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The Secret of Our Succe$s

There's no such thing as an overnight success. Brantley Foster took two weeks.

Get out your pencil$ and notepad$…

Recently Joel $polsky put up an article about how to pick what features to include in $oftware.

I read it accidentally, and it turns out he almost exactly describes how our $uggestions Area works!

We one-up his method though… rather than just having employees “buy” features they like, we put them up there for our entire customer base to vote on!

In that way, they (you!) do the most important thing to our entire company’s survival for us… you tell us which features we should work on ($ubversion) and which features we shouldn’t (Donate idle CPU time to BOINC).

(Oh, you want to know the most-suggested suggestion that we will never implement? I’ll tell you anyway: Allow seeing how many votes suggestions have. HA! I don’t THINK so! The only way we can be sure that we’re getting an accurate view of the wisdom of crowds is if everybody’s votes are independent. The last thing we want is people voting for something just because it’s ALREADY popular, or NOT voting on something just because nobody else has yet.)

But you know, just having customer-votable suggestions does not instantaneously imply succe$s (especially not the $ part)… there’s one more critical missing element. And that is the true “Secret of our Succe$s”..

HA! You think I would tell you all our secret$?!

You’re right. I will. Here it is:

We then actually implement the features!

But.. how we actually get done the things you know you need to do… THAT is our real $ecret!

HA! You think I would tell you all our secret$?!

Okay fine, I will.. one last time.

It’s the newsletter.

You see, just under 8 years ago a customer wrote in to me (yep, yours truly, the founding member of the Happy DreamHost $upport Team) suggesting we have a newsletter, because she didn’t get much email and would like to know what was going on in the company and things like that.

Well.. at the time we didn’t much need a newsletter… since there wasn’t much going on in the company.

Fortunately for DreamHost, my ego grabbed me by the throat, wrestled me to the ground, and said “Jo$h, write this newsletter. YOU WILL BE AN INTERNET GOD!” And that’s how the newsletter was born.

I don’t think I’ve ever told that story before.

But what does the newsletter have to do with us implementing new features, you ask? Well, since I decided to make it a monthly publication, each and every month I began needing what we in the business call “newsletter fodder.”

So now, around the 28th of each month (the 27th in February) I realize once again we’ve done nothing all month, and so frantically get everybody to $lap together some half-baked features from the top of our suggestion list, copy them live, and dump them in the newsletter!

We then generally spend the next month (up until the 28th) fixing those features.

$urprisingly, it actually kind of works. It sometimes makes for some ugly bugs, but hey, we’re not making pacemakers or space shuttles here. We’re providing $7.95/month web hosting. Not to mention, the uglier the bug, the quicker the fix.. and thank heaven we’re entirely web-based: bug fixes are “distributed” to all our customers in about 2 minutes.

So there it is.. the only thing keeping DreamHost competitive in the fast-paced world of Cheap Web Hosting… is Josh’s all-encompasing fear of an empty newsletter.

And you can take that to the bank$.

About the author

Josh Jones