Web Reliability: Solspace Zen and the Art of Aircraft Maintenance

Solspace is 20 years old now. I've been doing a lot of thinking about that. At the same time I've been thinking about our history, I've been learning more and more about marketing. Over the course of 20 years I've pretty much shunned anything related to marketing and sales. It was a bad choice, one made out of fear of the unknown mainly.

So I'm looking back at my company wondering what our positioning in the marketplace is. Positioning, as everyone other than me knew, is a critical part of any marketing efforts. You establish your position within a market and that means you establish your area of expertise and experience. Your positioning describes how you can help people who have a specific kind of problem. A really good positioning statement is short and clear and compelling. A really good positioning statement makes you go, "OH! Yeah! I get it! I need to buy that!!"

A great position can be communicated in about as much time as it takes to ride down an elevator. For any of you who has tried to write anything or craft any sort of message, achieving brevity is highly difficult. It takes forever to be quick.

So I'm looking back on 20 years of Solspace and wondering what sort of thing I could say about us that would fit into an elevator ride. I worked for months on this. I worked for months looking into what our position in the market was. I looked at historical data like project attributes, client personas, sales stats and the like. I started to see a pattern. Our clients come to us initially with a tactical problem on a website running on an Indie CMS like Craft or ExpressionEngine. They need a solution to a complex problem and they are motivated to have the problem solved reliably, the first time. Then when we address the immediate issue, the client notices our dependability and expertise and asks us to stick around to fix more stuff. Sometimes this pattern is seen when a client needs a brand new website built. Sometimes you can see it when an existing website is broken in some way.

Looking back on the history of the company I saw that people came to us because their website was not reliable or they were having trouble finding someone to reliably build a new one. This gave me the idea for some blog posts. But I was having too many ideas. There would be too many blog posts. I also started to see some patterns and shapes in the realm of website reliability. Before I knew it, a book idea had emerged.

Web Reliability was what emerged. It's actually a framework, a thought framework. The Web Reliability Framework is a way of thinking about the problem of building and maintaining a reliable website. For websites, 'reliable' means generating revenue reliably. Most websites are either e-commerce sites, donation collection sites, campaign sites or lead generation sites. Even the websites that don't fit into these categories are responsible for generating revenue directly or indirectly. A reliable website is one that allows customers to flow into, through and out of the site smoothly, with minimal resistance. Steady, dependable revenue is the result.

As I wrote the book and developed the framework I looked for examples to make my points more clear. I looked for examples of the importance of reliability in the world. I happened upon the example of the jet engine on a passenger aircraft. These contraptions are incredibly complex. Each of thousands of components must be themselves reliable and work together reliably. Sounded a lot like a website to me.

So in comes the friend I was joking about. I was complaining about coming up with an elevator pitch for Solspace, something grounded in the importance of reliability. He said, "You know how you take your car to a mechanic to keep it maintained and reliable? Maybe that's you."

I said, "I used to be a mechanic for individual car owners. But now my team is like the aircraft maintenance company that helps keep the planes for Southwest, American, Alaska, etc. in the air. Those guys are responsible for reliability, but they do it for a fleet on behalf of a client with a vested interest in that reliability. We help companies maintain their many revenue-generating websites. We specialize in a certain kind of aircraft AKA website. We work only on Craft CMS and ExpressionEngine websites."

So I had my elevator pitch. Next time I'm in an elevator with someone and they ask what I do, I'll say, "You know those companies that help maintain a reliable fleet of aircraft for companies like Southwest? We do that, except for websites. We help companies reliably maintain their revenue-generating websites."