Introducing Rahul Nagare
Up until last year, Rahul’s only public speaking had been once – in 4th grade. Last year, he stepped out of his comfort zone and now speaks at meetups and WordCamps about once a month. Rahul is the co-founder and CEO of Scale Dynamix, where he manages thousands of WordPress websites.
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 93.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re joined by Rahul Nagare. Up until last year, Rahul’s only public speaking had been once, in fourth grade. Last year, he stepped out of his comfort zone and now speaks at meetups and WordCamps about once a month. Rahul is a co-founder and CEO of Scale Dynamix where he manages thousands of WordPress websites. Hi, Rahul.
Rahul: Hey, Liam.
Tara: Hi, welcome Rahul. It’s really nice to meet you and have you here on Hallway Chats. Can you tell us more about yourself, please?
Rahul: Yeah. I’m speaking from beautiful Knoxville, Tennessee where it’s lovely 35 degrees today. I’ve been living here for a couple of years now. Before this, I’ve been all over the place, all over the world. I grew up in India in a city near Mumbai. It wasn’t one of the largest cities, probably a second largest. So I’ve always been used to the hustle and bustle of the big city. From there, I directly moved to Lubbock, Texas where they had three cars in the rush hour. And it was fun. After that, I’ve been sort of moving to different places in US, I travel a lot, and it has been really great.
Tara: So what brought you to the US? Did you go to school in Lubbock, Texas?
Rahul: My wife went to Lubbock, Texas. She did her PhD from Texas State. And because I work remotely, I can just follow her anywhere I go. I just need good WiFi.
Tara: Yeah, I imagine that was a culture shock going there. That was kind of in the middle of nowhere.
Rahul: It had its moments and it was fun.
Tara: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about your trajectory to computers, and WordPress, and what your background is, your education or how you got involved in this field?
Rahul: Yeah, computers, this is something I’ve always done. I built my first computer when I was in third grade. By built, I mean I just put together the cards and everything. Back then, it was the DOS operating system and Basic programming. I’ve always been into that sort of thing. I enjoy doing programming more than going out. Even back in those days, I used to prefer typing on my computer rather than going out and playing with friends or doing outdoor activities.
Tara: Are you still that way?
Rahul: Yes. Pretty much.
Liam: You don’t have to be sheepish about it. We can be bold.
Tara: A lot of us are.
Rahul: Yeah. A lot of people don’t like admitting that I would rather be indoors and work on my computer than go out for a run or something. But lately, I started doing more and more exercise, taking my dog out for hikes and stuff. But still, if it was an option, I would just spend time on my computer.
Tara: Yeah, there is a comfort in it and there are so many things to do. There’s an endless list of things to learn and see and do on the computer so it is very satisfying, I agree with you. Tell us about your relationship with WordPress?
Rahul: I’ve been using WordPress since 2008, 2009. I used to work for a web hosting company before that, I used to do some sort of web design. But back in those days, WordPress was sort of new to the market and only a few people were using that. Every now and then, I had to support customers who had websites built on WordPress. And I was aware of the community aspect of that, but I wasn’t. I was mostly focused on the server side of things, dev ops, making sure WordPress is safe, and that sort of thing. I didn’t get actually into programming for WordPress until last couple of years. Since then, I started seeing WordPress come up more and more. In 2014, I started a managed WordPress hosting company Nestify and now we host around 12,000 sites on that. These days, I mostly spend my time on– we started another division at Nestify called Scale Dynamix. It’s only focused on websites that have a couple of million visitors per month, and at that point, WordPress needs special attention and different set of skills to keep it online, keep it secure, keep it faster. That’s what we do at Scale Dynamix now.
Liam: That’s pretty interesting. Talk about your process or your journey from– it sounded like you were working for somebody else when you were beginning to learn WordPress and getting into hosting and all that kind of stuff. Then you started Nestify, I think you said, and then from Nestify, you’ve added on a new service called Scale Dynamix. What was that transition like? Going from, “I’m working for this person. I might want to work for myself. Like this. Now I’m going to do even more.” Talk us through your journey, would you?
Rahul: Yeah. It has been an interesting journey. I’m one of those people that have always only worked remotely all their life. I’ve spent maybe a week in office and I’ve been working for 15 years now. Back when I were graduating from high school, I had the similar job. I used to do Linux administration for a couple of hosting companies and back then, it was just a hobby but they started paying really well and I started adding more hours and then it became a full-time job. I sort of jumped into that and started learning more and more about Linux, web hosting, web servers, that sort of thing. Then, eventually, I had to learn about security and performance. And at a point, I was hosting most of my friends’ websites. I also had some customers and I was sort of doing that on the side. One day, I just decided to make the jump and start my own company and just do that full time.
Tara: So you just made this jump but you’re doing some very delicate work there, you’re working with obviously a customer, a website that has millions of visitors that cares a lot about their website and their performance because it means a lot when you have that much traffic. How do you market yourself to these large clients if you’re just jumping into being a business owner? Tell us about that path and finding customers, marketing your business, and then handling such a large scale type of business must be a bit stressful, I would guess? I don’t know, maybe not. You don’t seem like you’re stressed at all. I’m feeling stressed about it.
Rahul: I sort of lucked into serving these types of high traffic websites and customers. When I started, it was just your average managed WordPress hosting. We would take care of backups and stuff and security for you. But the way we have set up the server, it used to support a lot more customers because we were on a budget back then. I used to put a lot of customers on single server. To keep all of them fast and secure, I had to do some things on the server side. One of my friends had a website that was doing a few million visits per month, and he tried everything, AWS and some other solutions. And none of them worked so he asked me, “Can you do something about that?” I thought it might be a fun experiment, I hosted it on one of my servers and it just performed extremely well than what he was used to before. He used to show ads on the site so he started making more money. That sort of clicked like, “This is something I should do, I can charge.” People like this are willing to pay hundred times more than your average website customer. And it seems like this technology works. I should just try and find that second customer or maybe third. And because I already had one guy as an example, and that was doing few million hits a month, it was easier to go and have that conversation with someone else. And then I sort of had to keep doing that and made a lot of mistakes along the way. Now I have some sort of formal sales process around this. And because we serve some interesting customers, this conversation gets easier every time you talk to someone new.
Liam: Let me ask you about going from customer one to two and two to three. The first customer was an easy pickup, right? Your friend said to you, “Hey, Rahul. Can you help?” And you said, “Yeah.” Now you’ve got a customer. Presumably, your friend’s site is reasonably well-known at least to their audience if they’re getting that kind of traffic. But for that second customer, that third customer, did you know anybody else with that kind of traffic levels or did you just pick one of your favorite sites that gets a lot of traffic and sent them an email and said, “Hey, here’s what I did for this site over here. Are you interested?” How did you go about that? Because as you said, these higher-traffic sites are willing to pay more, but they must get all sorts of fly by night and you’re not a fly by night. How do you show up out of the blue and say, “Hey, I’m not a fly by night operation, let’s talk.” How did that happen? What was that like?
Rahul: Yeah, that was pretty painful and difficult process because the first customer, I lucked into it, I had no idea where to find the second one. I sort of did all sorts of things like– because I was from engineering background, I had no idea about the sales process, outreach, lead generation, and so on. I did stuff like posting on Reddit, asking people to do beta testing on this and Facebook groups, that sort of thing. Basically, I did everything that you can read on how to start a business blog post. most of that didn’t work, then I started hanging out at LinkedIn groups and at first, when you start– because you’re an engineer and you start a software company, you think your target customers are developers and that’s what I thought and I only hung out on developer groups and that sort of thing. My wife also had some business background. One day, she sat with me and asked me to find my ideal customer. That sort of forced me to get out of my comfort zone and instead of saying, “Hey, anyone who uses WordPress is my target customer.” I was able to define websites that get one million or more visitors per month. From there, we sort of narrowed a list of websites, started contacting them. And again, as anyone who has started a business, the first time you have to email someone, it’s the most terrifying thing you have to do. What do I say and what if they just block me or publish this email on Twitter and say, “Hey, look at this guy. He’s spamming me.” And that sort of thing. Basically, the answer is you just have to go and find people that might find your service useful and talk to them. They will either try it or say, “No, thank you.” But that’s probably the worst thing that can happen.
Liam: So that second customer, was that a paying customer or did you do a, “Hey, would you beta test on my server for X number of months and I’ll do it for free, and then if you like it, you’ll start to pay?” I’m really interested in how do you garner the trust from someone whose entire business really relies on a quality server.
Rahul: I’m glad you’re asking that because I sort of went through these thoughts. Do I give them for free? Offer them free service? Will they be more willing if I charge them from day one? And I sort of tried both approaches. Every time I ask someone to try this for free for a couple of months, they just try it, never took it seriously and they sort of gave some good advice but it never went anywhere. And for people, the second customer, I think it was All-Star Lacrosse website. Again, it was similar like the first customer, they were running ads on the site and up time was an issue if they had any games or events going on. The website would crash and they used to lose ad revenue just when it was the perfect time, when people would go to their website. So instead of trying this, “Hey, we’ll give it for free.” I just said, “We’ll migrate it for free and you can just test it for a day. You will see the performance difference and then we can talk pricing.” He was okay with that and he said, “Yeah, sure. That’s not that big of a risk for me.” We migrated everything bad so loading was faster, site was faster. He basically said, “Where do I sign up?” I sort of threw together a Stripe form and started charging him. I also sent that same form to my first customer and said, “Hey, now we have a billing system. You can just enter your credit card here.” And I went from zero customers to two customers using that approach.
Tara: That’s a good story and one would define that as a success story so I’m going to ask you a question about success because I think that sounds really exciting. It must have been really cool to see that you were able to make that kind of an impact. You must have felt and still do feel accomplished and successful, I’m guessing. But let’s see how do you define success personally, professionally? I think maybe you can even talk a little bit about your background? And having lived in a lot of different places, how that might also impact your thoughts on success?
Rahul: Sure. My definition of success is same for personal and professional life. I define success as having the ability to help others achieve whatever they’re trying to achieve in their life. Professionally, it can mean being able to help someone with their WordPress issues or if they’re struggling with their website or something. And if you’re in the position to help them, that means you’re doing good in your field – you know a lot. You’re successful by any measure. Same goes in personal life as well. I wouldn’t say having the ability to help others necessarily, just having the freedom to spend time with your family and not having half your attention at work when you’re there. I would call that success or being able to volunteer at your community, or church, or any event, or just being able to write a big check to someone that needs it and not expecting anything in back, that is success. And you don’t have to be a millionaire to do these sort of things, it’s just a matter of perspective. If you aim for this, your satisfaction level about your life goes up and I say that’s the measuring stick I try to use when I’m doing things from day to day.
Liam: I like that it’s a matter of perspective. You don’t need a big check to make a big difference. And when you help somebody out, you don’t need to, I don’t know, turn their life around 100%. Sometimes just giving them a gentle hand to help that turns them maybe one degree that, in due course helps a lot. I really like the kind of kind simplistic approach of that definition. Thank you for sharing that.
Tara: Yes, thank you. Tell us a little bit about the transition from living in India to living in the US and not just Texas but can you tell us a little bit about your background in India and do you go back there, do you have stuff there?
Rahul: Nestify and Scale Dynamix are both fully remote. We can hire people all over the world, we don’t have any physical office. And a lot of my engineering team is back in India, my parents also live in India and I go there maybe once a year. It was definitely, I wouldn’t say culture shock, but moving from India to US was certainly different in a lot of ways. Like I said, I moved to Lubbock, Texas and the first thing I noticed was how quiet everything was, in a good way. I could really get some thinking done, get some work done, and that was really nice compared to the chaos that goes on on the streets of India. Then there were other things like, I started getting more and more involved in community, meeting new people. And everyone is just so welcoming here in US. And you have a part of that in India but it just felt so different to me and that’s where I started to get more and more involved in community meetups, meeting new people, having the comfort to speak in public, that sort of thing. To me, that was life-changing, I should say.
Tara: Yeah, it sounds like it. I like in your intro that you kind of told a little story about– Liam told your story about how you really didn’t have any experience since elementary school in speaking and now you’re speaking, is it really once a month? Are you sponsoring WordCamps, are you speaking only at WordPress things? What kind of speaking are you doing?
Rahul: Yeah, I spoke in 4th grade as part of school project and after that, I– that went okay, I guess. I won a participation trophy or something. But after that, I sort of never considered this as an option, sharing what you know or speaking somewhere. Last year, because I was– with Scale Dynamix, I had to meet more and more people and I thought this would be a good opportunity to maybe talk at a few conferences and that will probably help me get to know more people and so on. So I applied at a couple of WordCamps and Baltimore was the first one that accepted me, and that was the first WordCamp I ever spoke at. Experience was so nice I just kept doing that. Now I mostly speak at WordCamps but then there are events like SaaStr, some other bootstrapping events, small business conferences, stuff like that. But for the most part, I speak at WordCamps. My company also sponsored a few WordCamps. I think I met Liam at WordCamp, Atlanta last year.
Liam: We sure did.
Rahul: But now my focus is more and more on speaking at WordCamps because it helps not only share what you know but I also spend a lot of time at the Happiness Bar and talking to people. That’s sort of what attracted me to Hallway Chats. It was like being at WordCamp but from the comfort of your home.
Liam: Just through your keyboard.
Tara: That’s right. What kind of things do you speak about? What are your favorite things, your favorite talks that you’ve given?
Rahul: Mostly, I’ve spoken about WooCommerce, security, Scaling WordPress, AWS, that sort of thing. Even some of the upcoming talks are about WooCommerce and security. I also like to talk about bootstrapping a business working remotely. Apart from the talk, the conversations I have at hallways or Happiness Bar are mostly related to asking people what they’re struggling with, what are their challenges. And you can learn a lot and you can also apply some of those learnings in your business or sometimes you are able to offer some assistance or offer some help, sometimes you can be just a good listener and everyone wins from that conversation.
Tara: Yeah. Tell us is there a question or an answer that you get that you hear most often? Is there a trend or a theme that you hear when you ask people about their challenges? Is there anything that stands out that you’ve heard from doing it so many times?
Rahul: More often than not, people think they have a WordPress challenge or WordPress question. But a lot of the times, they’re trying to basically get more people to their website or get more customers, that sort of thing. When you ask a question and someone says, “So how do I do this in WordPress?” And now I have started asking them, “But what are you trying to achieve?” And then they say, “I want this popup to show.”, “No, but after that popup shows up, what are you actually trying to achieve?”, “They will give me their email address and–“, “No, but after you have the email address, what’s your end goal?” That sort of helps people to think, “Oh, yeah. What I’m really trying to do is reach more people.” Sometimes you can say, “Popup is not the best way to do that. Maybe go to your network of friends or go to your current customers. If you have 10 customers, just ask each one of them, can you introduce me to one more person? The results you will get that way will be better than maybe adding a popup on your website.” That really resonates with a lot of people that I talk to.
Tara: Yeah, being strategic about it and thinking about the reasons before, we get so wrapped up in the technicalities of things that we sometimes forget what the ultimate goal and our initial objective was. I’m sure that’s really helpful and people probably are taken aback by that question sometimes.
Rahul: Yeah. I did all of these mistakes when I was starting Nestify. I know what they’re thinking when they’re trying to add a popup on their website or do something with WordPress or do something with their website. It sort of feels funny that I used to do the same thing hoping that this will move the needle in my business, but actually, I should have been doing this and just sharing that is really helpful. Sometimes, you learn different use cases about WordPress. Someone is trying to do something that you have never seen before and a lot of the times, I’m surprised that, huh, you can do that with WordPress and you learn something new, so that’s always fun.
Liam: So you were talking about advice and helping out at Happiness Bar and sharing so I want to ask you about that. Rahul, what’s the best piece of advice that someone’s ever given you that you’ve successfully implemented in your life? Or maybe it came from a book or a song or one of your travels, what’s the best advice you ever discovered, heard, and implemented in your life?
Rahul: Probably the best advice I got in terms of building a product and on the business side of things was two months ago at this conference, SaaStr, in San Francisco, someone told me the best thing you can do when you’re building a product is just go to someone you have never met, give them your laptop and tell them to use your product, and just watch them for 15 minutes. Amount of things you learn in that 15 minutes will be more than analyzing six months of analytics, and different things, and logs, and so on. And all sorts of usability testing reports. I sort of implemented that at WordCamp Phoenix, I also did some testing at some meetups in Knoxville. I sort of just give my laptop to someone and tell them, “Hey, can you just do whatever you want with this software.” And the body language of that person or the reactions, you can learn so much. This sounds like obvious advice, have users use your product. But that’s completely changed my life and I’ve learned so much in last two weeks or three weeks compared to everything I’ve done since the starting of my company.
Tara: Interesting. Was it a WordPress person who gave you that advice, was it a business owner?
Rahul: That was someone from sales background.
Tara: Yeah, that’s a great suggestion. I always recommend that to clients and we very rarely do that on client websites but I always think it would be fascinating to do. I think most people think that they know what their customer wants or how somebody will use their website or their product and maybe they’re a little bit of afraid. So it’s brave of you to do that because you make more work for yourself, and the things that you think are working or what you think is getting across is not getting across at all and then that means more work for you. It takes some courage to do that, I think.
Rahul: Yeah, and the beauty of this is this sounds so obvious advice, but when you do that and the things you learn, that really makes a difference.
Liam: Yeah, it does. And I imagine being there in person and you’re not just watching where the mouse is going, you can see where their eyes are gazing, you can watch their body language as they say, “Ungh, I don’t get this.” Or, “Oh.” When they click on something and it does it, and really having that intimate experience of watching them use a product. What’s your biggest challenge and whether it’s relating to work or it’s something in your own private life, personal life? What’s your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it or how are you working on it currently?
Rahul: I come from engineering background and running a business, it’s a completely different challenge than just building something on your laptop. This is something I struggle with a lot still and I’m trying to get better at that. It’s delegating things to others and actually spending time on working on business and not just adding a new feature to your product or whatever you’re building. And to do that, I sort of– having concrete goals for the week, for the month helps. And most of those goals, if they’re on the business side of things, to achieve them, you have to spend more time not engineering or not building features but actually going out and talking to people, having meetings and so on. Again, bit of planning and scheduling helps with that. Every day, I’m trying to get better at this, at delegating things that others can do more and more.
Liam: That can be a real challenge, that’s for sure. That can be definitely a challenge. And with that, speaking of organizing our time and planning, we are out of time. Rahul, it’s been an absolute pleasure to spend some time with you out here on our little virtual hallway. Before we wrap this up, will you please share where people can find you online?
Rahul: Yes. I’m on Twitter at @ngingxreload and my company website is scaledynamix.com.
Tara: Thank you so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed meeting you and hearing about your business and your approach to your business, and thanks for sharing your story, Rahul.
Rahul: Thanks for having me.
Liam: Thanks Rahul, we look forward to seeing you speak at a WordCamp soon. Take care, bye-bye.
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.