July 31, 2018

How I made $18k on CodeCanyon as an Indie Developer

A story of my side project

As an author I've made over 1,880 sales and earned about $18k in net profit on CodeCanyon. In this article I'll share learned lessons and my experience of being an author at Envato Marketplaces.


Who might not like the idea of having some passive/semi-passive income? :) First time I think about it after reading a 4-hours a week back in 2008. And think about that idea again after reading Rework back in 2010.

In 2011 I've started working with WordPress, and published my first free plugins in summer 2012. Despite the fact that my plugins haven't been excellently coded, users liked them and I started to think about launching some premium plugins. But I absolutely had no idea how to sell them.

I spent a lot of time on research, looking into existing plugins, distribution options and so on. I ended up with a decision to try to sell items via CodeCanyon (Envato Marketplace). Their fees are pretty high (they keep about 50% of your total sales), however they have a large customers base, so after research and looking at sales stats of other plugins I decided to give it a shot.

Releasing first plugins  

In march 2014 I started working on my first premium plugin. The idea of the plugin was pretty simple - it added an ability to add password-protected Client Area to the Wordpress website, where the user will be able to log-in and track the project status, download the files, and so on.

It took me about 2 weeks to build the plugin from scratch and another week to write the documentation and record some intro video. The plugin was approved on CodeCanyon at the end of March 2014 and had just few sales. It wasn't stopped me, so I've developed my next plugin within next few weeks, it was approved at the beginning of April 2014. And I've made about $770 net profit in first month! Spoiler: This plugin was made about 80% of my sales at all time.

After that I've released about 8 more plugins, on average I've been able to develop 2 plugins per months from idea to production.

First fail: trying to release a WordPress theme

I saw all these top-selling WordPress themes earning about $20k+/month and started to thinking about releasing my first premium theme. I though it will be an easy task, but I did not even realize how wrong I was at that moment.

I spent next 6 months (Sep 2014 to Feb 2015) working on my theme, I put too much effort into this product however haven't been able to finish it as I wanted to implement to much features - I've built entirely new theme framework and created about 10 custom plugins to manage custom taxanomies and theme options. Although I was still far away from the release.

Looking back, it's obvious that I made a few key mistakes: I underestimated the complexity of developing a Premium WordPress theme and overestimated my abilities to develop top-notch product in reasonable time.

Second fail: trying to launch more complex plugins

After a fail with WordPress theme, I decided to go  back to the plugin development. I saw other plugins on the market - and I was delighted. All my plugins in comparison to them where just too simple. So I tried to build and launch a few more complex plugins for WordPress in 2015 under a different brand. But with no success: I spent about 4 weeks on each plugin, however these plugins made me a few hundreds dollars within first few months and than sales dropped almost entirely.

I'm not sure why it happened, I haven't received any negative feedback from my customers. I assume that WordPress niche on CodeCanyon became too much crowded.

Third fail: not releasing new features for existing plugins

While working on WordPress theme and new plugins, I stopped releasing new features for my existing plugins. As a result, my sales significantly dropped during 2015:

On the screenshot above you may see the sales trend. And yes, Envato fees took about $14,000  (54%) of my total earnings which is ABSOLUTELY SICK!

At the same time I felt that my skills as a web-developer started to be outdated due to WordPress eco-system. So I decided to remove all my plugins from CodeCanyon, switch to Laravel Framework and drop WordPress development entirely.

Was it worth it?

Definitely it worth it, although I haven't earned a lot of money, I learned a lot about developing and launching side projects, about monetization, organizing technical support, writing documentation and so on.

Note: "Support Dropped" means that I've stopped developing new features for existing plugins.

Lessons learned

I want to share few lessons I've learned:

Lesson #1

Start with something and see how far you can go with this idea.

Lesson #2

Do not underestimate the complexity of the product, and do not overestimate your resources.

Lesson #3

Build a product you'll be proud of. Otherwise it will not work in long term.

Lesson #4

Sometimes things aren't worked as you expected. I'll have to accept this.

Lesson #5 

Do not give up if your first product failed. Try again with another idea.

Will I use CodeCanyon again?

The answer is no. And here is why:

As an author, I dislike the following:

  • High marketplace fees (they keep ~50% of all your sales);
  • High competition - there are a lot of WordPress plugins is published every day;
  • CodeCanyon does not provide any customer contact information;
  • Limited pricing options;

As a customer - I have bought more than 50 items from CodeCanyon, ThemeForest and GraphicRiver and I would say that 99% of all items are just waste of money, the code quality isn't good, some products have security issues and so on. However, print templates from GraphicRiver were pretty good.

Still want to try?

Okay, so if you'd want to try to build your own WordPress plugin business these days, I'd recommend you to release a free "Lite" version of the plugin on WordPress official plugins directory.

Then, if you see that plugin has enough downloads, you may build a paid "Pro" version and sell it through your own website (you may use EasyDigitalDownloads or Gumroad/Fastsrping, etc.). And do not forget to add a link in "Lite" version to your "Pro" version.

You may also launch on CodeCanyon and then move to your own website, as guys from Epic Plugins did.


Launching a product isn't too hard as it may seems at a first glance. Just start with something and keep going. If you stuck with something - I'd recommend to take a break and change your point of focus.

It is possible to make a living from a side-projects, but it will be easier if you're living in a country with low cost of living (like India, Thailand, Russia, etc). And it will be harder if you're living in a country with moderate/high cost of living, like the United States, Western Europe, Australia, etc.

Do you have any questions or maybe want to share your experience? Feel free to contact me, I'd love to hear your story!

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