How do you give your agency brand a personality? How do you motivate your team, and get everyone on the same page? Ahsan shares how the huge cloud hosting brand Cloudways have managed to communicate their brand and their values to both their customers and internal team.
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Lee Matthew Jackson: Welcome to another episode with me. It’s Mr. Lee Matthew Jackson and today we have on the show Ahsan from Cloudways. How are you today?
Ahsan Parwez: Hi Lee, i’m good. How are you?
Lee Matthew Jackson: I am tip top and champion. Thank you very much for asking. In fact, I had to have an early lunch so that we could have a call, but that’s fine because by 11 o’clock I’m usually always starving. So whereabouts in the world are you Ahsan?
Ahsan Parwez: I’m in Pakistan right now.
Lee Matthew Jackson: You travel quite a bit as well, don’t you with Cloudways?
Ahsan Parwez: Yes. A little bit into the events that we sponsor, mostly the WordCamps. So you can find us over there like in WordCamp Europe or US and in other WordCamps we have other people representing us on the ground.
Lee Matthew Jackson: That’s awesome. In fact, I did see some of the pictures as well with everybody, the guys like WP Feedback, Andrew Palmer all those guys as well, all hanging out at WordCamp. I could see you guys over there in Europe. I was highly jealous that I couldn’t be there. Folks. If you don’t know who Ahsan is, then we will make sure that we will leave links in the show notes so that you can connect with him and also check out what they’re doing over at Cloudways. So before we carry on you can check out cloudways.com and there is going to be a special offer as well for people who listen to this episode. However, this is not an advertorial because I really want to first of all find out some history about Cloudways, the company rather than the hosting and then we’re going to talk about the importance of having values in your business. So this is something that we can apply to our agencies regardless of hosting as well. So Ahsan’s going gonna open up about the values Cloudways run by which is phenomenal. So thank you so much for coming on mate. What I would really love is if we could just jump in a time machine and if we could go back in time to when Cloudways was birthed. Can you share a little bit of the history of how the company got started and perhaps what it looked like however many years ago that was?
Ahsan Parwez: Yes certainly. So back in 2011 it all started with an idea of providing customers a custom base web hosting, more of like enterprise hosting you may think of it where a general hosting provider won’t be able to actually get into the needs of any custom requirements. Like for example, a person running a Magento store along with a WordPress website, so what we did was actually build a custom plans for all of these and it all started back in 2011. Berret Hospital one of our co-founders who lives in Spain and Aaqib Gadit is from like San Diego lives over here. So they both met up and they discussed an idea about how they can create a system where people can actually request a custom environment for themselves. So it all started back in 2011 but what you see right now in the Cloudways platform is actually different from what we did previously. Should I get into those details as well?
Lee Matthew Jackson: Yeah, I’d love to know what Cloudways used to look like before now.
Ahsan Parwez: Yes, from 2011 till 2014 we were actually providing custom web hosting for enterprise level projects. We used to call it Power Cloud but the challenges with that was that it was very difficult to actually get into everyone’s custom requirements and keeping everything updated on their systems. So we required a very large team for a very small number of clients. So Aaqib and Berret thought about how do I do meet all of these steps. So they got into a partnership with Amazon web services and later on with Digital Ocean. They used their API’s and on top of it we build a platform. So whatever customizations we were doing for WordPress, Magento and custom PHP websites, we really deployed it into our platform and built a UI. A platform where a person would just select their server and hit deploy and it would give you an entire set of servers that you would require for your website. So what you see now is really different from where we started.
Lee Matthew Jackson: I hear in the journey here that you’ve started off with something that’s very specific to a set of enterprise clients and then a similar story to how we were back in Event Engine many years ago where we had lots of enterprise installs that were all very unique and you had to have a lot of people involved, a lot of documentation because each one had a different quirk that you had forgotten about for whatever reason. Then when you ran server updates or anything like that, things would fall apart and it would be so stressful. Now when you say with Amazon cloud then, so you actually went down the line of developing your entire platform and productizing what it is you offer. So were you focused on particular install types because obviously you said an enterprise client would have very unique requirements where you looking at, okay we’re going to create a kind of a package for people who want a PHP my SQL website. We’re going to create a package for people who want this CMS or this CMS. Did it start like that? Because that’s very much what you have nowadays.
Ahsan Parwez: Yes, we did a research on a market about what was popular at the moment and we came up with a system of using Nginx , Apache and Varnish together on WordPress and Magento in particular, but for custom PHP websites an Nginx and Apache combination would do really good. So we did our research and then deployed a system on all of these servers. So it was kind of a default, but it stopped us from catering to the custom requirements as well so it adds to their own journeys as well.
Lee Matthew Jackson: So I mean this is obviously a very unique change from that and you’re doing this platform with Amazon web services. I mean since now you’ve got Google Cloud, you’ve got Vulture, Linode, DigitalOcean, etc. So did they all come at the same time or did these all build up over the time with demand?
Ahsan Parwez: With demand as well as for example Vulture and Linode actually approached us and we also talked to them about what we are doing with Digital Ocean and Amazon web services. So first we started with Amazon web services and back in 2014 it was February and within two to four months we added DigitalOcean only because the pricing of DigitalOcean was far lesser so we were able to start from $5 a month. With Amazon we were starting with 40 plus. So partnering with DigitalOcean actually opened us to the wider audience, especially the WordPress audience and later on we kept on adding new providers based on the customer feedback as well as the market these people’s have.
Lee Matthew Jackson: Yeah. In fact, I think I’ve got several servers on Cloudways that use DigitalOcean itself because for me that was what pulled me in was the price and I can make development servers. Then we eventually started to move things over to actual production servers as well once I’d actually tried and tested Cloudways and had some confidence with it. Now what I’m intrigued again about is you’ve gone from one business model to another, so here you’re serving a small number of enterprise clients, so that’s high value. It’s a good business model, but like you said, you need a lot of team members and it has a lot of stress involved. So how did you shift from being a company with a few clients to being a company with many clients? What was the shift like for your workforce, but also how did you even get to attract all those clients? Because selling something to a lot of people is a lot of work. So can you give us some insight?
Ahsan Parwez: Yes. Back when we started, we didn’t have a dedicated marketing team only a few dev ops people working with some sales people and a little bit of marketing when it comes to messaging or cold outreach, all those sorts of things. So it was a very minimalistic sort of thing. But we were actually in the background, our local founders were actually testing out their idea about how they can actually sell these kinds of things. Then after a few years it struck them that they should automate everything and as much as they can simplify stuff for themselves how about this simplifies stuff for their clients? They give them transparency about what the servers and what technologies they are using. But yet again having less control or less of a management towards claims. So it all started changing from there. So in the beginning they didn’t have an idea about doing this but couple of years down the track they started thinking of simplifying internally and then actually simplifying for the customers. So everything fell in place right after that.
Lee Matthew Jackson: You definitely see that as well in the interface. Now I gave a presentation, at Agency Transformation Live this year on how we’re using Cloudways in Event Engine and a lot of people were struck about how simple the interface has been for us and we love the power as well as the API that you guys did. So you’ve kind of given us the balance of control and access whilst also making sure that it’s not too overpowering as well, which we’ve enjoyed. Now I’d love to deep dive into Cloudways as a business cause this definitely sounds like an advertorial, but actually what we’re interested in is how you guys have developed an identity and have some core values based on that identity that all of your company work through, work to, they know it and all of your decisions are based on that. Could you first of all share with us what your core values are?
Ahsan Parwez: Yes, definitely Lee. So back in 2016, we did a brand sprint, a three hour brand sprint between all the executives and the co-founders of the company. So everyone in the company got together in a room and actually discuss about what should be our core values. Either we are innovative or are we vary what you can say like restrictive when it comes to actually going into a singular part. So it came down via the works and everyone thinking of that. So we actually came to an agreement on five core values that we have internally that applies internally to our teams and the way we think and also to our customers, that we show it off to our customers as well. So most of our core value is actually in being innovative. We want every member in the team being innovative, actually listening to the claim feedback as well. So we do think about the new changes that are coming up, like for example, a new way of deploying an SSL or new way of using a CDN or maybe jumping from a latest version of PHP, even that sort of thing. So we actually enable every person in the team to actually voice up their opinions for example, PHP 7.4 is coming up. So there’s already a talk inside of the team, even from the juniors as well. So yeah innovative and the second core value is simplicity. As you can see in all black from me actually reflects that simplicity is the core of our mindset. Whenever we write anything, whenever we do an email, social media or even develop new features in the platform. So we may make sure that it’s simple enough. I don’t know how good we have been, but we do get a lot of feedback on it that your features are quite well, but you need to do this, this, this, and once that comes in then we actually address this as well.
Lee Matthew Jackson: So, sorry to interrupt you and we’ll carry on in a second but this is something that actually stands out more to me now I know a little bit of the history, simplicity at everything is how you guys communicate. I remember when you called me the other day and we had a conversation, you were talking about it, but it’s even more apparent that has been fed by your history. So in 2011, you guys were working with enterprise companies, with complex setups, with a huge support burden. It would have been complicated and you had a lot of people involved. So with that brand sprint, you guys have actually looked at your past and your past story has affected how you do business now to the extent where you focus very much on that simplicity. I really like that. Carry on mate.
Ahsan Parwez: Yes, I appreciate that. So back in 2014 and 15 our platform was very old school but yet it was very simple. You had a single screen to manage all your server related stuff and your application stuff on a second screen. But since then we have grown so much and so the new platform is actually giving you more features when it comes to servers and applications. So there are a lot of options but they are quite easily find able inside of the platform. The third core value that we always have close to our heart is that the customer always comes first. Since we launched our platform, it was in BETA for a very long time, like three months actually. So whatever person was trying our platform back then and whatever he was saying, we actually took it very serious and built upon it. There were a lot of issues when it came to the UI even so we did a lot of things in those three months and we ran a BETA invitation where we gave out free servers to people and since then it has been the core value in each of the team members, whether we are dealing with a simple blogger, whether an agency or whatever. So if they have issues with the platform, with performance or whatever, we actually go, find why and we actually solve those issues. Inside our company one other thing happens, like if you’re in direct contact with a person of high value in the company, you can actually contact them and say, I’m having certain level of issues. We actually prioritise him to a higher level even so that’s a perk that a few people actually enjoy.
Ahsan Parwez: The fourth core value that we have is data driven ideology, it’s actually more of a new core value that we added back in 2016 it was actually based on the data that we are going to actually study and research and then make decisions upon them. For example, back in 2016 we moved into the manage Woo-commerce space and if you look in the past, there were no other hosting providers actually targeting the woo-commerce hosting space. We were actually the first ones to offer that and actually offered it with all the optimization that we have. For example, varnish included and all those sorts of things. We actually jumped into that, seen the growth of woo- commerce and then after Woo-commerce being acquired by Automatic, we actually knew that this market will actually grow into already higher level and now you can see that there are the solution providers that actively might be in that space as well. So we are a very data driven company so where we see a right amount of people going to us or the market shifting too much we actually are the first ones to actually go after it as well. The last core value, there are actually five core values that we have is actually win as a team. We think that we have three different teams divided between like WordPress, Magento or Dev ops, customer success, sales and everything. Even the support beams, but we actually work together. If the support team has issues, is reporting an issue over and over again they talk to us and the marketing team actually publishes the solutions to those things as well. When the marketing people actually see any other company actually making strides to works and other technology. So we actually inform our Dev ops as well. So it’s built into the core of our teams as well to actually work together.
Lee Matthew Jackson: Yeah, I love it. So just having those core values I think is really important because it actually helps you and your team. That’s everyone within your team and within the teams in the company understand the identity of the company but also it helps customers to identify with the company. So for example, me as a customer I have been able to identify with Cloudways, I understand when you’re talking about innovative at heart that you guys are looking for ways to provide technologies in a next step simplistic way, i.e simplicity in everything and I get that. It definitely is apparent by the the platform that you have. I’ve certainly experienced the customer always comes first and they’ve often pinged someone else I know within Cloudways to help me bump up the queue. So that’s a thank you. Then with regards to the data driven ideology, I was really surprised even only a year ago that you guys actually had a very specific woo-commerce set up so that obviously we’ve run our event, we had woo-commerce, we actually have our event installed on cloud ways and we used w there were cameras set up there so that we can actually sell our tickets. What I’ve been surprised about is how fast everything is compared to say an old CPANEL shared host setup that I’ve had in the past. Then finally that win as a team, that helps me understand as a client that you guys work together across departments, but it’s also something that we’ve actually experienced as well because I’ve been able to talk to someone say in the sales department and they have seemingly very fast access in there with either the support or whomever. Now when you came up with these, how were they then communicated to everybody and do you regularly visit these with your employees?
Speaker 1: Yes, whenever there is a team meetup or team gathering, we actually discuss these as well. So we put these up in our presentations as well and there’s a short recall off everything. Even in the presentations whatever we are presenting, like a new feature for example, whenever dev ops is actually presenting a new feature to our sales and marketing and support teams. So they actually talk about the simplisic nature that this feature is going to have. When we actually finalise these, we actually shoot an email out to everyone and then invite them to a big get together and actually our co-founder briefs these core values to everybody and there was a very good agreement amongst the people that they, these things are actually what people are doing and it actually helps us on-board new people in the team as well so that’s how it goes.
Lee Matthew Jackson: I’ve got a YouTube video on Motivation Monday. I’ll make sure I leave a link in the show notes folks, but actually talk about how it’s really important for a company to have a shared mission. If you don’t have a shared mission as a company, shed ideals, shed values, etc. Then essentially you just have a job and you’re doing the same thing day in and day out. You have no necessary purpose, but when you have something like this where you have got together and you’ve said, okay, this is our stake in the ground, this is what we stand for, this is what we want to deliver, this is who we want to deliver it for. When you have that and your entire team are behind that, then that motivates your team. That also drives all of the decisions as well that you’re making as a business and I think a a sound that Cloudways are doing a very good job of creating a personality and expressing that to people because Cloudways itself is just a logo and a name. Yet by having those core values, you guys are actually starting to personify the brand and connect with your target audience and agency owners and freelances, whoever is listening today, this is exactly the sort of thing as well that we can do for our businesses by establishing our core values, by understanding who it is that we’re serving or what it is we’re doing for those people and making sure that everybody within our team is behind it and understands it and is on-board with the mission because that is literally like lighter fuel for your motivation and for your team’s excitement. Now, then we are coming into land Ahsan and you and I were chatting and at the beginning you said you would love to offer a special discount for anybody who wanted to go and check out Cloudways, could you let us know a little bit more about that special offer?
Ahsan Parwez: Yes, sure. So we do a lot of work based hosting and WordPress Woo-Commerce related web hosting. So I would like to offer 25% off for any plan that you want on Cloudways. You can use the ATB25 promo code whilst signing up and you are going to get 25% off for two months on any plan.
Lee Matthew Jackson: Awesome guys, that’s ATB25. You can also copy and paste that from the show notes and you’ll get 25% off any plan that’s insane for two months. That’s two months to go and check it out. So I would definitely recommend at least fire up a development server and have a go with that and see what your thoughts are. If you are not part of our Facebook group, head on over to trailblazer.fm/group so that you can share your experiences of Cloudways. Also in the show notes we will put the link for the Cloudways Facebook group. Definitely recommend you be a part of that because you keep in touch with everyone there and Cloudways is great at communicating and answering questions in there as well. So, Ahsan before we say goodbye, what’s the best way for people to connect with you?
Ahsan Parwez: Hmm, I would say Twitter.
Lee Matthew Jackson: What’s your Twitter handle?
Ahsan Parwez: It’s @ahsanparwez.
Lee Matthew Jackson: Excellent, folks so connect with the sans on Twitter. Let us know your thoughts on Cloudways. You can either visit our website and pop comments in there or join us in the group. And remember the lesson I think we can draw from this today folks, is that having that shared value as a business will definitely help motivate your team, but it also helps people, i.e. Your target audience understand more of who you are. So Ahsan from Cloudways thank you for your time and have a wonderful day.
Ahsan Parwez: Thank you, Lee. It was a pleasure to be here.
Lee Matthew Jackson: Thank you, buddy. Bye.
Ahsan Parwez: Bye.