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Ep. 9, Featuring Josh Koenig from Pantheon

Think all WordPress web hosting companies are the same? Think again!

In this episode, Amit Sion interviews Josh Koenig to dig into what differences are made when organizations care deeply about their users, something Pantheon encompasses in each decision made on their website and products.



Pantheon, a company building the world’s best web ops platform. It empowers marketing and development teams to fully embrace agility, iterate faster and drive results. Pantheon powers over 300,000 sites with more than 10 billion monthly page users. Tonight, I have the pleasure to speak with one of his co-founders and head of product,  Josh Keonig. Good evening, and welcome to the XWP Tonight Show.

Josh, welcome to the show. Great to meet with you.


Thank you so much for having me. I mean, it’s a great pleasure to be with you today, tonight, wherever you are.


I find that XWP and Pantheon are very much aligned in our goals for the win. We want site owners to have a sense of ownership of their site, and we want them to perform well. From your perspective, why is performance important? 


Well, it’s fundamental. It’s fundamental to the quality of the user experience that you’re delivering. Our big picture mission, which is more lofty than just, Oh, we have this idea about how people should do this, it’s called WebOps. We really want to make the open web a first class platform that can deliver results. We want to get people to invest in the open web as a number one, one of the leading ways they communicate to the world or go to market with their business, or attract fans and followers, whatever the case is.

And at the end of the day, if the people on the other side of the website aren’t seeing it quickly, and having a pleasant experiences using it, they’re just not going to hang around, they’re not going to read your text, they’re not going to watch your video, they’re not going to wait for your slider of four images to load. And, so I think one of the things that we really do focus on, because it is fundamental, is meeting user experience expectations. And that starts with performance, right? That it really is just fundamental.

And if you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter what else you have, because it’s kind of a gating factor. And it’s great to be talking with other people who are able to prioritize that. I think often performance gets kind of put into this box of developer concerns, when really it should be a core fundamental business concern. And that requires some education for folks, to frame it in the right way. But it’s something I’m glad we’re able to partner on doing and help raise awareness around.


I’ve read that you said that during an economic downturn, open source thrives, citing examples like the dot com bubble burst, leading to the start of WordPress and Drupal. Why do you think that’s the case?


I think that’s the case because when you have an economic downturn, there’s two simultaneous factors that help drive interest in and the progress of open source. One is super obvious, like every budget gets at least scrutinized, right? And so every every non, you know, technically, dumb guy, CFO is out there saying, is there a way we could get this for free? We’re paying this license, this is a lot to pay for this, can we do this ourselves, is there an open source alternative? 

So people really look hard at whether the tools that they’re paying licensing fees for, that are proprietary, have compelling alternatives. The other, which is not the same, it’s a totally different phenomenon, but it can intersect with that in interesting ways, is that you get people with time on their hands in a downturn. And whether that’s people who  unfortunately lost their job, and now they have free cycles, and maybe they need to go, they’re trying to go do their own thing, or they suddenly have the opportunity to pursue an interest, or it’s within a company where you have teams where everything is slowed down, because you’re in a downturn, that company doesn’t wait long to lay these people off, because they’re really high value, and it took forever to recruit and train, like their engineering groups, but they’re not at capacity anymore, there just isn’t all that work to do.

Then you can start to see people- this is where they intersect, the smart CFO and an engineering leader or IT leader can put two and two together and say, well, we’ve got 15 to 20% of our team’s velocity to play with. And there’s a couple interesting open source projects out there that if we re-architected our stuff a little bit to do X, Y, or Z, we could, maybe improve our tools and save some money. And so, in a world where things are always growing super fast and going big, gangbusters, just because speed is so important, people are like, open source is almost never the fastest way to get anything done.

Because again, you start with just code sitting on a desk somewhere. People always will look for a service they can turn on tomorrow and not have to manage. But once people have time on their hands, and they’re interested in the time versus money available equation shifts, a lot more of that energy gets put into open source.


Now Pantheon has experienced immense success over the years. It now has a very strong brand with customers such as Harvard, MGM Studios and the United Nations. As one of its founders, can you please share with us Pantheon’s origin story?


Yeah, of course, that’s a great question, and it’s a fun story. I think my co-founders and I, we started out as agency folks. We were working for clients to actually build these kinds of websites. And over the course of our consulting career, we kind of were successful enough to work with bigger and bigger clients, and grow our little shop from just three people to 30 or so, folks. And what we started to see was, while the websites we were building for different customers, and different use cases, had different designs, different functionality, a lot of different stuff happening there with what people use the web to do, there were some pieces of every project that were largely the same, where we had to figure out how to get a whole team of developers working together. Sometimes including developers from our side, and the client side or other subcontractors. And that coordination effort could be a challenge, if it wasn’t laid out really clearly.

 And we also needed to figure out of course, how to launch websites that were going to get a fair amount of traffic and could could succeed under a heavy workload, and not just launch them, but also keep releasing updates, so that we weren’t sort of stuck with something that was frozen in time at the moment of launch. And we developed our own solutions to doing that at consultancy. And we would go around to conferences, and so forth, and you talk to people, and there’s the case study track, which is all the happy stories, but then there’s the hallway track or the happy hour track, and you hear some of the more not so happy stories, but interesting stories.

And a lot of times where we would see colleagues have projects go off the rails, was because they lacked one of those two things. They couldn’t get the team working together, or they couldn’t parallelize their work. So they were behind schedule, they’re under deadline pressure, so they’re rushing to the launch, and then the launch doesn’t go so well, and they spend a month firefighting to get the site stable, and then the site’s stable, but it’s like now in this situation where it’s like a late stage game of Jenga where it’s there, nobody touch it, because we don’t know what will happen. And that’s just not a good situation to be in.

And pretty early, we saw an opportunity for ourselves to kind of take the next step in growing our business and turn it into a service and turn it into a real piece of software. And also, we thought that there was a real market need for this, if we didn’t figure out how to make these types of projects more successful more often, that was going to impede the adoption of open source. These are challenges that every project probably faces, but they become particularly acute when you’re using open source software, and it’s up to you to figure this out.

The code is just lines of text sitting on a disk somewhere, it’s not running software, it’s not like a vendor is responsible for that. So the origin of Pantheon was putting all those pieces together and say, hey, why not? Let’s try it. So we fired ourselves from our consultancy, we built a really quick proof of concept, we went out and raised some seed capital in Silicon Valley and built a slightly better version of that proof of concept, and just started running from there. And the rest, as they say, is history.


I love that. This has been such an interesting conversation, because so many people know Pantheon, it’s such a massive company, all the big customers you have. But to get a bit of a view as to how it all came to be, how it came to me from when you first came up with the idea, when you first came up with the names, and the concepts of what you’re still behind, of just making a better experience for the customers, giving them the best interaction that they can have in their use of their site, has been the thing that’s been carried all the way through with Pantheon. And I love that and that’s why XWP really loves to partner with Pantheon, and the support that we provide to our customers for many years, and up until today and beyond.


Yeah, it’s good to be aligned on all those things. And we look at it, as, we want to take off a lot of the load and a lot of the work and shoulder the-  we do host your websites, right? And that’s a lot of work. So that’s good, we can take that off the table. But we also can make you and your teams and your clients teams really a lot more productive than it might otherwise be. We add this productivity value, and then that helps them reach people. That’s really why we’re- your website has a job to do. And we want to make sure that you’re as efficient and unencumbered in helping you or your clients themselves, getting their website to do that job and it doing that job as well as it possibly can. Because ultimately, that’s what we’re here to do is, make the people on the other side of the website really happy with what they’re seeing.


I love that, Josh, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure to speak with you. A pleasure to partner with Pantheon. Thank you very much and see you soon.