Interview with Jonathan Tittle of Nodeki Hosting

We host most of our network blogs with Nodeki Managed WordPress hosting and we find their service excellent. I like Nodeki for its fanatical customer support, fast loading times, cost effectiveness, simple design and offering lifetime package. So, I got Jonathan Tittle, the founder of Nodeki to answer some of our questions.

Hi Jonathan, could you please introduce yourself and Nodeki?

My name is Jonathan Tittle and I’m the CEO & Founder of NodeKi. I’m 27 and I live in Johnson City, TN. I started NodeKi as a project, more so to see if there would be demand for a slightly different approach to WordPress Hosting – I introduced the first Lifetime WordPress Hosting solutions to the market and shortly after, Sarah from WPMU.org approached me to see if I’d be interested in being featured on the site. The response to the featured post and the Lifetime offer was amazing. It not only kick-started NodeKi, it defined what was once a project and a concept as a real solution with demand from those tired of paying for sub par solutions with other providers who seemingly didn’t care about security or if their clients stayed or left.

What many don’t know about NodeKi is that the business was 100% bootstrapped – I designed the site, managed the servers, supported clients, and kept things running with zero outside funding or help – I was online nearly 22 hours a day with a pot of coffee always brewing and a supply of Monster & Rockstar Energy drinks on-hand for the first 3 months. I started NodeKi with $100 to my name, literally. It was a gamble, though given my experience, I took the risk and set out to differentiate NodeKi from the existing providers on the market.

Among other managed WP hosts, what do you consider as Nodeki’s USP and how do you differ from others?

Instead of relying on NGINX & Varnish, NodeKi uses Litespeed – it’s a commercial product, though it scales extremely well and uses far fewer resources to handle requests. We did experiment with NGINX, PHP-FPM, and Varnish for a short while though we’ve found Litespeed to give better performance and we can serve our clients efficiently without deploying more hardware than needed. We use Dual Quad-Core / Hex-Core CPU’s, run Enterprise SATA, SAS, and SSD Drives in RAID-10 (4-8 drives per array), and stock 32GB – 64GB of DDR3 Quad-Channel RAM per physical node; hardware is definitely not an area where we cut costs.

In terms of service, when you compete on price you’ll always lose – someone will always try to undercut your pricing to make the sale, so instead of worrying about service costs, I set out to focus on quality and support. Support is and continues to be one of the biggest selling points. The support level at NodeKi is almost second to none and I can confidently say that as the feedback received from clients defines it. Beyond support, the network & server quality allows us to reduce issues and thus cut support needs. Over the past year, support requests have been minimal, even as NodeKi has continued to grow as the goal is to prevent issues before they arise. Every now and then something will pop up, though it’s addressed quickly and with full attention to detail. I’ve worked together with many clients over the past year and tweaked HTML, CSS, JS, and even PHP coding to help out where possible – few providers will even attempt to go that far; NodeKi does and will continue to do so in the future.

It’s not just about making the sale, it’s about forming a relationship. I can honestly say that I speak with the majority of our clients on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis – not just in a support role, but to follow-up with them, make suggestions, and see how they’re doing. I’ve reached out to many clients as I frequent their sites as I find them particularly interesting and while browsing, I found something that could be done better to give them better performance; the response is amazing — they know I care, and over time, they buy more — while that’s not the primary reason I do it, it does show trust which is ultimately the only reason any client is buying from a business or company. No trust = No sales.

Nodeki homepage design stands out for being plain simple which I appreciate. Is this intentional and how good is it converting?

Simplicity has always been the goal, even as I work on redesigning the site for our relaunch in December. Twitter’s Bootstrap framework powers the design you see now and it’s something I’ll continue to use in the future. The new design maintains simplicity, though it also allows us to expand on our service lines, which is something that’d be hard to do with the existing design we have in place.

Conversions have been great. A functional single-page homepage works extremely well and is similar to the one-page sites selling a product. The new design won’t feature all of our services on a single page, though we’ll be using a similar design concept and keeping the format nearly identical. We’ll be offer 4 service lines + add-on’s once the new site launches which is far too much to display on a single page and keep things neatly formatted (at least in my opinion).

Was there any client site which needed special performance tuning from your side? How did you do that?

We do an initial security & performance audit on each server we deploy and as we add sites, we tweak, tune, and further configure each server as needed. Our base configuration suites over 85% of the sites we host with very little tuning needed as it’s been tried and tested over time. We’ve seen sites take in 30-100,000 unique visitors in a few hours with zero issues so we know it works, though we keep a close eye on traffic spikes and we’re always ready to make any adjustments that clients/sites will benefit from.

We do work closely with those who consistently have higher levels of traffic ranging from 50-100,000 visitors a month up to 1 million+ – the exact needs differ depending on the type of site and what they’re running, though most cases need only minor tweaks and in most cases, it’s to MySQL. There’s only been 1-2 instances where Litespeed or PHP needed a minor tweak to solve a performance issue – perhaps we’ve been lucky or perhaps our configuration just works that well :-).

What is your observation on the emerging Managed WP hosting market?

WordPress, as a product, a solution, a CMS, and as a base for development, has seen consistent and steady growth over the past few years and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. As more and more designers & developers open up shop, as more providers target WordPress, and as the market for a solution that allows easy content publication grows, WordPress grows with it. This single piece of software is one of the most influential and powerful solutions available online today, and it’s free, so anyone from your average joe to a billion-dollar company can use it and deploy it over and over. There’s power in free and free has been the kickstarter for multiple million-dollar+ businesses over the past few years.

What is your productivity secret? I always get instant responses and fixes for my support questions 🙂

Loving what you do and having fun while you’re doing it is a great way to boost productivity. If you love what you do, staying focused on a task, responding to a request, or just chatting with others is easier than if you view what you’re doing as a “job” or as a “requirement” – I’m often listening to music, watching & listening to movies/TV in the background, and reading articles while I’m online. It provides distraction which forces me to re-focus my attention, which results in paying more attention to what I do.

Lifetime hosting is something I have never heard of. What is the inspiration for this? What is your best-selling hosting plan?

We introduced Lifetime WordPress Hosting as a test to gauge the market value of such a service. The response was amazing and to date, they continue to be a great seller as the value is excellent for those with smaller, low-traffic sites that occasionally see a spike. In terms of sales, it’s actually split down the middle. They’re equally priced and clients generally upgrade from one to another which evens things out.

How is WPDensity launch progressing?

The initial uptake of the project is a little slower than expected, though we’re still planning to launch the service in 2013. We may not hit the funding that we need, though we are capable on-hand to take on the project so that we can allow the initial wave of users to sign up. There’s a lot of work that goes into launching a project such as WPDensity, so while it may seem slow to some, we’re actively working on it along side the relaunch of NodeKi in December. We’re definitely excited about the project and hope that others will be equally excited as the service progresses and as we move forward.

Can you suggest some performance tips for WordPress users on shared hosts?

The biggest improvement will come from using a caching plugin such as W3 Total Cache. Many shared hosting providers do not give access to MemCache or APC, so file-based caching is all that’s available, though in terms of performance, even file-only caching will give a boost. It’s also best to optimize your site and your code before you rely on caching and CDN’s as they’ll only carry you so far. Take the time to go through your CSS & JS – remove what you don’t use; the same applies to plugins – if you don’t use it, it shouldn’t be active.

Social Networking plugins are probably one of the absolute worst. I’ve seen Google+, Facebook, and Twitter add 3-10 seconds to the page load because of issues experienced with their API’s. While I certainly understand the benefit of these plugins, they can kill page load times very quickly and until you test the site, you’d think it was the provider or their network.

Plugin Optimizer is also a relatively nice plugin that allows you to disable plugins per page/post – which allows you fine-grain control over what loads. It’s a great way to speed up the home page of any site as well as other areas where plugins shouldn’t load.

Do you feel that WordPress can handle queries and page loads better? How?

WordPress, by default, handles queries and page loads pretty well. With basic levels of caching, a tuned MySQL configuration, and optimized site content, WordPress flies — it’s when site owners load poorly coded plugins and utilize huge frameworks that performace begins to degrade. A standard WordPress installation sees about 13-15 queries on the homepage which is low, though when plugins come into play, that number can increase and 99% of the time, the site owner never knows about it unless they have a working knowledge of PHP & MySQL or their provider steps in and alerts them.

As an example, a recent issue with a clients site was the result of a multi-language plugin and a framework that provided drag-and-drop functionality to ease development. They were seeing 5-10 second page load times and asked us to check things out for them. When I did an intial performance audit, everything appeared to be okay, though digging deeper into our logs and once we output the number of queries being ran, I was shocked. The multi-language plugin appeared to be doing one query per word on each page which resulted in 3-5,000 queries per page – the framework added another 300-400. Removing both dropped the page loads to about .4 seconds and with other plugins active, about 90 queries per page. Another solution was found which met the needs of the client and all ended well.

While the above is a rather extreme example, it does go to show that plugins can and do cause issues. There have been arguments that plugins don’t consume high resources — they can and do, especially when the plugin is poorly coded and doesn’t follow standards. It’s not always the provider, though the provider is often the first to get the blame when it comes to slight performance hits. Thankfully we work with clients and have the opportunity to run into issues like these as it helps us help the next client facing similar issues.

In terms of frameworks, of all the theme frameworks I’ve used, Genesis by StudioPress is by far the best. It has a bit of a learning curve to it, though you can do some pretty neat things with it. For what you get and the level of support provided, you really can’t go wrong.

1 thought on “Interview with Jonathan Tittle of Nodeki Hosting”

  1. Thanks Ravi & Jonathan! I prior to 2012 and over the last 6 years or so, I had used several hosting services for my website development clients and in mid 2102 started using Nodeki. Nodeki’s service is like no other host I have used, they beat every other hosting company I have used before in every aspect of their service. Put simply, Jonathan at Nodeki is a machine! He provides an awesome and efficient service. Thanks again, keep up the good work.

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