The (abridged) Fpweb.net Story
Many of you know we have been doing SharePoint hosting (in the cloud) for over a decade now. It seems like just yesterday that I was firing up my first SharePoint site (via FrontPage extensions) on a Compaq server. What you may not know is that once upon a time we hosted all sorts of technologies other than SharePoint.
It wasn’t until later on that I made a decision to focus exclusively on SharePoint. So here’s the story behind what we used to do, why we changed, and why we continue to only host SharePoint. It’s a hard lesson that I believe many other companies can learn from and benefit.
At One Time, Fpweb.net Did It All
Just not to the highest standard… In fact, I’d say we left a bit to be desired. “Jack of all trades, master of none” best described Fpweb.net’s early years – formerly known as FrontPages Web Hosting Network. Like most other small web hosting companies in 1996, we were doing basic FrontPage, ASP and PHP web sites. But most of our sites were FrontPage based since I had quite a bit of experience designing them and optimizing for SEO (yet another service we offered). In fact, by 1999, we were the largest FrontPage host in the world. We needed to do email hosting so we started with POP and then later added Exchange (which proved a major pain). And since the sites needed databases to drive them, we also had MS Access, SQL and MySQL.
And Then We Did Even More
Around 2001, SharePoint wasn’t exactly flourishing so we were looking for other revenue streams to grow the business. Working from my accounting background we added QuickBooks hosting to the list of services. With just a crew of five, we were all pretty busy to say the least. Then we got even more ambitious (read crazy) in 2005 and added Project Server and CRM to the list.
By 2006, SharePoint was finally starting to get some real traction, yet we were still hosting and supporting all the following technologies:
- LaGarde based Ecommerce sites
- Web sites (asp, php, plesk)
- SharePoint (Team and Server)
- MS SQL, Access, MySQL
- Dedicated Windows servers
- ISA Server
We Have Been Profitable Since Day One, But…
2006 through 2008 were the zombie years. We were busy adding hundreds of customers, but churn was also high. We just happened to be adding a lot more than we were losing. Our staff of 15 was overloaded and too thin for too many technologies. Things constantly broke. We worked almost every weekend. Sounds like a great place to work, right? My family never saw me and thought I was crazy. Looking back at it, I was.
And in 2008, the sky wasn’t falling, it fell. We had a major outage in one of our multi-tenant SharePoint farms. A perfect storm of hardware, backup and database corruption causing some of customers to lose some of their data. I worked with those customers personally and did everything possible to make it right. When it was all said and done, I knew it was time for a change.
I Should Have Listened Better, Sooner
Three years earlier in 2005, a colleague of mine had retired from his hosting business to an island in the South Pacific. I’m not kidding. He sold one product and was really good at it. You either wanted it or you didn’t. He didn’t try to meet everyone’s needs. Some folks would get angry because his product was overkill and other folks would get angry that the product didn’t do enough. But it was dead simple and choices were limited. Much like an Apple product or 37signals today. He had thousands of paying customers when he sold the business, and it was enough to stick his toes in the sand and order a drink with an umbrella in it.
Evolve or Perish
It was painfully obvious in 2008 that I had to get out of the business or improve it dramatically, immediately. All that my company and I ultimately have is our reputations and both were tarnished in the SharePoint community. Every hosting company deals with occasional downtime, but when acting as steward of your customer’s data, you can’t lose or corrupt it. And that’s why I made the huge decision to move from hosting everything to just one thing. The new mission: To have the best SharePoint hosting company in the world in two years and jettison half our loyal customer base in the process.
Just Say No
That’s what the sign on the wall of my office read. Every day existing and prospective customers called in with hosting needs that were no longer in our wheelhouse. Heck, we no longer had a wheel, we had a spoke. Some of you may know how hard it is to say no when you’re signing payroll checks at the same time the bills are coming in. You see each additional line of business as a way to grow quickly. But I had already found out the hard way, it can be a mirage. Overextending is quicksand. It makes you mediocre. It sucks the life right out of you. And Fpweb.net was done sucking.
Hocus, Pocus … Just Focus
The magic elixir for Fpweb.net contained equal parts of focus and hard work. In 2009, we kept our heads down and started making new SharePoint infrastructures from the ground up using lessons we learned in the trenches. Not necessarily Microsoft best practices (although they are a good baseline) but hard fought, sweat inducing, painful lessons of hosting thousands of SharePoint users around the globe. We also began a formal process to nurture and grow the best SharePoint engineering talent in the world. Something that we proudly boast about now.
We were soon seeing more SharePoint problems than anyone else because of our mid-market focus. Yes, some providers have bigger implementations with more users and some have large multi-tenant farms. But we have hundreds of SharePoint server farms which are almost all unique with the way they are configured, optimized and 3rd party software installed. And so we focused entirely on SharePoint hosting and started shedding the other services.
Evolution is Painful
Telling a paying customer that you are no longer willing to serve them is a hard conversation. Off boarding them the right way is even harder. But we had to get rid of these other distractions so we could be the best at SharePoint. The off-boarding issues led me to another realization about the company. Others would focus on SharePoint and some already were. The key to our success would be customer service. True customer care. We were failing with a smooth onboarding and off-boarding process.
So the company mantra evolved to: Be the best SharePoint hosting provider in the world while always putting the customer first.
As the SharePoint World Turns
2010 was a great year for Fpweb.net. We had a fast, stable and secure network built from the ground up for SharePoint. We were reducing churn and ancillary technologies. But 2010 also brought significant increases in the competitive landscape. The other technologies we were busy selling and supporting had slowed our SharePoint growth and allowed some others to steal market share. Yes, the whole pie was getting bigger but we were now losing deals weekly to competitors.
Innovate or Die
In 2011, the Cloud arrived and was everywhere. You couldn’t open a trade mag and not see it. Microsoft’s Office 365 roadmap was crystal clear. Mega providers like Rackspace had started to pour resources into their SharePoint practice. Fpweb.net can’t keep up with these Joneses. But our competitive advantage had emerged – our size! 40 really smart SharePoint folks who are creative and agile. And they all have marching orders from yours truly to make something special. A t-shirt was born. Innovate or Die.
Fpweb.net All Grown Up
2012 will mark the maturation of Fpweb.net as a brand, company and service. A commitment to make everything simpler while delivering the best SharePoint experience available, period. It just happens to be located in the Cloud. Yet you can call us and a live person will pick up the phone. Crazy, huh? We will be able to scale quickly and easily globally. You will be able to self-service yourself and your customers. Build a SharePoint farm with the push of a button and manage your various private clouds from one screen.
The Future is Cloudy but Bright
As we lay out the roadmap for 2013, we continue to listen to you and help you evolve and flourish in this difficult economic landscape. We will empower our partners to grow their business and eliminate Cloud roadblocks with much needed tools. We will round out our SharePoint offerings by filling in managed service gaps that you need. How else can I help you be more successful with SharePoint? Drop me a line and become part of the Fpweb.net 2013 roadmap!