Introducing Akshat Choudhary
Akshat is the founder of BlogVault and MalCare. He’s been in the WordPress community for eight years. Mostly a developer, Akshat is also growing his team and dealing with the challenges that come along with that.
Preferred Pronouns | He/Him
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 124.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Akshat Choudhary. Akshat is the founder of BlogVault and MalCare. He’s been in the WordPress community for eight years. Mostly a developer, Akshat is also growing his team and dealing with the challenges that come along with that. Welcome, Akshat. We’re so glad you’re here.
Akshat: Hi, I am glad to be here.
Liam: Well, we’re excited to meet you today, Akshat. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Akshat: All right. As Tara has introduced, I’m the founder of BlogVault and MalCare. We are a WordPress backup and security service. That’s essentially what we do. As the founder, I lead the team to make sure everything is happening on time. Actually, on a personal front, as you guys had mentioned earlier, BlogVault and MalCare have been my life for almost eight years now. That’s what I’ve been eating, breathing, and everything. All my life has revolved around it. And it’s almost sad in a way, but it becomes your identity to such a great extent because you’re so involved in your business. As of today, that’s how I would describe myself.
Tara: Well, BlogVault is a familiar term for many of us in the WordPress space. How did you get started with that?
Akshat: This is an interesting story. I’m an engineer by education and I was working as an engineer writing code day in day out. I can still consider myself a WordPress outsider to a great extent. But when we got started, I barely knew anything about WordPress.
Now, one of the bloggers I was following who was a really famous internet personality, he lost his website. That’s when I thought, “Okay, maybe if this guy who’s so famous and actually very technical, if he can lose his blog, then maybe there is something to it.” That’s how I got the idea. I thought it’s like a two-week project. Now, it’s been eight years and even now we are improving and building our product. I don’t think I am that terrible programmer. Just two things have happened. One, I think everyone estimates incorrectly but secondly, the space itself is so interesting, and so many things open up and to go deeper into it, that, it takes a long time to build a great product.
Tara: Were you already using WordPress at the time? Were you already familiar with WordPress?
Akshat: No. I’m sure I never heard of WordPress then. It’s been a long time. But I never really used WordPress. One of the reasons why we are called blogVault, had I used WordPress, maybe I would have called it WPwallet or something like that. I was like okay, “We need to protect blogs and what our blog’s made of. There’s a thing called WordPress, and how do we go about doing it?” That’s how I got into WordPress. I was a complete outsider.
Liam: I’m really interested in how you’re witnessing this famous bloggers website implode with no backups and you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I could go ahead and write something that would be a service, a value to their…” Presumably, you were working somewhere as an engineer at the time or maybe finishing up studies depending on where you’re at, in which season of your life. But how did it evolve from an idea when you’re lamenting some blogger losing all their content to the point now where you’re the founder and leader of a very well-known and well-respected company in the WordPress community? Walk us through that in a nutshell if you would.
Akshat: Again, when we got started, we didn’t really know what we’re getting into. We didn’t think that it’s going to become… Frankly and the reality is I thought maybe it’s going to make me like $2,000 in a year. And we’ve come a long, a long way since then.
Liam: Nice, little side project.
Akshat: Yeah, I wasn’t expecting much. As I built it, I launched it. And launching it frankly meant nothing because as much as you could use internet, I didn’t really expect people paying you on the internet. Six months down the line, I get this mail from a customer. I wouldn’t even call them a customer. From a user. He emailed me saying that, hey, I’m trying to pay you the payment is not going through. I still remember that moment very clearly. I was sitting with my friends, and I get this mail and I’m like, “Okay, someone is actually trying to pay me.” And then I realized that my PayPal integration was incorrect, and the code I had put in was wrong. So I fixed it, and I think a few hours later, I got $29. I was like, “Wow, people pay on the internet.” I still remember very clearly when I got that mail and that feeling and it’s insane because frankly, I was not expecting any of it. I just built something for the heck of it almost.
Obviously, I invested into the project. So whenever you build something, you invested into it, but at the same time, you don’t have expectations from it, especially when you have never been paid. Like here is a completely random stranger sitting in some other part of the world paying you. I had created my PayPal account for this specific purpose and then all of that. It’s quite fascinating. It still gives me goosebumps.
Tara: That’s great. That’s great…
Liam: And I can hear that in your voice.
Tara: …that you started from that point, and to see where you are now. What would you credit to the growth of BlogVault? How did you get the word out after that first $29 sale? How did it grow?
Akshat: In all honesty, I’ve been tremendously lucky because I’m a marker. I’m far from it. It just happened. Frankly, I’m not even sure how we got through. We wrote a couple of articles here and there, then I think a couple of bloggers picked us up. This is a great story actually. We launched and a couple of weeks later Jet – not jetpack. Earlier it was called WordPress. That’s automatic our competitor – launched. At that point, I thought, “Okay, this is done. Forget it. Now the main guy is there and they have launched and they have a good product so they are going to win the market.” This is one of my big learnings.
What actually happened was when people started looking for WordPress and started talking, they’re like, “Who are the alternatives to WordPress.” And we would start getting included in those articles. I think that is the single biggest reason why we exist. Because I was not going out. I had my day job which I was doing, actually for quite some time since then. People started writing about WordPress and they would somehow find me. They wrote as a byline or as a second article or something like that, and people started coming and checking us out at the same time.
Liam: That’s a very humble answer.
Akshat: It is not. It is the reality. There’s a great takeaway for people who build products. Don’t be scared of competitors. Competitors can actually help you because they help validate and define a space. That I think is very, very important when you’re building products. Going into an open market where people don’t even understand your space becomes a big challenge because the vast majority of us do not have the capability of educating people as to creating the need.
Liam: I wonder if you can share a little bit about what blogVault and MalCare does, what your business offers, what service it is. And I’ll preface it shot with the understanding that we are not a technical show. So if you can kind of talk about it in terms maybe that first blogger who lost all of his or her content would understand.
Akshat: blogVault blog actually have come a long way since this blog and we have recovered all sorts of WordPress sites. Today we see that while WordPress is very popular with bloggers, it’s also very popular with CMS with businesses building their websites. And no blogger or no business can really afford to have their websites go down or have something wrong with it. And things do happen. Frankly, over the few years, we have seen lots of things go wrong. One of the days when BlogVault was used the most was when there was a hurricane which hit New York and it took down data centers for days. So even the most improbable event like a Hurricane affecting your site, it does happen.
In all those situations, what you require is a good backup. That’s what BlogVault does. Actually, the thing is, we are the exact opposite of what a technical product really is. What we have done is we have taken away the whole technical difficulty associated with any anything as complicated as backups and just made it really, really easy for anybody. Sometimes in the WordPress space, we almost assume that our customers, that our users are willing to configure a million settings and like doing it, and are capable of dealing with it. I don’t come from that thought at all. We like to keep it really simple and almost assume that customers do not want to do any settings, they are not positioned to make the best choices. If you have the expertise, then you should provide it. That’s something which we do and make it really simple.
We did BlogVault and we built this great backup product, which makes it really easy to back up your WordPress site. Over a period of time, we realized that customers were restoring backups for different reasons. Obviously, when their servers crashed and data centers, something went wrong and human errors and everything. But one of the big reasons was when the sites got hacked.
Now they would use their backups to recover from the hack. The first thing I would tell you is, never recover from a hack from a backup…Only the worst-case situation. Because when you want to remove malware, you need to get rid of it completely. You can’t just restore from a backup and assume that it’s gone you. It’s almost like you need to get rid of the bedbugs. I don’t even know what I’m…
Tara: That’s a good analogy.
Akshat: But do you need to do that complete thorough cleaning. And backups do not always do that. Coming back to the story, people were restoring their sites from backups when the sites have been hacked. As we were helping these customers out, we realized that their sites would be hacked for six months or longer before they even realized that the sites have been hacked. That got us into our next journey, which became MalCare. Well, we said that our customers will be able to find the malware. And they have all these products. There have been quite a few security products out there. Over time, we realized that those security products were just not able to find all the malware and we tried to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, the problem was much, much, much harder than we actually anticipated and it took us like almost three years to make a scanner which we were happy with. And that became our second product. That’s MalCare. So yeah, today we have two main products: BlogVault and MalCare, but we have a bunch of other ideas that we’re working with.
Tara: Am I correct in remembering that is BlogVault also used for migrations by some web hosting companies?
Akshat: Oh, yes. At BlogVault, we do great backups and we do great restores. This is again, actually a fantastic story. We all know WP Engine, which is a great web host. WP Engines founder Jason Cohen has been like…I’ve really looked up to him for a long time and followed him on the internet and would listen to him talk and read all his blog posts and see all the videos or conferences he would appear on the internet. And then also listen to a lot of the podcast he would appear in.
In one of the podcasts, he mentions that migrations are the single biggest reason they would lose customers. This is quite a few years ago. That’s when it got into me that hey, this is something we do well and we need to partner with WP Engine. It took a couple of years. I’m not a great sales guy. I should have given the… But we were finally able to meet Jason and then…
Actually, I can’t even take credit for selling that. That sale happened because one of our customers who is a big agency in UK, they had Heather Brunner who was the CEO of WP Engine visiting them. This customer convinced Heather to talk to us. That’s the real story. I had a value proposition where the migrations was there but had those customers not convinced Heather who was the CEO of WP Engine, this partnership would not have happened. But yeah, the long and short of it is today we power migrations for all the major WordPress hosting companies from WP Engine, Pantheon, Flywheel, Liquid Web, Cloudwaves, TreeHost. I’m definitely missing quite a few of those.
Tara: I thought I had seen it and used it, and it is really amazing. Having used a number of different migration profiles, platforms, I would say that I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem using the migration on WP Engine or others that use BlogVault. It’s very seamless. And I’m sure it must help them as well in their sales process and to retain so you’ve added a great value to their service as well. That’s a really neat story.
Akshat: Thank you.
Tara: I was wondering how that relationship worked. That’s really interesting.
Liam: I want to chime in on that. Because as Tara asked the question about migration and you started to explain, it occurred to me that, of course, I recognize BlogVault. To Tara’s point, it works so seamlessly that I didn’t even really recognize it. Because when it doesn’t cause you any headaches, and it just does it – and I’m, a WP Engine client, so I log into WP Engine and I move a site and I just walk away and it happens. That’s great. Thank you for making a great product. It’s so interesting that one of your clients basically did all your sales work because you have such a great product. I think that sounds like there’s a whole nother podcast right in that and at that point alone.
Akshat: They’re lovely people and definitely one of my very, very close friends in the WordPress community. Shout out to Heather and Tom from WP Engine. If you ever see them, definitely say hi to them. They’re great people.
Liam: I’ll have to check them out. I’m heading over to the UK over the summer. I want to ask you about success, Akshat. I want to ask about more specifically, what is your definition of success? And that might be a personal definition, professional definition, given what you shared about the amount of time that you’ve poured into BlogVault over the last eight years and maybe a combination of both. Can you share that with us, please?
Akshat: All right. I have been very, very lucky on that. Luck and some desire to make things happen. Those things when they come together I think it leads to success, at least in the professional sense. Or I think at any level where you have a desire and you work towards something and then the timing and luck and other factors come together to help you achieve that. That’s what I would define as success.
What is success to me? Frankly, I’m a very happy or lucky person also. I’m not this crazy aggressive entrepreneur kind of person. Sometimes you feel bad about it because you have been presented with such a fantastic opportunity. Success also defines being content with what you have been able to do and also recognizing the opportunity that you have to make a bigger impact. I would definitely say that I’m successful at that.
Tara: Your story strikes me because it sounds like you fit this definition of the idea of an accidental entrepreneur. If you hadn’t solved this problem for your blogger friend, do you think that you would own your own business? Or do you think you always were destined to do this kind of thing? Even if there wasn’t BlogVault, maybe something else?
Akshat: The BlogVault was not my first venture. I’ve tried things in the past. I think I’ve worked equally hard at those other ventures too and they did not succeed. I will not say that I was destined for success because I have worked equally hard on other projects and things that do not necessarily work out. I’m not saying that had BlogVault not worked I would have definitely done something else which would have been equally successful. I don’t believe that. But yeah, entrepreneurship is something which has always…I’ve always tinkered with ideas and have wanted to make products which customers or people love. That’s what gives me joy.
Liam: I like that.
Akshat: When you make things which people use, it gives you satisfaction, which frankly, at least for a person like me, nothing else I think can give. It is what makes me wake up in the morning every day.
Liam: I certainly respect that. And you shared that you’re a happy go lucky kind of guy. And from the time that we’re spending with you and the time before we clicked the “record” button, that strikes me as a pretty accurate description of you. I want to go back something that you said earlier in the show, Akshat around…you kind of compared a little bit and contrast with what you’re sharing about success and how helping people, making the world a better place, you can succeed in that. That’s great. But you kind of little bit lightheartedly, I admit, you said it’s almost sad in a way how much time and energy you’ve poured into BlogVault over the years. I don’t share that with you back in a critical way but to kind of ask about how do you consider the balance? How do you work about the balance between now you’ve built a very successful company with a global audience, and that’s its own challenges, right? You’re getting emails and support calls and business opportunities 24 hours a day because your clients are all over the world. How do you balance all of that in a way that still enables you to be the kind of happy go lucky guy that you certainly come across us?
Akshat: I don’t think I do a good job of balancing. I don’t think any of my family members will say that I’m balanced in any possible metric. At the same time, I think I pretend to work a lot harder than I really do. I take my vacations. I have been very fortunate. Because of WordPress, I’ve seen the whole world now attending WordCamps and going and meeting people and doing things. So basically, every WordCamp I attend in a different part of the world. I get to basically a vacation for free. The company pays for me to go and actually hang out with people. I don’t even remember what the question was, sorry. I was distracted.
Liam: That’s all right. But you’ve led us into another area I’d like to chat with you about. And it’s about the WordPress community and your involvement in it. You’ve been to a lot of WordCamps, you’ve got this very well-known plugin. Tell us a little bit about your involvement with the WordPress community and maybe walk us through your first ideas of “Hey, I’ll make a backup tool to discovering the community that came around or that grew around the software.”
Akshat: I still remember the first WordCamp I attended a few years ago. Have you been to the WordCamp San Francisco that used to be…what was considered like the WordCamp US at that time before they had an official WordCamp US? I remember going to the first one from India. That’s a big hike. I think a good deal of money was spent. And you go there the very first WordCamp, you don’t even know what the hell is going on. You don’t know about the WordPress community. You are this entrepreneur who has to make money and make sure that at least you make back the money you have spent on the flight and everything else. Fortunately, you don’t have to make that much money on the WordCamp ticket which the community is making shows is very, very reasonably priced.
So you go in there and you are trying to have these conversations and trying to sell your product and then I failed miserably because WordCamp is not about selling. Then you feel miserable. Actually, you just feel terrible at the end of it because you’ve gone there you’ve not met anybody really, and you’ve failed at your original mission of which is like, “Okay, I’m going to go there and get a bunch of customers.” Which I will not advise anyone to do now. That is not people like me to do.
I realized that there’s something I’m doing wrong. Then what I did was in the next WordCamp, which was in WordCamp Sofia, actually WordCamp Europe in Sofia, I volunteered. That’s when the light went out. That’s when I realized that this community is not about…You know, those words are wrong. It’s not that I realized. It’s like I have to deal with this problem in this way. It’s just that my perspective…I won’t even say I my perspective changed. I basically made friends. That’s the right way of putting it. Like you go there, you volunteer, and then you have all these people who are so involved in WordPress and it’s a celebration. And you’re part of that celebration. Then you’re making friends and over a period of time people get to recognize you and everyone is out there trying to help you or know more about you. And looking back, the dots will connect. If you try and force the dots to connect, they don’t happen.
Tara: What about your local community there. You’re in India. Where in India are you?
Akshat: I’m in Bangalore. Again, I’m not very, very involved in the WordPress community. Frankly, I’m not involved in any community. I get to the office, finish my work. That’s all takes up most of my time. They do have a fairly small community, but we’re going to have a very first WordCamp I think in the next few months in Bangalore’s. That’s going to be very exciting. I can’t take any credit for it. I’ve hosted a couple of WordPress meetups here, but I’m not a very active member of the community. That’s not me.
Akshat: But it sounds like you are in terms of the worldwide community though because your product is all over and so people know you and you’ve met a lot of people and friends I think through WordCamps, even if it’s not your local community.
Akshat: Yeah. That’s the reality of it.
Tara: And that’s okay. I want to ask you about advice. We ask our guests to share with us some advice that they may have received in their life that’s made an impression on them and maybe that you’ve implemented into your life somehow. Can you think of any advice that you’ve been given that’s been helpful to you?
Akshat: Yes. This is something which I’ve been thinking for the past half an hour so far about what’s an advice which has been given to me which I’ve implemented. You get so much advice, and invariably what you end up doing is they’re not implementing it, and then you feel pretty terrible about it. I’m just thinking what is the one advisor taken which I can… This is a question which has stumped me completely. I’m sorry, give me a moment. Let me just think once more.
Tara: Take your time.
Liam: It doesn’t have to be the best advice or anything. A business colleague or a grandparent or maybe something your sibling said when you were younger that stuck with you.
Akshat: Nothing is coming to me and so sorry about this. I’ve actually spent the past half an hour thinking about it and I nothing struck me as to what an advice I received.
Liam: Now that’s all right. Don’t feel bad. That’s the very nature of a Hallway Chat is we catch people off guard and we chat. Let me ask you this. You’ve been in business for eight years. You started with an idea and now you’re got a very well established, highly respected company. If you had to try to narrow it down, what would you say has been your biggest challenge in the past eight years in growing your business? One of the biggest. Not to put you on the spot again. One of the biggest.
Akshat: No, no, no. I think communication is a big challenge. I’m not a communicator. I tend to stick by myself and do my own thing. And when you’re building a company, you can’t do that. When you’re building a product, you can’t do that because marketing is communication. Everything is communication. That’s one of the big learnings, the importance of communication over time and the effect it has. Because you need to communicate with your team, and you need your team to communicate with everyone. And then you need your company to communicate externally. Because unless you do that communication, it’s going to hamper you.
Tara: We mentioned in the intro that you’re growing your team and that that’s posed some challenges for you. So is your team remote or do you all work together?
Akshat: No. We all work together. I told you communication is a big challenge. I can’t imagine working remotely because then…I think that is how we see each other and talk to each other, at least a bit. I’m not the kind of person who can deal with remote. I need to see it. At least there is some level of just face to face, which leads to better communication and better interactions.
Tara: Have you had any lessons, anything to share that has worked for you in terms of communicating? Any breakthroughs that you’ve had or are you continuing to struggle with it? Any tools or techniques that you can recommend?
Akshat: I think, hire great team members who could do the job better than you so they will ensure that the company communicates much better than you do yourself. I think that’s what has kept us afloat and that’s what is ensuring that we are able to hire more people because I have team members who go ahead and put in that effort and enjoy doing that process. I have team members who love marketing and who want to reach out to others and try and get the word out about our product. And we have team members who actually communicate with each other and make sure that we are celebrating and doing things like that. That’s the heck. Fill in your gaps. My team does make sure that we fill in that one big hole in a big way.
Tara: Well, that’s great advice that you’ve shared with us. So I appreciate that. Thank you so much. Unfortunately, we are out of time already. It’s been so great chatting with you today, Akshat. Thank you so much for joining us. I know we’re in a very different time zone so we appreciate your scheduling to work with our schedule as well. Can you tell us where people can find you online?
Akshat: Thank you again, Tara and Liam, for having me. I totally enjoyed this conversation. Some of the questions, like the last question, was fairly tough, the one about advice where I stumbled quite badly. Finally, where you can find me, I’m on Twitter. Again, I don’t tweet very much. I’m also on Facebook. That’s where you can find me. Twitter, it’s @akshatc. On Facebook, you should search for me. If you are anywhere related to WordPress, I’m sure I’ll pop up simply because now 50% of my friends on Facebook or more than 50% are from the WordPress community.
Tara: That’s great. Thanks. We may already be friends on Facebook. I’m not even sure. That’s quite possible. Thanks again for joining us. I hope to meet you at a WordCamp again because we didn’t meet at WordCamp US. But I hope to spend more time with you at the next one.
Liam: Thanks, Akshat. Real pleasure getting to know you. Thanks for your time this evening. Bye-bye.
Akshat: Thank you again. Bye-bye.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.