In Wix's backyard: Two Israeli startups vying for website builders

Elementor's Yoni Luksenberg and Duda's Itai Sadan  credit: Eyal Izhar; Duda
Elementor's Yoni Luksenberg and Duda's Itai Sadan credit: Eyal Izhar; Duda

Duda has raised a lot more money, but Elementor has created a huge open-source community that it’s trying to convert into revenue.

The website builder market is divided almost equally between the camp of open-source content management system WordPress, and the rest of the world, which includes closed platforms. According to a survey conducted by W3Techs, WordPress - the free open-source platform established 18 years ago to create blogs - is used by 43% of the top 10 million most popular sites on the Internet. On the closed platform side, counting just the top three, the market is more decentralized, with Shopify powering 4.4% of the most popular sites, Wix 2.2%, and Squarespace 1.9%.

This contrast between the two approaches, which some people compare to the difference between open Android and closed iPhone, is expressed beautifully through the controversy sparked by a series of commercials issued by Wix last year under the slogan "You Deserve Better". The ads showed a web developer complaining to his therapist about all the troubles he was having with open-source WordPress, from security issues to multiple updates. "WordPress reminds me of my father, because they both give me zero support," the developer tells his psychologist.

Those who did not particularly appreciate the humor in the commercials were many avid WordPress supporters, including its founder, Matt Mullenweg, who hit back at Wix for not allowing creators to export their content, "like a roach motel where you can check in but never check out."

Wix is, of course, the best-known and largest Israeli company in the web builder world, but it is not the only one. There are two other relatively veteran Israeli start-ups operating in this sector, one of which belongs to the WordPress camp and the other to its opponents. Like Wix, startup Duda offers a standalone content management, design and storage system. Elementor, on the other hand, is developing a free plugin for WordPress that adds professional website design capabilities.

Web developers vs. agencies

Over the past year, Wix has received quite a few negative headlines due to the collapse in its share price, from a peak market cap of about $20 billion to its present $5.5 billion. In Israeli terms, however, it is still a huge company. It offers a broad set of products, and appeals to the general public, from the traditional Wix market of small business owners looking to set up a website easily, to professional web designers and web design agencies, to whom it offers Editor X, launched in 2020. Duda and Elementor, on the other hand, are more limited in their offerings, and cater to a more targeted market.

Duda, the older of the two, was founded by CEO Itai Sadan and Chief Technology Officer Amir Glatt in 2010 as Duda Mobile. It initially engaged in the development of websites specifically for mobile devices. After responsive web technology gained momentum, enabling optimization of any website for any type of screen, Duda realized they needed to make a change. Since 2014, Duda (which cut "Mobile" from its name) has been developing a tool designed primarily for professional website building agencies, which make up the majority of its 18,000 customers.

Duda's other target market is platforms that integrate the company's web design platform and sell it as their own. For example, web hosting company GoDaddy markets Duda in some countries as a website design solution for customers who have purchased storage space. As part of Duda's partnership with Tripadvisor, the tourism platform offers hotels the option of setting up their own websites using pictures they have already uploaded to it.

Elementor was founded in 2015 by web developer and designer Yoni Luksenberg, the company’s CEO, and Chief Technology Officer Ariel Klikstein, who worked for years as an outsourced services team, building custom websites using WordPress. From that business, they expanded into selling WordPress design themes, before developing a plugin featuring a general visual editor, their current product.

Elementor defines its target market a little more broadly than Duda and it caters to web creators, a category that includes agencies and freelance website builders, but also professionals like wedding photographers, who build their own websites. Software review site Capterra awards Duda and Elementor similarly high scores of 4.6 and 4.7, respectively, out of a possible 5.

Large customer base vs. high price points

Neither Duda nor Elementor discloses exact revenue figures - estimated in the tens of millions of dollars in annual recurring revenue (ARR) - nor their valuations. Duda has raised $100 million to date, of which $50 million was in its most recent round, last year, led by Claridge Israel. Elementor, on the other hand, has raised only $16 million to date, the vast majority from US-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, which led its only significant round in 2020. Despite this, Elementor is the larger company in terms of staff, employing 370 people, compared with 220 at Duda. It is also growing faster in terms of recruitment, having grown 47% in the past year, while Duda has only grown by 22%, according to LinkedIn data.

Elementor's great advantage lies in the large community that has formed around its free open-source version. Elementor has 215,000 followers on its Facebook page, for example, which compares with only 50,000 for Duda. This advantage is also reflected in their W3Techs survey results, according to which 7% of the top 10 million sites were built using Elementor, an increase from 5% a year ago. This makes Elementor the second most popular WordPress plugin out of about 60,000 plugins. By contrast, only 0.2% of the major sites were built using Duda, according to W3Techs.

However, the vast majority of sites built using Elementor are based on the free version. The company reports that out of about 10 million active Elementor-based sites, only half a million are paying customers. Because Duda traditionally offers an end-to-end package, including storage and content management, it can also charge a higher price, starting at $168 a year for the most basic package. Elementor's traditional product, on the other hand, is a design-only plugin that starts at $49 a year.

Competing with Wix and other challenges

Given their different business models, the major challenges facing Elementor and Duda also differ. Elementor's main goal seems to be to convert its very large user community into a more significant revenue stream. To this end, the company launched a web hosting service last month, and it now sells a plugin and hosting bundle starting at $99 a year, double the price of the plugin alone.

Conversely, Duda's goal is to reinforce its offering to web development agencies in the face of growing competition from players like Wix, which between 2019 to 2021 tripled its revenue from professional agencies and designers. For this purpose, Duda is developing capabilities that will attract those agencies, such as payment collection and real time customer feedback capabilities.

The bottom line: Elementor is unique in its industry, not only because of its ultra-Orthodox founders, but also because it has built a third-party plugin for another program - not your typical startup choice. But the company has managed to gain significant popularity that it now needs to translate into revenue. Duda, on the other hand, is a more traditional start-up that focuses on a specific niche in the website building market, a niche that giant players are also trying to conquer.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on March 30, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Elementor's Yoni Luksenberg and Duda's Itai Sadan  credit: Eyal Izhar; Duda
Elementor's Yoni Luksenberg and Duda's Itai Sadan credit: Eyal Izhar; Duda
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