TL; DR: The van der Merwe brothers, Eugène and Storm, learned from their successes and setbacks when they developed their first company. After selling that business in 2015, the brothers decided to return to their first passion by launching Vander Host. The company has three core tenets, one of which is to run a lean business model that passes savings onto customers. The company also focuses on providing advice and customer service to anyone who needs it — whether they’re customers or not.
Eugène van der Merwe calls hosting his first love in the tech sector. In 1998, when publishing websites on the internet first became commonplace, he was excited by the idea of helping others put their businesses onto the web.
“I wanted to start my own business because I thought the act of publishing onto the internet was incredible. I could press publish, and, all of a sudden, there would be a website,” Eugène said.
With that goal in mind, Eugène moved back to his native South Africa from London, where he had been living. He connected with his brother, who worked as a graphic designer, and the two developed a full-service web business.
The brothers’ first business was successful, and they operated it until 2015, when they sold it after receiving a strong offer.
But Eugène also felt that he and his brother could improve on their first business. So, the brothers decided to start up their second business: Vander Host.
“This time, we went 50/50 because a business needs shared responsibility. In our first business, I was more interested in the business side,” Eugène said.
While the van der Merwe brothers went through considerable trial and error in their first shared venture, they hit the ground running with Vander Host. And their shared passion for hosting and hands-on involvement is evident in the company’s ideals and culture.
Vander Host is deeply committed to hosting, as well, and doesn’t try to add features unnecessary to the goals of its clients.
Developing a Lean, Responsive Business Model
One of the biggest most significant challenges the van der Merwe brothers faced was in creating a leaner business model. In their first business, they tried to do everything themselves, including building their own datacenters.
“It took us many years to realize the opportunity costs were prohibitive. We didn’t have that kind of cash, and we didn’t want to have to find investors,” Eugène said.
So the brothers decided to contract with competitive wholesalers that could keep prices down for clients. For instance, Vander Host’s VPS servers run on SSD drives for performance. Control panel options include cPanel, Plesk, and Virtualmin.
Users can also decide if they’d rather have their websites operated on Drupal or WordPress. A basic WordPress subscription includes one website with 10GB SSD, one subdomain, and one database, all run on Linux OS for a reasonable price per month. And its enterprise subscription package includes 20 websites, 30 GB SSD, 20 subdomains, and 20 databases.
Vander Host also offers managed services for companies that don’t want to manage websites themselves. Those modifications allow the brothers to pass on savings to customers and even troubleshoot issues before they arise.
“By using our 15 years of experience, we could avoid some of the problems we encountered the first time around,” Eugène said.
Its commitment to entrepreneurs also keeps Vander Host’s operation simple and straightforward, as the company focuses on hosting and domain registration. More bells and whistles typically don’t add value for clients.
Instead, Vander Host’s value proposition is simple: offering knowledgeable customer service and consistent uptime.
“Those drive us and are our passion,” Eugène said.
Supporting Customers by Sharing Insights and Advice
Another key insight the brothers gleaned from their first business was that clients don’t want to be in constant contact with their hosting providers. Instead, they only want to get in touch if they’re experiencing difficulties. They also recognized that customer support tickets weren’t an efficient way to provide client assistance.
Eugène saw that hosting clients also wanted to solve their difficulties as quickly as possible. That’s why Vander Host created WhatsApp groups for clients to communicate efficiently.
That means Eugène or a member of his customer support team is notified immediately if a client has an issue.
“Problems come to us right away, and we address the issues as efficiently as possible,” he said.
Furthermore, the brothers leverage their extensive knowledge to provide immediate support to users. They chose the name Vander Host because “van der” means “from the” in Dutch. It is a nod to their last name and signals their focus on hosting.
Eugène is so committed to the hosting space that he even shares what he’s learned with an international base of people who aren’t his clients. Whereas some companies hoard their knowledge like a precious commodity, Vander Host has developed a following that relies on its expertise.
“If something took me three hours to figure out, I’m happy to share it with everyone,” Eugène said.
The brothers said they hope that this following of interested users will eventually translate into a worldwide client base. Most of Vander Host’s clients are South African, and users typically find out about the hosting company via word of mouth.
“We are seeing an international interest,” said Eugène. Around 6% of clients are international at the moment, and it’s increasing every month. I think that’s how we’ll grow our business in the next few years.”
Offering Services Tailored to Entrepreneurial Needs
As an entrepreneur himself, Eugène is excited to be back in the hosting business because he said he loves working with people who are intent on starting their own businesses.
“Everyone in my family works for themselves. I enjoy working with entrepreneurs who follow their instincts,” he said.
With this commitment in mind, Eugène often goes above and beyond for his entrepreneurial clients. Many of Vander Host’s clients have started their own small businesses, but don’t always know the ins and outs of creating a website.
Eugène enjoys helping them set up their sites. For instance, clients often come to him with a goal to sell a new product. They ask the Vander Host team how to set up a new payment gateway for ecommerce, and Eugène happily obliges.
“Knowing that I can offer my clients WordPress and WooCommerce. It’s so much easier now to help clients through the process of choosing a theme and installing it for them. I will do that for free because it doesn’t take me long,” he said.
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