Less Bits offers SaaS solutions for developers and businesses. The company provides ServerPilot, a server management platform for PHP hosting; HeatShield, server and WordPress security platform; HostLaunch, a hosting automation platform and DataShuttle, a website migration platform. We’ve talked with Justin Samuel, CEO of Less Bits about the company history and the products which bring them success.
Can you please tell us about the Less Bits’ story? How did you decide to establish the company?
I’d been doing server administration for web development agencies since 2001. All of the control panel software available to agencies was traditional software built for the shared hosting industry. That software has always had security problems, terrible UX, updates that brought live sites down, and generally an endless string of frustrations that made it clear the software was not built for hosting high-value clients on their own servers.
Along the way, I’d become obsessed with computer security and had gone back to academia. While in the PhD program at UC Berkeley doing security research, I was getting more interested in startups and considering doing my own. Being a broke student definitely influenced my interest in the industry. However, if I was to do a startup, it needed to be something I was absolutely sure people needed. I didn’t want to spend years building something that ended up being a waste of time.
When I decided to leave the PhD program, it was to build the control panel I felt needed to exist: SaaS, architected for security, optimized for cloud servers, affordable to run small numbers of sites on each server, the core problems solved extremely well, the control panel to make hosting painless like I knew it could be.
The motto of Less Bits is “We are reinventing the hosting industry”, can you explain this in detail?
The traditional hosting industry has been slow to adapt to technology change. The software used in most of the industry was designed for the world of 20 years ago. That kind of inertia doesn’t change easily. We have the advantage of starting from scratch so we can look at where things are now and where they’re going. We get to use our knowledge and experience to apply the best modern approaches to solving industry-specific problems which allow us to make all parts of hosting better, more efficient, and more profitable.
Tell us about current Less Bits products, please. What differs from the competitors? Do you plan any additional products?
We started with ServerPilot, a SaaS hosting control panel for cloud servers. ServerPilot allows you to grab a server from any cloud provider such as DigitalOcean or AWS, connect it to ServerPilot, and within a couple of minutes, you have a server running a modern stack that’s configured for security and performance.
We’ve recently launched HostLaunch, a hosting automation platform that makes it extremely easy to run a profitable hosting business on top of DigitalOcean and ServerPilot. With HostLaunch, you can be up and running with your own hosting company in the time it takes to paste in a few API keys and set your prices.
Shortly we’ll be launching HeatShield, a WordPress Web Application Firewall. HeatShield will be the first WordPress WAF plugin built on the industry-standard ModSecurity.
We make products that are more reliable and easier to use and that makes people happy.
ServerPilot, which is the flagship of LessBits, is a cloud service for hosting WordPress and other PHP websites on servers. What kind of advantages does ServerPilot provide over other control panels?
Being a SaaS control panel, our users never have to worry about control panel upgrades. Additionally, as we don’t run the control panel itself on each server, ServerPilot is extremely lightweight in resource usage which makes our users able to use less expensive servers to run faster sites. Plus, without exposing a control panel on each server, we remove an entire attack surface that’s been a major weakness of traditional control panels.
Today, security is essential. Can you share the capabilities of HeatShield? What are the most common attacks targeting WordPress websites recently? How about the security advantages of ServerPilot?
Insecure WordPress plugins are the biggest security risk to WordPress users. Our ModSecurity-based WAF called HeatShield helps protect sites against zero-day exploits in plugins.
ServerPilot was built from the ground up for security. In addition to its internal security architecture, we make many server configuration decisions to protect our users so our users don’t have to become experts themselves. For example, we use Nginx as a reverse proxy in front of Apache. Not only does Nginx provide protection against attacks such as Slowloris, but we also believe Nginx is more secure to use as a public-facing web server.
“HostLaunch has opened the door for them to expand their business into hosting and we’ve blown them away with how easy it is to run a hosting company”
Apache is a very old and complicated piece of software that’s packed full of complexity stuffed into it over decades by many different people. By running it behind Nginx, we get the security of Nginx being public-facing while PHP applications such as WordPress can continue to make use of Apache-specific features such as .htaccess files and ModRewrite.
What is the most important feature in a cloud server management platform?
The most important feature is making sure people’s websites are safe and online. When any software keeps adding unnecessary features, that complexity adds bugs and those bugs mean downtime and security problems. We take the approach of being the most reliable.
Migrating a WordPress website can be daunting for many users. DataShuttle comes up at this point. Can you please explain how easy to move or clone any PHP application between the servers by DataShuttle?
DataShuttle is a SaaS site migration tool. You tell DataShuttle which site to move and where to move it to by giving DataShuttle SSH access to the source and destination sites. DataShuttle does the work of migrating files and databases from one location to another. That location could be a different site configured on the same server or a site on a different server.
Less Bits recently launched HostLaunch, allowing customers to start their hosting company. How is the feedback so far?
The feedback so far has been amazing; especially with the current economic changes, we couldn’t have foreseen when we started work on HostLaunch. Our users are excited to have a new and better way to sell hosting services, giving them a leg up on the competition and allowing them to be more profitable. For our users who were previously only dev agencies, HostLaunch has opened the door for them to expand their business into hosting and we’ve blown them away with how easy it is to run a hosting company.
Running a hosting business is a dream for many people. Most of them are discouraged because of the high pricing models. HostLaunch allows people to run their businesses with an affordable pricing model. Can you talk about your pricing models? How do these compare to other pricing models?
Our core belief with HostLaunch pricing is that we should only make money when our customers make money. HostLaunch costs nothing until you have paying customers and, even then, you only pay for active customers who are paying you. If you only have one customer paying you for hosting, your HostLaunch costs are only $1/month. Of course, there’s still your DigitalOcean and ServerPilot costs which have to be taken into account when you set your pricing, but we have aggressive volume discounts for ServerPilot that kick in quickly.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the industry? Did it also affect LessBits?
These are definitely uncertain times with so many industries changing due to COVID-19. I think it’s still too early to say for sure how it will impact us. Certainly, some of our customers were immediately impacted and that impacts us. However, with so many businesses increasing their online focus due to COVID-19, we also see increases in some areas.
“Our users are excited to have a new and better way to sell hosting services, giving them a leg up on competition and allowing them to be more profitable.”
We’re prepared for what might turn out to be a major recession and plan to use this time to focus on helping our customers get through it and thrive, not only because it’s the way we can help, but of course it’s good for our business. And when the economy recovers, both our users and us will be in great positions to grow even faster.
Less Bits provides solutions for PHP web applications. In the future, do you plan to create solutions for other platforms such as Ruby on Rails or Django besides PHP?
We actually do support non-PHP applications already, though so far we’ve decided not to focus on that in our communications. Most of the non-PHP apps we see on ServerPilot are Node.js. We don’t have plans to change course and focus heavily on non-PHP apps because it would likely distract us from our current customer base and that wouldn’t benefit most of our current customers.