WordPress Agency Valet Standardizes on Pantheon for Hosting and Development Workflow

With Pantheon, Valet can offer clients more value with less infrastructure overhead.

Summary

Valet is a WordPress-centric digital agency offering everything from digital strategy to support to custom design and development. They standardized on Pantheon to straighten out their development workflow, provide worry-free infrastructure, and take on bigger clients.

Back in 2012, Mason James and Kimberly Lipari found there was no company offering the level of web development and hosting support they wanted to give their clients. So they created one. Originally known as WP Valet, Valet has grown into a digital agency with a reputation for top-notch WordPress migration, site management and comprehensive support.

The company has one essential criterion for taking on new clients: The site must be mission critical or business critical. For Valet to bring their expertise and level attention to detail, anything less than essential won’t do.

James was challenged to find an infrastructure solution that met Valet’s standard of excellence. They started with a patchwork of cloud-hosted virtual development servers and live servers chosen based on clients’ geographic location. That led to frustration during development and instability after deployment.

With Pantheon, James and Lipari found a platform they could standardize on. Pantheon helped Valet codify their best practices and eliminate “cowboy coding” that can wreak havoc on live servers.

Now, says James, “Any time we can, we try to move customers to Pantheon for everything.” Standardizing the agency on Pantheon gives Valet the resources they need to provide the service their customers demand.

Working with [Pantheon’s] engineers and seeing the same enthusiasm and excitement we have on our side, I thought, ‘This is locked in. We are going to be customers for a very long time.’

—Mason James, Founder & CEO, Valet

Valet Website Screenshot

Before Pantheon: Patchwork Hosting, Tangled Workflow

Valet has a distributed workforce without a central office location. So they built a development architecture on cloud-based virtual servers. That meant they were off the hook for managing physical hardware, but very much responsible for everything else. For the live servers, Valet chose a solution convenient to each client, usually one located geographically close to the client’s headquarters.

“Just enforcing standard best practices was tricky, especially with a remote team and in emergency scenarios,” James said. “I’ve always wanted to stay out of the hosting game.”

Valet could work to set up version control and workflow procedures for a client, only to have someone make a change on the live server that would undermine the stability of the site. In those cases, it was hard for Valet to find out that something had gone wrong in the first place, not to mention exactly what had happened and how.

As Valet’s client list grew, the overhead of infrastructure management became harder and harder to bear. They needed a solution that could solve development, deployment, infrastructure and support problems all at the same time.

Choosing Pantheon: “Light Years Beyond What We Were Seeing”

James first became aware of Pantheon as Valet was just starting out. At that point, Pantheon was exclusively for Drupal and Valet was exclusively WordPress. Still, James was impressed. “I was so blown away by what Pantheon had. It was light years beyond what we were seeing in the WordPress world,” he says.

James signed up as a beta tester and started test migrations on the platform. By 2015, as Valet was at peak frustration with server maintenance and management, Pantheon’s WordPress platform was ready to roll.

Valet wasn’t planning on giving Pantheon an easy win, however. James decided to start with the most challenging customers, those with legacy issues and serious technical debt. If Pantheon could handle the problem children, they could handle anything.

Valet team at conference table

Fast Track with Pantheon: Enthusiasm, Excitement and Success

Valet opted for Pantheon’s Agency Fast Track program. Usually, that would mean Pantheon engineers visiting the client’s office for in-person, in-depth consulting. The only problem was, Valet didn’t have a dedicated space. So Pantheon invited the Valet team to the Pantheon home office instead.

James and his team treated the upcoming visit as a deadline to get organized, do homework, and come prepared to iron out any remaining wrinkles. Valet did their homework prior to the visit, performing over 75 test migrations in the weeks leading up to the Fast Track, documenting issues and suggestions.

During the Fast Track, the Valet team was able to present their problems and work directly with Pantheon’s engineers for solutions. “Having the engineers genuinely interested in getting these clients with technical debt working properly, seeing their enthusiasm and excitement for solving problems, that provided me with a ton of confidence,” James says.

Pantheon didn’t just provide infrastructure and support, though; they also provided the best practices that are baked into the platform. James initially faced friction from coders who feared a loss of flexibility under these new standards, but it was hard to deny the increased stability and reliability from doing it the Pantheon way. By the end of the Fast Track process, the entire team at Valet was on board.

“Fast Track did exactly what it was supposed to do,” James says. “It gave us a deadline, because we only had access to the team for that amount of time. Having that time-limited window really pushed us forward.”

With Pantheon: Stability, Peace of Mind, Better Value to Clients

Pantheon empowered Valet to step out of the infrastructure game, freeing up resources to devote to serving clients. Even better, Pantheon gives Valet a structured Dev-Test-Live setup that precludes any cowboy coding. “It has saved us many unhappy surprises,” James says. “The ability to have stability and infrastructure protecting anyone, even clients, from logging in and wreaking havoc—it provides lot of peace of mind.”

Valet’s clients have noticed an improvement in service, too. One complex site used to go down for “hours at a time,” James says, and has seen 99.9% uptime in the six months since migration to Pantheon.

Valet standardizes on Pantheon for infrastructure, development and workflow with all new clients, and makes every effort to persuade clients to do production on the platform as well. James says, “We tell clients, ‘This is the technology that we use for infrastructure, and it will save you money using it for production as well.’ We highlight Pantheon as a discount over what they would pay for others, because they’re paying for less of our time to manage infrastructure.”

The Future: More Clients, Ongoing Development

James says Pantheon gives his company the confidence they need to pursue more and bigger clients. Without having to worry about infrastructure, and with a solid workflow in place, Valet can take on more complex development projects for clients big and small.

Valet started with the vision of providing an unprecedented level of WordPress development and support to their clients. With Pantheon, they have a partner more than capable of providing the infrastructure and tools they need to meet that goal.

To learn more about how Pantheon can help your digital agency, check out Pantheon for Agencies. If you’re ready to get started, you can apply for our Agency Fast Track program and put our team to work for you.

Benefits

  • Fast Track enabled for a quick and seamless transition

  • Tamper-proof Dev-Test-Live workflow

  • Elastic hosting and support means no more infrastructure management

  • Better value for clients, fewer headaches for Valet