Today is a big day for Sandhills. I am very excited to announce that our entire suite of WordPress products and services, and the team have joined the Awesome Motive family!
Awesome Motive is one of the most successful companies in WordPress with an amazing track record. Under their leadership, amazing things are in store for AffiliateWP, Easy Digital Downloads, Sugar Calendar, WP Simple Pay, and the Payouts Service.
Who is Awesome Motive?
Awesome Motive is a company started by Syed Balkhi with a mission to help small businesses grow and compete with the big guys.
The AM team is behind some of the most popular plugins and resources in the WordPress ecosystem:
- WPBeginner – the largest free WordPress resource site for beginners.
- OptinMonster – popular conversion optimization software that helps you convert abandoning visitors into subscribers and customers.
- WPForms – the most beginner friendly WordPress form builder.
- MonsterInsights – the most popular WordPress Analytics plugin that helps you grow your business with confidence.
- AIOSEO - the original WordPress SEO plugin to help you get more traffic.
- WP Mail SMTP – the #1 plugin that helps improve your WordPress email deliverability.
- SeedProd – the best drag & drop landing page builder for WordPress.
- RafflePress – powerful WordPress giveaway and contest plugin to grow your website traffic.
- Smash Balloon – most popular social media feeds plugin for WordPress.
- PushEngage - leading web push notification software for small businesses.
- SearchWP - the most advanced WordPress search plugin.
- … and many more.
Collectively over 17 million websites use Awesome Motive plugins.
They are easily the most well positioned company and team to carry on the stewardship of Easy Digital Downloads, AffiliateWP, Sugar Calendar, WP Simple Pay, and the Payouts Service.
What does this mean for the WordPress products?
It means a lot, though at first you won’t see any major changes. It is business as usual for all of the products and teams, but over time there will be noticeable positive changes that are rolled out.
Sandhills has always been a small team that has always found itself limited on the resources and time to do everything we wanted. We have managed well with the resources and skills we have had but there were always distinct limits on what we could do.
By joining Awesome Motive our product teams will gain resources, guidance, and marketing skills that will help them go further than ever before.
Awesome Motive has been an innovator in WordPress for more than a decade and during that time they have built infrastructures, processes, and a level of polish rarely seen in the WordPress industry. The learnings and strategies that have made Awesome Motive so successful will be applied to the whole suite of Sandhills products, making the products better than ever before and at a pace previously unseen by our customers.
For our customers and all of the users of our products, this will be an immensely positive change.
To answer that, I’d like to tell a brief story about a tradition in my family.
Almost every weekend, for as long as I can remember, my grandfather, dad, brother, and I have spent Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons cutting firewood. Our homes have been heated by wood fires almost exclusively since well before I was born. It’s a ritual that takes a lot of time and hard work, but it’s always been a ritual we’ve enjoyed.
We’d get together early in the morning, drive the trailer out into the woods and spend a few hours loading it. My dad would run the chainsaw while my grandfather, brother, and I loaded the wood into the trailer.
We’d do this in all weather. Rain, sun, snow, ice. Didn’t matter, the fires needed to be fed so we’d put the time in.
I look back on those weekends with immense fondness now. We didn’t have to heat our houses with wood; we chose to do it. We appreciated the work and the self-reliance of it.
About ten years ago, my grandfather began to really show his age and was no longer physically able to help as he had in the past. When that happened, we began taking a chair out into the woods with us so he could sit and watch. He wasn’t able to load the wood anymore, but he could still enjoy the process and participate. We kept taking that chair out with us for granddad for ten years, up until just weeks before he passed away late last year.
That tradition is part of what has led me to this announcement.
Every business owner knows (or will eventually learn) that there are three possible fates for their business:
- It will one day be passed on to someone else, perhaps through family inheritance
- It will slowly or rapidly decline and at some point be shut down entirely
- It will be sold to a new owner for one reason or another
No matter the business, one of those three fates will always happen in some form. It’s possible a business will go through more than one of those options. For example a business might be built by a person, handed down to their kids, then sold by the kids to a new owner, and then fail to succeed under that new ownership. There are all sorts of combinations of these fates, but at least one of them is inevitable eventually.
Over the last ten years, I have known there was a very real possibility that I would one day sell the business and move on to something else. In recognition of that possibility, I have always tried to build the business so that it could one day be sold, even if I did not have the intention of seeking out a buyer. By being intentional about building a sellable business and one that did not require my active participation to operate, I afforded myself and my partners the opportunity to seek out or accept an acquisition offer if the right time came.
For me, the time to begin seeking out acquisition offers came earlier this year when my dad had a heart attack that put him in the hospital for several days and landed him with an extended recovery period. While he was in the hospital a second time, a harsh reality set in: my dad is only a few years from being the one sitting in that chair while we cut firewood. That was a stark reminder of the brevity of our time on this earth, helping me recognize and remember just how important it was for me to spend as much quality time with my family as possible.
I recognized that I had to make a change so that I could spend more time with my family and those most important to me, and to achieve that I had two primary options:
- Sell the WordPress business entirely
- Step away from the operations of the company but retain ownership
If you know me well, you know that I dive full speed into the things that I am passionate about. I get deeply invested in projects and initiatives that suit my fancy and I get things done. What I do not do well, however, is manage initiatives even one tenth as well when my passion for it is no longer there.
In the last few years I discovered a truth about myself: I had lost my passion for the web and building software products. I used to absolutely adore WordPress and building plugins to extend it and power businesses. That passion helped create amazing platforms that have helped tens of thousands of businesses grow, succeed, and thrive on the web, and I am so immensely proud of that. But when the passion is gone, the drive and motivation to build great things leaks away as well. It has been several years since I last felt truly inspired and motivated to build something with WordPress.
Between recognizing the loss of my passion for the web and my dad’s health conditions, I knew it was time for me to seek out an acquirer or else risk the well-being of my entire team, our thousands of amazing customers, and my own family. Risking the well-being of all those people was not something I could do.
I decided to sell because it provided the best avenue to accomplish the most goals:
- Ensure my team continues to be taken care of and provided with a place to do amazing work
- Ensure our customers are well taken care of and the products they rely on continue to thrive
- Allow me to refocus my attention to the places I am most passionate about
- Allow me to spend more time with my family without risking the well-being of the business and team
Once that decision had been made, there was no going back.
Why Awesome Motive?
I have known Syed for years and have always had immense respect for what he and the team at Awesome Motive has built. He and I have spent a lot of late nights at WordPress events talking and sharing stories and things about our businesses. Through those many, many conversations I have had the opportunity to get to know Syed very well and learn so much about him and Awesome Motive.
It’s from those conversations that I gained not only an appreciation for Awesome Motive, but also a deep trust in their ability and character. When determining who you wish to be the new steward of something you’ve spent nearly your entire working career building, trust is so, so important. You have to trust that the new steward will care for the products, care for the customers, and most importantly, care for the team.
When I began reaching out to potential acquirers earlier this year, I had several requirements:
- Our entire suite of products needed to move over as-is
- Our team needed to move over with as few changes as possible
- The acquirer had to be committed to continuing to build and grow the products
- My trust in the acquirer’s ability to lead my team and products had to be absolute
- The people of the company must always be put first
I chose Awesome Motive not because they were able to fulfill most of those requirements, but because they fulfilled all of those requirements, and they did so exceptionally well.
Exits are hard but they are made so much easier when you can exit knowing your team, products, and customers will be even better cared for than they were under your own lead.
What’s next for Sandhills Development
With this acquisition, Sandhills Development is changing its focus. For the last decade, our focus has been on our WordPress products, and we have worked to build the best products we were capable of and delivering immense value to our customers and the businesses that have relied on us. With those products now under the new care of a tremendously capable steward, our focus will change.
In 2017, Sandhills Development made its first step towards building a future founded in the conservation and preservation of nature and green spaces. Then in March 2020, we made another major step, and again in April 2021.
Now we make an even bigger step: retiring completely from the tech world and making conservation efforts our primary focus.
I say “we” and “our” out of habit because this company has been made great not by me but by all of the people that have been part of it over the years, but with the transition of our WordPress product teams moving to Awesome Motive, Sandhills Development has returned to its earliest roots and is once again a company of one. It’s possible that in the future a new team will be created around the conservation efforts, but that will happen slowly and organically.
What’s next for Pippin
When I first entered the wonderfully weird world of WordPress, I was a freelancer and solopreneur. Over the years the team grew to a peak of 28 people. It was wonderful and I loved leading a growing ship. The challenges grew in difficulty and complexity but so did the rewards and accomplishments. Building a team of highly skilled, wonderful people is one of the best things I’ve ever done and I’ll be forever grateful for the time and commitments the team put into Sandhills Development.
I am now, however, ready to enter a new phase of my life that is devoid of titles like CEO and Director and late nights in front of a screen.
It has now been a full decade or more since I last worked solo. While I will immensely miss working with the team—some of the best and most talented people I’ve ever had the blessing of getting to know—I am excited for the freedom and flexibility that comes with being a company of one again.
After finishing a transition period with Awesome Motive, I will retire from WordPress and then put my focus into spending time with my family, nature conservation efforts, and Sandhills Brewing.
I intend to continue writing and updating this site with the things I am working on, so if you’re interested in following along subscribe by email and stay in touch. This year’s annual review post will certainly look a little different than in the past but I still plan to continue that tradition.
These last 10+ years in WordPress have been wonderful and I’ve had so many amazing opportunities and friendships from it, but the time for me to move on has come.
There are so many people that have been a part of this journey and I owe them all so much gratitude.
First and foremost, my wife Molly is the most patient and caring partner I could have possibly hoped for. She has walked with me through this entire journey, start to finish, and through all of it she has supported me, been patient with me, challenged me, and helped me keep in my sights what was the most important. Molly was there when I first made the jump to working in WordPress full time and she was there for every launch, every accomplishment, and every failure. She was there when I realized the time had come to leave WordPress, and she’s been there throughout the entire transition, always patient, always caring, and always supporting.
The Sandhills team. Over the last decade they have given me the opportunity to work with some of the best people imaginable. They put their trust in me and believed in our mission and they did everything and more that was asked of them. Without the team, Sandhills Development never would have become what it was. To all of the team, I owe my most sincere gratitude and appreciation.
My business partners. Sean, Chris, Andrew, and Phil have been an amazing team of partner owners and so much of our success is owed to them and their commitments to our goals. They kept me in check over the years and challenged my assumptions in the best ways. For all of the late nights, early mornings, and long days, I am grateful for everything they have done.
Our customers. We owe so many thanks to every customer that has supported us through the years. Building for and working with them to create businesses, side projects, and so many other things has been such an immense pleasure. Sandhills Development never would have existed if it wasn’t for the customers that put their trust in us and our products.
Syed and the whole team at Awesome Motive. They have proven that they will be amazing caretakers of my life’s work and of the amazing team of people that joined me for the journey. Thank you Syed and AM for making this possible and allowing me the confidence that the future for the team, products, and customers is exceptionally bright.
WordPress and everyone that has built this amazing community and platform. Without WordPress, the products and team we’ve built over the last ten years never would have happened. I have had some of my best experiences, made the most amazing memories, and met so many of the most amazing people because of WordPress.
My entire family. They have supported me, challenged me, and been there for me from the beginning to the end. The goal from the very start was to build a company that enabled me to spend more time together with my family, and the conclusion of this journey is in an effort to do precisely that.
There are a lot of unknowns for me and the next few years, but I am looking forward to the adventures immensely.
Until we meet again, cheers!