iThemes, the company behind popular WordPress themes and plugins like BackupBuddy, officially announced today that they have launched their own Managed WordPress Hosting. To many in the industry, this will come at no surprise but rather a sigh of relief as speculation around iThemes getting into the hosting business has been rumored off and on again for the last decade. Their founder Cory Miller had this to say:
Some quick background … For the last 10 years, as we’ve built WordPress themes, plugins and services, one thing has always been missing — hosting. We’ve sought to build relationships with all of the popular and good (while they are still good) WordPress hosts out there but, frankly, it’s been a giant struggle and frustration for us (and likely you, too). We’ve had to beg and plead to get them to work with us and our products for the good of our mutual customers.
iThemes started as their name suggests, purely a WordPress theme company. They were pioneers in the WordPress page builder theme business with their launch of Builder in 2009. As a user of this theme, it was way ahead of its time. Back then you only had a couple, and they were limited. Pagelines and Headway themes were the main two competitors. Pagelines wasn't fully drag and drop at the time, and Headway had an initially buggy interface. Today you have themes like Divi by Elegant Themes, Beaver Builder, Elementor, Thrive, and even WordPress core getting into the game with Gutenberg or WordPress 5.0.
As time went on, iThemes got started to successfully leverage their theme community to launch other products. Their flagship and pivotal launch was BackupBuddy in 2010 which took them purely from a theme company into the realm of a plugin company. BackupBuddy is a WordPress backup solution that has evolved to be a heavy leader in the space over time as it developed features and performance that other backup solutions for WordPress either didn't have, or weren't cost effective enough.
Following BackupBuddy iThemes went on to get into the security game with iThemes Security. This move continued to move iThemes father away from themes, and more to a tool provider for WordPress. Going even further, they made a calculated bet on WooCommerce and started developing tools that were severely missing like a WooCommerce mobile app, reporting, and more.
There were also friendships within iThemes that developed as they grew. One key relationship was between founder Cory Miller and Chris Lemma. Chris had some relationship in WordPress hosting with Managed WordPress pioneer WP Engine. It's not clear his exact relationship with WPEngine, but he worked closely with them during his time at CrowdFavorite, a development agency specializing in WordPress development. Chris also had a strong relationship Josh Strebel, who runs Managed WordPress hosting provider Pagely. During this same time period, Pagely and Strebel put on Pressnomics, a conference geared for WordPress business owners. GoDaddy was a strong participant, specifically Jeff King who ran product for GoDaddy. Jeff I'm sure had hands in not only GoDaddy's Managed WordPress hosting product, but also GoDaddy Pro, maybe even had hands in the Sucuri and ManagedWP acquisitions. All of these moves heavily put them further into the WordPress ecosystem.
The time is now 2016. WordPress is vibrant powering upwards of 25%+ of the websites on the internet. WooCommerce has grown by leaps and bounds and is considered a serious ecommerce solution, and all of these relationships mentioned above are about to heavily get intertwined (except Josh, though his friendships with all and amazing conference probably provided a catalyst for it all, hope they all sent you your piece Stebel).
Enter Liquid Web.
As Cory said in his quote, he had over the years tried, or had worked with various hosting companies. One of the flagship companies iThemes and Cory integrated with was Liquid Web. Liquid Web is a Michigan based hosting company that has a stellar reputation for customer service and high quality hosting, but you pay a premium for it. Reliability and amazing support isn't cheap. Liquid Web services a similar demographic as Media Temple, a GoDaddy owned sister brand.
Liquid Web over the last 3 years has made a lot of interesting moves themselves to bring them to where they are today. Their first move was to shed all of their shared hosting customers to Deluxe. This move was to focus on their more premium tier hosting customers. Next they acquired WiredTree, a premium VPS provider. Lastly Liquid Web went on to acquire Cloud Sites from Rackspace.
During these acquisitions, Chris Lema joined Liquid Web as the head of product and Jeff King joined Liquid Web's board, remember those 2 guys close to WordPress and Cory Miller?
So why does all of this matter and how does it tie together? Liquid Web was in the hosting game, iThemes was integrated with their suite of tools, and both are heavy into WordPress and WooCommerce, Liquid Web purchased iThemes this past January of 2018. The writing was on the wall.
Here we are now 6-7 months after the acquisition of iThemes and they've launched their own Managed WordPress product. My guess would be while this would be seperated from Liquid Web's core clients, this second offering would be leveraging Liquid Web's redundancies ie infrastructure or platform, data centers, support, etc.
What I really like about this is the story of it all. I would have guessed that iThemes would have ventured into the hosting space themselves even if the acquisition hadn't happened. They had all the right pieces between the WordPress solutions with backups and security, combine that with their reputation and reach. I will be testing their managed WordPress offering soon and report back!