For small business owners, finding that one thing you're truly passionate about and feel called to create is more rewarding even than the profit a business might make (although, we all want that profit, too!). Akshat Choudhary found that purpose and passion in 2010.
Choudhary's is one of those “from nothing to something amazing” stories we all love to hear. He started BlogVault (http://blogvault.net) with nothing but time and a passion to create the ability to easily backup WordPress sites, and in seven years bootstrapped it into a company with employees all over the world and around 25,000 customers.
WHSR readers can learn a lot from his personal journey with BlogVault.
The Inspiration to Start BlogVault
Choudhary is an engineer and was working for Citrix full-time, but he'd been into coding since he was a pre-teen. He was an avid follower of Jeff Atwood's popular blog, Coding Horror.
When Atwood's blog suddenly went down, Choudhary was inspired.
I couldn't fathom the fact that restoring a site was troublesome, even for someone as knowledgeable as Atwood. The incident showed that there was a burning need for a reliable WordPress backup service.
Because he didn't have a budget to start BlogVault, he began working on it in his spare time as a hobby-project, while still employed at Citrix.
At first, the only expense he had was the VPS he rented from Linode for around $28/month to store users' backups. BlogVault grew to needing Amazon S3 storage as well. Even though you might imagine the costs would be high to launch such an all-encompassing backup plugin, they really weren't.
Instead, Choudhary invested what is known in realty circles as “sweat equity.”
He put in hours upon hours developing the infrastructure behind BlogVault and improving the plugin and its usability. As the company grew and he better understand the need to provide customer support, subscription plans were introduced to cover costs and to turn BlogVault into a profitable business.
Choudhary previously stated that he thought BlogVault would be a $2000/year business. He planned to complete the coding within a few weeks and move on. He wanted to solve a problem and try something unique. However, he found that the coding was an ongoing process that forever needed perfecting. He also began to attract paying customers in the first year.
Eventually, after about a year, he was able to quit his full-time job and make BlogVault his primary focus.
He wasn't even sure how to make a profit from the plugin, so he decided to charge $29/year to help cover storage expenses at first.
One thing Choudhary did early on was to reach out to developers he knew and ask if they would pay for a service that would automatically back up and keep copies of their WordPress sites. After all, there wouldn't be much point of investing time into development and promotion if no one wanted the plugin. Most of those he contacted said they would possibly be interested.
He never really focused on marketing exactly. At first, he wrote a couple of blogs, other blogs talked about the product and then his customer base exploded via word-of-mouth. Even today, most of their customers come via other customers' referrals.
“Since we started out as a very small operation, we made sure to be as helpful as possible to every customer. I think that helped us along the way.”
Today, BlogVault has an office in Bangalore, India and employees to help with various aspects of the work. They are even spending more time on marketing and have seen some positive results from the efforts. Choudhary shared, “Every team member wears many hats, and is an integral part of the company. We’ve also been fortunate enough to partner with some of the most prominent web hosts in the world.”
Networking Was One Key to Success
One thing Choudhary points to as a smart tactic in growing BlogVault is attending conferences.
“In the beginning, most of what we made went toward covering costs. As we [became] profitable, one of the best investments we made was traveling from India to attend the WordCamps. Coming from India, the travel was expensive, but well worth it. The WordCamps helped us beyond local WordPress meetups, to understand and really be a part of the global WordPress community as well.”
Partnering with Prominent Web Hosting Companies
Choudhary freely admits that his focus in the early days wasn't on marketing. He always meant to market more, but somehow he found himself working on code instead. However, he found another way to get the word out about his valuable plugin.
“Another very important factor was that we were lucky enough to be partnered with some of the best web hosting companies in the world. This helped immensely in increasing the number of downloads of the BlogVault plugin. A number of our customers got to know about us this way.”
Akshat's idea was unique, but not long after another plugin appeared. VaultPress was created by WP's developers and launched. At first, he couldn't believe it, but eventually came to see the launch of VaultPress as a blessing in disguise. People would hear about VaultPress, search for competitors of VaultPress and find BlogVault. Many preferred the automation of BlogVault.
Eventually, he realized that charging only $29/year wasn't enough to make a profit. So, he took a deep breath and raised his prices. He knew that users liked the set it and forget it model of BlogVault, where they could pay a fee and let the plugin do all the heavy lifting for them. And, he was right. People continued to sign up.
Today, BlogVault has multiple plans, depending upon the size of your business and how many websites you run.
The lowest plan starts at $89/year and the highest caps out at $389/year and will cover 7 websites. The BlogVault website lists some upcoming unlimited plans with added security and states they will be released soon.
Scalability of BlogVault
BlogVault is scalable on multiple levels. Not only are there more than 75 million WP blogs, but Choudhary works with Drupal and offers a plugin that can backup any website on a PHP platform. BlogVault also has some new ideas in the pipeline.
“We’re working on an integrated product that allows users to manage their sites, their backups, as well as their sites’ security. It’s the first of its kind in the WordPress space, so we’re very excited about it. Currently we’re working toward the broad-release of our malware scanner and cleaner. We’ve experienced the need for it, and seen its accuracy and first-hand, so we’re very excited to see how it will shake up the WordPress market.”
Start Small and Then Expand
BlogVault's focus has been on continued improvement for the past seven years, as they've added more and more features an fleshed out others so that they adhere to WordPress best practices.
At first, BlogVault only focused on backups. Even though Choudhary points out that he is a coder and not a businessman, this is actually smart business – start small, perfect one thing, and then expand.
Once BlogVault perfected the backup process, they began to focus on making restorations as simple and fast as possible.
“Over time, we added the Migrate feature that allows you to use your site's backup to move to a new domain or hosting service. Then, we introduced Test Restore, which allows you to test your backups. And once work on all of these backup features was done, we moved on to site-management features. Every person on the team has had some experience with all of these features so that all of them can help develop it, and pitch ideas for the product’s future. This helps us all to work in tandem.”
Solving WordPress Security Issues
WordPress is a target of hackers around the world. Anyone who runs a WordPress blog can tell you that they've been targeted at one time or another by a hacker. Imagine going to your website to share an article on social media and realizing that in place of your beautifully designed blog is a page you would not want your site visitors to see that points to pornography or even just says you've been hacked.
When that happens, you might panic at first. Did you back up your website recently? How much of your work will you lose? Have the hackers infiltrated your database to the point that your entire site is corrupted?
This is the problem that BlogVault wants to solve for you. “The goal is to allow you to restore your site to a working version with minimum effort on your side.”
BlogVault is currently working on a “security feature that will help automatically scan and clean WordPress sites of every instance of malware.” They hope to release it soon.
A special thank you to Akshat Choudhary for sharing his experience of going from a hobby business to a profitable, thriving company. He says that they got lucky, but his focus on customer service and providing the best product possible shows that he actually has a mind for business development. We'll be watching BlogVault to see how it grows in the coming years.