Free Full-Service Hosting with Bravenet: How a Dentist and a Florist Attracted 15M+ Members with a Site Builder and Comprehensive Tools

TL; DR: For Dave Shworan, a simple search for a decent and free online guest book led to two decades of providing affordable, usable tools for web hosting, site building, and domain registration. His company, Bravenet, specializes in valuable tools that help members create visually appealing and user-friendly websites. From calendars and contact forms to guest books and photo galleries, Bravenet has supplied more than 15 million users with features and functionality to grow their web presence without technical expertise.

In 1997, webmaster hobbyists Dave Shworan and Brad Knorr sought to create a website for a group to which they belonged.

Dave, a dentist, and Brad, a florist, struggled to find a usable online guest book that would enable users to leave a message for the group. The few available services were either too complicated to install, too limited in functionality, or too expensive.

The pair began building their own interactive and customizable tools, launching Bravenet in 1997. The name came from two inspirations: the popular movie Braveheart and “Brad and Dave on the Net.” Since then, Bravenet has grown to offer a complete portfolio of services that include web hosting, domain registration, email marketing, and a website builder, in addition to an ever-growing suite of embeddable tools.

President and CEO Dave Shworan built Bravenet from an unconventional background — even for the tech industry.

“We like to see ourselves as a full-service host when it comes to hosting, getting your domain, and setting up your email,” said Director of Online Sales Melanie Peake. “Members have all these amazing tools to generate leads and make their website more user friendly. It’s all available here.”

Simple Site Builder Encompasses Complete and Easy-to-Use Features

Bravenet moved beyond free, embeddable website components in the development of the Bravenet Builder, a drag-and-drop website builder that further makes web design accessible to rookie site owners.

“The builder is for anyone who is looking to tackle web pages with an easy drag-and-drop platform, while the hosting side of things is a bit more for the advanced webmaster who knows HTML, CSS, and backend tools,” she said, listing some of the platform’s best features:

  • Drag-and-drop editor: Although Bravenet offers design services to plan and build websites for members, Melanie said most prefer the site builder’s functionality. “You don’t need to do a lot of work because it’s so easy to use,” she said.
  • Responsive themes: The Bravenet site builder boasts nearly 150 themes, all of which include responsive designs for mobile devices.
  • Custom domains: After selecting a theme, which users can change at any time, they can choose to host the site as either a Bravenet subdomain for free or upgrade to a Pro plan to register a domain name.
  • Photo galleries and stock images: The Bravenet site enables users to customize themes using professional stock photography and the company’s photo galleries and drag-and-drop media manager.
  • Blogging platform: “Nowadays, content is king,” Melanie said. “We really wanted to have that component for our members to showcase their work, build a following, and work on their organic SEO.”
  • Social media and eCommerce integrations: Bravenet members can seamlessly integrate their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts to their website, in addition to adding an online store and shopping cart with Ecwid.
  • SEO and analytics: Pro members can access and modify SEO settings, including keywords, the robots.txt file, redirects, and the sitemap through the Bravenet site builder, as well as an easy integration with a Google Analytics account.

According to Melanie, the Bravenet team receives lots of positive feedback from its main audience of small business owners and individual professionals for the site builder, particularly for usability and drag-and-drop functionality.

The platform has undergone what Dave called a “massive evolution” to keep up with user demand and the popularity of the full-service platform.

Web Hosting Packages Blend Affordability With Rich Functionality

For those who might not need a site builder to get their ideas online, Bravenet provides robust free and paid hosting services. Free accounts, which are supported by ads, are tailored for personal usage and include support for SSL certificates, the ability to register or transfer domains, and unfettered access to Bravenet’s web tools, email marketing platform, and site builder. Upgraded plans, which range from 99 cents to $7.79 per month, include:

  • Unlimited storage, bandwidth, and websites
  • Unlimited email accounts
  • SSH and SFTP access
  • One-click software installations
  • Unlimited MySQL databases
  • PHP support

Both types of hosting accounts come with site analytics, load-balanced servers, spam and virus protection, server and connection monitoring, and daily backups.

Free Web Tools Cement Bravenet as a Full-Service Host

Dave, who remains President and CEO of Bravenet, and the rest of the team continues to develop and improve the company’s roster of free tools that add interactivity and usability to members’ websites, according to Melanie: “There has always been quite a portfolio of tools that we’ve offered,” she said.

  • Guest books: The tool that started it all, guest books can be configured with various colors, fonts, and layouts, among other settings to allow visitors to publicly comment on the website.
  • Blogs and journals: Bravenet’s publishing platform seamlessly integrates directly into the site builder. Members can create posts, organize them into categories, manage RSS feeds, automatically share to social media, and import content from WordPress.
  • Contact forms: The drag-and-drop form builder allows users to easily reorder and style fields before providing the JavaScript or HTML code to embed. Bravenet emails members when responses are submitted and stores the information for analytics and backups.
  • Message boards and forums: Bravenet members can build an online community in which users and site administrators can interact and converse freely. In addition to usage statistics, the forums include code support and IP banning.
  • Traffic counters: Monitor traffic with in-depth statistics. Users can choose from hundreds of counters to display on their website or simply rely on the graphical backend interface.
  • Photo albums: In addition to allowing users to designate albums as public or private, the Bravenet photo gallery system also gives the option for site visitors to submit their own photos.
  • Calendars: Display appointments and events in a variety of formats with Bravenet’s online calendar system, which also lets users share details and send reminders.

Beyond usability, Melanie said the company created the suite of services and interactions to save members time and money when building their website.

“At the end of the day, you’re not having to go around to multiple companies to grab different services,” she said. “Bravenet provides the full package.”

Up Next: Bravenet Programmers Stay Ahead of Tech Trends

In addition to a new design for the Bravenet company website expected to debut in the next few months, Melanie said developers are constantly working on improving features. Updates have most recently come to the guest books, email marketing, embeddable maps, calendars, Instagram integration, and Password Protect services since the start of 2017.

Tools hosted within Bravenet members’ account dashboard routinely see updates throughout the year.

“I know our programmers keep up with the newest and greatest ideas out there,” Melanie said. “They’re keeping up with the technology trends so that the system works seamlessly for members on all devices.”

Bravenet’s array of services, from pure web hosting to mix-and-match components and a full-service site builder, is meant to appeal to customers of all technical abilities, according to Dave.

“We see the importance of being a provider to all users,” he said. “We offer web hosting solutions at Bravenet for the proficient webmasters out there who are experts at coding, HTML, and FTP. We also offer the Bravenet Builder, which is the perfect solution for a user who wants a drag-and-drop website without any coding experience required.”

Dave mentioned Bravenet Builder, co-branded as Jigsy, is also available as a white-label product for other hosting companies and registrars looking to provide drag-and-drop publishing functionality to customers.

Christmas in July: Bravenet Team Enjoys Work Hard, Play Hard Culture

Despite outgrowing several office spaces throughout 20 years of existence, Bravenet headquarters have remained on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Interestingly, the Canadian province’s capital city, Victoria, is located on the island, while the city of Vancouver is on the mainland, to the east.

According to Melanie, the fast-paced work environment hasn’t put a damper on company camaraderie, describing a Christmas in July event Dave recently organized — complete with a company-wide gift exchange.

“There are always fun gatherings and a very open-door concept with the company,” she said. “Any ideas are completely welcomed, brainstormed, and implemented. That’s one of my favorite parts of working here.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Stamey

Laura Stamey is a multi-talented communicator with a master's degree in web design and online communication and extensive experience creating web, print, and multimedia products. As a Contributing Editor for HostingAdvice.com, she combines her communication skills with web design experience, a passionate love for WordPress, and a strong desire to continue learning. When she's not addressing user questions via helpful how-to guides, you'll find her connecting with the folks behind companies that are powering the Web — covering their innovative technologies and the teams that engineer them.