douglashanna

Help.com Wants to Make Customer Service Easier for Growing Hosting Companies

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Cloud-based customer software startup Help.com is the latest venture from Douglas Hanna, the founder and former CEO of web host A Small Orange, which already has $6 million in financing.

This is quite a good start for a company in its very early stages, having just had its first full week of operations last week.

In an interview with the WHIR Hanna said that he suspects the product will take “a bit of time” to have ready for customers, but that he’s building something that will solve many of the problems that stand in the way from companies providing superb customer support. And web hosts are one of Help.com’s key potential customer segments, which he says is underserved by existing customer service software.

“I think in a company like a web host where a lot of those employees are customer-facing and working with customers, they’ll get a lot of value out of it,” he said. With hosting being a 24-7 business and with so much riding on each customer interaction, efficient customer support can make or break many hosting companies. Some of the problems with existing help-desk software, he says, is that it “doesn’t integrate either with other software they have or with their own custom systems.”

He also mentions, “When companies grow, their needs change pretty significantly. So, a hosting company with 5 employees has a very different set of needs for reporting and management, and monitoring and things like that than a hosting company with 100 employees.”

“And finally hosting companies are dealing with a very technical product and service, and they need to be able to have technology that works well that their customers can use effectively, and that the employees can use efficiently.”

Hanna has experienced the shortcomings of existing customer support software while at A Small Orange, and previously at HostGator in periods of high growth.

Hanna became CEO of A Small Orange in March 2010 while still in college at Duke University. He remained in charge even after Endurance International Group acquired A Small Orange in July 2010. He stepped down as CEO in May 2014, and in the following months has been doing some consulting work while also working on Help.com.

Help.com’s $6 million in financing is led by Brent Oxley, who founded HostGator in his dorm room at Florida Atlantic University.

Prior to founding A Small Orange, Hanna had worked at HostGator in customer service strategy and operations, corporate communications and PR. Oxley was also an investor in A Small Orange.

“Brent and I both come from pretty customer-centric companies,” says Hanna. “I used to run customer service at Host Gator when I was there. And at A Small Orange, we both dealt with very frustrating customer service software so we had trouble scaling up the software as we continued to grow…The software could never quite keep up, and that was a constant source of pain and contention.

“With Help.com, we’re setting out to provide software that can scale with the company as it grows,” he says. While Help.com is designed for companies of all sizes, he sees a particular opportunity in providing a scalable solution for quickly growing companies. Help.com is prepared to grow itself and looking for software engineers, designers, an office manager, and a VP of engineering.

But for Hanna, the positioning of the company is different. He came to A Small Orange as the 10th employee. At that point A Small Orange was an existing web host that he and Oxley were aiming to grow it, whereas Help.com is a true startup.

“We’re not quite bootstrapped out of a dorm room anymore, but we’re also not coming into an established business and trying to incrementally make it better,” he says. “When I started at A Small Orange, I still lived in my dorm room at Duke, so it’s different now.”

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