Interview with Linode CMO Casey Smith
Watching how companies grow has always fascinated me. It's especially heartening to learn about how Linode has grown in just the last 1.5 years. It was a pleasure for me to sit down with Casey Smith, Chief Marketing Officer at Linode, who has told us about the company and how his experience plays a role in its past, current, and future growth. The company's primary focus on support and dependability has given it an edge and has helped it grow outside its North American borders to maintaining a global presence. We assume they're just getting started. Meet Casey:
HostAdvice: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your role at Linode? How many people work for your company and where are your offices situated?
At Linode, I oversee our marketing and communications efforts. I began working with the company in 2010 as a strategic consultant and have since built a fantastic team of smart people focused on educating developers and engineering teams on what makes Linode’s services unique.
Prior to Linode, I founded two tech startups and two financial services firms between 1994 to 2000. Since then have spent time in product development, building sales teams, and defining growth strategies for Fortune 500 organizations and startups alike. As the managing partner of Dividend Partners since 2008, I’ve also provided seed funding and guidance for other startups.
Today, Linode employs just under 100 people, having doubled in size over the last 18 months. We currently have two locations, one in Galloway, New Jersey and another in Haddonfield, New Jersey. In December, we purchased the former Corn Exchange Bank building in Old City, Philadelphia. Over the next 12 - 18 months we are undertaking a substantial restoration and adaptive reuse effort and plan to begin moving in new hires and some current employees, shortly after its completion.
HostAdvice: How did Linode come into place, what problem did it try to solve?
In 2002, our founder and CEO Christopher S. Aker recognized the inefficiencies found with traditional hosting services. Shared hosting limited the control users had over their environments while also risking poor performance. Dedicated hosting, on the other hand, while offering full control and assured performance, was expensive and inefficient because it lacked the flexibility to scale to suit demand.
Through virtualization, Chris was able to offer developers the best of both worlds: on-demand access to virtual machines where they had total control, more assured performance, and on-demand scalability. In June 2003, he launched Linode as one of the first commercially available IaaS offerings.
HostAdvice: Why should users turn to Linode and not alternative web hosting solutions?
Value and performance. Pound for pound Linode offers the most reliable and highest performing plans available on the market.
We are also wholly owned by a passionate developer and have a long track record of dependability. The services we offer are built atop the best hardware out there and our support team has the shortest ticket response times and best reputation in the industry. You can also spin up a Linode from eight datacenters around the world and easily add on complimentary services as you grow.
HostAdvice: Can you explain the benefits of Linode SSD hosting? Do you offer SSD hosting exclusively?
The number one benefit of SSDs is speed. The plans we offer today are all SSD. An important differentiator for Linode is that our SSDs are datacenter-grade, which means fewer failures, greater reliability and sustained speed over the long-run.
We converted to SSDs from spinning HDDs in 2014. In fact we donated many of our retired drives to several colleges and universities. These donations have contributed directly to some significant higher-ed projects, such as optimizing NJIT’s groundbreaking Cryptography and Telecommunications Laboratory and building out TCNJ’s high-performance computing cluster for its new science hall that will debut in 2017.
HostAdvice: Can you explain the benefits of the Linode cloud? Is that also offered exclusively?
The benefits of using Linode lay in the simplicity of our services. Since 2003 we’ve been focused on achieving simplicity through thoughtful reduction and that’s the first thing you notice when you log in to the Linode Manager. Our customers can deploy a Linode in less than a minute, easily manage their DNS settings and gain insight from system-level metrics through an interactive graphic interface.
Our customers also have the option of adding other straightforward services, such as NodeBalancers or our Managed service where customers can off-load the 24/7 monitoring of their systems and services to us. On top of that, we have a Professional Services team available to take care of site migrations, server installations and one-off system administration tasks.
HostAdvice: Who is your target demographic and geography? What type of clients are typically using Linode services?
We are a global company. While North America remains our biggest market, we’ve seen vast increases in subscriptions from the Far East and central Europe over the past year. In fact, over 50% of our customers are outside the U.S.
In the last nine months we’ve opened datacenters in Singapore and Frankfurt, bringing the total number of datacenters worldwide to eight. Our typical clients are developers or startups who chose Linode based on its ease of use and support. Over time, they continued to grow - adding more Linodes and taking advantage of our regular service upgrades and highly available load-balancing service.
We also have engineering teams migrating their infrastructure to us from other providers to save money and take advantage of the value we offer. We attract enterprises that are ready to outsource their legacy infrastructure to reap the advantages of just-in-time cloud infrastructure.
HostAdvice: What should webmasters that visit HostAdvice know about Linode that they might not be aware of already?
Many of our customers like the fact that we are the only cloud provider that offers a mobile app for managing your Linodes. We also have a strong supportive community with a vast collection of guides and tutorials to help with just about any challenge.
From very early on, our community rallied to help one another in our forums and IRC channel #linode. To supplement that, we built the most robust collection of support guides available for the entire world to use - regardless of whether they are Linode customers. We continue to support this community by sponsoring hackathons and donating our services to students and not-for-profit organizations.
HostAdvice: What are the key challenges Linode has today, is it (fraud/DDOS/etc.)?
Recently we were targeted by an unknown attacker through persistent DDoS attacks. As a result, our teams were forced to work through the holidays to mitigate attacks and keep our systems available for our customers.
We’ve learned plenty from the experience and will be posting an update to our status page in the next few days about what we are doing to prevent these sort of disruptions in the future.
A second challenge has been finding quality employees that know Linux and are a good fit for Linode in terms of our commitment to customer service. While we haven’t completely solved our recruitment challenge, the opening of our second location in Haddonfield, New Jersey, last year helped tremendously and we expect our move to downtown Philadelphia to finish bridging the gap.
HostAdvice: What takeaways did you take from working at your previous ventures into Linode? Was it difficult to transition to a different demographic, and what would you like to share with our readers?
Having been a part of several tech startups, Linode wasn’t a difficult transition for me. Naturally, every company is different culturally as is every customer community. Nevertheless, if you make an effort to genuinely understand what it is your customers value most and want, you’ll find that while the solutions and features may change, their needs and motivations are often quite similar.
Because I launched my career in startups - and most recently had advised a handful - I understood how important resourcefulness would be at Linode. When you’re building something new, the energy is incredible, but it requires you to dig deep, figure things out quickly and focus on making incremental progress each and every day. These approaches were something I was excited to bring to Linode.
It has been beneficial to have spent time in mature corporate environments as well. These companies knew the importance of setting and following operational best practices, such as conducting business with a purpose and plan, appreciating why policies and procedures are crucial, knowing how essential it is to empower teams to work together on big problems, and understanding why the measurement of progress and results is fundamental to every member of the organization. Linode, relatively young, has integrated many of these concepts and grown from a one-man company in North America in 2006 to an international company of 80-plus, now.
Still, challenges always remain. Leading teams can be tough. It takes a willingness to coach when the time is right, and having enough wisdom to back off and let team members figure things out on their own when it’s not. Developing outcome-based objectives for team members can go a long way toward getting everyone moving in the right direction. This often starts by asking: “What is the purpose of your job?”, “Why is it important?” and “How do your goals fit into the wider objectives of our organization?”
The biggest takeaway? When you put trust in your team, paint them a picture of where the organization is going and demonstrate a little patience, they will impress you with the results every time.
HostAdvice: What is your tip for the question, “how do I select a web hosting company and plan”?
We get a lot of customers coming to us after having gotten started with Amazon Web Services. They thought they needed the endless number of services offered by AWS until realizing how complicated and unnecessary most of those extra services were for a startup or mid-sized business, not to mention the expense.
Taking a hard look at what your actual infrastructure needs will be in the beginning, and 1 - 2 years down the road is an important step. Are you developing and testing an app that will need more transfer or CPU than normal? What add-on services are important to ensuring uptime for your users? What level of support do you value and expect? Does your provider have a strong community of supporters behind it?
These are all important considerations but the biggest one to answer is “what do I really need?” Resources are precious for most startups so carefully considering your needs is essential to doing what’s best for the business.
HostAdvice: Do you encounter people clamoring for cloud storage more than in previous years? Why or why not?
Not especially. We do receive requests but cloud storage is a service that’s mostly become a commodity.
HostAdvice: Did you migrate all servers to SSD in the past few years, away from standard hard drives? If the technology changes in the next 5-10 years, do you expect to do the same for current Linode customers?
All of our new plans are SSD only and our earlier customers can upgrade to SSDs at anytime. However, there are still some spinning disks in our fleet.
We are always upgrading our infrastructure so the evolution of technology is a natural extension of our offering.
HostAdvice: There is a claim that people don’t want hosting, themes, or domains. They only want a website, preferring website builders like Wix and Weebly. What is your opinion on this transition, and is it threatening Linode at all?
As an infrastructure provider, we aren’t focused on offering themes or domains. Our focus is on providing scalable and reliable infrastructure for web applications and websites, alike. While some of our customers choose to build simple websites on their Linodes, many others are building complex applications and highly available environments the warrant a strong hardware and network foundation.