You’re a company when…

2,700 days ago, and 40,000 subscribers ago, I published my 13th blog post. Feedburner said there were 50 RSS subscribers, but at least 40 of them were directories or scrapers.

It was: “You’re a real company when….” An existential question of when a startup becomes “real.”  At that time, I had decided it was when our sign went up on the building:

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By “the building” I mean a windowless loft of 1/14th of a small strip-mall in a cheap area of town, where rats ate through our Ethernet cables and a tin roof made a light drizzle sound like hail and hail sound like the End of Days.

But it was ours, and from the earliest days of human enterprise it’s always meant something to hang out your shingle. (Let’s not get into exactly what sort of “shingle” is hanging out with the oldest profession…)

This past weekend, WP Engine hung its shingle as well, but this time it’s so much more meaningful, and not just because this building doesn’t have rats:

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I grew up in Austin. I’ve traveled the world but there’ve always been reasons for me to stay.

As a kid, “downtown” was a weird, mysterious place. Unlike today, no one lived there, there were no family-friendly attractions, and the buildings housed organizations that a kid would never have occasion to visit: the workplaces of lawyers and government officials and bankers.

However, on Sundays we’d drive down 5th street towards those uncharted one-way streets, stopping just short of downtown proper. There was a grey building I could see out the left side of the car, where my carseat was, with a long, sloping ramp leading to a parking garage; this marked the caddy-corner of our destination — the bagel shop. (“Hot Jumbo,” which, like almost everything that was downtown 30 years ago, is no longer there.)

We’d scoot in, grab a baker’s dozen of bagels still piping hot from the oven, jump back in the car, U-turn away from the unknowable center of the city, and get home fast, hoping to eat one with its warmth intact.

This image of the building’s garage-entry is etched into my childhood memory, associated with “whatever adults do” and doughty 5th street, a one-way corridor into a world that maybe I’ll be admitted into, someday, when I’m a big boy. It’s a magical building, even if only for me.

That sign in the photo above, is mounted on that very building. “The WP Engine Building.”

I drive up that ramp every weekday, joining almost 200 people on this journey we created together.

Downtown.

Like a big boy.

TO EVERYONE AT WP ENGINE:

My hope is that being an essential part of this unique journey is your dream too, not just mine, and that you’ll point up to that sign five years from now and explain to the children in your back seat that it’s there because of you, not because you were “there for the ride,” but because you actually helped create it, one customer at a time, whether you thrilled them with customer service so deeply that they convinced a friend to sign up too, or helped them find us through the fog of “web hosting” propaganda, or helped them decide whether we’re the right partner for their business, or got them excited and saved them hours of drudgery through platform features, or helped all of us run the company smarter through finance and metrics, or made our office a lovely place to come to, or ensured that everyone we hire shares our values, or if you’re the silent hero who put out fires at 3:15am while everyone else slumbered in bliss. 

Our building sign that a million Austinites will see is there because of you as much as me or Heather or anyone else. This company is ours

There’s much more hard work ahead. This will never be easy. But it’s worth it. You and I may never again get a chance to be a part of something this special. 

These are the “good old days.” It’s wonderful to share them with you. 

  • StBedeofBerwick

    Congratulations.

  • Great words, Jason.

  • bithai

    Great Memo Jason. Always a fan of what you put on here. As a WPEngine customer and Austinite, I love seeing the WPEngine logo up high while driving down 5th street every week. The guys that keeps our website up and running fast, answering our support questions…all work up there. ;)

    • They do indeed! 24/7 too. Thanks for the kind words.

  • Congratulations! :-)

  • jasonstoddard

    Three weeks ago, Sunday, driving East on 5th, heading to Plaza Lofts for Treehouse. A routine for the last 7 years. I saw the sign the second it became visible.

    That sign has changed over the years. This time the logo evoked an emotional response: They made it; Aaron’s intrigue and subterfuge pre-launch; a phone conversation with Austin about food allergens and finding his place, only for him to own it and create his meteoric rise; Ben’s hilarious cloaked allusions embedded in customer service posts in the fb group; the thread about creating marketplace for apps/plug-in (and your resolute position that a marketplace was Automattic’s job); your post about stepping down as CEO, creating the opportunity for Heather to lead.

    Out of an almost instinctive fit of admiration, my immediate thought was to take a photograph, post it on twitter and cc you.

    But that would not be in-line with your style; not the best [complement].

    So, I offer this.

    If I did not know you better, if, say, I was a stranger happening on to this post (with zero or limited knowledge of who and what you are,) I’d resign your words to the bin of tired, staid, disingenuous team building platitudes. But you, of course, are different.

    While so many of your peers make it all about them–seizing every opportunity to develop a name for themselves with flash, winks and smiles– you make it all about others. Despite this, your reputation as a mensch’s mensch proceeds your arrival on any scene.

    Every single person I have know that has worked with you (or for you), is a testament to this: You gave them the opportunity to write their own story for good or bad, and never, not once, pulled rank. You’re a living, breathing, walking example of the categorical imperative because you treat people as ends in and of themselves and not means to ends.

    And while I’m disappointed you’ve slowly diluted your snark and analysis on this blog over the years, it’s evidence of your mindful approach to leadership, your deference to be nice rather than right, your maturity and your belief towards killing the Buddha in the road where ever you find him.

    Towards creative fidelity…

    • Wow, thanks Jason for such a heartfelt and considered vote of support.

      I definitely need to re-up the snark factor. :-)

  • Gretchen

    Congratulations, Jason. I just transferred all our assets over to WP Engine and am happy to be a part of your growth!

  • Congratulations Jason! This is amazing to watch your dreams come true. Awesome article!

  • Great post, Jason. As someone launching my own startup I really enjoy gleaning through your wisdom and insights. Thanks.

  • Sherrie

    Jason – I am so proud and happy for you. Must be a wonderful feeling and so honestly expressed.
    May all the best continue to go your way!

  • Jeffrey Fry

    ..wow, what a great story.. of, closure…

  • Ross Kimbarovsky

    Congratulations, Jason. I’ve been following your blog for some time and really appreciate the insight you’ve shared and continue to share. Thank you.

    Tomorrow, I will become a new customer with WP Engine!

    • Thanks so much, and welcome to our family!

  • Leandrew Dixon

    It was definitely a unique and inspiring part of my journey. From being a part of the tiny team all stuffed in one cubicle to watching from a far as 504 lavaca is declared WP Engine building, its been a hell of an experience. Just about everyday it crosses my mind how grateful I am to have been a part of building it and learning directly from the smart bear himself. Congrats Jason! I hope you all can hear me cheering from the sidelines. :)

    • You know we love you too. :-) you’re not sidelined, you were a big part of our success in the early days, and that gift keeps giving.

  • Mazel Tov, Jason, and a very inspiring tribute. Best wishes for many more years ahead!

  • I have to say that I am glad for the success of WPEngine. I had been using a low cost provider before and ran into innumerable challenges related to scalability, reliability, support, and more.

    A friend recommended WPEngine as a provider. It was definitely more expensive – and WELL worth the expense! The quality of the product is excellent, and the support is strong. The few times I had any challenges with the solution I was pleased with the way that support cases were handled. For someone who lived in a high-availability world for a long time, I appreciate the attention to detail and the ease of use, too!

    My business changed direction, and though I’m no longer a customer, I highly recommend WPEngine to potential customers. Well done sirs, well done.

  • Perry

    Looks like we might be your first customer to come from the sign

  • Now that is a great success story. Congratulations from Cloudways

  • asdf

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