Twenty years ago today we opened our doors to the public and sold our first web hosting plans.
I was a university student studying Sociology who had created a wildly popular online discussion forum for local musicians. As the site grew to exceed 1 million hits/month, I began learning more about servers and hosting technologies in order to keep up with its growth.
When the site was moved to a dedicated server, I launched D.I.Y. Web Hosting (our original name) to help subsidize the cost of running the forum. Our first customers were the bands, photographers and fans who frequented the website, many of whom are still customers to this day!
It was a “right place at the right time” moment as many businesses were just starting to get online so we operated primarily as a web design studio for our first few years. We designed websites for many bands, local businesses, an NHL player, and helped many people across the world integrate their existing HTML website designs into web applications that were popular at the time like phpBB and Mambo/Joomla.
Our template creation service and participation in open source projects helped attract our first international customers in the US, UK and Australia.
After a few years I decided to stop offering custom web design services. I recognized that I was better suited for coding and server administration than I was at the creative. Demand for our web hosting services was growing and I wanted to build a business based upon earning passive income rather than being dependent on how many websites I could build in a year.
With my university degree completed I found myself sitting in our first office space in downtown Saskatoon focussing full time on the business. I can’t really pinpoint exactly when it became my career, but the hobby that was my side gig throughout university was now ready for my full attention. I gradually stopped accepting shifts from my casual job working at a hospital and did not seek out work related to my degree. I was thrilled to be my own boss in a field that best showcases my talents.
As D.I.Y. Web Hosting shifted to focus solely on providing affordable web hosting with quick, quality support, we migrated away from servers we rented from cloud providers in the US to purchasing our own Dell PowerEdge servers and housing them in our first Canadian data center located in Montreal.
Over the next few years our growth was accelerated by acquiring the web hosting clients of a number of Canadian and US web design agencies who thought we would be the best fit to take over their customers. As websites transitioned from simple HTML to being built using complex web applications, the hosting of these websites became significantly more complicated, requiring a lot more staff attention and expertise. Many web design agencies took the opposite approach of us and stopped offering hosting services to focus solely on design, so we were happy to welcome all of these new customers to our business.
In 2009 we incorporated and changed our name to Varial Hosting. There had been another company with DIY in their name in the hosting space that had created some confusion for our customers, so we wanted to rebrand with a unique name where we could obtain all relevant domain names and social media handles to protect our brand.
With a skate park being located directly across the street from our original Montreal data center, I chose the name Varial because it was the name of the best trick I used to be able to do on a skateboard. Our logo was even designed to subtly represent a skateboard flipping.
In 2012 we moved into our long term office space in a tech hub/coworking space in the Riversdale area of Saskatoon where we remained for 10 years. In this space we met many friends and collaborated on many exciting projects. The networking opportunities the building presented helped to further grow our business.
It was in this space where we developed our next generation hosting platform that was capable of loading WordPress pages over 4000X faster. Our optimized WordPress hosting plans launched in 2016 and represented another major shift for our company.
WordPress exploded in popularity and to date nearly half of the entire Internet runs on WordPress. After witnessing nearly all new customers installing WordPress and identifying the challenges they were facing, we developed our next generation hosting platform from the ground up to improve the speed and security of WordPress websites.
Fun fact: WordPress also celebrated their 20th anniversary just last week. It’s been fun growing old with them!
With the launch of our new platform we also moved into a new data center located in Saskatoon so we could have our servers physically closer to us in order to operate fully out of our home town. Within a year we migrated all customers to our new platform without increasing anyone’s pricing!
Since then many things have changed in my personal life. I met my wife, Cara Warnar, who now works for Varial as our Sales & Marketing Manager, and we have two children together, with our latest born just earlier this year.
We began working from home early during the pandemic and have since made the change to a remote work force permanent. I’m grateful to be able to work from home and spend as much time with my family that I can. If you’ve happened to hear dogs barking or babies crying in the background while calling us, well, we’re sorry about that, but thank you for your patience in allowing our employees to explore a better work/life balance.
When meeting new people I often get asked if I like my job. Web hosting may not be as exciting as working at a tech startup, and getting woken up in the middle of the night when issues occur is never fun. However, the job requires constant learning and experimentation, the hours are often flexible, allowing us to create a number of side projects to scratch our creative itches, and it has always been stable, meeting my needs since I was a just a student and now the needs of my growing family. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Thank you for supporting small business and selecting Varial Hosting as your independent hosting provider. We couldn’t have done it without you!