Episode 326

How to Build a Full Stack Managed WordPress LMS Hosting Company with Jonathan Denwood from WP-Tonic

Learn how to build a full stack managed WordPress LMS hosting company with Jonathan Denwood from WP-Tonic in this episode of the LMScast podcast hosted by LifterLMS.

Jonathan breaks down the three factors he has seen make someone successful in the online LMS site building industry:

  1. The personal element – Jonathan has dyslexia, and that’s always made him interested in education and the limitations of the education system. He sees the possibilities of online education and training as a great way for people that don’t fit into the established systems to learn in an environment with many teachers and teaching formats.
  2. Growing a market – Contributing something to the market and being an influencer in the space by best serving a specific type of customer and building out a tool for their specific market needs.
  3. Business stickiness – Being able to create a product that clients rely on in a good way where they won’t want to leave your service.
How to build a full stack managed WordPress LMS hosting company with Jonathan Denwood from WP-Tonic

Part of SaaS products (Software As A Service) is really making it a Success As A Service product. So the personal touch Jonathan Denwood offers with unlimited Zooms with him for the first month if clients get stuck on anything is part of the service aspect that is so important and often overlooked with online offerings.

Many aspiring online entrepreneurs look for completely passive income. And while it is possible to work with that at scale, it’s much easier to get started with a product that offers a human touch. Jonathan’s service offers his team to set up some LifterLMS courses, dummy lessons, and WooCommerce and CartFlows alongside Elementor for building landing pages.

Learning management system websites are heavy on the hosting, since they include a lot of complex website interactions like purchases, user logins, and completion status of lessons and courses. With a lot of variables and complexity, a service like WP-Tonic is great, as it removes a lot of the shiny object syndrome and tool shopping that bogs a lot of course creators down.

Be sure to check out Jonathan’s WP-Tonic Show and podcast at WP-Tonic.com. He also offers a managed WordPress hosting solution for the LMS industry. You can book a demo consultation on the WP-Tonic website and fill out a short questionnaire that will really help the WP-Tonic team identify your main pain points and how they can help solve those for you.

And at LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Thank you for joining us!

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking to create, launch, and scale a high value online training program. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of LifterLMS, the most powerful learning management system for WordPress. Stay to the end. I’ve got something special for you. Enjoy the show.

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m joined by a special guest. His name is Jonathan Denwood. He’s from the WP-Tonic Show podcast. Go check that out. He’s also from his website, wp-tonic.com, which has managed WordPress hosting for the LMS industry. Welcome back on the show, Jonathan.

Jonathan Denwood: It’s great to be back on the show again, Chris. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Chris Badgett: I love chatting with you about WordPress and business and LMS, the niche, memberships courses, and really, the clients in this space. It’s definitely the learning management system or LMS niche, the membership site niche, the online course niche, what is it that makes you so interested and fascinated in the space that you really wanted to focus your business on this niche of WordPress and type of entrepreneur who needs a technology to build their business on?

Jonathan Denwood: Only a small question.

Chris Badgett: Yeah.

Jonathan Denwood: I think there’s about three factors. I think there’s the personal element. I’ve been recently open about this, that I suffer from a little bit of dyslexia. And in some ways that’s always made me interested in education and the limitations of educational systems. I see the possibility of online education and training as a great way for people that don’t precisely fit in to what the established educational systems see as a good student. And you see that in entrepreneurship. It’s probably overemphasized or over… I’m struggling for the right word, but this image that the dropout, the student dropout becomes the enormously successful entrepreneur. I think that’s probably overstated a bit, but on the other hand, I think there’s a element where you look at some of the best entrepreneur on the market, they do have backgrounds that tend not to fit into what you’ve seen as a traditional successful educational outcome. Do they?

Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a excellent point.

Jonathan Denwood: The other factor is I think it’s a growing market. And thirdly, I was always interested in what is called in business stickiness, being able to create a product. And I think in the niche of WordPress hosting where you provide all the best tools to build a online course, you provide also structure in your choices, because I think one of the great things about WordPress, but also one of its great weaknesses is that you’ve got enormous choice. And that choice, especially when somebody’s starting out can be really bewildering, Chris.

Chris Badgett: That’s an excellent point. And I wanted to ask you on that, the issue of choice in the LMS niche or in the online learning niche, there’s all these hosted platforms that are like a course marketplace like Udemy or a hosted core site where they all look the same like a Teachable or something like that. And then on the other side, you’ve got WordPress with all these different options. But you, you’re positioned in the middle in terms of having a solution where you’re not starting with a blank screen and going into this infinite shopping spree and research like, “Oh my gosh, what tools should I use to build all this?” How did you land on… Some people call this a WaaS, a website as a service, how did you land here with this [crosstalk]-

Jonathan Denwood: Well, we’re not actually technically a… It’s even worse than that, really, Chris. It’s slightly more of a hybrid because our base product, we’re just providing the tools and assistance. For the first month, they can have unlimited Zooms with me if they get stuck on something. We do provide a service where we will build out the framework. We will set up free dummy courses with about… It’s from materials that you provide, actually, because we support LifterLMS and LearnDash, But we like your product and that’s the one that we normally push the most.

Basically we offer a service where we’ll set up some courses, some dummy lessons, and then we use WooCommerce with CartFlows where we actually set it up with Lifter, with WooCommerce, with CartFlow, and with Elementor so you can build landing pages, have a modern shopping cart experience. So we will build all that out for the client and we charge $250 for that if they want us to do that. And then all they have to do then is they got the example in front of them, we can give them some more initial training, and then they can just replace the dummy content with their own content. And we have other options as well where we can build the whole thing out graphically for the client as well.

Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. So how is this solution different from, let’s say somebody shopping around and then they’ve discovered something called like Kajabi, and then they discover the WordPress way of doing things, but they don’t really want to start from zero and they find you and they’re like, “Whoa, this is a great way to start.” How is what you offer different from Kajabi?

Jonathan Denwood: Well, I think Kajabi and the two founders behind it are… and no offense to them, they are excellent marketers, really top notch marketers, and their platform is slick. But the idea that you just sign up and the next day you have a Kajabi site up and running is a [inaudible], isn’t it? Actually, there’s a whole industry. I mean, similar to Shopify, isn’t it? In the e-commerce. You just can’t start off with a e-commerce shop with Shopify, or the same with Kajabi. And there’s a whole industry of consultants that will build out a Kajabi site for you and charge you between 2,000 and $5,000 for that. So it is a slick because they are only each part of the Jigsaw, which is a modern e-learning platform. They offer just one choice and they may offer… One of their great strengths is they offer a lot of pretty good documentation about how you fit those pieces together.

But you still got to fit those pieces together, and that’s what we’re really doing on our platform. We’re offering one part. Instead of when you’d look at WordPress, you would have liked a half a dozen different parts to look at, and that gets confusing. And if you go on any kind of Facebook group or forum, one of the problems about WordPress is there’s a lot of people saying that, “You should use this membership plugin, that membership plugin.” Well, we feel that that’s a little bit dated now. It’s use a quality learning management system like Lifter, and then use it with WooCommerce and CartFlows. We have Elementor. That provides, you can build all the funnels, one page checkouts, upsells, downsells. You can literally build a really sophisticated platform with that quiver of quality plugins.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. And I noticed you’ve also got BuddyBoss as an option in your stack as well, which is like Facebook, but for WordPress. And it integrates directly with the learning management system like LifterLMS. Tell us about Buddy Boss and why you included that in.

Jonathan Denwood: Well, there is bbPress and BuddyPress, which is the basis of what they’re offering. Great platforms but got a bit, in design terms, got a little bit dated. So BuddyBoss came around and they’ve made it look really slick. Now, one of the problems, like Facebook groups are fantastic, but when you get to a certain stage, especially if it’s linked to your membership’s website, there is a normally, and they get to a stage where it gets a bit unwieldy to use Facebook group. You tend to have the same questions asked all the time. So if you can place that in a forum with a bullets and ball functionality as well, at some stage, it’s going to be better experience for your online tribe. But on the other hand is a lot of work. But BuddyBoss, in my opinion, and I think yours, if you got to that stage where you’re looking, it is the best solution at the present moment, isn’t it?

Chris Badgett: Yeah, it’s pretty slick. And if you’re going to own it and not put it on Facebook, it’s a wonderful solution. When it comes to build, you deciding to build a WordPress hosting companies for the expert industry or course creators coaches, remote learning businesses or schools, this kind of thing, what do you think are the biggest benefits of LifterLMS in terms of building a WordPress hosting company like this?

Jonathan Denwood: Say that again. Sorry.

Chris Badgett: In selecting LifterLMS in your technology stack as a WordPress hosting offering company, what are the biggest benefits of having LifterLMS in the stack?

Jonathan Denwood: I think if you’re the one person [inaudible] consultants train of any type or a company that is organization that’s between five or 10 people, I think Lifter offers a enormous amount of value and ability to build out your training platform. Also, one of your strengths is that most of the key plugins you have built internally, so they actually work flawlessly with one another. Your new groups plugin, the advanced quiz plugin is very well done. And I think compared to hoping to build that out and just using a membership plugin, the benefits you get from using Lifter are quite clear.

Chris Badgett: Cool. I appreciate that. Who’s a perfect fit for the WP-Tonic hosting package? Who do you think you can help the best? What type of person?

Jonathan Denwood: Well, that’s a interesting question because before we were having a pre show chat, I was saying you learn by your first customers. And I think what we want to do is, I really honestly think WordPress has got a bit of a bad rap. It’s seen as a, like I say, and I’m not disparaging Kajabi and similar platforms. There’s about half a dozen on the market that compete with WordPress.

Chris Badgett: They all throw WordPress under the bus. Don’t they? In their marketing. They talk about-

Jonathan Denwood: Consistently is their main target, isn’t it? And they keep on message quite effectively. Don’t they?

Chris Badgett: They do. Just a quick note, I find that it’s okay to talk about a pain point, but sometimes it’s a bit much, and there are some… WordPress is very powerful and customizable, and yes, it’s harder to drive, but it has infinite more options. So it’s just an interesting point of differentiation. I’ll leave it at that. But please continue.

Jonathan Denwood: I think they pointed out some of the weaknesses. What we’re attempting at WP-Tonic is to get rid of those weaknesses. So you have a stack of WordPress premiere plugins that we have tested together. Also, you don’t have to deal with the conflict, which will happen when you’re trying to update plugins.

Chris Badgett: So you manage the update process in the background.

Jonathan Denwood: They don’t deal with that at all. We deal with that. And we update Core and we make sure that it’s on the type of hosting that can deal with a learning management system and the demands of that type of platform where a lot of promoted WordPress hosting cannot really work. And it’s one of the things that have led to the bad rap that WordPress has got to some extent in this area, is trying to utilize hosting that was never designed and can never perform in the way that the client really needs.

Chris Badgett: I think that’s an important point. A learning management system is “heavy on the hosting,” but it’s not because of its not well done software. It’s what the software is doing. It’s using a lot of hosting resources to do those quizzes and reporting and all these different users on the site, hitting the side at the same time through dynamic content. It’s a tool. I mean, if you think e-commerce is heavy, e-commerce, you’re still often selling the product, a physical product, or some other product, but in the LMS, the website is also the product. You can’t ask much more from a website, really.

Jonathan Denwood: Well, it is a very similar situation to e-commerce. A e-commerce or a learning management system, you can develop it on really very cheap hosting, and you can develop a shopping website, a e-commerce website, but soon as people start using it, it will just collapse. And it will collapse quite rapidly. It’s the same with a learning management system, because of the beast. You can develop it, and most people, when they’re developing it and they go public, they don’t do any bit of what is called stress testing, and because they probably don’t even know what the concept means, stress test. Soon as they go live and they’ve got any kind of audience that’s ready to buy. If they’ve got no audience, it doesn’t really matter. It won’t show itself straight away. But if they have been doing building their own tribe, as I would say, it normally collapses almost the same day, normally just… And then they get very frustrated with the hosting provider and very frustrated with WordPress in general.

Chris Badgett: Yeah. I mean, it’s like to tell a story, like if you’ve ever been to a party where way too many people went to the house or the driveway couldn’t hold the people, even other people’s driveways are filling up with cars and maybe the porch collapses because too many people are standing on it. You have to design the house to handle the load, basically. And that’s just a good analogy for what you’re talking about there. One thing I got to say I really love about your WordPress hosting designed for course creators over at WP-Tonic is you’ve vetted and selected a technology stack of tools for everything the course creator needs to deal with the marketing, the e-commerce, all the LMS and membership and stuff. It’s all included.

So that basically removes one of the most common rabbit holes that people end up in, which is infinite shopping for like what’s the best LMS? What’s the best e-commerce? How do I build marketing, a funnel? Or how do I do the CRM thing? Or how do I connect to outside CRM or whatever? You’ve got all that solved with the options you’ve put inside of your package. So I just have my hats off to you on that. But sometimes, people, when they get stuck in this infinite shopping and I’m just researching forever and they start… Sometimes they even start blaming the technology companies. But some of the times in my experience, that’s actually a cover for not launching and it’s an excuse for not launching. So one of the things I love about this is that you make it really easy for somebody to validate to go to market quickly and just remove the technology and start iterating. Because I like to say the launch is not the finish line. It’s actually the starting line. Could you speak on this?

Jonathan Denwood: And I want to point out we don’t entrap our users. We set up the website and we’re the only people that are allowed to migrate it because the deal is we will migrate your website free of charge any time. The only thing is we have to do it because we deactivate the licenses. We don’t remove the plugins, we just deactivate the license and then we move it. So the plugins and your setup will keep on working, you just won’t get the updates, and then you have to go and buy your own licenses. But we will move your site wherever. If you get fed up with WP-Tonic and you get fed up with my English humor, Chris, you’re not entrapped. We will move it to whenever you want us to move it to.

If you buy any of our [inaudible], and we give a 14-day full money back guarantee. That will not cover any deposits, like if you paid for us to design your website or you paid the 250 for us to set it out. That is not covered by our 30-day. That’s a deposit and that’s not returnable. But if you are just on the month or the yearly plan, you got 14 days to try it out. If you’re not happy, you get a full refund. And then after that, if you want to move away from us, you just have to give us 30 days notice and then we’ll move it free of charge wherever you want us to move it to.

Chris Badgett: That’s great. Well, what advice do you have for an expert who’s looking at it and maybe they’ve decided they really want to go the WordPress way not like a hosted platform and they’re really interested in your platform and they want to get in and get launched as fast as possible and validate their offering? What should they do?

Jonathan Denwood: I think the best value is to choose one of our plans. The really attractive thing, if you choose to pay yearly, if you pay the yearly for the starter plan, the setup plan, which costs 250, normally we will do that free of charge. It’s still, if you decide in the 14 days that you want to leave the platform, we will charge you the 250, but initially, the 250, we won’t charge you. So basically we set everything up for you. You paid for the yearly plan. When we set up all the framework for you plus give you a lot of training, then that should really remove any barrier that effectively you’ve got to get on with it, basically, Chris.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Now, in addition to this hosting, you’ve also added to the offer you have at WP-Tonic some care plans, and also urgent or emergency or quick fix things. Can you speak to what those offerings are?

Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, probably before that, I just want to point out a couple of other quick things just to show the real value that we’re offering. I know recently you did a really fantastic video about email and the different types of email. Well, with our plan, we offer transactional and marketing email as part of our platform. And with our starter plan, it’s 5,000 contacts. That’s 5,000 users unlimited transactional a marketing email is included in the plan.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s another one of those great areas where, for me, it was enough is enough. As part of LifterLMS, I have these office hours where I run a weekly call with our top infinity bundle customers. And I’ve been in there for years every week getting questions constantly about email. And I realized, “Oh, wow, I’ve over all this decade, I’ve learned how to deal with all these different types of emails,” so I made a video about it so to help people understand.

Jonathan Denwood: You did a excellent job and you tried to keep, but even with your great presentational skills, I think you ended up with five different type of email.

Chris Badgett: There is. Understandably, people are confused, but that’s what makes your offer so good, is nobody who… They’re just going to avoid that whole email rabbit hole that people fall into, which is [crosstalk] big one.

Jonathan Denwood: The only one we don’t provide is the last one in your video, which is business email, which is that personal email address that goes to the inbox.

Chris Badgett: But that’s what Google Apps is for, or Office or whatever.

Jonathan Denwood: Exactly. The other thing we offer as part of the package is that we offer video hosting.

Chris Badgett: Which is another thing where people… Lifter’s and all in one solution but we don’t have video hosting. And WordPress just really is just not designed for just out of the box by itself without what you’ve added to deal with video in the best way.

Jonathan Denwood: So I would say in those two areas, we’re offering almost 50 to $60 a month in value in just those two areas.

Chris Badgett: Yeah. It’s huge.

Jonathan Denwood: So to say that we’re not offering really fantastic value in our $55 product is a little bit unfair.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a great point. So tell us about your care plans. So there’s hosting, but then somebody can come into your package, they know everything’s going to be kept up to date in the background and they’ve got starter content where they can replace with their content. So they’re not starting from a blank screen. Tell us about your care plans and what those are about.

Jonathan Denwood: Well, we offer three services. Basically we offer what we call concierge hours. These are for the people that might occasionally have a task that they don’t really want to do themselves and it’s a task that we can either do in half hour or 45 minutes. They can buy off one hour blocks of time with us to do that odd job. They get that hour block at a discounted rate because they are a member of WP tribe. And if we only use like 15 minutes or we use half hour, the rest of that hour will row over to the next month for the whole year, basically. Every year we clean the slate, but what’s left, we’ll roll over.

Now, for those that have regular tasks, the one hour block would probably be a bit expensive. They would be better off going to one of our support plans. Our starter plan starts at $79 and it’s unlimited tasks, one task per day, but it’s unlimited tasks. If you got more than one task a day, you can go on to the next plan, which is three tasks per day, and that starts at 79. And like I say, that’s any task that we can get done in for 30 to 45 minutes. That’s how we classify a small task. And the final one is our emergency, which is you pay upfront, and basically if we can’t get the job done in three hours, we give you a quote. And if you’re not happy with the quote, you get your deposit paid back to you basically. And that’s our real urgent emergency fix scheme where we get a fix in three hours or less.

Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic. If you’re liking this episode, I want to encourage you to also check out a episode on LMS Cast we did with Sally Crewe. You can find that on the podcast or on our YouTube channel. Sally builds website packages for the alternative health niche. It’s similar to the type of work Jonathan does but different in that it’s like super niche specific, and she’s doing it for these healthcare initiatives to manage their practice and to teach online. This is the last segment of the show, Jonathan. For a pro person who’s admiring what you’ve built here and is thinking about doing some kind of niche WordPress hosting for a particular niche or whatever, what have you learned or what would you advise if somebody is thinking of putting together a package like this to really create a ton of value at a great price and remove a bunch of friction? What would you tell that type of WordPress entrepreneur?

Jonathan Denwood: Well, I think I’ve invested very heavily in the WordPress community and also in online marketing. It’s taken over the three years to build up WP-Tonic to the level I’ve got it at the present moment, and we are increasingly getting more inquiries and getting more clients signing up, because unfortunately they rapidly learn quite quickly the restrictions of these online fully SaaS platforms. And basically they just want to own their own website and their own business basically but they don’t want to have to work out all this reliance solely on one developer and work out all this what’s the best stack so they’re attracted to our solution.

When it comes to, I think you really, really, unless you got the money and time connected to online marketing, you really got to select a niche, like the lady that you’ve just pointed out. She selected natural healthcare as a niche. I think you really, really would be advised to find a really suitable niche. Otherwise, I think you’re going to have a tough time, Chris.

Chris Badgett: That’s some great advice. And if somebody’s just out there, let’s imagine it’s somebody who would be a good fit for the WP-Tonic WordPress hosting design for course creators and they’re waffling between Kajabi and WordPress and LifterLMS or whatever, what would you say to that person to make the case for WordPress and Lifter and potentially your platform as a place to launch their business or improve it from where its current state is?

Jonathan Denwood: Well, I just want to point out something like Kajabi and some of these other SaaS platforms don’t. There’s normally no automatic way of getting your content out of their platforms. [crosstalk]

Chris Badgett: It’s sticky to the point of being trapped. I didn’t know this about you and I learned it in this episode, which is, yes, you’re sticky. Once people get in and they build a successful business, they don’t want to leave. Therefore, they stick. But you do not hold them prisoner. In fact, you will help them leave.

Jonathan Denwood: You never leave [crosstalk] unless you cough up a enormous amount of money you’re stuck with us.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, you help them get out of there, which is very admirable and professional. I think that’s very smart and generous.

Jonathan Denwood: Well, we want to be sticky, sticky in a positive way that we offer such good value and good service that why would you want to leave us? Where I’m not disparaging Kajabi, but if you ever have been involved in a medium size membership website done in a platform like Kajabi, to migrate you out is very expensive and no exercise to be taken half-hearted, but still loads of people do it. I just feel very good at… And there was truth in the criticism which we’ve discussed in this episode about there being too much choice in WordPress, which is good and bad. And also, it got a bad rap because I feel because of poor quality hosting.

And also the other thing you got to take into mind is that we built… I haven’t finished it, but I will be [inaudible] a very in depth course myself about how to set up our platform, and that’s almost finished. But we provide a lot of support in that first month to our clients. You can have multiple Zooms with me and we provide the best resources from you and the WordPress community that will show them how to build something out. We got a list of the best videos, the best written tutorials which we supply. Then they can also have a Zoom with us and get them unstuck.

So not only do we offer a great platform, we also offer a lot more support than you would get from a normal. And we do that because it benefits the client and It benefits us. Because if they can get over that initial hump, Chris, and build their course, that will mean that they will stay with us a lot longer. It also benefit the client because they just want to have a half finish course on their hands which they never got finished.

Chris Badgett: That’s a great point. This is Jonathan Denwood. He’s from WP-Tonic. You can find him at wp-tonic.com. Any final words for the people.

Jonathan Denwood: Well, if you’re interested, what you can do on the WP-Tonic website, you can book a demo consultation. When you click the button, it’s a really big button right in the front website, you’ll be taken to a very short questionnaire where we ask you about half a dozen questions just so when it comes to the demo and the consultation we can tell which areas we should be discussing so we really pinpoint in your pain point. But that’s normally half hour to 45 minutes, so I normally record the discussion and then the possible client could download it. And it has great value on its own. We try and make as assessable as possible, Chris.

Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming back on the show, Jonathan. We really appreciate it and we’ll catch you down the road.

Jonathan Denwood: Great, Chris. Really enjoyed it.

Chris Badgett: And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. Did you enjoy that episode? Tell your friends, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode. And I’ve got a gift for you over at lifterlms.com/gift. Go to lifterlms.com/gift. Keep learning, keep taking action, and I’ll see you in the next episode.

Exclusive Download: 2021 WordPress LMS Buyer’s Guide – Stop wasting time and money researching online course and membership site tech.

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