Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is . . . Oh man, do I have back pain today? It feels like somebody just took a knife and stuck it in my shoulder where my shoulder connects to my neck. But I’m still Andrew Warner, still the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I’m looking at Sally’s face and Sally is like, “Why are you starting off the interview with that for? And why are you even sitting here like this?” I’ll explain in a minute. Actually, I’ll explain right now. I ran a marathon.
You know what? Let me first introduce you, Sally. Let’s be a little bit more professional here. Sally Strebel is the founder of Pagely. They’re a managed WordPress hosting company. I remember first meeting her and her husband, Joshua, at South by Southwest at this point about a decade ago. Everybody was so loud and so impressed with themselves and so eager to impress everyone else. These two were just sitting there quietly, almost like they were out of place and because I love talking to people, I started talking to them and I found out what Pagely does, which is make hosting websites easier.
And I remember following up with her husband, Joshua, and saying, “I’m doing a series about how entrepreneurs got to $20,000 in sales. Would you do the interview?” And he said, “Yes.” And for one reason or another, we didn’t do the interview. But boy, they have come so far since then. They are . . . I don’t know if I’m allowed to say what the revenue is, but I’ve got it here in my notes. They are doing really impressively by making it easy for people to host their WordPress sites, especially, as Sally told me, if it breaks everywhere else if they’re so big that it’s starting to not work on other platforms, Pagely makes it easy.
We’re going to find out how they built their company, thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first if you’re hiring a developer, and Sally you’ve hired a lot of developers in your time, you should go and check out Toptal even if it’s a WordPress developer that you’re looking for. And the second, I was a little nervous about doing this ad in an interview with the founder of Pagely. It’s HostGator for hosting websites. But I’ll talk about the sponsors later.
First, Sally, my back pain, it’s because I ran a marathon in Chile on my own, and then within a week I ran in Antarctica, I slept on planes for like 36 hours, slept in tents in Antarctica, just really hurt . . . I felt tight. And I knew I should go get a massage or get it looked at, but I don’t want to waste time even an hour laying down on a massage table doesn’t work for me. And so now I think I’m suffering the consequences. You are someone who along with your husband used to work crazy hours. What are the hours that you guys used to work?
Sally: Oh my gosh, it was really crazy. He’s a night owl and I’m an early morning person. So sometimes he’d stay up until 4:00 in the morning working and I would actually get up at 6:00.
Andrew: And so he would go to 4:00, two hours later you would start the day. That’s the hours that you guys kept.
Sally: Yeah. It was like insane for like a little while there. I mean, we had a hosting company and we had to make sure that everybody was up and running. And so during those two hours, I mean, you’re talking about panic. So I would always go to sleep at 10:00, and then he would usually get up. He didn’t sleep very much, actually. So, yeah. I think he was . . . It was probably he’s getting up around 10:00, 11:00. And yeah, it was insane.
Andrew: It’s insane hours. And the reason you did it was what? Why put yourself through this kind of experience . . . For me I’ll tell you, there’s no reason for me not to take an hour to go do it. It’s not like my work is going to suffer if I don’t. It’s my personality. I have trouble just sitting still and giving into these things. Is that with you too or did you really have to do it for your work? Is it your personality or is it the demanding job at Pagely?
Sally: Probably a little bit of both, but mainly my personality. And I don’t know about you right now, but when you’re usually talking to people, do you like to be moving?
Andrew: I do.
Sally: Me too.
Andrew: I learned that about myself. So is it hard for you to sit still?
Sally: Yeah, it’s very hard for me to sit still. In fact, even right now as I’m talking to you, I would much rather be like cruising my path around this office.
Andrew: So when you’re talking to people at work, are you moving around the office just kind of running around in circles?
Andrew: You are.
Sally: Sometimes and sometimes I’m not. I mean, there’s times where I can like, sit still, as long as I have notes in front of me and I can kind of sit, but if not, I mean, let me tell you, I rather have a meeting walking.
Andrew: And you know what? And I found that I was like that even in school and the school system did not allow that. You have to sit down and you have to be there for eight hours and you cannot move. And so I like being an entrepreneur better. I could move around or I usually would be cycling through the city. If I’m not doing an interview, I’m cycling around finding an interesting space to work.
Sally: That’s awesome.
Andrew: I didn’t want to reveal your revenue because I had a sense that you’re not comfortable sharing it in public. Are you? Can you say what your revenue is?
Sally: No. I mean, we’re doing very well. The thing is, is I’ve always liked to keep the focus on technology. I’d like to . . . I really like to keep it in our people who we have working for us.
Andrew: I noticed that. And which is why some of your blog posts at Pagely are just way over my head. I don’t follow it. I don’t understand. And you guys are blogging about it, about the new computers, about the new setup, but I don’t get it. Can you give me a sense of proportion, though, about how big is the company? Five to 10 million? Five to 15 million? Any kind of range would give me a sense of where you guys are today.
Sally: It’s in the upper of what you said.
Andrew: Okay. All right. I’ve got it?
Sally: Kind of in the middle-upper. Yeah.
Andrew: Let’s go back into simpler time. Way before you got started you were a hostess. I thought standing up on your feet as a hostess would be the toughest thing for you, but now I understand maybe you could do that.
Sally: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: And what about talking to people? Is it weird to just stand there for hours and hours as people come in?
Sally: No, not at all. It was . . . No, not at all. It was a wonderful time. It was a big learning experience. And I believe this with a lot of entrepreneurs. You kind of have all these different life experiences that take you to where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there in order to make the biggest impact. And so there were a lot of different jobs that I did previously that I really felt got me to where I was. In fact, people find it hilarious that I was actually a dental hygienist, and then all of a sudden I owned a web hosting company. And they’re like, “How did you go from that to this?” And it was natural. It was very natural. I saw something in the world that did not seem fair and I knew I could do something about it.
Andrew: What was it? What did you see that wasn’t fair when you were a dental hygienist?
Sally: Well, actually, at that point, what was going on was I met my husband and I knew that I wanted to do something big. And so we started a web design company. And that was actually located in the Scottsdale airpark. And we actually ranked number two on Google for web design for many, many years.
Andrew: When you say big, you felt like being a dental hygienist is what you went to school for. You were doing well there. You were making good money, right?
Sally: Yeah. It was great. I love people.
Andrew: And still you wanted to go bigger. Because? More money, more self-worth, just creativity? Be open with me.
Sally: Completely open, I would say . . . Let’s see. Yes, a little bit of money, that would be a little bit of it, but really, like, just having a vision, wanting to experience more in life, wanting to have the means to experience more in life.
Andrew: You mean like travel that type of thing?
Sally: Yes, travel, but also being able to give back, you know, something that . . . And I don’t believe that most children are in second-grade saying, “You want to know what, I’m going to own a web hosting company.” No, that’s not like . . . That’s not the sexy thing to do. Yeah. I just saw something that didn’t seem fair. And what it was was, you know, we had the web design company and the . . . It was very interesting to find out that all web hosts seemed to have contracts back then. It’s like a one to three-year contract.
Andrew: Meaning, you would design the website, but you need it hosted somewhere. And so you’d go and look for a host and the hosting company would have a contract that lasted for years.
Andrew: And you were upset by that?
Sally: A little bit. I kind of felt like sometimes the sales was the best part of the whole process. And then the other crazy part was learning that support was tangled in with sales. So, you know, these support guys had quotas that they had to meet. And that was kind of upsetting. So, you know, all of a sudden you’re sitting there thinking you’re getting something for $8 and realistically it’s costing you 20 by the time that you get everything that you need.
Andrew: Twenty bucks a month.
Sally: Yeah. And that was how it was back then.
Andrew: When was this? We’re talking about 2006?
Sally: Yeah, about 2006.
Andrew: Okay. And so you were looking at that. And at the same time, you were into WordPress early on I think a couple of years after WordPress had been launched by Matt Mullenweg and . . .
Andrew: And who was it? I forget who else . . . I got down in my notes in here.
Sally: I’m looking into space right now.
Andrew: Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little.
Sally: Middleton. Yeah, Mike Little.
Andrew: The two of them 2003 launched it, a couple of years later you said, “We can do WordPress design,” you start doing it. You’re growing with WordPress. You’re taking on more and more big clients. How much were they paying? What size clients were you doing? You were working with.
Sally: Well, at first . . . When you first start out, you’re kind of doing $1,000 ones and then all of a sudden we’re getting up to I think 10,000 and then we had to up that to like the 20 . . .
Andrew: More than 10,000. And you were finding them through Google largely.
Sally: Yeah. We ranked number two for web design.
Sally: And our good buddy, Chris [Hooli 00:09:51], he’ll love that I said his name, he ranked number one.
Andrew: So you are doing well with this. Meanwhile, then, people are calling you up and asking for smaller projects, $500 projects, $400 projects, even $1,000 projects which you would have been eager for back when you were just getting started, but now was too small for you. And what would you do with them?
Sally: Well, we really didn’t know what to do with them. We could send them to somewhere else, but then they were going to have to move upstream as well, and so how did . . . We just couldn’t help them, and it was kind of sad because they were wonderful people and they really had big dreams. So, yeah. We just figured out a way to create what we call Flare9 and . . .
Andrew: Flare9. And what I understand was, I read a blog post from Joshua from a few years ago about the origin of the company and he said, “I would just tell people, no, I can’t do work with you. It’s not what our company does. We can’t take on these smaller projects.” And eventually, you were the one who said to him, “Stop turning away work. Is there something we could do with them? Can we help them somehow? Can we actually stop sending money out the door?” And that’s when you said, “Maybe we can come out with a smaller hosting package that wouldn’t cost as much.”
Andrew: And would do what? What would it be that’s different from all the other hosting companies that were out there at the time?
Sally: Well, it’s really interesting that you’re mentioning that because, yeah, that is what was happening and I really had to sit down and I had to understand what went into building websites, because a lot of people are like, “Why can’t you just throw something up on the internet, and here we go? It’s not that big of a deal.” But once I really started getting into it, I realized that there were actually 11 steps into creating a website. And to me, you know, everybody is talking about the one-click install back then. And I was like, “Ah.” But it wasn’t one click, it was 11 steps. So we created . . .
Andrew: What do you mean? What went into those steps?
Sally: Oh my gosh, I cannot even remember everything.
Andrew: What type of things?
Sally: But of course, like, you had to find a domain.
Sally: And then you had to find your templates, then you had to find . . . It was just a lot of different parts that went into all these steps.
Andrew: Okay. The template part is one of the easier steps, but it’s still a pain to go through and find a template to design your site.
Sally: Well, for a novice . . .
Andrew: How were you going to make that better? What were you going to do that was different?
Sally: We were actually just going to combine all the things and put it into a two-minute process.
Sally: And, yeah.
Andrew: How? What were you going to do about the template? How were you going to make it easier for people to find a template?
Sally: Basically, we just had, like, a library of templates. So people come in, they could sign up their domain, they would look up a template. We even had email included nightly backups, email contracts . . .
Andrew: Meaning an email address included with their website.
Andrew: Okay. And so didn’t WordPress also have templates built-in at the time?
Sally: I don’t recall. Oh, my gosh. You see that was like 1.2B
Andrew: But it wasn’t as easy as what you doing.
Sally: No, it was not. It wasn’t as easy.
Andrew: You wanted to make it easier for people to find their design, have the whole thing just done step by step by step. That’s what you envisioned. In order to get to that, how much work did you have to put in as a company?
Sally: Oh, a lot, but luckily we had Joshua Eichorn who was brilliant. And he was very, very brilliant. I mean, he’s . . . So he was the one that put in all the work. And luckily every time that we had downtime, we were working on this new product.
Andrew: If you didn’t have client work, you were building this out. But still, you had to pay him. He wasn’t cheap. How many months? How much money did you invest in order to launch the first version?
Sally: It’s going to sound kind of funny. I think it was only maybe six months. And so . . . But we were charging a lot for websites at that time and sometimes you had a 45-day payout. So we could always kind of make it work.
Andrew: What do you mean 45-day payout?
Sally: Well, you know, by the time that you send someone a bill sometimes it can take 45 days.
Andrew: It would take 45 days to get paid.
Andrew: Okay. And so that meant that you had what? Forty-five days to sit and wait for the next client? No. You still had . . .
Sally: No, no. We always had . . .
Andrew: . . . other clients coming. Right?
Sally: Like I said, we had like a ton of clients coming in, thank goodness. But just during our downtime as we kept cherry-picking, you know, and . . .
Andrew: Got it.
Sally: . . . figuring out the ones that we really wanted to work with, then we could work on the other stuff.
Andrew: Why did you call it Flare9 at first?
Sally: Oh my gosh. Well, back in those days it was . . . People used crazy names. Do you remember that?
Andrew: I remember that letters were missing. So Flickr is the classic example, right? There’s no E in Flickr.
Sally: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So there was that and then, like, Flare9 . . . What was it? BitSeven. There were all these different . . . So we were trying to find just any name that made sense at that time.
Andrew: Okay. And so there was no connection to the number nine, you were just looking for anything.
Andrew: Okay. And so I see a few screenshots of the site and a blog post that Joshua wrote up about the origin of the business. You then went back to who to sell it to, to get the first clients, the first I think 40 clients came from?
Sally: Yeah. Basically from OBO, because, really, Twitter and Facebook really weren’t around at that time and so it was . . .
Andrew: And OBO was your design company.
Sally: OB Web, yes.
Andrew: OB Web.
Sally: Was our design company.
Andrew: And so you would keep track of people who you were turning away or you were just waiting for new . . .
Andrew: You would. Anyone who you turned away you went back to and said, “Hey, we turned you away. We told you that we couldn’t help you, but now we can. You don’t need a designer in order to build your site. Use Flare9.”
Sally: We did a little bit. It was more like when they did call, then I’d say, “Oh, hey, you might want to check out this.” So then we had 40 people, but like I said, like, WordPress was not where it was at. And not only that. With WordPress, people thought of it as a blogging platform. They didn’t never look at it as a CMS back then. And so we just knew that we had to wait and how WordPress was where it needed to be in order for us to rebrand. And then we rebranded as Pagely.
Andrew: You know what? I still think that people think of WordPress as a blogging platform. I heard a debate between Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress, and David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Basecamp and of Ruby on Rails. And in it, David kept referring to WordPress as a blogging platform. And it was just such an odd thing to do. And I guess because the origins were blogging, people still think of it as blogging.
Sally: Yeah. But, no. We saw it as a CMS almost right off the bat. I mean, it was being used as a blogging platform, but, I mean, it was wonderful. It really gave the power back to the people too because you could go in and make your own adjustments.
Andrew: CMS meaning Content Management Software, right?
Andrew: Meaning that you could just build any website on WordPress. And if you realize that that it doesn’t have to be a blog, then you had an easy way to create websites. All right. And so you were going to your existing . . . Not existing customers, but people who were coming to you and saying to them, “This can do more than blogging. It can build up your website.” And they were willing to sign up because you had an easy process for them to create a website, basically a homepage for whatever business they had, cupcakes selling business, etc. Do you remember one of your first customers? What did they do?
Sally: Unfortunately, I don’t.
Andrew: You don’t, really.
Sally: Oh my gosh, it’s been so long. I know. We’re looking at like 13 years now from I think the start of that. So where we are now and I’m like, “I don’t remember.” Oh my gosh, I bet you anything maybe Josh does. But yeah, I don’t remember.
Andrew: Here is what does stand out for me. You were talking to our producer and you said, “We launched and we had 40 customers sign up. And two years later, we had 38 customers.” Which tells me a couple of things. Number one, people weren’t leaving. You didn’t have a high churn. Number two, you also weren’t growing.
Andrew: Why not? Why was Pagely not growing in the beginning?
Sally: Mainly . . . We didn’t tell anybody about it anymore. We were kind of like, “This isn’t really quite where it needs to be.” It’s very interesting because I noticed this in a lot of businesses where they have wonderful ideas, they’re just too early to market.
Sally: And that’s kind of what was going on. We were just really early to market, thank goodness, but it was hard to market it. And we were kind of wanting to wait, you know, and . . .
Andrew: What do you mean . . . So you weren’t able to get customers. I heard that it’s largely because back then there wasn’t social media, there wasn’t a place for you to talk about.
Sally: Yeah, there wasn’t social media.
Andrew: But there were blogs, you could have blogged about it. You could have bought ads. Google ads were effective back then. Right? We’re talking over 10 years ago. Why didn’t you spend time on blogging and promoting that way, speaking at WordPress conferences? It seems to me, like, you didn’t yet believe in it enough. Right? It seemed maybe was too small for you. Maybe it didn’t fit big right off the bat and so you backed away.
Sally: Maybe, but we also had a web design company going at the same time with employees, so it’s kind of that was always our bread and butter and then we were waiting. And it was interesting, though, because when we noticed, you know, two years later when we had the 38, we’re like, “Okay. Let’s dust this thing off.” We rebranded it and brought it up as Pagely. Luckily we had . . .
Andrew: What happened two years later that got you to bring it back? What changed?
Sally: I think it was just really wanting to help. We could just see that there was a need in the hosting industry. Things just didn’t seem fair. And I really wanted . . . I really wanted people to have faith and trust hosting again. But what was really funny is that we ended up getting hate mail too.
Sally: Because WordPress was free. How can you charge 14.95 for web hosting when it’s free? And trying to get the whole market to see that, no, this is worth it, you know, that was sometimes an uphill climb, but we were very . . .
Andrew: That was a huge problem. In the early days of WordPress there was this sense of everything needs to be free. If you’re going to charge, just charge me for the hardware that you’re using to host it, but don’t charge for anything else. Don’t charge me for themes. Don’t charge me for plugins. The whole thing. And it wasn’t just WordPress. The internet needed to be free back then. And if you had the guts to charge, most people would come down hard on you, a few people like Jason Fried from Basecamp. I remember when I started charging he sent me a note saying, “Andrew, just keep it up. You’ll figure this thing out.” Why did you have the guts to charge for it with all that onslaught, with this culture of everything should be free?
Sally: Well, because it wasn’t free. It was a facade. It was . . . You’re paying $3 for hosting, but like I said, all of a sudden, you’re going in for support and you’re leaving paying 20. And I think the thing that scared [inaudible 00:20:47] 14 . . .
Andrew: You’re saying, hey, wait, even these people who claim to be free are only bait and switching you. They’re telling you it’s a buck or $2 to host, but in reality, they’re charging you more. And if they’re charging you anything, they might as well charge a little bit more and then give you a really good service instead of . . . Got it. Instead of nickel and diming you. And that was your model. The other thing that I noticed it was starting to happen was WordPress was becoming a thing. I remember talking to Mashable which was one of the largest WordPress sites eventually.
Sally: Yeah. I know these guys. Peter Cashmore?
Sally: He’s cool.
Andrew: And so Pete for a while there had some random blogging platform that he signed up for and he was committed to, and everyone seemed to have their own thing going, and then suddenly, the world coalesced around WordPress. And if the world’s coalescing around WordPress and people are searching for WordPress hosting, it seems like they were more open to considering other options. I wonder if . . . And I don’t know your business well enough to know this. But I wonder if also what was happening was people were starting to have problems with their plain old hosting. Is that right?
Sally: Yes. And I think that everybody was really excited. I think a lot of people felt like they could build something like Pagely or they always thought it was, like, just a brilliant idea. So then people just got talking and luckily, we had Allen Stern who was with CenterNetworks and he was the one that took a chance on us.
Andrew: By blogging about you.
Sally: I told him, I was like, “I can have a WordPress site set up in two minutes.” And he’s like, “Okay, I’ll bite.”
Andrew: And so he started writing about you.
Sally: Yeah. And then next thing, you know, it was kind of blowing up and we were kind of probably at parties like “Where you’re at?” Yeah, we were pretty quiet.
Sally: We were around, like, some of the most awesome people, though, and people that were like, you know, movers and shakers, and that was . . . We had a lot of word of mouth.
Andrew: I wonder also if you . . . I had the sense. I can read people but it’s been a while. I had the sense that you had or Joshua did had a sense of where are we in this world? Are we insignificant in a world where everyone is raising money, where all these people are such superstars, well known? You didn’t have that.
Sally: No, we didn’t have that. We knew that we’re on our own path.
Andrew: You did. Always felt comfortable and confident about that.
Andrew: Okay. Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor. It’s a company called Toptal. Let me ask you this. You’ve mentioned some . . . You mentioned one of your developers. His name is also Joshua just like your husband and co-founder?
Andrew: What did he do? That was so amazing that say if you found somebody cheap on Upwork for $5 an hour, they wouldn’t think to do? What does a really good developer do for you? Give me an example. Do you remember?
Sally: Oh, yes, of course. They can actually see the platform and know its use case even beyond what the people that built it know. Does that make sense?
Andrew: No. Give me . . . Tell me more. Flush that out.
Sally: Well, when he looks at . . . When he looks at code, he can actually see the full functionality, not just the marketing behind it.
Andrew: Not just the one thing that you’re looking for, but the whole product and the whole business that goes into it, right?
Sally: And how it all fits and how it will fit in with other things. And yeah, he just has this way about him that he can just see code, know how it should be worked, and then also how the company believes that they need to market it, but he also knows that the code can even do more than that. Like, he just really sees the vision of, he’s just brilliant.
Andrew: They come up with solutions that you could never come up with even though you know your business and you think, “This is what I want.” They say, “Well, here’s a better way to do the thing that you’re looking for better than you imagine because I know the tools better than you imagine.” One of the things that I liked about when I worked with Toptal and hired a WordPress developer, I said, “I have this issue. People can’t find stuff on my site. Can you help me out?” He said, “Yes.” And I expected it to take maybe a couple of weeks. He ended up doing it in a couple of days because he said, “I did this before. I did it a few times before.” And so some of the more complicated problems that you think are just unique to you. They’ve solved before and they now have the ability to solve faster for you.
All right. If you’re out there listening to me and you need a developer, not just for WordPress, but really, go look at their site, you’ll see that they have a really wide collection of developers if you need the best of the best, not the cheapest. You’re not going to brag at a party about finding a $5 developer on Toptal. But if you need the best of the best, you’re going to find them on Toptal, let them change your business, rock your world. Literally, if you’re not happy with them, you will not have to pay. All you have to do is go to toptal.com/mixergy. And if you look at the details there, you’ll see they’ll even give you 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours. And they’ll get you covered. If you’re not happy with it, you won’t have to pay, but don’t worry, they will still pay for the developer, so they’re not going to get stiffed. All you have to do is go to toptal.com/mixergy, top as on top of your head, tal and talent, toptal.com/mixergy, toptal.com/mixergy.
When I met you guys, the website was Page.ly.
Andrew: Not pagely.com which it is now.
Andrew: Any issues with the ly thing that everyone was using for a while? Wasn’t that Libya?
Sally: Yes. Yes.
Andrew: It was. What happened to you guys?
Sally: It was Libya. That was really interesting because, like, I like the story. It kind of makes me happy. Yes. Back in the old day like Bit.ly, all the LYs were coming out. It was like this whole fad and so we had our Pagely. And then we did change it to pagely.com. But at the time I remember that there were some government issues with Libya and . . . Yeah. And so . . .
Andrew: There were a bunch of issues. One of the issues they had was they didn’t like things that were . . . Because Libya owned the .ly top-level domain. I think they didn’t like . . . What was it? They didn’t like anything that felt like it was not porn but inappropriate sexual expression. Right? And so they were starting to ask for those to be taken down and a bunch of other things. Did you have any issues with them where they started taking you down? No.
Sally: No. Never had any issues with that. I think that another thing was there was some government problems with their president over there. And so I believe it was SoftLayer who decided that they were going to be shutting down all .ly’s or there was going to be some major problem. And our guy was from the . . . It was called Libyan Spider. And he was the one that sold us the .ly’s and stuff like that. It was really hard because he wanted to . . . I’m trying to exactly remember exactly what happened, but I remember he called up Josh and he said, “Listen, I know that this does not seem right. Like we should allow, you know, art and nakedness and stuff like that,” or whatever he felt. “But I can’t say that in this country without being ostracized.” And we were like, “Oh, okay.” And he goes, “But you also don’t understand that if they shut me down tomorrow, I have to tell 20 people that they lost their jobs. I have to tell everybody that I’m looking at in my office right now that they will no longer be able to work here.
Andrew: Who said this?
Sally: The owner of Libyan Spider.
Andrew: What’s Libyan Spider?
Sally: They were the domain registrar.
Andrew: Oh. So he would have to tell his 20 people that they’re going to get shut down, but also the businesses that rely on the .ly top-level domain. Okay.
Sally: No. So, yeah. No. We were going to be just fine, but yeah, SoftLayer was kind of shutting everybody down. And he was one of them. He was like, really, really scared. And I was really proud of Josh because what he did was, he got him in contact with a reporter at “The Washington Post.” And those two kind of worked it out because he was scared. He couldn’t say anything because he’s sitting there in that country yet at the same time, he’s looking at 20 people who depend on their paychecks, and the next day, if he could not figure out something, you know, I mean, he was legitimately scared.
Andrew: So he was saying, “Don’t worry. I’m going to figure something out to make sure that my 20 people get to work but also that all the companies that are running on the .ly top-level domain will be okay.”
Sally: Yes. We were trying to figure out a way just to make sure that he’ll be okay that we could figure out to get kind of his side of the story out. I mean, sometimes you have rulers in different countries who are not always the best and all of a sudden you’re sitting there in that country and you don’t really want to back them, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. And so it was just kind of neat to see that we could actually bridge the border between two people and realize that it was just another business owner on the other side who really, you know, loved what he was doing.
Andrew: Wanted to keep the company going.
Andrew: And he just happened to be . . . I think this was under the last days of Muammar Gaddafi’s reign, right?
Andrew: Just as protesters were starting to take over and tried to push him out. Eventually, they succeeded. From what I can see here from an old article on eWeek from 2011, by that point, Joshua felt comfortable because you’d already started to move off of the .ly top-level domain. Is that right?
Andrew: You already had moved to pagely.com because what? It was too confusing to be page.ly?
Sally: Well, it was. And also we kind of realized that it was trendy. The .ly’s were very trendy. And so it’s like . . .
Andrew: And then it started to get a little old.
Sally: Yeah. And so you just wanted something that was lasting.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And so that allowed you guys to continue. What about this idea of managed WordPress hosting?
Andrew: Where did that phrase . . . What does that phrase mean and where did it come from?
Sally: It’s hilarious. Okay. So we used to have an office in, actually, Chandler, Arizona. It was actually a co-working space. It was called Gangplank. And my husband and a bunch of other business owners formed this group. And it was a lot of fun and we had Wednesday hack nights. So we just had Pagely rolling out the door and we thought we were like a website builder, but we really weren’t quite for sure. And all of a sudden this mystery guy shows up at our office, he flew in from New York, and he’s sitting there, he goes, “Do you know what this thing is?” And we were like, “Well, we think so. It’s kind of getting like a lot of play right now. Like, a lot of people are talking about it.” He’s like, “It’s a hosting company.” And we’re like, “You think this is a hosting company?” He’s like, “Yeah. What you’re sitting on right here is a WordPress hosting company.” And we’re like, “Oh.” We’re like, “Managed WordPress hosting.” And so next thing you know, it’s like that’s what we were going after. That’s what we were marketing as. That was our keywords on Google.
Andrew: And the difference between hosting and managed WordPress hosting as I understand it today is, with hosting, they’ll allow you to put whatever plugin you want, do whatever you want, run it. Managed WordPress hosting means when there is an update to the plugin, the managed hosting plan will . . . I mean, you’ll get your plugin automatically updated.
Sally: Yes, [inaudible 00:32:04].
Andrew: When WordPress updates, you’ll automatically get it updated. You’ll be told that there’s certain plugins that you just can’t install on your WordPress site. Right? Manage means we take of it but we limit it.
Sally: Sometimes especially if it’s not safe. That’s what you hope. Yeah.
Andrew: If it’s not safe or if they’re not familiar with it, some companies won’t allow you to install it.
Sally: Yeah. Yeah. Or if it’s . . .
Andrew: Maybe that’s just not happening anymore. Can I install any plugin that I want on Pagely?
Andrew: No. Yeah, that’s what I meant. What else does managed WordPress hosting mean?
Sally: A lot of times it means nightly backups. It means, you know, making sure that servers are provisioned just right for that client’s needs.
Andrew: So it’s all the things that you’d have to do to keep your website running is now being outsourced to this hosting company. It’s not just that they’re going to host whatever you want . . .
Sally: They’re monitoring it.
Andrew: . . . they’re also going to maintain it.
Sally: And they’re monitoring it. They’re saying, “It’s their uptime. It’s their uptime.” But it’s really interesting because managed really mean different things for many different hosts. I mean, sometimes people believe that you can say that you’re managed, but really, you’re just managing servers. And what is that? That’s hosting. So, I mean, there’s so many different marketing ways to say and do things. And so for us it was . . . We wanted to really help. We wanted to really help people and we really wanted to manage everything even down to monitoring.
Andrew: What did you end up doing about getting customers? What worked for you?
Sally: Word of mouth.
Andrew: That’s it.
Sally: We had so many . . .
Andrew: Did you have any process for generating word of mouth? No.
Sally: Well, part is, like, where we probably met you. We always had fun and we were around really great people. One of our first employees was number 15 over at Facebook. We always were very good friends with.
Andrew: You mean, he went on to become number 15 at Facebook.
Andrew: So being part of the WordPress community, but you guys don’t go out and speak at as many conferences as others do. You don’t . . .
Sally: I’m very private.
Andrew: Yeah, I noticed that. You’re not huge bloggers, your traffic to your site is not really . . . It’s not enormous. I’m looking at SimilarWeb. Right?
Sally: Yeah. A lot of it is word of mouth. A lot of it is expansion.
Andrew: Expansion. What do you mean?
Sally: Well, like things . . . Like, right now Warner Brothers, they’re bringing in a lot more stuff. I mean, it’s a lot of our clients.
Andrew: Oh, you mean your customers are growing and so the business you’re doing is growing too. Is that right?
Andrew: I’m looking at advertising. According to SimilarWeb you guys advertise on Ninja Forms, Miniclip. You do some display advertising. You do some Google ads, right?
Sally: A little bit.
Andrew: A little bit.
Sally: Yeah, it just kind of depends. But it’s really kind of funny because if you look at some of the biggest names, I think Ninja Forms is one of our clients, Gravity is one of our clients, WP Valet is a client. A lot of these . . .
Andrew: WP Valet?
Andrew: Wow. I used to work with WP Valet. I worked with them because I was with your competitor for a little bit and they said, “If you want to migrate over, WP Valet will do it.” And so I hired WP Valet and they were working really close with them. Now they’re working with you.
Sally: No. They host their stuff with us.
Andrew: There was their website.
Sally: So I really might be working with competitors only because they all host their stuff with us. I know it’s kind of funny, like, we power a lot of the big things that go on. Even, like, if you’ve heard of Pippins Plugins, Easy Digital Downloads. That’s like a really big one. We host all his stuff. So, within that, the WordPress community we do a lot of that. We used to host Sucuri, all those kinds.
Andrew: The security company, the . . .
Sally: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sally: Those guys are wonderful.
Andrew: The WordPress security company.
Sally: Now we . . . I’m trying to remember who one of our big first clients was. It might have been Vonage back in the day. I can’t remember.
Andrew: So how are these guys finding you? They’re just googling, asking friends, and that’s it?
Sally: Pretty much. I mean a lot of these guys . . . Do you remember what the . . . Remember causes? Just so many people were just talking about us for some reason. Everybody was just talking about us. Everybody had their friends. They knew that if you needed something big to bring it to Pagely.
Andrew: What I don’t understand is why would WP Valet use you guys? Isn’t their whole job to update people’s plugins and maintain their sites?
Sally: Yes, but they don’t do the hosting part of it. So they do the maintenance part of it.
Andrew: And then why would somebody need maintenance if you guys are a WordPress managed solution?
Sally: Exactly. So the part is, is that they do the managed part. We already did our own management, so they weren’t our third party. They were the other host’s third-party. So we just host all of their stuff. Does that make sense?
Andrew: You’re hosting it, but are you also updating their WordPress install?
Andrew: You’re doing the whole thing. The stuff that they’re offering their clients you’re doing for them.
Andrew: Unless I’m misunderstanding it. Okay. So then do you feel like you’ve gotten a little lapped by some of your competitors because they figured out marketing more? Because I know some of your competitors are going after huge banks. They’ve got salespeople who have experience selling to enterprise and they’re hiring armies of these people and you’re just sticking to your knitting. Do you feel a little bit lap that you feel like you’re behind them?
Sally: No, not at all because we’re a different breed. We know that we do the edge cases. We are the ones that the really big guys that the people that are falling off the rails basically they’re growing way too big, they always come to us because we built for that. That’s how we’ve set up our entire platform is to make sure that we were capable.
Andrew: I get the sense also that you just don’t want to play in that world. You don’t want to play in the world where you take on a lot of funding. You don’t want to play in the world where you then have to have huge clients and armies of salespeople, and then at some point either go public or exit. That’s not your thing at all.
Andrew: You ever try to raise money?
Sally: We’ve had people throw money at us all the time. We have people trying to buy us. Matt Mullenweg, who is a wonderful person, he wanted from this very beginning he was offering it to . . .
Andrew: To invest in you.
Sally: Yeah, he wanted to invest in us and a couple of other hosting companies.
Andrew: Why? Why did he want . . . He ended up investing in another WordPress managed company. Why did he want to invest?
Sally: He wanted to grow the community more.
Andrew: Because he thought that by investing in a managed WordPress hosting company, he would be growing the whole WordPress platform.
Andrew: That there’s some people who want to go to Automattic his company and have automatic host WordPress, but there are other people who just don’t want the restrictions of Automattic and want a little bit more direct contact with the owner. And so he wanted to fund all these companies.
Sally: And he wasn’t playing favorites. He was just . . .
Andrew: Just for the ecosystem.
Sally: Yeah, just for the ecosystem. And so for us, we were like, you know, thank you. And that’s not the route that we want to take. And at the time, you know, we had a lot of friends that were being kicked out of their own companies. They built their [inaudible 00:39:11] up, and all of a sudden, like, literally, it feels like 8 out of 10 of our friends were building up companies and being kicked out. And that’s hard to watch. And, you know, when you’re in the tech field and all of a sudden you see the letter of, “Well, I’m really proud of all these guys, and I’m going to be moving on and, like . . . ”
Sally: There is a backstory and we all know it and why isn’t anybody talking about it? And of course, they can’t talk about it either because non-disclosure or they might still have, you know, some skin in the game, so what are they going to do? All of a sudden, like, tell the truth and all of a sudden, they’re out of it.
Andrew: Yeah. They’ll tell you one-on-one maybe, but they’re not going to send an email to everyone saying, “I just got kicked out of this company because . . . ” By the way, I got one of the best fricking stories of this.
Sally: Oh, please.
Andrew: One of the founders of Fanduel. I don’t know if you remember Fanduel. They were fantasy sports. They created this like machine where they could be the largest . . . I think they were the single largest ad buyer in the country one year because what they would do is say, “Enter to play fantasy sports for like six bucks, you could end up winning $1 million.” And that’s what their ads were all about. It was basically like gambling, but it was legal because they thought it was legal because it was a game of skill.
Anyway, they raised a ton of money. They own their company. After being broke for years, this husband and wife ended up finally hitting it big, and then the company sold and from what I understand, they made nothing. I’ve been texting with the founder. She is amazing. She is a badass. And she was supposed to be here last week and I think at the last minute she changed her mind, but we’re still talking about getting her back on. What an amazing story and it’s just like a warning of what could happen.
Sally: Yeah. And it happens all the time and I see it happen constantly.
Andrew: All the time. And this is what you don’t want to play. You don’t want to be in that world.
Sally: No. That’s one reason why I don’t. I mean, you have to be so careful when you’re looking for funding. And not only that, it’s like, if you can do it without the money, why not? And I remember sitting down with this guy, Patrick Sullivan. He started Act. Remember way back in the . . .
Andrew: The contact management software.
Sally: Like from way back one. Yes.
Andrew: Yeah, I do remember ACT.
Sally: Yes. Like you buy it in, like, Office Depot or something like that.
Andrew: I interviewed one of the founders. Yes.
Sally: And he’s wonderful, but I remember sitting down with him and I was like, “Do we take funding?” I mean, because he was . . . Like, we’re discussing it and he’s like, “Okay. I’m going to be honest with you. Don’t.” And he goes, “If you have this great idea and you think that money is the only way that it’s going to work, just don’t do it.” I’m like, “Really?” and he’s like, “Yeah, because there’s a creative way,” which leads me into, this might be kind of a fun story for you if we met at South By, you know, way back then. Him saying that to me was huge because it was true. It’s like, “Could I figure this out creatively? Could I figure all this stuff out? And if I could, then I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the money.” So South By is coming up, you know, Pagely is kind of getting a little bit out there. People are talking about it. I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is awesome.” So Hugh Forrest he’s like, “Okay. So I want . . . ”
Andrew: The guy who programs South by Southwest.
Sally: Yeah. I was like, “You know, I want pedicabs in [inaudible 00:42:25].” And I knew. And when I go to these places, I know it’s going to work because I’m like, “Okay. Where am I sitting at? What am I looking at? Where do I want people to be sitting out and looking at and where can I get the brand out the most?” And so I’m sitting there and I’m talking to Hugh and I’m like, “I want pedicabs.” He was, “Oh, yeah. You’re sponsoring.” And it’s . . . I can give you . . . What was it? I think it was 15 for $45,000.
Andrew: Meaning, Hugh Forrest will put 15 pedicabs, guys on bikes, with your logo on the back of the seats that they’re peddling and it’s going to be $45,000.
Sally: Yes. And I’m sitting and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I got it.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I was like, I’m going, “Oh, crap. We don’t have that.” And so I really wanted those pedicabs. I wanted them for some reason. So I started calling around. And I met this guy and he was this father and he just had twins. And he’s like, “Yeah, I’m just trying to grow this pedicab business.” And I’m like, “Oh, really? How many you got?” And he’s like, “I got 20 of them.” And I was like, “You got 20 pedicabs? Now, if there’s a conference going on, can you go around the conference area or are you, like, restricted?” He goes, “Oh, no, I can go. I can go anywhere.” And I was like, “You can?” He’s like, “Yeah.” I was like, “Okay. How much?” It was 10,000. And then I was like, “Ten grand? Okay. That’s awesome. Sold.”
But we also could exactly afford the 10,000. So I talked to our good friend, Joe, who was with SimpleGeo at the time and I was like, “Hey, I got 10 pedicabs for sale for 5,000. How do you guys want them?” I mean, they’re like, “Oh, this might actually work.” We’re like, “Okay. Sounds good.” So we paid 5,000 for 10 pedicabs. He paid 5,000 for 10 pedicabs. And then he tested it out on Uber.
Andrew: What do you mean he tested it out on Uber?
Sally: Well, that was the first place where they figured out triangulation and people were, like, starting. They were, like, figuring out how the Ubers moved with the pedicabs.
Andrew: Oh, because what they do is, SimpleGeo API that allows developers to build location-aware applications, he wanted Uber to see that he can tell them where pedicabs are, and if he could, then that means that he could tell Uber where cars are. Got it. And so . . .
Sally: He was one of the advisors to Uber from back then and so it’s just kind of funny. He’s like, “Oh, yeah. Okay. So we’re going to use it for Uber.” I’m like, “Cool. What’s Uber?” And I was like, “Yay.” So it’s always like just a fun story just how small the universe really is.
Andrew: And this is what you got excited about, that you made this deal that instead of paying $40,000, you found a way to pay $5,000 and you had these pedicabs going around. And this is what excites you. And you’re okay with, it seems to me, with the idea that Matt Mullenweg is trying to get WordPress to what? Like, 90% of all websites he wants to be on WordPress, that means that there’s an opportunity for you to maybe own 10% of that, let’s say, 9% of that.
Sally: Yeah. I mean . . .
Andrew: You don’t even want that. You could raise a bunch of money. You could grow an army of people. You don’t want that. You want to know there’s profit coming in the bank, there are people whose websites can count on you supporting them, there’s growth.
Sally: And I just have a vision. Yeah. I mean, there’s a vision behind it.
Andrew: That’s it.
Sally: Yeah. And I want to reach this vision. And do I believe that we can reach that vision? Boy, do I hope so. Now at some point, if I ever did feel like do I need sell and then, you know, because it could be most like an acquihire or whatnot. Okay. I want to get to that vision. And that could be fun too. Do I want that right now or no?
Andrew: Even if it means someone acquihires you.
Andrew: Even if it means someone acquihires you, meaning they would buy the company just for the team.
Sally: It will have to . . .
Andrew: You would still be okay with that as long as you get to the vision. Do you guys make more than 1 million a year in profit or are you guys not doing that even?
Sally: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: You are. Okay. All right. Let me do my second advertiser, HostGator. I asked you before we got started, I think it’s kind of awkward. HostGator hosts WordPress websites. Is it awkward for me to do an ad for them with you? And you said, “No, there’s a difference.” What’s the difference? Who would start with HostGator and eventually move to you? How would this work?
Sally: Well, you know, HostGator is great. I mean, there’s so many different options out there. And when you have like a small mom and pop or personal blog, yeah, I mean, that works. There’s a lot of other places that work as well. For us, we just mainly . . . We specialize in the very high demand sites. We have a really . . .
Andrew: Give an example of a site that might have started small but grew into one of these high-demand sites that needed Pagely. Give me an example of what’s working today in the WordPress world. What’s an idea of a business that does well?
Sally: Okay. I think I can probably talk about this client right now because they actually grew pretty rapidly. It’s called Bring a Trailer. And . . .
Andrew: Bring a Trailer.
Sally: Yeah. And they started out a little bit small but then just got massively popular and just were growing and basically breaking WordPress. So, you know . . .
Andrew: What is Bring a Trailer? I’m on their website and it looks to me like it’s a blog about cars.
Sally: Yeah, they sell cars. And they actually do it through WordPress. It’s really crazy.
Andrew: So, if I’m seeing this what looks like a blog post on a V8-Powered 1974 Toyota Land Cruiser. It’s for sale.
Sally: And they’re bidding on it. They’re going to do a live bid on it.
Andrew: Oh, I see. So what they’ve got here is they’re showing you photos of this car and they’re telling you that . . . Oh, I see. They’re showing you photos. It feels like a blog post, so I’d be reading it almost for fun. But if I wanted to buy this Land Cruiser, it looks like I could bid on it and there is only one bid there right now for $5,000. So, this whole thing started as a simple WordPress site, maybe they went with a company like HostGator, and then once this became so big that they didn’t want to manage it themselves, they came to Pagely and said, “Can you help us out? We want to keep focusing on getting more bidders in.”
Andrew: Got it.
Sally: Yes. So that’s one thing. And then also for us it’s also the security and stuff like that. So then some of our other clients we also host some banks. We host everything from I think Facebook, Twitter, different properties to [inaudible 00:48:42].
Andrew: The size has grown. It’s also clients that have grown.
Sally: No, we’re huge.
Andrew: I know that you’re huge as a business. I thought that when Pagely started as your cheaper alternative to customize WordPress sites that that’s where you stayed. No.
Andrew: You’ve expanded and now Pagely . . .
Sally: No. We have to be up market. Our next competitor came in and they were like funded like 290 some odd million, but luckily we were . . .
Andrew: We’re talking WP Engine.
Sally: Yeah. And then after that then all of a sudden, we started having the GoDaddy’s coming in and starting to try to do managed WordPress hosting. So, for us . . . But we just always had a lot of the experience. Our team they know so much.
Andrew: So if GoDaddy is coming in with like cheap managed WordPress hosting and . . .
Sally: And [inaudible 00:49:23] that too.
Andrew: Right. And then you’re seeing WP Engine go after the huge accounts maybe try to go public, you said, “We’re going to go higher than the low end, but not as high as . . . We’re not going to start going head to head with WP Engine.”
Sally: Oh no, we’re actually much higher. Theirs starts at 35, ours starts 500.
Andrew: Oh, fuck. You do. Wow.
Andrew: This is way bigger than where you were when we first met. All right. Let me close this out by saying, look, if you’ve got an idea . . . I really love this idea for bringatrailer.com. If you have an idea, it’s so much easier today to get started than it’s ever been. All you have to do is go to hostgator.com/mixergy. They’ll give you even a lower price than they offer anyone else. And frankly, their prices are already low to begin with. You can get started with your site, you can keep building it up, and then scale it up. All you have to do is go to hostgator.com/mixergy. I love how this idea . . . I would have thought of it just like a fun little side project. I love how Bring a Trailer has just grown and grown. I’m now scrolling through . . . I got to shut their tab down so I don’t keep scrolling.
Sally: No, I’m not kidding. That thing is addictive.
Andrew: I hate cars. I don’t even like cars, but I can’t stop looking at it because it’s just beautiful shots of cars.
Sally: Oh, it’s awesome. That’s about it too. We’re like, “Oh my gosh. Okay. There’s this Mercedes.” And one of them, like, sold for, like, 1.4 million and we were like . . . And it was crazy. What gets even crazier that I love was that people that were in there with the comments, they’re like, “Okay. We don’t know who’s hosting this, but how the heck are they keeping this thing up?”
Andrew: Because the bids just keep coming in and all the looky-loos like me are coming in. Yeah.
Sally: That was awesome. I love it.
Andrew: My problem with looking at sites like that is I hate cars, I don’t want to own a car, but then I think, “Wait. I can get that for just $30,000? That’s a pretty beautiful car. That’s a classic.” I’ll put it away.
Andrew: You and your husband work together. Let’s talk openly. What are the challenges? What’s going on with working with your husband? I couldn’t do with my wife. I love her but too much. We’re different personalities.
Sally: So do Josh and I.
Andrew: What is your different personalities? What are you like and what’s he like?
Sally: We morphed over the years. So I would say that at first, he was fly by the seat of pants, I was structure. And it’s kind of . . . As a matter of fact, I kind of told you that I was actually going to do this interview at his office and then you would have seen what his office looked like.
Andrew: What do you mean by his office versus your office? I know you’re at home today because there was too much noise at his office. But what’s the difference between his office and your office? Where do you guys work?
Sally: Well, we . . . If we’re talking . . . Well, we have an office that’s about 10 minutes from our house.
Sally: And we also have . . .
Andrew: And don’t you each have an office there? Oh, no. And you also have . . . Sorry.
Sally: And then I actually, I prefer to work from home. And then we have all of our teams all remote throughout the world. And then we also do have an office in Phoenix, and then like a co-working space in Denver and . . .
Andrew: So you typically work from where?
Sally: I work from home.
Andrew: From home. Oh, got it. And he’s working from the office.
Sally: He works from the office.
Andrew: And there are other people in this office that he works in?
Sally: No, actually.
Andrew: Are there Pagely people? No.
Sally: No. It’s him.
Andrew: It’s just him in a co-working space because he needs that . . .
Sally: No, that’s actually his own office. That’s [inaudible 00:52:23].
Andrew: Oh, that’s his own personal office. And is he a mess? What would I’ve seen if I was looking at you today at his office?
Sally: Oh, he’s not a mess. The thing is, is, like, he’s got like a red velvet couch. He’s got like, something in the back that kind of looks like this huge mural. His desk is really colorful. It’s a standing desk. And then me, I’m kind of like more Zen. I’m kind of like, “Oh, chill.” And things are like light and more earthy and so just kind fun.
Andrew: Okay. And then the other days he was less structured more fly by the seat of his pants and you are more structured. Give me an example of how you two worked well together, how his fly by the seat of your pants approach helped the business grow and how you helped structure it?
Sally: Well, you know, he is . . . People like him. Some people like him, some people don’t, but most people really do like him. And he’s boisterous and he’s fun and he’s . . . He gets the word out sometimes. And I can do the same thing, but mine is more like, “You want to be cool, honey? We got these pedicabs,” or, “Hey, what do you think about these like beer stashes?” We did those one, like . . . I’m still kind of thinking about when we first started out. Yeah, those things were just fun and . . . But yeah, I’ve always been structure. I’ve always liked process meetings and different things like that. And he was not like that.
But what’s been also fascinating is that even though I had strengths, I didn’t always want to do those kind of strengths, but then someone else had to pick up the slack and be that person and then all of a sudden it’s like vice versa. I had to . . . At first, I was doing the billing way back when and then she did it, and then of course, we found someone else. But it’s like we’re both just working well together. And sometimes we doubt.
Andrew: What happens when you don’t? You started talking to our producer a little bit about it that it could have almost broken up your relationship. Things like badges at a conference, I think it was, you’d argue over that.
Sally: Oh, I remember that one. It was . . .
Andrew: Tell me.
Sally: I think with the badges, I’m trying to remember exactly. Oh, yeah.
Andrew: Like if you [inaudible 00:54:32].
Sally: I had it budgeted for one thing and he ended up paying more or something like that, maybe.
Andrew: Okay. And then that would lead to an argument because?
Sally: Well, because I’m like, “Dude, my work zone. This is my zone. This is my lane. You go over there.” And, you know . . . Yes. And that’s . . . When you’re married, as you know, it’s like, that’s your best friend and, like, you’re kind of you talk things out and stuff like that. And so we just had to really learn how to do that in business. And we always joke that we’re going to write a book that’s called “From the Boardroom to the Bedroom” and then have all of our other friends that are founders together write a chapter. There’s a lot more at stake, though, when you’re married and when you’re founders. And I think that everybody should have a founder because you really want to be able to bounce ideas.
Andrew: A cofounder.
Sally: Yeah. A cofounder, yes.
Andrew: Did you have a business where you didn’t have a cofounder like an event business?
Sally: I did and I had a lot.
Andrew: And what happened to that because you didn’t have a cofounder?
Sally: Well, I believed that I knew a lot of things and I also wasn’t really listening to the market. And I did okay, but once again, we did not get ahead of the market fast enough. And then there was a competitor that did come in and take, like, a lot of everything with a ton of funding and we just weren’t far enough ahead. We did not have the word of mouth. People did not know about us.
Andrew: My sense was that you also felt that you were the leader, you had to provide direction, but there was no one else who had as much power and as much say so in the company as you and it became the Sally show. And as a result, it was very much your creation, not more of a shared creation. If you would have had cofounder, especially one who completely disagree with you, you’d have had to question every one of your decisions or especially the big ones and know whether they make sense to the world beyond Sally or just as to Sally. And that’s why you like having a co-founder and that’s a . . .
Sally: Oh, I love it.
Andrew: . . . value you place in having a co-founder who’s even the opposite of you because now you’re forced to be clear about what you believe, what’s the alternative, and then decide where you want to be instead of just following your own personal beliefs for your own sake. That’s the difference.
Sally: Yes. And that was just such a huge learning experience because it really . . . It’s easy to have this dream and to think this is how I want it to be, but really, when you have that other person and that was what Josh was, and the other thing was at the end of the day, is it really that big of a deal? I mean, there can be more than, like, one right way to do it and you can actually . . . I can be like, “Okay, yeah, let’s try it your way,” or vice versa like, “No, I feel really strongly about this one. This time I really want to go my way.” And sometimes we just roshambo it out.
Andrew: And literally would do rock, paper, scissors, shoot and see who wins.
Andrew: So that’s kind of cute, but the big thing that I got from learning about the way the two of you work is you’ve each learn to just let things go and accept that, “You know what? It’s just a fricking badge. It’s not going to make or break this event even if it’s bad. And this is a cofounder who I believe in. They’re not going to figure something out that’s bad. They’re thinking about the business in a way that makes sense, and if they fail, they’ll learn from it next time.” And you had to come to that acceptance and as a strong leader who has enough of a vision to start a company and to build it up and tell people, “This will work,” it’s really hard to say, “Yeah, this may not work and your way might work better or I’ll give up.” That’s what it is.
Sally: Yeah. It’s kind of just surrendering.
Andrew: I’m still researching you in real-time. I’m going through Ahrefs which I told you before we got started, it’s our partner site. So I’m looking at the different articles you guys wrote that send traffic your way. It’s not . . . I don’t even see a cohesive content marketing strategy. It’s not. Like if I’m looking at Ahrefs, there’s a bunch of useful articles about what to do with WordPress, like, how to find the post ID in WordPress. I know I’ve looked for that so many times. For page IDs I look a lot for because I want that short URL that includes the page ID. Right. You’re nodding. You know what I’m talking about. But there isn’t this, like, “We’re going to be the place to find this one thing.” It’s, “Here are a bunch of useful articles on WordPress.”
Sally: Yeah. We’re so specialized. Like, we . . .
Andrew: You specialize in your service, but I don’t see it yet in, like, your marketing, right? Like, look at this. “5 Key Takeaways from Jeff Bezos’ Leadership Style” as a blog post. It’s not we are going to be the place where you’re going to learn how to host a website or you’re going to learn what to do when your site breaks? No.
Sally: No. Things are actually . . . I’ll let you in on a little secret.
Andrew: Tell me.
Sally: You and the rest of the freedom fighters.
Andrew: Do it. I like that.
Sally: Here we go. Yeah. Now we are going to be changing that a little bit. We have decided that we will kind of be going more with a brand and we’ll start doing a little bit more marketing. So not because we need to . . . I mean, yeah. I do have a vision and I think that that vision should get out a little bit more. And yes, we do have a lot of word of mouth and we do have the expansion of our current clients. So we are going to be working on that and I’m very excited about it.
Andrew: Okay. I’m glad to hear that too. I feel like you’ve got a good product and a good reputation in the space, but it’s not big enough, and that’s maybe what I’m picking up on. By the way, can we talk about the issues you have as a female founder? Before we got started you told me some of the things that people say to you that they never say to Joshua. Like what?
Sally: I do recall one time a gentleman did come up to me . . . This was a long time ago. Because I was thinking of, like, the start of the company. But what . . . I did have some gentleman that came up to me one time and told me that he was building this Pagely killer. I had another . . . I’ve actually had two guys come up to me and say that they were going to destroy me. I’ve had . . . Yeah, just men also coming up and telling me things. One guy was telling me this straight lie. It was really interesting. One of our competitors they had a serious security flaw and they were just about to be outed by a lot of people. And we knew that they would not take the information from us very well, so we had someone else go and tell them like, “Hey, this is what’s going on.” And we were just going to try and keep it on the down-low and not say anything. And that person that we told to tell them told someone else. Well, then this gentleman that they told comes up to me and tells me, “Oh, you know that big snafu at this company? I’m the one that found it.”
Andrew: He took credit for it.
Sally: And I was sitting there going like, “Really?”
Andrew: Because he was trying to impress you.
Sally: Well, and he was also trying to . . . He was trying to intimidate me because he was going to be coming out with another Pagely killer or whatnot.
Andrew: Oh, that’s the thing that happens with you that doesn’t happen with Joshua, the sense that we could intimidate her, she’s a little girl who’s running this big company. But with Joshua, they would never do that.
Sally: Yeah, they would never do that with Josh. In fact, it’s really interesting, like, Josh would actually be standing next to me and he walk away and then guys would approach and say these things to me. It’s just like ugh, like, it was just gross. And then recently, it started happening with females and that kind of weirded me out a little bit too.
Andrew: What do you mean where women are now doing this to you?
Sally: A little bit. Yes.
Andrew: And the feeling is she’s probably what? She . . .
Sally: I really had to do some soul-searching because I’m like, “What is it about me that makes people feel like they can come up to me and just say this stuff?” And I think it’s what a lot of women have. We feel safe. People feel safe around us. They feel like, “I can say this to this person,” and they will feel like they are safe. And that’s the only thing I could come up with like . . .
Andrew: Versus, like, Joshua might headbutt them or go back home and try to find a way to crush them too.
Sally: Yeah. I don’t know. Because these gentlemen when I really think about who they are, I don’t think that they’re bad people. I think that they were . . . I mean, they might have been kind of trying to intimidate me. I don’t think that they were. I think they were trying maybe to impress me or I have no idea what it was, but they felt comfortable enough. They felt safe enough to be able to come up to me and tell me this. And I think that’s . . .
Andrew: You know what? Sorry, go ahead. And you think what?
Sally: And I don’t think that sometimes maybe men feel comfortable coming up to other men and feeling safe. Like, they might feel like they might get popped in the nose. So I have no idea. So that’s what I just kept wondering. I’m not for sure . . .
Andrew: Does that bother you? Do you feel like, “I’ve got to get revenge on this person”? Do you . . .
Andrew: You don’t.
Sally: No, I don’t feel like that at all. One thing I do feel is that sometimes I do get afraid of success because, like, I do want to grow and I want to be very, very big, but I do know that that can come up at a cost where people sometimes forget that you’re a person that you have feelings.
Andrew: And you’re worried that if you get so successful, then people will just say whatever they feel like about you without a sense that there’s a real person here, kids who are reading or eventually reading the internet about her and a life here.
Andrew: And you don’t want that.
Sally: Well, I’m okay with it. Like, at first, I don’t want that. I wish it was different. At the same time in order for me to get to my goals and what my passions are, I believe stronger in that and getting to that point than what I feel for being afraid of success. So that’s why I sometimes kind of stay a little bit more private.
Andrew: I’m glad you’re not. I’m glad that you’re going out there. And it’s going to be you not Josh who is going to be the face of the business now? Are you going to be the person going out to conferences and speaking and writing?
Sally: Both of us. We go both will. Yeah, I’m excited.
Andrew: I’m glad as a company that you guys are talking more. I’m glad that we’re going to be seeing more about you. I’ll be watching you on Ahrefs to see what kind of content you’re putting out there and to see what’s sending traffic to you.
Sally: Yay. Thank you.
Andrew: I want to tell anyone who’s interested that they can go over to pagely.com to check out your site. Let me see this, page.ly still work? Let me see if we can go old school. Yes. If you’re listening to me, you should go to page.ly. Yes, like . . .
Sally: No. There’s .com.
Andrew: You don’t think they should? Just go search .com . . .
Sally: I don’t care.
Andrew: . . . where I have the redirect that takes a split second. All right. Go to pagely.com. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re hosting a website and you need to get started, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, they’ll get you started. And second, if you need to hire a phenomenal developer, I can’t think of a better place to hire than go into Toptal, that’s top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, toptal.com/mixergy. All right. Thanks so much for doing this interview.
Sally: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Andrew: Same here.