Interview with Media Temple president Rod Stoddard
After interviewing mainly entrepreneurs in their 30s who built their own company and grew fast, maybe without seeing enough on the way, it was a refreshing experience for me to sit down with Rod Stoddard, a tech industry veteran with 17 years of experience in the IT, cloud computing and e-commerce industries, and talk about Media Temple’s past and future.
HostAdvice: It has been a few months now since you filled the shoes of Russell P. Reeder as president of Media Temple. What did you learn from him and what do you try to do differently?
Media Temple has a great culture of people being passionate about the company and putting the customer before anything else.
One of the things that I try to bring is more focus and prioritization. I also try to encourage more collaboration between different departments and what it is they focus on.
Media Temple’s team having fun, outside of the office – Focusing on the customer
HostAdvice: You have 125,000 customers and you host 1.5 million websites. This is a ratio of more than 10 sites per customer. How come?
This is one of the interesting things I learned when I joined. We have many design shops and creative agencies as clients and they very often use one account for several of their customers’ websites. Sometimes they build a site and give the customer full control and access, but most of the time they want to manage the entire thing themselves so we see many websites under one account.
HostAdvice: How did growing up in Silicon Valley help you in your career path?
I had strong technical focus from a young age. I was interested in computers despite not having any engineers in my family. My school was one of the first to have Macs and I was exposed to a lot of technology. I was naturally attracted to the tech industry.
HostAdvice: A year ago, you expanded your WordPress service and announced many more plans for users of this platform. What was behind this move?
It is amazing how fast WordPress has been adopted by the tech community. Obviously, when you have so many websites built with WordPress, there are different segments with different needs. A small blog on WordPress requires different features than a Fortune 500 company that uses multiple large-scale WordPress installs. We collected feedback from WordPress users over 10 months before re-launching our WordPress offering as a managed WordPress solution featuring four different plans that meet the needs of all our WordPress customers.
We customized our plans to run the gamut, catering to independent designers, bloggers and creative, as well as creative agencies and those running high-traffic WordPress installations.
Managed WordPress plans - Different segments with different needs
HostAdvice: What are the key challenges facing Media Temple right now?
We are usually the 2nd or 3rd host for many of our clients, who come to us after having tried cheap, low quality hosting plans. Once they try us, they usually stay a while with us – we actually have one of the lowest churn rates in the hosting industry. People go to the low-cost companies first, but after a while, they understand that if their site is going down too often, potentially losing business isn’t worth the extra dollar they saved.
Honestly, we are not competing with low-cost hosting companies on price. What drives us is to give our customers the best user experience – and peace of mind. Our customer service team is based in the U.S. and has our customers’ back 24/7. The people working for us are customer service representatives with in-depth technical knowledge of our solutions, and not salespeople. They worry about how to help our customers as fast as they can and get their problem solved so they can go back to focusing on running their business and not worrying about their server!
One of our challenges for the next few years will be to further educate web designers, developers, creative agencies and enterprises that are shopping around for hosting about how cheap hosting usually goes hand in hand with low quality service and if they choose poorly, it can potentially hurt them (and their business) in the long run.
HostAdvice: When I asked Mitch Wainer, the CMO of Digital Ocean in an interview a few weeks ago which company he would recommend for shared hosting, he mentioned you. Why do you think he said that?
(Laughing) Why did he say that? Because he knows better. In all seriousness, Digital Ocean is a really great company, which I like. I am not as technical as our engineers but they keep telling me that our solutions are indeed just better – including when it comes to shared hosting.
We recently re-launched our nine-year old Grid, our shared hosting product and one of the first original public clouds, as a managed shared hosting solution. It uniquely features a clustered architecture, which means that, unlike any other web hosts, Grid has burstable resources that handle noisy neighbors and unexpected traffic spikes to keep our customers’ sites online
In addition to our technology, our customer service is a really big differentiator.
Besides being the president of Media Temple, I am also a consumer of many products. Very often, I try to get in touch with some customer service agents at companies that I bought something from and they usually do not get back to me at all or don’t respond fast enough to my requests. Here, at Media Temple, our customer support agents are trained to have an in-depth technical knowledge of our solutions so they can respond quickly and try to solve the problem right away, during the first interaction with a customer.
Media Temple customer team, Culver City, CA – “Our customer service is all in the US”
HostAdvice: What are the top things to verify before selecting a hosting company?
a. What level of customer service do they provide? Are they real humans with 24/7 customer support service across multiple channels (chat, Twitter, etc.) or just 9-to-5 phone customer support? Where is the customer service located?
b. Assuming your business is going to grow, your needs will evolve. We help our customers select a solution that meets their needs today but we also help them scale when the time comes. For example, we regularly support customers who started on our shared hosting platform, Grid, and decided to migrate to AWS and needed our certified cloud engineers to manage that platform for them.
HostAdvice: We often hear users in non-English speaking markets say they prefer a local hosting company that speaks their language. Do you think they should also consider US hosts?
I understand the benefits of talking with someone in your own language. But if your host is doing a good job, you should not need to speak with them that often. We have a sizable global customer base as 30% of them are international. That’s because people understand value the quality of the solutions and services we provide despite not speaking the same language. Also, the type of clients we have, even the international ones, is mostly savvy users who feel fine using English.
Easy to use control panel for managing multiple sites
HostAdvice: GoDaddy acquired you in 2013 in addition to more than a dozen companies lately. EIG also has a lot of big brands. Are we going to see a battle of giants and consolidation in the hosting market?
EIG’s strategy has been to acquire a lot of companies trying to get economies of scale. I don’t think it is working that well as companies that are getting acquired see that their customer service quality goes down - ours has remained this premium customer service people have always known and loved after the GoDaddy acquisition. GoDaddy is a one-stop shop for SMBs, which are their primary target audience. Our target audiences are different and they have different needs - and GoDaddy appreciates that and hasn’t tried to change what we do.