Hosting

Interview With WP Engine CEO

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You host over 30,000 websites, when did WP Engine begin to gain traction?

I had three dozen customers before I had a product, a team, a website, or even a company name, so in that sense “traction” came before the product. We’ve grown every month since inception, and the growth *rate* has also grown every month, so there wasn’t a specific point where we suddenly had traction.

As a premium host, you use top of the line hardware and provide expert support. What else differentiates you from other web hosting companies?

(1) We’re the fastest, as measured by Pingdom, a 3rd-party service.
(2) We have larger sites than anyone except WordPress VIP, which means we know how to scale better than almost anyone.
(3) We guarantee security, in the sense that if you’re ever hacked, we’ll un-hack you for free.
(4) We have more WordPress-knowledgeable tech support staffers per 1000 customers than anyone, which means we have the time to solve your special problems.
(5) We’re the only hosting company who lets you try us for 15 days, free.
(6) We’re the only hosting company with an investment from Automattic, which doesn’t automatically mean we’re better, and doesn’t mean we’re “favored” — Automattic is great about NOT favoring any one vendor — but it does mean we have the support and assistance of all the smart folks there to help us make the best service we can.
(7) We give you a staging area where you can test changes to your site before making them live.

You didn’t start WP Engine until you had 30 people saying they WILL give you $49/month. What are some of the other ways you can validate a business model before starting up?

Personally that’s the only method I like.

If you can’t find people who are willing to part with money, you don’t have a business, you have an idea that might be cool and might someday become a business. But that’s not validation! That’s a stab.

Even if you want to do the freemium model, it’s not a business unless some of them convert to paying customers, so you need to validate that *those* people exist.

You closed $1.2 million in funding November 2011. Why did you decide to fund WP Engine after bootstrapping previous startups?

WP Engine started self-funded (really a small set of folks who knew each other — not at all a formal “round”) and we got profitable in 7 months. We hired two people and got profitable again in another 6 months.

At that point we could have just grown at a certain rate and been profitable, or we could have double-downed and see whether we can grow much faster, but with the cash resources to do that with a better and better service and more offerings. We decided that would be interesting, fun, and warranted.