Interview With WP Engine Co-Founder, Jason Cohen

Back in 2009 I had some problem with WHSR loading speed and spent tremendously long hours in looking for the right fix. Eventually the issue was solved by switching my host (Hostmonster was throttling my CPU power) and installing WP Super Cache (part of the problem is caused by WHSR’s heavy traffic loads). Then in mid 2010, I suspected WHSR is targeted by hackers at that time and (again) spent multiple sleepless nights drilling down forum threads and blogposts on WordPress security.

I would have saved my time for all these problems and worries and readings and works if WP Engine (http://wpengine.com/) existed earlier.

Updates March 2012: In fact I got hook and WHSR is now hosted on WP Engine – click here to read my latest review on WP Engine Hosting.

A little intro on WP Engine Hosting

WP Engine

Founded by Aaron Brazell and Jason Cohen, WP Engine offers premium WordPress hosting with tons of valuable WordPress optimization (security, load speed, updates, as well as plugin recommendations).

In case you are unaware, Aaron Brazell has been an (very) active member in the WordPress developer community. He is one of the frequent speaker in WordCamps United States and is the author of WordPress Bible (published early 2010). Jason Cohen, on the other hand, is a serial-entrepreneur who has founded quite a few successful startups including Smart Bear Software and IT Watch Dogs. Jason is also the author of Best Kept Secrets of Peer Code Review as well as this awesome blog about startups/marketing.

In this interview, we are going to learn about WP Engine firsthand from the co-founder Jason Cohen. This great Q&A session is a must-read for those who are looking for a reliable WordPress web hosting. So, here goes.

Q&A With Jason Cohen, WP Engine Co-Founder

Hello Jason, it’s an honor to have you here with us today. For start, let’s talk about yourself and your company WP Engine. How would you describe your role as a leader at WP Engine; and, what can we know more about WP Engine?

“I must leave, for there go my followers and I am their leader.”

To me, a leader leads by example, meaning actually doing work and playing backstop for everyone else, like the pitcher in baseball. Also I’m a terrible manager, which means I’m forced to hire talented, self-directed people whom I implicitly trust and who don’t need “management.” A better title for me might be “tie-breaker,” or perhaps “flogger-slash-visionary” if you’re feeling generous.

They say the culture of a company comes from the top. So if you want to know what WP Engine is like, follow the above philosophy to its logical conclusion. WP Engine is a culture of people who are thoughtful, respectful, and good at their jobs. And hopefully nice.

Wow that’s some great insights. Now, I’m a WordPress fan and I LOVE the idea of having a web host specially built for WordPress. But this (limiting your service to just one specified niche) is not what we see often in the hosting industry. How has the strategy of solely focusing on WordPress users affected the business?

Focusing only on WordPress means we can do a fantastic job. For example we hire WordPress experts only, so everyone at the company is helpful and knowledgeable when you call into tech support.

Lots of hosting companies answer the phone on the first ring and call that “good service.” Of course if the person on the other end can’t debug the WordPress problem, at the end of the day it’s not helpful.

We know what we’re good at — and what we’re NOT good at! — and we do only the former.

That’s how it affects you — the customer. How it affects the back-end business is that we can be more profitable because we don’t have to diversify technology or talent. American Airlines can’t make money because they service 20 kinds of planes; Southwest and JetBlue are profitable and run only a few models. We’re like the latter; most hosting companies are the former.

WordPress security is one of WP Engine’s main selling points. Can you elaborate in detail what kind of protections are available with WP Engine?

First, we have security appliances in front of our servers — DoS-protection and IDS (Intrusion Detection System). This alone prevents thousands of a attacks per day.

Next, we have a forward caching-and-load-balancing layer which further protects the sensitive stuff (like the database and filesystem), while also serving content really fast.

Next, on the back-end systems there’s a slew of stuff you have to do for security from file owners, file permissions, chroot-ing (“jail” for the filesystem), separate database credentials, and so on.

Finally, we keep you up-to-date on the latest WordPress security patches as well as black-listing plugins known to be insecure.

Security isn’t a game you can win, it’s an arms race that you need to constantly and incrementally improve.

That sounds superb. What’s more? On top of site security, what other unique features does WP Engine offer?

We’re super fast.  This is not only important for your end users (many hit the “back” button if your site takes more than 2 seconds to load), but also for your Google ranking now that they’re taking page-load-speed into account for search rankings.

We also protect you against traffic surges. We already serve 50 million hits per day, so even if you get on TechCrunch we’ve got you covered.

We’re also the only host to offer a CDN (Content Delivery Network) included in the base price.  That means your static content (images, CSS, Javascript) gets delivered from servers all around the world, served closest to the requestor, reducing latency in the browser (faster) and spreading out the effort of delivery (scalable).

We also added some features to WordPress itself. For example, we have a push-button staging area where you have a full copy of your blog to mess around with. Test a new plugin, play with CSS, etc., all without touching your main, live blog.

Jason, WP Engine is a pretty new host. How can customers trust you guys with their blogs? Please tell us more about the company cancellation policy.

The first thing is: It’s easy to leave us. That’s important for two reasons: So it’s easy to try, and so we have to earn your business every month. What does “easy” mean?

You get full filesystem and database exports, on demand. (Besides our nightly backups of the same.) Our contract is month-to-month, so you can just cancel any time. (Besides the 15-day free trial.) Finally, there’s tools on the market like http://23press.com which make it even easier to move a blog — either to us or away from us!

Then of course there’s the fact that we have hundreds of happy customers and we’re growing fast. We got profitable after just seven months of operation so we also have a sensible business model (unlike a lot of hosting companies who “suddenly” close up shop after losing money for dozens of quarters). All this adds up to: We have a sustainable business, so we’re not going anywhere.
Finally, though, in the end trust is earned over time, not bestowed immediately, and that means that yes, it will take time for us to earn trust. Nothing wrong with that.

“I wish to switch to WP Engine out but it seems too complicated/it’s too much hassles/ I am no good in tech/ etc etc”. What would you tell these non-geek but potential customers?

First, we offer migration services for $150, completely hands-free. Second, see http://23press.com for a $10 system where you can move it yourself.

It’s not complicated — you just sign up with a credit card and a new WordPress site is available in 60 seconds.  You can migrate in another 15 minutes if you use a tool.  And if you don’t like it, switch away just as easily!

We also have a partnership with another consulting shop specifically designed for newbies who don’t know anything but want a white-glove experience. Let us know how much help you want!

Web hosting, without doubt, is a competitive industry. What are your long term plans for WP Engine to win the market? Where do you see the company in next 3 years?

WordPress is a massive market — I don’t feel the need to “win” it or “defeat” everyone else.

Rather, we’ve created an awesome option for WordPress hosting, and our goal is to thrill all our customers and continuously improve the service. There’s room for other awesome hosting companies too! But if your host isn’t “awesome,” then maybe we’re a good option.

Thanks again for your time. Do you have anything to add for this interview?

Thanks for having me!

Site Note

Well, that’s all for our interview. For your reference, here are the hosting packages offered by WP Engine at this time of writing. You can visit http://wpengine.com/ to learn more; alternatively, you can check out the helpful FAQ here, check it out.

 Click here to visit and order WP Engine now!