Interview with Mitch Wainer, Co-Founder and CMO of DigitalOcean
Mitch Wainer, the Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at DigitalOcean
I have recently interviewed Mitch Wainer, the Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at DigitalOcean. Mitch has over 15 years of experience in digital marketing helping Fortune 500 companies with their digital advertising strategy. Four years ago, Mitch decided to leave it all and fight brands like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Surprisingly enough, his team is winning this battle. We had a discussion over DigitalOcean’s hyper growth, VCs & funding, content marketing and what is required to get him down on the floor for 200 pushups…
HostAdvice: What can you tell us about DigitalOcean in 2016?
We have 220 employees and we are situated in Manhattan NY in SOHO – what we now call “Silicon Alley.”
I took my full stack marketing experience to building a startup early 2012. It has been less than 4 years and we have more than 600,000 registered clients of which 70% are international. We are launching new products, slowly moving upstream, targeting engineering teams and offering them a great infrastructure experience to support their apps. The company has been evolving over time and we are maturing which is exciting.
DigitalOcean Co-founders – Moisey Uretsky, Mitch Wainer and Ben Uretsky
HostAdvice: You have made a name for yourself for being such a simple to use service. But aren’t developers the kind of savvy “know it all” foxes that want things with all the possible features, and looking less for the easy installation?
You’d be surprised. Developers don’t want the complexity or extra useless features, and this is why we are successful. We eliminated unnecessary features and boiled it down to the 2-3 components of cloud hosting that are important to developers, which include easy to deploy, scalable and reliable infrastructure. The developers value their time and we want to save their time as much as possible. We try to automate the server administration function as much as possible. The user experience is the key differentiator; we are a product-oriented organization and it makes a big difference in the simplicity of the service the user receives.
HostAdvice: According to Netcraft’s report, you have the fastest growing cloud hosting service, surpassing even Amazon in the number of web-facing computers. How can a small company founded in 2012 compete with such cloud hosting giants?
It goes back to the simplicity and the fact that developers love us. If you go to Google and search for DigitalOcean + love you will see how developers respond about loving our service, it is rare to see the word love with Amazon or Google cloud (A.H: I actually went to Facebook and ran this search, results show below).
When we launched, we decided to focus on the individual developers that no other cloud provider was catering to. All other cloud services neglected them and focused attention on the enterprise. DigitalOcean grew virally through word of mouth. The game plan is that the individual developer will take us to the office and to the enterprise and introduce us to other developer teams.
Developers truly love DigitalOcean – Facebook search for “DigitalOcean love”
HostAdvice: Does being a startup business help you better understand startups, in comparison with Amazon, Google or other corporate types?
To some extent it does. We are living and breathing the culture itself so we can relate to the clients. It is kind of a “been there, done that”. We know the pain points and know how to address them. On the marketing front, we connect with them on social media or at events like hackathons, where we ourselves went not so long ago.
HostAdvice: What are the key marketing channels that you use and what surprised you by working better than expected?
The channel that surprised me the most was how powerful our content became. When we launched the first 20 tutorials, we saw immediate traffic of 20,000 visits a month, then 60,000, than 100,000 and now we are at 5 million users a month. Eventually we were able to engage with the users and sign them up. Our referral program generated 25% of new monthly sign ups.
When we launched our content marketing efforts, there was no “go to” knowledgebase for development opportunities. Their system admin content was poor, and we filled the gap. Today we have 1,200 – 1,400 tutorials on our site. We have a talented team of technical content writers, as well as a generous Pay To Write Program for external contributions, that keeps a steady stream of high quality content.
HostAdvice: There is a famous video going around about you doing 100 pushups in order to persuade TechCrunch to interview your company. What goal is worth you doing 200 pushups?
I can’t believe you heard about that… 200 pushups? I would do it for 1 million customers, which is an achievable goal. There are 28 million software developers globally and it should get to 50 million by 2022, so we think we can cross the 1 million within a reasonable time frame.
Watch Mitch Wainer doing 100 pushups in order to win an interview with TechCrunch
HostAdvice: There are thousands of low content “top 10 web hosting” sites. What is your opinion in regards to that?
I actually bought the domain top10webhosts.com or something similar and planned to use it a while back, but never found the time for it. We don’t focus on affiliate sites in our marketing strategy. We see developers more interested to hear from friends and people they work with about the right service for them, rather than going on Google and searching for top 10 sites. Developers are super smart and they understand the internet culture and what tricks are being used. They want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
HostAdvice: You offer only cloud hosting, giving away a big chunk of the hosting market of SMBs hosted on shared servers. What is your plan for the SMB market?
We are already catering to engineering teams that work at startups and SMBs. We are going to build features and products that focus on them even more, but it will not be a shared hosting product. We will place greater emphasis on virtual machines rather than individual licenses.
HostAdvice: You mentioned 70% of your client base is global. What did you learn from your global users?
We have had to deal with data privacy concerns in countries like Germany, where companies are concerned about hosting data outside the country. This is why in 2015 we launched Frankfurt Datacenter. We also have datacenters in Toronto, Singapore, Amsterdam and London. We hosted events and have flown out to meet with developers so we could get to know their culture.
HostAdvice: Why should users turn to DigitalOcean and not alternative web hosting solutions?
Use us if you are looking for the simplest cloud infrastructure experience. DigitalOcean will allow you to scale between platforms and save yourself hours of time – allowing you to focus on coding your application instead of taking care of infrastructure. I truly believe we offer the best infrastructure experience.
HostAdvice: What are the three things a startup should focus on in regards to selecting a cloud hosting provider?
1. Ease of use of the platform.
2. Price to performance ratio and provisioning time (time required to deploy your infrastructure).
3. The reliability aspect (ticket response time, for example. Ours is 33 minutes average over email), SLA, reliable network, etc.
HostAdvice: Since you don’t offer simple shared hosting, can I ask you which service you would recommend?
My personal favorites from when I was a teenager developing websites are; Media Temple and 1&1. Both are reliable.
HostAdvice: How was your experience with Techstars, who would you recommend going to an accelerator?
Any startup that has built a proof of concept with some traction, e.g. 50-1,000 active users and so forth, should consider an accelerator. An accelerator can connect you with great network of entrepreneurs, VCs and angels. This is much better than any college education that you can receive for this kind of thing.
The 3 month program taught me so much about building a startup from scratch. It covered all angles: product, finance, people, any angle that you can think of is taught there. After you finish the program, you demo your product to a relevant audience and can get the funding you need for the next step.
While any early stage startups should check it out, if you are building a lifestyle business and don’t want to raise funds and just want to build a 3-5 million dollars a year business, without answering to a board, an accelerator may not be for you.
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