We continue our interview series with a great conversation with Paul Phillips, president of Blesta! Tons of interesting insights in this one, including the founder’s background in the dial-up ISP industry, where the name “Blesta” came from, and where the product is headed. Enjoy!
Where in the world are you located?
We are located in Orange County, California, just a few minutes from Disneyland.
Where does the name “Blesta” come from?
We had a working name of AC4, which was short for Automated Customer Control Center before we came up with Blesta. We decided that AC4 was a mouthful and we wanted something unique that we could build a brand around. I actually used a random name generator and came up with a couple dozen possible names. All of the names were available as a .com domain name, but after I whittled down the list and decided on Blesta, someone had just snatched the domain up. I tried to find another name, but decided to check blesta.com again a few days later and it was available. Someone registered it and then cancelled the registration, so it worked out perfectly. That was the only time I’ve ever seen that happen. Blesta is actually an anagram of Stable, who doesn’t want stable software? We’ve tried to live up to that ever since.
Tell us a little how Blesta came about. Why did you start the project/company?
In 2000 I started a small hosting company and dial-up ISP and there was no good billing system available at the time. Things quickly got out of hand using Microsoft Word to invoice customers manually. This led to a very early version of Blesta that I wrote myself that we used internally which was a mix of automation and the occasional need to manually edit the database. We got by on that until 2007 when we decided to take what we had and turn it into a product, shifting our focus to software amid the dying dial-up days. My brother Cody was going to school for his degree in Computer Science, and he helped round out version 1 into something we could actually release.
You’ve been in the game for 14 years (since 2007). That’s a lifetime or two in the software industry. How has Blesta evolved over that period?
Blesta of today no longer resembles our first release, the software is capable of so much more than it was when we first released it. In a big sense, Blesta has led innovation in the industry. With fewer resources, we were the first to offer multi-currency support, two-factor authentication, and a bitcoin payment gateway. Over the past few years our marketshare has grown considerably as we’ve increased our development efforts, implementing many new core features as well as payment gateways, modules, and plugin integrations.
So why should I pick Blesta over other alternatives?
Blesta is privately owned, there are no venture capital hands scheming behind the scenes to increase profits without regard for the customer. We care a great deal about our customers, we listen to them and we take their feedback seriously, implementing many of the feature requests we receive. The source code is also nearly entirely open, we only encode 3 files for license protection. Blesta is truly the most developer friendly billing platform available in the hosting industry, and our rapidly growing community of 3rd party developers can attest to that.
There are free control panels, free applications, free operating systems – but no free billing panels to speak of. Why has this kind of software resisted commoditization? Is it just hard software to write, maintain, etc.?
All of the free billing options have failed, and most of the free control panels can’t compete with commercial alternatives. It turns out, billing software designed for a global market is very complex. If everyone had the same requirements, it would probably lead to commoditization, but in a global market with different regulations and hundreds of different potential integrations, the needs of customers varies pretty significantly. While there is a lot of overlap in features between popular billing software options, none are a perfect fit for every company, and most have unique features that appeal to some users and not others. The trick is to build software that is extensible, while at the same time shipping integrations that are the most popular.
Do you see WHMCS’s recent changes as an opportunity? Have you seen an uptick in Blesta subscriptions?
It’s been absolutely insane. Blesta is really the best alternative to WHMCS, in my humble opinion, and the response has all but confirmed that. WHMCS not only raised their prices by a huge margin, they discontinued support & updates for owned licenses, essentially killing them. If something can be perceived as reasonable, most people will put up with it even if they don’t like it. What they did unleashed a lot of anger in the community, and rightfully so, because it was not reasonable. It might end up being the best move for their venture capital wallets, but it was not the best move for their customers who helped them get to where they are today. As a result, we’re seeing a huge uptick in migrations and planned migrations, as well as 3rd party developers who are now switching their efforts over to Blesta.
Let’s put you on the spot: do you plan to continue owned licenses or do you see a time when you’ll adopt WHMCS’s “monthly subscription only” pricing model?
We’re not making any changes. I understand the appeal of the monthly subscription model, we offer that as an option already also, but we have no plans to change anything. If we ever did make a change, it would be one that impacts new customers and not existing customers. Pulling the rug out from those that got you where you are today is a move that lacks gratitude and integrity and is one we would absolutely not make. We count our integrity more valuable than ill-gotten gains.
I have to think one of the big headaches in writing billing systems code is security, given that you’re dealing with people’s money and your platform is a natural target for hackers. What goes into securing your code?
Security is a mindset. Our developers are always considering the security implications of every line of code they write, as they write it. Additionally, every single line of code is reviewed by a different developer than the one who wrote that line of code. We also perform internal testing, and spend the extra time required to implement new features correctly. Blesta has the best track record on security for these reasons. It also helps that Blesta is almost entirely open, the source is available to inspect – we’re not hiding anything. We also give credit to researchers who disclose vulnerabilities to us responsibly, which doesn’t happen very often.
If you were to start your project from scratch in 2021, would you still choose PHP?
Absolutely. Even though it gets a tough rap, PHP has evolved and matured a lot in the past 10 years. However, the biggest reason we would still choose PHP is that it’s pretty much standard for web servers, so most web servers already meet the requirements to run Blesta. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely things we would do differently, but switching to another language wouldn’t be one of them.
Your “roadmap” page is pretty cool! Usually you don’t see that kind of openness in showing the development roadmap. In a larger sense, where do you see your platform going in the future?
We want to be as transparent as possible in every area. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have some private tasks, we hold some things close until the time is right, but those are few. We’ve devoted the past couple years to eliminating any real and perceived feature disparities between Blesta and the competition. The future should bring continued innovation in addition to many more features and integrations.
Blesta is squarely aimed at hosting providers. Do you see the product remaining in that niche or do you see it eventually being used in other market spaces?
Blesta works well for freelancers, and is used in some unusual markets including a self service gym. We’ve focused primarily on the hosting industry because that’s what we are most familiar with, but I won’t rule out other verticals. We were very intentional with the development of Blesta. If you strip away all the hosting related extensions, you’re left with a generic recurring billing system that can be used in many markets. When the time is right, we’ll consider tapping into some other markets too.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about Blesta?
Lots of great questions! It’s been a pleasure. I would just add that we’re in it for the long haul. Blesta isn’t going anywhere. We are planning to continue making stable customer management, billing, and support software. We will continue listening to customer feedback and building great new features and bringing innovation to the market, while at the same time treating people right. That’s what it’s about. Business is really about people and the big investment groups tend to forget that. We’ll continue to operate with integrity, building the best software we can, for the real people who depend on us. We’re thankful for their support.
Thanks, Paul, for the insights! Be sure to check out Blesta and also the rest of interview series for more insights from industry and community leaders.
The post An Anagram of Stable: Interview with Paul Phillips, President of Blesta appeared first on Low End Box.
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