Tag: Jason Cohen

WP Engine Revs Up on WordPress

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.

Bijoy Goswami on “We Are Austin Tech”

Every week, We Are Austin Tech, a group of entrepreneurs, technologists and other volunteers release a video highlighting someone who has contributed to the local technology industry.
Last week’s video put the spotlight on Jason Cohen, founder of WPEngine and other startups including co-founding Capital Factory.
We Are Austin Tech seeks to tell the story of the city’s vibrant technology community blending the stories of veteran entrepreneurs with others involved in the industry such as public relations experts, journalists and more.
This week, the video features Bijoy Goswami, the founder of Bootstrap Austin. Susan Lahey, a reporter with Silicon Hills News, did this profile on him earlier this year.

A Collaborative Center for Tech Entrepreneurs Launches in Austin

Josh Baer introduces a new coworking and collaboration space downtown

A groovy new space in a downtown Austin high-rise offers tech entrepreneurs a place to develop startups.
It’s part of the Austin TechLive initiative by the Austin Chamber to create a tech-focused coworking site. Capital Factory will oversee the 22,000 square foot space on the 16th floor of Austin Centre at 701 Brazos Street. The wide-open floor offers spectacular panoramic city views. It’s furnished with Herman Miller desks and chairs and even has a full cafeteria. The workspace should appeal to creative people who like bright, expansive and beautiful office space. Smiley Media formerly occupied the offices.
“This is confirmation that coworking has moved beyond the emerging stage and is here to stay,” said Liz Elam who runs Link Coworking in Austin. She also organizes the Global Coworking Unconference Conference.
Coworking spaces provide workers with shared desks, conference rooms and other work areas. The number of co-working spaces has nearly doubled each year since 2006 to 1,300 worldwide in 2011 and projected to increase to 2,150 this year, according to Deskmag, which follows the industry.
The Capital Factory coworking site already has 60 desks filled and a waiting list from entrepreneurs wanting to rent a desk there, said Josh Baer, managing director of the Capital Factory, an Austin-based accelerator for tech startups. He referred to the coworking site as the “community entrepreneurial center of gravity.” A desk at the coworking center costs $750 a month and a community membership, which allows a person to work in the common areas, costs $150 a month. The site provides round the clock access everyday to members.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce selected the Capital Factory as its strategic partner for Austin TechLive. A few companies including Baer’s startup, OtherInBox, which Return Path acquired earlier this year, and WP Engine are already moving into the space. It will be fully launched within a few months.
In addition to the Capital Factory, the University of Texas at Austin and the General Assembly of New York are helping out with the new center. The General Assembly will offer certified educational programs at Austin TechLive.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Baer talked about the need to create “healthy vibrant strong companies” in Austin. And said there’s been a lot of talk lately about Austin versus Silicon Valley and other places. By creating a dense tech environment downtown, the new coworking center can foster interaction, connections and collaboration among the city’s high tech workforce, Baer said. That will lead to new companies and more high-tech jobs, he said. His goal is to have 250 companies occupy the space.
The other companies moving into the Capital Factory coworking space include Swoosh Traffic, Agent Pronto, Tweet.TV and Swimtopia.
The Capital Factory coworking space will also be the site of tech events, meetups and training, Baer said. The goal is to bring together tech events that happen all over the city into the central coworking site, he said. For example, Capital Factory used to host Austin on Rails but it got too big and moved to a bar. He plans to host that again in the new center.
The idea of the central coworking space focused on the tech sector is similar to an initiative launched last November in San Antonio called Geekdom. It’s a collaborative workspace with more than 300 community members and it recently expanded to another floor at the downtown Weston Centre. But while Geekdom is run as a nonprofit organization, the Capital Factory coworking space is a business, Baer said. A group of successful Austin entrepreneurs put up the money to launch the site. They include Baer, Bill Boebel, Andrew Busey, Ross Buhrdorf and Dan Graham.
“Nobody is trying to make a lot of money off this,” Baer said. “The people who did this really want to help entrepreneurs in Austin.”
“The mission is to create this great entrepreneurial center downtown,” said Bryan Jones, chair of the Austin Chamber’s Technology Partnership.
In addition to launching the coworking space, the Chamber’s Tech Partnership is focused on creating 5,000 new technology jobs, up 5 percent from last year and to attract 50 new technology startups to the Austin region, including 10 at the new Capital Factory space. It also wants to recruit 15 new entrepreneurial companies to the Austin region.
One of the biggest challenges startup companies face is hiring great talent, Baer said. The Capital Factory coworking space will attract that talent and help the new startups grow, he said.
Chuck Gordon, cofounder of Sparefoot, a Capital Factory company from 2009, has seen firsthand how being in a shared workspace with other tech companies can help a startup grow to a large company.
“It’s possible. We did it,” said Gordon.
Sparefoot recently moved out of the Omni building to 5,600 square feet in a neighboring building. The company now has 45 employees.
“Tons of companies in San Francisco and New York go to incubators,” Gordon said. Those spaces serve as entrepreneurial ecosystems that strengthens the entire technology industry in those cities, he said.
“This is going to make it happen here,” he said. “The networking opportunities of getting a bunch of smart people in one space are incredible.”
Boebel, managing director of Capital Factory, will manage the new coworking space in partnership with Cospace, an Austin coworking site.
Capital Factory will leverage Cospace’s expertise for IT services, furniture, assigning workstations and all the nuts and bolts that go into running a coworking center, Boebel said.
“I’m mostly excited about working with the startups,” he said. One of the benefits of working at the site will be access to successful entrepreneurs like Boebel, who sold his e-mail hosting company to Rackspace. And Baer, who has founded and sold several startups.
“I wish there was a space like this when I started my company,” Boebel said. He founded what eventually came to be known as Webmail.Us in the basement of a townhouse in Blacksburg, Va.
“It’s nice to be around other entrepreneurs who are going through the same things,” Boebel said. “Friends and family don’t understand what it’s like to bootstrap a company.”
The coworking environment allows the startups to learn from each other’s mistakes and that can accelerate their progress, Boebel said.
Also, the space allows them to share resources, he said. Three companies might be able to hire one User Interface Designer, he said.
Boebel is also working on setting up a fund to provide access to seed stage investment for startup companies at Capital Factory.
Jason Cohen started Capital Factory with Baer in 2009. In surveys of the program participants, the entrepreneurs always reported access to mentoring and the close working proximity of the other startups as the top benefits of the program, Cohen said. The Capital Factory coworking space provides both, he said.
“It’s an insane space,” Cohen said. “It has just the right kind of attitude and energy for creative people.”
That helps WP Engine, a hosting service for 40,000 WordPress blogs, which has 15 Austin employees and 20 overall, Cohen said. He founded WP Engine a few years ago. It’s adding two new employees every month, Cohen said. The space will help in recruiting, he said. “Who wouldn’t want to work here?”

The WP Engine team knows how to have fun

Back in February, Susan Lahey did this profile of WP Engine, the wordpress hosting site founded by Jason Cohen.
The startup is growing by leaps and bounds. And today they posted a video showing their team spirit and showcasing why Austin is a great place to work. The entire staff ran a 5K around Town Lake, including the wet guy, which you’ll have to watch the video to see what he did. I love all the geeks mapping out and caching their routes with their laptops.
San Austin Productions, a business that clearly sees the opportunity in the combined Austin and San Antonio technology community, shot the video.

WP Engine Cultivates a Lucrative Niche Hosting WordPress Websites

Special contributor to Silicon Hills News

WP Engine co-founder Jason Cohen knew there was a market for what he wanted to build. Because it was exactly what he needed.
The founder of four companies and a dedicated blogger, Cohen often made the front page of Hacker News. And every time he did, his site went down. Having a sudden surge of popularity and traffic, he realized, doesn’t do you a lot of good if it causes your site to crash until the traffic goes away.
It was easy to assume that, with 15 percent of all websites and 22 percent of new websites in WordPress according to WP statistics, others were having the same issues. WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and one of the web’s most popular content management systems.
“I needed to know what are the root pain points?” Cohen said. “Volume is one. Speed is another. It can often take three or four seconds for a page to come up. What about security? What about support? What about testing? Everything is live right now. Testing is where I can work it out and see it.”
Cohen talked to 50 people before starting the business, asking them: “Would you pay for this? What would you pay for this?” Once 30 people committed to spending $50 a month, he started to build his hosting company for the middle market, people with a lot of traffic “who aren’t CNN.” WP Engine launched in July of 2010. Cohen founded the company with Aaron Brazell, who stepped down last October to do consulting work.
When Matt Halfhill heard about Cohen’s infant company that hosted high volume WordPress sites, he said what so many of WPEngine’s customers say: “That’s exactly what I need!”
“That was my biggest problem ever in business,” Halfhill said. “So few hosts understand the nuts and bolts of how WordPress works. (WPEngine) breaks it down to the point where there are next to no inefficiencies.”
At the time he joined WP Engine, in 2010, Halfhill’s company NiceKicks had more than a million visitors per month. The site, which previews and reviews sneakers, was paying Rackspace $6,000 to $7,000 a month for the bandwidth to handle all its traffic. With WPEngine, it pays closer to $1,000. And its monthly traffic has more than doubled.
Rackspace spokesman Rob La Gesse said “While many providers choose to compete on price, Rackspace differentiates itself on service, which we call Fanatical Support®. With that being said, WPEngine and Rackspace have significantly different business models, products and pricing structures.”
Cohen has always been something of a prodigy. He was fresh out of college with his computer science degree when he was discovered by Jim Woodhill, a famous psychologist and venture capitalist who was on an email list of “random smart people” with Cohen’s dad.
“He is the kind of guy who doesn’t care as much about the idea as the team. He decides ‘I just need to collect certain kinds of people and I want you,’” Cohen said. The company Cohen started, however, didn’t create products but performed services. And though he was bringing in $1 million a year, the venture capital firm lost interest. Soon afterward, he connected with Gerry Cullen, a serial entrepreneur.
“He was young,” Cullen says of Cohen. “You want to know how young he was? He was so young I had to rent cars for him.”
The two created Sheer Genius Software.
“He was the genius software guy and I was the CEO lead developer,” Cullen said. “I was the leg guy and he was the brains….Jason was very fast on his feet. People asked him questions he just answered them, kaboom. I’d lift the flagstone up and all the little snakes would run and we’d get them. It was great happy times.”
For one order, the $750,000 big order, Cullen said, they were brought to London to develop a program for a government office. Cohen wound up having to jerry-rig a modem using ‘doorbell’ wire running from the building’s bathroom. And, because the monitors were so small and the offices so bright it was difficult to see the screens, Cullen created a little hut of foam board to make it dark enough.
“It was like we were showing weird porn in the government offices and we didn’t want anybody to see.”
They got the order.
After Sheer Genius, they started IT WatchDogs, which manufactured climate monitoring devices for server facilities. During that time, Cohen said, Cullen taught him all about the business end of startups. He taught him, for example, about the Stanford Test, a test he made up.
The Stanford Test is this: If you make something, can you give it away for free? Will people want it? Because if they won’t, there’s not much point in charging for it.”
IT WatchDogs demonstrated the Stanford principal. The first climate control monitor plugged directly into the servers. Server companies were horrified.
“They’re like ‘You’re not sticking that thing in my server!’” Cohen recalls. It failed the Stanford Test. Then they created a model that only plugs into the wall outlet and never touches the server. That model people wanted. They’d even pay for it.
Cohen and Cullen wound up selling IT WatchDogs. But about the same time they had started it, Cohen had, almost inadvertently, started Smart Bear Inc. He created a site online whereby programmers could submit code they were working on for peer review. It was an idea he was tinkering with that took off. He ran it until 2009 when he got an offer to buy the company that would give him enough money he never had to work again. After checking with some of his advisors—17 to be exact—he took it.
He took a sabbatical to stay home with his new baby. He began blogging almost obsessively. And then the idea for WPEngine arose.
He and Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory and a serial entrepreneur in Austin who runs Other Inbox, put in a little bit of seed money and within seven months, the company was profitable. They hired two people and six months later it was profitable again. But all these baby steps were time consuming. So Cohen sought funding and wound up with $1.2 million last November. Silverton Partners from Austin led the round, which included prominent angels investors like Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup, Loic Le Meur, Dharmesh Shah, Jeremy Benken, Bill Boebel, Rob Walling and others. Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, also participated with a strategic investment.
WP Engine now has an install base of more than 30,000 personal and professional WordPress blogs. It recently dropped its base hosting price from $50 a month to $29. And it has plenty of room to grow. More than 71 million WordPress sites exist worldwide and WordPress.com hosts about half of them.
WP Engine is always tweaking.
Halfhill said the company is super proactive. They’ll call him to say “You’re definitely sucking up a lot of resources, we might want to reconfigure. There are no charges for that. It just feels like they’re taking care of me as a customer. It’s just like breathing.”
Cohen, though, is a startup guy. He’s constantly percolating with other ideas. Lately he’s been really focused on the idea of honesty, how honesty should be the bedrock of businesses. He might do something with that at some point.
“People asked me, ‘When you had enough money to live off forever, why do a startup?’” Cohen said. “It’s just in you…some people have to do companies.”

Disclosure: Rackspace is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News

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