Interview with a Magento Hosting Expert; ProperHost's Founder and CEO Sindre Moe

Wed, 27th April 2016, 09:26

ProperHost is a Norwegian based hosting company that focuses on supporting Magneto and other mission critical applications. Since its inception in 2004, ProperHost has became a popular leader in ecommerce hosting by offering one of the industry's fastest hosting environments for Magento. In fact ProperHost guarantees faster page loads and improved performance.. The motivating force behind it all, CEO, and founder Sindre Moe, was kind enough to allow HostJury to get the inside scoop on how ProperHost became a success and what plans lie in the future for this “leading Magento hosting experts”.

Q: Starting with a little history. A quick search on duckduckgo shows that you were also the founder of ONET way back in 2004. Although I’m just guessing as my Norwegian language skills suck, it doesn’t appear to be a webhost anymore. Was ONET a different venture or did it morph into Properhost?

A: That is correct. Our journey started as ONET, primarily offering hosting and web design services to local businesses in Norway. Eventually this business transitioned into ProperHost as it is today.

Q: Many of the hosting companies from those early days at the turn of the century were founded by either kiddie hosts looking to supplement their allowance, or students ignoring the zoning ordinances around running businesses out of their college dorm rooms. What attracted you into web hosting?

A: As many fellow entrepreneurs I started out when I was still in university, completing my major in computer science. I have always been intrigued by the thought of having my own business, and after having researched a few different online business opportunities I decided to pursue web hosting. It is an industry where technology evolves quickly and I could really make use of my technical background. It is certainly not the easiest business to succeed in, but with dedication and hard work it can certainly be a rewarding business.

Q: Properhost touts itself as The Magento Hosting Experts. How or why did you decide to focus on one particular niche of the hosting industry.

A: Even ten years ago the web hosting industry was still a very competitive market and we knew that we neither could nor wanted to compete on price alone. We therefore had to seek out a niche in order to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Around that time e-commerce was starting to become really popular, and when Magento was launched in 2008 it generated a lot of buzz in the e-commerce world. Magento quickly gained popularity, but it was a real problem to find good hosting providers that could support its long list of system requirements and bold resource needs. Given that the average website at that time consisted mainly of static HTML pages and simple scripts, web hosts were not very performance oriented. In fact many would not allow Magento at all in fear of it slowing down their servers. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to create a high-performance hosting product that was optimized for Magento.

Q: Why, in your opinion, is Magento a better solution than platforms like Shopify, Bigcommerce, Volusion, or numerous other options?

A: As I see it they meet different needs. Turnkey solutions like Shopify are easy to get started with, but lacks the flexibility and control you get with Magento. Magento has a very strong community and ecosystem built around it, which makes it easy for merchants to extend or customize their store exactly how they want it. Also since the software itself is open-source there are no other costs involved besides the hosting.

Q: In recent years, there has been a lot of consolidation in the hosting industry with many well known and popular brands owned and/or financed by Capital fund markets. While some would see this as a natural evolution, others would argue these entities just deliver uniformly mediocre services. Do you have an opinion you care to share?

A: Today the generic hosting market is oversaturated and the harsh reality for small companies is either to be acquired or shut down. They simply cannot withstand the financial muscles and marketing of the big brands. Arguably, there are too many providers out there competing for the same clients and web hosting has become a commodity these days. I think consolidations are only a natural consequence similar to what we have seen in other industries. I think there are both good and bad sides to this. Many companies will probably benefit from being backed by a larger corporation, but the industry will certainly lose some of the personal touch and genuineness that niche companies were providing. To stand out it is therefore more important than ever to deliver value-added services to customers.

Q: I have to love ProperHost’s customer loyalty plan. It certainly isn’t commonplace in the industry so where did the idea come from.

A: Again, it is important to find ways to stand out to survive in this industry. Instead of constantly having to drive in new business, we take extra care of our existing clients to ensure their satisfaction is met. It keeps customer retention high and has gained us a solid reputation. The same is true for our affiliate program. I can say roughly 30% of our customer base is a
direct result of affiliate marketing or referrals from existing customers.

Q: Recently (well somewhat recently), you founded another company, Rapid Servers. We will need to do a follow up to get the full scoop but I’d be remiss if I never asked...What’s that about?

A: Rapid Servers is a company that primarily offers higher-end dedicated servers and cloud hosting, but also Magento and Wordpress optimization services. It has no affiliation to ProperHost except it has the same owners.

Q: I am aware that ProperHost’s servers “are jam-packed with advanced features”, but technology is continually evolving. Which feature would you like to see added or further developed as part of your managed services?

A: Cloud native features like high availability (HA) and self-healing capabilities are becoming increasing important, and users expect to be able to scale up and down resources based on demand and only pay for actual usage. I believe that we in the next few years will see a transition away from monolithic server-centric architectures to ephemeral container based clusters that will disrupt the hosting industry as we know it. All I can say is that we are heavily invested in this space and continuously seek to innovate and evolve our services.

Q: Any failures you’d like to tell us about? If you had to go back and change anything, what would top your list?

A: Fortunately we have had no major breakdowns that has caused data loss or devastating damage. I think most hosting companies that have been around for a while have had their fair chair of incidents that they could have done without, like when a RAID array is failing at 3AM on Christmas Eve. Some things are just inevitable, and one thing we have learned is to never underestimate the likelihood of failure. It will happen and once it happens it is usually at the least convenient time.

Q: In my work, I view the offerings from various web hosts on a daily basis. They all appear to offer similar services, and make claims that the same features set them apart from their counterparts. Resisting the urge to say “service” or “price”, what does set ProperHost apart from the competition?

A: Granted, all web hosts provide the same “core” service: a slice of a server with some software on it. Although we do our best to pick the best servers and software stack for our clients’ needs, where we really excel is in that we do one thing and we do it extremely well. We do not try to be a one-size-fits-all solution but instead focus all our efforts on providing the best Magento hosting possible. This goes all the way from the choice of server hardware to how we train our support teams. We want to be your partner, not just a provider of compute and storage. This has always been our strongest selling point and so far it has been working well for us.

Q: Possibly you avoid discussing politics but I’ve got to ask. Back in 2015, the European Union passed that somewhat controversial EU Vat law requiring companies to charge the 17% to 27% tax based on where clients lived, as opposed to the prior rule of the company location. The law went further and also required companies outside the EU to pay up. I haven’t got any statistics but I’m guessing there may be a few companies outside the EU either pocketing the money, or not collecting VAT at all. With companies operating and competing in a global marketplace, how does a company based in the EU compete?

A: I have no comments on this one.

(editor's note: hey you can't fault us for asking!)

Q: Is Norway really one of the happiest country in the world? I’ve heard a cup of coffee costs around 10 euros. So, how do you like to spend your free time? What does work-life balance mean to you?

A: I would have to say yes, but we are also among the most frequent travelers so maybe we just get bored easily. Jokes aside, Norway is a great country to live in. Living expenses are high, but we also have one of the best health care services in the world and a very solid welfare system. Personally I like to spend my free time with my family (I recently became a father), and I also do quite a bit of exercising. As a true Norwegian I love to go skiing and do other outdoor activities. Although I work a lot I also feel very privileged that I get to do exactly what I want when I want it. The old cliché is definitely true: being your own boss brings a lot of freedom but also a lot of responsibilities.

ProperHost recently teamed up with Template Monster to provide their Magento users a vast collection of templates to use for their websites. This new offering expands ProperHost’s ability to offer beginners a user experience that is unique, professional, and a breeze to start. Along with its focus on a specific ecommerce platform (Magento), customer loyalty program, and plans to follow the rapid changes in hosting that lie in the not too distant future, ProperHost seems to be guaranteed continued success both now and in the years to come.

Magento Hosting by ProperHost