Follow-up on Server Pilot

I talked to Justin Samuel, the CEO of Server Pilot, on the phone today, to do a bit of follow-up after my last post. I’m still intrigued by Server Pilot, which I see as unique in our space right now, and I had some additional questions.

Justin Founded Server Pilot after getting out of school, which he’d gone back to after some time in the field, and after school he spent time at an incubator called AngelPad for three months. From there, he raised a relatively unsuccessful seed round, which he’s thankful for in that it helped pay the bills for a few months out of the gate, but he’s also glad looking back that it wasn’t larger going in.

By needing to focus heavily on revenue out of the gate, they were able to prioritize what they deemed important and worth paying for from potential customers. Also, it prevented them from hiring “too quickly”, which would’ve been tough, and instead he had time to, “figure things out,” without rapid growth.

A few years on now, Justin says that he has no intentions to raise money again. Server Pilot had a beta ready in early 2013 and started charging customers in mid 2013, and dropped the beta label in late 2013. Since then, he says they’ve grown steadily, and while he’s keeping his numbers close to his chest, he says their team is larger than he and CIO Ivan Vazquez, and they are happy with where things are going.

“The vast majority” of paying customers are on the $10 per server per month “coach” plan, and Justin says technically speaking the coach plan is the same as the $49 “business” plan. The business plan just offers more insight for sites that need to get a better look at what’s going on performance wise, but aren’t interested in more expensive solutions like New Relic. While the vast majority of users are on the free plan, their free to paid conversion rate is, “totally healthy.”

Justin cites marketing as a certain challenge. They are currently relying on customer evangelism, which to be fair is how I found Server Pilot, when several Post Status members mentioned it. However, it’s obvious to me that if they found the right person to do marketing with them, they could grow much faster.

Current Server Pilot customers come from a variety of backgrounds, but we grouped them into the following lumps:

  1. Developers managing their own sites.
  2. Freelancers or agencies that create accounts on behalf of clients.
  3. Agencies that host their clients and manage the relationship and accounts, but not the server.
  4. WordPress in a box: hosted solutions that use Server Pilot as the stack.
  5. White labeled hosts that do marketing and billing, but the technology.

It seems heavy users are really leveraging the Server Pilot API to spin up servers and apps without ever visiting Server Pilot. I know WebDevStudios is doing this in their development workflow.

They are definitely going after business to business or business to developer sales, versus end users. And the app, while technically very impressive, isn’t ready for “regular” users, in my opinion.

One growth area Justin envisions is for being an add-on layer to existing hosts’ VPS solutions. While many established hosts have shared platforms they are committed to, Server Pilot could be a good in-between layer for new VPS customers to help them manage their sites. Otherwise, they are seeing some brand new hosts use them instead of creating their own server management tool.

Justin says they don’t have intentions to expand beyond WordPress, but some users utilize their API to do other types of app installations. However, currently you can only spin up a new app as WordPress or nothing, so you can’t choose Laravel or something else out of the box.

I didn’t focus on it in the last article, you can use Server Pilot with any infrastructure, not just Digital Ocean. Justin said the rise of Digital Ocean was in concert with their own launch, and they like Digital Ocean, but you can just as easily connect Server Pilot yourself with Amazon, GoDaddy Cloud, Linode, Rackspace, or other hosts.

Asked about competition, Justin said he doesn’t think anything else directly compares right now. There are certainly other services that promise easy server deployment and management (Forge, Easyengine), or white labelled hosting (Pressed), but Server Pilot is — for the moment at least — unique in its particular mix as a managed, WordPress-centric, middle layer between hardware and application. In many ways, such a service can provide an alternative to managed hosts, but with less gloss and hardware agnosticism.

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