More than eight years ago, before Sandhills Development was a real company, I built a small membership plugin called Restrict Content Pro. It was really built for my own use but in such a way that it could be packaged up as a product and made available for anyone to use. It turned out to be a pretty good choice because it was ultimately the product that led me to begin building the next series of products that today make up most of the Sandhills Development portfolio.
If I had not built Restrict Content Pro in 2012, it’s very likely that we would not be here today. We would not be a team of 26 people, we would not have built our other products and we would not have gone on to grow Restrict Content Pro into a $500,000+ per year product with thousands of customers, a strong profit margin, and a dedicated team behind it.
And now today I am excited to share that Restrict Content Pro is getting a new home with Liquid Web and the iThemes team.
I’d like to share some of the backstory for how this acquisition happened and some of the exercises we’ve gone through over the past year. This isn’t the first time we have gone through a product acquisition, but this is the most significant one we’ve completed, in financial terms and importance to us as a company. Restrict Content Pro has been a major foundation for us for more than eight years and going through the mental process of deciding whether to let it go was a huge roller coaster of up and down emotions for me and the whole team involved.
Why sell Restrict Content Pro?
A year ago we had no intention of selling Restrict Content Pro. In fact the thought had barely crossed our minds. We were in the middle of major development work on the product and we had been making tremendous progress on all fronts of it. Our revenue had grown, our customers were happier than ever, and the product was the most stable and feature rich it had ever been.
So why sell it?
Years ago I made a decision to always build our products and company with the anticipation that they may one day be sold. I did this not because I wanted to sell off our products, but because I knew all products and companies will ultimately always meet one of three fates: they will slowly fade away and die; they will be discontinued; or they will be sold or transferred to someone else to carry forward. There are no other possibilities. One of those three things will always happen, so building to sell was a strategic choice to ensure everything was already lined up if the opportunity arose, and if the opportunity never came about, we have ensured that we have an efficient and well organized system, which is hardly a negative from any perspective.
Operating under this strategy has had two major results for us:
- We have intentionally kept each of our products separated from each other. They each have their own payment accounts, code repositories, websites, and more. This allows for a product to be “packaged up” neatly and transferred to a new owner without much hassle or disruption.
- We were prepared for a conversation anytime a prospective buyer came knocking. While we were not seeking out buyers for any of our major products, we were always ready to have a discussion if the time was right.
For Restrict Content Pro, the discussion about selling it began in October, 2019, when I received a very short, straight forward email that asked:
I’m wondering if you’d be open to talking about selling RCP to Liquid Web.
That was it, and because of our mentality of always building with an anticipation that products may one day be sold, I agreed to a high level discussion to see if there was any point in engaging a more in depth conversation. This short-and-sweet message worked because it came from someone I’ve known for many years and already knew it was a serious inquiry.
Our conversation continued off and on for a few months but the potential of actually making a deal was still a far off possibility. In February, 2020, however, I was in Oklahoma City and iThemes’ General Manager, Matt Danner, asked to meet for breakfast. That meeting, though short, was when it became apparent that we might come to an acquisition agreement. From my past experiences with Matt and the rest of the iThemes team, I already had complete confidence in their ability to care for the product and our customers, so our conversations mainly focused on the deal specifics. There were, however, two major sticking points for us:
- The price had to be right. RCP had grown significantly in the past two years and was continuing to grow, so we had no incentive to sell unless the price made it worthwhile.
- We really did not want to lose any of our team members in an acquisition. As long as the team stayed with us, or they wanted to move over, we were open to a possible acquisition.
If we could come to an agreement that allowed for RCP as just the product to be transferred to iThemes / Liquid Web, we were open to it. We were, however, continually bothered by one detail: why? Restrict Content Pro was earning a strong profit, was very stable, and our team loved working on it. Why should we sell it, even if the price is right? It was already making a good profit every month, so strictly speaking, money wasn’t a problem nor a major motivating factor.
Restrict Content Pro was also the first of our major products, so deciding to let it go was very emotionally challenging.
This is a good example of when going for a long drive or walk to have an opportunity to just think without the distractions of a screen can be incredibly helpful. It occurred to me that selling Restrict Content Pro could allow us to narrow our focus, increase our development, support, and marketing resources on our other products, and to significantly insulate our team from downturns by putting more cash in the bank. Protecting against a downturn, which we had already put a large focus on, only became more important as we watched COVID-19 ravage the globe and so much was uncertain.
Our teams have been spread thin for a long time and this was an opportunity to reduce the amount of work each of them was responsible for, and to narrow our focuses, improving our ability to deliver excellence to our customers. It was almost like hiring 2-3 more people but without any of the hassles or challenges that come with hiring.
Recognizing the benefits of narrowing our focus gave us our “why”, and we already knew that the potential buyer was going to be a good shepherd, so after that it was just a matter of coming to an agreement on the deal terms. It took several weeks to come to a full agreement but in April we signed a Letter of Intent with a binding contract signed later in May after a thorough review and audit by the iThemes / Liquid Web teams.
iThemes has been a leader in WordPress for more than a decade and has an exceptional record of quality products, tremendous customer service, and a strong history of integrity. I have watched and known iThemes for many years and have always been impressed and awed by the quality of work they produce and their leadership.
Anytime a product or service changes hands there are concerns about how well the new owner will care for customers, existing and future. With iThemes, those concerns were non-existent.
iThemes has our full confidence and there’s no doubt they will carry Restrict Content Pro forward in amazing ways. We are truly excited to watch them push the product to new heights and do so much more with it.
Interview with Matt and Brian Krogsgard of Post Status
Last week, Matt Danner and I sat down (virtually) with Brian Krogsgard of Post Status to have a conversation about this acquisition.
Over the hour+ conversation, we dove into the how and why of this process and shared many of our opinions and experiences. The full interview can be watched / listened to here.
What happens next for Restrict Content Pro customers?
There will be several changes right away that customers should be aware of.
Starting today, all new purchases of Restrict Content Pro will go through the checkout system on iThemes.com. We have worked directly with the iThemes team to migrate all purchase and license records to their system. In the next week or so there will be some new faces showing up in the development and support teams as we continue to assist the iThemes team in learning the ins-and-outs of Restrict Content Pro.
Later in the year it is likely for there to be some minor design changes in the Restrict Content Pro admin to bring it inline with the other iThemes products, and there will be some adjustments to include Restrict Content Pro in the various bundles iThemes offers, making it more affordable than ever before.
Building Restrict Content Pro into the best membership plugin available has been one of our proudest achievements and we will miss working on it, but we are so excited about its long, bright future. iThemes is a fantastic team to carry on what we started and there is no doubt in our minds that they will deliver excellence.
What is next for Sandhills Development?
This was a product acquisition only, meaning nothing else with Sandhills Development has changed hands or ownership. We are still the same team working actively on all of our other products. The difference, however, is that now we have more resources on our other products and our teams are not stretched as thin. We have improved our ability to focus.
We are still a 100% independently owned and operated company and we are building for and focusing on the long term.
Wow, this is very surprising and at least somewhat disappointing news, but I thank you for sharing the story. What’s going to happen to those of us who bought lifetime licenses for RCP?
We appreciate that acquisitions can be concerning and scary, especially if it’s for a product you or your business depend on.
iThemes will be honoring all existing licenses, so there will be no changes to your lifetime license.
Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns!
Thanks for your reply. I will keep my mind open, but I echo what Marcus Tibesar wrote below:
Pippin, we selected and ultimately purchased RCP because of you and your team.
Amen to that. You’re a King surrounded by top notch people. Your reassuring presence commanding RCP will be deeply missed.
What’s going to happen to Ashley?!? Yikes, she is what makes RCP shine brightly.
I appreciate the kind words Rob!
Ashley is taking over as Lead Developer for Easy Digital Downloads. She will will be leading a full team of developers on that project 🙂
I am shocked. First the sale of RCP and now you are not leading the development of EDD? You are the reason I am with EDD. Unfortunately, it may be time to open up the search for a different software licensing system. While I can vouch for Liquid Web, I do not vouch for iThemes. Their plugins have been hit and miss for as long as they have been around. Too much to maintain, and none of that focus toward a few “excellent” products. Overall a sad day on this end of the desk and pretty bummed.
I very much appreciate the trust you have put in me and my team and for being a long-term user of Easy Digital Downloads. I, however, am not the reason Easy Digital Downloads is the quality piece of software it is as I haven’t been the lead developer for more than 3 years. Chris Klosowski has been leading that project since I stepped away from day-to-day development in 2017 to focus more on management and running the company, and now Chris is handing the reins over to Ashley Gibson so he can focus more fully on running our entire development team. Previously Ashley was the lead developer for Restrict Content Pro and was hugely responsible for growing that product into what it became. She is 10x the developer I ever was and with a dedicated focus on Easy Digital Downloads, the future for Easy Digital Downloads is better than it’s ever been with her in charge.
Congratulations Pippin ! But to be honest this is a terrible news for me. I am an existing customer and was planning to upgrade to the lifetime unlimited plan by the end of this year. Now I’m not sure what will happen to this plan and its price and whether iThemes will give the ability to upgrade or not.
iThemes is honoring all existing licenses. For questions about how the upgrade to a lifetime license will work now, please get in touch with iThemes via their support address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Are there any other plans for the others Plugins as I purchased the lifetime licenses for AffiliateWP last year, Restrict Content Pro last month and WP Simple Pay only just yesterday.
iThemes will be honoring all existing licenses, including lifetime.
We have no plans at this time to transfer any of our other products.
Thanks for the insight. Now please focus on EDD 3.0 and some urgendly needed extension updates…
That is one of our definite plans! Easy Digital Downloads will now have more development resources than ever before.
But the philosophy “build to sell” ensures that this excellent product will too, end up in the hands of mediocrity.
That’s not true, or the intent. As a plugin developer, as a business owner, you must plan for one of these three options; discontinue, end-of-life, transfer. We don’t build these to sell them. We build these with the intention that someday there may have to be someone else moving it forward because it will be better served there.
Disappointing news. We all know how that goes down the road. I hope this time will be different.
Well, this can be great news, it seems like RCP is in good hands, and especially if more people are working on other products! I’m looking at you EDD with almost 3 years of development on 3.0 with no end in sight. 🙁 So hopefully things maybe a little faster elsewhere at Sandhills because of this.
It is definitely good news for Easy Digital Downloads and our other products!
The end for 3.0 is in sigh (finally!) and it won’t be much longer before we have a public beta available.
Pippin, we selected and ultimately purchased RCP because of you and your team. Mergers and acquisitions have always let us down. We’ve experienced several M&A’s, all resulting in our no longer using the product(s) and our lifetime memberships. This is disappointing, no doubt about it…
There are so many examples of acquisitions gone wrong that I completely understand that sentiment. I will say, however, that we would not have gone through with this move if we did not have the utmost confidence in the team at iThemes.
They are one of the companies I have known longer than almost anyone else in the WordPress world and I have zero doubt of their ability to carry Restrict Content Pro forward with excellence.
“I knew all products and companies will ultimately always meet one of three fates: slowly fade away and die; they will be discontinued, or they will be sold”
Do you really think these are the only 3 options?
It is a bit of a simplification, but yes.
All products / companies have a lifespan, be it in days, months, years, or decades. Nothing lasts forever, companies and products especially.
Some people will choose to run a product or company until they themselves retire or pass away. At that time the product or company will be dissolved or transferred to someone else, perhaps as a sale or inheritance. Other people will choose prior to their retirement (or passing) to transfer the product / company to someone else, again either as a sale or gift, or other method. Other people will choose to run a product / company until it is obsolete in one way or another. And lastly, some people will choose to shut down a product or company of their own volition, for one reason or another.
Each of those possibilities fits within the “3 options” I described above and every product or company will meet one of these fates eventually.
If there are other options I’m not considering, I’d love to hear about them!
Thanks for the answer Pippin and congrats on the sale!
Congrats to all. iThemes is a good home for RCP!
Thank you Jason!
That’s the major question, and I’m not 100% convinced by the answer given in the post.
I think perhaps Pippin was just sick of the support and maintenance side of the business, which he has mentioned before. To offload that burden must have been a major motivator for selling.
I agree with a number of the posters above; these types of product acquisitions usually fail, although we’ll have to wait a few years to see what happens.
Thanks for the question 🙂
The “why” I gave above is the full truth.
Our team was handling the maintenance and support load better than ever before, and our finances were better than they’d ever been, so neither of those were major motivating factors in choosing to transfer Restrict Content Pro.
The biggest motivating factor was that we’d be able to focus even more if we reduced the number of products we build. The team that worked on Restrict Content Pro are all moving their time and energy to our other products, which helps us push those forward better than ever before.
Thank you Pippin.
That is also something concerning; none of the existing staff are moving over.
They have years of acquired knowledge and experience (although to be honest, the main guy — John Parris — left a while back), and even though I’m sure iThemes has capable devs and support staff, they will surely take a while to get up to scratch.
I’m skeptical, and I think it’s a loss for us RCP users, but a win personally for you and also for your EDD users. I wish you the best Pippin.
Ensuring the new team is ready to take over development and support is precisely why we included a six month transition period in our contract. Our Restrict Content Pro team is working directly with the iThemes team for six full months to personally train and assist them.
No transition is ever perfect but we are certainly trying our best to keep it as smooth as possible.
Hi Pippin, I didn’t see any mention here just wanted to make sure this sale won’t have any repercussions for the development of the Content Restriction for EDD in the future as they share some features? I’m hoping development of that will still be going forward and there are no conflicts there?
Content Restriction for Easy Digital Downloads is unchanged and we are still maintaining that plugin and plan to do so indefinitely.
That is great news, thanks! 🙂
First of all, congratulations! It must have been a tough and emotional decision for you.
I am sure iThemes is a, as you mentioned, well known and serious business, although I personally don´t use their products.
Now, I was about to purchase the LTD for RCP. I even contacted your great support team about it.
To be honest, hearing this news, I am happy that I did not go through with the purchase. Why, because I love your products, but perhaps most of all I have trust in your team and company.
“I knew all products and companies will ultimately always meet one of three fates: slowly fade away and die; they will be discontinued, or they will be sold”
Well, as a LTD owner, I hope this will not be the case for AffiliateWP anytime soon!
Best wishes for you and your team!
I appreciate all of the support you’ve given us!
Worry not, there are zero plans for AffiliateWP to go away 🙂
It’s the first day that iThemes has “had the ball”, and today, they issued an update. Immediately after the update, we received a second update, a beta! Wow, I didn’t know iThemes would be pushing beta updates to us! That never happened on Pippin’s watch! We have auto-updates enabled, and I’d rather not have ANY BETA product pushed to me!
I have checked in with the iThemes team to figure out why that happened. There was indeed a hiccup that resulted in beta versions showing up in the the Plugins page and being installed for those users with auto installs. That was not intentional and was a side effect of differences in our deployment systems. The issue has been fixed.
Purchase history and payments are all messed up and my license shows expired from 2015 in iThemes panel but it expires in February.
Also all available downloads shown expired as of yesterday.
We’re actively working on all of the migration data still so it might take a little bit to show up. If you’re in need of any download files or records prior to it showing up, please email support directly and they can assist: email@example.com
Thanks. I would like to thank you for a wonderful product and all the support you provided over the years. As some other have already noted, many of us have structured our business around your products because we placed a lot of faith in your capabilities and commitment. I hope we won’t be let down by new owner.
I’m sure the decision wasn’t easy. And appreciate the transparency. Personally, I’m excited to see more focus on EDD and AffiliateWP. ?
Keep up the great work!
Congrats Pippin! Seems to me like a really sensible move 🙂
Does it also mean that rcp will get some further development? Would be great if the plugin works with other payment solutions via zapier
The iThemes team is planning extensive future development of Restrict Content Pro.
Your transparency and honesty is very much appreciated. Well done on what sounds like a very good business decision. Onwards and upwards for Sandhills!
Congratulations to you and iThemes team.
I always admire your plugins, how they’re coded, and how you grow your businesses.
Great news, Pippin, congratulations!
Have always been a fan of your products, while we don’t use RCP ourselves, many of our customers do and EDD/AffiliateWP are key components to our sales process at HeroThemes.
All the best for the next chapter, sounds like you’ve earnt a round of beers for you and the team.
Congrats Pippin on the sale!
I think it’s smart to build your products in such a way that they could be sold someday. I do the same with all my plugins (i.e. keeping the code repos, payment accounts, support systems, etc all separate). Even though I have no intention of selling off any of them, you never know. If I ever reach the situation where letting go of one product allows me to increase my focus on more important ones, I will hopefully be prepared for that. 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thought process, and I wish you continued success!
Pippin… as a small time web developer/host I have to say I am cautiously apprehensive. I purchased this plugin because of YOU. Not even your team. I followed you for quite awhile before dropping the cash to get my hands on a lifetime. While I am QUITE excited for what this might mean for your company, I am now back to only owning one of your plugins now… SugarCalendar. I really hope iThemes can do this product proud, but I’m still a firm believer in YOU and what YOU create.
Thank you for sharing… I’ll cross my fingers… and I will hope to see some income soon to hopefully buy more into your other current plugins.
I wish you the best…
I very much appreciate all of your support Brian!
Congratulations Pippin! I’m sure this has been a tough decision for you given how much you and your team have put into RCP.
I’m happy for you but I must admit I am scared about iThemes taking over RCP.
They had a membership plugin and let it die on the vine. I know because I was one of them. I went through months of terrible support and no development. In the end they sold it and their Exchange e-commerce solution. I believe both are dead now.
I trust you when you say you believe in iThemes and I will keep an open mind and support their efforts. However, I would be less then honest if I didn’t admit I have a low confidence level in them.
I am hoping to not have to find another solution.
I apologize if I have been “too dark” here but if I have learned anything from you over the years is to be open and transparent. My comments are offered in this spirit.
I look forward to seeing where your current products go next with your newfound ability to focus on them.
I am very very disappointed by this news! I just bought your plugin two days ago for 499 USD lifetime license after Tom Usborne from GeneratePress recommanded it to us. Now If I new I would not have purchased this license.
Why? Simple because after I purchased your product I never got my license TILL DATE!!! The customer support does not reply to any of my messages.
I would like to uninstall Restriccontentpro straight away and request a refund. Can you please help me with this???
Grrrr i this is very annoying.
I’m sorry to hear that your experience hasn’t been good so far. I suspect you got caught in the middle of the license data migration and the delay resulted from that.
I will reach out to the support lead at iThemes to ensure they have received your support ticket.
Thank you so much. Sorry for this late reply. Everything was sorted out thanks to your support.
From time to time you held specials so the renewal days after those did not match expiration days because they were extended. For example, my renewal was for Sep 6 but my expiration is for Feb 20, 2021.
It appears that although this information is still on RCP website, iThemes does not have it and wants to reset expiration to Nov 1 of this year even though I emailed a screenshot to them.
Please let me know if iThemes will honor license expiration and renewal price as you did since 2015 when I became your customer otherwise I may be looking for another solution. I hope not actually, because I am satisfied with your plugin and I hope iThemes will do a good job.
okay… who do I get to yell at for Version 3.4 wp_is_site_initialized() ? I’m getting 1200+ queries on every page load… crashing the site if I’m logged in… I think this might be a symbolic metaphorical projection of the what the sale might mean…
The wp_is_site_initialized() function call was introduced in version 3.3.8 back in February, 2020, so was quite a bit before this acquisition happened. It is certainly possible that a more recent change has triggered the adverse behavior you’re seeing, or it’s possible it came from a change to WordPress itself or one of your other plugins.
Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will assist you in tracking own the problem.
You wrote above:
“iThemes will be honoring all existing licenses…”
iThemes wrote in a reply to me that they will not be honoring discounts and all renewals will occur at full price.
Is that the deal you made with them?
Was that question regarding an existing license?
We (Sandhills Development) have not had renewal discounts on licenses for several years, with the exception of renewals set up with automatic renewals.
iThemes is maintaining all active subscriptions, so if you had an automatically renewing subscription, your license will renew at the same price. If you, however, have been manually renewing your license key each year, the price of your renewal could have changed.
If you’d like, send an email to email@example.com and we can look into your past account and coordinate with iThemes to ensure you’re getting the price you’re supposed to be getting.
if we have questions before buying rcp do we ask and get answers from ithemes at this point? are they staffed up/trained on how RCP restricts access to specific sections of a page?
thank again for developing RCP for as long as you did but also making the hard decision of letting it go for the sake of the plugin itself.
what you did is not easy.
Please go ahead and direct all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy for you Pippin. And in a way, sad that we won’t be able to read these in-depth posts from you on your experiences.
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