This is a “for the record” kind of post. Perhaps you’ll find it as appalling interesting as I have while following all of the connected trails in my research.
A good while back now, in what was the early childhood of the “internets“, I began what is my current career of website hosting management and development. It began innocently enough as a desire to share our music online. (Did you know that there is a website that preserves previous versions of the web—like, the entire web?? Have a look at one of the earliest versions of our music site.)1
It Started Off So Well…
When I first moved into the world of web hosting, somewhere around 2004, I found a company named iPower (or iPowerweb) which offered very inexpensive packages with more features than I had seen elsewhere. What really convinced me was their reseller package, with a small team of tech support people who were available 24/7, knew me and my websites, and were very knowledgeable/helpful/professional. I was sold. This company was a relatively small “start-up” out of Phoenix who offered technical service and expertise, and excellent customer support.
(In the meantime, I found another small company who had a slightly better reseller package which allowed me to purchase a large server space and apportion it as needed, in my own packages, to clients as they needed. I signed on with them around the same time, too. Their biggest sell was the company’s owner/operator—a one-man-show—who was great at customer support. There’s a theme here!)
While I was merrily, blissfully plugging along in my burgeoning little web business, giant shark-like companies were smelling blood (or, money?) and swarming around these small-to-medium sized hosting companies, gobbling them up in large chunks.
Unbeknownst to me at this time, a company named Endurance International Group was acquiring small hosting companies left and right, and becoming this large conglomerate of very cheap web hosting solutions under various brands. You can see a rather comprehensive list (with sources) at the Wikipedia page for EIG.
But again, this was actually still unbeknownst to me.
Somewhere around 2007, after a few years of great service from iPower, I noticed a sharp, nearly instantaneous decline in their service. I began to have all sorts of issues (email issues, server slowness/downtime) and on top of that, I would sometimes be on hold, waiting to chat with that stellar support team for 30-45 minutes! What?! When I was finally able to speak with one of the tech guys with whom I had built a working relationship over the three years or so, I was informed that they were making changes, and greatly reduced the size of the support team—which greatly reduced their support to their customers!
I was definitely saddened, but pressed on because I believed in this small company that had provided such great service to me and my clients for so long. What I didn’t know was that these changes were due to iPower being acquired by EIG.2
(Sadly, at roughly the same time, that other hosting company I was hosting the majority of my sites through was expieriencing their own failures—one after another! I endured this for longer than the trouble with iPower as I understood the difficulties of running your own business. That company was essentially a one-man operation, so I stuck it out as long as I could. But eventually, it was such a melt-down I had to exit that situation, too.)
The First Big Change
With the frustrating circumstances of this time period sufficiently endured, I endeavored to make another change, hoping for something similar to what I had found in 2004. I wanted a small company who had excellent customer/tech support as their primary characteristic.
I think it was somewhere around 2010 when I learned of HostGator through a web-development friend (and colleague). He vouched for their excellent service, including their customer support knowledge and availability, so I investigated and found them to be just what I was looking for. Within a short time (well, OK… about a month) I had moved over all of my large list of clients’ sites and domains to their service.
And I was pleased. Their servers were faster, tech team was available within minutes of calling, and generally very knowledgeable/helpful. I would get quick replies to any tickets submitted through their ticket system, and all around I was very much satisfied. (Even to the point of promoting them to anyone who was seeking hosting, or asked.)
Last summer there were bumps. Server down time, slower response to tickets, long hold times to get through to tech support, many “blunders” in server configuration causing trouble for my clients sites (as well as my own) … all VERY worrisome signs. They were just like what I had experienced with iPower.
I was growing frustrated again. How can this be happening? It’s only been two or three years that I’ve been with this company and the same thing is happening???
In the infamous words of Gru, “Light…bullllllb!”
Was it possible that these events were connected? I began digging. One clue after another led me to the company mentioned above: Endurance Group International, Inc. (EIG).3
Ah ha! I’m not crazy! thought I, somewhat relieved. Though, I was equally peeved that the companies with whom I chose to do business were “selling out” to this crazy web-hosting company eater, EIG. First iPower, now HostGator.
My experience is not unique. Another poor soul chronicled his experience with EIG, when his hosting company, WebHost4Life, was acquired by EIG. Oh, and look at their Better Business Bureau page… over 400 complaints! Ugh…
“The Blackout of 2013″—August 2, 2013
Fast-forward to this past weekend. August 2nd, 2013. It has actually made it to the EIG Wikipedia page as part of their company’s entry! After months of trouble, I awake to find all of my sites are offline. Email, websites, everything. Here we go again! I dial up the tech support line and… busy signal! Ha! As I am discovering this, I am chatting online with my aforementioned colleague, who is equally affected by this August 2nd Blackout, since his sites are all still hosted by HostGator. We both decide right then, that morning, that we are jumping ship, NOW!.
A couple months prior, the HostGator changes had become unbearable for my biggest client and his websites that we develop/host/manage, so I spent a week investigating hosting options. I found a few that I liked, and settled on one that, again, seems to be a small company, committed to excellent service and customer support. I have had good success with them so far. (My praise for them is justifiably guarded (jaded?) by my prior experiences, as you can well imagine!)
I called up the fellow with whom I had spoken those months before and asked him very directly, “Will your company sell to Endurance International Group? I need to know, because that has happened to me twice, and causes so much trouble, wastes so much time!” His response was that the two owners of his company were actually on-site that day, and had been discussing specifically that potential scenario. He assured me that they had already rejected such an offer, and would steadfastly continue to do so.
Within hours I had set up the account, moved ALL of my sites over to the new Virtual Private Server (VPS) account, and began working on all that is involved with migrating hosting accounts.
This is never fun. Never.4
I emailed all my clients and told them of the emergency change. There have been a few bumps, but mostly we’ve made it through unscathed. I will be shutting down my HostGator accounts by week’s end, and ending any business relationship I have with EIG… until the next time?
Moral: BIGGER ≠ better
The moral of this not-so-short-story is that BIGGER IS NEVER BETTER!
(Unless you’re trying to make a point, with big letters?)
Somehow we have this idea that the “mass model” is best. Giant factories, mega stores… it never leads to good. It usually leads to bad service and meltdowns like I have experienced each time this has happened!
Stay small, folks. Focus on service, support, and relationship … even in business.
Because business still involves people. Doesn’t it?
My experiences with EIG (though I didn’t realize it was them until this year) have reminded me of that.
Stay small, local (when possible), and personal.
And don’t sell out to EIG!
- Note: this was actually probably a third or even fourth iteration of our website! Earlier versions were hosted on the free hosting service Tripod.com. Which amazingly still exists! Archive.org used to have the 20th century version of our website! Wow! Now the earliest version is August 2000, very similar to the 2001 link above. ↩
- Read the article from May 2007. It calls the move a “merger”, but my experience in 2012 with a different “merger” with EIG would suggest that it was more of an acquisition. (Especially when contrasted with my initial experience with iPower, before “merging” with EIG.) ↩
- One more connection, in 2011, EIG was “bought” (or funded?) by Warburg Pincus and GS (Goldman Sachs) Capital Partners. There are big piles of money changing hands here. ↩
- I found a couple pages detailing what is involved. Besides all of these steps, (1) something inevitably does not go as planned, and (2) it just takes time. Lots of time. Up to 72 hours of time. Most of that is the DNS propagation, meaning, the change of address for your domain name. Once that filters through all the checkpoints, you’re OK, but a lot of grief happens during that time! ↩