TL; DR: When hosting company 34SP.com sought its place in the world, it didn’t have to look far to find it. Providing localized, homegrown technologies for customers with high standards, the UK-based provider balances modern, custom infrastructure with affordable prices. Co-Founder and Director of Business Development Stuart Melling spoke with us about how the company has refined its business model during 18 years in business, and told us about 34SP.com’s personal approach to support, community outreach, and office culture.
When Stuart Melling and Daniel Foster attended the University of Manchester, their computer science courses turned into a rather profitable venture. They saw the demand from fellow students for an affordable place to host their projects, and so Stuart and Daniel created a cheap solution to fit their budget — web hosting for £1.
“There wasn’t much in the way of super-cheap web hosting for students, so that’s how we started,” Stuart said. “Our first marketing campaign was slapping up all these posters around the university.”
In the 18 years since, 34SP.com has become a comprehensive web hosting service for clients who need something more than a quick fix. The Co-Founders changed their business model to steer clear of the competitive ultra-cheap hosting market. To survive as an independent company, Stuart and Daniel started thinking locally and offered more sophisticated products.
Customers have access to domain name registrations, web hosting, a website builder, optimized WordPress infrastructure, and reliable support that gives quick responses to time-sensitive questions.
“Over the years, we’ve increasingly focused on the UK market,” said Stuart, also the company’s Director of Business Development. “The last time I checked, 93% of our customers are from the UK. We’re very much a local web hosting environment and we’re quite proud of that.”
Developing Reliable Products from the Ground Up
Other than the Plesk control panel the company offers as a white-labeled solution, 34SP.com developers and engineers have built all the products and services the company offers to customers. The decision, according to Stuart, represents 34SP.com’s dedication to quality and performance.
The company transitioned from cheap hosting solutions to serve clients looking for a high level of service and quality. Instead of joining the “race to the bottom,” as Stuart described it, 34SP.com opted to create a high-performing platform with support teams equipped to help customers get online with ease.
“We started to put our prices up, go a little more upscale, and really develop our products,” he said. “Our clients are more in the niche of designers, developers, and business owners — people who want something a little more sophisticated and reliable.”
Focusing on WordPress, the company hired Tim Nash, a WordPress developer well-known in the UK open-source community to help optimize the CMS-specific hosting product. The one-click solution enables site owners to create a staging site, test it, set up feeds and plugins, and go live.
“We proudly built it from the ground up,” Stuart said. “We do it all ourselves and we charge a premium price for that level of quality.”
Honing in on the Home Front: Building a Strong UK Following
The Co-Founders’ decision to focus on the local market was about more than national pride; it was a practical step to avoid the fate many small hosting companies were facing at the time.
“A lot of smaller hosts were gobbled up by big US providers,” Stuart said. “We’re based in Manchester, we already talk to companies in Manchester, we have our own offices, we have our own cage for equipment, we manage it all ourselves, and we built our own control panel. We build our own hosting stack.”
By fostering a UK client base, 34SP.com has been able to thrive in a global market that’s sometimes hostile to smaller companies. The company even gives back locally by offering free hosting to UK charities and sponsoring local WordCamps and meetups.
“We host several hundred organizations at this point,” Stuart said. “Last year, we donated something like $70,000 worth of free hosting services to local groups. It kind of resonates with the open-source philosophy of, ‘We’re all in this together.’”
The company feels especially connected with the open-source community and WordPress particularly, as one of the platform’s Co-Founders, Mike Little, is from Manchester, as well.
“As we like to say, Manchester is the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the computer revolution, and the WordPress revolution,” Stuart said.
A Grassroots Approach to Customer Feedback
Road trips and on-site visits play a big role in how 34SP.com employees relate to their clients, according to Stuart. The company sends team members to events across the country to talk and get involved.
“The biggest impact on what we do is talking with the direct community,” he said. “A lot of these meetups are small and personable to get local user groups engaged in WordPress.”
These local events give 34SP.com the opportunity to learn from WordPress users and gain insight into how it can make a better product for customers.
“We take their input, what challenges they’re facing, and what would make their lives easier,” Stuart said. “I don’t think anybody is afraid of telling you face to face.”
In 2017, the 34SP.com staff visited 16 cities across the UK, where they gave 35 talks at 29 different events. The company’s itinerary for 2018 is full and still growing, Stuart said.
“We’re coasting all over the country, going to as many places as we can to speak to as many people as we can,” he said.
No Suit and Tie Required in a Relaxed, Professional Culture
As a fairly small company with 25 employees, 34SP.com can offer its staff a comfortable and casual work environment where they can be their authentic, professional selves.
“We’re pretty relaxed. We don’t have that, ‘Come to work in the office with a tie and suit’ mentality,” Stuart said. “We’re not laid-back to the point of being slack, but people can come to work in whatever they want to wear. Tattoos and big beards are completely fine.”
Although the team spends plenty of time in the office and on the road, a flexible work-from-home policy allows for work-life balance, Stuart told us.
“Everyone gets to work from home one day a week,” Stuart said. “If you’ve been with us for a long time and need an extra day in the week, that’s fine. In fact, we just had some super bad snowstorms in the UK that crippled the country. Everyone was trying to get to work, and we just said, ‘If you can get online, just work from home.’”
Stuart and Daniel, the company’s Managing Director, aim to create the type of work environment they would want to experience as employees.
“We have monthly staff outings that the team gets to pick,” Stuart said. “We have a big Christmas bash that we throw every year, too. We just want to be a fun place to work.”