Digital Ocean is currently in the Boulder Techstars program. They make cloud hosting simple and easy so you can manage your site, not your infrastructure. Jason Seats is the managing director of Techstars Cloud and a mentor to Digital Ocean. He sat down with Ben Uretsky, CEO.
Jason: Has your company’s focus changed since the beginning of the year?
Ben: When we first started, we were going to compete head to head with the large cloud providers but as development continued, we saw a better opportunity around keeping things simple. For the last ten years, I’ve been involved in infrastructure– physically setting up servers myself. With the growth of the cloud, we started building a product to scratch our own itch. We’re all engineers that launch virtual servers but we weren’t happy with anything that was on the market. After reading The Lean Startup, we realized we desperately needed to get user feedback. We launched in January of this year and people really enjoyed the interface. It wasn’t until we actually got into Techstars in May that we started to formalize the vision of Digital Ocean. Simplicity is what we loved, without much exploration. The vision began to come together with all of the mentorship here. There are a large amount of users that want to get up and running on the cloud but see it as a complicated process. We see the major players catering to the major companies, which ignores a huge market segment. Without realizing it at the time, we had already positioned ourselves as the simple alternative from the beginning. We came full circle and realized, this really does work.People really do want to get up and running fast.
Jason: How hard it is to get started with other providers?
Ben: With other providers, there are a lot of choices with very little guidance so you don’t necessarily know where to begin. It makes for a confusing experience. We eliminated a lot of the unnecessary options and bundled in things such as free bandwidth and free backups. Our process asks for only the essentials, meaning it’s just one click to deploy a new server. From there, managing your servers online offers a variety of options, but you’re already launched. Whether you’re managing one server or many, our interface is straightforward and designed to be flexible.
Jason: What makes Digital Ocean special in such a crowded space?
Ben: Other cloud providers have focused too much on the technology and not the people that will actually be using it. We kept the user experience as our core focus and top priority to make sure it’s built for real people. Infrastructure is the most neglected user experience ever and we’re addressing that.
Jason: As founders, how do you decide what to prioritize?
Ben: We credit (Techstars mentor-in-residence) Zach Nies of Rally Software. He has been providing so much guidance for us. He taught us how to run effective meetings. Now we work collectively to establish a purpose, create an agenda, and make the necessary decisions to drive product and business development. We are on weekly sprints at the moment, using Basecamp to stay coordinated with one another.
Jason: You have been blogging about personal lessons learned while in Techstars in Boulder. What has been the most surprising aspect so far?
Ben: What has surprised us is the sheer volume of advice we have received. It’s pushed us in so many directions. I’m really glad that the team synthesized all the information and now we’re able to keep our focus on being the place for people to launch their servers online.
Jason: What do you ultimately want to be known for?
Ben: We want to be known as the easiest place to launch your server online. We build a product geared toward developers and making their lives easier through an intuitive, controlled path. We take the complexity out of cloud services and we’re building a really great product that people love. Traction is certainly never guaranteed but at the end of the day, whether we succeed or fail, if our product is up to our own standards, we feel it’s a success.
Jason: What happens after Techstars?
Ben: Sleep. Then we’re headed back to New York City to see our families. We initially applied to Techstars for one reason: we had never scaled a company or gotten venture backing. We really want to engage the New York City tech community the same way we have been able to make our presence felt in Boulder. New York is the second largest startup market in the country and there is a lack of infrastructure providers that are actually local. We want to be recognized as the go-to place for startups and developers, entrepreneur to entrepreneur. As part of our user focus, we want to be heavily involved with the tech community and provide servers for free for events like hackathons. We want to be synonymous with the ease of launching a virtual server. We want to be known as a cloud provider whose differentiator is love, because why should anyone hate the tools on which they rely?