Interview with Peter Holden, CEO of Hostwinds
A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to talk to Peter Holden, the twenty-something CEO of Hostwinds, a hosting company that has been growing momentum and is among the top at Inc 500.
That's pretty amazing for a company started by a young kid. But having younger blood often opens doors to opportunities for consumers that the older folk (no offense, people) may not otherwise think of. For example, Hostwinds is known for its Minecraft hosting. You can imagine how many people are eating that up.
I'll let Peter tell you his story.
Hi Peter, thanks for connecting with us. Can you tell us a bit about how you founded the company and what made you create Hostwinds?
I first started Hostwinds back in October 2010. At that time, I was working as a backend developer at a web development firm. We were having lots of issues with hosting for customers and I was tasked with moving our hosting off of 1&1 to a large hosting brand and communicating heavily with hosting support. I remember it being an awful, terrible process, so I said, "I could do this better. I can provide a better level of customer service than what I'm getting."
I saw a problem in the web hosting space; there were a few companies out there doing a good job focusing on customer service and support. However, the ones that were offering good support were exorbitantly expensive. I wanted to build one that was cost-effective and was still able to be focused on customer service and support, to have fast live chat response times, fast ticket response times, and not to have customers worry about heavy waits and hold times.
I think we've done well on accomplishing that goal. We work on that every day; it's a neverending process. We found our space and continue to work toward awesome customer service and support. At the end of the day, it's all about the customers. We offer 24/7 live support so that we are here for our customers at any time they may need us, day or night.
What services are offered by Hostwinds right now?
We can do absolutely anything that includes uninterrupted power and fast Internet connections. We offer products like Minecraft servers, VPN servers, VPS (KVM, OpenVZ, Windows), cloud deployments, multilocation redundancy (which is where we can deploy clients in different locations and across a single IP address), custom load balancing solutions, shared web hosting, reseller hosting, and white label reseller hosting.
For our white label reseller hosting, basically anyone can have their own hosting company. We setup and install our API. You can sell any of our products charge what you want to charge. This works awesome for many service companies, such as a web development business, for example. The service will be ordered on our side and it will be set up as if it went through us directly but it will be managed by you (and supported by us). Anyone in the world can take advantage of our extensive infrastructure to sell any of our products.
Can you tell us about your offices, number of employees, and datacenters that are used at Hostwinds?
We have a datacenter in Dallas with onsite staff, and one in Seattle, WA. We have an office in Tulsa, OK. We have a new office that we're building out in Seattle. We're hoping the build-out finishes in the next 3 weeks - we've been working on it for 4-5 months. We ran the fiber through the office from the datacenter.
The total number of employees is about 25-30.
Can you tell us a bit more about the VPN service offering you provide?
Our VPN service is a transitional VPN service offering traditional encryption. We don't store any logs; we completely disable logging on the servers to be more cost-effective (we can run with 5 GB space). We have 120GB SSDs in these servers; each VPN user can use 1gbit port speed.
Tell me about your custom cloud deployments.
We have our dedicated servers and sometimes we have clients with massive web applications who need to scale more than one server. We analyze the web application and propose a solution that we can offer with a 100% SLA. We span at least two datacenters with the solution. We will set up load balancing with automatic failover. We may also set up database load balancing as well on a redundant cluster. We are able to announce the IP space in both location with traffic geographically routed to the closest point. We failover to the closest location in the event of a disaster. The way we handle the syncing of the data and load balancing between locations/servers is proprietary. We took open source technologies and developed some internally. The implementation is custom for each client/customer application.
How about your Minecraft servers?
One of our technicians really likes Minecraft and asked if we could start running Minecraft servers at the company. One of our culture points is encouraging employees to pursue side projects, and for him, this was it. I think the end product turned out really well, and our Minecraft servers continue to become more and more popular.
We tested deployment models and QA'd the offering. When everyone was happy, we rolled it out. It's a great product for us; we don't have issues with bandwidth because we own all of our equipment 100%. We don't lease anything. We wanted to be in control. We're not of the mindset of "Oh, your server is down, we are waiting for someone to reboot it."
How do you evaluate infrastructure and hardware for customers?
We rely on a couple of things: when we first started, we did things like CPU benchmarking because we didn't have unlimited funds. As we've grown, we get samples of new CPUs and hardware; we receive engineering samples from companies like SuperMicro that we can test under load to decide on our next build. We generally keep a number of builds under specific infrastructure (same server boards, etc). As upgrades come out, we upgrade those. But we like to have 5 cold spares on site of any piece at any given size. When something breaks, we always want to fix it right away.
For custom builds, we have enough knowledge of CPU architecture and can identify and recommend a solution that meets customer needs. Most people come to us with real world needs. They come with a very specific need (a database with 1,000,000 queries per minute) and we provide our knowledge and give them a recommendation, and based on that pairing, we deploy the infrastructure for them.
Can you tell us a bit more about what you did before Hostwinds?
Backend development was my first job. I'm 26. I started Hostwinds when I was 20. I've always had a bunch of odd jobs doing random things. I found I'm not a very good employee. I kind of have to do things my own way. I was always interested in computers though and I always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first company when I was 10, a vBulletin forum. I grew that forum quite big and was making $3k a month off AdSense. I've always liked doing my own thing and having a lot of side projects. The backend development job was just to have a job, not something I particularly enjoyed. I always liked finding things that were fulfilling to do, to help people out. I like to do new things every day and I get to do that at Hostwinds.
Where did your company's name come from?
I have no idea :) I liked how it sounded and the domain was available and that was the most important thing, so I registered it and that's how Hostwinds was born.
Congratulations, I see you are on the Inc 500. Tell us a bit about your journey as a company evolving into one of Tulsa's best.
We were number #1 for Tulsa and #98 for the US. Our team mission is providing the best support for our customers that we can. If we can provide great customer service and support, we'll get more customers and continue the cycle.
In case you didn't know, the Inc 500 is based on revenue. You send them information on company growth and based on growth, you'll get an acknowledgement. We were ecstatic to be #98.
A news article has you advertising web hosting aimed to the millennial generation. Tell me more about that.
We don't do any special advertising toward any specific demographic. We want everyone to be our customer.
However, some of our bleeding edge products are geared toward the millennial demographic, like the Minecraft service offerings. It's a really cool product and there was a lot of testing for it.
Is there anything else we should know?
The most important thing to us is customer service and support. If someone sends me an email and says they're upset, I read every email and personally respond to them and make sure they get escalated. We have so many systems of escalation if people are upset. If you get hosting with us and get set up, no matter what, you'll always be able to say "hey, I have an issue," and there will be someone there who cares and who will listen. We know the value of good customer service and how important it truly is in the business world; we want to make sure we take care of every single customer as if they were a family member.