The OSTraining Podcast #32: Josh Strebel on Pagely and NorthStack

Josh Strebel on Pagely and NorthStack

Welcome to the OSTraining podcast in 2019.

In this first episode of the year, I talk with Josh Strebel from Pagely. We focus on his new project called NorthStack. Whereas Pagely was the very first “Managed WordPress” service, NorthStack is best described as a “Managed AWS” service.

We talked about NorthStack and what it tells us about the future of WordPress. Is the ecosystem going to splinter as more development moves to Node, Laravel and other platforms? Oh, and I don’t let Josh leave without asking about the future of his excellent Pressnomics conference.

Follow Josh via his Twitter account at @strebel and his blog

I apologize for my audio on this epsiode. I’m a little embarrased at the quality. I should have tested my new microphone more carefully.

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Transcript of the Interview with Josh

Steve: Hey everyone, and welcome to the very first OSTraining podcast to 2019. In this episode I’m talking with Josh Strebel, who is the co-founder of Pagely. Now, Josh and his team at Pagely started the Managed WordPress Hosting industry and over the years, although they started the 10 dollar, 15 dollar a month end of the market, they’ve moved steadily and steadily upmarket until they focus almost exclusively on household names that use WordPress. And perhaps as a result of dealing with his high end customers, he’s just launched a new brand called NorthStack. And to be honest, before this podcast, I knew very little about it, so I was asking him questions about exactly what this new direction in hosting is. He seems to be pioneering a new industry again. It’s not Managed WordPress Hosting, it’s kind of Managed Amazon Hosting. Well, listen on and I’ll let Josh explain more. Hey and welcome Josh.

Josh: Hey, how you doing, Steve? Thanks for having me today.

Steve: So Josh, you are the co-founder of Pagely?

Josh: That’s what they tell me.

Steve: And I guess we can say, co-founder of NorthStack as well.

Josh: Yup. Yeah, I believe that’s what they tell me too.

Steve: So you’re the co-founder along with your wife too?

Josh: Yup. Sally and I started this, A company about 15 years ago and we’ve essentially called it Pagely for the last nine years.

Steve: Okay. You were doing something completely different beforehand or you were kind of always in the WordPress space?

Josh: Well, that’s a fun story. Let me give you the quick origin of not just Pagely but managed WordPress period. 2003, I graduated college on Friday, married my wife on Saturday and for all intents and purposes, we started a company on Monday. And-

Steve: Did you tell her this in advance?

Josh: No, we kind of winged it a little bit. So the first three, four years in Scottsdale, Arizona, we were a web design agency. A small shop, four or five employees. I was just kind of learning the business. About our fourth or fifth year in business, we had some of the repeat customers coming around and they’re like, “Hey, you remember that website you built for me three years ago, thousand bucks or whatever?” “Oh yeah. We remember that.” “Well, I need it again, I need another one and the price is still the same. Right?” And I know that’s not the price anymore. And you know, now it’s five grand or 10 grand or whatever that I was quoting them at that time. And they’re like, “Oh well, I’m sorry we can’t afford that.”

Josh: And so after a couple of these conversations, one day my wife Sally overheard me and she said, “Hey, you just said no to like 10, 15 grand in one day. What are you doing?” I said, “Well, you know, we can’t be profitable at $2000 websites anymore. So we had to do something different and raise our rates.” And she said, “Well, why can’t you be, why isn’t there a solution for that customer who needs quality but maybe only has a grand or so?” And I think her exact words were something like, “I thought you guys just push a bunch of buttons and the other side comes a website.” And so that was a good idea. Why couldn’t you do that?

Josh: So in 2006, we actually built a prototype that did essentially that. You hit a website, you saw kind of gallery view of WordPress themes, you chose your theme, you put in your credit card and out the other side came a WordPress site with your chosen theme pre-installed, a few plugins pre-installed and some really, really basic kind of server optimization and security and such. So in 2006, that was essentially the birth or the early concept of, kind of a managed WordPress play.

Steve: So when you say, you built this, you always consider yourself a coder? Were you the one who was sitting down and hacking out a little managed WordPress platform?

Josh: Oh, actually that first one, no. Joshua Eichorn who is our current CTO, he worked for me back then as well in his first go around with us and he actually built the first prototype in 2006. And, so fast forward, right? We put that thing to market. We didn’t really know what we were doing and we got, maybe 50 paying customers or something. And then I went on about my business and did something else. Well, 2008, 2009 if you remember, the economy had just blown up along with the housing market. And so I didn’t have a agency anymore. It was just me doing solo high end contract work. But I was kind of looking for something else to do. I wanted to get out of client services. This is where my coding came into play. Right?

Steve: I remember the time fairly well. That’s why we ended up in the training market because just about every agency that we knew blew up and it seemed like a terrible time to be an agency worker.

Josh: Yeah, it wasn’t too much fun. So I know, I was just doing one man kind of consulting in small development projects. I was paying the bills and keeping the lights on, but there wasn’t a lot to go around. And so I looked in my portfolio and I said, what do we have here that maybe I could monetize and turn it into some sort of recurring revenue system. And it turned out that little product we had built in 2006 was still there, still making money, just a couple of hundred dollars a month. And so, ah, here we go. So I took that code base, refreshed it, added a bunch of features and improved it quite a bit, added basic website builder-esque things like domain registration and email and things like that and built a new website, put it online, called it Pagely in September 2009 and within about four or five weeks, we were making a couple grand a month now and that was the birth of what is now a two or three billion dollar industry, which is Managed WordPress Hosting.

Steve: So you were just hacking on this in your office in Arizona and most of the customers were, and I guess this question will be important for later on the conversation, most of the customers where the low end of the market, they were the kind of people that may be spending 1000 bucks on a website, you’re offering them 20, 30 dollars a month for a WordPress site?

Josh: Yeah. Even less than that. It was 14 dollars and 98 cents a month when we started. And here was the reasoning, as in 2008 GoDaddy and the other shared hosts, they were like four or five bucks a month. And that’s basically what most of them cost now. So we thought four or five times the going rate was a premium. Right? And this shows you how naive I was at that time. So yeah, the very first Managed WordPress platform was 14 dollars and 98 cents a month.

Steve: So people might not know this, but you’re, maybe one, I’m not sure if in the past you were, but you’re just around the corner from GoDaddy, right?

Josh: Yup. Funny side story. Bob Parsons, who used to be the CEO of GoDaddy back in the day, I was working at a coworking spot called Gangplank in Phoenix and we antagonize GoDaddy a little bit. I sent him and his entire executive team a note challenging me and him to a dance off for the rights of supremacy to the digital ecosystem within Phoenix, Arizona. And he didn’t respond, but some of his team did and we actually had a pretty fun time. That’s, they were hosting Diggnation at the time and I think that was around the first word camp that GoDaddy was at, so it kind of led to something interesting but.

Steve: you’ve become a real competitor to them over the years.

Josh: Yeah, I guess.

Steve: Well, okay. Maybe initially at least when you were targeting a similar price point but I guess one of the things I’ve always found curious following your work is that, on one hand you project a very laid back attitude about things. I think if someone follows you on Twitter for example, it’s mostly jokes and trying to encourage other people not to take themselves too seriously, but at the same time you do have really strong opinions about things including how to position your company in terms of what the customer wants. It’s an interesting dichotomy because I meet so many CEOs who are so intense. You’ve got that side to you, but you also present a very laid back side at times. You seem to have very strong opinions about exactly what you want Pagely to be and how you want to position yourselves.

Josh: Well, I think the difference there is that my ego isn’t wrapped up into the success of the company and the team. In a way they’re two separate things. Me Personally, I am a goofball and a little laid back and I like to make fun of myself and make fun of others in the process. The company though, that’s real deal. That’s 40 other people’s at stake. That’s thousands of customers’ businesses at stake. So I can’t mess around with that. Right? You got to be serious because I can make some halfhearted joke on Twitter and people say, aha, Josh, you’re an idiot. When it comes to Pagely in that context, I got to be on point. We have to do what’s right. Because if we don’t, it’s not just me that suffers. Right? So that’s the difference.

Steve: So you’ve taken a very strong market stand with Pagely. Can you talk me through that? What was the process you went through to get from selling $14.99 a month websites to very strongly targeting the higher end of the WordPress market now? How did you make that transition?

Josh: So half of it was survival. And I’ll give you a context to that in a second. The other half of it was rage, all right. So the part that was survival was, we launched in 2009. We’re a bootstrap company, we’re never going to take venture capital. So we had to kind of find our way and earn our customers as we went and when we launched Pagely, I got hate mail from the WordPress community. They were like, “What are you doing? Why the hell would you, how can you charge for something that’s free?” So maybe I didn’t do a good job sharing the value or maybe they’re just assholes. I don’t know. But a year goes by and we slowly crawl away, we’re starting to make some money, 10, 15 grand a month or something and we think we’re on to something.

Josh: Well, then our competitors start showing up and make a long story short, their flash was cash. They got tons of money. They can out market us. They can be at every word camp giving out T-shirts to everybody. They can play the marketing game and make friends with everybody. And so we found ourselves in a position a few years later like, okay, the market is already becoming saturated. We can’t compete with Super Bowl commercials. We can’t compete with somebody who’s at every WordCamp. So where are we going to fit? And, so then you have to ask yourself, what are we good at? Well, we’re good at giving a shit. We’re good at giving a fuck about our customers and wanting them to succeed and wanting to do it on our terms. All right, so if that’s what we’re good at and we can’t compete with the 50 dollar guys and the 100 dollar guys, well then, let’s charge for what we’re good at.

Josh: And so in order to survive as a company, just basic survival and not get ran over, we made the decision that we had to go premium because A, that’s what we’re capable of, that’s what we’re skilled at, that’s what we enjoy and that’s the only spot in the market where the customers are willing to pay enough with enough profit to keep running a company at scale without venture capital.

Steve: Yeah. I remember talking to a customer several years ago now and they showed me their slack channel and you had, one of your customer service reps actually login to their slack channel. My memory’s a little hazy about this, but Pagely Support was providing 24/7 support directly inside that customer’s slack channel. And I’d never seen anything like that before. It was really hands on, really white glove and that was several years ago now.

Josh: Yeah, and so it’s those little points of differentiation, right? Where, for 50 bucks there’s no profit to provide good support. There’s no profit to provide good infrastructure. There’s no profit to just be decent, right? Because you need a million customers at 50 bucks a month to be GoDaddy. Well, I can be Pagely with 3000 customers paying anywhere from $1000 to $30,000 a month. And that gives us the luxury to really care and really do it right and really go above and beyond.

Steve: So it was a survival decision essentially to focus on the people that could pay a minimum of say $500 a month, people that may have brand names, household names behind them. Did you notice a change in your growth chart once you decided to make that decision? It really worked for Pagely?.

Josh: Absolutely, right about the time we made that full transition where we got rid of the 50 dollar plan and the 100 dollar plan and we started, our low end price was $3.99 at the time and we changed our position on the website from WordPress is awesome, blah, blah, blah, we’re the best in the business to We help big brands scale WordPress. That’s all we do. That’s all we’re going to talk about. If you’re a big brand and you’re on WordPress, this is where you need to be. And that really worked for us. And that kicked off three years where each year we are 100% year-over-year growth. We went from like nine employees to 40. We went from a few million dollars a year to a whole lot more million dollars a year in that little three, three and a half year run. So it was absolutely successful for us. I don’t think we’d be here had we not made that pivot.

Steve: Other significant challenges that come with attracting customers like that, is it a super long sales cycle to get them on board? A lot of them pre-sold because of your strong positioning?

Josh: Yes and no. We, I think have done a good job in the community where if the question is asked, a generic question is asked to somebody with some knowledge in the community, where do I host my WordPress site? And the followup question that someone would have to ask is, okay, well what kind of, type of site is it? Well, it’s this type of site. Somebody has an answer, right? The community already knows which sites go where. Oh, your cat blog, you take that to GoDaddy. Oh, your marketing site for your product, well that will be fine over at Flywheel or something. Oh, your Comcast, Oh, you take that to Pagely. I mean it’s just automatic. Oh, you’re Univision. Oh, you’re a major university. Oh, you’re a major media company. You take that to Pagely.

Josh: And so yes, our lead flow is entirely inbound and most of them are very warm and already receptive to what we’re having to say. That being said, if you’ve dealt with enterprise companies on the sales side more than once, you understand it is a long sales cycle. There’s a lot of boxes to check. Sometimes legal takes longer than the sales process. I’ll get the yes from the marketing department within a couple of weeks and they’re like, okay, it has to go through legal before we can cut your PO and then I’ll spend six months in legal.

Steve: Yeah. There’s all sorts of where things may be, you get the yes from them and then they have to go back and actually issue an RFP that goes out technically to get other bidders, but they’ve kind of chosen you and the whole RFP process is actually on a six months term. And it’s definitely a whole different can of worms when you’re dealing with those companies.

Josh: Yeah. So, it is a very long sales cycle, but it’s, so it’s a low volume, right? We only get 15 to 30 customers a month. So it’s very low volume, but it’s very high margin, right? So on any given account, we’re making our 50%, 60% gross margins so that we can have enough to provide the level of service that we’re known for. And if somebody is trying to beat us down on price, well I’m sorry that we’re not the company for you because we just cannot exist at the capacity that we exist without charging and making the money that we do.

Steve: So if you don’t mind me asking, what do some of these high end customers ask for? They must be looking for more than just Vanilla WordPress. Are they’re looking for really unique server arrangements? Are they looking for help with integrations. What kind of requests are you getting from these major brands?

Josh: Yeah, it’s all over the gamut. There are some very large companies that are household names that do run the most Vanilla of Vanilla WordPress site. And it’s just, it’s right down the middle and that’s what it is. And so we certainly excel at that. There’s a lot of other customers that we have that one WordPress site might span 25 EC2 instances, they’re all doing different things. There’s dedicated Cache nodes, there’s dedicated Redis nodes. There is a specific Admin node just for WP Admin traffic. And then all the rest of the nodes are just serving the front end traffic. There’s all these interesting arrangements depending on what customers need. Some of them need huge database capacity, some don’t. And some of them, and since we’re entirely powered by Amazon, we have the flexibility to do anything. It’s limitless at the capabilities we can bring to bear for our customers.

Josh: And more recently customers have been asking about node and layer level and things like that and for many years we kind of stuck to our guns like, no, we’re just WordPress, but the market’s changing. I don’t think WordPress is top dog anymore. It will continue to be a leader for a very long time, but it’s getting some serious rival and challenge from kind of more modern stacks, that being node, layer level. There’s customers out there that have a lot of more dynamic type requests. They want more flexibility, they want to run WordPress but then right next to it they want to run a node APP or a layer level APP or something. And so Pagely is now offering the capability on kind of an off menu item that we have built arrangements for some of our customers like that. They might use the layer level side for a digital asset management platform, but then the presentation layer is still WordPress. So there’s a lot of flexibility that we can bring to bear now.

Steve: Yeah. You seem to be traveling in a similar direction to other companies we work with in slightly different industries. Acquia was one that springs to mind that do an awful lot of headless work. I think I saw the other day in fact that some of their team are working on making Drupal itself completely headless with a Javascript front end and, particularly at the level of customer you’re working at, with a lot of developers on stuff. It’s not quite that something is taking over from WordPress but perhaps the industry is becoming more splintered.

Josh: Yeah, I think they’re looking at ways to leverage the power and the ecosystem of WordPress but ditch kind of the kludgy front end environment. So people are getting really creative on how they’re building their front ends. But the data store mechanism and the ecosystem around the plugin capabilities and such of WordPress, it’s going to keep it relevant for a very long time. But I do believe it starting to feel the heat.

Steve: And there’s still a pleasant Admin Interface that people may have been accustomed to for years and years that maybe they wouldn’t be able to recreate themselves but they can get the developers to build a nice front end, but maybe those developers would not be so good at recreating certainly a nice interface and some of the plugin ecosystem the size of WordPress’s.

Josh: Yeah, you’re absolutely correct. What we hear a lot is our buyer is typically their marketing department. Because marketing knows WordPress. Everybody has been using WordPress for years. So when their organizational task is, we need to launch three new micro sites for x, y, z initiatives, and so marketing says, okay, we’re going to go to an outside vendor and somebody who does WordPress. So that’s typically our buyer, but then just like legal, a lot of the times it has to be vetted by IT and internal IT at a lot of companies, is like, oh no, nobody’s getting near WordPress if I can help it. And what actually happens is, IT will initially say, no, you’re not getting WordPress marketing. And marketing says, wait, wait, wait, no we found this excellent third party vendor over here that has a great influence security policy and has GDPR compliance and they’re based on Amazon and IT says, okay fine, let me talk [crosstalk 00:20:58]. And then we go back and forth with IT and IT says, okay, I’m signing off on this because A, you guys look like you got your stuff together and B, I don’t have to touch it.

Steve: So the marketing people are happy, the IT people are happy. IT doesn’t have to build its own Twitter integration to keep the marketing people happy. So is this kind of thinking what led you to start NorthStack in separate company or branch of Pagely? Can you tell us what NorthStack is?

Josh: So yeah. NorthStack is our answer to a problem I see in the marketplace and a problem we experience at Pagely. Forgive me that I’m going to communicate this a little bit through the lens of our company. And so it may not sound quite right, but at Pagely we do have a problem with some of our high end customers where they love our service, they love what we bring to bear, they love our capabilities. But there comes a time where it is very expensive to scale with us, from a hardware perspective because the way we’ve priced Pagely is we have built in margin into everything. So if you want more processing power, you’re also going to be paying Pagely more profit, not just processing power. So we were looking for a way on how to decouple the infrastructure side from the service side rather than kind of wrap it all into just one big price, so that customers can come to us and grow with us more economically, right?

Josh: Because I love it if a customer is paying me 10 grand on this side and then 10 grand a month on the infrastructure side and as they need more compute power, that 10 becomes 11 and then back down to 10 and then nine and then up to 12. So let that be variable while we still maintain our service positioning and profit margins on the other side. That’s a lot more palatable to some of our customers. So, the need then is how do you deliver a premium stack, a premium system, a managed solution for application hosting and decouple the support from the infrastructure costs. Because there’s a lot of users out there that say, hey, I know how to do some of this myself, I don’t want to pay you a support premium. I just want to use your amazing technology. That’s where the NorthStack fits in.

Josh: We took the 10 years of everything we’ve learned about managing WordPress at scale. The 10 billion requests that we handle a month at Pagely. We’ve learned a lot of things on how to scale stacks for serving web applications. So we’ve put that all into NorthStack and then we’ve taken it a step forward and built it on a Server-less Model and we built it on a metered, only pay for what you use model. And then next to that, there is support and service offerings and you can have one or the other or both. And so we think that’s a good solution to kind of address this need where I just want to get a side out and if it’s successful I’ll need help with it. Or if it’s successful, I want it to scale. Or if it’s only successful busy one or two days a week, I only want to have to pay for those other two days and not pay for the high price for the rest of the month.

Josh: And if I do have a support question, wow, Pagely is there and we know Pagely’s reputation, so I’ll get that when I need it. But for the meantime, just let me throw a bunch of ideas along and see what happens. And it’s also a great solution for development and staging environments because you may have some on-prem or data center housed applications that you can’t touch, right? That’s production, you don’t mess with it. But we need a viable secure stack that we can do some development, some staging and some iteration stuff on. So we’re actually working on ways to get NorthStack the command line interface, to deploy back into your on-prem environment and things like that.

Steve: So I guess one of the reasons I was keen to have you on the podcast was that I hadn’t quite fully grasped exactly what NorthStack is and it’s such a new and interesting concept that I’m keen to understand it better. Is it fair to say that to some extent you are moving from setting your WordPress expertise and software and platform to selling a AWS expertise and platform, that the key part of NorthStack is all your experience with AWS, all the software you’ve rented to tie the different pieces together.

Josh: You’re absolutely correct because any hacker, developer or development team worth their salt with a little bit of time can spin up a Digital Ocean instance to an Amazon instance and provision APP, inside of a docker container. And whatever that APP is, is whatever they want it to be. But then they’ll also have to bring a web server, they’ll have to bring a database backend, they’ll have to bring some cache layers and some security layers and they’ll have to build this stack out. And yes, they can do that. Right? But what if we could shortcut it for them? What if we could say, no, put your gate hub address for your APP here, type this command, hit go. We deploy the entire stack for you.

Josh: It’s all in the cloud, ready to go at Amazon. Now you just worry about your application and we’ll even build your application during the deployment process for you, run your guarantee, your web pack or whatever you need to do. And then do some health checks before we switch to DNS to push it live. So it’s really a workflow deployment tool in some respects because you have to have these dozen or so things in a web stack and we’ve taken all that and put it all together for you. We’ve written all the glue, we’ve written a login, we’ve written the security firewalls, we’ve done all these things so you can just focus on the application.

Steve: Okay. So if you get basic managed hosting, that’s probably the equivalent to Digital Ocean, whereas NorthStack is in a similar relation to Digital Ocean as Pagely is to Basic Managed Hosting. NorthStack is AWS pull us an enormous amount of secret sauce on top plus support as well.

Josh: Pretty much. Yeah. You’re going to trade off a little bit of flexibility. Obviously there’s a few things that we’re not going to let you do, but it gets you so much further down the line to your production environment, to your launched site. And while we have cut our teeth in WordPress for the last 10 years, what’s exciting about NorthStack is that we’re able to now not only do a WordPress but layer level and what we’re really excited about is node and static sites. So Node is really interesting and is probably going to take over the world. I mean I’m just saying, so we’re focusing some attention there considerably because if a great Node app still needs good cache, still needs security, it still needs at times a database back end. And so, we’re trying to help people get a little further down the way with that.

Steve: So we talked quite a lot on this podcast about positioning and exactly how much of a Pagely’s success is driven by really strong positioning. What would you say if I asked you who NorthStack was targeted at, are you going after agencies? Are you going after exactly the customers as Pagely that may just need more flexibility? Who is the target audience for NorthStack?

Josh: You know, that’s actually a hard question for me to answer and I wish I knew. I wish I knew, but it’s so new. I don’t know.

Steve: Laughs.

Josh: If that makes sense, but my hunch-

Steve: I guess Pagely took you several years to figure out. Right.

Josh: Exactly. Yeah. My hunch, will be that the way it’s priced, the way it works for the first year or so NorthStack will be kind of that, in the toolbox of the skilled premium kind of level developer. So that’s Kind of who we want to talk to at first. Not necessarily the WordPress theme guy because it may actually be a little too complex for the WordPress theme guy, but the capable software developer who’s deploying applications, that’s who we’re going to be talking to for the first year and we’re going to say, we can get you from A to Z a lot faster if you use NorthStack and you’ll still have a great outcome. So it’s a workflow tool, it’s in their toolbox. It’s a way to save time and improve efficiencies. Now, we hope though that it does evolve into bit more of a user friendly universal kind of deployment workflow to where it’s opened up to a lot more people, more of the beginner types, but then also teams and agencies and things like that because I’d love it to be ubiquitous.

Josh: You know how like, inside of work there’s certain applications that are ubiquitous, like everybody has slack, right? You just put it in slack or you put it in Gmail or what have you. I want it to be a point where because it supports, NorthStack will support more than just WordPress. Whenever somebody is having a design meeting, okay, what kind of site we’re going to build? We’re going to build a Node site. Where We’re going to put it? Oh, you put that in NorthStack. Oh, we’re going to build a layer level site. Do we have to put that on Digital Ocean? Nope. Nope. You just put it on NorthStack. And that’s what we kind of hope to get to.

Steve: Ah, so a much broader audience, perhaps than the one you have for Pagely at the moment.

Josh: Absolutely. We’re doing exactly 180 degrees different than what we did with Pagely. Pagely is very tightly controlled, very low volume, very high margin, very high touch. NorthStack is going to be high volume, low touch, but very capable and powerful on the infrastructure side, but not really the human side. If we do our job right, people will never need support because it’s a platform that is documented well and it just works. And it scales up and it scales down and there’s no human interaction needed and that’s what we’re hoping to get to.

Steve: So can I close with a business process question for you? You’ve got this company Pagely humming along really well, highly successful. You decide to spin off NorthStack. How did you go about it? Did you spin off four or five developers and set them in a room for a year? Have you slowly iterated and done a soft launch while developers are digging into Pagely stuff as well? How did you actually go about developing this whole new product?

Josh: Well, it started with a why. Why would we do this? And it came from a question we asked our leadership, where does Pagely need to be in three to five years? Based on what we know of WordPress, based on what we know of the market, what should we be doing now so that we are properly positioned in three to five years to continue to be successful? And it started from kind of the infrastructure side. We should really look at Server-less. We should really look at containerization. We should really look at getting away from pure WordPress because there’s a broader market out there. So these are all the questions that we were asking and became our why? For us to be successful in three to five years, this is the picture that we need to paint. And part of that was, the Server-less stack and the billing model and things like that.

Josh: And we felt that Pagely itself could benefit from these things. All right, so if this is the direction we’re going to go and these are the things we want to build and it’s going to be beneficial. Wait a minute, don’t mess up the cash cow. You can’t go into the infrastructure stack of a multimillion dollar company Willy Nilly and just start playing with things and try and get creative. So the idea was, hey, let’s create a sub brand NorthStack, let’s dedicate a team to it. Let’s move it kind of over here. We’ll soft launch it and this will give us the freedom to break things, to experiment, to fail, and then try again without messing up the core business. And so that’s how we got there. So at the end of the day there’s a very good possibility that all the stuff we learn with NorthStack, which will make NorthStack successful hopefully, you’ll see it wrapped into Pagely proper within two to three years.

Steve: Ah, so a lot of the elements of the moment that drive NorthStack, drive Pagely’s core software offering as well.

Josh: Yeah, there’s a lot of shared components, but think of NorthStack as R&D for Pagely proper in one capacity. Right? All of the new cutting edge stuff we’re doing and learning with NorthStack will eventually find its way back into Pagely, but we can’t do that as Pagely. Right? Because Pagely needs to be stable. Pagely needs to be 100% secure, 100% uptime. We can’t be doing fancy goofiness deploying docker agencies on a weekend, when there’s tens of millions of dollars on the line.

Steve: That’s one of the, I guess, the downsides that comes with dealing with these enormous customers that you need to be very cut and dry, very conservative perhaps with your approach to dealing with their sites.

Josh: A little bit. Yes. When we have to do maintenance, it has to be scheduled for many of our customers months in advance. We have to lock it down to a three hour window. It is amazing as you say exactly how consistent we have to be.

Steve: If you’re dealing with a corporate customer, you kind of become partly corporate yourself, deal with these maintenance windows and all the other stuff that big businesses do. Well, I wish you all the best with it. Josh, how can people test out and NorthStack or follow what you’re doing?

Josh: Yeah, so right now you go to and join our Beta and we’re hoping to actually formally launch in the next couple of weeks. But the Beta essentially allows you to get in there and start playing with things and we’re doing nightly builds, so some things break every day and that’s why we’re calling it a Beta. But you could go to right now and sign up. You can find US if you have a high traffic, high demand, resource intensive WordPress site and you need a home for it. And then you can find me @Streval on Twitter where I, as we started this call, I don’t take myself so seriously and I’m recently in the hobby of making fake inspirational quotes of myself.

Steve: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking of when I mentioned your Twitter account being not so serious.

Josh: Yeah. You know, life is short, have fun while you do it and there’s nothing I think more egregious in this world than somebody taking themselves way too damn seriously.

Steve: Cool. Yeah. I think probably the first time I’ve run across you, it was at the PressNomics conference. You were upstage with a cigar and whiskey and your feet up on the table as the host of the event.

Josh: What we learned is when we are hosts of events like that, you set the tone. So if we set a relaxed tone, everybody there’ll be relaxed and enjoy themselves.

Steve: Okay. In which case I should probably conclude the podcast by asking, is PressNomics coming back again?

Josh: Oh yeah.

Steve: TBD?

Josh: We are so close. Yes, it’s coming back. I just can’t tell you when.

Steve: Okay. Well, Josh, I wish you all the best with Pagely, with NorthStack and with a possible PressNomics relaunch. Thanks for joining us.

Josh: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate the time.


  • Steve Burge

    Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.

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