A WordPress hosting cooperative

Maybe you make WordPress sites for cash. Maybe you design themes or write plugins. Then, after your work is done, your clients (or friends, lovers, etc) need to be supported. Somebody needs to keep WordPress and her plugins up to date, secure, and backed up.

Would you like to share that load with some co-cooperators in a WordPress hosting cooperative? Imagine a small group of developers collectively managing 50 or 100 WordPress sites instead of individually managing 10 or 20.

Logistics

Ok, you’re sold on the vision, what about the details?

Initially, a loose association of a few individuals, no legal structure. I’m willing to act as the banker for the startup period. I’ll register a domain name and pay for a few servers. I promise to transfer ownership of the domain and any other assets when (or if) a legal organisation is created at any point in the future. Or, if I choose to move away, to transfer the domain and other assets to another person in the group.

My suggestion is that we adopt a split pricing model. We set a fair market price for customers. In the beginning, it’s probably simper to charge per blog irrespective of traffic, disk or cpu usage. We can change this policy as soon as we need to.

Members then pay a pro-rated share of costs based on their number of sites. For example, we have 10 customers paying $10 a month, $100. Expenses are $150 a month, we have 5 members with 4 sites each, $50 over 20 sites, each member pays $2.50 per month per site.

To distinguish between customer and member sites, we can say if money changes hands, it’s a customer site. So a member might pay for 8 of their client’s sites at customer rates, and 3 for their family at member rates. The distinction is whether or not the member receives cash from somebody for that site. We trust each member to be honest.

Payment optional

It’s not as crazy as it sounds, honest! I suggest we adopt a post-paid, payment optional policy. At the end of each month, we send invoices marked payment optional. Customers can choose not to pay and their sites will be taken offline in reasonable time period.

The advantage of this model is we don’t ever have to deal with refunds, price disputes or otherwise. If the client is happy with the service they already received, great, if they’re not, they don’t have to pay and we part ways amicably.

Principles

  • Transparency: All financials are publicly visible.
  • Profits: Until we have a legal organisation, any profits are kept in the group to pay for expenses. No payouts to members until the legal structure is sound.
  • Do-ocracy: Until we decide to change it, we each contribute what we can and what’s needed to keep the system online.
  • Respect: Inspired by the Ubuntu project, in joining the group, we each commit to treat other members and customers with the utmost of respect at absolutely all times.

Next step

These are my initial thoughts as I wrote this post in half an hour. If you’d like to join the discussion, become a member or a customer, post a comment below, shoot me a message, or otherwise open the communication lines. 🙂

27 thoughts on “A WordPress hosting cooperative”

  1. This is a fairly sound idea. It’s actually something I’ve tried to do on my own, but with just one member (me) and multiple customers under the same hosting. The way it worked was each customer paid a set fee per month, and those fees paid for the hosting and maintenance of both their sites and the member site I ran on the same system. It worked for a while, but then I stopped recruiting new customers 🙁

    I like the idea of sharing the expenses of hosting with others – I like the idea of subletting that hosting to other customers to pay for the expenses even more. So, yes, I’d be interested in learning more as this progresses.

    1. Awesome, there’s a small group forming now. I’m thinking I’ll wait a few days and then pull together some kind of meeting, IRC probably.

  2. Sounds like an interesting idea and I am definitely up for more information. I don’t really do much WordPress development at the moment, but if others were willing to split all the costs with me and vise-versa, it would probably get into it more. I don’t have a large budget as I am still in school, but this would definitely help and encourage me to start developing more often.

    I am interested to see what others have to say on this too.

    1. Great, glad you’re interested. Under the model I’m suggesting, members would pay a small amount based on the number of sites they have on the system. I think it’d almost certainly work out cheaper than individual hosting for members. The “catch” is that there would be some work to be done keeping all the sites updated.

      1. Well, it depends what is required. I have school four days a week and work for two, but if I don’t need to do too much I would be glad to pay and help out.

        1. I’m thinking it might take a couple of hours a month per member, something like that. If the number of customers grows and the service starts to take off, then things could change. But until there’s money coming in I also don’t want to commit more than a few hours a month.

  3. This is rather appealing to me, and I would seriously consider participating. My only concern is that, indeed, a legal entity (corporation or cooperative) needs to exist to protect the members and ensure true transparency.

    If this develops from proposal to plan, please let me know; I can bring a few skills and/or resources to the table.

    1. I think a legal entity is a good idea. My thoughts would be to have a test period while the members get to know each other before we invest in the incorporation. But more importantly, it’s a cooperative venture, so it’s open to the group to decide which way to go.

  4. I think it’s a very interesting concept and it could help to provide a hosting service that is 100% focused towards (and optimized for!) WordPress. There’s a lot of potential for making things better than your average webhost.

    However, I think the support side needs a lot of thought, the following questions come to mind: Who will manage the servers and provide support to the customers that are hosting with the cooperative? I guess usually the latter would be the member in question, but maybe some kind of hotline for emergencies is required? Things break. Who will coordinate and run the mass upgrades and how can be ensured that sites that break during an upgrade will be fixed quickly? (I don’t see these issues as stumbling blocks, as long as they are addressed!)

    1. I agree, these are valid points. A big part of my motivation for choosing a cooperative structure is to share the load of providing support. I’m hoping that with a few members in different timezones, and say 3-7 people, we can share the load of being “on-call” so as to make it very little inconvenience. For example, I’m happy to have my cell phone number publicly available next to the time in my location and with a strong warning to clients, only call if the sky is falling down. I think we could create a simple rotation system that’ll work while we’re getting started.

  5. Hey Callum,

    Going to assume you got my email, but I’ll post here too nonetheless 🙂 You know the deal… get in touch and let me know if you need anything.

  6. This sounds very appealing to me because on my own I can’t afford paying for multiple servers when I am only hosting around 10 client sites and about 4 or my own. It would be really nice to have a dedicated proxy cache server for static content running Nginx as well as a dedicated database server. I am defiantly interested in learning more about the idea.

    1. Excellent, that sounds great. This whole idea started because I was designing the ultimate WordPress hosting platform in my mind. Exactly as you say, cache static content from different machines. No need to put it all through Apache. We have a small group of people interested now. I’ll set up some kind of simple mailing list and invite everyone to participate.

  7. I have to be honest here – I’m not really seeing what the benefit of this is. First, on scale: I think you’re vastly overestimating the amount of work required to manage sites. For point of comparison, I run Birdhouse Hosting on the side – I have a full-time job and a kid and I tend to the hosting business occasionally in the evenings. On a single VPS I have about 100 hosting customers, about 90 of which use WordPress. When there’s a WP update available, I run my wp-mass-upgrade script, which takes all of 5 minutes. Sometimes a few plugins need updating. The big jobs are the custom orders for new sites or redesigns and that’s really where the money is.

    The server is a cPanel server which vastly simplifies the management of hosting features, security, etc. Anything really difficult, I just ask the data center to do it.

    Long story short, a single VPS can handle hundreds of sites – you don’t need to talk about server clusters at that level. With 100 customers I certainly don’t feel the need to be “sharing the load” with other people. It’s not at all clear to me what advantage you’re going for here – how is the co-op model advantageous over each person running their own hosting business on a VPS? There’s the same amount of work either way – it’s just distributed differently.

    Sorry to be Debbie Downer here – I’m just not seeing very clearly what you’re going for here.

    – Scot

    P.S.: Please install Subscribe2Comments on this site so we’ll know when there are updates on the thread.

    1. Do your clients have fairly low traffic sites? I had clients with moderate traffic sites that needed to move to their own dedicated servers because the VPS they were using couldn’t cope.

      What kind of support do your clients need? Are you available 24/7 to provide emergency contact or anything like that?

      In time, I’m imagining a business that provides mid-level sites with WordPress hosting. Professional bloggers, high traffic corporate blogs, that sort of thing. Customers who want more control over their sites than they can get with WordPress.com, but can’t justify $500 a month for WordPress.com VIP hosting.

      Thanks for sharing. Your experience has great value to me because you’re already running a small hosting operation.

  8. It’s true that the high-needs users require much more support. I’ve occasionally moved those users on to their own servers. And yes, it totally would be nice to not have to support those users when I’m in the middle of a busy work day. I can see that aspect of this plan being really useful.

    Out of curiosity, what price point would you suggest as an alternative for VIP hosting?

  9. Thanks for the initiative, Callum! I guess I’m lucky–and unlucky at the same time–that my clients have mostly low-traffic sites. I mostly use reseller accounts and that works fine for them. If I don’t want to host them, I’ll usually just set them up with their own shared server account and they’re usually fine there, too.

    But still, I’m more than happy to see where this discussion leads. Not to mention I’m always game to get to know more WP devs/designers/fans.

    Best,

    Bradley

  10. I am interested to participate in this plan. Do email me of the updates. I can provide the hosting solutions at a very low cost.

    1. You posted your comment under the name of a business. Are you a person looking to participate in a cooperative or a business looking to make a sale?

      1. Hi Callum! I am a person looking to participate in a coorperative. I do hosting services, mostly in South East Asia and US. I do share resources with affiliates and partners. Not really intending to do sales on blogs, unless the service is needed.

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