If you haven’t read Part 1 of behind the scenes, please to go read so you can get the back story and this might make a little more sense. πŸ˜‰

When I met David and he reached out looking for assistance in getting Unslaved.com up and running he mentioned that there was some urgency in getting this up and running as his project was launching in 10 days. My first thought was, “Most of this must be done already and I just need to make some tweaks so this should be a piece of cake.” I couldn’t have been more wrong… I won’t get into the details, but David had an arrangement with someone and they basically left him hung out to dry and there was very little done. I had to basically start from scratch and create a whole new site.

htmlcode (1)I have created a lot of websites in the past, so I wasn’t panicking too much. I chose to use WordPress as the framework and from there I new I would be able to get plugins to make the membership side of the website working (the membership side of things was what I was scared about but didn’t tell David.). David and I worked closely together to nail down the design he envisioned for the project and I took all of his ideas ran with them. If you remember from my first post, I am a System Administrator and have a full-time job so my day consisted of getting up at the crack of dawn, going to work and trying not to think about and work on the Unslaved project and trying to just do my regular work.. It was tough as I new I didn’t have much time… (There may have been a few hours during my work day where I worked on the website ;-)) I would race home from work every day and just live in front of my computer and plug away at the website. Very little time was spent with my wife and kids during this time. I am so glad I have the family I do as they are all so supportive and understanding. Thanks L,B & T! (Enough of the mushy stuff :-)) I finished the design and major part of the website in about 6 days and David and Michael were good with it. Now the membership portion of the website had to be setup, and this is where I had little experience…

frustratedThe first membership plugin I choose really through us for a loop. On the surface, the plugin I chose seemed to check all the boxes and reading the features I thought this was the perfect plugin. Unlike a lot of software we allΒ  use for Windows or MAC, there is usually a trial or demo version you can download, install and test to make sure everything works as advertised and if you are satisfied you can purchase or keep on searching. With WordPress plugins, this isn’t the case for most plugins, and you have to trust the developers and their sales pitch. This was the first mistake… Too trusting. After installing the plugin I start the setup and I got the membership side of the site setup, but everything was a struggle to get to work. The Payment gateways, the membership levels, the end user experience… The list goes on. I forged on and hacked my way through the setup which took up 3 days. Remember the 10 days to launch? So if you’re keeping score that was 6 days for Design and now 3 days for membership so we are at 9 days.. That leaves us 1 day until the launch.

David and myself are now madly testing the signup process and making sure the payments side of things are working and that when a user signs up they indeed get access to the content and also making sure there are no backdoors. After hours of testing we are confident we can launch. David chooses to launch the next day and invites my family and me over for dinner to watch the launch.

I still remember walking into David’s house on launch day and the smell of the house! David’s wife was whipping up her famous Strogonoff (OMG, best stroganoff EVER). I think she was bribing me.. πŸ™‚ After I shoveled my face and ate way too much we launched. To be honest, I didn’t really think there’d be that many people signing up even though David thought there would be. (everyone thinks their project is the best and I thought David was highfivethinking like that) Not knowing Michael before i started I obviously didn’t realize he has some of the most loyal followers. With no exaggeration, the moment we launched we had people signing up. I was honestly shocked, excited and a little nervous. Shocked and excited that people were already signing up and nervous as I wanted everything to work! We watched as people were signing up and like little kids, we were high fiving and fist pumping. Oh and I forgot to mention we launched at a time where most people were probably in bed.

I left David’s house feeling really good (and full) and was at ease as everything seemed to be working. The next day I went to coach my son’s football game (I love football and love coaching it even more.) and was really into the game but my phone kept on ringing. I just left it in my pocket and didn’t look at it until half time (My wife tells me i take coaching too seriously!). I noticed it was David calling so I called him back right away. David was in a bit of panic as the site was crashing, not loading and the users couldn’t watch the podcast! The issue was we had too many users on the site and it was crashing! A good problem to have but it looks bad on us only being the second day. I got David to login to our Digital Ocean account and increase the CPU and Memory on the server and in 5 minutes we had everything running smoothly again. That’s the beauty of using Digital Ocean for hosting as you can scale up or down really easily. After getting off the phone with David I went back to coaching and we won the game. We were up 28 – 0 at half time and ended winning 35 – 28. It was an intense 2nd half…

digitaloceangraphsI got home and starting looking at Digital Ocean and looking at the traffic logs and realized why I needed to throw more cpu and memory at it. We were hosting all the videos and audio directly from our website and not offloading that. I made this decision early on in the design process as I figured there wasn’t going to be that much traffic. WRONG! I experimented with a couple of options, and we settled with hosing our videos with Vimeo. We have unlimited storage and to date we have been very happy with it. We have future plans of possibly hosting our videos on Amazon S3 or something similar and using our own customizable player. I am in the process of experimenting right now.

After we go the performance worked out and the site running smoothly we started having issues with the membership plugin. Like i mentioned before, everything was a struggle with this plugin. Our biggest issue seemed to be with it communicating with PayPal. The problem seemed intermittent but so did everything with that plugin. After many attempts of fixing, patching, hacking the plugin I gave up and cried uncle! I was on a mission to find a new plugin to handle memberships. After reading many reviews and talking to other developers I found the plugin! We chose to go with MememberPress, and we couldn’t have been happier. It was a dream to setup and configure, and their support is top notch. We did have one issue, though. It was importing all the data from the old membership plugin to Memberpress. Memberpress was able to accept any data I wanted to import but to get the data from the old plugin was difficult. I did the best I could with the poor support I got from the old plugins support team and began the migration. It worked for the most part but there was an issue importing the info needed for PayPal and our other payment gateways. Because the old plugin wasn’t updating properly with the info from PayPal and the other gateway all the data was wrong and when I imported it basically locked a lot of users out. Now the fun began! I had to manually update almost all the memberships with their correct information and cross-reference it with all of our payment gateways. (Very tedious and time consuming) For any user that experienced problems I personally apologize. I worked as fast as could to get everyone backup and running and the ones that I missed I appreciate your patience and thanks for putting in support tickets. Lesson learned. If anyone reading this and ventures into creating a membership site in WordPress and needs assistance or has questions, leave a comment below and I will help out where I can or give you advice on what not to do.. πŸ™‚
After the membership plugin hell, I went through we decided to re-design the website to what it looks like today. The new design was to make it easier for our users to find what they were looking and to make it easier for Michael to post what he wanted to post. We also found that the new design was mobile friendly as the statistics show that over half our visitors and users are on mobile devices. The re-design was a lot easier this time as I was not under any time constraints or pressure to get it up and running in a few days. We got a lot of positive feedback from our user and the feedback was very much appreciated. I would like to ask for more feedback from the users and see if they want anything changed, added or do you guys want it to stay the same. Please leave comments in the comments section below.

I just looked up and realized I have written a lot. I will leave it here for now and fill in any gaps in upcoming posts.

TLDR; Built unslaved.com in 10 days and watched a lot of users signup as soone as we launched. Fixed issues with performance of the website and loves Digital Ocean. Hates the old membership plugin, loves the new membership plugin (Memberpress) and personally apologizes to all users that experienced issues during the migration.

Thanks for reading. Back to pushing buttons!

Cheers

4 COMMENTS

  1. I didn’t know this was a WordPress site. I’m used to seeing the little “this site is powered by WordPress” at the bottom. It’s a beautiful site.

  2. Nicely done Ryan! I was late to the party, so missed all the early glitches. I really find the site and from what I recall, the sign-up process very friendly and intuitive.

    You just reminded me of one suggestion I have, if it’s possible. I also access the podcasts largely from my phone. My phone is iPhone 6s, and switching from the ‘free hour’ to the members content is quite awkward. Also, with my phone, if I stick to strictly going to the member section via the browser, I often lose the page, have to re-login, etc….unsure if it’s possible to have a ‘paid’ podcast auto-download like the free hours?

    PS I’ve been using Skype a lot this year for person-to-person, and group conferences. Can you recommend a more reliable app? I tried downloading the app you mentioned in Part 1, but I must be missing something…thanks!

    Neil.

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