This post started out on my list of non-programming tasks for Project Y as “Find an inexpensive VPS.” Unless you’re creating desktop software (Why? In this day and age?) with a zero net footprint, you’re going to want at least a Virtual Private Server for your app or service to call home.
So who do you pick? The heuristic for this looks something like this:

  1. Ask your startup friends who they host with.
  2. Check out what others have to say at Quora and Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow.
  3. Run Google searches like “Best VPS hosting 2011“, “Top 10 VPS hosting 2011“. (There’s a great deal of SEO spin and fake “comparisons” awaiting the gullible. Any hosting company you’ve never heard of that is the #1 choice for no less than 3 comparison pages is not someone you should trust.)
  4. Look through the results of #2, #3 (skeptically!), and look closely at your startup friends’ hosting companies.
  5. Wish you could afford Rackspace, but hey, you are funding this on the side and they’re expensive.

I IM’ed Rackspace, just on the off chance they had some really low end deal that I could afford. They did: Free.
Rackspace for Startups provides qualifying startups with free hosting/other services to the tune of at least $1,000 a month for at least 6 months. That’s a lot of cloud hosting, file storage, and more. A lot.
It turns out that the Rackspace for Startups initiative is being run by Rob La Gesse, Chief Disruption Officer (yep, that’s his title), who I met and connected with a few years back. He’s Robert Scoble’s manager at Rackspace. After I applied (and before I got in), I Interviewed Rob on why Rackspace was giving it away to startups:
Q: Why is Rackspace giving away to startups free cloud hosting? I thought you guys wanted paying customers!
A: We targeted startups for several reasons – they are much more likely to adopt cloud computing, for example.  They also have a huge potential for growth.  We give the service away so these companies try our cloud.  We are confident that once they do – and once they experience our Fanatical Support, that they will choose to stay with Rackspace as their business grows.
Q: Does everybody going through one of your listed startup incubators get this offer?
A: Yes.
Q:  If you’re a self-funded startup, how do you qualify?
A:  Classified 🙂 Actually – right now almost everyone is qualifying.  [ I can vouch for that :)] We have turned down a few people that were basically just doing a blog.  The program is aimed at companies writing applications.
Q: How many startups (self-funded or incubated) are in the program? How much room is there in the program?
A:  This really is classified.  We have a huge number of companies in the program and plenty of room for more, but we won;t be sharing those numbers for competitive reasons.
Q:  What’s the turnaround time between applying at and getting notified if you’re in?
A:  Usually less than a week – unless we get backed up for some reason (the flu is hitting hard here right now, which slows us down a bit – for example).
Q: For purposes of this program what’s a “self-funded startup”? A guy and his cat? Just the cat? Microsoft BizSpark’s definition of a company making less than $1m revenue a year, younger than 3 years?
A: If that cat can fill out the form and code, we will support it! We don’t have a rigid definition.  Generally someone that has not been accepted to an incubator and has not taken angel/VC funding.
Q: When do you kick people out of the program? A year, 2 years?
A: Our relationships with the incubators vary – and so does the duration of the offer. Minimum duration is six months though.
Q: Do even tiny little startups get the full Fanatical Support treatment (not to mention 4,000 sendmail slots a month) or are they all locked away on a 10 year old Dell server Rackspace tech use to test video games on?
A: Trust me – we use only the latest technology for our gaming servers! And yes, even the tiniest startups get the Rackspace and Sendmail love 🙂
Q: What exactly do they get? What if they need 4 server instances (dev, test, production, TechChrunch)?
A: They get a dollar amount of hosting/month.  99 % of the companies in the program do not utilize the full extent of the offer.
Long story short, I got into the Rackspace Startup Program (if I got in, you can too.). Only other requirement worth mentioning when you sign their offer letter is your startup will need to have a “powered by Rackspace” logo on the main landing page of your primary site. Or put another way, your tiny little startup gets to put the logo of one of the most respected IT businesses around on its home page.
Two takeaways here:
In case you scanned this post, if you are pre-server infrastructure (or are tired of your crappy VPS’s lame support), go over to the Rackspace for Startups program and apply. You’ll get an answer in a week.
What could you do building a customer base, getting attention and building your numbers if for the first 6 months – maybe longer – you have zero server costs? What if you can afford to have a million customers before you started changing?


  1. Tomáš Linhart Reply

    Why would I want use this? When I can get Amazon EC2 for free for one year without putting their logo on my home page?

    • Bob Walsh Reply

      While I applaud Amazon for providing the AWS Free Usage Tier, I see three issues:

      • While servers and storage are commodities, human support, 24/7, by people who are empowered to solve the problem, is anything but.
      • Let’s say I cranked my infrastructure up to 3 1024MB servers, plus managed hosting (os support) = about $500/mo., plus load balancing. I like free a whole lot better
      • As a startup founder, the last thing I want to have to do is spend time messing with infrastructure. That time should be spent on much more important things like marketing.
  2. Another great article! Thanks for the pointer to another great resource. I have worked with clients using Rackspace and they are beyond top notch. I had always looked at them as more of something to aspire to, a measure of success: “Yes, we have moved to Rackspace now, we have made it!” This is really a game changer for startups.

  3. I just happened upon your article. Thanks for sharing. I find it brilliant that rackspace is giving away to startups because they are most definitely a larger portion of the market looking for affordable hosting and mostly because most people will resist change, especially when they start growing. So when the company booms, they’re not going to want to hassle with changing hosting companies. Anyway, thanks again for sharing and I look forward to more from the Y project.

    • Bob Walsh Reply

      Hi Chadwick,
      It’s the kind of win-win I’d like to see more companies do, and it’s a good example of using “the power of the default.”

  4. Was very interested, read everywhere about fanatical support, wrote to sales@, …, never got an answer !!

  5. Nice from you. However I would have expected a “we forward your request to X” kind of answer from them to say the least…

  6. Bob Walsh Reply

    In a perfect world where everyone does everything everybody wants every time, maybe. On the other hand, we are talking about them giving you $1,000/month service credit a month…

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