As Chairwoman and CEO of WP Engine, Heather Brunner has steered WP Engine through hyper-growth into global technology leadership. WP Engine is home to many of the WordPress community’s most beloved brands including WP Engine, Flywheel, Local, Advanced Custom Fields, and Genesis. Heather has led the expansion of WP Engine from an Austin start-up to a global brand with 1200+ team members around the world with hubs in Austin, Brisbane, Limerick, London, Omaha, and Krakow to now serve millions of customers in more than 150 countries.
Heather talks about her new role as CEO, the right speed for innovation, and how they have differentiated themselves in a hyper-competitive market.
→ Her role as CEO of WP Engine
→ How they have differentiated themselves in a hyper-competitive market
→ What kind of different leadership roles she had in the company
→ What is WP Engine about
→ How have they grown from 40 people to 170 people and 7000 customers to 21,000 customers in such a short period
→ She led the expansion of WP Engine from an Austin start-up to a global brand with 1200+ team members around the world
→ And a whole lot more
Rand: Hi everyone from Growth Hacker TV. My name is Rand Fishkin. I’m the founder and former CEO of Mars. And today I’m very excited to be chatting with Heather Berner, who’s the CEO over at WP Engine. The company is a personal favorite of mine, and Heather’s a little bit of a hero to me. We’ve gotten to chat a tiny bit. I tried to urge her to come on to Mars board of directors, but she had other commitments. And so at least I had this this great opportunity, this great chance to talk to her in person. Heather, thank you so much for joining me today.
Heather: Oh, thank you, Rand. It’s just really an honor to be here and I’m so excited to talk with you today.
Rand: Awesome. Well, why don’t we. Why don’t we get right into it? I, I wanted to start by asking you a little bit about your background, especially for folks who may not have stalked you as heavily as I have on the Web. I mean that in the most professional, least creepy possible way.
Heather: I love it. It’s all.
Rand: So. From looking at your backyard, it feels like you’ve been in the technology world for a long time, almost your entire professional career. And I, I wondered, was that intentional? Was that serendipitous and accidental? Were you always drawn to technology or was that something that came about?
Heather: It was really if you if you would have asked me when I was about 20, what I was dreaming my dream job, it was I thought I was going to go work at the World Bank. I was fascinated with international economics, international business. My father was always doing international business and travel. So that was kind of my, you know, kind of passion. And so I actually had an international economics degree and actually studied abroad and had kind of serendipity did kind of play a role where I met a partner who came and spoke at one of the classes and I was at this was when I was studying abroad. I was had the fortune to go to an economics study program at Cambridge University in England, and this partner came from Andersen Consulting at the time, which is now Accenture. And he came and spoke out about what they were doing and technology around the world transforming business. I was just like fascinated and I just like stayed afterwards when I talked to him and said, Wow, I really want to learn more. And this it opened my eyes to a whole new possibility. And that kind of started my journey. And so I sure enough, I wind up kind of like many people did in the technology industry. It started as a, you know, a lowly staff consulting consultant doing COBOL coding with my economics degree, learning how to code, learning how to write sequel queries. And it turned out that I was a really bad coder, but I was awesome at talking to customers. I was awesome at figuring out their business requirements and the why behind the changes. And at the time, you know, this is like really like you think about interesting consulting. A lot of big companies were working with large organizations around how to actually get them to use technology to do basic things they were doing manually, you know, back office financials, insurance claims, all different kinds of things. And for that right now, we totally take for granted. And so there I was able to see in throughout my kind of early career kind of the really rapid acceleration of technology and how is impacting business from, you know, greenscreen technologies to client server going to the rise of ERP, the beginning of ASP, the ASP map, which is really like core metrics, you know, you know, you know, that’s a we have a common, you know, passion around analytics. So kind of the ASP model and then that kind of moving into the rise of the Internet and mobile and social and the experience, I had it as our voice and seeing the difference around how consumers are being able to be part of the technology industry and changes, in fact, I thought might be kind of fun to show you my first cell phone. Wow. I was.
Rand: Able to get.
Heather: It back in 1992. This is my first cell phone and I keep it in my office as a reminder of how fast technology changes. But it was quite was quite the step back in 1992 with my Okie my Okie 900. So anyway, but again, it has been such an incredible journey over the last 24, 24 years. And I kind of feel like I’m just still kind of just still getting started because it just.
Rand: You know, so.
Heather: Much exciting things going on.
Rand: So it’s so fun in terms of once once you were into tech, did you did you have this idea in your head that, gosh, it seems like I, I could be I want to be the CEO of a technology company someday. Was that on the horizon and the path you were moving towards or was that, again, sort of a serendipitous?
Heather: Oh, I think kind of since I’ve been leading and part of managing team, it’s basically almost my whole career, basically for 20 years. So since I became a manager and, you know, manager of teams basically in 1994. So literally for 20 years I’ve been a part of managing teams and as I’ve had the opportunity to work with very large organizations like Accenture and Oracle, two companies are kind of more medium sized like trilogy or core metrics, which at the time I joined it was still you know, it was kind of hosts, you know, startup really, you know, really larger and growing company. I’ve been able to be a part of, you know, 12 people, startups, you know, part of one thing like bazaar wise and now here in silicon chat growth situations. And in those situations I’ve been able to throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work and manage and be accountable for everything from product, the whole innovation cycle, engineering, finance, h.r, you know, client services, which has been kind of my sweet spot, that’s really how I grew up, was really through our experience through customer. Service, professional services and consulting, and then kind of growing into creating the services experienced for sustained enterprise that these companies like, you know, like trilogy core metrics is our voice in. And then it was our voice also had the opportunity to be irresponsible for the first time that was not for professional services sales, but actually software sales and at a large scale. And so I’ve kind of had that opportunity to really kind of have have had a really good grounding in general management, so to speak, across all the different functions. And that really, you know, kind of has opened up a lot of opportunities for me. And so the the opportunity to be, oh, it’s just been like I got I feel like I’m in my dream job right now. I love.
Rand: That. Yeah, that’s that is wonderful to hear. That’s wonderful. I think I think conversely and for those who are watching who might not know. So I was previously the CEO at Mass Firm for many years and recently stepped down and our long time CEO, Sarah Bird, took the role. And I know you and you and Sarah have sat in a little bit. She’s great. And so I was I was struck by the similarity in our stories there. So can you walk us through joining WP Engine and then your experience with Jason and your transition into a CEO? Right.
Heather: Absolutely. So I think that, you know, kind of as you know, as being a founder and founder CEO and it is it is a very big decision and very, you know, something that is not just it’s not just like a business decision. It’s an a emotional all this is I mean, this is your your you know, your baby. And so, you know, I would say that people kind of go through different no matter any relationship, whether it’s a customer relationship, a friend, whoever it is, kind of go through stages of a relationship. And the first stages, you know, are you credible? You know, do you have the skills, the aptitudes to be able to? Do, you know, what we need to do or change? Like a customer looking at, can your product or your services actually know? Does it meet my criteria? Or in a relationship a friend? Are you somebody that I’m going to hang out with? And then and the next step that is respect. So are you someone that I really respect? Like your your word? Are you somebody who I kind of feel like, wow. I actually like, you know, there’s a there’s a kind of a level of respect here around when I hear you give me ideas or maybe thinking. So I had there’s a value that you give me that I maybe didn’t have on my own. And it creates that level of respect. And then the next stage is trust. So trust is just like, Wow, you’ve got my back, I’ve got yours. I trust. You know, I kind of feel like I can kind of go with you. I mean, that’s so vulnerable. And and there’s a level of if things go wrong, I know that we’re going to get through it together. And then the kind of the final stage is kind of like I mean, you know, the ultimate thing in a relationship would be like to get married or, you know, something, yeah, this is my best friend where you’re excited, which I call kind of advocate, where you’re actually basically you’re willing to put your brand and reputation next to that person and with that person. And so kind of this kind of this no matter in any relationship, I kind of this is just my own observations from a long time ago. Are you credible? Do I respect you? Is there a level of trust? And is there this level of I’m willing to kind of put my brand, tie my brand to your brand? And I feel like with Jason, he was very open and willing to basically very quickly we were able to kind of he was able to kind of say, hey, here’s what I’m good at. Here’s where all the things that are working really well and here are the things where I’m struggling and putting himself into a place where he’s saying, I’m struggling because I don’t have these experiences. I haven’t seen this before despite being a very, very successful entrepreneur, this being his fourth successful startup in a row, which is just amazing. It’s unbelievable. Blows me away. But I think for Jason, we were able to kind of very quickly get to the point of like, yes, we’re both critical, credible. Yes, we’re you know, we can get that level of respect. And then that gave us time to just quickly get into trust, which is all about spending time together. You can’t rush trust. You has to earn it. You have to really kind of say, do the dance. You have to be there and do those kinds of things. Yeah. And so I think that with that relationship with Jason, we were able to so how it all kind of happened is I was asked to jump if I would consider joining the WP Engine Ward and and that’s kind of how our relationship started. And basically I was, was our voice, you know, had a lot of my play, you know, etc.. But I kind of find myself constantly like nights and weekends, all my spare energy. I kept thinking about WP Engine and it was helping Jason think about recruiting and kind of building out the next logical thing at that time. Back in the winter, and this is the winter of 2012, you know, beginning of 2013 was building out that next the executive team to take the company to the next level and take advantage of all the success that the company was realizing. And thinking about kind back, kind of going from, you know, the small, gangly start up into something to start to specialize and bring the right functional expertize and leadership to the team. And so that was kind of where my passion was. And so we just kind of just through that process, started working together. And one night I remember sitting in my office at Bazaar Voice and I got this phone call and I saw that it was Jason. He’s like, Hey, this is Jason. I kind of had this crazy idea. What do you think about youth coming over to Detroit? You know, and I was like this kid at this moment, I was like, that sounds really cool. And just kind of like it just felt natural. I said, Great, well, let’s talk about it. And so that kind of started the whole thing. And so and then from there I talked to him, I said, You know what? It doesn’t make sense for me. I don’t think it makes sense for me to come in right away. As a C CEO. I think it makes more sense for me to come in, really learn the business and earn that role, not only in your eyes, in the board’s eyes, but also in the team’s eyes. And yeah, Jason had built has built at that time. And we continue to build together an incredible culture and incredible team. And I really wanted it to be very organic and natural. I was not in a hurry, you know, so I was able to just kind of say, Let’s do this the right way. And then just kind of became this natural evolution of our relationship, my relationship with the business and the company or customers. And we just kind of felt the time when he said, okay, this feels right. And we, you know, made the call and and and haven’t looked back since. It’s been a lot of fun. So I became CEO in October, formally in C in October of last year.
Rand: October of last year. And you had joined the board at what.
Heather: And what.
Rand: Kind of growth? Okay. I had you where was that when you joined versus like where it is today? Yeah.
Heather: So so this is the company. So just to kind of give you a sense around, you know, kind of growth trajectory, we don’t typically share revenue, but I’ll kind of give you a sense around if size was some kind of metrics. But when I joined the company in May, I was roughly employing 40. We are now as a business, you know, just now a little over a year later, over 170 employees when I wow, we were just under 7000 customers. We are now over 21,000 customers in. It is globally. We are continuing to grow very rapidly, which I’m sure has been growing 25% quarter over quarter or greater since inception. And that phenomenon still continues. So it really has been really kind of a tiger by the tail type of opportunity. And I again, that’s why I feel so blessed to have met Jason, to be part of this organization and to now have the opportunity to help us lead, lead the organization and help build out our leadership team for the next leg of the journey. That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s one thing I might just mention around this. One thing that we found really helpful in and I think about this for other potentially founders or considering, you know, having someone come on is to have I think that only if having someone join the board or join as an advisor and have a chance for them to try it out and to see if their passion and it gets ignited the same way you horses. And so I think that’s what basically what Jason and I kind of felt both for both as we saw it in each other. And then we saw it kind of that by me having opportunity to kind of work on an in the business but not be an employee yet. But the visor really worked well and gave us that chance. And I think, you know for you also you had the option was there but to have her already kind of in the business for some time and you can then kind of see okay, wow, this makes, you know, a natural, you know, natural organic transition. I think a lot of times I’ve seen people bring kind of like the outside, you know, an outside leader in and they don’t have the time to just kind of immediately become that person and a jerk to the system for everybody. And also, I still do they have that entrepreneurial ownership. Do they feel in their you know, is it part of they want the same things that you want as the founder?
Rand: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m curious a little bit. So do you and Jason each have, you know, today and over the last nine months or so, do you have kind of different leadership roles in the company? Does he still play a role on sort of like product vision or engineering vision and that kind of stuff?
Heather: Absolutely. So. So today. So Jason’s scope is, ah, he’s our CTO. So anything related to our innovation. So for product strategy, product vision and strategy and anything related to execution around innovation is under Jason’s purview. Yeah, we do though operate and this has been something we we kind of started by necessity and then became something that we really liked, which is when I first joined the business, when the first hires that I was fortunate to make was our just superstar CFO, April Downing. And so both April and I are very, you know, have been we’re you know, we’ve got a lot of scar tissue. We’ve been around the block a lot. And we knew that we just needed to our time to ramp was super. And Jason had been managing everything unit since was the single executive over everything so it it’s kind of mind meld and so we agreed was that we were going to meet basically 6 hours a week, we’re going to have whitespace and we basically said really dedicate 3 hours, you know, twice a week and we are just going to download and that was invaluable. And so basically by Jason giving us that time, then we were able to very quickly do that. And also we actually became sounding boards for him because he was you know, he was the CEO. So it kind of became almost like the office of the CEO myself. That means CEO, oh, it was CFO and then Jason the CFO, it would basically meeting well then once we all sort of kind of like got that, we were kind of in our roles and everything, had the download that just we just said, you know, it’s just been so such valuable time we decided that we basically how to the conference in the being 3 hours two out of 6 hours a week certainly but basically Jason myself and April meet together with for basically 4 hours a week and it’s our sacred time to be bouncing off each other. What’s going it’s so now it’s myself this is CEO Jason and April are both involved in, you know, strategy, vision, you know, key things we’re working on. And that helps me to then, you know, form up and book is a big thing I’m really big on is goal setting is for us to play lock and load on. What are the key goals for the near period then you know, kind of the interim period as well as you know, for kind of the above forward six months. So that has been just an incredible use of time and that to me is now something I would replicate no matter, you know, for as long as I can hear it. And I would recommend it to anyone. And if I ever were to go anywhere else, I would do that again, because I think it’s just so valuable to have that, that time.
Rand: Yeah, I think that that’s a great idea. I, I realize that’s, you know, Sarah and I have been together for a very long time, but we haven’t established something like that. We have sort of like a half hour each week that we meet, but that yeah.
Heather: Just goes.
Rand: To it. Yeah. It does go really fast.
Heather: Just another quick because we just keep a little, you know, you could use whatever tools that you guys might use, you know, whether he’s Basecamp or Trello or Sana or whomever, whatever you use, we just have a board and a virtual board, so. So my mind around something I want to share in the white space session I just put on the board and then my role as facilitator, kind of like the chair of that meeting, is just to kind of organize it, prioritize it. You’re talked to person, then we get there, we can kind of go through it or we can just have there be sometimes we don’t have anything new and we just kind of rip off each other and talk about what’s on our mind. Hey, what’s going on? What are we thinking, etc.?
Rand: Yeah. Interesting. Very cool. Yeah. So I wonder if you’re seeing this as well. Like when you when you made that transition, it sounds like you set it up extremely well and very carefully. I noticed something that was interesting with Sarah and I, which was, you know, we we like to say we agree on 99% of that. And that is that’s almost certainly the case. But interestingly, post-transition that 1% feels really big in both of our heads. Yes. For not for the first time, but certainly in a in a more acute way. And I wonder if if you feel that that same way with Jason and what you guys do to sort of work through those challenges.
Heather: Right? Right. Well, I was you know, to me, I think conflict is really good. So I always say lean into the conflict. So I think that so again, there’s a whole thing around a lot of. A lot of people and I think also a lot of organization definitely don’t don’t like conflict or they don’t want you know, there’s kind of like this concern, okay, kind of feels bad, you know, this kind of thing. And I can kind of take a revisiting of time. So this is not something that I, you know, that I, you know, this is something that to me has been something I’ve had to learn that saying no conflict is good, disagreement is healthy. It helps to kind of understand where there might be disconnects. How I look at something, my point of view might be I’m taking in a certain set of data and inputs that might be different than what you see. And so the fact that we disagree to me is like, that’s good. Okay, so great. What’s let’s dig into that. Why and let’s really kind of facilitate that and brought out. But then, you know, kind of like that old adage, you know, you know, between husbands and wives, like don’t go to bed, you know, angry is like like we just like don’t let anything fester.
Rand: What you’re saying makes total sense, right? Not letting things fester, having that time to work through stuff, agreeing that conflict is is healthy. And then I’m curious to. Right. So the at the end of the day, it’s you’re the CEO, right? It’s it’s your and your decision. And how how does that play? Right. Because Jason’s founded and run a number of companies over the years and had a lot of success. And, you know, I don’t I don’t know him tremendously well, but I have always figured him for a sort of a low ego, high achiever guy. Yeah. And I’m curious, what how was that interaction like when you do disagree and you have to say, hey, we. We’re going to have to do it my way on this. We’re gonna have to step up.
Heather: Yeah. What do you think? We’ve been. So we’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t really had any places where we have been, where there’s been like a place where we say we’re going to we’re going to agree to disagree and we’re going to go this path. I come in this year and I think. You know, I know with my role I need to take responsibility at some, you know, some times because I think this is the way to go. My style is definitely to try to have make sure that everybody understands why and that we that we can kind of agree to disagree. And then also that we can also agree that we can all be wrong. So we could go in, in, out to say, you know what, okay, I was wrong or you know what? You know, what tends to happen is all kind of mentioned things like first, like, hmm, you know, kind of the later like, okay, you were onto something there. And I think that there’s kind of whole thing around us being open and vulnerable each other to basically, number one, not be afraid, to have conflict, not be afraid to be decisive and make a call. We need to, but also not be afraid to course correct and say, you know what, I should have done something differently or we didn’t take this information into into consideration, and that’s okay. And so I think that we can’t be can’t let disagreements kind of go on and on. At some point, you do kind of have to say, okay, this how I want to go and move forward again spiritually here because and I think also because we’re spent and we’re investing in that white space together to really talk about different things and going on, typically, we’re all on the same page around, we’re moving forward. And also there are different things that we’re not we’re not managing by team. So even though we’re kind together, does it mean that, you know, we’re all having to like everyone’s having to vote on where we’re going. Everyone has to separate responsibility and very clear and everyone has their ownership. But it’s really more that time to say, let’s stay together. Let’s stay in sync as we’re driving this very fast moving train.
Rand: Totally. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. So I want to shift gears a little bit and ask about some other stuff in the in the fields of technology and around our businesses. And one of the things that struck me about your history is you’re at core metrics at a time when every Web analytics company was fighting off, you know, kind of Google Analytics coming into the space that that was such a weird thing to me, right? They bought Arch and they they made it this free product. Now it’s nearly ubiquitous. Right. It has just insane amount of coverage. What what was that like at core metrics? What were the discussions on the team and what what has it been like subsequently? Because you have, you know, lots of friends in the analytics space or those folks were kind of fighting off this loss. Leader Yeah.
Heather: Well it is a very the time. I mean it was very scary. It was kind of, I think like here you are, you know, having, you know, particularly core metrics who had really kind of helped to it was really kind of a leader in in kind of I would say like same like with Mos, you know, kind of defining a category, defining a space and kind of coming out with it. And then, you know, so kind of happened, you know, kind of core metrics was really founded the pre bubble. So by the time you had, you know, basically, you know, core metrics is, you know, seven, eight, nine, you know, serious about this time because this is basically 2006 timeframe. So they’re about, you know, seven years really fully into their journey and core metrics had really been dominating around e-reading to the online retail. So that was kind of spotty. But you know, what we found in metrics is that, you know, once you had the online retailers kind of first, at first it was a very it’s just kind of crazy to believe now that it was an evangelical sale to say you want to have web analytics. So kind of the first chapter of the history is, you know, basically evangelical. You need web analytics for defining a category. You’ve got to have it. Then it was all about, okay, now how do you take it? Both the product level had come up as well as the process level had come up around integration and all the best practices. So now my site is all instrumented. What do I do with it? How do I make your site? Etc. So that was kind of the next chapter. And then I think from there, you know, the sophistication of, of products like core metrics in ometer around pathing and in planning around SEO, it just became kind of inextricably tied into the workflows of the customers and which was exciting. And so here comes Google Analytics and we’re like, Oh, you know, this is going to, you know, again, both core metrics and amateur who were kind of like basically the one and two players are pretty tied to enterprise, you know, kind of enterprise SAS oriented, you know, analytic web analytics in. And so we’re like, what it’s going to do, it’s going to drop, you know, it’s going to, you know, destroy it, you know, customer attrition and retention issues, we’re going to have pricing pressure. So those are all with years, of course. And what we found is actually that when Google you know, when Google launched this, that again, in their style, which is meant to be kind of very much the long tail, kind of the freemium model with with zero services, with very lightweight functionality, with a lot of, you know. Kind of like basically deltas between what were basically people who had come to rely on their best in class services from core metrics. We’re very different. So there’s kind of this kind of cloud around it that was very, you know, for us was favorable. But then if you Google learning, they kind of got their act together. But basically the net the net of it is is like, you know, kind of it created a level of more kind of.
Heather: Validation. So in a kind of a boost to us. Yeah. And it basically created this sharp contrast between freemium and, you know, basically not not a lot of capability, no service, no best practices, no real ecosystem yet around it versus a core metrics which had was actually kind of like defining the space in the best practices, deep functionality, growing roadmap. And so and so people were okay, well, great. I’m glad I’m here. So for, you know, I think for for for that time of year, it created that contrast and actually goosed the visibility.
Rand: Yeah. And so many, you know, so many entrepreneurs, I think when they’re pitching investors and talking to their teams, it’s always, well, what if Google decides to get your business? And so that’s a fascinating example of it actually raised market awareness and almost brought more potential to the market and created that clear differentiation between what they had and what you had.
Heather: That’s right. And I think the and again to then again, like, I think for if I think about it, for, you know, any company in terms of like, you know, the is the in the day if you have a premium product that you know, you have to be able to justify that premium every day so that the difference between, for example, core metrics, the difference between metrics and Google Analytics was around the service, it was around the best prices, it was around the workflows. And the fact that there was this, you know, things that Google just didn’t do that the competitive decisions support and that value differential is so important. And yes, you know, people can drive can drive a ride a bike to work. But, you know, most people want to want a car. Right. So you got to make sure that that, you know, that that cost value equation is always you’re having that be top of mind makes sense.
Rand: And you know, another sort of interesting thing that struck me from from your background versus WP engine and it’s something that we’ve faced at mass and I don’t have experience there is you know so core metrics but bazaar voice these companies are enterprise. Mm hmm. Right. And so they have that classic sales cycle, salesperson process and then WP Engine and and Maus as well are both kind of self-service. Yes. So the service and so the metrics, the like, the core business function around that feels really different. I wonder if you can describe for me kind of the the big things in your mind that separate the two, the non-obvious things like the things that entrepreneurs don’t always think about, maybe that you weren’t even thinking about and how that’s been hard and uh. And a win. What, what’s the.
Heather: What’s your meaning? This is like a big, you know, for me, this is what was so fascinating to me about this opportunity to to be part of WP Engine was because the an opportunity for me to to learn this, you know, because I, you know, and to kind of bring the some of the best practices that I have around, around what I’ve learned from being, you know, deep in enterprise to bear here at a place that was very much more looks like more like a B2C self-service type of type of of companies who is dynamic. So it was to me that was part of the of what I was energizing to me about this is this contrast. So to me, what has been so interesting to see in this space and what is and this business and again like what, you know, kind of the self the real importance of real importance of people talking and basically word of mouth. I, you know, I coming from bizarre voice, you know, I was, you know, preaching from the highest mountains, you know, user generated content, reading, you know, reviews the power of the consumer. And basically WP Engine is realizing that. I mean, it’s like terms of like WP Engine is a social business and that that virality really matters. And it’s really what has been, you know, really kind of just continues to draw the flywheel of the company. And why are people talking about it? Well. And so I think part of it goes back to the whole thing is like where if you’re coming to WP Engine, you have reached a point. There’s lots of different options, but. For whatever reason, you were willing to pay a premium to have options access to our technology platform to create launch manage evergreen your site and for for us to basically manage the back end on your behalf as a as a host. And so, you know, if you’ve made that decision with, you know, in a sea of different alternatives, we have to deliver on that promise every day. So we have to deliver that value. And that value comes, again, not only through the experience with our technology, which just has to just kind of be there and deliver and continue to evolve with all the things that are happening in the web publishing space to make our customers jobs easier. But also we have to do every interaction you have with us, whether it’s a chat you might be having or a call you have with one of our support folks or somebody you’re talking to who from our inside sales team, whoever it is, every touch matters around the experience that our customer has with us. So I think the combination of really a product that is delivering on the promise with with people that are passionate and customers can feel their energy and their excitement about what we’re doing and their desire to help them is really what’s fuels has been fueling this business. And, you know, to me that comes from, you know, having it is really important around how we hire, how we train, how we onboard, how we make our values in our culture top of mind for everyone and everyone’s role in making that happen. If every single employee is feeling like a business owner, if they’re feeling like they’re treated like an adult and their voice matters, they can be empowered to make the decision at the front line around what’s best in that very moment and that the company has got their back. It creates a level of just, you know, energy that customers feel and customers also know when something doesn’t go right. Because, you know, in this business, things happen, right? And so we have to be able to kind of say they could own up to it and do the right thing. And so I think that’s something that to me, I think all those dimensions around have helped have created a customer experience that’s been something worth talking about, worth sharing. We’re saying, wow. And that then leads to another customer who then has a great experience, who leads to another customer. And, you know, and again, in this kind of business, we were dealing with so many customers, not everybody has a great experience. So we always have to basically in a mode of what can we learn from those experiences to make the plurality of experience the best we possibly can. So the I think the real, you know, the difference around this business is that I had I had not experienced to this degree is the power of word of mouth.
Rand: That’s cool. Interesting. Hmm. Yeah. And for us, I mean, word of mouth has been has always been a part of our business. I’ve never. I’ve never thought about a business without. Yeah. Without or the segmented right.
Heather: As fast would you think. Like enterprise me. You know enterprise customers will do references, they will maybe look at case studies. It’s a little bit you kind of have this more arm’s length. You know, there’s not there has and it really hasn’t been until recently where there’s been the level of content around enterprise solutions on the web that you could go, you know, if you were a CMO or you’re a CTO and you’re researching solutions, you are pretty much either going to Gartner, you were talking to your network. So again, like a lot and I think a lot of change, you know, positive change is happening because of all the the social tools that are now available for buyers, whether they be inner pride or consumer.
Rand: Totally, totally makes sense. So we’re we’re nearing the end of our time. So I’m going to go a little lightning round with you.
Heather: Sure. Great.
Rand: Which which do you like better? Facebook’s old motto, move fast and break things. Or their new one, move fast with stable infrastructure.
Heather: I like them both, but not not as a cop out. But the reason why you need to have teams that have you, you have to as you grow, you have to have teams that are thinking about run and scale and you have to have big teams thinking about leading the business and being a market leader. Leaders need to be breaking glass and destroying the the norm. And the people are worried about, you know, the keeping everything going in this Swiss trade. What do you think you do?
Rand: I liked your answer on the on the Facebook, old versus new. I’m curious about the speed of software engineering. Yes. Have you have you ever found a solution to the challenge of, gosh, it’s really hard to make software, make the piece of software engineering scale. Have you ever been in a company where you felt like it was fast enough or are you today?
Heather: Yeah, this is a place where I don’t think I’ve ever been happy. I want it faster. I want it. Yeah. No, I think the place I’ve seen it work the best and where I, I feel like we’re striving to here. WP Engine is where you start to kind of where I alluded to earlier is get into small teams, specialized teams with charters that can move swiftly that that are surrounded by very often by barbecuing and then engineers can kind of, you know, really move rapidly. And so when I get specialization, that’s when I can see you can really start to move faster. But as long as you’re kind of in the where everyone’s like, the kid’s playing soccer and all the kids are running to the same ball, that just slows everything down.
Rand: Yeah, small teams.
Heather: Yeah, it’s small. Small, but nimble teams.
Rand: So what? What is it about WP Engine? You know, you mentioned the word of mouth and that sort of thing. I mean, here’s web hosting. Incredibly vast field, tremendously competitive. Been around a long time. WP Engine was a late entrant into that field. What makes what makes it such a success story? How have you grown from 40 people to 170 people in and 7000 customers to 21,000 customers in such a short period? What’s the what’s the differentiation?
Heather: Yeah, I think really again, I think for us, at the end of the day, we are you know, we are a software enabled business. So I think the secret sauce of WP Engine is the technology that that really Jason invented and that we have been innovating on top of now for, you know, over four years. And so, you know, that product, that platform and all of that and the ways it allows us to manage the cloud infrastructure on behalf of our customers and allows our customers to manage their websites in a more elegant, easy way with more confidence. That really is the differentiator. There’s really no one out there that has the capability that we have at that platform level. And that’s why to us, that pace of innovation, of us disrupting ourselves, of us advancing and predicting what’s coming. At the same time, keeping it very stable is a real leap that’s really made a difference. And that software, that technology, that innovation is really what’s making it. And I think on top of that, you kind of like I very much draw this for our team and I talk about our technology in the whole stack. I draw a big heart around it and that big heart around all that is our heart around being servant leaders for our customers. So I think that’s the difference. So technology, you know, can you know it, but at the same time, you can’t replicate you can’t replicate customer experience. You know that. You know it has that that takes time in terms of the experience expertize staff.
Rand: Are all of WP engines customers really so sophisticated that they understand the that the technology and the software and that kind of stuff is like why WP Engine is so much better? Or do they feel that benefit in some other way?
Heather: Yeah, I think that I think some of our so I think we have different personas of customers that are, you know, in terms of their spectrum and sophistication with technology. And some customers are really just basically like, I don’t I just want the outcome. I just, I don’t even think about it as being WordPress and think about it even being WP engine. I just think about it. This is the platform that I get rapidly, get new campaigns to market that I do new product pages, I get new social campaigns out the door and they just think of it as being kind of their publishing platform. Then you have other customers who are very, very expert in, in WordPress, expert in, in development, and they are a different persona for us. And we, you know, we call those kind of makers. We have makers and we have marketers. You know, marketers just want the outcome. They just want us to be like electricity. They come in, they turn the lights on, it works. And we have to make it easy for them. And then the makers, they really want to be able to tinker. They understand, go deep. They want to be able to do customizations. They want to build, do a lot of things, advanced development. So it’s another very, very important, you know, set of customers that we have to delight as well.
Rand: It’s interesting. It’s interesting to me that you’re building for both. Mm hmm. Right. So, I mean, a lot of the a lot of the advice that I hear, especially for earlier stage startups, is pick one, focus on the best in the field. For those folks, it’s what is.
Heather: For and for us for now. And I think that’s also that’s true for us. Not only do we have this dynamic of makers and marketers, but we have this dynamic also in terms of I would call like a prosumer because, you know, everyday consumers typically would not choose WP and they don’t their site doesn’t demand, isn’t it? Does it need a premium, a premium platform or host? But if I’m a prosumer, I’m someone who’s a really well-known V.C., like, you know, David Scott. And, you know, my site is, you know, tremendous traffic. He’s not a he’s not a business. And the type of he is somebody his brand site really matters. And so you have that whole spectrum. So now we have a spectrum of prosumers, small business and enterprise. So we actually have this Rubik’s Cube that we talk about every day is around, should we specialize one way or the other? And right now, all of them right now are we’re seeing growth, all of them, we’re seeing high customer satisfaction. We are, I think, getting we’ve traditionally have been a maker company thinking more like about because again as is we’re going up into the smaller into the higher end of smaller businesses and into enterprise that that marketer persona. You know the why behind all these Web sites why are all these Web sites why is. WordPress. Now, 22% of the Web is because. Because of the push that’s happening across that entire spectrum of segments. And so for us, we’ve been being able to succeed across those. Will we be able to continue to succeed? Well. Time will tell. How can. How do we execute? Are we able to do that? Or do we have to kind of make the sweet spot? That’s something we talk about all the time now with the success and success with the eyes of our customers in terms of retention and satisfaction and success in terms of growth across all the segments.
Rand: It’s awesome. What are some of the things that you never expected to find as CEO that you have found over the last nine, ten months? What’s been like a Oh my God, wait, why do you have to do this? I never expected that. Yeah.
Heather: Well, I think the the biggest thing for me has been kind of I’ve been so used to being the person who, you know, operationally, like, owns the number or, you know, owns this this state or, you know, owns the satisfaction or owns retention. So kind of, b, it’s going to be able to look back and say, no, I need to abstract myself. And remember, I’m the coach, I’m the coach of an elite team. And so my job is to be thinking ahead, giving them the space to, you know, I need to set a very we need all together be very clear on what are our goals, what are objectives? And those are the metrics that say really hit those goals but made quantitatively, qualitatively. And then I kind of like me to get out of the way. But my job is to be thinking ahead and be bringing those ideas to bear around, setting our next set of goals. And I think for me, that’s been one thing is like, okay, they’ve got it, you know, my team’s got it. I can then be thinking and predicting and getting ahead and using my time that way. And that gives, you know, when I can come to the table to to the executive meeting and B is going to have kind of given the sort of a straw man of our kind of our next set of goals. And everybody go like, Yeah, I feel that makes sense because, you know, and kind of be kind of being able to kind of think like that. That’s exciting and a good use of my time as CEO. And again, the importance of the who. You know, they always say as you get further in your career, you go from, you know, thinking about the how to the what to the who and so so me spending as much time as I can on the WHO, being the leaders that we have, you know, the leadership team that we’ve been able to develop, the leaders that they’re developing, how much time I’m spending with those leaders just again by, say, doing the dance, just getting to know them, talking with them, you know, thinking about what’s on their minds and things are able just to be that kind of free, radical around and be listening to all the different things across all the different teams and then bringing that information and those thoughts and ideas back in has been fun. So I’m really enjoying that and, you know, having a lot of fun with it. But also, again, you know, as you know, being the CEO, the end of the day, sometimes, you know, the buck stops with you and you’ve got to make difficult decisions and you have to you have to be the one that takes responsibility for everything. So, you know, I have to and everyone of my exacting need to know that I’ve got their back. If something goes sideways, it’s going to be the the blame is going to be on me. When something goes good, the sunshine is going to be on them on that.
Rand: Heather, I tremendously appreciate you putting up with our weird Skype connection. It’s all good scheduling and with my questions. It’s it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you. And I hope all the folks who are watching Growth Hacker TV really enjoy this. If you folks want to check out WP Engine or they want to check you out, where do you where might you keep people up to date? You do Twitter and you blog. I.
Heather: I do, too. I tweet at Heather Jay Bruner. And I also and my aspiration for this year going for is to to blog more not only on WP Engine, but actually to dove into the blogosphere myself.
Heather: So that’s my that’s my goal.
Rand: All right. Well, we’ll be watching we’ll be watching your Twitter account and I’ll make sure to amplify that. Thank you. Once you get that logline.
Heather: Awesome. Brad is a pleasure.
Rand: Oh, thank you so much.
Heather: Take care.
Rand: Take care, everybody.
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