Interview with Dan Ushman (SingleHop)
SingleHop is a dedicated server hosting provider. They provide award winning dedicated servers and cloud hosting servers with free setup. They grew 673% in 2008 and generate revenue in the region of $20 million.
I interviewed Dan Ushman, SingleHop co-founder to find out more. This interview is the twentieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Dan for the interview!
How would you describe SingleHop in under 50 words?
SingleHop is an innovative company focused on improving the customer experience through technology. The simplest way to put it is we are obsessed with making the IT hosting experience better for our customers while having fun ourselves. We also like long walks on the beach.
How did you meet your co-founder Zak Boca? What made you decide to start SingleHop?
Zak and I met when we were both running competing online advertising businesses on an AOL chat room in the early 2000’s. We became friends and decided to start a shared hosting company (midPhase) together. Nine years later we are 100% focused on dedicated hosting.
How did you come up with the name? Was the domain available?
Zak and I have always had (healthy or not) domain collection hobbies. Zak happened to own the SingleHop.com domain name and we thought it was a great fit. The domain has technical value to a network engineer, but also has the qualities that make a great name great… short, easy to remember, and easy to spell.
Where did you grow up and how did your interest in computers develop?
I grew up in Palatine,IL, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Zak is from Bowling Green, Kentucky. I’ve always been obsessed with computers. I remember begging my father to buy me my first computer when I was a kid. It was a Packard Bell and it further exasperated my extreme apprehension to all things athletic. But I am a geek at heart and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After all, I can type at 100wpm w/ 95% accuracy.
Your professional background is completely hosting related, what made you decide to make this your area of expertise?
Well… Honestly, I fell into it. When I was in the advertising field, I found a niche in the hosting world. Hosting companies were rapidly expanding and had to find new places to market themselves. After spending a while doing that, and meeting Zak, one of us said to the other: “Hey, we’re pretty good at this.” So, we both sold our respective hosting marketing directories and started midPhase. The community, early on, was very welcoming and supportive. And that certainly helped push me along to Hosting. Now, it is second nature and hosting is truly a way of life for me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You co-founded midPhase in 2003, what made you decide to leave after almost 5 years to co-found SingleHop? What did you learn from the experience and why did you move from low-cost shared hosting to dedicated and Infastructure-as-a-Service?
We learned a LOT from managing a shared hosting business. And many of the lessons we learned helped us do a better job starting SingleHop. We founded SingleHop while we were still operating midPhase because we saw demand from our customers for dedicated products. It took on a life of its own and the rest is history.
SingleHop has revenue in the region of $20 million. You grew 673% in 2008, what are the principal factors that have lead to your continued and rapid success?
We have always focused on being different from our competition. Our marketing, websites and products all reflect a strong desire for differentiation. Being different is hard in this business… most providers sell roughly the same products at roughly the same prices. Most providers use the same control panels and the same technology. Many even resell for the same data centers. SingleHop is different because we own all of our own equipment, and we own all of our own technology. We built LEAP ourselves, and we did it with a vision, not just to make a control panel.
Our desire to find innovative and technically impressive ways to do routine and non-routine tasks has really driven demand for our products. But more importantly, it creates a type of loyalty that is rare in this business. As good as we are at growing from new customers, we would be nowhere if we didn’t also invest the same effort in keeping our existing clients happy and to WOW them on a daily basis.
So it’s a combination of two things. A desire to be different through technical innovation and a desire to be different through the customer experience. Combined these two types of differentiation really create a lasting impression on clients, new and old.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Anyone who has a website, owns a business or needs a good home for a project is our customer. We don’t have narrow niche definitions—anyone who needs a better place for their website or web app should talk to us.
Who is your biggest competitor?
We compete with a lot of different great companies… in different areas we compete with different providers. On the managed hosting end, I have to name RackSpace as a very formidable competitor. On the unmanaged end, SoftLayer is an obvious competitor.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
One challenge we face is to be able to continue to differentiate ourselves on an on-going basis even as the marketplace evolves and technology advances. Five years ago having amazing support and 24×7 service was enough to differentiate a company from the crowd, but today these are simple prerequisites to doing business—the threshold and customers expect and demand these things from their providers. For us, automation and accessibility have provided us with a great degree of differentiation but as the market evolves we will have to continue to find new ways to stand out.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now? Where do you see SingleHop in 5 years time?
No comment. Seriously, though, I wish I could have predicted the shift to grid and cloud computing. It would have given us a great jump start on the rest of the industry.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
We have a number of unique products coming out this fall… but if I told you now I’d have to kill you. You’ll just have to watch and see.
Can you convince a business to switch to SingleHop in under 50 words?
Anyone can sell you a server. But only SingleHop can offer such a high level of automation, accessibility and control coupled with such a positive customer experience.
Finished reading? Check out SingleHop!