TL; DR: In 2003, Ryan Smith had a single server and a dream to build a successful hosting business. And, after starting what would eventually become Varial Hosting, it didn’t take him long to realize it. Since its humble beginnings, Ryan has grown his Canadian-based company to serve site owners across the globe. Today, Varial continues its fundamental goal of knocking down the barriers to site ownership through high-performing, scalable hosting solutions. During a recent chat with Ryan, he told us how his love for technology and his team’s dedication to delivering hands-on support is keeping Varial competitive in the crowded hosting market.
Promotion is one of the biggest challenges artists face when they decide to try their hand in the freelance world and pursue their craft full time. Fame and fortune don’t happen magically, and many artists are keeping their stomachs full by advertising their talents online.
In the early 2000s, a site emerged that was dedicated to the discussion and appreciation of local talent. And the soon-to-be local hosting hero, Ryan Smith, was at the helm.
Ryan’s first online venture was a website dedicated to covering the local music scene, complete with forums where musicians could promote their upcoming gigs. After his site gained traction, Ryan found that he needed to improve its performance and subsidize some of his hosting costs.
So, as a tech enthusiast, he purchased a server and started self-hosting. Ryan then realized some of the local bands frequenting his forum might also benefit from this type of service — and that set in motion his entry into the small-scale hosting market and the beginnings of Varial Hosting.
“It kind of just blew up from there,” Ryan said. “By the time I was finished with college, I was making more doing web hosting than I would be in my field, so I just ran with it.”
Fortunately, Ryan’s passion for technology made it easy to overcome the steep learning curve associated with starting a new hosting business. By taking hosting into his own hands, he had not only improved his site’s performance and reliability but helped others promote their ideas online.
A Love For Technology Improves the Starving Canadian Market
Ryan ventured into hosting to embrace his passions and described the learning process as a rewarding experience.
“I started learning about web hosting and all the technologies behind it, and it was very exciting and fun,” he said. “I’m a big tech enthusiast, always wanting to keep up with everything.”
His passion eventually transformed a small forum into a small host, and that small host into one of Canada’s first major providers that would host clients across the globe.
After building up his local client base, Ryan launched DIY Web Hosting in 2003, which was later acquired by Varial Technologies in 2009.
Originally, Varial was an ISP that also developed mobile and web applications. With DIY Web Hosting as part of its arsenal, the resultant company is able to provide both web applications and the servers that run them. Varial Hosting has been thriving for over a decade and continues to scale its solutions internationally.
15 Years of Addressing the Common Pain Points Associated With Hosting
Ryan started self-hosting to address the problems, such as slow performance and poor uptime rates, he had encountered with his previous host. As a result, Varial is no stranger to identifying and fixing problems in the hosting industry.
With the emergence of WordPress, for example, many of Varial’s customers were seeing CSS and content management for the first time. And, being new, WordPress sites soon became a prime target for web criminals.
“About five years ago, I started noticing that a lot of our customers were struggling, particularly with WordPress,” Ryan said. “A lot of security issues started arising with it at that time. Their sites were getting hacked or not performing as quickly as they were hoping.”
In response to all the concerns regarding WordPress hosting, Varial launched its own optimized, managed WordPress platform, combined with an effort to educate customers.
“Our initial attempts were to just educate customers on ways they could secure their sites better, mainly by keeping things up to date,” Ryan said. “We set out to assist these customers by building a new platform to really take out all of the difficulties they were having.”
With the explosive popularity of WordPress, Varial’s customer base began expanding even more.
Over the years, Varial has adapted to many industry shifts, especially within the realm of security.
“We’ve seen security issues really blow up with brute force and other attacks, which have made hosting a lot more difficult,” Ryan said. “There’s always something new to prepare for or worry about. While that’s frustrating, I also enjoy that — it’s more to learn and there’s always some new thing that develops and keeps me interested.”
Lowering Barriers to Success Through Simplicity, Support, and Expertise
Beginning with the use of managed WordPress hosting, Varial has strived to simplify the online business experience. With the majority of technical aspects managed directly by the host, customers can focus more on their actual site content.
“If you were to order one of our WordPress plans, we pre-install and configure it for optimum performance and security, so our customers don’t need to worry about that,” Ryan said.
Each installation includes automatic updates, server-side caching, and threat prevention.
In addition to streamlining the webmaster experience, Varial Hosting takes special care to support its customers and get them up to speed on industry trends.
“We’re striving to make it so easy to use that we don’t have to educate customers, but we still like to help them out as much as we can,” Ryan said. “Things are transitioning in the industry, from basic cPanel hosting to application-specific environments, so we’re trying to educate our customers, particularly our older ones who might not be familiar with all these new technologies we’re using.”
Varial’s willingness to personally educate customers is a reflection of Ryan’s original setup of hosting his local clients. According to Ryan, Varial aims to go above and beyond the normal call of duty to assist them.
“We’re all tech enthusiasts,” he said. “So we’re beta testing all of the new hosting technologies coming out, trying to see if they have a benefit to our users.”
The team looks over support tickets thoroughly, noting common issues customers may be facing and service areas that can be improved.
A Commitment to Further Improve Managed WordPress Hosting
The team’s love for innovation shines through its adoption of new technology and its willingness to help others succeed. Ryan told us Varial’s biggest focus is on improving managed WordPress hosting, having invested in new servers and even relocating to a new datacenter.
“We just want to make things easier for them, both by getting feedback from our customers and by keeping an eye on the cutting edge technologies that are emerging,” Ryan said. “All of our backend is completely new, and we’re beginning to build our own cloud.”
In recent years, Varial has also generated interest in local tech meetups, including one for WordPress. Varial’s HQ, located in a Saskatoon tech hub, acts as an epicenter for local WordPress hosting, servicing many of the web design companies located there.
“They’re all WordPress users, so we’re getting feedback from developers and designers and we’re trying to develop a little community with them,” Ryan said.
Despite the challenges he has faced in the hosting industry, Ryan remains as passionate as ever.
“It’s been very fun for me to build and grow over the years,” he said. “It’s definitely a challenge at times, but it’s always a pleasurable one.”