Interview with Jamie Opalchuk, CEO and founder of HostPapa
As one of the larger, more independent companies in the web hosting space, HostPapa is able to reach out to both small and medium-sized businesses alike, while keeping customer satisfaction its main priority. From its focus on green hosting, to its one-on-one customer support, this is what characterizes the company in every aspect.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with HostPapa’s CEO and founder, Jamie Opalchuk. Here’s what he had to say about how he envisions the web hosting space in the future, the company goals and growth plan, and how he sees them in contrast with other hosting companies in the space.
HA: Hi Jamie. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your career path, and what led you to becoming the CEO at HostPapa?
Sure. My background is in technology marketing, and I’ve worked mainly here in Toronto. I’ve started a bunch of companies, and also helped a few others along the way with marketing their solutions. I’ve basically been a serial entrepreneur. So not only am I the CEO, but I’m also the founder of HostPapa and have been here from the very beginning!
We started HostPapa in 2007, but I’ve been involved in technologies now for over 25 years, helping companies adapt their technology to their business needs, everything from CRMs, to mobile software and wireless services. I’ve always asked myself: What are the technologies that can help various SMBs improve productivity and make their lives easier?
HA: One of the most notable features about your company is your focus on green hosting. Can you tell us more about that?
We are one of the pioneers of green hosting, right from when we launched back in 2007. We recognized the carbon footprint of our offices, servers, and data centers, and we knew how much power we consumed. We asked ourselves: Is there a way to relieve this carbon footprint burden we are putting on society? What we discovered was that there were organizations that do this, offering green energy solutions to companies by supplying Renewable Energy Certificates, or RECs. These RECs fund initiatives, primarily in North America that promote and develop green energy solutions such as wind and solar power. The REC’s offset the power consumption that would traditionally come from carbon power sources, and puts clean energy into the traditional power grid. That means for every megawatt we use, we purchase a REC to offset that amount with the same amount of green energy.
HA: You’re a Canadian-based company, with customers mainly in Canada, the US and Europe. What types of companies are you focused on reaching out to?
We have a large worldwide customer base, including a pretty big footprint in Europe and Asia, and also in Australia and New Zealand. But yes, we started here in Canada and that continues to be our number one marketplace. Our primary focus has always been on supplying great hosting solutions to small businesses. This includes everything from freelancers and solo entrepreneurs, to growing businesses with many employees. Generally speaking, when companies have over 50 staffers, they generally want to control their own IT and have a dedicated IT person. Those companies then tend to look towards larger players in the space. Our focus is to provide tools to help the small guys compete and grow.
HA: HostPapa offers a website builder but doesn’t offer dedicated or managed WordPress hosting. 1) Can you elaborate on that? 2) Where do you see the website builder market headed in the future?
Historically what we’ve seen is companies that are looking for dedicated servers would have more of an enterprise range, but I would say that’s changing. Small and medium-sized business are adopting cloud-based solutions and looking to acquire computer power and resources to have on demand, rather than investing in capital equipment such as servers or desktops. Our company sees this trend and is currently moving up the stack to offer these solutions to our client base. What you will see is several product launches from us that include Infrastructure as a Service, such as cloud hosting, as well as several managed hosting offers. But these solutions will still be targeted towards our bread and butter: small and medium-sized businesses.
What we are seeing is that on-premises equipment, such as servers, telephone equipment, email systems, etc. that was previously hosted in offices is going away. Small business owners are becoming more familiar and comfortable with applications on demand that are hosted in the cloud; basically, renting instead of purchasing. These clients are asking us to provide these solutions in combination with our extended support to help them achieve their goals. And while these solutions used to be reserved for enterprise because they were so expensive, our clients are realizing that they can utilize them to build their business and take it to the next level. So, in response to this, you’ll see us launch our managed cloud offering, managed hosting offering, and managed WordPress offering in the future.
The website builder we already currently offer is targeted to our SMBs, and we wanted to provide our own customized solution for our customers. Globally, I think the website builder market is extremely interesting because it’s very fragmented. You have some larger players like Wix and Weebly, which are great applications. You will find some consolidation in the website builder market, which is what’s happening in web hosting too, with HostPapa being one of the larger, independent, non-acquired companies in this arena. But in website building you’ll see that they’ll have to go wider and provide more facilities and integrations, otherwise you might see more open-source products like WordPress. And if it could become easier and less technical you might find that there is even more adoption, and that it becomes more mainstream with the removal of those technical barriers, and ends up as an open-source space.
My other opinion is more holistic – that the website builder space will just become a part of everyday business. You’ll have the website, you’ll have apps, and you’ll have social media. In the end, when you’re running a small business, all you care about is how you communicate with your clients. It needs to become more transparent and easier to use. As technologies get adopted, you’ll find that voice activation and artificial intelligence provided by players such as Amazon and Google will make their way into our everyday lives. Hopefully what will happen is that those technologies move their way into the website builder space as well and it will become easier for companies to be able to communicate with their prospective clients. We’ll see what the website builders look like in the future, but I think they’ll be totally different from what they are today.
HA: In the web hosting space, where do you see yourself in the web hosting landscape?
That’s a great question because we are one of the larger independent companies, and that works both in our favor and against it. One huge benefit is that it allows us to be more flexible and more dynamic. We see that not only are a lot of SMBs using web hosting, but they are also adopting cloud-based applications and services. We want to be right there with them. We don’t have to build it all, but we can provide it all for them by partnering with other providers.
Our goal is to be the one-stop-shop where we interface our support layer with other applications and make it easy for small business owners to use these great online applications. A single point of contact means there’s just one person to talk to when you have questions. But we’ve gone one step beyond that offering 30-minute one-on-one sessions with one of our PapadSquad experts. So, if you need help getting started, or setting up your email or WordPress, you can reserve a time to talk, instead of going through chats and tickets. What we recognized is that when we help customers with those applications, they’re going to be happier, and when they’re happier they’re going to stay with us longer and tell their friends.
In terms of the challenges, we have to take a look at the larger companies. I think that as a smaller company you always have to pick your battles and where you should focus because you don’t have the resources that some of the larger guys have.
HA: How do you see your offerings as different and/or better than theirs?
I think that if you focus energy and attention at being customer-centric and not necessarily focused on your operations or your products you’re always going to do well. Our goal is not only to bring great products to the market, but more importantly help that person use them, to get their email and website set up quickly, etc. If we provide the basics like that, then they’re going to expand and buy more of our products and services. As a smaller, more nimble company, we can do that, because our ship doesn’t have to turn as wide as the big guys, so to speak. Our goal is to provide that particular level of service, and we’ve been quite successful in focusing our energies on that.
HA: Tell me a bit about your staff, where they are located, and where your datacenters are located.
We’ve got 120 employees. We provide support in several languages: English, French, Spanish and German. Toronto is a large and very multi-cultural city, so we have access to some great talent here, including people who originate around the globe and now live in Canada.
We also have a lot of dedicated remote staff from around the world. They are generally more technically-oriented people, with a strong background — more than 10+ years — in the web hosting space. Our goal is to grab the best people so we can help the small business owners that are our clients.
We have a primary data center hosted here in Canada, with data centers in Toronto and Vancouver. Right now we also have a big initiative to broaden our data center coverage with servers in the United States, UK, and Australia for 2017.
Our goal this year is to provide more geographically centric data centers around the world. Small business owners are recognizing that they want servers close to where their customers are. Google is recognizing that page speed is important, and our customers want to be able to remove any latency that they might see with non-geographically centric centers. And we also want to provide Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS), with VPS and managed offers where they want their data to reside. That’s why we’ve taken the initiative and decided that this year is the time to launch these data centers in progression around the world.
HA: I love your company name and mascot. Is there a story behind them?
As the founder and the guy who bought the domain name, I’ve got some history on it! When we decided we wanted to launch in the web hosting arena back in 2006, we wanted a simple name. This name was available in the aftermarket and when I saw the name, I said there’s one thing about a papa in any culture around the world – they’re always the paternal figure, the person that takes care of you. Is this a company that you can trust? Is it simple? Are they friendly to their clients? The name captured all of that, so that was the basis of it.
HA: I know that growth has been a major focus at HostPapa in the past few years. As CEO, what are your future plans for the company in working towards this goal?
Since all of our products are purchased and consumed online, our growth and focus has to be on helping our customers not only have a simple buying experience, but to be able to buy, consume and help them with a variety of online tools. We really believe that when you do well at these things, you grow.
We’re really governing down on our knowledge base and our self-help by bringing in more tools, help guides and videos. What you’ll see from us in the near future is other ways to implement technology that will also help small businesses consume our products. That includes things like providing the right answers faster, by utilizing things such as artificial intelligence.
HA: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I’d like to say that we really appreciate what Hostadvice is doing, because hosting can be a very complex product, in particular for small businesses. And there’s a lot of noise on the internet. To bring all that to one location to enable businesses to make an educated buying decision, I think, is a great tool.
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