We Discuss All Things Hosting With Joint Founder & CEO of Rocket NET Ben Gabler
Ben Gabler is evidence that when you couple a passion for team-building with an entrepreneurial spirit, you can build technologies that simplify daily tasks, improving quality of life. With a proven record growing technology businesses, Gabler has expanded market share for major global Web hosting brands and brought technology startups from initial idea to success.
Ben launched the Web hosting company Host Nine in 2006. Four years later, HostGator bought HostNine and appointed Gabler as their Chief Operating Officer.
Appointed as the Senior Product Manager of Hosting at GoDaddy in 2013, Ben managed close to $500 million in product revenue, where he implemented a comprehensive redesign and relaunch of all hosting products in just over four months.
In 2014, Gabler developed EasyRent.com, the first-ever all-in-one property management platform. By combining product vision with technical acumen, Ben attracted more than 12,000 users in only five months.
To expand his efforts, Gabler took on a new role in late-2015: Chief Executive Officer at customer service software company Help.com.
At Help.com, Ben’s mission is to build the world’s most robust toolset for online customer support. During 13+ years of business experience, he became increasingly aware that online service tools are essential and customer service is often a key differentiator. Wanting to best meet the needs of growing businesses, Gabler built a world-class customer service toolset so that his customers could provide world-class customer service.
Upon completion of the Help.com Platform, Gabler joined Lance Crosby and team at StackPath as Chief Product Officer. Gabler drove the Product & Software Engineering efforts around consolidating all of the StackPath acquisitions and most notably launched the world’s first true Edge Computing platform.
Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show, it’s episode 569. We’ve got a great guest with us; we’ve got Ben Gabler, founder, and CEO of Rocket.net. It’s going to be a great discussion; I’m going to let Ben do a quick intro. So, Ben over to you, maybe you can give us a quick 2o second intro about yourself.
Ben Gabler: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me, it’s great to be here. My name is Ben Gabler; I’ve been in the hosting industry for about 17 years now dating all the way back to employee number 10 at HostGator. I had my own hosting company, HostNine, and a pretty big notable position at GoDaddy where I relaunched all the hosting products in 2013. And, from there kind of dabbled in some startups and ultimately was the chief product officer at a company called StackPath.
And that’s really where I learned a lot about CDN and web application firewalls and all that fun stuff, and one of the companies that we acquired is pretty famous in the WordPress community is MaxCDN. And, through that acquisition for over two years, I was working really closely with a lot of WordPress users and that’s kind of where the idea of Rocket.net was born.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. My co-host Steven can’t join us today, so you just have me and Ben, but it should be a great discussion. Before we go into the main part of our discussion, I want to talk about one of our main sponsors and that’s, Kinsta, Kinsta hosting. Kinsta’s a specialized WordPress hosting provider, if you have a client or you’re looking for performance for your own website, either you have WooCommerce if you have a learning management system and membership site, anything that needs real performance Kinsta is a good choice.
So, we’ve been using Kinsta for the past couple of years, they host the WP-Tonic website; they’ve got a fantastic team, great technology, great support, so I suggest that you go over there, have a look at some of their plans and then go and buy one. And if you do that, can you do the show a real favor and tell the Kinsta crew that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show, it really helps Kinsta and it really helps the show as well.
So, thank you for that, so Ben to say that you’ve got a lot of experience in hosting would be a slight understatement, wouldn’t it? It’s a very interesting industry. Is there a couple of things that you think the general public, maybe you can give us some insight on a couple of things that you think the general public is not aware of when it comes to hosting, do you have any kind of quick insights that you think would be really interesting to folks?
Ben Gabler: Sure. So, it’s a very small industry when it comes to the companies involved in the hosting space and we’re all friends. So, I’ve been really good friends with Matt Russell over at Namecheap, he runs the easy WP brand and, and launched the hosting products at Namecheap years ago. And, we met back in 2006 and, we have a Slack group we’re kind of the team of people that we’ve met over the years, whether we’re at competitive companies or, vendors, we all kind of just talk very frequently and help each other out.
Tom over at Convesio, it’s a really friendly industry, we all really help each other and there’s no bad blood, oh, you’re my competitor, I can’t talk to you. It’s a really exciting and fun industry to be a part of.
Jonathan Denwood: Right. But that’s great to hear. I understood, I had Chris Lema from Liquid Web on the show about six or eight months ago, and he pointed out something to me because I get the impression that hosting is dominated by a handful of really major players. But he said I was incorrect with that, that hosting is still a very fragmented industry with a lot of small hosting providers. Is that correct? And is that still the case?
Ben Gabler: Absolutely. Speaking of Chris, he actually put out a really awesome article that I read the other day about challenger brands and I absolutely loved it, and it really resonated a lot with what we’re doing here at rocket.net. Where there are the WP Engines of the world, the Bluehosts and the SiteGrounds, but what we’re doing is, something much different, we’ve put a unique spin on it and it’s not just some cPanel hosting that you log in and install WordPress.
We’ve got a really unique product and platform that we put together based on that 17 years of experience, so when we think about it, even from our perspective. While technically the brand may be the new kid on the block still, we’ve got some of the most seasoned people that have been in this hosting space for a very long time. So, we were able to learn from a lot of our mistakes and, build things very quickly, and that really goes a long way when it comes to servicing our agency customers, or even our retail customers.
If they need something done, we’re not just there to kind of support the customer, but we also listen to them and try to really help build things that improve their day-to-day operations. And I think that’s just one example of a way a company, in this industry, can still stand out and have an opportunity to grow. And then on the flip side of that, you have a lot of smaller companies that might manage 25 to a hundred websites and are using reseller packages, and almost like a micro host.
And they’re more hands-on like a designer and managing the websites, but I feel like almost a couple of times a week, I’ll come across a new hosting company that I’ve never seen before, and some of them are pretty decent in size.
Jonathan Denwood: Alright. So, you kind of pointed out that you think that Rocket’s got some unique elements to it, would you like to delve into a little bit more detail about what you think are some of the unique selling points of Rocket?
Ben Gabler: Sure. So, back at StackPath, we would see customers every day coming in trying to connect a CDN to their WordPress site. And the biggest problem was almost all the plugins out there for caching would only do a CDN integration with static assets, so every single request to the site would still go back to a single location. And with that customers wouldn’t really see a major improvement on their speed test results, so we would see a lot of churns and, we just started thinking, what if there was just a way that customers could point to a solution no different than any hosting provider they have today.
It’s got the CDN already optimized and enabled for WordPress, and it’s got the web application firewall already configured and optimized for WordPress and that’s it. So, there’s no need to go in and tinker with settings, you don’t have to learn what a CDN is like I had to do. We just want to make it as easy as possible, and then take all of that and put it into a single package. So, when an agency or a retail customer comes to our platform, they just deploy a WordPress site, it takes like 30 seconds.
And then it already has CDN and security solutions like malware scanning, real-time, everything all in one. So, we have customers doing 40,000 hits a minute on our platform and we serve it at a 98.9 Cash it ratio with our cloud for enterprise setup. And that’s something nobody was doing, and the reason is it’s similar to if you were to go to watch a Netflix show, if you see that spinner and it just takes a while, you’re going to get frustrated pretty quickly these days.
And either say what, I’m just going to watch Hulu instead, or it must be down, so the same concept applies to the web. When I go to a website, if I just see it sitting there and hanging, I get a very bad impression; I’m like, why is this taking so long? Is it down? Is it up, what’s going on? So, what we do is we actually focus on pushing content as close as possible to the visitors, and instead of things like scaling PHP. Because scaling PHP is great, but it’s still only one single location, so if my site’s in Ohio, but I have customers in Germany that doesn’t do anybody any good.
So, that’s the biggest differentiator with our platform is we kind of built it in a content-first approach to make sure that we could really optimize for that visitor experience across the world.
Jonathan Denwood: All right. That’s fantastic. So, how long did it take you to build out Rocket 1.0, how long were you and your key team players working on it before you unleashed Rocket upon the world?
Ben Gabler: So, the Initial MVP phase was a little less than 90 days. A lot of that comes from, we knew the developers we could work with, we knew what we wanted to have built, and back at HostNine in 2008, I built a platform called Reseller Central, and that was what we call kind of location-based hosting back then. You could choose the US, East, West, Central, EDU and, Singapore and deploy a site there.
And at that time MaxCDN was probably getting out there, but there wasn’t really a con to that, but you could still put your site closer to you when you’re working on it or whatever the case is. And then one of the features we developed was the ability for our customers to say, oh yeah, by the way, install WordPress for me, after it creates the account.
So, we’ve kind of done this before in a different way, and what we did is we just kind of took the tools that we were familiar with over all the years and create this single platform and people were like, well, you’ve only been around for a year, how do you know that the Cloudflare stuff is configured properly? I ran one of the largest CDNs in the world for two years, so I got to see thousands and thousands of different WordPress sites and how they interacted with caching at the edge. And, I was able to take that learning experience and apply it on the Cloudflare platform and it’s just been incredible.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I can see how you having that experience would help. So, I think yesterday WP Engine announced that they invested a lot of money and timing into headless WordPress, there seems to be a trend, we’ve got GoDaddy made an announcement yesterday that they’re revamping their pro tools, again. There seems to be where hosting providers like WP Engine are adding extra services, extra product offerings to make themselves stand out.
Do you think this is a trend that will just continue that they’re going to buy more external plugin companies, Liquid Web has done quite a bit of that lately themselves, haven’t they?
Ben Gabler: Sure. Not necessarily speaking to the acquisitions, but I hope so. I hope the desire to be different is a trend that continues because what happened with commodity shared hosting, Bluehost, HostGator, Cykra, a lot of these companies, SiteGround made some unique decisions to kind of create their own platform and ditch cPanel.
And that gave them a little bit of a different stance in the industry but at the end of the day for the longest time, the majority of these companies were just selling the same thing, it was all the same cPanel hosting, SiteLock, Codeguard, and it’s all the same. And where is the differentiation there to really help provide different solutions in the market? And a lot of it boils down to service and support. At the end of the day, anybody can go out and buy a server with 32 cores and 128 gigs of Ram, there’re a lot of really smart people out there that can optimize it.
But I think when it comes down to the productization and actually creating that offering is really where the challenge comes into play, and the world freaked out when cPanel kept raising their prices. And for me, I’m like, that sucks, nobody ever wants to pay more, but at the same time, if you look at what cPanel’s evolved into over all these years, it’s pretty incredible.
I’ve been using cPanels since version three and that was back in 2003, and it’s a great piece of software, and if anything, I hope it really challenges the hosting companies to figure out ways to increase their price points in a healthy way, by offering more services and things like that.
Jonathan Denwood: Thanks for that, actually that was a very unique way of seeing it because I’ve heard other people say, well, it’s so commoditized, that’s why they have to add these extra services. But the way you put that is, well, I haven’t heard that before, thanks for that. We’re going to go for our break, we’ll be back in a few moments, folks.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. We’ve had a feast of hosting information from Ben Gabler, founder, and CEO of rocket.net. Before we go into the second half of our discussion, I wanted to talk about a webinar I’m doing with Spencer Forum, one of our panelists on our Friday show. As you know Spencer has a company called LaunchFlows, and we’re going to be talking all about how, if you’ve got a learning management system like Lifter LMS, LearnDash, if you want to really get into marketing atomization and increase the experience of your students.
We’re going to go through all the steps that you need to do to have a modern membership website with marketing atomization, and we’re going to be doing that on Friday, the 12th of March, so the 12th of March at 10:30 Pacific standard time. And if you join us live, you can ask Spencer and, myself, any questions you have about marketing optimization with a focus around learning management systems. So, how do you sign up for that?
Well, you go to the WP-Tonic website, right in the top navigation, there’s a button that says webinar, you just fill in a quick form and you will be sent a link where you will be able to join us live for that free webinar; it should be a blast, onto the conversation. Now I think in the kind of world that I’m in, you have actual business owners, and then you have the larger community of designers, or implementers as I call them, and developers and around the kind of implementer world Cloudways really is one of their beloved providers.
High-frequency Vultr is mentioned in hush tone spin but do you think there’s anything that people have to understand if they want to go down that route, they have to understand what they’re getting involved with? Do you have any kind of insights or thoughts about that?
Ben Gabler: Sure. All great companies mentioned, I worked with the Cloudways team quite a bit when I was at StackPath, great folks over there; they have a great product, it’s definitely more towards the advanced user. They’ve done a great job at trying to help even bridge that to make it consumable by a less technical individual. But, there’s still a lot of management that goes into having a server like that, security measures and updates, and all that fun stuff.
So, it definitely can still be overwhelming and, folks, I see a lot of it in the Facebook groups where, oh, $30 a month, that’s expensive, I can just go get a VPS for $15 a month, and it’s like, okay, well that’s the 15 a month for the VPS and then you’ve got $10 a month for the software, whether it’s RunCloud or whatnot. 10 – $20 a month, if you want Cloudflare pro and it starts adding up and then you’re at 50 bucks a month.
And whereas with a product like ours, it’s $30 a month for one site, but you’re getting CDN waf, you’re getting Cloudflare enterprise at $6,000 a month per domain typically starting if you go direct with them. So, you kind of build these and it goes back to what we talked about earlier is trying to get creative with your offering instead of just a traditional hosting. And what ends up happening to us is we get looked at like, oh, that’s $30, Bluehost i’s three bucks, it’s two totally different products.
Jonathan Denwood: It’s a totally different cup of tea, isn’t it?
Ben Gabler: Right, exactly. But to the consumer, they don’t necessarily see it that way, and that’s been one of the challenges also is kind of helping people absorb that, understand that. But even Vultr, David Aninowsky the CEO lives 20 minutes from me in South Florida, great guy, we actually were emailing earlier this week about getting together and catching up. It’s a great company and they’ve got some great stuff going on and it’s neat to see how Cloudways can really package that all up.
So, I think it’s definitely a great product and a great platform, and I think it’s got a specific niche that it does speak to but they’re doing a really good job at it for sure.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I think if you want to go down that route, but it’s definitely a kind of niche area, isn’t it? Because I think the people that are kind of involved or the people, it really appeals to tend to underestimate, in some ways overestimate and some ways underestimate the duality here. But they say they underestimate the amount of technical knowledge that they probably have compared to the average business owner that just wants his website to run properly and be fast and to be available to their customer. But are you understanding, Ben?
Ben Gabler: Yep, absolutely. I can’t tell you how many times customers have come to us in chat and said can you restore this one file from yesterday at this time? Sure. Even though we have tools for them to do the restores on their own inside the portal, but that’s the level of service that we like to provide, is being able to kind of be the team. And that’s a big part of our unique selling point here at rocket.net too; this isn’t a marketing agency that wanted to turn hosting company.
We’ve lived and breathed web hosting for 17 years, so our customers get these hosting industry veterans that have been doing this stuff forever and can really support them in many different ways and give advice, and that have seen it all, I’ve seen, small-scale when HostGator was just starting to grow. And then I’ve seen GoDaddy adding thousands of accounts a day when we launched the cPanel product there, and even the manage WordPress product.
So, seeing things at scale is really important, when it comes to even how we’re going to scale our business, to make sure that we keep that level of knowledge hot, is we have a huge Rolodex of individuals we’ve worked with for 10 plus years at various hosting companies that tell you when you guys are ready to let us know. And then as we start to help spread that knowledge even to newcomers, we have very skilled and experienced people that can help train.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I’m a strange tack. I think what we’ve just said also applies on the enterprise level because not recently, but last year, I had a major client and they were talking about hosting this internally, and then we’re just going to use, it was a very large website. I can’t go into too much detail, but it was a very, very large website, and they were talking about using Amazon web services and managing it themselves to save a couple of hundred bucks a month. And I just said quite clearly that I just felt this was a very bad idea but they didn’t listen to me, but it didn’t work out.
Let’s put it this way, Ben, it didn’t work out too well and in the end, they moved to a specialized hosting provider. Do you see that a lot where it’s quite dominated by Microsoft and they don’t really understand what they’re getting involved in if they’re just getting into hosting without any kind of real knowledge do they?
Ben Gabler: It’s interesting, we don’t really see that too much because a lot of the SAS startups, or, companies that will have a marketing division with the website, they don’t want marketing knocking on their door at 2:00 AM wondering why WordPress won’t update. They’re like, you know what? Go over here. And we see quite the opposite where companies actually don’t have a problem paying for our platform, especially even on an agency level, because once you get into volume with us, it gets down to 9, $10 a month per site.
And for all that you get, that’s a bargain, and these companies that come to us, some of our larger enterprise customers doing a terabyte of traffic a day on the platform, we have Slack channels set up. If they need anything there’s no need to jump through hoops on live chat or go through the help desk, just in live chat, hey guys, I need this. Sure, no problem. And it’s just instant, everybody uses Slack these days, so it makes it really easy to communicate and, again, solve the problem that the customer has.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I think this particular one I was pointing out is that they were not happy about the topition on this business, deciding that they were going to use WordPress. It was a much dominated Microsoft shop the I.T. and I think that was part of the problem there. So, and you do get that occasionally, but I would agree with you, I would have thought most startup SAS is the last thing they want to deal with, they have some bigger problems to deal with than what we’ve just outlined.
So, in the next year, do you think there’s anything on the horizon, in the hosting world that you think is coming up that our listeners and views aren’t aware of at the present moment?
Ben Gabler: I think you’ll definitely see just similar to a much larger focus on performance outside of the, we’ll increase your site two to three X, because we’re on Google Cloud. When we talk about how fast we are at science, it’s the speed of light it’s because if you’re in Jupiter, Florida, like I am, I’m not going to go all the way to Ohio for the site and I’m going to grab it from Miami because that’s the closest Cloudflare pop.
So, when we think about, I think kind of like what we talked about earlier, I think these companies are really going to have to start thinking outside of the box and coming up with new value adds and new ways to enable success for their customers outside of just here’s a pool of storage and bandwidth have fun with your website. I think there’re more things that they’ll need to do to help ensure success, especially after COVID-19 and everybody that’s got to get online ordering systems and all these different things.
I think that’s going to become a bigger focus, it’s going to have to be because people have problems that they need to be solved and they don’t always know to just go look for XYZ plugin that ties into WooCommerce to take an order. So, I think you’ll start to see some focus on niches like that when it comes to some of the shared hosting providers and others alike and then I think there’s going to be a big focus on how to tackle the core web vital requirements for Google and what partnerships will these companies do?
A lot of people don’t realize it, but Google Cloud is very expensive when it comes to margins and hosting. And it’s not always the CPU and Ram that gets expensive, but it’s the traffic, the ingress, and egress to your machines on Google Cloud. So, it gets very tricky for, companies to be able to do what we did, where we can bundle in CDN and waf and all these things without charging extra for it, because our cost model allows for that, and we still have healthy margins because of the way that we’ve built the platform.
Jonathan Denwood: All right. Thanks for that. Well, hopefully, are you okay to stay on for another 10 minutes, Ben?
Ben Gabler: Sure.
Jonathan Denwood: And we call that bonus content. You’ll be able to watch the whole interview plus the extra content on the WP-Tonic YouTube channel, so go over there to watch the whole interview. So Ben, what’s the best way people can find out more about you and Rocket?
Ben Gabler: So, right at rocket.net, I’m always available, I always will be, I remember even when I was at GoDaddy, the team was like, why are you in the call center so much? You’re a product manager you don’t need to be in here. I would spend hours in there and I’m like, I can’t fix it if I don’t know what’s broken.
Jonathan Denwood: It’s the best way to find out what you’re users are thinking.
Ben Gabler: You’ll see me in the chat at rocket.net until the end of the time, I absolutely love working with customers and I love solving problems and I really love to make sure our roadmap really aligns with customer needs. So, there, I’m on Twitter as well, and then, of course, LinkedIn always happy to connect on LinkedIn and get to know others as well.
Jonathan Denwood: And I love the background, actually, you have to join us for the video listeners, he’s got a very appropriate background for a company called Rocket. So, we’ll be back the next week where we’ll have another fantastic guest and I just have to say that, in the next couple of months, we have some amazing guests coming on the show and thank you to the new listeners and viewers, our numbers have dramatically increased over the last few months.
It’s great to have such an influx of new people listening to the show; we’ll be back next week with another great interview. We’ll see you soon, thanks. Bye.
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