Dusty Davidson is a technology entrepreneur and CEO of Flywheel, which offers managed WordPress Hosting for Designers and Agencies. In our podcast, he explains how web designers managed to bridge the technological gap with WordPress and talks about the client-focused approach that Flywheel is leading.
Dusty Davidson is a technology entrepreneur residing in Omaha, Nebraska, and the co-founder and CEO of Flywheel — Managed WordPress Hosting for Designers and Agencies.
In addition to Flywheel, Dusty co-founded Silicon Prairie News, helping to grow, connect and inspire the tech innovation communities of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. Dusty also founded Tripleseat, a sales and event management web application for restaurants, hotels and unique venues.
Bridging the Gap
Flywheel has been around since 2012, but Dusty and his two partners, Tony and Rick, had already worked together for many years at Dusty’s first company, a software consulting firm. This was in the early days of WordPress, when it wasn’t nearly as robust and popular as it is today. As Dusty recalls:
“We got really excited about WordPress early on. And then, over time, we built a software application for restaurants and a whole bunch of other stuff, but finally some years later, I would say, got the band together to start Flywheel and really build the platform that we wish would have existed when we were building sites for clients.
I think years ago, when we were first doing WordPress work, there was a huge gap (between WordPress techincal capabilities and the designers’ needs- M.N). Flywheel talks about the world of design and development and WordPress coming together over the last probably five or six years, right? And the less technical people can now build really beautiful, robust websites thanks to certainly WordPress and folks like you all, and at the same time you have very technical people who can build beautiful websites as well if they’re not good at designing. I think WordPress has really allowed those two worlds to converge, and so we’ve had a really strong focus on designers for the last, well, since we started. That’s based on the idea that those two worlds are colliding.”
Letting the Customers Focus on Their Work
Dusty thinks one of the main challenges that designers have faced for years is the technical difficulties:
“Well, I think one of the big things that we’ve always tried to solve for is that the platform should just work, right? And I think historically, it’s too many times people have to spend way too much time on things that, in my opinion, don’t matter. We really want to enable our customers to focus on their clients, to focus on the work that they really love doing. I think too often, they have to tinker, and they have to do stuff that is not best suited for them.
And so, we think a lot about how it should just work and especially because designers are non-technical, right? As like super technical people tend to like configure things and tinker and install plug-ins and all kinds of stuff. But I think that that world is shifting, and where it, in my opinion, the platform should just enable people to do extraordinary work. And so, we think a lot about how we build tools and work with partners that help enable that.
I mean, it’s realistically we love working with creative folks, and we think that the world is filled with creative folks and listen. We get lots of developers that come to us, and they’re like, ‘Can I use Flywheel? I’m a developer,’ and we’re like, ‘Well, yes, of course.’ We think of creative in the broad sense and really look at just enabling and empowering people to do great work for themselves and for their clients, and we sort of handle all of the technical mumbo jumbo so to speak.”
The Rise of the Freelancer
Considering how separated the work of the designer and the developer used to be, we asked Dusty how he sees the profession of web designers these days and perhaps in the future:
“Well, we’ve always thought about it as pretty collaborative, and I think that we think a lot about at Flywheel how you enable collaboration amongst teams and amongst people that are working together on projects. You might not always work on the same with the same people on different projects, right? And so, we work with a lot of freelance designers and developers, and there are people who are building websites in their spare time. I think one trend certainly is the rise of the freelancer in a lot of ways, and it used to be harder to do that. I think now, in these days, there are millions of freelancers around the world who are building sites for clients, and so that’s a huge trend and a huge rise.
But, I also see it as oftentimes they’ll want and need to collaborate with others on things, right? They get a big project that’s too much for them to do, or they don’t want to handle part of it. Or, they’re not technical, or they’re not a designer. And so, I think one of the big shifts is this idea that you don’t have to be on a fixed team in order to build projects. That you can sort of collaborate with other freelance folks around the world and to work with people who are great on a very specific thing and come together on a project or on a handful of projects, and so Flywheel certainly thinks about how do we best enable that behavior and that kind of work style.”
Humanizing Our Hosting Services
We have recently spoken to the CEO of Help Scout about the benefits and values of leading a customer-oriented policy or approach. We wanted to hear Dusty’s take on this subject:
“Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, Flywheel, since day one, has as we call it, tried to humanize hosting. When we started, most hosting companies’, if not all, hosting companies’ websites were pictures of servers, and we put pictures of people on our websites. It was kind of unique at the time, and they, even still, I think, is in lots of ways. And you’re, right. We believe that hosting can be a very human experience. We wanted to build the hosting platform that you could fall in love with. At a time when we started, I would describe it as nobody loves their host, and that’s unfortunate. But, I think that you can be that, and I think the way by which you do that is to build authentic relationships with your customers and provide extraordinary value in a way that they want to receive it, right?
It’s like a lot of our customers are just, well, frankly, all of our customers are people just like us, and we think a lot about: What would I want to buy from? What’s the company, and who are the companies that we love to buy from? And, can we be that? Because I believe that our customers want that as well, and it doesn’t actually matter if they’re independent, freelancer, like one person, or a team of people or even into the enterprise, right? We think a lot about: How do you provide a really human experience for people both as part of the buying cycle and the messaging?
But also, it carries all the way through how we support our customers. It carries through how we build our products and how our products behave and how we … All those sorts of things, so it’s not even just like, “Hey, look at our website. It has people on it.” It’s what’s the full experience of a customer from the time that they first interact with Flywheel all the way through the time that they use it, and hopefully, they stay for a long time. But even if they leave, what’s the experience of leaving? And so, that’s been a big focus of Flywheel’s for a long time.”