20i.com on how to build a successful hosting business

Jonathan and Tim Brealey are somewhat of a legend in the domains and hosting industry. The duo founded UK-based registrar, 123-reg, back in 2000, launched Heart Internet in 2004, and, in 2016, began 20i.com, which in five short years has grown into one of the leading hosting providers in the UK.

We had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan and Tim about their most recent feature venture, how their 20+ years in the industry have helped them create a truly world-class reseller hosting experience, and what advice they’d give to those looking to walk a similar path.
 

What are the major pain points for hosting resellers and how have you solved for them?

Jonathan: Compared to a lot of other industries, web hosting has a relatively low barrier to entry, with the potential for high profits. So that means that there’s a lot of competition out there!

It’s important to stand out from the crowd, and that’s why we’ve made 20i Reseller Hosting so customizable. Everything from your control panel, to URLs, to our Support Database can be changed to match your branding.

Plus there’s the most obvious thing: most resellers on other hosts don’t experience the same speed and reliability in their cloud hosting—something we’re really proud of.

Tim: Yes, but another pain point is all the extra costs that often come with being a hosting reseller, which can affect the bottom line, like your control panel—usually cPanel—and e-commerce solutions—likely WHMCS. That’s why we have built our own versions and include them for free in our package.

20i.com has built an impressive one-stop shop for hosting resellers. Which features and tools set you apart from the competition?

Tim: The reason why we could make it a “one-stop shop” is that one of our founding principles was to use our experience with resellers to create our own solutions. As we develop everything ourselves, we can add extra useful features or unique tools, unavailable anywhere else. We have a talented team of developers who are led by customer feedback, so we’re always working on new features.

For the same reason, we’re not bound by licensing fees, so we can pass on the savings to our customers.

Features that help us stand out are the free things we offer with all Reseller Hosting: the My20i control panel, the StackCP control panel for your customers, HostShop, and our free CDN and Website Acceleration Suite—to name but a few.

Jonathan: I think that’s one of the main things that sets us apart: that we concentrate on our reseller clients. For some hosting companies, they’re an afterthought. So they’ll buy off-the-shelf products that aren’t suited to a modern hosting company, package it up, and then abandon further development. We’re always working to provide extra value, round the clock.

Our “DIY” ethos means that we can make our hosting platform unique, too. We’ve made the fastest and most resilient hosting around by applying a new type of autoscaling to our servers. A site that becomes busy will get as much resource as it needs, as it has access to as many servers as it needs. Other hosts rely on solutions like cPanel—which will only scale resources within a single server—so a traffic spike can cause shared hosting to become slow and even drop out for a while. We wanted to change that.

What motivated you to build your own in-house WHMCS alternative? Do you see HostShop as one of your key differentiators?

Jonathan: Absolutely. There’s nothing like HostShop out there. A Reseller can link it to their site and it will handle the e-commerce side for them, deploying hosting automatically when a user makes a purchase. But it’s not just that: it includes a fully functional support ticketing system, automated notifications, targeted emails to customers, web hooks, reporting…too much to list here!

And it’s free to all 20i resellers. We did this to set ourselves apart from the competition and make our Reseller Hosting unlike any other.

How do you guys set yourself apart in the hyper-competitive WordPress hosting and web hosting spaces?

Tim: A side-effect of concentrating on resellers is that we can bring the innovations that we create for them to our “consumer” products: WordPress and web hosting, like you say.

A good example would be our global CDN. Again, it’s free to resellers and non-resellers alike, and it’s comparable to the paid versions of the same product from Cloudflare. It includes a Website Optimisation Suite – which is great for increasing those PageSpeed scores.

They also get all the “bulk management” features and user-friendliness of the My20i control panel that resellers benefit from.

Most recently, we gave all users access to our automated Migration Centre, which is a simple, three-step tool that lets you migrate your sites from cPanel, Plesk, DirectAdmin, and others, all automatically. It’s great for migrating thousands of sites, but it also helps if you’re just moving one.

Jonathan: And for WordPress in particular, we have things like WordPress Tools, which allow you to make staging sites, manage plugins, themes and users, and even ensure that your install hasn’t been compromised by checking against the WordPress official repository. And you can do all this from My20i.

I could list other things, but above all, it’s just the speed and reliability of our hosting platform that sets us apart.

What were the biggest challenges you faced starting your first businesses? What advice would you give to your younger self?

Jonathan: It was challenging to create hosting and domains companies that simplified the process of getting a website for your business.

When you’re developing tech products, it’s easy to forget the end user, who might not be as technically savvy as you. So while our aim was always to make things simple, we didn’t always succeed. But we learned from that.

So what I’d probably say to my younger self would be, “listen to your customers!”

Tim: Exactly. One thing I might say to myself involves getting outside investment. When a large company buys out an innovative smaller company, it’s an unfortunate reality that, sometimes, their services decline in quality.

We experienced that, so with 20i, we’ve committed to staying independent. It seems to be working: earlier this year we opened our first data centre in the USA!

Another thing I’d say is, “don’t outsource your support.” While it may be tempting to save some money, we’ve only ever had bad experiences from that. Our entire Support Team is based at our UK HQ, and it’s their expertise that’s largely responsible for our fantastic reviews.

How do you remain customer-centric and build trust with your customers?

Jonathan: This ties in nicely with my previous point: we listen to them. I know everyone says “we listen to feedback,” but not everyone does it like us.

All the user feedback we receive from customers is read by ourselves and the management team. We can’t reply to every message, or implement every requested feature straight away, but we always take note. Feedback is the main driver of our development schedule.

You offer a wide range of TLD options. How has this benefited your business?

Tim: By offering 20i users more choice, they’re able to get the exact domain name they need for a fair price, and not worry about expensive renewal fees: with 20i, the price you pay in the first year is the same at renewal.

Jonathan: By offering so many ccTLDs, we’re able to reach a truly international market: I don’t think there’s a country on earth where there isn’t a 20i customer.

Back when we started 123-reg, if you couldn’t get the .com or country-code TLD for your domain, you were pretty much out of luck: time to change your company name!

Not anymore, though. The new TLDs have changed that.

Any favourite new TLDs or ones that seem to resonate with your customers?

Jonathan: I’m not sure that I have a favourite, but the ones that our customers like reflect our customers: the web professional who has lots of sites. So options like .host, obviously, but also .agency, .marketing, .io, .tech—lots of business or techie ones are very popular!

We recently made .christmas available—a great time of year to do it (we’re answering this in December), and one I’m a fan of.

What do you like most about the OpenSRS platform?

Tim: We’ve used different platforms in the past, but OpenSRS is the one we’ve always felt most comfortable with. It’s important that our users can search for a domain day or night, and not be affected by issues with the domain provider, and we’ve found that OpenSRS has a very stable API.

Then there’s the massive range of TLDs—over 600 last time I checked? This means that when we get feedback from a customer saying “I can’t migrate my domain, www.fashion.fail, to you,” or something similar, we can quickly sort it out! We tend to offer a few new domains every month because of these edge cases.

OpenSRS also offers fast, helpful support—something we respect.

Jonathan: And we’ve also had a strong 20-year business relationship with David Woroch, Executive Vice President of Domains at Tucows.

What advice would you give for those looking to build a successful hosting business?

Jonathan: Try to find your niche. While ours is Reseller Hosting—targeting businesses, agencies, and freelancers—a successful hosting business might target a particular type of business user or demographic.

Tim: Yes, and the niche you start with should be something you’re interested in personally. It’s more authentic; you’ll understand your customers, and it will be more rewarding for you.

So if, for example, you plan to target travel bloggers, it wouldn’t be wise to do it if you’ve never stepped foot outside your hometown.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t “think big;” start small in your “niche market” and if that’s successful, expand your horizons. Just don’t expect to become the market leader overnight. It takes a lot of time and hard work.


 

OpenSRS is the world’s largest wholesale domain registrar, and we love sitting down with our reseller partners. If you’re interested in being featured on our blog, have questions about how to become a domain reseller, or want to learn more about curating a top-level domain lineup for your customer base, get in touch with us!