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Web Host Interview: Steadfast Founder & CEO, Karl Zimmerman

Web Hosting Secret Revealed (WHSR) had the opportunity to interview Karl Zimmerman of Steadfast (www.steadfast.net). Karl is Steadfast’s founder and has been there from the very beginning through all the growth spurts, pangs and changes during the last 16 years.

Today, the data services company is a multi-million dollar powerhouse in the hosting and data services industry.


Karl Zimmerman

Hello Karl. I am honored to have you as our interview guest today. Let’s start with some introduction, shall we? What can we know more about yourself and your role at Steadfast.

Well, I started this company 16 years ago, when I was 14, as a shared hosting company. Both the company and I have grown and evolved substantially over that time. I still love the work I do and I’m extremely proud of our team. At this point, as the CEO, my focus is on the bigger picture, messaging, new product development, expansion planning, and the like. I have a great team of managers taking care of the day-to-day items that really allows me to focus on these long term items.

*Note: You can connect with Karl on LinkedIn and Facebook

Can you tell us one thing most people do not know about yourself?

I’m a proud member of Rotary International, one of the world’s largest service organizations.

I’ve been going to Rotary events since I was about 5, thanks to my mom, but am now an active member myself. The focus of Rotary is a great fit for me, with a big focus on education in the US, and basic services such as food, water, and health care in the developing world. It is amazing to see how many lives you can affect without a lot of money, and it is remarkable when you can see it first hand.

Steadfast's Hosting and Other IT Services

Steadfast offers a wide range of IT services – cloud hosting, disaster recovery, network management, and so on. Can you give us an overview on Steadfast business?

Our real focus is in providing expertise and experience, not just hardware or facilities.

Anyone can provide basic colocation or a server, that isn’t complicated. What people really need is a true partner, someone that can help them figure out what they really need; and they need someone to rely on, keeping their services up 24/7. They don’t want to worry about their infrastructure, they want someone they can depend upon to be there for them, to take care of things and help when it is needed.

In order to give this sort of comfort, we also need to have flexibility in our service offerings so we can give the customer exactly what they need – a perfect fit – instead of forcing them into one solution. We’re not just a public cloud company, so we’re not saying the public cloud is the answer to everything, because it isn’t. We will work with our customers to find the right answer, whether it is public cloud, private cloud, managed dedicated servers, colocation, managed network services, disaster recovery/business continuity or any combination of those things. That is where I feel we really shine, with complex solutions that combine multiple product segments.

Steadfast - Cloud Hosting, Dedicated Server, and Colocation Services
Steadfast – Cloud Hosting, Dedicated Server, and Colocation Services

Can you share the secret recipe of SteadFast’s success?

Steadfast Customers
Steadfast Customers

The secret isn’t really a secret, I’ll tell anyone who asks.

It is really just about running a good, honest company. The focus is always on the long term, building a strong long-term company focusing on long-term customer relationships. Don’t worry about ARPU or other business terminology, offer a quality service and keep your customers happy. You never know the true value of an unhappy customer or the cost of an unhappy customer. Your reputation is the most valuable portion of your company.

Who are your target audience in dedicated hosting? Why should customers choose Steadfast hosting over the others?

Customers who are looking for a true hosting partner appreciate our offerings most of all; we’re there to assist with engineering, design, implementation, monitoring, and support. We offer a tremendous value, allowing our customers to be comfortable and trust in their infrastructure, and sleep well at night. Plenty of companies offer the same raw hardware and facilities, our difference is in the level of service, and the way we treat each and every customer. No matter what your need is, a simple public cloud account or a complicated custom designed private cloud project, we’re here to help you the whole way through it.

Steadfast Infrastructure & Customer Service

Please tell us more about Steadfast’s data center and infrastructure?

Steadfast original data center - 350 E Cermak Road , Chicago, IL.
Steadfast original data center – 350 E Cermak Road , Chicago, IL.

We currently have three data centers, two in Chicago (350 E Cermak and 725 S Wells) and one in Edison, NJ.

These facilities are all connected to each other with multiple 10 GigE circuits, and utilize connectivity from 5 of the 6 largest global networks: Level3, NTT, Tinet, Tata, and Cogent. The focus on our network is broad reach (which accounts for why we use 5 of the 6 largest providers) and performance, with continuous probing and optimization of routes.

As a company, we’re systems and networking people, so we let the facilities experts at Digital Realty and IO focus on the facilities while we build a world class network and service offering. Just as we want our customers to trust us as their experts so they can focus on their goals, we do the same with our data center partners.

In your interview with Ping! Zine, you spoke about the importance of customer satisfaction*. How has the “customer first” policy affects your business during economy downturn?

The economic downturn wasn’t that hard on us. We had one bad month, November of 2008, but other than that, customers stuck with us. If your customers love you, they’re going to be forgiving when you make a mistake and they’re going to stick with you through the tough times. For the most part, we saw very good growth through the downturn as companies were trying to reduce their own in-house IT costs by partnering with a company like ours.

*Note: Steadfast runs by the tagline “Always There” and emphasize a lot in customer satisfaction. You can watch Karl's interview with Ping! Zine here.

Karl's View in Hosting Industry

The company has an impressive growth record and superb reputation in hosting/data center business. BBB Accreditation (A+), Inc 500 company listing in 2008, and all the glorious customer testimonial on the Internet – these say a lot about your team and the company. Besides customer satisfaction, what are other elements in Steadfast’s success?

Steadfast ranks #4353 in Inc. 5000 in 2014.
Steadfast ranks #4353 in Inc. 5000, 2014.

We’re still on the Inc 5000 this year as well, I think that is 7 years straight.

You sort of said it in the question; the key to the success is the team we’ve built here. We have a lot of people who have been here for many years and without them, the company would be very different. When building our team we focus on one key thing: their passion for the role they will be taking. You can teach a lot, but you can’t teach passion. Everyone on our team loves what they do and when you love what you do, you do it better, participate in the continuous improvement of the company, and pass on that passion to your customers.

Demand for cloud computing and virtualization seems likely to outgrow traditional hosting soon. What’s your thought in this?

Traditional hosting is certainly dying and is why we had sold our own shared hosting division 4 years ago. It isn’t going to completely go away, but the market is going to keep getting smaller and smaller. My advice to anyone is to find your real niche. If you’re a general service provider you’re in trouble, but if you can find where you can truly differentiate from your competitors you can diversify your product offerings and do very well. Build on your strengths. You can’t just diversify by throwing a dart at a board as you’ll just lose your focus, find what you’re good at and do more of that.

Business Advice

That’s all for my questions. Is there anything to add before we end this interview?

I covered some of these items, but my advice to anyone else with a business is pretty simple. While it may sound simple, it can be very hard to follow through.

  1. Keep your focus. Find what you do well and build on that, don’t get distracted.
  2. Always think long term, both with your business operations and your customers. Take the time to step back and see the big picture. You can’t be bogged down in the day-to-day each and every day.
  3. Never be satisfied. There is always more you can be doing and things you can be improving. It is easy to let complacency slip in if things are going well, but those good times are when you should be making the real progress.
  4. Build a great team filled with people with passion for what they do.
  5. Treat everyone with care and respect. That means everyone, customers, vendors, competitors, employees, etc. This is a tight knit industry and word travels fast. Your reputation is your most valuable asset, and this is how you build it.
  6. Be willing to admit you’re wrong, and don’t make a big deal about when someone else is wrong. Running a business isn’t about pride, it is about achieving results. Sometimes that means saying you’re sorry and making things right, even if it isn’t your fault, or just addressing a mistake and moving on.

Sound Bite

I would like to personally thank Karl Zimmerman, CEO of Steadfast Network, for taking the time to talk about IT services, cloud hosting and data management. His words on putting the customer first and customer satisfaction during a downturn in the economy is advice that business owners from a wide spectrum of industries will find helpful.

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Article by Jerry Low

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