6 themes as of its launch on September 27th, 2011.

Little did the team know that there would one day be thousands of themes and plugins wholly dedicated to WooCommerce, scattered across the WordPress repository, Envato, and WooCommerce’s own marketplace.  

The first WooCommerce product dashboard

Here comes Automattic

Even in its initially limited form, news of the plugin sent ripples through the WordPress community and beyond, with the story being picked up by the likes of TechCrunch.

In filling the eCommerce-shaped hole in the WordPress ecosystem, it became clear that WooThemes had hit on something important. In only 16 months, WooCommerce hit 500,000 downloads. Roughly 4 months after that, it hit 1 million. Then, in 2014, the night before WooConf – the first in-person WooCommerce event – the plugin hit a whopping 5 million downloads.  

By then, WooThemes was already the apple of Automattic’s eye. The following year saw the 55-person company get acquired in the largest Automattic acquisition to date.

Since then, extensions have sprouted from every corner to make the WooCommerce platform even more robust, including those bought or developed by Automattic itself, such as WooCommerce Subscriptions (by way of the Prospress acquisition), WooCommerce Shipping, and WooCommerce Payments. 

The WooCommerce team at the time of acquisition

What now?

Today, WooCommerce clocks in at over 156 million downloads and 5 million active installations. WooThemes’ decision to stick with the open-source environment they knew best, WordPress, and to build a plugin on those foundations paid off big-time. 

But, as Matt Mullenweg (who needs no introduction) has said: “it’s [still] day one with WooCommerce“.

The pie continues to grow and there are many merchants, either those with only a brick-and-mortar presence or those using another eCommerce platform, who need convincing.

Historically speaking, WooCommerce – the team and platform alike – has been at its most persuasive when building. We leave the talking to Shopify

So, without further ado, let’s get back to building

David Mainayar

Co-Founder at PeachPay and with a background in economics, David has been obsessed with WooCommerce ever since he discovered its transformational potential for the entrepreneurial underdog. His mission is to help level the playing field for small and medium-sized enterprises as well as independent retailers. David loves travelling to central Europe, reading books by N.N. Taleb, and learning about ancient Roman and Napoleonic history.

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