We recently did a Spotlight on Entrepreneurship in Arizona. Here is one more terrific story of bootstrapping success from Arizona.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of background?
Joshua Strebel: I was born in a little town in Idaho called Soda Springs. I’m the youngest of nine children. I grew up primarily in Las Vegas, Nevada and was splitting time within Salt Lake City, Utah. My parents were divorced when I was younger, so I went back and forth between households. I finished high school in Salt Lake City and ended up in Arizona where I went to college at Northern Arizona University.
Sramana Mitra: When was it that you came out of college?
Joshua Strebel: I graduated in 2003. I got a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Visual Communication.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do when you came out?
Joshua Strebel: It’s a fun story. I met my wife Sally, of 15 years, in college around my fourth year. It took me six years to get out of school. I graduated on a Friday. I drove down to Tucson, Arizona and married her on a Saturday. A few weeks later, we started a business on a Monday and we’ve been entrepreneurs ever since.
Sramana Mitra: As a couple?
Joshua Strebel: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: Awesome! That’s very interesting. What was the first business that you started?
Joshua Strebel: When I got out of school in 2003, the economy was sluggish for a new graduate. There weren’t a lot of opportunities. The only work I could find was an unpaid internship doing HTML and CSS – a light web design work. After a little time of doing that and not getting paid, I thought, “Well, I might as well do this for myself and at least try to make some money.” So our first business was a small web design and development agency in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Sramana Mitra: How long did you do that for?
Joshua Strebel: We were designing websites in startups till about 2007 or 2008. As you recall, the economy crashed again with the housing market. So we were looking for something to do in 2008. We cleaned up some old code we had and we launched what is now Pagely, which was the first managed WordPress hosting platform.
Sramana Mitra: Was it launched in 2008?
Joshua Strebel: Yes, we launched Pagely in 2008.
Sramana Mitra: In 2008, what was the competitive landscape like for WordPress? WordPress is already somewhat known by then. Quite known, right?
Joshua Strebel: Yes, and no. In 2008, when we came up with this idea, it was built on a prototype we had actually created back in 2006. It was essentially a platform that allowed you to choose a theme and put in your information and you create a website. It’s like a rudimentary website builder and was powered by WordPress.
In 2006, WordPress was just getting started. There wasn’t much going on. By 2008 or 2009 when we launched Pagely, WordPress had grown quite a bit. They’re starting to get some feet under it. So it wasn’t quite as novel or unique to say, “We have a platform like WordPress.” That being said, when we launched in September 2009, it was still a very novel idea. We were the first to market. We had to do a lot of market education and obviously made a fair amount of mistakes along the way.