I am a dedicated server client of HostGator.com and have been since 2008. Believe me, when I moved there, it was a real lifesaver. What really blew my mind was when HostGator had a fire in the first few months I started with them. I was concerned and Brent personally responded to my ticket, telling me that he would credit my dedicated server account for a month. I thought -‘Wow! This was huge to me! I had five days of outage and I got a whole month for free!”
A little bit of facts on HostGator:
- Founded in 2002
- Located in Texas
- As of 2011, HG is making $85 million + in sales
- As of 2011, HG employs over 650 people
- In 2010, Web Hosting Magazine gave HostGator the Highest Level of Recommedation (as per Host Gator’s Wikipedia page)
- HostGator is on Twitter – @hostgator (over 15K followers as of May 2011)
- HostGator’s Facebook fan page (over 8K fans as of May 2011)
I knew for my first interview of my Social Media Successes Series, that I needed to interview Brent. Without further ado, please enjoy my interview with Brent Oxley, the Founder of HostGator.
NILE: What inspired you to start a company for web hosting?
BRENT: I was inspired to get into web hosting as a result of one web failure after another. My career on the Internet started all thanks to a spammer. I was playing a friendly game of Starcraft one day when I was spammed a message about how I could make $20-$50 an hour watching ads while surfing the Internet. I was just another broke kid, and while I wasn’t all that intrigued with getting paid to surf the internet I was very interested in all the affiliate programs these paid2surf companies offered.
I realized that if there were big bucks to be made it would be by referring as many people as possible. Cashfiesta, bepaid, alladvantage, cashwars, and many more promised to pay 10-20%+ of all the money your referrals earned.
I quickly built my first website on a free web hosting company and began promoting the site everywhere. The referrals began to pour in and I was well on my way to becoming filthy rich. The problem I had with the free hosting company was that they placed ads all over my site and weren’t that flexible. I decided to go professional by purchasing my first dedicated server as well as hiring a web designer. My first “professional” site focused on the sport of paintballs, starcraft information, and of course converting as many people as possible to the various paid2surf programs.
In about one years time I managed to refer over 50,000 people to all the different paid2surf programs. I was owed hundreds of thousands of dollars however was only paid a total of $80. It seemed every time a big check was due the companies would delay my payment by either claiming the check would be mailed soon, or even worse just flat out cancel my account.
After this failure I decided to build a new site focused 100% around StarCraft called scfreak.com. In about six months time the site was generating 2,000+ daily unique visitors and earning me $40 a day. Things were looking great! I was in highschool clearing over a thousand dollars a month by working from the comfort of home.
My sites continued to grow both in traffic and revenue until the dot com bomb hit in 2000. One by one all the companies that paid me went out of business. It wasn’t long until I had over doubled my traffic and was barely making enough to pay the server bills of around $200 a month.
I was looking for ways to make extra revenue and since I already had the servers for my gaming sites web hosting seemed like a natural fit. Freakwebhosting.com was soon born and exclusively marketed on scfreak.com. It wasn’t long before business began to take off which lead me to drop the freak network and change the companies name to hostgator.com.
NILE: In the beginning, how did you promote HostGator?
BRENT: I got a few signups from my gaming site scfreak.com, but the bulk of business came from offering free web hosting assistance to webmasters. I’d browse all the web hosting and webmaster forums reaching out to anyone that needed help. I found that once people are posting questions online they are usually pretty fed up with their current hosting provider’s support and ready to leave. I’d do my best to solve their problem, and after doing so they would usually be so impressed that my hosting would sell itself.
I used this method to signup the first few hundreds customers, and by doing so word of mouth began to catch fire. It wasn’t until hostgator had about 1,000 customers that I had the money financially to begin experimenting with advertising. I was still a pretty small operation so while I had a few thousand dollars to advertise with I didn’t have the money to spend $100’s per customer as we do now. In the beginning I experimented with marketing our shared hosting plans, which failed miserably due to the cost per acquisition being in the hundreds. I kept trying new methods of advertising before discovering that the reseller hosting market was untapped. I found that I was able to convert reseller hosting customers for about $30 which ended up being about a one month return on investment.
Ironically I hated reseller hosting at the time due to customers always asking me questions I didn’t know the answer to. They were more demanding, more knowledgeable, and a support nightmare for someone such as myself that wasn’t that technical. Nonetheless I saw the potential, which led me to devote 100% of all available funds towards the reseller market. Reseller clients made up the bulk of our new business for many years allowing us to become the worlds largest reseller hosting company. Resellers helped us to gain the reputation, financial backing, and word of mouth required to compete in the shared hosting market as we do today.
NILE: What has seemed to be the greatest attribute other than the excellent hosting itself, that has drawn in and kept customers coming back?
BRENT: I believe it’s the ability to reach out and get help from anyone within the company. We are hosting over 5 million websites and regardless of what a customer is paying they’re able to get support from me or anyone else in management on a personal level. This keeps myself along with the rest of management very in tune with customer issues as well as accountable for our actions.
NILE: What kind of tips do you have for Internet based businesses who are looking to successfully use social media practices to increase sales?
BRENT: Your company will flourish or die from the reputation it has on social media sites. All it takes is one person bashing you to possibly lose out on hundreds if not thousands of customers.
The best tip I can give is to reach out personally to anyone speaking negatively about your services and to do everything possible to resolve their issue.
Protect your reputation at all costs!!
NILE: Has having a Facebook fan page for Host Gator helped and what have you done to market through Facebook/ your Facebook fan page?
BRENT: We have a Facebook page, but really don’t do that much on it. In fact I’m not even able to answer this question without asking around at Hostgator.
I personally feel the biggest benefit our Facebook page along with the rest of our social media presence has is with our search engine rankings along with reputation. Social media is becoming a bigger part of search rankings every day.