Peter Harris formed QiQ in 1998 after working Barclays, a UK banking group, for 15 years. Initially providing web development services to small and medium sized businesses, QiQ evolved to become a boutique web hosting and domain name provider – a roll QiQ still performs.
Now QiQ have expanded in to hybrid mail where they print and post documents for businesses and individuals, to over 200 countries every week from 30 worldwide locations. By printing and posting from multiple locations, users of the service benefit from faster delivery than traditional mail, and, because local postage is applied to correspondence rather than air mail, cost savings are also frequently obtained.
MO: What inspired you to launch QiQ? How did the experience that you gained working for Barclays influence your approach to creating your own business?
Peter: I established QiQ in 1998. At the time I had been working as ‘Internet Activity Manager’ for Barclays Bank in the UK and was seeing the opportunities the Internet was starting to offer businesses of all sizes. I was (and still am) excited by the changes technology makes and, having worked for Barclays for 15 years, I was ready for a new challenge. My time spent with BarcIays provided a sound foundation for my future career as I worked in a number of different business functions (training, personnel, merchant services, credit cards, fraud prevention) providing me with a broad understanding of business and technology matters.
However, on leaving Barclays I was anxious to obtain formal qualifications in my new area of interest and shortly afterwards signed up for a course in Multimedia Production with a focus on Internet technologies, in Sydney, Australia. Little did I realize that this would become my future home once I received my shiny new Bachelor of Arts (Multimedia Arts) Degree with First Class Honours.
MO: Why do you believe that both traditional and modern methods of communication will continue to be embraced by businesses?
Peter: While new technologies often outpace older technologies, older technologies often stay around for a considerable period of time. This can be for a number of reasons, but if we take the humble letter as an example we find there is still a place for it – although QiQ’s modern take on it will hopefully guarantee we will see it around for some time to come.
Successful businesses survive by meeting the needs of their customers and this means communicating in a way the customer desires. It could be via a tweet, a Facebook message or a LinkedIn post or perhaps with older customers a traditional letter. Businesses seeking to impress may also choose to send a letter simply because it can now be seen as a differentiator. Whilst any email is only one key stroke away from deletion, letters are nearly always opened and read.
In some instances, letters can not be replaced by electronic alternatives – perhaps a business doesn’t have an email address or the email keeps bouncing, or maybe physical delivery is a necessity for legal reasons.
Over time this will change, but for now our hybrid mail services provides both businesses and consumers with a need to send a letter an easy way of doing so. Instead of finding the stationery, writing a letter and visiting the post office, this can all be done from your computer keyboard or by integrating with our mailing platform.
MO: Can you elaborate on some of the challenges of maintaining a network of over 30 international printing/posting partners?
Peter: We commenced creating our mailing network back in 2003. This has given us a good period of time to learn about how to create a successful and reliable network like the one we have today.
One of our initial problems was keeping our new partners interested when they perhaps would not receive a letter for mailing for weeks apart. Now that we’ve mailed millions of documents this is no longer the case and mailing documents is part of a daily routine for all our locations.
Ensuring the timely mailing of items is critical and over the 10 years of operation we have built automated monitoring into our processes so in the event of problems we can act swiftly. For instance, in 2008 shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai meant we was unable to process letters from that location. Shortly prior to this we had developed functionality enabling letters to be automatically rerouted to the next nearest/cheapest location for mailing. Similarly, a bit like how the Internet can reroute traffic, we can reroute mailing when adverse weather conditions, industrial action or technical issues impact a given location.
We also automatically check the availability of our servers every 5 minutes from one of 30 random worldwide locations to ensure they are reachable. Alarm bells ring if there is an issue and as a result we’ve suffered very little unscheduled downtime.
MO: Where does your passion for web hosting and domain names come from?
Peter: Whilst hybrid mail is a key part of what we do at QiQ, our origins are in developing websites for other businesses and providing them with their domain name and hosting. We’ve been doing this since 1998 and actually still have our first client as a customer to this day.
I enjoy the hosting industry for a number of reasons. Firstly, I believe we have a fantastic group of clients and I really enjoy working with them. They are located all around the world and they appreciate working with QiQ as a smaller hosting company as much as we enjoy working with a wide range of individuals and businesses on a more personal basis.
We care about our clients and offer something quite unique compared to the larger and more impersonal web hosts. For instance, I wonder how many people with a website can email their hosting support and know that either Jade, Josh, Paul or Peter will be there to help them? It’s this level of personal service where the client will know who will respond that makes a big difference. The fact we are located in three different time zones also means a reply is never that far away – like the Internet itself, QiQ is always awake.
From a business perspective hosting represents the opportunity to develop a recurring income stream and has proven to be a firm foundation for a long term business.
MO: What are some of the ways that QiQ has changed and evolved since first launching in 1998?
Peter: QiQ has constantly evolved since 1998 and it is this evolution that is responsible for the business still being around today.
Only in our earliest years has QiQ had a physical office instead choosing to work ‘in the cloud’ with a virtual team since 2001. The core QiQ team communicate via Skype and use centralized online systems to share information and are never further than an email away from sharing necessary information.
QiQ focussed on developing websites for businesses initially. However we soon realised we was good at development and decided to build websites for ourself instead. Our initial project was the creation of a successful ISP Review site known as Net4now we then worked on our hybrid mail service L-Mail.com before more recently developing docsaway.com for the mailing of PDF documents.
We had a designer and developer on staff in the early years as I recognized websites have to look great as well as work well. With just developing our own sites in recent years we just maintain a fantastic developer on the team and contract out design work when required.
We have continued to offer web hosting and domain names since our formation. Again, this has not stood still with new services becoming available and greater automation in account creation and management.
MO: What is one marketing strategy that’s worked well for you?
Peter: The one marketing strategy that has worked well for us is to have many marketing strategies! We continually experiment with a hole range of ideas but, despite this, it always comes back to the best approach which is to amaze our existing customers and let word of mouth take over.
Whilst ideally nothing would ever go wrong, it is the times when we solve problems and issues for our clients that we can demonstrate we really do care. We’re not an anonymous support person, but always a named individual anxious to resolve a problem – or preferably prevent it if we can.
We experiment with social media and try to tread a careful line between time taken and value received. We offer services in the highly competitive hosting and domain market and the very niche hybrid mail service this means two very different approaches have to be taken to ensure a return on any investment in marketing is achieved. The niche service requires a more educational role advising potential customers such a service exists whilst our marketing for web hosting is more targeted to where people seeking hosting hang out.
MO: How do you plan to keep the momentum going?
Peter: Now is a very exciting time in QiQ’s history. We have two established businesses, one in web hosting the other in hybrid mail and both have their challenges and potential waiting to be released.
While QiQ works as a virtual team, I am very fortunate in working with some very motivated and talented people. Josh and Jade work around the clock keeping the cogs turning in our hosting services and Paul, our super talented technical director develops, maintains and enhances our hybrid mail services on a daily basis.
Hosting is a super competitive industry and fortunately a strategy of competing on service at a mid-priced product range is working well for us. Expansion into newer hosting technologies such as Cloud and VPS’s is also keeping us busy but importantly relevant to our growing client base.
Hybrid mail is a niche offering and we continue to be amazed at the new uses it is put to. Whether it be to mail activation codes for our clients new accounts, sending marketing material or personal letters the continual growth we see encourages us to seek out and get excited by the new markets we serve.
We are presently preparing the re-launch of our Docsaway.com service with a number of exciting changes to the platform. It is the continual enhancement and desire to offer the very best hybrid mail platform on the planet that keeps us motivated in our day to day work. Our customers feedback and growing customer and letter volumes rewards the hard effort the team put in to realizing this goal.
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