The Future of GridPane

16 min read

Recently there has been some concerns expressed about the state of development of different features on the platform. We’ve also had a number of questions about our new Agency plans, including some misplaced fears that Developer LTD accounts are going to be missing out on key features, particularly the API.

I’m going to address each one of these issues one by one and lay out the timeline for everything that we’re working on right now.

1.) State of Development

We will start by talking about the bad news, which is apparent to everyone, and it’s the massive delays for promised features. And there’s two sides to that coin…

One is extremely simple: I’ve fucked up, repeatedly, at estimating when we would roll out different features. I’ve lost count of how many times I thought we would be “there” when we actually weren’t. That’s one cold hard inescapable reality. I failed to correctly understand the ever expanding scope of what it is that we’re building. And that’s MY fault. Things have been delayed by months and I’m sorry. All I can say is that all of the things will get done. We’re not going anywhere. 

The things that we promised to deliver are going to be delivered. 

The other side of this coin is more complicated but it basically goes like this: we’ve built 500 other things along the way, which we needed to build, just to keep all of the promised features, and their inevitable support burden, from collapsing on us. Some of these things you will have noticed, because they’re directly observable, either in the UI, or in your experiences with support, or in the hundreds of KB articles and the countless CLI commands and functions which they expose.

Our recent release of the new remote backups feature is a prime example. It is, all by itself, an entire company’s worth of intellectual property. And we’ll be working on making that bulletproof for months and years to come. It will require endless reinvestment, development, and support.

But we promised that we would do it. So we’re doing it, and it will be one of, if not the most, comprehensive backup solution available anywhere. 

Some of these things we’ve had to build, you’ll never see. 

Massive application refactoring to make it possible for Pro users who have 1100 sites, all loading rapidly in the UI… that’s the kind of daily fires that come up which require immediate attention. They’re also the kinds of things that require considerable effort that 99% of users will never see or benefit from. But these fires all have to get put down, and each and every single one of them take our attention away from being able to build new features. 

It’s an unpredictable and unavoidable part of the journey.

Now let’s talk about the good news in terms of where we are with development: you may or may not be seeing it, but we’re actually getting really close to what we would call “feature complete.” 

I can’t and won’t quote timelines, because I’m clearly incapable of that. But I see where we are in our development pipeline and see what’s coming next. And I see all of the promises being kept, plain and simple. Everything that we EVER said we were going to do is either nearing completion or in active development. 

And we promised A LOT of stuff. 

Setting aside all of the features and what the score is on those things, I think it’s really important that we make one thing REALLY clear:

Our primary focus has always been and will continue to be on support.

Which we’ve made massive investments in. And those investments bear fruit every single day for every single person that engages with our support. But we’ve had massive setbacks in that department as well. Tens of thousands of dollars lost to failed initiatives. The Ada bot was a prime example. We lost at least six weeks of development time trying to implement that as a solution to our burgeoning support needs.

And in the end it largely pissed everybody off, cost us a shitload of money, and we had to throw all of that away. We’ve now gone back to full live HUMAN 24/7 support via chat. Which cost us another three or four weeks. 

Who else is making that level of investment to try to truly serve their users? 

Should we abandon THAT focus and only support the bare minimum aspects of “the app” and not all of the other things we support? I don’t believe we should. And, for better or worse, I make the tough decisions. 

We will always prioritize support. No matter how much it costs. No matter how it sometimes gets abused. When there are problems with support we will ALWAYS stop everything else that we are doing and refocus our efforts on resolving those issues first.

2.) What Are The New Agency Plans and Why Are We Doing Them?

We have a lot of different kinds of users of our platform. All different skill levels, all different states of business and scale. The majority of our users manage a handful of sites and servers. And for those users the platform, the features, the support, all of their “boxes” are fairly well checked.

We then have two different brackets of high usage customers.

In the first bracket we have clients that are leaning towards Enterprise capability but they’re not quite there yet. These people want more capabilities, they want better access to top tier support, they want more control, more flexibility, more access to us and our engineering expertise… and they’re willing to pay for it. 

We’re building Agency for those people. More on that in a second.

The second bracket of people in our high use category also want all of those same things. But they have no interest in creating a long term sustainable relationship with us. 

Unfortunately there are a lot of these kinds of users. They flood our app with requests, they flood our support with tickets, they demand we do things that have absolutely nothing to do with our platform, and they tax all of the resources of the company. 

And the reality is because of those bad actors, two things have to happen: 

1.) We need to manually cull them out, one by one. And deal with all the ensuing drama and negative PR/social exposure that inevitably ensues. 

2.) We have to completely refactor the entire application, from the ground up. And not just from a technical perspective, but from a business standpoint as well. 

My hope from the very beginning was that when we said things like “No preset sites/servers” that we could count on our users to be reasonable. That their investment with us would grow as their value from the platform grew and that they would buy into the idea of a partnership where both sides help each other reach that destination. That they would respect that we’re a small company, with ZERO outside investment – meaning ZERO misalignment between us and You.

Unfortunately, that’s just not how it’s all worked out. Some people, some of the time, will cause more harm than all of the other people combined, but that is why we never said “Unlimited sites/servers”.

So rebuilding from the ground up means investment. It means the people, the expertise, and the development needed to get to GridPane 2.0. Whatever that looks like 3 months from now. 

And that investment is going to come from this new Agency endeavor, rebuilding out where needed from the foundational work we have put in place from our Developer plan.

Here’s the crucial thing: this is to fund PARALLEL development on the platform. 

We’re not stopping or slowing down on anything with this. This allows us to keep going full steam ahead on both features and restructuring. This allows us to add MORE people to support. This allows us to do all of the fancy shit AND create sustainability, the benefits of which accrue to every user of the platform throughout our community.

Some of you have invested in LTDs with us, and you have expectations of deliverables. Expectations which will be met, in no small part thanks to the continued investment of the handful of people who elect to go further with us. 

These Agency plans allow us to continue to massively invest in the platform WITHOUT seeking outside investment. 

If we wanted to put millions of dollars in the bank right now, we could. We could spin up a Series A out west and then never have to worry about money ever again, but in doing so we would become beholden to stakeholders who don’t share our priorities and vision. 

We wouldn’t work for YOU anymore, we would work for them.

And that is why I think it’s crucial that we never go that path. Because by never going down that path I never have to say “No” to a client of GridPane because some outside VC assholes say that the numbers need to be juiced this way or that way. 

So how do we solve a “massive investment required” problem and NOT sell everything that we’ve all built – this entire platform, this community, this team, our connection to all of you – not sell all of that down the river to some PE firm?

We get greater investment from our customers. And those customers, in exchange for that investment, will get massive value from the platform that they’re gonna help us build.

But all of you get upside also, which brings us to…

3.) Developer LTD Accounts, The API, “losing out” on features etc.

There was a recent bit of public outcry floating around about fear of us letting our LTD buyers down… not delivering on the promises… basically that we’re gonna become an AppSumo and screw everybody over.

That’s just flat out not happening. 

I can understand your concerns, because many of you have been burned repeatedly, but the reality is that we take the whole reputation and integrity “thing” pretty fucking seriously around here. 

Here was my response to some of that concern in the Self Managed Group:

For the record Developer isn’t “losing out” on anything.

It’s always going to be our core product and we’re actively releasing features for it on a nearly weekly basis.

Agency is a tier between Developer and Enterprise which includes options to get things that previously were only available on Enterprise. The more of these things you use, across more and more sites, the closer Agency gets to the pricing of Enterprise.

Things like white label, escalated support tickets, site monitoring, 24/7 Remediation, unlimited API access, unlimited integrations, and so on.

All of which have a hard upfront and/or ongoing cost for us, so they could never feasibly be part of the Developer LTD equation.

We’re building a service, a company, and a community that is based on many of the principles of open source… transparency, honesty, integrity.

And we’re doing it WITH our clients. Not for them, or to them, or because of them. Or because our VC backers want to make shitloads of money.

We’re building the right tools for the job… for the right people to do those jobs.

And the very last thing that we’re ever gonna do is take for granted everything and everybody that helped us get to where we are right now, and those same factors that will fuel us to where we’re going.

We made a number of promises to all of our LTD buyers. And if you can live with the fact that they’re all clearly coming later than expected, we’re going to keep EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE PROMISES. 

Developer users will have access to the API.

The catch: some Developer users will absolutely abuse the API.

Any setup which can be readily abused is clearly not sustainable. 

That means that there needs to be clear limits on usage, functionality, consequences for exploitation, all new company policies, extensive documentation, and – YAY! – even legal expenses just to clearly outline exactly how we won’t allow people to shit all over the platform. 

This is just as much a policy problem as it is a technical one.

We have to determine appropriate monthly allocations for each user, and then we have to test to see how people will abuse things THEN. Because they definitely will. 

You never know when someone is going to build 700 identical porn sites in less than an hour, all as part of a massive PBN and ad network. (This actually happened)

All of these things are already in development. They’re being actively tested right now by us and by a VERY small list of people that we trust implicitly, because they’ve demonstrated, repeatedly, that they are highly invested in our future.

And, because of everything we’ve learned thus far, we will NOT be rushing their release.

So that’s the bad news: the API is still not ready for public consumption. And, effective as of this writing, we will not be taking any additional beta testers for that program out of the Developer LTD pool.

You very likely wouldn’t want to be on it anyway, because investments in implementation today would DEFINITELY need to be retooled by the time we publicly launch it.

Here’s the good news: we will NOT be making the API available to anyone, including Agency tier plans, before we make it available to everyone on Developer, LTD or otherwise. You will be getting it at exactly the same time as Agency users are getting their all new totally rebuilt white label instances. 

Agency accounts will be getting access to new features and new capabilities at roughly the same rate as ALL accounts, they will just be getting a better deal on them because they’re making a larger investment in the platform. If X costs $5, 100 of X or 1000 X should cost quite a bit less, when the context is things like software and monitoring etc. 

It is worth noting: these new Agency accounts are volunteering not only to make serious investment above and beyond what they’ve already paid (every single person I’ve talked to about Agency thus far is also a Developer LTD buyer) but they’re also going to make significant investments in their time and development and feedback.

All of which benefits everyone on the platform. 

When they get the API endpoints and all of the documentation, all Developer users will be getting it at the same time. You will have allocations and limits and ranges of capability, and they will as well. The more API utilization that you want, above and beyond some absurd amount that we will determine, those options will be available to you.

As development continues to progress the core product will ALWAYS be Developer. All of the core features will trickle down to Developer.

But as we create new value, that has new hard costs per site, which increases the upside for people because of totally new capabilities and optimizations and INVESTMENT that far exceeds anything that we ever envisioned a year ago, those things will NOT go directly into Developer, although in some cases there will be options to add these features.

And any expectation otherwise would be unreasonable. 

You’re not losing out on anything. You’ll get all that we promised and more. 

Some of our clients want more, a lot more, and they’re willing to make continued investment and partner with us to build for the long term to build something insanely fucking awesome. That’s what we’re working on. That’s the “status” of the platform.

So… when are we going to get there?

The people who are electing to invest in this closed Agency pilot program are doing so primarily on the basis that they will get a massive discount off of Enterprise, in exchange for a prepaid annual subscription, a shitload of feedback and cooperative testing, and their patience.

They’re getting a production-ready, fully white labeled application within 60 to 90 days.

At that point, precisely when we unveil all of their documentation, we will be doing so for all Developer users as well. 

A couple things that are important to note: Agency and Enterprise have allocations API calls large enough for them to support hundreds if not thousands of sites.

But they have a hard cost as their usage scales.

That means that their usage is not unlimited. 

Which means that EVERYONES’ usage is not unlimited. 

That means: if you planned on running thousands of sites on the back of our service, whether you’re on a LTD or not, you’ll need to reset your thinking. Because that’s just simply not possible. 

There’s no “limit” on a American Express card… this does not mean that you can buy a Gulfstream jet with it and NOT expect a phone call.

We’ve already had people strongly hint that they fully expect us to manage thousands of sites for them and that they’re not planning on spending a single additional nickel in order to make that possible. 

They already make THEIR support problems our support problems. And now they’re looking to do so, AT SCALE!

To those users, I have bad news for you: we don’t HAVE to do business with you.

That is not a sentiment we take any joy in whatsoever, it’s just the practical reality of things. If you cost us 10X more than you pay us every month, that’s not a sustainable relationship.

If you want to work WITH us, we’d love to be your hosting partner, and you know where to find us. 

We’re right here, we’ve got nothing to hide. And all of you know exactly how to connect STRAIGHT TO ME.

If you’re frustrated because we’re taking too damn long, I get it. I hate waiting. I HATE IT.

If you need someone to just scream at for a few minutes, by all means, get on my calendar. 

I’ve got three kids – I’m amazing at getting screamed at. 

This last year has been challenging for everyone. 

We’ve hit some serious speed bumps, copycats, and a pandemic, along the way.

All companies hit serious snags. Most just go out of business as a result of them. 

We’re not going anywhere other than the destination.

The ride along the way, for all of us, is what we make of it. 

I thank you all for your patience and your continued support. 

If you’re interested in talking with me about Agency plans, or anything else, message [email protected] and she’ll get you on my calendar. 

Cheers, y’all.