As many of you know, about 6 months ago CodeGarage was acquired by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, Akismet, and VaultPress, among others. This wasn’t a decision I took lightly – CodeGarage has been a labor of love – at times, grueling, but love just the same.
When CodeGarage launched in early 2010, I had no intentions of starting a backup and security service. I didn’t know how backup OR security services worked. I just wanted to start treating my freelancing more like a business, mostly on a dare from my brother, and eventual business partner, Mark Butler. I make a surprising number of important life decisions based on dares from Mark.
While CodeGarage was largely focused on a la carte freelance services, I optimistically included a backup/security service to the list. While I wasn’t totally clear on how that would work, I loved the idea of a system I could build that would provide ongoing value to customers, without my direct intervention. I say optimistic because I didn’t really think anyone would sign up for it – but I’d enjoy building it just the same.
The night I launched, I found myself with 20 customers, ready and waiting for me to start backing up and securing their sites.
Frantically, I started writing code. Within 10 days or so, I had a prototype ready to give to my new customers. It wasn’t great. There was no dashboard, no self service backup downloads – just a plugin and a promise. Fortunately, my new customers were most concerned about having someone they could trust on their team – somebody to answer their emails if catastrophe struck. This turned out to be the most important lesson I’ve learned over the past 2 years – people want to be able to have someone they know they can count on when they need it.
Over time, the plugin improved, and my customer list grew. People told their friends. Nearly every new customer came attached with an email that said something like “My friend Bill said I should talk to you about backups”. We’d discuss their needs and fears a bit, and get them up and running.
Finally, about 6 months after launching, I decided it was time to commit – CodeGarage could be something great, if I could give it all of my attention. Unfortunately, it wasn’t making enough to support me yet – I had a wife and a 6 month old at home. The 6 month old had come with not-insignificant hospital bills. At that point, Mark (yes, the very same) offered to come on as an investor to give me the ability to stop freelancing, but keep paying my bills. We didn’t even shake on it. In the Butler family, text messages are legally binding.
From there, things steadily improved. The service got a makeover, a new dashboard (now complete with self-service downloads!), and greatly improved reliability. We started working a little more on security at about the time a very large scale vulnerability showed up – timthumb. With the help of a little extra publicity (and lots of frantic website owners), our growth accellerated.
We carried on for the next year, with relatively steady growth. Eventually, we came to a crossroads: We had grown enough that there was too much work for one coder/support person/marketer. We needed to either find the money to start hiring and continue growing, or find another route.
Hiring is a scary prospect. I had never worked with a large team of coders. In fact, I had never worked with a single other coder in a long term situation. How would I find, hire, and manage other coders? Could I go to investors and confidently explain to them that I could do so profitably?
As fate would have it, about this same time, Andrew Hyde suggested over lunch that I look into Automattic. To paraphrase: “They’re hiring, and it seems like a great place to work. You could learn a lot there.” So I looked into it. After a few interviews and some trial work, Matt Mullenweg (owner of Automattic) made an offer to purchase CodeGarage, and bring me on along with it. He was excited about the prospect of having Automattic (and VaultPress) learn from what CodeGarage had found in a different segment of the same general market VaultPress had been targeting. We both agreed that we could find a way to better service CodeGarage’s current customers within the Automattic family. After a few weeks of legal wrangling (Remember those text message agreements? As it turns out, those need to be formalized a bit in these situations.), and lots of patience from the finance and legal team over at Automattic, the deal was signed.
That brings us to today. I’ve spent the last 6 months coming up to speed at Automattic, and working with the VaultPress team on figuring out how to improve VaultPress with some of the lessons from CodeGarage, as well as how best to serve CodeGarage customers moving forward. We’ve finally put together a long term plan for the latter point:
CodeGarage customers will have the option to migrate their accounts to VaultPress starting Wednesday, May 15th 2013. I won’t get into the details here – you can read more over at the VaultPress blog. If you’re a current CodeGarage customer, you’ll find more details by logging into your account, or checking your email.
A few very quick points:
As always, you can get in touch with me with any questions about the transition at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the end of it all, I can’t thank all of you enough for sticking with us over the last 2 years. It’s been an amazing journey, and we wouldn’t be anywhere without your trust and support.