Five Years of Product Development with Liquid Web

5 Years with Liquid Web

This week marks five years of designing and building products for Liquid Web. It's crazy how fast five years have gone by, while at the same time, it's easy to feel like I've been with a hosting company forever.

In case you missed it, a couple of months ago we closed a deal to purchase LearnDash and I took over the GM role there – leading an incredible group of people who have been doing an amazing job building the leading online learning solution for WordPress.

Today I was in a conversation with someone new to Liquid Web and we were talking about some of what we've built here to make our Managed WordPress and Managed WooCommerce products stand apart from the rest of the hosting companies out there – and that led me to today's post.

Looking Back on 5 Years of Product Development

When I joined Liquid Web, AJ Morris had already started working on the Managed WordPress hosting product. I joined him to help build that product, and then to follow up with our Managed WooCommerce hosting offering.

Both of those products leveraged the hosting infrastructure that Liquid Web already had.

But then there was all the custom products that we built that sat on top of the hosting platform – with people like Brian Watson, Andrew Norcross, Steve Grunwell and Jason Cosper. We added Lindsey Miller, then Jessica Frick, Mendel Kurland, and most recently Brad Parbs and Luke Woodward.

People have come and gone, but the work we've done is something I'm quite proud of.

As I reflect on all the products we've designed and built, where I had the opportunity to lead the development of, in the last five years, the list is pretty special.

Here's a quick summary of them.

Automatic Plugin Updates with Visual Regression Testing

Five years ago there weren't any hosts that would update your plugins for you. The fear was that they'd update a plugin and crash your site. So I understand why they didn't. But that didn't mean it was something customers didn't want.

So we worked on a pretty elaborate system to create an alternative staging environment where we could update a single plugin at a time, every night for every plugin update available, and capture before and after photos of key pages to see if there were any changes.

Nexcess is running v3 of that solution now, and it still keeps sites updated.

WordPress Plugin Telemetry

Another problem we saw in the “managed” WordPress hosting space was hosts sending customers emails about plugins that had security issues. They would often say, “if you're using this plugins, you want to update it…” That felt ridiculous to me. They're the host. They would know if you're running that plugin.

So we built a telemetry system that would allow us to know every version of every plugin running on Liquid Web (later Nexcess) and if we found an issue with a plugin, we could determine exactly which sites needed upgrading.

From there we could email them and say, “Click this link to accept our offer to open the ticket and do it for you.”

It also allowed me to have partnership discussions with plugin vendors because we knew which ones were the most used on our platform.

WooCommerce Custom Orders Table

Early in my time at Liquid Web we started working on our Managed WooCommerce offering. And since we were focused on those magical stores doing over a million dollars a year in revenue, we started by looking at how to optimize the database storage of orders. In close collaboration with Mindsize, we worked on building a solution that we've used time and again with customers to help them speed up processing of highly concurrent transactional stores.

WooCommerce Custom Thank You

I wanted a simple way to do post purchase offers because you know how much I value them. So we built our own plugin that would allow us to route traffic to different pages for each post. Today, there are a ton of additional and much more robust solutions, but for the first few years here, it was powerful.

WooCommerce Better Reviews

Like many of the things we've built, this one never got the marketing attention that it deserved. But it is one of my favorite products we ever built. A way to handle massively large amounts of reviews, in a separate set of database tables, and with better customer experience because it captured reviewer meta as much as review meta. I'm hoping we turn it into a separate revenue-producing product because I love it!

WooCommerce Cart Expiration

When we were working with rudis, we saw them having inventory issues because so many people were putting shoes into their cart but then continuing to shop. So the inventory would quickly show as unavailable but it was really there given normal dynamics of cart abandonment.

So we designed a solution that would limit how long you could have something in your cart, and then it would return it into inventory. It's easy, fast to implement, and incredibly helpful.

Limit Orders for WooCommerce

Our first effort to step into low cost hosting of smaller WooCommerce stores included work we did with Zao. We designed a way to offer the full power of our Managed WooCommerce hosting, but for small stores where we could limit the orders they could process in a month.

In the end, we did enough infrastructure optimization that we didn't need to keep this guard in place, but it was a clean and powerful way to offer a low priced product to people without worrying that they'd use more resources than their investment warranted.

WooCommerce Sales Performance Monitor

I love these last three. We built a sales performance monitor to look at historical records to see what your sales history suggests your future would look like. Then we compare our prediction with your reality and tell you if it's on track or differs (good or bad).

This allows us to constantly keep you in the loop of how things are going, and brings you any situation that needs your attention. It's available on all Nexcess WooCommerce Hosting plans.

Plugin Performance Monitor

In collaboration with XWP, we designed and built a solution that would constantly check the performance of several key pages on your site and show you how they were changing over time. This is particularly powerful when you want to see the impact of the plugin changes you're making to your site (and helps you see which ones are slowing things down).

WooCommerce Automated Acceptance Tests

I recently told you about this new feature we built for our Managed WooCommerce hosting platform at Nexcess. We worked with Zeek to create an external solution that checks key functionality of your WooCommerce store on a daily basis to make sure everything is passing. That way you know if something isn't working right away!

Three Key Takeaways

As I look back on all this work we've done over the last five years, I reflect on three key takeaways that I'll share today.

  1. Just because you build something awesome doesn't mean anyone knows that it's awesome. I've told you before, it's a lot easier to build stuff than to market it. Especially for builders. So I know there's always more to do and to learn about marketing these things.
  2. Building awesome stuff requires a lot of different people. While I may have had many of the initial ideas for these products, they never would have turned into products without our internal team, or the fine folks at all the agencies I mentioned.
  3. Building cool stuff takes time. Yes, those are ten cool products. But over 5 years. So roughly two a year. I think sometimes we think it will take a couple months to build something awesome, but it's never the case. Everything awesome takes time – sometimes 6 months, but other times more like 18 months.

I have loved the last five years and all the stuff we've had the opportunity to build. Now it's time to get my head focused on all the cool things we can build for LearnDash.

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