Interview with Robert Hoffmann, CEO of 1&1
It's not often that we get the pleasure of speaking with the highest ranks at web hosting companies, but when we have the opportunity, we're truly grateful--these busy folks take time out of their day to truly show us the inner workings of their business. It's awesome to get the detailed insights, and this interview with Robert Hoffmann of 1&1 is definitely no exception. Learning about his rise to leadership has been very insightful, and there's a lot we can take away from it at HostAdvice.
Can you tell us your background and how you came from becoming 1&1's chief sales officer to CEO? What has been your IT path to date? How did your experiences help you in becoming a seasoned sales pro and CEO?
In my current role as the CEO of 1&1 Internet and member of the management board of United Internet AG, I am responsible for United Internet’s business applications business.
Before taking over responsibility for United Internet’s business application sector in October 2012 with the flagship products 1&1 Cloud Server as well as MyWebsite, I was responsible for 1&1’s telecommunications business since 2006. During this period, 1&1 continued its growth in broadband access, introducing unbundled options on all major networks in Germany and becoming a fast-growing mobile service-provider on the Vodafone-Network. March 2010 marked the first MVNO-contract I closed with Vodafone in Germany.
One of my personal milestones was the cooperation with ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG, initialized the joint-venture maxdome as the German market leader for video on demand. Shortly thereafter, I completely revitalised 1&1’s sales department as a member of the management board for sales in 2011 and 2012.
Parallel to my function as speaker of the management board of 1&1 held since May 2008, I have also been a presidium member of the German industry association VATM as well as actively engaging in the Advisory Board of WIK Consult.
Prior to joining United Internet / 1&1 in 2006, I held various executive positions at Vodafone / Arcor. There I started value-added voice services for business customers, responsible for the group’s brand consolidation (o.tel.o, ISIS, nexgo) and also launched the first DSL-bundles as Head of Product Management. After that I led the residential sales organisation of the company.
I started my career by founding my own business Hoffmann Distribution-Technik importing vending machines from USA and Spain which I founded in 1993 and sold in 1998.
1&1 is over a quarter of a century old! Can you tell us about the founding of the company and how things have changed?
In 1988, Ralph Dommermuth, now CEO of 1&1’s parent company United Internet, and his partner founded the company 1&1 EDV Marketing GmbH. One of their first business ideas was a marketing tool for software houses. Simply put, since then Ralph Dommermuth identified fundamental technology trends and made the right decisions at the right time, starting with establishing 1&1 as an independent internet provider in 1996. By partnering with webhosting expert Schlund+Partner in 1998, 1&1 added web hosting to its service portfolio. In 2002, 1&1 entered the German broadband network market and hosting market in the UK and France, which marked our transition to an international business and the further development of the web hosting business. The acquisition of innovative companies such as the web portal WEB.de in 2005, British hosting expert Fasthosts in 2006 or Spanish cloud specialist Arsys in 2013, enriched 1&1’s service portfolio and strengthened its position as one of the leading online solutions providers worldwide. Benefiting from Arsys’s technologies, 1&1 recently was able to make the potential of the cloud accessible to its customers – especially to SMBs, developers as well as system integrators – by launching the new 1&1 Cloud Server in 2015.
This February for example, our Cloud Server portfolio will be enhanced with the 1&1 Cloud App Center, enabling customers to build and run web applications and development stacks which can be installed with just a single click. Bitnami’s portal and technology for app installations will offer 1&1 customers a wide selection of the latest apps along with a ‘no minimum term’ contract and a pay-per-minute payment model offering flexibility that was not available previously. Combined with the ease of scalability and the use case optimization, customers will find it easier than ever to build apps on the cloud. The offerings also come with unlimited traffic without any additional costs – a real USP as traffic above the exempt amount has to be paid in general. The partnership will provide a consistent, secure and optimized end-user experience when deploying any app, on the 1&1 Cloud Server whether an individual designing their first application or a department of a large organizations looking for an environment where new services can be developed and deployed frequently.
Regarding 1&1’s future plans on the horizon, all strategies are pointing to the cloud and its countless possibilities including the plan of being able to offer all 1&1 hosting services via the cloud in order to provide our customers with an even higher flexibility for their businesses and web projects. We are also working on cloud-based solutions which interest users who never thought about running projects in the cloud due to the complexity.
Where are your offices and how many employees work at 1&1?
Since its founding 27 years ago in Montabaur, Germany, 1&1 still maintains its international headquarters there. 1&1 has further locations in ten countries all over the world, including Spain, the UK and the US. Worldwide, more than 7,000 people work for 1&1.
How do you foster communications within your global offices? What company culture do you encourage to foster internal and external offices from being collaborative?
1&1 uses modern communication technologies which allow employees to work closely and efficiently with colleagues, partners and external contacts. 1&1’s company culture is characterized by an international spirit, resulting from the collaboration of employees coming from all corners of the world. The relationships between the different nationalities are further strengthened through face-to-face meetings taking place on a regular basis.
Can you tell us of the various offerings globally that 1&1 has?
1&1 is divided into the segments Access and Business Applications. The Access division is exclusively operated in the German market. It encompasses a range of broadband and mobile access products for smartphones, tablets, and laptops, including the related applications (such as home networking, online storage, telephony or entertainment). With the Business Applications branch, which is available in Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Canada, Mexico and the US, 1&1 offers a wide range of hosting, cloud and e-business applications for home users, small companies and freelancers. In detail, these applications include e.g. Personal Information Management applications (email, to-do lists, appointments and addresses), webhosting, servers, websites as well as e-shops. This is all based on an extensive infrastructure consisting of a large number of data centers all over the world, which allow 1&1 to offer a diverse server portfolio. More than 70,000 servers run in 1&1‘s seven state-of-the-art data centers, which are located in Europe and the US. Thanks to multiple redundant connections between data centers, 1&1 can guarantee nearly 100% uptime. In our data centers, we are hosting about 19 million domains and more than 20,000 Terabytes of data transferred per month. To prohibit data transfer delays, the 1&1 data centers are configured with multiple redundant connections to the most important Internet hubs. With impressive connectivity, our customers experience faster loading times and higher multi-user capacity for their websites.
Thus, 1&1 makes solutions to customers available suited for their needs starting with basic server setups up to high-end cloud servers. Additionally, 1&1 is one of the few providers where customers are given the option to choose a specific data center by using the Data Center Selector. This means, customers in the US can choose between our US, German, or Spanish data centers when setting up their cloud infrastructure using the 1&1 Cloud Server. Companies, especially those who are running a global business, benefit from this option as they can setup their virtual machines closer to their customers in order to avoid long latency times when delivering their web services.
Can you elaborate on your commitment to green technology?
Among other resources, 1&1 uses renewable energy from water, wind and sun to power up its data centers and offices. Moreover, 1&1 employed energy-efficient hardware and software at its workplaces and infrastructure. For example, 1&1 uses extra-efficient power supply devices with a reduced heat loss, and we avoid the employment of redundant components in servers. The data centers of 1&1’s subsidiary Arsys are constructed using highly energy efficient technologies as well.
What factors do you consider when evaluating technologies to serve 1&1 customers?
1&1 analyzes and identifies fundamental trends in the market and tests new technologies according to the benefits for its customers. Thus, 1&1 makes sure to provide customers with high-quality as well as high-performance products at a fair price according to their needs.
What is involved in becoming a successful ISP?
In order to be successful you always have to be a step ahead of others and put customers first. In detail, this means analyzing the market for trends. Then you should ask yourself how you can adapt to those trends and make innovative technologies available for your customers so that they can use the advantages we provide for developing their business or enriching their life in general. To meet customers’ needs, 1&1 offers them a broad portfolio of innovative solutions with the highest quality using fair and transparent pricing models.
If someone today contacted you with no knowledge of building a website but needed one for his business, what kind of product would you feel would serve them best?
I would recommend they try 1&1 MyWebsite. It enables SMBs and freelancers to setup their own professional website – fast, easily and without any background knowledge. They can find inspiration among hundreds of individual pre-filled images and texts for more than 200 industries. All website templates are mobile friendly and thus, ideally displayed even on smartphones and tablets.
Can you tell us the importance of redundancy/redundant connections and how exactly 1&1 leverages that technology on its hosting platforms?
1&1 products are operated in modern data centers with the highest security level. By managing two geographically separated data centers using the geo-redundancy concept, 1&1 is able to guarantee maximum availability for all its solutions. This means, if one of its high-tech data centers should face a malfunction, the redundant system of the other data center is activated automatically. Server backups are also saved in geographically separated data centers.
How has the cloud altered the state of web hosting at 1&1, and are you finding an increased emphasis on moving to the cloud by your customers?
In everything 1&1 does, we strive to meet customers’ needs. Therefore, as the market has changed in the last couple of years and the majority of German enterprises see their businesses’ future in the cloud, 1&1 found a way to anticipate this demand: the new 1&1 Cloud Server was specifically developed for SMBs which are often unexperienced cloud-wise, but nevertheless want to draw from the many benefits of this technology. Due to changing markets and increasing competition, SMBs are required to react quickly to these developments, often by expanding their IT infrastructure. To stay ahead, flexibility is essential. So when developing the Cloud Server, 1&1 focused on providing a user-friendly and inexpensive solution which allows for maximum flexibility and at the same time full cost transparency through a pay-per-use pricing model. In terms of cloud migration, the US exceeds other countries by far which is proven by a fantastic launch of 1&1 Cloud Server there. Established German enterprises distrust cloud services as they do not want to hand over their data to another company. This builds on the idea of insufficient data protection, data loss and security breaches with cloud vendors. But 1&1 strives to achieve a shift in this sentiment by being active on the market as a German enterprise providing its customers with services following the highest security standards, which are hosted from data centers located in Germany. Young German entrepreneurs, on the other hand, accept the cloud much more and see it first and foremost for its advantages.
Regarding future plans, 1&1 intends to simplify its services even more, making it easier for customers migrating data from their local data center into the cloud. A smart interaction between private and public cloud is important here as well as a close interlocking of an enterprise’s internal services with those being already used from an external source. In order to benefit from this, enterprises need to develop appropriate processes and find out potentials for optimization. This will help them to grow their business and therefore, stay competitive in the market.