Squarespace is a company which has sought to infuse delight and wonder into an industry where previously there was little. It was an inspiring move, not dissimilar to the one Apple made in the computer hardware industry almost three decades previously. This very blog you are reading right now was created using the Squarespace 6 Developer Platform, and across the board at Maptia - whether as a developer, designer, content creator, or marketer - we are massive fans of Squarespace. So we decided to dig a little deeper into the story behind this inspirational CMS platform.
Back in 2003 in his dorm room, Anthony Casalena had just turned down a job at Google and opted instead to use a $30k loan from his dad to build Squarespace. His dad's money barely covered the initial server costs and a few Google Adwords, but was enough to bring him his first three paying customers. He was able to make money from Day One. Since then those three true fans have evolved into an an impressive community of designers, bloggers, photographers, and creatives.
We were fascinated by how Squarespace had achieved this success in the face of competition from CMS giants like Wordpress and Tumblr. How on earth did they pull this off? Simon Senek has a great TED talk explaining his theory that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Using Apple as his example he asserts that no matter what they made, whether it was computers or phones, people would have bought it because they believed in Apple's vision to 'challenge the status quo' and to infuse everything they built with great design. Similarly, Squarespace does not exist purely to solve the mechanics of a CMS (Content Management System). Instead, they are on a mission to build,
This 'why' is inherent in everything they do and they have succeeded in building a community of employees and customers who believe in this mission.
At Maptia, we spend a lot of time thinking about our 'why' and how this could be best reflected within our company culture as we grow. Inspired by an awesome tradition we were part of during the TechStars Seattle program, one culture hack we have recently implemented is an '11.11', which we do on a Sunday morning at 11.11 am and everyone shares their highs and lows from the week over bacon and coffee.
Speaking from great experience, Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz wrote a great article defining company culture as the values, mission, and vision of that company along with its hiring, firing and promotion criteria. Rand also defined company cultural fit as the shared beliefs, shared priorities, and stylistic cohesion of the people working within it.
Curious to learn more about Squarespace and their values and beliefs we emailed them to ask how they would define their culture. We received a friendly and swift response from Seine, who heads the company's communications:
Brilliant. It certainly sounds like a great place to be part of a passionate and caring team, and we totally empathise with the desire to place a lot of weight on design. In comparison, we are only at the very beginning of our journey with Maptia, but in planning for our future and in enjoying the present, we do our best to draw on what other awesome companies like Squarespace do to grow and foster their culture. We even read that at Squarespace, employee perks include unlimited time off, daily organic meals, and free yoga classes. Of course, as Rand says, at the end of the day it is the people not the perks, and their shared beliefs and shared mission that create great company culture... but free yoga classes certainly do sound fun!
Inspired, we still wanted to learn a bit more, so we did a little detective work and dug up some other nuggets of awesomeness about Squarespace.
#1 Engineering dedication
The team at Squarespace have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that none of their sites ever go down. They're so confident in this that even their homepage is hosted on their own shared severs. They have implemented load balancing, redundant clustered web servers, server side caching at multiple levels, proper content expiration headers, and more. The best part is, as they say themselves, is that if their customers don't understand what all that means, then that's great, because they shouldn't have to!
When it comes to their responsibility for keeping their millions of sites running, they take going the extra mile extremely seriously, or more accurately an extra 17 floors. During the recent 'Frankenstorm' Sandy, the New York Squarespace HQ was hit by the brunt of the storm. Yet Anthony and his 'bucket brigade' carried fuel for more than 72 hours to the generator 17 floors high, until an interim fuel pump could be installed.
Not a single site went down. Quite amazing really. You can read the real time updates from the Sandy chronicles here and to the left you can see the dedicated 'Squarespace Midnight Bucket Brigade' who worked through the night.
#2 Prioritising Design
When it comes to design on the web - less is often more. Some of the most successful Web 2.0 innovations have been built around negative features, for example Twitter's default public '140 characters'. Anthony, along with legendary design icons such as Jony Ive and Jack Dorsey, subscribes to the Antoine de Saint Exupéry philosophy that,
Indeed the experience of setting up a Squarespace blog might be likened to that of feeling the weight of an iPhone 5 in your hand or swiping your credit card to use Square for the first time. It is a pleasure. Before Jack Dorsey showed up and created Square, few would have associated emotionally pleasing design with credit card transactions. Likewise few bloggers would have made the connection between delightful emotional reactions and utilitarian CMS platforms. For instance, if you click on the 'heart' or like button at bottom of this post you get a sense of the thoughtful attention to detail Squarespace apply to their platform. Many understated moments like that and a crisp, clean design with plenty of white space come together to create an emotionally satisfying UI that both Dorothy and Dean, our designer and developer, have found to be an absolute pleasure to work with.
An interesting side-effect of having such a white space friendly interface, as noted by Svbtle creator Dustin Curtis, is that it leads to better writing. When your attention is focused on just the words on the page and there are few distractions, the quality of your writing tends to improve.
In Squarespace 6 it seems that this approach has been applied to their internal content creation UI, which is perhaps an extension of Anthony Casalena's own anti-hoarder mind set. Wordpress users will be familiar with its famously feature-bloated and outdated content creation interface akin to Microsoft Office circa 2003. In complete contrast, the block-based 'Layout Engine' of Squarespace 6 is a breath of fresh air - both responsive and wonderfully intuitive. And we aren't the only ones who enjoy it. We reached out to a couple of Squarespace 6 customers and designers and this is what they said,
#3 Going the extra mile to recruit top talent
They go above and beyond the pack when it comes to recruiting talent. If they find someone who they believe to be a great cultural and talent fit, no matter where they are from or the level they have previously worked at, they will fight for them. A good testament to this is that 25 % of their employees are currently working in the U.S. on H1-B visas and also on O-visas, which are for those people exceptionally talented in their field. We know from personal experience that long term U.S. work visas are rarely easy to obtain and never cheap.
#4 Investing in environmentally friendly servers
From an environmental perspective, Squarespace's cloud infrastructure is 20x more efficient than the U.S. standard. They have invested in 'U.S. renewable energy credits' meaning that 100 % of their energy is Green certified e-renewable. Considering that 2-3 % of the U.S. total energy consumption comes from servers, this is more than just a drop in the ocean.
We'd like to take this chance to say thanks to Squarespace not just for providing a great platform, but also for being an inspiration to us on how to build a great company. It has been a pleasure to build our blog on your platform and continues to be a pleasure creating content here. We hope you like it so far, and for another example of what is possible using the Sqaurespace platform take a peek at Seth Godin's inspirational 'Flying Close to the Sun'. Over the next few years we predict that Squarespace will continue to eat up the CMS market share, just as Apple slowly chipped away at Microsoft, by focusing on a magical user experience.
If you have any Squarespace stories we'd love to hear your thoughts - please send us a tweet here. In case you haven't already, you can also sign up to Maptia here and be one the first to get on board when we launch.