CGC Early Access Delayed

Unfortunately I have to delay opening Conscious Growth Club for early access. It’s going to be at least a couple of weeks before we can start inviting people to register.

Initially I’d intended to start sending invites on Friday, March 31. But during testing I encountered a problem with PayPal not referring people back to the correct page on my site. I called PayPal, and their support person was very helpful, verifying that all of the settings on my account were correct. He spent a full 20 minutes on the phone with me checking every possibility. It seemed like a problem on their end, possibly related to a change I asked them to make to my account a week earlier so my account would support certain recurring billing features, which was necessary for the CGC payment plans. The PayPal department that ultimately needed to address the issue wasn’t open till Monday, so I got a call on Monday afternoon from a person on that team, and everything was fixed.

Then I discovered later on Monday that some of the emails (like the receipt email) weren’t sending properly. It was a minor issue, and I got that fixed too. Everything passed testing, and I planned to start sending invites on Tuesday.

On Tuesday I’d be driving to Phoenix from 10am to 3pm. I’m here for the PLF Live conference this week. I pondered whether I should start sending the invite emails in the morning before I left, but I felt it would be best to do it after I arrived in Phoenix. Then I could start sending the invites around 4pm and have the rest of the evening in a quiet hotel room to interact in the new forums with the first people who signed up. While I wouldn’t be as available during the conference, I could still welcome people in the forums in the mornings and at night, and Rachelle would be available the whole time to monitor things throughout the week and to interact with people.

When I got to the hotel room and set up my laptop, I quickly saw that my website was displaying error messages on every page. It turned out that WooCommerce 3.0.0 had been released while I was driving, and my site automatically updated the plugin to the new version. WooCommerce Subscriptions, which I also use, was updated slightly later, and so these two fell out of sync, which was causing the error messages. So I updated that plugin and a few other plugins that needed updating, and the errors went away. I sighed as I realized that due to this major new release, I’d have to retest the CGC registration process just to be on the safe side. I didn’t expect that to take long though.

My testing quickly revealed that this new update broke the ordering process in multiple ways. First, the WooCommerce Stripe plugin, which processes credit card orders, was generating error messages on the checkout page, so it couldn’t even process credit card orders. Second, the update broke some of the page styling, which was making some details of the layout look ugly and misaligned. Third, this update changed some of the base templates used to build the checkout pages, so those would have to be redone. And fourth, it broke the emails, so no receipt or welcome emails were being sent.

On the one hand, I was pretty annoyed. WooCommerce has a history of screwing over their users like this in the past with updates that break previously working features, but I’d thought those days were behind them. After all, this is the most popular ecommerce system out there. Even so, I figured these would be fixable issues that would maybe delay things by a few hours. I fixed the styling issues and updated the templates without much trouble, but even after trying many approaches and contacting WooCommerce support at least three times, the emails and the credit card payments remain broken. I’m sure they can be fixed eventually, but that’s going to take time.

On the other hand, I was also relieved that I hadn’t sent any invites earlier. Otherwise we’d be stuck with a broken checkout process while people were trying to join CGC. The mysterious PayPal issue may have been a blessing in disguise since it slowed me down by a few days, causing these WooCommerce issues to occur only hours before I was about to start sent out invites. So I’m grateful these problems occurred when they did. The timing could have been a lot worse. I feel sad for the WooCommerce users who are finding their online stores broken today after installing the latest update.

Normally having plugins auto-update is fine, but with something like WooCommerce, it’s risky to let it auto-update on a live site as I’ve discovered.

Since I have a conference to attend from today (Wednesday) through Sunday, I’ll have to table working on this till I get back to Vegas next week. This is a big event with more than 1000 people attending, and I need to be present while I’m here. The event is specifically about doing effective launches, so it’s part of my learning process for preparing for the full CGC launch a few months from now.

This situation has encouraged me to pause and consider whether I want to keep using WooCommerce. It’s a popular platform with a lot of features, but getting it to work intelligently from a user’s perspective has taken a lot of customization work. All in all, it’s been a frustrating platform to use, but I have a high tolerance for frustration, so I’ve pushed through a lot of issues to get things working properly. My customizations are pretty commonplace – nothing fancy – such as tweaking the emails that are sent and directing people to a custom thank you page after signing up. This extra effort isn’t an issue by itself, but if the WooCommerce team continues putting out releases that break previous work, I just don’t feel I can trust their direction. I’m looking for a stable platform I can build upon in the years ahead. I’m coming to see that WooCommerce isn’t the right choice. Overall I’ve found this platform disappointing.

Since I have to focus on the conference anyway for the next several days, I’ll take some time to consider next steps regarding the CGC early access signup process. At this point I think it’s likely that I’ll just dump WooCommerce outright and start fresh with something else. Even if I fix the immediate problems with WooCommerce and get it working again next week, I just don’t feel safe using it and building upon it further. I’ve been using it for about a year, including for registrations for last year’s workshops. and based on what I’ve experienced thus far, I think the development team is making some very questionable decisions that are likely to cause me more issues in the long run.

Most of the customizations I made with WooCommerce could be readily applied to a different platform without too much difficulty, but if I switch platforms now, it will delay opening CGC for early access by at least a couple of weeks. I’ll take a fresh look at this next week, but my priority is to lay an intelligent foundation for the years ahead, not to force a square peg into a round hole.

I’m sorry for the delay. I’d really wanted to let people join CGC sooner, especially since many people are excited to be part of the early access. Sometimes you just have to bow to reality, be flexible, and pivot. We’ll get this working one way or another.