June 22, 2020

Web hosting is a crowded industry.

Anyone who listens to podcast ads could rattle off several web hosts, which wouldn’t even include services so large they barely need advertising: Together, Google, Amazon and GoDaddy are responsible for hosting nearly a third of all websites.

How can small companies begin to compete with that kind of competition?

For Seattle-based Hostwinds, they compete with them directly. COO Michael Brower explained that running a lean team — the company has just over 100 team members — enables them to incorporate change quickly and effectively no matter how big a project may be.

“At larger companies, if you want to facilitate change, you have to go up the corporate ladder and through multiple channels,” Brower said. “Sometimes that change never happens.”

That’s not the case at Hostwinds, where things change daily, Brower said. He recounted how common it is for someone from support to ping an engineer with a request and see it implemented hours later. If it makes for a better service, the company is willing to tweak their systems — or in some cases, scrap them entirely. 

Early last year, the development team took a closer look at the customer management system, responsible for processes like support tickets, billing, provisioning of servers and more. There was nothing wrong with how things were, Brower said, but they envisioned a more intuitive system for customers to navigate. A revamp wasn’t going to get them where they wanted — they would need to completely rebuild the system of their dreams, in-house.

“Our primary focus is that we want it to be the best,” Brower said. “The best for both our clients and our employees, so neither party has to navigate around a system that isn’t catered toward our unique set of circumstances.”

Built In Seattle spoke with three employees to see how they leveraged new tech, customer feedback and a commitment to useability to create a bespoke client management system suited for their needs today — and tomorrow.

 

 

With so many hosting sites to pick from, what makes Hostwinds different? 

Director of Front Line Operations Chad Baragrey: We collect a lot of feedback and are quick when it comes to reviewing an idea and implementing it. In terms of providing feedback, it’s easy to contact us, and customers can reach us quickly whether they’re a longtime client or just somebody visiting our website. To me, offering that accessibility by being there, ready to help at any time, definitely sets us apart.
 

We collect a lot of feedback and are quick when it comes to reviewing an idea and implementing it.”


COO Michael Brower: At larger companies, if you want to facilitate change you have to go up the corporate ladder and through multiple channels. Sometimes that change never happens. At Hostwinds, I've had instances where someone on Chad's team will bring up an idea a client brought up on a live chat, and we’re able to implement the suggestion that day. That’s not an uncommon scenario for us. We actually attempt to make our product and platform usable and understandable. The goal is that you shouldn’t have to read a guide or a manual before you use our services.

 

That goal for increased usability led to the decision to rebuild the customer management platform. Why did you decide to build it from scratch? 

Brower: A strong portion of this was beyond just our back-end admin panels that our staff uses. Our primary reasoning for going to the drawing board was to be able to provide an amazing client experience, from start to finish, and the current systems out there just wouldn’t be able to cut it in terms of our standards that we set for ourselves. This would allow us to offer an experience that is genuine and unique to Hostwinds, allowing clients an intuitive experience that was directly catered to their suggestions and requests.

 

Once the platform is finished, what will the new system allow your staff and users to do? 

Director of Front-End Development Nick Zaremba: The client and admin portal will replace the automation and billing platform we use with our tech stack, which will be easier to develop and manage. The overall handling of the portal will be easier for our frontline agents to communicate with our clients and help them. From a development standpoint, any future changes we need to make will be smoother to implement. This new design system will also be simpler for clients to manage their billing support interface.
 

We’re setting ourselves up to add and innovate new ideas and systems within the panel that we weren’t able to before.”


Brower: On top of that, the feedback that we receive from clients will be a lot easier to incorporate because we’ll have basically built our own toolkit. Before, we’d have to work within the restrictions of a closed-source system. We’re setting ourselves up to add and innovate new ideas and systems within the panel that we weren’t able to before. 

 

 

How did you approach building this out? What technologies are you using?

Brower: We spoke with each department about the shortcomings they’re having with the current system and what features would make their jobs easier. We worked with one of our designers who was able to shadow various agents of all tiers in different areas of the company to find where we could improve. We were basically looking to optimize everything.

Zaremba: Since we are building the platform from the ground up, we wanted to use the latest technologies. We landed on React, which is one of my favorite frameworks. We looked at all the projects we can do with it and it seemed like an amazing choice. It’s a great library and it integrates well with other technologies, like Gatsby. It also gives us the ability to easily reuse components that we’ve already created in our library. Ever since React Hooks came out, it’s been awesome to reuse a logic.

We had to think about the future of development and if React will be supported, and the answer is yes — it’s easy to learn, easy to grasp. Any new developer can come in and quickly get a handle on our structure.

 

 

What role will customer feedback have when this finally launches?

Baragrey: Our clients are really good about telling us what they’d want to see, and then we’re good at collecting that information and getting it in front of our development team for review. From there, the team reviews it to see if it’s already in our development cycle or if it makes sense to incorporate it into a brand new system, like the one we’re working on. 

The ability to develop around the user experience is the one thing that I was just amazed by when I first started at Hostwinds. I’m excited about the direction we’re going in. This is a big project, but it’s going to be great when it launches.

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