We’re starting our interview series with the pioneers of Contabo. We’ve talked with Michael, our Sales and Customer Experience Team Leader, who’s been part of the team for over 11 years. From its early days as a small company with a handful of employees to becoming one of the global leader in cloud services, the evolution of Contabo is a fascinating story. Michael’s journey showcases his diverse roles within the company. Discover our milestones, such as the expansion of Data Centers across continents, rebranding that marked a turning point, eco-friendly innovations, the introduction of the popular Contabo products and features, and many more. Michael’s insights shed light on Contabo’s dedication to customers, ensuring quality support even as our customer base grew to over 160K clients from 190 countries. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we discuss with Michael the industry’s evolution, and his outlook on the future.
11-Year Journey Overview
Michael, it’s been 11 years since you joined the company. Let’s give an overview of your journey first.
I joined the customer support of Contabo in September 2012 after working for a large domain registrar in Germany. Back then, Contabo (called Giga Hosting at that time), was a small company with 10-15 employees. I’d also worked as a PHP freelance developer at that time and thus had some experience with hosting customer projects on virtual servers.
My journey at Contabo has been a really exciting one since I’ve worked in so many departments. I moved from customer support to technical support in just 6 months because of my technical background. A couple of month later, I started to get into the sales team combining my technical skills with my sales experience, which I gained as I studied to become an industrial sales manager.
As the company grew, there was also the need to extend and adjust our internal and external systems. This is when my programming skills came into play and I was offered to join our development team. I worked in these multiple positions for almost 6 years. I then left the technical support and development team to work as the Business Development Manager. In 2022, I took over the leadership of the newly formed Sales & Customer Experience Team, which was a result of our belief that providing great customer experience leads to great sales numbers.
I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to always keep growing and learning new things at Contabo, so it never gets boring.
New Identity, New Customer Experience
Contabo underwent rebranding at the beginning of 2013, moving from Giga-International to Contabo. What were the people’s reactions inside and outside the company?
This was a big step for all of us. Instead of having a name with two quite generic words – Giga Hosting and Giga International – we became a real brand, which could be recognized on an international level. The switch to Contabo definitely changed the way customers as well es the entire market perceived us. The ideas for the new brand were crowdsourced from the team. Finally our founders picked Contabo, which stands for Content Across Borders.
Inside the company, there was a feeling that this is not just a name change but the start of a bigger journey.
Contabo launched its “Customer Control Panel” in 2012. What role did you play in this project? How do you think it has transformed the customer experience and management of their cloud services?
Introducing the CPP has changed customer experience a lot. We used to have separate panels for reinstallations and reboots before. One couldn’t manage many things in a self-service way and always had to reach out to the support. In other words, the CCP has allowed our customers to manage all of their Contabo services within a single panel.
The first version of Customer Control Panel (CCP) was launched in May 2012, so before I joined Contabo. Once I joined, I have brought my ideas and we developed a lot of the CCP features, such as the VPS upgrade feature, 2FA, and so on. Now we are working on a major revamp of our Control Panel not only in terms of its design but also the entire backend code. I am sure the new panel will improve customer experience big time.
New Data Center and Awards
We opened our second Data Center in Nuremberg in 2014. What was the sentiment back then?
We were growing so fast that the Data Center in Munich, which was launched only 5 years earlier, was already full. Opening an additional Data Center, which was 5 times bigger than the existing one, was necessary to keep up with the growing demand.
For me personally, it meant a lot of work since I was also involved in the technical planning of the Nuremberg Data Center. I drove the first two racks from Munich to Nuremberg before the actual launch of the Data Center and worked on the network.
For our customers, it meant that we were now able to offer services from 2 different locations, so that geo redundant setups were possible. It also meant that we had a brand-new state-of-the-art data center designed to meet all the needs of the Contabo team and our customers. And we actually won the German Data Center Award for the new Nuremberg Data Center in 2017.
Speaking of awards, we also got one in 2018 for our eco-friendly groundwater cooling system in the Munich DC. Why was this system introduced?
Yes, the award in 2018 was a back-to-back award a year later. Our main goal was (and still is) to increase energy-efficiency of our Data Centers. Thanks to that we are able to pay less for electricity and pass on these savings to our customers. Furthermore, it isn’t only about being energy-efficient but also caring about the environment and our carbon footprint.
Bestseller Product and Customers
We introduced our bestseller, VPS S, in 2018. What was the reason behind the introduction of this product? Why did it turn out to be a particularly popular product among our customers?
With VPS S, we wanted to offer an affordable entry-level product for everyone. It was an absolute game changer in terms of Contabo’s growth and further development.
From my personal point of view, there are two important reasons for this. The first reason is that we were able to address a completely different customer group and different people with this low-cost model. Some might say that it doesn’t make much difference whether the VPS costs €5.99 or €8.99 per month. However, in many countries and for many people this is a lot of money and the decisive factor. We have now been able to give these people access to our products by offering a low entry model.
The second reason is that the trend has been moving away from monolith to micro services for several years. This means that it is no longer important to have a single extremely powerful instance, but rather it is advantageous to have many small instances responsible for individual dedicated tasks. VPS S perfectly covers the need for small instances at a reasonable price.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for remote workstations has naturally increased a lot. Many customers went for VPS S, which is why it is currently the most popular product in our portfolio.
Who is a typical Contabo customer?
We have quite a diverse customer base from 190 countries, all with different demands. We have customers with big computation projects operated on hundreds of dedicated servers as well as customers with just a single VPS, which is used as VPN.
I have a lot of meetings with customers to get feedback on how we can improve our services and what our customers expect from us in the future. I’m always amazed by their wide variety of origins and diverse backgrounds. If I looked at my meeting schedule for the last 3 months, I would probably see that I had meetings with customers located in more than 30 different countries.
During your tenure, the number of customers has grown from less than 5K up to 160K. How has this customer base expansion influenced your work, and what strategies have been implemented to ensure customer satisfaction?
This growth has had a strong impact on our work. The ever-increasing number of customers requires more automation and improved processes. We want to continue to be close to our customers and offer individual support provided by real humans, rather than bots. That’s why we’ve focused on automating all processes where humans do not need to be involved. The time saved by that is used to provide individual help whenever needed.
We read the customers’ feedback, we hear them and let them know we’re working on it. Also, we reach out to them actively inviting to fill out our surveys. For example, we introduced Tesla GPU on customer demand. The same is true about NVMe, a new state-of-the-art fast storage. We were one of the first cloud providers to offer it.
I communicate with customers on a daily basis, some of whom I’ve known for 10 years. We’ve developed a friendly relationship. The success of their business is our success. We have customers who started many years ago with a single VPS and now operate a large number of dedicated servers.
And how can a customer reach out to you in case they want to chat?
The best way is to interact with the surveys my team sends out. I’m behind every NPS, onboarding or satisfaction survey. So if you put comments there, I’ll reach out and suggest a meeting.
Global Expansion, Collaboration and Changes
In the last 3 years, Contabo opened 7 Data Centers on 4 continents. What’s the strategy behind this?
The expansion gave our company the opportunity to serve the customers globally with low latency. Now we can offer great connectivity to everyone regardless of where they or their customers are. Our mission of providing cloud services with German quality and unbeatable prices worldwide is far from complete. In addition to the new European Contabo Data Center, which we are building right now, many more regions will be added in the coming years.
We talked about how the customer base has evolved, but what about the workforce? How different is the team now compared to the past?
When I joined Contabo, almost all of us were locals coming from Munich or the nearby towns in Bavaria. Now the team is much more diverse. We have people of many different nationalities, skin color and mother tongues. I could say that our team is now as diverse as our customer base.
How do you collaborate with other teams within Contabo, such as the support team or the development team, to ensure seamless integration and optimal performance?
The way we collaborate has changed over the years. We had a single office and no home office when I joined Contabo. We were all sitting together in one building, and communication was quite easy since you just went to the room where your colleague sits. This has, of course, changed because many more offices have been added over time. Home office has been introduced as well.
In addition to some internal tools for project planning and project management, we also use MS Teams to enable fast and efficient communication with each other. From my personal point of view, the coordination and cooperation among each other as well as the general collaboration has not suffered from this. It has become even more effective.
Let’s now get to the concluding questions. What have been some of the most significant changes you have witnessed in terms of customer demands and expectations over the past 10 years?
There has been a big change when it comes to the hardware requirements. When I joined Contabo, our biggest server model had 64 GB of RAM. And the largest disk had 3 TB of storage. I already considered this as overkill and couldn’t imagine that anyone would require more. But right now, we have customers operating our current flagship with 2 TB of RAM and plenty of 16 TB disks.
But not only have the hardware requirements changed, but also the architecture of services. Microservices and containerization are currently state-of-the-art. This often results in hundreds of instances which can’t be managed the same way as with a couple of monolith servers. Thus, there is more demand for APIs, private networks and other options to automate the management of cloud infrastructure.
In general, Contabo has evolved from a classic hosting provider to a modern cloud service provider. However, it is still offering the same great solutions for those who search for classic hosting services.
Achievements and Secrets of Success
Looking back at your experience with Contabo, what achievements would you highlight that you are most proud of?
The achievement that I am most proud of is that we’ve never forgotten our roots and general principles. The customer is the focus of our work, and our customer-is-king mentality has not changed over all these years. Of course, there have also been issues, and I have to admit that there have been times when the customer experience and support has suffered due to our growth. However, we have usually recognized this very quickly and put all of our effort on solving these problems.
I’m also very proud we’ve proven that low prices for cloud services and good quality are not mutually exclusive. And through our expansion in recent years, we have shown that this is possible not only in Germany, but also worldwide. It should be mentioned that we are not always the first ones to offer new hardware, and this is also part of our success. That is, we don’t offer thirty different server models but rather focus on just a few and have streamline products. We use the same servers as host systems for our VPS and VDS. And we order the same hardware for all Regions, leading to much better purchase prices, which benefits our customers.
What do you believe sets the company apart from its competitors in the hosting industry?
Working at Contabo, a company with 300 employees, is completely different compared to most of the companies with that many people. It still has the same open culture that it had when we were a small group of 10-15 people. Everyone is treated equally, and it can also happen that you work in the same office with the CEO and a trainee.
And the same mindset (“everyone is equal”) applies to our support, as we strongly believe that every customer is equal. We want to offer every customer, no matter if they have a single VPS only or 100 dedicated servers, the same good-quality support.
Career Advice in Cloud Industry and Future Prospects
As someone who has been with Contabo for over 10 years, what advice would you give to those considering a career in the cloud industry?
First of all, I would encourage everyone to consider a career in the cloud industry. We all use the Internet daily and almost constantly. This would not have been possible without the hosting and cloud industry.
The working environment is simply very exciting, as there are countless different purposes for which hosting products can be used. At the same time, you always have to deal with new technologies and trends, such as AI and machine learning today. This result in new requirements and challenges. From my personal point of view, it never gets boring, you constantly learn new things.
Lastly, as Contabo celebrates its 20th anniversary, what does this milestone mean to you personally? What do you see as growth opportunities for Contabo in the future?
It means a lot to me personally to not only be able to observe the journey of Contabo over the past years but also to be actively contributing to it. 20 years of Contabo is not only a number but somehow a big exclamation mark in the hosting industry. Platforms such as Facebook, TikTok or Instagram didn’t even exist when Contabo was founded.
There are lots of growth opportunities for Contabo in the future, since the demand for global cloud services is still growing. Just think about the current AI and machine learning trends I mentioned before. That requires a lot of computing and storage resources. Also, there are still a lot of important and interesting regions where we don’t have a Data Center yet. I hope that we can cover them all in the upcoming years.