Making a success of making websites
So popular is Squarespace that it is fast outgrowing its docklands space
Employees Fernanda Mendes de Araguo and Orna Kennelly splash out with toy guns at the Squarespace offices at Fitzwilliam Business Centre, Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke
There are two giant “super-soaker” water pistols on one of the desks. A table stands near the door with bowls and bowls of Haribo jellies, large tubs of Pringles and lots of chocolate. Loud music fills the air. This isn’t a party – it is the offices of website builder Squarespace on a workday.
Located in Dublin’s so- called Silicon Docks, the US firm empowers coders and non-coders alike to easily build and customise professional- quality websites.
Such is the popularity of the platform that it is fast outgrowing its space in the Fitzwilliam Business Centre on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.
When the company came to Ireland a year ago, it was based at Dogpatch Labs on Barrow Street. It then took half the fifth floor of the Fitzwilliam Business Centre, with the other half being occupied by software development company Zendesk. Now it has the whole floor and it is looking for more.
While the presence of huge tech firms such as Google and Facebook were what attracted the web publishing company to Ireland and Grand Canal Dock, it now wants to be closer to the city centre. It also wants a bigger office.
Like so many internet success stories (think Google, Facebook and Wordpress), Squarespace was also founded in a college dorm room.
Frustrated with the services available to develop a website, student Anthony Casalena decided to create his own all-in- one solution. At the time, anyone wanting to build a website had to cobble together a mix of blogging software, a domain name, page-building software and web-hosting from different places.
“I didn’t like putting all those things together. I wanted good aesthetics and packaging. I was also uncomfortable trusting my identity to different publishing and hosting companies,” Casalena says.
Ten years later, that solution has become Squarespace and it is riding high following a $40 million investment from venture capital firm General Atlantic.This follows an investment of $38.5 million in a funding round led by Index Ventures and Accel Partners.
Casalena says the company plans to spend $18 million on a recruitment drive and a further $40 million on marketing, this year alone. While that might seem like a lot, it can quickly disappear. A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl in February cost Squarespace an estimated $4 million, or $130,000 asecond.
Waiting for ads
“During the Super Bowl, you have 50 million viewers waiting for the ads rather than trying to ignore them. It was surreal,” Casalena says. “Very rarely do you put an ad out and get the press ringing you to go on air and discuss that ad.”
Overall, the company spent about $20 million in marketing in 2013. Casalena wasn’t planning to start a business when he began developing what would become Squarespace’s website- building software in April 2003.
After building a website for himself, others starting asking him to do websites for them. Before long they were offering to pay to use his software. It was at this point he realised he might have business in the making.
He had been in negotiations with Google for a job at the search engine’s web-page creation tool Google Sites, but decided to go his own way and market his own solution. He got a $30,000 loan from his father to invest in a server and he also invested in ads on Google. The site quickly gained traction and made $50,000 in its first year. By year two, it was pulling in $250,000 in revenues.
After finishing college, Casalena moved to New York and initially operated the business out of his bedroom, before getting some space.
“My first office was a shared desk in Tribeca. I split it with an architect. It was mainly to get out of my room, so as not to be living and working in the same space.”
During the company’s early years, Anthony acted as the sole engineer, designer, accountant and customer support representative for the platform.
“During the first four years, there was a lot weighing on me to do everything alone. I remember walking down the street in NYC and thinking ‘I can’t live like this, I should have hired people faster’.
Three years on
“It wasn’t until three years in that I made some hires. I hired someone in customer care and a template designer.”
“Until then I wasn’t making progress as I was doing taxes, customer care, design, everything. I was at breaking point health-wise and stress-wise.”
In 2010, Casalena decided the time had come to get a cash injection and give away some equity in the company for a minority shareholding.
“Seven years in, we were making eight figures annually. I was frustrated as I felt the product was good but not great. I felt that we needed new architecture.”
“I also wanted to strengthen the balance sheet, get a board of directors in place and have personal liquidity, so the business wasn’t tied to my livelihood.”
The company raised $38.5 million and under the deal, three new members joined its board: Getty Images chief executive Jonathan Klein, Accel’s Andrew Braccia and Index Ventures’ Dominique Vidal.
Casalena says he also wanted to build up a cushion for real estate and one-off marketing campaigns such as the Super Bowl.
Dublin is the company’s first office outside the United States and its second office worldwide. Casalena says Ireland was chosen because of the presence of other tech firms and the sophisticated tech talent based here.
“We knew there were other tech firms such as Google and Facebook in Dublin so we wouldn’t be all alone if we located here.”
The company now employs more than 320 people worldwide, including 60 in Ireland, and is serving millions of websites.
Users range from corporations like Cisco, Sony, Volvo and Michael Kors to ordinary consumers, who pay between $8 and $24 a month to run and host sites on Squarespace.
As for the $30,000 loan Casalena’s father gave him, did he ever pay it back?
“My dad is an equity holder in Squarespace and did very well during our first funding round. He was able to sell shares and make a lot.”