WP Engine: Interview with Austin Gunter

WP Engine: Interview with Austin Gunter

austin gunterThis week we’re very excited to be talking with Austin Gunter, the community face of specialist WordPress hosting platform WP Engine.

We switched our hosting over to them a few months ago and absolutely love it. For example, this site is now a lot faster and we no longer need a separate backup service.

Austin also has an interesting personal blog which you’ll definitely want to check out, especially if you’re the type of person who has a wide range of interests.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up where you are today?

I’m a writer and a fairly literary dude who majored in writing and rhetoric at a small liberal arts university, and yet somehow made good and joined the startup world. The dramatic shift from “business is bad” to recognizing as I do now that entrepreneurship is an amazing form of self-expression happened after I graduated school. The job I ended up getting was with an incubator accelerator in Austin, Texas, where I had the opportunity of bringing 120 companies through the system I helped develop in less than 2 years. I remember the first time that I made an introduction between an entrepreneur and a network of angel investors that resulted in about a third of the entrepreneur’s A Round of funding. It was a rush.

I joined WP Engine because I believed very strongly in the founders, Ben and Jason, and knew that they were building a company that would matter to customers and make their lives better, and because I knew the company would make a difference in my life as well. I had to practically make Jason hire me by writing my own job description and emailing it to him for weeks. The company was at an early stage, so they were taking a risk on me as much as I was taking a risk on the company. For some reason, I didn’t see it as a risk – all I could see was the potential to be part of an exciting company and do work that I loved. It’s been exactly that.

What are the top 5 benefits of switching to WP Engine?

I can only pick 5? Aww man, this is hard. So, we always talk about Speed, Support, Scalability, Security, but I’ll also add:

Peace of Mind: that is a direct result of knowing that WP Engine is handling all your traffic and making sure everything is ok. We get emails where a customer tells us that they sleep better at night now that they’ve migrated their last site over to WP Engine. Where previously they never knew if it would crash or get hacked, now they know it won’t.

Speed: sites are on average 2x-4x faster on WP Engine than their previous host. How fast your site loads is a major factor in Google’s algorithm because faster sites make for better customer experiences. The faster your site, the higher your conversions will be across the board.

Support: We call support the “customer experience” because it really spans from the first time someone starts researching us on our site or on social media, to the time they sign up, to the point where they’ve been a customer for over a year and are adding additional sites or upgrading their account because their business has grown and they need more capacity! We believe that at every step of the way, our job is to go the extra mile (or ten!) to delight our customers. That means you get WordPress experts handling every support ticket. That means most tickets are answered and resolved within 30 minutes of being opened.

Scalability: It’s not just enough to be fast. Your site has to be just as fast with one visitor on the site as it is with one thousand concurrent visitors. WP Engine has developed a scalability technology called EverCache that is capable of handling an incredible number of concurrent connections, and can serve a page in 15 milliseconds, and we’ve seen it handle 15,000 concurrent visitors before.

Security: WP Engine is the only host that has such confidence in its security that we guarantee it to our customers. We’ve taken a number of thorough steps to make sure your site doesn’t ever get hacked, but if it somehow does, we’ll cover the cost of the clean-up. Remember the huge botnet that was wreaking havoc recently? WP Engine’s security measures, like automatically updating WordPress when a new version is released and limiting login attempts, kept our clients safe. All was quiet on our servers.

Oh, I have to add one last thing:

Automatic Backups: we take automatic backups of your site every day. It’s basically like “Time Machine” for WordPress. People love that.

Which feature of WP Engine do customers love the most that they didn’t realize before they signed up?

I think people generally know what they’re getting when they sign up, and it really depends on the type of customer. Bloggers who aren’t technical as well as developers who manage a few dozen client sites love the fact that we automatically update WordPress versions for our customers because it saves them a lot of time and hassle. Hardcore developers love that we have a staging area that you can push changes directly to production with a single click, and that they can use Git Push for version control. We also have a number of large agencies and enterprise companies who love having a dedicated account manager who knows them and their codebase.

Our goal is to make the customer experience so rich that customers are constantly being surprised and delighted.

What are the biggest mistakes businesses make when self managing their hosting?

I think security is probably the biggest one. There are a lot of folks who like the idea of self-managing, but they don’t realize how much time it takes to adequately secure a website, and so things slip through the cracks. It’s not intentional, and it’s certainly not out of laziness, security is just a very complicated, full-time sort of job. Here’s a post that explains how you want to manage your own security that explains why it makes sense to pay someone else to do it so you free up the time in your schedule.

You are the ‘community face’ of WPEngine – what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about building communities that was counter-intuitive or not obvious?

I’ve got two things.
First, I’m always amazed at how a community will take care of a brand that they believe in. Great communities will stand up for a product that they love if the company behind the product has treated them well. As the “face of WP Engine” my job is never to try and convince anyone to join the WP Engine Community, but rather to connect them with other members of the community who can explain from real experience why it’s awesome to be a WP Engine customer. That only works when the product is amazing, and fortunately ours is. But I literally see our customers telling other people on Twitter why they should sign up with WP Engine. Do a search on Twitter for @wpengine and you’ll see it happen a few times a week.

The second is how much I learn from the people in the Community. I have a lot of direct relationships with our customers, so when they’re in town they want to grab a beer or coffee, and that means I get to learn about their businesses. This week, I got to buy Patrick McKenzie and his wife pizza for dinner and hang out with them. Patrick knows marketing and blogging and entrepreneurship, and I got to listen to him tell stories. If you aren’t doing that with your community, you’re doing it wrong.

You were offered a job working for Google, why did you decide it was not the right move for you?

Deciding to reject Google’s offer was one of those turning points in my life. I was ready to move on from my job at the startup incubator and had interviewed at both Google and Facebook that summer. Had I not turned Google down, I would not be with WP Engine now. Basically, it came down to my gut. I knew that the Google job was basically going to be a phone sales job, and not very dynamic. The job description didn’t leave much room for me to be creative, and that’s always a bad thing. By limiting what I can do at work to one function, a company limits my ability to really produce.

I chose learning over money. I chose a job as a product manager at a small consulting firm because I knew I would learn more there. That company ended up being in serious trouble 90 days later, and I got caught in a round of layoffs and stared a small business for myself that ended up leading me to WP Engine. Everything happens for a reason.

I love telling that story because at the time, Google was getting something like 70,000 resumes every week, and I got an interview and a job offer without applying directly. I knew three people at Google at the time who were all recommending me, so by the time I had my face to face interview, I was already at the top of their list. I had made a promise to myself that I’d never get a job with my resume again, and I recommend everyone else make the same promise. Connections will beat your resume every day.

You wrote your thesis on, and spent time as a pick up artist- any fun stories you can share 🙂 and what did you learn that helps you most in business?

Hahaha, you did your research. I’ve really closed that chapter in my life in many ways, but many of the valuable lessons I learned have stayed with me. My time in “the community,” as insiders call it, was all about learning more about myself and learning about women. I had recently ended a really painful relationship, and I wanted to learn more about myself so that I could make sure I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes again. Pick up was such an amazing community of people, men and women, who were eager to share themselves with the world and create a family of people who were living life to the fullest. Pick-up for me was about courage and becoming the sort of man that the woman I wanted to someday fall in love with wants to be with.

I’m definitely still a work in progress. But I think that’s part of the adventure.

What is your biggest opportunity right now? How can someone reading this help you out?

Help me find more time in the day! No, seriously, if someone knows an amazing Eastern Orthodox Girl who loves writers and tech entrepreneur-types, have them make an introduction.

Other than that, I’m always interested in meeting more people and increasing my blog readership. If you’re in the Bay Area and are doing something awesome, we should get coffee or breakfast. Visit austingunter.com/contact, and get in touch. Life is amazing, and I’m focused on meeting as many people as possible right now.

What does your typical workday look like?

Currently, I work from home most of the time. I hop out of bed when my alarm goes off (top 40 radio station, always) and go shower and meditate. I have a standing desk that I walk over to and get out my to-do list for the day, turn on some music (I have a ton of Spotify playlists), and get to work. I typically will work on new blog posts and do the research required. I also help run product betas and design customer feedback processes with those. I tend to work a bit late if I have my way. I’ll close the laptop about 6 or 7 most of the time. A good workday for me involves a diversity of projects and a lot of interaction with awesome people. Fortunately, I get a lot of both.

What bit of information can you offer us about the future of WPEngine that has not yet been discussed publicly before? (we want a scoop!)

Keep an eye out for our new features. Can’t say much more than that 😉

Thanks Austin! You can sign up for WP Engine here. For more information about Austin check out his personal blog. You can also connect with him on Google+ or on Twitter.