Web Hosting Interview - Hurricane Electric September 2005

Web Hosting Interview - Hurricane Electric September 2005

Benny Ng, Director of Marketing, Hurricane Electric

Benny Ng tells HostSearch the story of Hurricane Electric's amazing growth and the marketing and services that drove it.

  • HOSTSEARCH: Would you please introduce yourself and tell us about how you came to Hurricane Electric?
    BENNY NG: Having recently completed a degree in Business Marketing, and filled with enthusiasm and thirst for something BIG, I sought out a career in Marketing. Sadly, most marketing jobs at the time were very entry level, or required an MBA with 10+ years of experience. Thinking it was the only way to really get down and dirty and do real marketing, I started a marketing consulting firm along with two friends. Shortly after the ink dried on the letterhead, we all heard back about jobs we had applied for, one at eBay, another at tech firm, and mine at Hurricane Electric. I have led the marketing team at Hurricane Electric for nearly 8 years. I helped grow the company from 7 employees to over 70 strong. We survived the Dot Com's rapid rise, and even quicker fall.  Data center space managed by Hurricane Electric has grown more than 500,000% (yes, five hundred thousand percent) in that same period. That astronomical feat is made even more impressive as many of Hurricane Electric's competitors have gone bankrupt or completely vaporized during that time.

  • HOSTSEARCH: From a marketing standpoint what have you done to promote yourselves and become as large a company as you have?
    BENNY NG: Marketing wise, Hurricane Electric has experimented with just about everything under the sun. The plan was to throw everything at the wall, and see what stuck. With a shoe-string budget in hand, we tested the yellow pages, banner ads, radio ads, cable TV ads, direct mail, PR, promotional events, magazine ads, newspaper ads, ads in weeklies, bingo cards, promotional giveaways, tradeshows, sponsoring race cars, sponsoring softball teams, attending Special Interest Groups (SIGs), PPC, CPM ads, SEO, referral incentives, you name it, and we tried it. And, we did this all on a nickel and dime budget. I should also note that we've been profitable every quarter since inception, so it wasn't a matter of throwing millions of dollars at something and praying for the leads/sales to come in. Ad buys started small, like in the hundreds of dollars. The things that worked, we exploited, and the things that didn't, we can say we tried it, learned from it, and don't need to send another penny in that direction.

    Let's use our radio campaign as an example. It's really hard to get airtime on the cheap, and you can't just run one or two ads, and expect to see results. With any broadcast medium, it's all about frequency. We had to determine how to achieve frequency, and not spend a lot of money. Well, instead of working with the number one station in our metro, we picked newer stations that were on the up and up that reached our demographic. Instead of running ads every single day, we'd run them on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. By leaving out Monday and Friday, we were able to concentrate more ads together. We stuck with the prime drive times and paid a small premium, but it worked out for us because on those Tuesdays though Thursdays we would get comped (free) ads in the less desirable time slots like midnight or 3am. But, strange enough, network admins, and webmasters still heard our ads at those hours. And, once in a while we would be offered fill in spots on the weekends for a few dollars a spot.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Hurricane Electric has recently expanded into Europe. How did the company make the decision to move into Europe and what challenges do you face there that are different than working in the States?
    BENNY NG: Europe was just a logical step for Hurricane Electric. Much of the world's Internet traffic is routed though various points in Europe. To be a major network, you need to be in Europe. The time was right for us. We were ramping up for an expansion at our Fremont, CA Data Center and working on the addition of a new 208,000 sq ft building, making the size and performance of our network an even higher priority. Europe has been great for us. Our partners and clients tell us each day how much they love it. The biggest challenges so far have been how to get the large, six-foot tall, several hundred pound routers to those new locations and how to do maintenance on them. It was purely a logistics issue, which we solved pretty quickly.  As for the maintenance, we have partnered with some good people in Europe, and have a great relationship with them. Adding new cards or upgrading memory in Europe is almost as easy to do as it is in our main Data Center in Fremont, CA.
  • HOSTSEARCH: In terms of marketing, how does HE seek to differentiate itself from other web hosting companies?
    BENNY NG: Honestly, it used to be all about price, but that was way back, before all the cutthroat dollar hosting shops emerged. Don't get me wrong, we had great performance, and some of the best service out there, but price was the main driver. We were one of the first hosts offering anything under $10/month for a hosting plan. We would take our various plans and we'd keep on adding more storage, or more traffic allotments. Within days, we would see our competitors doing the same. We were, and still are a benchmark that many firms use to dictate their pricing.

    But, in today's market where you can get hosting for $1, domains names for not much more, and your own "dedicated" server for less than $50, it's financially impossible to differentiate on price. It's all about value. We offer more than most hosts with great performance and quality technical support that is unparalleled. And, we do this for the best value in the market. Can you find a plan that's a few dollars cheaper? Absolutely. But, you will be hard pressed to find a better value anywhere out there.

    For example, all our colocation accounts include free basic remote hands on. We will go to your server, do a reboot, plug in a monitor and keyboard, and hit a few commands for you. This is a service that is included with all our colocation accounts. Most other places will charge just to talk to you on the phone. I've even heard of places that will charge you if you want to access your equipment after 5pm. Not us. Value!
  • HOSTSEARCH: What advice would you give to a hosting customer seeking to promote their new web site?
    BENNY NG: Start small. Make sure all of your friends know about your site, and what you are doing with it. Optimize your site for search engines. If you can, buy some cheap CPC ads on Google or Overture. But most importantly, under promise and over deliver. It's talked about over and over again, and is starting to become cliché, but there is nothing better. I once bought a small part for my car, nothing big, it might have been light bulbs or something. I bought them online, and had them shipped. I got my package in a timely fashion, and to my surprise, when I opened my box, there was a bag of M&Ms in there. Sure it was something small, and it probably only cost them an extra 35 cents, but I must have told 10 or 20 friends about that transaction. Word of mouth is the number one source for new business for almost every business out there. And, there is no better way to generate positive word of mouth than to under promise and over deliver.
  • HOSTSEARCH: HE provides everything from $9.95 a month starter hosting plans to $13,000 per month Gigabit Ethernet transit (1,000 Mbps of IP) service as well as Windows, Linux and Solaris hosting. How do you keep from spreading yourselves too thin with such a range of clients and client needs?
    BENNY NG: Its not like we're selling coffee, and offering oil changes with our web hosting. Hurricane Electric has kept to its core, and that is Internet Services. As different as a $9.95 account, and a $50,000 dollar account sounds, they are a lot more similarities than you'd think. Both of these clients have a need, and we're here to provide a solution; it just so happens that the technology and foundation needed for one is the same for the other.
  • HOSTSEARCH: What can we expect from Hurricane Electric in the second half of 2005?
    BENNY NG: The build out of our new 208,000 sq. ft. facility will be done and clients will have moved in. We're also working on a few other projects that all tie back into making our services better. They have to do with better email controls, serving data faster and more efficiently, and helping our clients maximize the resources that they already have.

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