Douglas Hanna is the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, but you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at his office filled with mostly empty desks. But Hanna is confident that business is steadily humming—just not there. At least 20 of the company’s 38 employees are hard at work—remotely.
“They’re not here, but that doesn’t mean they’re not working,” Hanna says. “A lot of them aren’t even in the state, much less the east coast. But this hasn’t really affected us. If anything it’s made us a lot stronger.” Stronger, Hanna believes, because they’re able to hire the best employees, then allow them to work from home, close to their families.
But Hanna, a junior at Duke University, works in the office—when he doesn’t have to go to class. “Basically if I’m not in class or sleeping I’m probably working or doing something related to it,” Hanna says. He puts in about 40 to 50 hours a week toward the business, which he calls a priority over school. Hanna understands this mindset might not be good, but he’s focused on the long run with his business, which he plans to stick with after he graduates in December of 2012.
It makes sense for Hanna’s business to be so high-tech and business-forward, A Small Orange LLC, is, after all, a Web hosting business. It’s a high-end provider of shared, reseller, VPS, and dedicated Web hosting services, to be exact. About half a million websites are hosted by A Small Orange.
Hanna worked with an old boss of his, Brent Oxley of HostGator.com, to buy A Small Orange in March 2010. After that, the venture became formally known as A Small Orange LLC. “We weren’t a formalized company until we closed on A Small Orange,” Hanna says. Their business plan is to buy Web hosting companies that aren’t reaching their full potential, to improve them, grow them, and then, typically, keep them. Sometimes they’ll sell the business after improvements have been made.
“Web hosting is still very much a commodity product,” Hanna says. But he believes the company stands out for their quality of service. However the road to great service and customer trust hasn’t been without its speed bumps. The company had a hacking attempt in July. The stress of dealing with that situation—combined with the weight of a summer class—was a definite strain on Hanna.
Fortunately, by being honest and having a clear plan of action, the company was able to make several serious changes toward prevention without losing too many customers. Hanna, who had also been personally calling people and explaining the situation alongside his management team, was relieved. “There’s that moment of truth when you start seeing what the reactions are once you tell people what happened,” Hanna says. “Hearing encouraging words from customers and not seeing mass exodus of them was really helpful in a situation like that.”
A Small Orange has a varied customer base, from medium-sized businesses to personal blogs for about 25,000 people. And the business is doing well, with $3.92 million in revenue for 2011. But while the company is always striving to deliver great service and dependable Web hosting services, it’s in no rush to become the biggest. “We don’t want to be Go Daddy,” Hanna says, “but we do want to be the best Web hosting company, so if we slip in terms of quality we might slow down growth in order to keep up that quality, because at the end of the day I think that’s why our customers are here and I think that’s what will lead us to continue long-term success.”