Who We’re Recommending for Web Hosting These Days
Back in March, I documented my frustrating search for a good web host. I had tried GoDaddy, pair Networks, Media Temple, Yahoo and MidPhase, all to no avail. Each had their good points but ultimately didn’t work for me for one reason or another. (See that original post for more details.)
Well back in July we switched over to a new hosting service called Mosso (an innovative “hosting system” from the guys at Rackspace), and we would definitely recommend them. As with any new service they have definitely had their bumps in the road, but for us the good definitely outweighs the bad.
The downside is that they only have a single product: $100/month for 80 GB of dsik space and 2,000 GB of bandwidth. If you need that much, or you’re looking to be a reseller, then this a great deal. Otherwise you might have to team up with someone.
The really cool thing for us is that we can run ASPs on a true Linux system. As longtime Windows guys, that has made the switch to a Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP setup very, very easy for us.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
In the past few months, I’ve seen two different situations where “experts” publicly assailed an individual or a company because of a decision that they felt made no sense or was downright unethical. The problem with both of these situations was that the “experts” weren’t privy to many of the key details driving the decision. Why weren’t they privy? Because it wasn’t their decision, and the people making the decision had no reason at all to fill them in on the details.
The latest incident involved Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Watch. As everyone will attest, Danny was Search Engine Watch. He founded it and was always the leading face of the company.
On August 29, Danny announced that he was leaving Search Engine Watch because he and owner Incisive Media had “been unable to agree on terms to renew [his] contract.” Immediately, industry folks blasted the decision as shortsighted and many claimed that Incisive just didn’t understand how valuable Danny was.
Last Friday, though, we were granted some insight into why Incisive didn’t make more of an effort to keep Danny. Turns out, they knew they were going to be purchased soon and didn’t have any real motivation to dilute their equity by keeping him around.
This should be a lesson to all of us to be really sure we know all the facts the next time we decide to criticize anyone. Even when it seems very obvious (like with Danny), it’s often not, and we end up with egg on our face. We’ve all been there.
How to Screw Up
No one likes to screw up. In fact, much of our working lives are spent in tasks designed to keep us from screwing up.
Still, screwing up is inevitable. It happens to all of us sooner or later. When it does happen to you, make sure you handle it like LowerMyBills did.
Within a week’s time last month, LowerMyBills uncovered not one, but two major reporting errors in its affiliate program that prevented many of its affiliates from receiving all the commissions they were due. This isn’t some fly-by-night company, either. Few companies pay out more in affiliate commissions than LMB, so this was a major issue.
How They Handled It
As soon as they recognized the first error, they sent an email to every one of their affiliates clearly outlining what the problem was and how they planned to solve it. Nowhere did they try to duck blame for it or try to make it sound like less than it was.
After discovering the second error, not only did they take the same approach, they included a 20% bonus to make up for screwing up.
So let’s recap:
- Admit you screwed up.
- Say what you’re doing to fix it.
- Offer some kind of appropriate compensation.
Whatever you do, don’t try to cover it up. Your customers are smart, and especially with the coming of the Internet age, they talk to each other. If they find out that you knew something that you weren’t telling them, or if they feel like you didn’t take ownership of a problem, they will turn on you in a heartbeat.
On the other hand, own up to a problem immediately and appropriately, and you’ll win customers for life.
It’s an easy choice, but one that’s not very obvious when it’s you sitting there having discovered that you’ve screwed up.
What Your Best Employees are Doing Right Now
They’re starting companies. Heck, even some of your worst employees are starting companies.
If you’re not treating them like you value them, sooner or later they’re going to look for an exit strategy. And if they’ve never thought about starting a company — and there may be ten people who haven’t — the latest issue of Business 2.0 clues them.
In 5 ways to start a company (without quitting your day job), Erick Schonfeld details five startups that started during work and went on to great things. It’s definitely worth a read.
And on the B2 blog, he details the five steps to moving straight from a day job to being your own boss:
- Use Your Salary as Funding
- Turn Common Complaints Into a Business Plan
- Make Your Boss a Beta Tester
- Cash In On Your Company’s Reputation
- Convert Your Employer Into a Business Partner
Cost-of-living raises and nominal bonuses don’t say, “You’re an important part of this company.” They say, “This is the minimum we have to do, and if you leave we can just replace you — and probably pay your replacement less than we were paying you. It’s really a win-win for us.”
If you can’t answer the question, “Why would a top-level employee want to work here?” you’re probably already starting to see the exodus.
Finding a Good Web Host
Why is finding a good web host so hard to do? With thousands of hosting companies on the Internet, it should be easy right? Well I’m finding it’s anything but.
I have always hosted the vast majority of my sites at GoDaddy. I know. I know. Many people think hosting with GoDaddy is the equivalent of using dial-up AOL as your ISP — real Internet people just don’t do it. Well, for a basic, low-traffic site, I haven’t yet found anyone that beats them or comes anywhere close. You can get a Windows or Linux site with virtually limitless bandwidth and storage space, plus up to five databases, for just $3.95/month. Can’t beat it.
So why am I looking for a new host then? Well, for one reason, GoDaddy customer support is basically useless for anything that isn’t already in the FAQs. I had one issue last summer that was escalated two or three levels into their customer service hierarchy, and the people still had no clue. It got so bad that I literally felt like I might be on a TV show that was seeing how long I would actually keep trying.
Second, their setup is pretty straightforward. If you need to do some more advanced configuration (like have a subdomain point at your root directory), you can’t do it there. They do give you much more control than other hosts — a surprising level of control for $3.95, actually — but there’s a limit to it.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s definitely a limit to how much traffic you can drive through a database-driven site there. One of my sites get around 100,000 page views/month, and it’s really dragging. It’s a WordPress site, so it makes at least one database call on every page.
So, I went looking for a new host. Figured I could find one in a matter of days, but it has now been two and a half weeks and I’ve had acounts with three different hosts, and looked at several others, but I’ve yet to find a good one. Here’s a brief history of my search.
Looking for Advice
Whenever I need advice, I head over to the forums at High Rankings. I haven’t yet found a better source of free, accurate advice on topics like this one and more. I asked about web hosts, and the folks there were quick to answer as usual. From all the recommendations, I was most convinced of pair Networks. So that’s where I headed next.
pair Networks came highly recommended, so I assumed that my search was over before it really ever began. I signed up for a year of hosting, to get the 24% discount, and used the coupon code REFUGEE to get free setup. My account was ready to go very quickly, and I uploaded all my files. For some reason, though, they didn’t show up when I hit the site. Turns out, I had to upload them to a particular folder, which wasn’t specified in the setup instructions, and the folder was actually a logical link so it didn’t even show up as a folder. After uploading over 1MB of files, I then had to move them again. That was frustrating.
Then it was time to upload my two databases. After several minutes of searching, though, I couldn’t find their mySQL interface. Turns out they don’t have one. Customer service said that I could download phpMyAdmin and then upload it to my pair account, but that’s 10MB worth of files, and I’d have to do it twice since I have two databases. Not a good solution. I also didn’t want to have to figure out how to configure phpMyAdmin. I’m just used to it being there.
With so many things being different than I expected them to be I knew that I would continue to have issues, so I decided to try somewhere else. pair refunded my card in full very quickly and made it very easy to cancel my account. On that basis, and the fact that they came so highly recommended, I still would recommend them if the details above don’t turn you off.
Shaun Inman gave Media Temple good pub on his site, so I took a look at them. Very impressive all the way around, so I signed up.
A few hours later, I got a call from them. They sounded very suspicious of my ownership of the domain I was claiming and asked me lots of questions. Come to find out, of the thousands of web hosts I could have picked, I picked one that the former owner of the domain still had an account with. Not only that, his account was still live. Nevertheless, it looked like that wouldn’t be a problem.
Boy, was that ever wrong.
Turns out, their management software uses the domain name as part of the authorization credentials. When they set up a second account under the same domain name, neither I nor the former owner could login. I never could get him to change his account so that I could login, and MT insisted that they had to speak with him before they could give me control, so I ultimately decided to cancel that account as well. I couldn’t wait any longer.
That’s when the real trouble began.
Turns out, to cancel an account you must login and complete a form. See the problem there? If you did, you’re still several steps ahead of their customer service department. Not only did they send me a cancellation form that required me to login, when I emailed them back to let them know that I couldn’t login to complete the form, they responded with:
According to our files it does not seem that the form was submitted. I have re-sent the form please make sure to click on the “submit” button on the bottom of the form.
That’s right, another link to the form that required me to login. That was Thursday. I wrote them back immediately explaining the problem in more detail, but have yet to hear back from them.
Yahoo! Web Hosting
In the meantime, I went looking yet again. WordPress recommends Yahoo! very highly, so I went over and got set up with them. I was very impressed with the whole process — very clean, and their management center is very well organized. I was very hopeful.
Flash forward two-plus days. My site setup is still “in progress.” That’s unacceptable. More than two days to set up a site? I also notice that I can’t upload my .htaccess file, so I start poking around. Turns out, they don’t support .htaccess. Since I have an essential plug-in that requires entries in .htaccess, that’s a deal-breaker. So, I cancel my account. Unlike the other two hosts, though, they don’t refund the first month’s payment. Ridiculous. I definitely wouldn’t recommend Yahoo! Hosting. It’s Yahoo!, so I should have known better.
Back to GoDaddy
By now I was wondering if I could make GoDaddy work, so I upgraded to one of their larger shared plans. No go. It evidently just gave me more bandwidth and storage space (neither of which I needed), not the upgrade in performance I was looking for.
Back to the search.
This site is actually hosted with MidPhase. I had looked at them at the beginning, and several times since then, but “Unmetered Bandwidth” for just $7.95/month made me very uneasy. How can they possibly offer that without significantly sacrificing performance? Still, with all the trouble I’ve had, I went back and took another look. Their virtual dedicated plans looked promising, but they had no details on databases or dedicated IP addresses — two things that are critical for me. Their online help was no help, nor was their “Quick Answers Robot,” who evidently hadn’t been programmed very well. So, I tried the Live Chat.
Please wait for a site operator to respond.
I did. For more than 5 minutes. Any site that can’t respond to a potential customer any sooner than that via “live chat” was going to have real problems supporting customers. Thankfully, I didn’t have to actually cancel an account with them.
Good question. I’m still looking (and still trying to get my Media Temple account closed and get my money back). I’m definitely open to suggestions. If you have someone you’re really happy with who hosts your high-traffic site, let me know!
Russell Beattie posted a great, long rant yesterday about how “Web 2.0″ doesn’t seemed to have learned any lessons from “Web 1.0.”
Somehow the focus flipped from “making” platforms to “using” them. Ajax came along, Social Software and Tagging took over, RSS alone was considered an API, a few companies got bought, mobile was forgotten about completely and somewhere along the way the whole part about the “business” stuff went totally out the window. Hey, I’m all about creating useful and innovative software for your users, but if you can’t make a profit, you won’t be around long enough to make any sort of difference, and will probably cause more harm than good.
Great, great business observations all the way through. Definitely worth a read even if you have no idea what Web 2.0 is; you’ll still understand most of his points.
Convenience Stores a Growth Business?
Here in Canada, we have changed the rules. So says Alain Bouchard of his chain of convenience stores, Alimentation Couche-Tard, which saw fiscal 2005 sales of $8.7. He’s created a successful business by doing the same old thing in a much different way, and has begun to acquire U.S. convenience stores at a rapid pace to bring that different way to America. Read more about it here (registration required).
Doing the same thing in a different way is a great growth strategy. I think it was Tom Peters in his book The Pursuit of Wow who said that some of the greatest growth opportunities lie in mature, even stagnant, industries—places where no one is innovating anymore. That opens the gate for an innovator to blow in, shake things up, start doing things a better way, and take over the sector.
As new as the Internet is, there aren’t nearly as many opportunities like that, but we’re already seeing new companies arising as part of “Web 2.0″ where the rules are being changed yet again. Are you doing the same old thing, the same old way, or is there something new and different to what you’re doing? One is obviously a much better growth strategy than the other.
Two Great Principles for Lasting Success
In his Digital Rules column in the February 13 issue of Forbes magazine, Rich Karlgaard makes a couple of points that I think are key to creating lasting success for your business.
Success is not a zero-sum game, though most academic economists, pundits and politicians act as if it were–maybe because they vie for glory in zero-sum professions. (There can be only 1 U.S. President and 100 senators, for example.)
Too often, I hear people who are focused on their success at someone else’s expense. While true competition does often involve consumers switching from one company to its competitor, and competition is the foundation of a healthy economy, you’re ultimately facing a much less successful future if you can’t see beyond that.
Focus on providing valuable content that’s unique from what any else is producing. Find your niche. Create new interest. Add something brand new to what’s already there. There are always bigger fish in the lake, so survival can be a very a stressful game. Don’t be afraid to explore uncharted waters.
The Golden Rule is more than a spiritual truth, it is a business truth. You get ahead in business by serving others. Sure, you can try to cheat or cut corners–and you may succeed. But the odds overwhelmingly favor the company that serves its customers with great products and services at a fair price. This is even truer today, in the age of Internet price transparency and activist consumers.
This is so true, especially on the Internet. If you’re very good, word will always spread. Work on doing good for others, and it will always come back around.
What does that mean for a website in particular? Be free with your links. Don’t hesitate to quote people and link to their sites. Let someone know if you had a good experience. Be transparent. Admit when you make mistakes.
There are thousands of ways to do good, and doing good is the best way to do well.
So Easy, an Eight-Year-Old Can Do It
Hilarious entry over at VentureBlog yesterday. Venture capitalist David Hornik relates how, after a discussion with his eight-year-old about what daddy does for a living, the eight-year-old really took it to heart:
A couple nights ago my son came to me with a handful of papers with various designs and announced that he was ready to start his skate brand. After an exhaustive process, he had decided to name his company Ollie King ™, and he was ready to go. I told him that he would have to wait because I was reading to his sister, at which point he stormed up stairs to his mother, ripped up his skate designs, threw them in the trash, and screamed to her “daddy won’t fund my company!” This did not sit well with my wife — apparently, as his father, I have an obligation to fund my son’s skate brand. I was instructed to do something to fix the problem I had created.
After that, using some of the interactive tools of the new web (namely TypePad, GoDaddy, and CafePress), he launched his own skate brand in a matter of just a few hours…at eight years old.
The whole entry is definitely worth a read.