#661 WP-Tonic Show With Special Guest  Patrick Gallagher Founder of Gridpane

We Talk About a New Type of Managed WordPress Hosting Service That’s Gaining Popularity With Patrick Gallagher Founder of Gridpane

Patrick is obsessed with behavioral economics and its implications across every level of business and marketing. Every day he works to integrate those insights into his clients’ businesses and their lives. Our goals invariably are focused around driving more traffic, better conversions, and higher revenues, but what he really wants is for the people that work with him is the same thing that he wants for himself: a systematized business, built on unfair advantages, that provides autonomy and time freedom.

Here a Great Special Offer 25% Off From Gridpane For The WP-Tonic Tribe.

Intro: Welcome to the WP-Tonic podcast where each week Jonathan and his co-host interview, the leading experts in WordPress, e-learning, and online marketing. Jonathan, take it away.

Johnathan Denwood: Welcome back folks, to the WP-Tonic Show, it’s episode 661. I’ve been really looking forward to this interview, actually, I look forward to all the interviews but I was really looking forward to this one. We’ve got Patrick Gallagher, the founder of GridPane with us, so Patrick, could you give us a quick intro, quick 22nd intro about yourself and about GridPane?

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah so, I ran my own marketing and technology consultancy for almost 13-years built a whole bunch of websites, WordPress websites specifically, in that time, and used certainly every terrible host in the business, but a handful of good ones too. And it was actually after the second time that I canceled from a really well-known managed WordPress host that I figured, the hell with it, I need to solve this problem once and for all, for myself and for my clients.

And so, I started building the tools that we were using internally, just an arsenal for ourselves, and after about a year of investing in that, I realized, well, maybe that’s actually the more interesting business. And so, we launched GridPane in February of 2018; grew slowly throughout that year, getting feedback, iterating, and then started to kind of pop in 2019, and we’ve just been growing ever since then. So, we help serious WordPress shops sort of slay their hosting dragons once and for all.

Johnathan Denwood: Oh, that’s great, and I’ve got my great co-host, Steven. Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the new listeners and viewers?

Steven Sauder: Yeah, my name’s Steven Sauder from zipfish.io, and a little known fact, we actually use GridPane for everything; we started using them in 2019. So, we use LikePlus, cPanel stuff, all the managed WordPress hosting stuff and no one beats it in speed. So, if you’re looking to manage servers, they’re the guys.

Johnathan Denwood: Alright, he’s already got a fan.

Patrick Gallagher: I didn’t even pay for that to happen, to go on the record; when I saw that Steven was going to be on it, I’m like, oh, wow, this is [Cross-Talking 02:20].

Johnathan Denwood: All right, so before we go into the main part of the interview, I just want to talk about one of our sponsors, who’s been sponsoring the show for over three years now, and that’s Kinsta Hosting. Kinsta hosting is a premier WordPress hosting provider, if you’re looking for quality hosting at a reasonable price, for yourself or for your clients, I suggest you go over to Kinsta. They’ve got all the bells and whistles, one-click backup, can change the version of PHP, has a great interface, great support, so if that’s interesting, go over to Kinsta.

And the main thing, if you do decide to buy one of their plans and I suggest that you should do, is tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show that really does help Kinsta and it helps us as well. So, let’s go into the main part of the interview. So, you mentioned that you were in the agency marketing world for about 13years, so you really took what my first question was, your background and why you started GridPane, but it’s still a big jump, isn’t it?

From a marketing, WordPress development design agency to starting your own hosting; what were some of the initial hurdles that you had to overcome in that actual change? I think that’s a good start of the interview, hopefully, Patrick.

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah so, the first thing that I had to do was fire all of my clients, and so, that was interesting. I had a bit of experience with it; I had fired toxic clients before certainly, but I knew that if I was going to go all-in on this and invest fully of my time and far more money than my wife would have preferred I just had to clean the slate. And so, that was challenging and there are still a couple of lingering people that I’m very, very fond of that are sort of still in my private client group, that they’re just running a GridPane account basically.

But finding good developers when you don’t necessarily know how to tell the difference, was a big one. I knew how to do all kinds of stuff inside of WordPress itself but I wasn’t competent to be able to tell whether that frontend developer knew Vue.js, I could look at the end result and go, well, that works, but I went through a lot of challenges there. And then, I would say probably over the last three years, the biggest learning has been in finding quality talent, and being able to know the difference, and being able to kind of figure out your own sort of sniff test around who makes sense funding the work.

We don’t have any outside investment; we don’t have any traditional VC investment. So, that’s always been an interesting part of the ride. Yeah, I think the thing that we’ve done really, really well is that in the beginning, we had all kinds of problems, things were basically always on fire because it was just sort of ragtag and held together by duct tape. And so, my co-founder and I, Jeff, just always jumped on everything as fast as we possibly could, and so, that started to create this reputation of just outstanding customer support.

And it was like, yeah, it’s outstanding because it was like, they didn’t realize that we were just jumping on grenades. And fortunately, we were able to keep everything sort of held together long enough that the platform got stable, the product got stable. And we were able to round out the support team and the development team, and we’re far more polished now than when we launched.

Johnathan Denwood: Right, before I through it over to Steven, there’s just a follow-up question. Well, there’re two paths here, I think, later on, I’m going to ask you about how you identify good development talent because I’ve had similar problems myself. But my follow-through question is, I think we have a lot of new companies or startups, whatever the way you want to call them, is finding the real market fit. How long did it take you before you really were happy with how you were fitting into the market that you found your real niche, the way to explain why people should care, and the real needs that you were satisfying?

Patrick Gallagher: So yeah, that was something that if I knew then what I know now, I think we would be in a different place. Because we spent probably a year mostly just again, just taking feedback, iterating, making sort of incremental improvements to the platform. And we really started as this hosting control panel and so, we got compared to RunCloud and ServerPilot, cPanel and Flask, and all these other options. And so, in some ways, some of the pricing that we had, it was just like, well, this is really expensive as compared to other hosting control panels.

But then in 2019, I think when things started to flip for us, I literally remember the day, it was somebody asked a question and somebody in a Facebook group said GridPane, and then somebody said, plus one below that, liked their post and then said, plus one. And then that was when we started having double-digit month over month growth from that point onward and then really through the end of 2019, and then it became much more apparent in 2020.

When we had people coming to us from Kinsta, when we had people coming to us from WP Engine, from Flywheel, then we realized that it’s like, yeah, we’re not, yes; some of what we do, you could say it’s a hosting control panel and you could put it in that neat box. But we’re really sort of finding our place now as a hosting partner to serious WordPress agencies, and so, I felt based upon our growth in 2019, like, oh, this is what product-market fit feels like.

And it’s like, once we actually started to talk to serious agencies, like Steven’s and just hearing that it’s like, oh, we’re just having so much more impact for those people, then it was like, wait, no, that’s what product-market fit feels like. When the sale isn’t a sale, it’s just, we’re asking questions and I’m making sure that they’re a good fit for us, and I’m making sure that we can check all the boxes that they need, that’s when it was like, oh, that’s what we are.

And so, we never really pivoted, we just sort of figured out who we spoke to the best and who we had the most impact for, and it wasn’t the message changed, it just resonated more with them.

Johnathan Denwood: Yeah, over to you, Steven.

Steven Sauder: When people are coming from the various hosting providers out there, or other panels and stuff to you guys, what are the pains that you’re seeing out in the industry right now? Because hosting is like this thing that has just exploded, I think Elementor is doing their own hosting now. Everybody, every service, if you have any massive plugin anywhere they’re trying to get on hosting.

Patrick Gallagher: Yup, they’ve got a cloud on

Steven Sauder: Yeah so, there’re so many options, everybody’s solving little things here and there, but you guys have this benefit of seeing this aggregate of users coming from all different places. What are those pain points that you’re seeing and why are people migrating to your solution?

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah, it’s a number of things, I think with certain providers, really large providers, there’s sort of this sense and this feel of they’re just a number, the quality of the support is still pretty high, but it feels a bit like, take a number, deli-style service, it doesn’t feel high touch to them anymore. One thing that we definitely see a lot of, especially, for sort of our ideal customer profile is that they’re a very respectful provider, they’re very, very pleased with what they get, but they really don’t ever get any kind of like plateauing or economies of scale.

The host themselves get the economies of scale. And so, as your clients succeed, the bill just keeps going up and up and up and up and up, and I think that once people start to dig in deeper and they look and they see like, okay, so that company is actually using Google compute platform as the infrastructure provider. And then they go and look at the cost at Google compute platform, and they go, wait a minute, I’m paying like an eight X or a 10 X penalty here, and I think where it really clicks is if you’re really competent at using if you’ve got your business dialed in on WordPress

And you don’t need a lot of hand-holding sort of low-level stuff, sort of reading the manual stuff, and then you’re paying for this premium support that you’re not really capitalizing on. And so, I think that providers like Kinsta, WPN, are absolutely fantastic for people that are starting, that have a handful of sites because the unit economics make a lot of sense then. But we’ve had people that have had to come from other providers where they’re like on 60 site plans, and they only had 12 sites because they were paying the PHP workers’ tax.

They had so many concurrent users that they’re just paying this extreme tax on really their success, and so value for money is a big reason that people come to us. And I think that they like that we’re just sort of transparent and accessible and we’re really building this strong community in our Facebook group and engaging in other groups. I think that they like, that it’s just sort of no BS, come as we are, sort of human beings doing business with other human beings. And I think, again, there’s sort of that feeling of there’re big monolithic IPO attract companies that sort of have lost their finger on the pulse, you know?

Steven Sauder: Yeah, for sure. How did you guys start out as far as marketing your services? I know there’re a lot of listeners that have different plugins or companies and they’re starting off in the WordPress space. How do you get into that world? How did GridPane start? How did you get the word out there that, hey, GridPane’s this awesome company?

Patrick Gallagher: So yeah, in that context, we’ve done absolutely everything wrong. So, great ways to succeed is just following what Patrick and the GridPane family do and do something else, but because we haven’t done any paid advertising, really ever. We ran paid ads for three days, and then Jeff was like, knock it off, that thing’s on fire, people will come faster and discover the fires if we’ve done anything really well, it’s been we’ve way, over-invested in outstanding customer support.

And so, if you get customer support, right, and you get people to succeed on your platform, they’re going to tell other people, and so, the other thing that we’ve sort of done right. I say we haven’t done any marketing, we’ve engaged very, very heavily in key Facebook groups, and I was doing that for at least two years, even before I launched GridPane; I was just trying to answer questions, add value, never talk down about your competitors.

I’ve probably mentioned RunCloud in certain instances, more than GridPane because I think that for certain people that need a certain thing, they’re a fantastic option, and for certain people with a certain budget, you can’t beat what they’re doing over there. And so, I think that a lot of people are just take, take, take, we see in the WP hosting group still to this day, someone will come in and ask a question and 80% of the answers don’t even remotely relate to what it is that they asked.

And it’s just buy my crap, they just shove their offer down people’s throats, and that’s just something that we’ve never, we’ve never worried about optimizing for hooking someone today. It’s like, if I add enough value, worst-case scenario, they’re going to go, naw, they’re not the right thing for me, but we still get people now to this day, that’s like, yeah, I’ve been watching you for like 18-months and I’m ready to try now.

I was just waiting to see whether or not you fizzle out, and it’s like, oh, cool, so just showing up and being consistent, I guess it’s the long shortcut, you can’t fake a reputation; you can’t just buy your way into being respected in these groups. So, that’s really all we’ve done, is we’ve done a great job on customer support, and we tried to add a lot of value where we could, and that sort of has created word of mouth and it’s created the seeds that people find all the time. So, I guess take the long way around is the answer.

Steven Sauder: Yeah, building that one-to-one interaction and user engagement always takes a lot of time, but once you get that engine going, it’s an engine that’s super hard to stop, to get a lot of momentum behind that. Did you start engaging in Facebook and stuff two years prior to starting GridPane, this is something I’m going to do, so I’m going to start getting plugged into this? Or was it just like a natural thing like, hey, I’m here and then you start this thing as a natural Avenue to marketing GridPane?

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah so, what was interesting is, as I started to work on the tools that we were going to use internally for my agency, at the time I remember I was way down the HHVM rabbit hole. For those who don’t know, HHVM was hot for a minute before PHP 7, 7.1, 7.2; it was a way to speed up WordPress, the PHP processing side of WordPress. And I remember finding a post by the CEO of Kinsta and it was in a forum somewhere, and it was the third one that I’d found, and I was like, damn it, I’m six weeks behind that guy.

We’re going down the same rabbit holes and we’re looking for the same information and posting questions and answering questions. And so, I just ended up in the WP hosting group and I’d done a lot of digging and I’d done a lot of homework and it was just, that was stuff that was fun for me to learn and to solve problems and to help people solve problems. And it was in the process of doing that, that it was like, well, wait a minute, I could upgrade my customer, instead of providing end-user hosting to a mom and pop that need one website.

I can work with people like myself because I’d gone so far on so many different axis. And so, it wasn’t it planned or like, oh, I’ll set all this bait and then I’ll change my mind, it was kind of an aha moment of, I don’t have to keep running my agency, I can change, and it was scary. But I had a lot of support from my wife who was like, do what makes you happy, you’re burned out on this stuff; you’ve done it for over a decade. You want to work with all those nerds, go work with all those nerds, and that’s what it was, and it just so happened that it helped that I sort of laid that groundwork, I guess.

Johnathan Denwood: We’re going to go for our break; I think that it’s been a great discussion so far. We’ll be back in a few moments, folks.

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Johnathan Denwood: We’re coming back, we’ve had a great discussion with Patrick, the founder of GridPane, a new form of WordPress hosting, I would say. So, what surprised me about the hosting industry, which we had Chris Lema on the show last year, Patrick, I’ve forgotten his official title at Liquid Web. But Chris put me right about the hosting business because I always think it’s dominated by GoDaddy, by Bluehost, but he informed me that it’s actually still a very fragmented industry that the majority’s still very small hosting companies.

Did you realize that yourself when you entered, how fragmented the hosting industry still is because you do kind of get the impression that in market shares it’s dominated by a couple of players, but that’s not the case, is it?

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah, no, so interesting side note, I think Chris is the SVP of product, I’m not sure but we met just briefly at WordCamp US in 2019, and interestingly enough, Liquid Web was founded by some guys here in Lansing, I’m in the greater Lansing area in Michigan, right about there. And so, Liquid Web is a big, big player in the hosting space, A2 hosting there in Ann Arbor, which is an hour from here, so for some reason, Michigan just cranks out hosting companies.

But yeah, I knew how large the industry was, all of website hosting is roughly $150 billion globally, and so if we assume that WordPress is a third of that you’ve got $50 billion worth of business there. And if you look at some of the largest players, they’re doing $150 million this year, well, that’s really a drop in the bucket in the whole big picture, and as we have expanded our reach. We have customers in 82 countries now; I was recently drilling down because we’re always looking for the providers that we can go with, where we can expand our data center reach, so we can deploy.

We just added UpCloud, they’re in the Nordics; that’s the big reason that we wanted to work with them, but I did some research and it turns out that pretty much every single country, you look at the top 10 hosts in that country and they’re all there. Like the top 10 of hosts in France are all French hosting companies, and us just being ignorant in the United States or in our little bubble, we think, oh, where’s GoDaddy on that list?

And they’re not on the list, and if you look at Spain, you look at most countries, 8 out of 10, 9 out of 10 or 10 out of 10 are, and they’re not the players that you’ve ever heard of. And so, yeah, it’s incredibly fragmented, and that’s why I think it’s a good idea to find, even your competitors that maybe you’re not going to ever do business with them. But we can send all kinds of business to every single one of our competitors and every single one of us can win because it’s a massive pie and it’s growing, and I think that everybody offers just a slightly different thing from everybody else.

And so, even though you see this consolidation, Liquid Web is just, they’re buying up plugin companies and hosting companies and they’re trying to make better and better investments inside of WordPress. They’re small by the standards of EIG and GoDaddy, and then AWS is just like an order of magnitude bigger than that, but yeah, it’s a massive industry and I think it’s definitely not too noisy, It’s definitely not too crowded.

Johnathan Denwood: Alright, over to you, Steven.

Steven Sauder: So, as you were thinking about the company that you wanted to build, everybody as we talked about a little bit earlier, everybody’s heading into the hosting space, you didn’t do that. You were like; I’m going to build this crazy hybrid thing that kind of has a foot in both worlds and does both really well. Why did you go that route versus I’m just going to set up another hosting provider, a hosting company?

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah, so again, it really was just it started as me scratching my own itch. So, the real Genesis behind it was I had a fantastic project manager who was great at WordPress, she could sell, she’s great at customer support, she was awesome, but she couldn’t spin up a server, and that was something that I could do. So, I needed just a basic UI that she could press a couple of buttons and it would provision a server.

And so, what we started building was just for us, and then the more that we got it to a point where it’s like, well, I could sell this to somebody, the more it became clear and very, very quickly, we got traction, we had a dozen or so users very quickly, just all word of mouth. We really went deep on that and we thought let’s make this the definitive hosting control panel for WordPress. At the time, really nothing like that existed, there’s arguably one or two sorts of similar solutions now.

But the deeper that we went into that the more that we realized, well, actually, we’re sort of going all the way back to what it is that we originally wanted to build for our own agency, which is the definitive tool for the job for agencies. And so, blind luck is sort of the answer, I didn’t want to go into hosting because it is noisy and it’s difficult to differentiate yourself, but I’m a big believer in, Kevin Kelly 1000 True Fans, and I’m a big fan of Seth Godin’s Minimum Viable Audience, I knew that I didn’t need to have 70,000 customers.

I know that there’s a thousand of you out there that I can connect to, I can resonate with and I can actually have a quality relationship with and I don’t have to do sleazy affiliate programs or I don’t have to do what everybody else is doing, and I can still have an impact. And so, it wasn’t cognizant at the time of like, well, we’ll keep it super narrow but it just sort of happened that it was like, oh, this is what we are, and then the more we evolved, it was like, yeah, we’re not just a hosting control panel anymore.

And who knows what we’ll call ourselves in a year from now but so long as our customers are happy I really don’t care what it’s called. Call it ham on rye, that’s fine, it’s whatever, so long as it resonates with people.

Steven Sauder: Fair enough, something that I’ve noticed with your guys’ marketing that you’ve been doing, is you’ve been reaching out into all different other educational kinds of spaces and building out courses and stuff that I’ve seen kind of on the Facebook groups. Why have you decided to take that approach into building courses and the course route versus running some Google AdWords and going back to the paper out to try to kind of increase the brand or the reach of GridPane?

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah so, in the beginning, what we sort of pictured is, well, one of our big problems in the beginning was we didn’t have a lot of documentation or any, so our long-term plan was like, let’s have some, and then, if you’re a pro user, you’ll have this KB article, but if you’re a developer user, maybe there’ll be an hour-long webinar underneath that, that goes super deep on all the firewall settings. And then Jeff can just explain all that crap.

And so, that was a plan that we had in the early days, and the more that we’ve just taken feedback from our users, the more we realize, we have all these fantastic tools, we can go very, very deep, not just on the how, but the why and the use cases. And the more that we started to do that we got more feedback and it was like, well, how do I sell that thing now? I think sort of a point at which it clicked that we should probably get some more of this material out there is, I was I was doing a podcast and somebody was like, wait, you fired all of your clients, and I’m like, yeah.

And like, how did you do that? And I’m like, I sent an email and I was delicate about it, and they’re like, no, really, I would like you to show me exactly just step by step, how you did that. And it’s like, okay I guess I could do that, I guess I could show people how to fire their clients, lose money in 24-hours. Great, here’s the next, smash it in info products but it was also just wanting to add more value to, we have this fantastic tool and it allows you to bolt on this recurring revenue business to your existing agency.

Maybe you do SEO, maybe you do just design; a lot of people aren’t necessarily comfortable making that kind of sale or even making a high ticket sale. My agency before a lot of people want to know how I grew that to what I did, to the point where I could kill it all and invest heavily in this harebrained idea. And so, it was mostly just wanting to add more value, add more context, and definitely now that we’re sort of building all of these assets and we have all of this stuff, which can be repurposed in so many ways.

Now, it makes sense for us to look at paid acquisition and strategic partnerships and actually getting the word out in a more purposeful kind of controlled way as opposed to just the continued organic word of mouth.

Steven Sauder: Yeah, that’s cool. Back to you, Jonathan,

Johnathan Denwood: I think we’re going to wrap up the podcast part of the show, hopefully, I’m sure Patrick can stay with us for a little bit more of the interview, which you’ll be able to see the whole interview plus the bonus content on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel. So, I’m going to be asking Patrick a little bit more controversial questions in the bonus content, so please as I said, go over to our YouTube channel and you’ll be able to see the whole interview plus the bonus content.

Before I just wrap up everything, I just want to say that also Steven and his crew at ZipFish have helped WP-Tonic become a real speed machine. If you’re looking for help, if you’re having problems with your WordPress site around speed, go over to ZipFish and they’ll be able to help you out. So Patrick, what’s the best way for people to find out more about you and what you’re up to?

Patrick Gallagher: Yes so, you can just go to grifpane.com obviously, and you can also go to our Facebook group, which is self-managed WordPress. We’ll link those in here, add them to the show notes. That’s where I’m most active and most successful is in our Facebook group and actually on what is it, the new one? I keep forgetting the name of it. What is it? It’s the all audio new social network that I literally just signed up for, Clubhouse, yeah.

Johnathan Denwood: Steven yes, there either Steven or Spencer, everything? I think it was Spencer that was telling me about Clubhouse.

Steven Sauder: I’m not on Clubhouse yet.

Johnathan Denwood: Oh, you reminded me, Patrick, listeners, and viewers I’ve got some exciting news, at the end of the month WP-Tonic with Stephen Spencer and all the key players of our Friday round table show. We’re all going to be starting a Facebook group under the domain of WP-Tonic, it should be a great resource if you’re looking to optimize and automate your WordPress website. So, we’ll be telling you more about that as the month rolls out. So, as I said, we’re going to wrap up the podcast, please join us for the bonus content, we’ll see you next week, folks. Bye.

Every Friday at 8:30am PST we have a great and hard-hitting round-table show with a group of WordPress developers, online business owners and WordPress junkies where we discuss the latest and most interesting WordPress and online articles/stories of the week. You can also watch the show LIVE every Friday at 8:30am PST on our Facebook WP-Tonic Show page. https://www.facebook.com/wptonic/

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