What I’ve Learned in the Hosting Business

In 2008 I set out to bring web hosting technologies built around native IPv6 connectivity to market. In October of 2008, HostHaus was born. It’s been a long journey in the 7 years operating the business, with many lessons learned along the way. Most of what I’ve learned from running this business, is just how imaginative, innovative and creative our clients could be with the services we provided. We gave up the idea long ago of building a service suite to sell to customers in favor of building a boutique-style offering and catering to the needs of our clients. It works.

Not every business needs to find customers to sell their wares to. In fact, we’ve found great success, not only for ourselves – but for our clients as well, in offering a base set of services and customizing the add-ons and value-added services and functionality on top of it. Everything “hand made with love” for our clients. We service clients of all shapes and sizes – from multi-million dollar multi-national corporations to individuals just looking to get in on the IPv6 wave before it turns into a tsunami. Nothing about the offerings for each client are identical.

So, what have I learned in the 7 years of making this work? A lot. But a few key things stick out to me, some aren’t even specific to the hosting industry.

  1. Customer First Mentality. You’d think that this would be a no-brainer. It’s not. It’s exceptionally hard to balance the needs of a customer with the needs of the business. It’s important to sustain the business while not sacrificing your ability to help your customer achieve their goals. The key to success for this is conversation. Open a dialogue with your customer. Talk through their needs, what you can do, and come up with creative solutions to solve real problems. This helps more than just your bottom line.
  2. Don’t Sell Short. I’ve heard this time and time again, but never really knew how to apply it to a business as a whole. How we’ve applied this to HostHaus is to never sacrifice our brand by pricing ourselves into debt. In the hosting industry, you will always find providers who will sell you something at what appears to be an unbelievable price. Truth is – it’s not unbelievable – it’s unprofitable. We may offer discounts here and there, but we never sell our services for less than we pay for it. We also never oversell. We strongly believe that we may not be the lowest price in town, but we’ll be the best price. You get what you pay for.
  3. Be Picky. Not every customer is the right fit for your business, just like not every product or service is the right fit for a customer. This applies not only to your customers, but your providers, vendors, and partners as well. Pick and choose who you want to be in business with. Letting everyone in the door doesn’t make for a better business, a better service, or a better experience. Custom-tailor your client roster with people you can support really well, and those who will in turn support you.
  4. Never Back Down. This is a funny one for me because there are so many businesses that will bend to whatever the customer wants, the moment they start throwing a tantrum, arguing semantics, or trying to dodge their obligations. Stand your ground, be clear and concise in your communication, and be steadfast in your decision making. In the long run, it makes for a very transparent relationship for you and your customers.

In the 7 years of operating HostHaus, there have been ups, downs, and spin-arounds. At the end of the day, I’ve surrounded myself with amazing individuals who support my vision, back my vision, and execute amazingly well to deliver a great experience for all of our clients. This has transitioned into a phenomenal round table discussion as we’ve migrated the HostHaus brand under different management, different platforms, and with a renewed focus on delivering on that best-in-class performance promise: We’re in a class all by ourselves, and we do so by avoiding cookie-cutter everything.

For more information on HostHaus’ offerings, please visit our website at hosthaus.com. We’re always up for a conversation. Let us know if we can help. Even if it’s not listed on the website – we’d love to be a part of the conversation.

Perception Is Not Reality

In my not-so-distant past I heard the phrase “Perception is reality.” When I heard it, I couldn’t help but laugh because it sounded so passé. Who talks like that – let alone thinks that way?

I’ve always been a big believer in meritocracy, and this phrase undermines that completely. So, let’s dissect this statement, and see why so many people and businesses apply this to their daily lives and organizations. For the purpose of this entry, we’ll use these definitions:

Perception : a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.

Reality : the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

Before we dive in on this corporate catch-phrase … What’s the biggest driver for operating a cohesive, trusting team? Is it the compensation package? Medical and dental benefits? Or, is it fringe benefits – you know, the free soda, candy, crackers, cookies and stuff in the pantry? I think it’s transparency. Transparency builds trust and lasting relationships in the office. It’s not really rocket science – you just have to be forthcoming and honest with those that are around you for 8 hours a day.

Now, transparency is a funny word in Corporate America. You’ll hear the C-level folks spit out this word time and time again – usually at all hands and town hall meetings. They want you to know that they are being upfront and honest with you. But, you wouldn’t know that unless they TOLD you they were. Is that how that transparency thing is supposed to work? I don’t think so.

Transparency, to me, is the ability for all team members – regardless of level or role – to be able to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas and the like freely and without fear. It’s a manager who shares the hurdles, road blocks, successes and failures with their team. Now, they don’t share all of this because they want to gossip. Not because they want to “trade secrets” around a conference room table. They share these things in order for everyone to be able to do their jobs better.

I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but we’ll recap for everyone’s sake … but it takes a very special (and by special, I mean simple) formula to build a great team – a team that is open to transparency, agility, flexibility, and reliance on one another. The coach of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, Herb Brooks, said it best:

“I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”

I just made a recruiter’s head explode, didn’t I? ……. What do you mean not the BEST ones? How can we succeed as a company if we don’t have the VERY BEST people? Well, I hate to break it to you, but wins can’t be had in Corporate America by an individual. Wins, especially big wins, are the fruits of a team’s labors.

When you have a group of “superstars” each one of them is going to perform to the best of their ability, in order for themselves to shine. But, each and every person – regardless of superstar status, has greatness inside of them. What happens when you get a group of people together that have a lot of different strengths – some they may not have even known about? Combine the RIGHT people with transparency and encouragement and they will achieve collective greatness far beyond any individual superstar.

So how does all of this fit in to perception being a reality? Well, it’s funny you should ask… I’ve got an idea.

Transparent, dedicated, and motivated teams of the right people don’t need to interpret a situation. They should know the truth of the situation, and if they don’t, the environment around them should foster the open communication needed for them to know the truth of the situation. It’s really that simple. Truth becomes reality … because in reality, the truth is always true and unadulterated. Perception rarely is. Truth also doesn’t lend itself to personal biases, ideals and agendas. Perception thrives in those things.

One may be asking at this point, why this is such a big problem in companies. I can’t imagine that the “perception is reality” idea came only into my life. The problem is that transparency is one of those catch phrases, a buzz word, to make you feel warm and fuzzy while someone is talking to you. Pro tip: If someone has to tell you that they are being transparent with you – chances are that they aren’t. In fact, chances are, they’re far more opaque than translucent. You see and hear solely what they want you to.

I know that I’ve asked myself numerous times, how this idea of “perception is reality” perpetuates itself. I’ve really only been able to come to one conclusion – management. All levels of management – team managers all the way up through the C-level folks. Chances are, some (if not all) have been told that they can’t share this or that. They can’t tell their teams how they feel. They can’t open the blinds, take off the blinders, and allow people to see the truth. It’s scary to think about, isn’t it?

As I continue in my career, I’ve been a huge proponent of transparency (to my own detriment) and reality. Perception is BS. If you don’t know – ask. Don’t just assume. You know what they say about that. 😉

I challenge you this – as you go into the world, be transparent, bluntly honest and forthcoming, and ask questions. Can you imagine how much more we’d get done if we all did that? Office politics wouldn’t consume 6 hours of our day. How’s that for a win?

Does the customer really matter?

You hear the phrases customer centricitycustomer firstcustomer focus, and customer experience used a lot … but is the business that’s using those phrases actually looking out for what’s best for the customer … or their consumer?

Wait – what?

Most people tell me that the words customer and consumer are synonymous. They aren’t. In fact, they mean two different things when you approach them from the perspective of a business, a product management team, or a revenue cross-functional team. Two very different things.

My entire life, with the exception of a few short-lived jobs here and there, I’ve spent doing customer service and support for a variety of different companies. Each company though, used the phrases customer and consumer in much the same way … the group of people that buy your products or services.

So, what is a customer? A customer is a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store or business.

And a consumer? A consumer would be defined as a purchaser of goods and services.

Today, I work in a business that most of the company looks at the customers we service as a consumer. They are the people that purchase (or in our case, just use) the services that we provide, and not individuals that use our services that need the love and attention that a customer deserves from a company. That puts me in an interesting spot, because I care about the customer, but have to talk about the consumer … and finding that balance isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

So – does the customer really matter? They do … just not always at the right levels or in the right groups within an organization. We’re slowly moving towards helping our company wrap themselves around the customer experience, the customer, and the overall need to put the customer at the center of our universe. It takes time, and it takes work. In recent months, we brought on a Tier 1 support vendor who is an extension of our business (and not the normal client/vendor relationship). They are helping me shift our business in the right direction.

Every so often, I hear the phrase “our vision,” and I can’t help but wonder if people are truly having a “vision” or are they just regurgitating an adulterated version of someone elses. Does that really work, though? Do people really get anywhere in their career, by simply adulterating and regurgitating someone else’s vision? It needs to stop.

What we need today, tomorrow and forever is rapid, innovative and irreparable disruption in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we engage. Create a vision of your own, change one thing at a time, and then change the world. My team is doing it today … I can’t wait for tomorrow … and we’ll forever change the face of customer service for our organization.

So, let’s ask again – does the customer really matter? Nothing else matters. The customer is the glue to your business. They keep the lights on. They should be the focus of your organization – from product design, development, implementation, marketing, sales AND support. Support your users through each of those cycles, and you’ll be setting your customer up for success … because your customer does matter.

How are you going to change the world today?

Childhood’s Hour

Every so often, you make decisions that are not your finest, your smartest, or in anyone’s best interest. More often than not, those decisions lead to some of life’s biggest regrets. Mine have, I know that much. However, this evening, some of my biggest regrets became history not to be repeated.

A few days ago, I decided to do something that would lead to an answer about a long-standing question. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to hear the answer, but I knew somewhere deep down that I needed to know. This evening, I got that answer. The answer was that someone I cared so deeply for, yet hurt so much, was no longer walking on Earth. Instead, that person was walking among angels in heaven, an appropriate place for such a beautiful soul.

During the conversation after learning this, I couldn’t help but think about a Garth Brooks song – Unanswered Prayers. I hung up the phone, feeling as though something lifted a weight off my shoulders. Something made me feel as though all that was meant to be – was. Lately, I’ve been becoming a very firm believer in fate, in what’s meant to be, will be. That reminded me of this:

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”
― Rumi

As I move through life, and attempt to re-learn what it means to be a part of something bigger, I’m finding myself making mistakes all over again. Some of those mistakes are made on purpose – a series of tests, of sorts – some, I find myself falling back into pits that I’ve already dug myself out of. It’s a tough struggle, but a necessary one.

I keep telling myself that it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to hurt. It’s all pretty horrible though … until you get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I suppose it’s all worth it then.

Until then … be safe … be happy.

Mexico, Mezcal, and More!

I just spent a work-week down in Mexico working with our new team – what an awesome experience that was! I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of incredibly focused, passionate and talented people in my life, and these amazing people are no different. It’s a breath of fresh air.

We’ve been working for months on bringing this new team online. We interviewed, researched, and identified the most successful business process outsourcing (BPO)/back office firms in the world. Who we selected looks to be not only the right firm, but one of the best decisions we’ve made as a department in the history of our company. Time will tell, but I’m highly confident.

Kris and I arrived Monday night, and were in the office at 9am on Tuesday morning. We got the opportunity to sit down and talk to everyone, get to know a little about them, what they’re looking forward to, and what scares them the most about joining our team. The response we got was phenomenal. Questions, sincere commentary, pointed responses and observations. They seem to look past the end of their own nose when trying to figure something out.

When we were finalizing the contract with this firm, we decided that we had a few very key requirements:

  • We had to focus on Quality of Service over Quantity
  • The team had to be integrated into our corporate team, regardless of location
  • Everyone has to be passionate about what we do, and agree to live by our team values

While we’ve had some go-rounds with management on the focus on quality over quantity (and the need to measure by quantifiable metrics), everyone is on the same page. Everyone is committed. Everyone is passionate. We’re one, separated only by geography. We are a team of committed individuals that will change the face of Customer Service at our organization.

Now, looking at the time spent outside of the office, we spent a great deal of time eating amazing food, consuming copious amounts of alcohol, and having great conversations. Outside of our new team, supervisors, and support staff, I had the opportunity to meet some incredible people. This firm employs some of the most amazing individuals. People from other programs wanted to sit down and talk, wanted to understand what our business is, what our goals are, and all of them seemed not only interested, but engaged in not only my own vision but in providing their input and guidance where it fits.

I’m ready for an incredible relationship, looking forward to making mistakes together, and to the successes that we’ll have.

“Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.” – Al Franken

What Happens in Cali

The past few weeks have proven to be quite interesting. Aside from lots of changes going on at work, and even more in my personal life, it seems that one of two things is happening in tandem:

– Either everyone else is having life-shifting moments/events too
– I’m starting to look at the world through different eyes

What has been the most difficult task for me with all of this, is distinguishing between the two, and understanding my place and role in it. It’s an eye opener for me.

I looked at myself in the mirror a few weeks back, and realized that I wasn’t happy with myself. I needed to change me. After 9.5 years, I ended a relationship to allow for just that … for both of us. I needed it more than I realized. It was a tough pill to swallow, but a necessary one nonetheless.

As time went on the past few weeks, I came to an understanding that both of those things were happening. Some for the good, some not so much. So, where will I end up? I’m not sure … but for the first time in my life, I feel as though I have ultimate control over my direction in life. I get to make the decisions. I get to make mistakes.

I want to make mistakes. I want to learn.

I’ve been hearing a lot over the last few months that I can’t be afraid to fail, as long as I learn from it. As long as I get something out of it. I’m ready to fail. What’s the saying in a dev group? Fail fast, fail often.

Does that work?

Do you have ways to cope? To learn from your mistakes and failures, and to iterate on your successes? I’d love to hear them.

In the meantime, it’s time to have some fun. Enjoy life. And, enjoy discovering me (again).

Jetsetting

This past week I went down to Monterrey, Mexico to visit and see what it was like for work. I don’t know that I could have had a more enjoyable experience out of the country in a place that wasn’t a “vacation destination.” The people in Monterrey are so polite and outgoing, very hospitable, and very willing to go the extra mile to ensure your happiness there. The food? Hands down, some of the best I’ve had to date.

I flew out on Tuesday morning after some flight delays, and got into Monterrey around 5:30p local time. I met some folks at the airport, and we waited for a bit for someone else before heading to the hotel to get checked in and then headed to dinner. If you’ve never had prime rib lasagna, and have the chance, try it. Coupled with a beautifully crafted Argentinian Chardonnay, it made for an excellent meal.

The flights home were a disaster from the get go. United unfortunately screwed things up so badly, that I ended up flying on American Airlines on the way home … and the experience was night and day different from the one I had with United.

While this isn’t traveling by air, I’ll be visiting Santa Barbara in April to get out-of-town for a few days, and enjoy some peace and quiet while seeing some old friends. I’m looking forward to it.

Coming up in May, I’ll be flying out to Chicago for the UserConf conference. After everything I’ve seen/read about it, I’m truly excited to take part in this years session, and meeting some of the movers and shakers in the customer care/support industry. Lord knows I could use all the help and guidance I can get.

That’s all for now … hope everyone’s enjoying the last few days of March … with a great April planned!

Enjoying Life

The past few months have been a test for me. After almost 10 years, I made a major change in my personal life after a great deal of thinking, soul-searching, and analyzing what was right and wrong with my life. It wasn’t an easy decision, but a necessary one.

After almost 10 years with someone, I decided that we needed to no longer be together. We’d both be better for it, and we’d both end up as better people in the end. Looking at the short-term, that’s true for one of us … but not so much for the other. Long term, we’ll both come out ahead … but I don’t know how much longer in the future that will be for him.

Circumstance played a huge role in why I’m happier now than I have been in a very long time. I had met someone before I made this final decision to end an almost 10 year relationship, and shortly after making that decision I decided I wanted to pursue something with this person. He made me happy, he made me smile, and he made me 100% comfortable with being me. There were no preconceived notions, no expectations, and no feelings that I had to be something or someone I wasn’t. That friendship quickly started to blossom into something more.

It’s now almost April, and I’ve felt my happiness with this person grow each and every day, even though I continue to struggle with setting aside almost 10 years with someone else – someone I’m living with, and see every single day. He supports me, comforts me, and does what he does best – makes me smile, and happy.

But, what does that mean for the relationship I left? It means that I have to help my ex understand that I want his friendship, I want his happiness, and I want his own personal growth … but he doesn’t necessarily understand how to do that himself. There’s still a lot of ties to one another, a lot of emotion and miscommunication. A lot of questions, and a lot of hatred and feeling betrayed. All of that, I’m confident, will subside with time. In the meantime, however, it’s causing a lot of pressure and stress on me … a lot of discomfort with this new-found relationship … and a lot of poor choices from both of us.

At the end of the day, though, I’m happy. I’m enjoying life again. I wake up in the morning with a bounce in my step, and a smile on my face. I do all that, because I have someone who makes me smile. He supports me and my decisions, and he is always right there to support me. He acts as a voice of reason when my dilutions of grandeur get the best of me.

Today – I am enjoying life.

WDWGFH?

It wouldn’t all fit in the subject, and still look pretty … so for those that aren’t deep in the bowels of my mind (feel fortunate) … where do we go from here?

It’s quite obvious that I’ve completely failed at life when it comes to actually taking the time to write on this blog. I’m going to try to do this … I promise. Just don’t hate me if I don’t.

A lot’s going on since the last time I posted. A lot of good. A lot of bad. A lot of “should have happened sooner”, and a lot of “I can’t wait for it to happen” things. For the sake of keeping personal life personal, I won’t share it all here … if you really want to know … and should know … you already know how to get a hold of me and ask. So, with that, some updates …

I’ve come to the understanding, more so than I had before, that I’ve got a pretty awesome team of people working with me at Tapjoy. Some shifts and changes to the way that we worked were necessary, and because of it I’ve seen a drop in morale and “want” to do the job. It really puts it into perspective the amount of dedication and passion that people have for their work. I’m looking forward to being the one to lead the charge to get our business to fully understand exactly what it is we do, why we do it, and the time we spend doing it. If I don’t – who will?

We’re getting to the time where the results of year-end reviews will be released. So I’m excited and nervous to see where that leads for me. Since September, I’ve had a lot of more responsibility piled in my lap which I’ve been happy to take on, but I’m ready for the company to hopefully recognize the very dramatic shift in my responsibilities and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to be able to take on a lot of things I had no experience in.

Traveling seems to be a new thing. I was in Phoenix not long ago to install some servers for Tapjoy, and now I’m off to Mexico in just a few short days for on on-site vendor visit. I’m excited to go, and can’t wait to see what I find … but it’s a lot of traveling in a short amount of time. Maybe I’ll just become accustom to jet setting around the globe?

I’ve also made the decision that one way or another I’m going to find time to go back to school … just not sure what for yet … and not sure where. With a full-time job (that expands more than 40 hours per week), it’s going to be tough, but worth it in the end. I’m eager to learn again.

So on to the meat and potatoes …

Twenty Fourteen

It’s a little hard to believe that it’s 2014 already … and that January is almost over. 2013 had some great moments, some not so great moments, things to do, things that got done, people who came, went, and morphed. It all happened so quickly. 2014 seems to be off to a start, that’ll put 2013 to shame – a welcomed change for everyone, I’m sure.

The last part of 2013 proved interesting at work, but with all of the changes that went on, we left 2013 with clarity and poise. We’re positioned to make a great year, and I can’t even begin to tell you just how fortunate I am to have a team of people behind me, that are going to absolutely kill it. Tapjoy itself is making great strides at positioning itself to be an even greater leader in our space, releasing products that are going to stabilize and generate momentum for us.

In the most recent weeks, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know our senior executive team, and experience how they work through issues, cycle ideas, and build a company. Inspiring isn’t even close to what I feel when I’m surrounded by it … because it’s beyond epic.

Personally, I didn’t get much accomplished last year, like I had wanted to. But, I think 2014 is going to be the year that I have the time and motivation to do so. I want to complete my Cisco training, learn more about emerging Internet technologies, and security, and expand my knowledge of business as a whole. There’s no better time than now.

This past holiday season brought a lot more emotion than I was really ready for, but, having spent time alone at home, allowed me to really reflect on my life and where I’m trying to go. December 20th marked 10 years since my grandfather had passed. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, think of what he’d think about my decisions and my life, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. Everything, for some reason, became a lot clearer for me this year … because I suddenly realized that instead of striving to do my best, and wonder … instead, I need to strive for the best by following the examples that not only he set for me, but all of my family and friends. I am who I am today, because of the people I love. They are my inspiration.

Grandpa and Chris

This past December also marked 1 year since my grandmother passed. My biggest regret was not being able to see her, and give her a hug before then … but, just as she always did, I know she is looking down on me and watching over me. I’m comforted knowing that she’s now with my grandfather again … a match (re)made in heaven. And that happiness for her, drowns any sorrow I could ever have.

This year, I’m committing myself to doing a few things that I haven’t in the past few years …

– Visit friends around the US
– Focus on energizing my brain, and stimulating my need for information and learning
– Understand me

2014 is going to be an incredible year, and I can’t wait for each and every one of you to be a part of it. Won’t you be … my neighbor?

Thanks for reading … and hope to start posting more. I actually calendared time to do it once a week. It’s a brand new year.

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