[Editor’s Note: VentureBeat invited Rackspace to pen a rebuttal to a guest post we published earlier this month saying the company had ‘lost its mojo’. Rackspace submitted the following piece from one of its user companies, SumAll.]
I read a recent VentureBeat article in which a small Rackspace competitor questioned the company’s commitment to support. My friends at Rackspace offered me a chance to respond on their behalf as a customer who has seen first hand how strong their Fanatical Support commitment remains under the Managed Cloud offering.
Rapid growth can be a double-edged sword. There are times when success can be a company’s worst enemy, especially if their cloud platform can’t handle such swift growth and acceleration.
Fast-growth companies face a number of challenges, and worrying about infrastructure – which is rarely a differentiator or a revenue generator – shouldn’t be one of them. When trying to hit deadlines and bring a product to market, stressing about servers and troubleshooting infrastructure is a time waster and a distraction.
At SumAll, we develop a real-time analytics platform for marketers, businesses, and entrepreneurs that provides meaningful insights on data by collecting it into a single place. Whether it’s from Facebook, Google, PayPal, Stripe, Amazon, or Twitter, we present data in a simple, digestible way so our customers can make intelligent decisions. Since we formed more than three years ago, we’ve crunched over 4 terabytes of data, and that’s growing at a rate of about 30 percent per month. We track more than $4 billion in revenue, 290 billion social actions, and 190 billion sites for more than 250,000 businesses.
Like many startups, we started our business on AWS. It was a fast and cheap way to self-provision our prototype and build our business on the cloud. We put our MongoDB stack there. At the time, that was the right move for us. But once we hit a growth spurt, the costs and amount of technical resources required to scale exploded. There were performance issues and service delays. I/O instances were overloaded and we started to lose data. Data is our currency, so if we start losing data, we start losing customers and revenue, and our reputation suffers.
We switched to Rackspace for two reasons. First, we needed a partner committed to helping us navigate the inevitable challenges that come up when you’re growing at 1,000 percent year-over-year as we are. We need a team of specialists on hand 24/7 to help us troubleshoot. That’s always been part of Rackspace’s model, and that commitment to Fanatical Support is alive and well. When there’s a problem at 3 a.m., Rackspace always picks up the phone.
The second reason we switched to Rackspace was more dollars and cents.
The article I referenced raises the broader question of whether businesses would actually be willing to pay a premium for a services and support offering like Rackspace’s Managed Cloud. The reality is Rackspace has hundreds of thousands of customers across all industries that are willing to pay a bit more to ensure they receive the high-touch support that frees them from having to manage their infrastructure.
As we continued to grow and scale, we had to make a hard decision about focus and resources. The more customers we support and the more data we crunch, the larger the strain on our developer talent. The issue we faced – and it’s one every successful startup runs into – is whether to focus our developers on managing our infrastructure or whether to turn that focus to the things that differentiate us in the market. We chose the latter, and it’s a part of the reason we expect to support over a million customers next year.
The challenges we faced and overcame while growing our business aren’t unique to SumAll. They’re the new normal for rapid-growth companies. I think of it this way: Every cloud has to be managed by someone, even commodity cloud infrastructure. You either outsource to a specialist company like Rackspace, or you pay handsomely to find and bring that talent in-house.
If we had to focus on managing our infrastructure instead of building and marketing product, we would’ve lost business. As a company in rapid growth mode, that’s a tradeoff we’re not willing to make.
Dane Atkinson is CEO of SumAll.com.