Tag: WP Engine

Asana Launches a Big Marketing Campaign in Austin

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

austin-map-blog“Work about work” is killing productivity in the workplace, said Kenny Van Zant, an executive with Asana.

Too many managers find themselves bogged down with email and meetings about meetings and very little work is actually getting done, he said.

Asana, a web and mobile software application that allows teams to work together without email, is the solution to improve efficiency and productivity in the workplace, Van Zant said.

Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, and Justin Rosenstein, former Facebook engineer, co-founded Asana to create a better way for teams to collaborate. The three year old startup, based in San Francisco, has raised $38.2 million in four rounds, according to Crunchbase. And in the last few years, Asana has gotten a lot of traction in the marketplace, Van Zant said.

“We have hundreds of thousands of teams across the world using Asana,” Van Zant said. “We’re one of the fastest growing enterprise software companies ever.”

Van Zant, former chief product strategist at SolarWinds, recently returned to Austin to meet with Asana customers and others about its upcoming marketing launch locally.

“We look at the markets where we have a ton of growth and diversity and Austin rises to the top,” Van Zant said.

Kenny Van Zant with Asana, courtesy photo.

Kenny Van Zant with Asana, courtesy photo.

And he’s familiar with the Austin market. Before SolarWinds, Van Zant worked as head of strategy and corporate development at Motive, maker of broadband service management software. And he co-founded BroadJump in 1998 and served as its chief operating officer. He’s also from Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin.

“Asana is the kind of product where word of mouth is how it grows,” Van Zant said. “We want to highlight some of our customers and have them help tell the Asana story. We look at markets where we could do that in a concentrated way. Austin is clearly the market.”

Asana also looked at launching in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, London, Berlin and other cities, but chose Austin as its first city for a big marketing campaign outside of California.

Austin companies using Asana include WP Engine, SpareFoot, RideScout, Spredfast, ihiji and Umbel.
But it’s not just tech companies using Asana, Van Zant said. The City of Austin is also a customer, he said. And restaurateurs like Chi’Lantro Food Trucks and Elm Restaurant Group, which owns Arro, 24 Diner and Easy Tiger, use it and so does Tiff’s Treats, a cookie delivery service.

“Each of these companies speaks to how diverse the story is,” Van Zant said.

On May 13th, Asana is launching its Austin campaign and plans to do some digital advertising with its customers front and center. Asana also plans to take out ads on billboards on West Fifth and other signage downtown.

logoAnd Van Zant will give a talk on accountability at Capital Factory open to the public. Later that day, Asan is hosting a happy hour with tacos and tequila. On May 20th, Asana will provide a free lunch at Chi’Lantro. To find out where the truck will be, Asana asks people to follow its Twitter account. Asana will also host a workshop and provide training to companies interested in using the software. It’s free initially for teams of up to 15 people.

To show how Asana can improve productivity, Van Zant likes to tell the story of Emerald Therapeutics, two biotech researchers from Boston, moved out to the Bay area. They do virus research using robots. They have about 30 people before using Asana and they were spending most of their time managing, Van Zant said. Then they started using Asana and they got back about 75 percent of their time, Van Zant said.

“The same thing is true of your average middle manager inside a company anywhere,” Van Zant said. “You want that person to get back to doing work. Asana becomes the middle manager and handles all of the tedious work about work for you.”

Asana also integrates with all kinds of email systems, Dropbox, Box, Google Docs and other tools.

Editor’s note: Asana is a digital advertiser with Silicon Hills News

WP Engine Opens an Office at Geekdom in San Antonio

Founder of Silicon Hills News

wp_engine_logo_bbWP Engine, founded in 2010 at Capital Factory, has 150 employees in Austin and it’s hiring.

The plucky startup also has another 10 employees in a satellite office in California.

And WP Engine has just opened a San Antonio office at Geekdom, a technology incubator and coworking space.

WP Engine doesn’t want to add people just for the sake of having additional headcount, said April Downing, the company’s Chief Financial Officer.

“That’s why we looked to San Antonio,” she said. “There’s a really good culture fit. “

WP Engine, a managed hosting platform for websites and apps built with WordPress, has more than 20,000 customers. It expects to have up to 20 employees in San Antonio by the end of the year, Downing said. Right now, the company has two offices on the seventh floor of Geekdom’s new headquarters in the historic Rand building, which can hold up to eight people. But as Geekdom builds out the sixth floor and additional floors for larger technology companies, WP Engine expects to expand its operations there.

WP Engine Chief Financial Officer April Downing

WP Engine Chief Financial Officer April Downing

Last summer, WP Engine moved out of Capital Factory and into 15,000 square feet at 504 Lavaca in downtown Austin. At the time, WP Engine had 50 employees; it has tripled in size since then and hired several key executives including Downing. WP Engine also hired Heather Brunner, who became CEO last October. Previously, Brunner served as COO of Bazaar Voice. Jason Cohen, who founded the company with Ben Metcalfe, now serves as Chief Technology Officer.

WP Engine also raised $15 million in venture funding in January, bringing its total investment to $16.2 million. That money has helped fuel the company’s expansion and fast growth.

Last week, WP Engine held a meet and greet recruiting event at the Peal Brewery and more than 50 people attended. The company got some great potential job candidates out of the event, but they also enjoyed meeting community members, Downing said.

“Our event last week was amazing,” Downing said. It proved the company’s decision to move to San Antonio was the right one, she said.

“It was a neat community embrace that we got,” Downing said.

WP Engine has had quite a few transplants from San Antonio who moved up to Austin to work at the company, she said. It also has a few who still commute daily, she said. The San Antonio office will allow those people to work closer to their home. A few people from the Austin office also want to move to San Antonio, she said.

San Antonio reminds Downing, who has lived in Austin for 15 years, of the early days of Austin’s high tech industry.

“There’s a lot of investment being made in San Antonio around technology,” Downing said. “Fifteen years ago that wasn’t the case.”

Rackspace has served as a major catalyst for San Antonio’s technology industry. And it’s producing a lot of technology talent.

WP Engine recently hired former Rackspace Senior Vice President of Marketing, Klee Kleber to serve as its Chief Marketing Officer. And it finds the talent coming out of the Open Cloud Academy and the Linux Ladies program, sponsored by Rackspace, attractive, Downing said.

The Central Texas area is becoming more of a tech region with Austin as the thriving technology hub and San Antonio as the emerging market, Downing said.

“It’s really exciting to see it happening in real time,” she said.

With the fast-paced growth, WP Engine works hard to preserve its company culture, Downing said.

Each week the company hosts a town hall conference call that everybody dials into. During the call, they share everything that has been happening in the company, Downing said.

WP Engine also hosts training sessions called “Full Frontal Nerdity” that are open to everyone and once every four months the company hosts a weeklong gathering, Downing said.

“We do a lot of team building exercises during that week,” she said. “It’s something you have to continue to cultivate.”

WP Engine is moving into Geekdom, where Pressable, formerly known as Zippy Kid, is housed. Vid Luther, Pressable’s CEO and founder, started the company around the same time as WP Engine.

But WP Engine doesn’t see Pressable as a direct competitor. WP Engine focuses more on enterprise businesses and medium sized businesses.

There’s still plenty of room for growth in the industry, Downing said. WordPress powers 22 percent of all Internet sites. If any company got one percent of that business, that would be a pretty big market, Downing said.

Silicon Hills News Contributor Tim Green did this profile of WP Engine last March.

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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