Joshua Strebel Interview – Pagely CEO and WordPress Innovator

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Hey guys, did you miss our interviews? If you did, we are back with another piece featuring the CEO of Pagely, mister Joshua Strebel. Just like every entrepreneur, he’s a busy man, but we finally managed to make him answer a few curiosities we had about his business and approach to life.

Before getting to today’s topic, let’s recap our last discussion with Jack Lenox from Automattic/WordPress VIP. If you want to hear more about web sustainability and energy-efficient websites, check out the video from #WCEU together with its transcript here.

Joshua Strebel Interview on Themeisle

But this is Joshua’s interview, so let’s get to know him better. If you’ve been part of the WordPress community for some time now, you’ve probably heard about Pagely before. What probably only a few know is that Pagely was the first company to launch a managed WordPress hosting service. So he’s one of the guys to thank for bringing innovation in WordPress.

Joshua has been the leading brain behind this business for around 13 years now, together with his longtime wife, Sally. He is the man good at everything in his company, a WordCamp speaker, and who believes integrity is what keeps a team united. And he likes Tool, the band. 😎

Now, let’s hear it from Joshua himself…

Joshua Strebel Interview – The CEO of Pagely

When and how did you start working with WordPress? Is there an interesting story here?

We started as a small design agency in 2003. We would build sites in Adobe Dreamweaver using <table> markup and 1px spacer .gifs if anyone can remember what that was like. Macromedia had a product called Contribute that was like a WYSIWYG for finished Dreamweaver sites. We used to give our customers a copy of Contribute to maintain their site after we delivered it. So early on we were already thinking about empowering our customers to maintain their website themselves.

WordPress came along and seemed to solve that issue better. We could build and deploy the website on WordPress, and the customer could log in to update the content.

How did the market embrace the idea of managed WordPress hosting when you launched it?

The market responded well, the community responded with some hostility. When we announced Pagely in the spring of 2009 we did a good job of communicating with folks as we progressed and built an interest list. When it went live in the fall of 2009 we quickly enrolled several hundred customers. We proved there was a need to soften the technical burden of setting up and maintaining a WordPress site.

On the other side of the coin, we got the typical naysayers and pushback from the burgeoning WordPress community in the vein of “How dare you charge money to install and manage FREE software”. Ten years later Managed WordPress hosting is a $2-3 Billion dollar channel… So, I guess we were proven correct for ignoring the naysayers.

Your clients are mostly corporations. Is this a better approach than offering hosting to casual users (say bloggers or WordPress beginners)?

Servicing large clients has its own drawbacks, such as the legal/contract negotiation process which can be lengthy and expensive. Also, they tend to want to pay on their terms, net 60 or even net 90, So we have to maintain a healthy cash flow position at all times to cover the variable accounts receivable.

On the whole though – As a company, we are optimized for a low-volume, high touch form of service. We enjoy going the extra mile, digging in, and solving really big problems for customers. The model suits us.

Do you find more stability and sustainability in working with big businesses instead of startups or regular users?

It goes both ways. While our client roster is filled with massive, stable, and well-known brands – not all of the sites we host for them are mission-critical. Some sites are ephemeral around specific events or marketing strategies/promotions and may not exist for more than a few months. So we may see a big uptick in revenue and support requests from a client for a few months, and then a dropoff afterward. On the whole though, yes enterprise thinks in terms of 3, 5, and 10yr plans. They move slower and are more deliberate which makes them a good customer type overall.

What’s the one thing that makes Pagely a strong WordPress hosting competitor?

Experience.

We invented this whole industry ten years ago – and while some newer, well-funded competitors are much larger companies than us now, no one can match us on the depth and breadth of all the nuances of hosting WordPress successfully.

What’s your technique for staying productive throughout the day?

I simply enjoy what I do, and I keep the long term goal in the front of my mind. I’m working for something, not just working to live.

What’s the hardest / most challenging task for a CEO, in your perspective?

Continually defining and internally communicating the values and goals of the company (the mission). Some days I just assume everyone understands the mission and all aspects of the mission. On those days I am proven wrong spectacularly. Communicate often with all members of the team.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?

Personally I enjoy the flexibility and freedom of being self-employed. Work from and when I want. We all have to work, it’s just nice being able to work on our terms.

How do you define “being successful”?

From a personal viewpoint, I know it is different for everyone. For me, it is not having to work to live. Having enough to raise my kids (vs paying for daycare to work a job), spend time with my family, and give them fun experiences while we travel… and know we are still financially secure in our future retirement.

Who’s doing things that are just cutting-edge and incredible in the WordPress space right now?

Good question… I honestly do not follow the activities of others very much, I tend to be internally focused on our missions. So in that regard, I have to give the bias answer and say: NorthStack.

What’s the one thing you’d like to change about WordPress?

Governance – or lack thereof.

What do you like to do when you’re not WordPress-ing?

Family, Cars, and Travel.

What do you think makes a CEO great in the eyes of their employees?

Integrity. It’s so simple. Just be real and honest with people and ask them to do/be the same.

That sums up our Joshua Strebel interview. If you enjoyed it and want to learn more, please leave your comments in the section below. Also, if you have any ideas for who we should talk to next, feel free to share your suggestions with us!

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