WP Engine Revs Up on WordPress

By TIM GREEN
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Photo courtesy of WPEngine

Photo courtesy of WPEngine

It’s Ticketpalooza Day at WP Engine, the Austin-based company that offers managed hosting services for WordPress-based websites.

About 30 members of the company’s support staff are gathered around two long tables fielding calls from customers having problems with their websites.

The support reps tap on their laptops, lean over to look at a neighbor’s computer screen and offer words of advice. They score prizes, devour company-provided lunch and seriously reduce the number of calls.

The idea of Ticketpalooza is to close out service tickets to customers’ satisfaction as quickly as possible, said Austin Gunter, part of the company’s marketing department.

He said WP Engine’s customers appreciate the draw down on the service queue and the staff likes the collaborative yet competitive process. “We’re all just having a lot of fun with this.”

Customer service is an essential part of what WP Engine offers. Its services help its customers’ websites run faster, more reliably, more securely and with the capability to grow.

Heather Brunner, CEO of WP Engine

Heather Brunner, CEO of WP Engine

In 2013, WP Engine experienced what CEO Heather Brunner called hyper growth of its own, saying that revenue and the number of customers and employees all tripled.

Now, with a $15 million venture investment and a complete executive team in place, the company, which has offices in Austin and San Francisco, is geared to keep growing.

The investment, announced in January, came from North Bridge Venture Partners, which has offices in Waltham, Mass., and Palo Alto, Calif. A previous round of $1.2 million in 2011 came from Silverton Partners and several angel investors.

The WordPress universe offers rooms for growth.

WordPress started as an open source blogging tool and has grown into a content management system that powers about 20 percent of websites and 20 percent of the biggest websites.

Brunner said WP Engine has 14,000 customers, ranging from individuals and small businesses to bigger clients such as the Country Music Association, HTC, Williams-Sonoma and the Bonnaroo music festival. The company’s customers run more than 120,000 different sites with about 40 million unique visitors a day.

Entrepreneur Jason Cohen was responding to the frustrating performance of his WordPress blog when he developed the technology on which WP Engine is based in 2010.

The foundation of WP Engine’s technology is the cloud-based infrastructure that started with Cohen’s coding.

“Now with 3 ½ years under our belt we’ve been able to architect our cloud infrastructure for massive scale and traffic and the ability to scale up and scale down,” Brunner said. “We have unique IP that runs the cloud infrastructure for our business and WordPress.”

Next is a layer of software that provides security, speed and other functions. “We’ve created a whole caching technology that is unique to the market,” she said. “There are specific innovations that are unique to us.”

A third layer includes the customer interface, user tools and a dashboard that allows the customer to make websites change and updates easily and quickly.

The top layer is WP Engine’s support team, which Brunner said is drawn from the WordPress ecosystem, developers and consultants. The support team interacts with customers over the phone, through Twitter and chat.

“We have a tremendous amount of expertise in our support customer-facing operation to help whether they have a proactive question or have an issue they need help with,” she said.

In its interactions with customers, WP Engine can track what’s working and what’s not and make changes.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes to their service over the years,” said Brandon Dove at Pixel Jar, a WordPress development company that uses WP Engine. “They’ve added developer-facing things like git integration for deployment, backup postings with an instant restore feature and built-in staging servers for active development cycles.”

Dove said he appreciates WP Engine’s honesty and transparency when there’s a problem.

“No host can offer you 100 percent up time,” he said. “Knowing that you can trust your host to have your best interests in mind when something goes wrong is crucial. They have an SLA (service-level agreement) in place that keeps them accountable for downtime and other support-related issues.”

Brunner said the company will use part of the $15 million investment to continue to improve and expand its technology and services. That includes adding self-service functions to make it easier for the customers to help themselves, she said.

“That’s a big, big part of our focus for 2014, extending the market leadership we have and continue to invest in things that mean an even better experience for our customers,” she said.

Brunner became affiliated with WP Engine in early 2013 as a board member. She became COO in the spring and CEO in October, all of which were planned moves. She had been COO of BazaarVoice before joining WP Engine.

Other members of the executive staff who came aboard in 2013 are April Downing, chief financial officer; Matt Schatz, vice president of sales; and Tina Dobie, vice president of customer experience. Cohen, who founded the company with Ben Metcalfe, shifted from CEO to chief technology officer.

The company has three basic pricing plans, from $29 per month to $249 per month. Beyond that is a premium level, in which pricing is based on factors including the number of sites, the amount of traffic and number of functions.

“We want to have a really fair exchange for value,” Brunner said. “So we’re delivering this innovation, we’re delivering fantastic expertise, we’re creating an incredible experience. That’s our aspiration for our customers for them to say, “This just works.” And for that we want to give a fair exchange. That’s what we’re looking to create.”

WP Engine is one of several companies providing managed hosting for WordPress websites. Competitors include San Antonio-based Pressable.

WP Engine does well in several comparisons online. Cohen and Pressable founder Vid Luther noted similarities and differences on Quora.

“We definitely have competition, it’s a dynamic space,” Brunner said. “But there’s no one single company we’re going head to head against.”

Brunner said the company practices what it preachers and uses WordPress for its website. It refreshed its brand and rolled out a new website in October.

“It’s all built on WordPress and shows you the best of how you would use WordPress to build a corporate website, get your message out as well as use thought leadership within your website such as blogs for content.”

For WP Engine, that’s the ticket.

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