The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange

If you're an unhappy A Small Orange customer looking to find a better web host and don't want to read why the quality went down, simply head over to our Web Hosting Reviews and find a better hosting company. 

How did a small web hosting company have such a huge impact on Review Signal?

The Early Days

This story begins in October 2011, a year before Review Signal launched. Review Signal had been collecting data for months and early ratings data was starting to become meaningful. A tiny company was at the top of the rankings. A Small Orange.

The most worrisome part of this revelation was that A Small Orange did not have an affiliate program. Which isn't a requirement at all for a listing on Review Signal.

However, after investing years of work, if the top rated company ended up not having an affiliate program, the business was likely sunk before it even started. So I inquired early and heard back from the CEO at the time, “we don't have an affiliate program and at the moment, we have no plans for one.” This was a potential death knell because the entire business model relies on making at least some money, even though I assumed it would be much lower than my competitors who simply sell their rankings to the highest bidder. But as any entrepreneur knows, almost everything is negotiable if you understand what the other person really wants and why. After talking further with the CEO, he explained his issue with web hosting review websites, “they typically have a pay for ranking sort of model and do it either through set rates or affiliate payouts. It varies. The economics at ASO don't really work out for a standard affiliate program.” A Small Orange didn't want to play the game that every other review site out there did. Pay to play, quality be damned.

This CEO hated the games being played as much as I did.

That was all the opportunity I needed. Review Signal's mission has been to fight against that very same model and I knew I had an early ally who could make this work. We ended up working out a deal to pay three months of whatever plan someone purchased and he put a cap on my potential earnings at $250 before he would review the performance. Considering the most popular plans were $25/year and $5/month, this wasn't going to earn a lot, but at least it might start covering some of the very basic costs. The first month I earned $52.38 on 6 sales for an average of $8.73 per sale with A Small Orange.
At least it was something. And a foot in the door was all I needed to prove this crazy idea called Review Signal might have some legs. A Small Orange opened that door and for that our histories will forever be intertwined.

The Good Times

The next few years were very good. I was their first affiliate. I was their biggest affiliate for many years, bringing in over a thousand new customers. I got to know many of the staff and would consider some of them friends. And A Small Orange continued to be the best rated shared hosting company through 2014. Everyone was happy - their customers, the company and Review Signal. I was happy to recommend them based on the data showing they had incredibly satisfied customers. I had people tell me personally they were very happy with them after signing up because of the data I publish here at Review Signal.

2014-01-20 13.34.07

Free Swag and Annual Thank You Card from ASO

The EIG Acquisition

A Small Orange was quietly acquired in 2012. They were acquired by a behemoth in the hosting industry called Endurance International Group (NASDAQ: EIGI) which owns dozens of brands including some of the largest and most well known hosting companies: Blue Host, Host Gator, Host Monster, Just Host, Site5, iPage, Arvixe and more.

EIG has a very bad reputation in the web hosting world. If you ask most industry veterans they will tell you to run to the hills when it comes to EIG. The oft-repeated story is EIG acquires a hosting company, migrates them to their platform and the quality of service falls off a cliff. The best example of this is perhaps their migration to their Provo, UT data-center which had a catastrophic outage in 2013. This outage was huge. The impact dropped four of EIG's largest brands many percentage points in the Review Signal rankings in a single day.  But these major outages continue to happen as recently as November 2015.

In a recent earnings call with share holders, EIG CEO Hari Ravichandran talked about two recent acquisitions and their plans for them. “We expect to manage these businesses at breakeven to marginally profitable for the rest of the year as we migrate their subscriber bases onto our back-end platform. Once on platform, we expect to reach favorable economics and adjusted EBITDA contribution consistent with our previous framework for realizing synergies from acquisitions.”

The EIG Playbook

EIG's playbook has been to acquire web hosting brands, migrate them to their platform and 'reach favorable economics.' They've been doing it for years and it seems to be working well enough for investors to continue to put money into the company. M&A to grow subscriber bases and economies of scale to lower costs. It's a very simple and straightforward business plan. It doesn't speak to anything beyond spreadsheet math though, such as brand value and customer loyalty. And those are certainly lowered and lost post-EIG acquisition according to all the data we've collected over years and multiple acquired brands. It's calloused business accounting, but it makes perfect sense in the race to the bottom industry that is commodity shared hosting.

Review Signal Rating Calculated Pos/(Pos+Neg), without duplicate filtering

Review Signal Rating Calculated Pos/(Pos+Neg), without duplicate filtering

You can see all the EIG brands tracked here on Review Signal in the chart above and their acquisition dates below:

iPage - 2009. BlueHost/HostMonster - 2010. JustHost - Feb 2011. NetFirms - March 2011. HostGator - June 2012. A Small Orange  - July 2012. Arvixe - November 2014. Site5 - August 2015.

You'll notice their ratings, in general, are not very good with Site5 (their most recent acquisition) being the exception. iPage was acquired before I started tracking data. BlueHost/HostMonster also had a decline, although the data doesn't start pre-acquisition. JustHost collapses post acquisition. NetFirms has remained consistently mediocre. HostGator collapses with a major outage a year after acquisition. Arvixe collapses a year after being acquired. Site5 is still very recent and hasn't shown any signs of decline yet.

The Expected Decline of A Small Orange

So nearly every industry veteran I talked to expected A Small Orange to collapse. Immediately after acquisition. Except me. I was, am and will continue to be willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a company until I am shown evidence.

For years, post acquisition people were saying ASO's demise was right around the corner. For years, I still waited for that evidence and the prophecy to become true. But it didn't happen.

It often took EIG less than a year to ruin a brand. We don't have to look further than Arvixe for an example of this, which was acquired in November 2014. Today, Arvixe has one of the lowest ratings of any company on Review Signal at a shockingly low 27%.

But A Small Orange continued to chug along. It didn't hear the naysayers or believe itself to be a victim of the EIG curse. Instead, ASO was the best shared host for years post-acquisition. It seemed to have a fair level of autonomy from the EIG conglomerate. The staff I knew there, remained there, and all indications showed they were still the same company.

Until it wasn't.

The Fall of A Small Orange

A Small Orange Historical Rating

A Small Orange Historical Rating

The chart above shows Review Signal's rating of A Small Orange. The Blue line is the rating as calculated by [Positive Reviews / (Positive Reviews + Negative Reviews)]. The Red line only calculates the rating from the past 12 months of data. It's slightly different than Review Signal's actual calculation because I am not filtering out duplicates for quick analysis. The difference for A Small Orange is that when you remove the duplicates, the year 2015 had a 43% rating indicating there was quite a few people writing multiple negative things about A Small Orange.

Sometime in 2015, the A Small Orange that thousands of people trusted and raved about became another EIG brand. I tried to get the inside story. I reached out to the former CEO who sold the company to EIG and became an executive there for a couple years post acquisition. He reached out on my behalf to EIG's PR team to see if they would participate in this story. Both declined to participate.

So, I'm left to speculate on what happened at A Small Orange based on what's been publicly stated by their CEO and watching their strategy unfold for years across many companies/brands. My best guess is EIG finally got involved with A Small Orange. They used to be a distributed/remote team, now all positions they are hiring for are listed as in Texas (their headquarters). I saw a HostGator representative get moved over to ASO's team, so the internal staff was changing and people were being moved from brands with less than stellar reputations to ASO. The former CEO left mid-2014, which likely left a leadership and responsibility gap. ASO could probably run on auto pilot through the end of 2014, but over time having no champion for your brand in upper management eventually will come back to hurt the brand when decisions get made based on simple economics.

Once 2015 rolled around, the service had noticeably declined. The overall rating for A Small Orange in 2015 was 43% (only using 2015 data). For years, they had been in the 70's. It also ended the year with a massive outage for most, if not all, of their VPS customers which has been going on since Christmas. I personally received multiple messages from users of this site asking about what was happening and alerting me to this decline in service quality.

ASO was also responsible for the Arvixe migration that went very poorly and caused the Arvixe brand to tank. I'm not sure why EIG doesn't have a dedicated migration team to handle these type of moves considering how many acquisitions they go through and how large a role it plays in their growth strategy. But that's a whole separate issue.
It's with great disappointment that I have to admit, the A Small Orange that played such a huge role in the founding and success of Review Signal and provided a great service to many thousands of customers is dead. It's become another hollow EIG brand where the quality has gone down to mediocre levels. And that seems perfectly ok to them, because it's probably more profitable for their bottom line.

Going Forward

This story has had a profound impact on Review Signal. One thing that it made painfully obvious is that the ranking algorithm needs its first update since inception. The current ranking treats every review equally. Which was great when this site launched, because time didn't have any opportunity to be a factor yet. But as this site continues to move forward, I need to acknowledge that a significant amount of time has passed since launch and today. A review from the beginning of Review Signal isn't as relevant as one from this past week in determining the current quality of a web hosting company. A Small Orange right now shows up around 64% which is artificially high because of their long history of good service and it hasn't been brought down yet by the marginally small (by time scale) decline of the past year. But it's painfully clear that it's not a 64% rating company anymore.

Another thing to note is the graphs here all used a simpler calculation [Pos / (Pos + Neg)] to calculate rating without duplicate filtering. What this means is the difference between the rating here and the actual rating on the live site is a measure of the degree people are being positive or negative about a company. If the rating here is higher than the published, it means people are saying on average, more than one good thing about the same company. If the rating is below (as is in most if not all cases here), it means people are are saying more than one negative thing about the company. I'm not sure if this will factor into a new algorithm, but it is something to consider. My intuition says you would see it hinge around 50%, those companies above would likely have more positive supporters, and those below would have detractors.

In the coming months I will try to figure out a better way to generate the ranking number that more fairly represents the current state of a company. My initial thought is to use some sort of time discounting, so that the older the review, the less weight it would carry in the rankings. If anyone has experience working with this or wants to propose/discuss ideas, please reach out - comment here, email me, or tweet @ReviewSignal.

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Kevin Ohashi is the geek-in-charge at Review Signal. He is passionate about making data meaningful for consumers. Kevin is based in Washington, DC.





53 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of A Small Orange

  1. avatarMilan Petrovic

    Great article! I was happy ASO customer for years until November 2015 things started going downhill for me, and with massive outage around the new year, I moved to SiteGround.

    As for the rating, best way to proceed is to figure out some weighted system. In case of reviews on this website, most obvious system is to have time as a factor and introduce some sort of sliding scale where months and years are have own weight in relation to current date. Trick is to figure out the weight, and it would require a lot of testing to make sure that recent ratings are important, but not to kill old ratings. Bayesian rating is not good choice, because it is used to push ratings based on the average rating of the whole system.

    Reply
  2. avatarAnsel Taft

    I am intrigued by the need for an algorithm change and makes me think you need a time-weighted system. This all takes me back to my data analysis days as an economics major – thank you for the mental journey and I can’t wait to see what comes of it. Is it fair to expect a follow-up article when v2.0 is ready?

    I appreciate the consistently high caliber work you do here at RS. Count me a fan!

    Reply
  3. avatarWarren

    I was a reseller with Hostnine (ASO) for many years. My customer number with them is only 3 digits. They were great for years but I have just had to move on unfortunately.

    Surely EIG could keep these hosts running well and still make a profit!

    Great article. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. avatarSteven Gliebe

    Really great reporting, Kevin.

    I didn’t realize A Small Orange had taken a plunge. I haven’t processed new data for 6 months to a year. It will be interesting to see if when I do that back on track (going to try Mechanical Turk soon) I see the same thing, as I suspect. My approach has been only to report the last year of data and break it down by month. I think that is sufficient for drawing useful conclusions.

    Thanks for all the good stuff here on the Review Signal blog.

    Reply
  5. avatarThomas Xavier

    After months of sporadic downtime including 1 week with almost 40% uptime during late November, I opted to close all my accounts with ASO and migrate to a more stable host. I asked for a refund in December, its been two months and whilst I have had promises that it will be done “as soon as possible” I am still waiting. Its crazy how quickly the service tanked.

    Reply
  6. avatarThomas Zickell

    Hey Kevin, glad to hear that you’re sticking to your guns. It is really sad I’ve been a customer of theirs for probably eight years now and a small orange was a great company. I think you should add something into your algorithm that if Any & all hosting company either acquired and/or already owned by EIG get demoted a rhythmically because we all know what’s going to happen. A small orange was a company based out of Georgia with remote staff like you talked about and a wonderful hosting infrastructure. Downtime last months is nothing anyone should have to deal with and it’s really sad to hear. Regardless of the sake of your own business you should honestly consider the EiG downtime last months is nothing anyone should have to deal with and it’s really sad to hear. Regardless of the sake of your own business you should honestly consider the EIG I Drop in your scale. I know it is not fair to Companies newly acquired but people like to have a long standing relationship to the hosting company and let’s be honest EIG is not a company you have a long relationship with. I think that any of their company should have a 40-60% projected downfall once they are purchased by EIG.

    I would also love to see you consider hosting companies like armor. or FireHost

    All the best my friend keep up the good work
    Tom

    Reply
  7. avatarDrySkier

    Wow, what a revelation. I have been going back and forth with ASO for over a month. I had my site hacked and it was spewing out spam, and ASO did nothing until I found it. Their customer service which used to be good is now terrible. I am trying to cancel and get some money back as they are now a bad host.

    However, the issue is that as soon as Indians take over a company it always goes down hill. Infosys, Tata, WiPro. Indians create very unstable companies and ruin existing companies. As soon as I learned that EIG was owned by and Indian and is mostly an Indian operation I knew I was screwed and it all made sense. Now I know I have little chance of getting any money back. At least I only have 3 more month left — so I will be donating $150 to Hari evidently.

    Reply
  8. avatarMarke

    It is funny how timing works out. I haven’t had much trouble with ASO. I read this article late last week for the first time and thought it must be isolated to VPS. This weekend I started getting notifications that my site was down.

    It is so slow Pingdom is reporting it as being down… Even the WordPress admin screens are unusable. I have logged two tickets with no response in 24 hours.

    I have a business plan so 24 hours of downtime isn’t acceptable. I hate moving, but probably time. I put up with Bluehost’s issues for 6 months before finally going to Westhost. Then left Westhost during their big outage a few years ago.

    Reply
  9. Pingback: WordPress.org Updates Hosting Recommendations, Nobody Knows Selection Criteria | Review Signal Blog

  10. avatarRyan Killian

    Wow, that explains alot. I’ve been with ASO for over a decade and registered my fourth domain with them about a year ago. Unfortunately, I was short on time to actually do anything with said domain until a few weeks ago, at which time I discovered that it was only half-registered (on my billing account but unreachable and not in cPanel). So I filed a ticket which in the past would’ve been resolved the next day. Instead, it sat, ignored, for two weeks and counting and it looks like the second will share the same fate. The forums are also conveniently gone so there’s no place to see if there’s something bigger going on or other customers are having similar problems. Very disappointing but all too common in our crony capitalist business climate.

    Reply
  11. avatarNina

    Oh wow! No wonder why I’ve been on on live chat with their customer service for 2 hours for something as simple as a password reset…… I signed up with them in 2014 BECAUSE their customer service was amazing! Canceling this account ASAP.

    Reply
  12. avatarLauryn

    I found out about ASO in 2013 and at the point it was local for me, had a good price for someone just starting out, and their customer service was fantastic! I was recommending it to my clients to use because of that. I didn’t know that got a acquired until I was doing research for a client who wanted a rundown of other hosting sites. Now, the lovely quick CS I received is gone and they are no longer local. I put in a ticket about a month ago, and they just emailed me about it, at which point I had solved it myself.

    Now the question I want to ask is, what has taken the place of the original ASO?

    Reply
    1. avatarKevin Ohashi Post author

      They are owned by Endurance International Group now which is a conglomerate that owns a lot of hosting brands including some of the largest like BlueHost, HostGator, Host Monster, Just Host, iPage, etc. Does that answer your question?

      Reply
  13. avatarAndee Zetterbaum

    Well, that explains the terrible customer service I’ve gotten from ASO during the past two weeks (with problem still not resolved). Anyone have any recommendations for a good hosting service for a small non-profit (we’re using ASO’s “medium” level right now)? I can’t wait to get out!

    Reply
  14. avatarGodwin

    Really useful review for the website owners to avoid such down trending host. The servers were very good earlier and now they just increase the price but the service is poor. ASO should improve their server performance else many bloggers will move out

    Reply
  15. avatarMatthew

    Site5 just deleted all my sites for the 5th time. They went from hero to zero right after being purchased. I should have left then. Now they wont respond, wont tell me why hitting the “renew” button and paying for my renewal weeks before it was due, caused them to delete ALL my sites, and create a new empty one. Just like hostgator they SUCK beyond belief.

    Reply
  16. Pingback: The Sinking of Site5 – Tracking EIG Brands Post Acquisition | Review Signal Blog

  17. avatarSunni

    And today.. I received in my email the announcement that the affiliate program for ASO has been ended. I have 5 company sites there and four client sites. Maybe it’s back to building a Linode.

    Reply
  18. avatarOhm Lad

    The first thing I noticed is that ASO shut down their phones.
    Then they stopped responding to emails.
    They removed their generate a ticket in the control panel.
    The support people all have their own favorite pet phrase that eliminates the need for them to know or do anything. One is “that’s a coding issue (when it’s not).” Another is “we don’t offer support for that.” When I email the transcript of a failed support chat all ASO does is send a boiler plate email saying they don’t / won’t receive support requests by email.

    Reply
  19. avatarMegan

    Thank you so much for posting this!
    I’ve been using ASO for years and always loved them. Their prices were great, but the service was phenomenal. I could log on and chat with support and get quick, thorough answers at any time of the day. Their server once got hacked and they took care of it quickly and efficiently.
    And then things started to change in the last 12-15 months. I wondered why. The chat was moved to a new system with crazy slow response times. Sometimes it wouldn’t even connect at all. When you do get through you’d wait 7 minutes between responses from the agent – for simple questions. On average I spend 30-60 minutes in a chat conversation (if it connects at all). They removed the email ticket system.
    And yesterday my site started have security issues. I went online and checked my account – the SSL says “Active”, so I thought maybe I was hacked. Waited for chat support and found out that my SSL actually expired a week ago and no one there notified me. No email or call to notify me to renew. The chat agent did not apologize. Just said SSL’s don’t auto renew. Which I know. But every year for the past 4 years they’ve sent me an email reminder to renew, and I go and do it. This year, nothing. So for a week my site didn’t have SSL and lost business and customers.
    I felt bad even thinking about leaving for another serivce, since they’ve been so amazing in the past.

    But this makes sense – they are no longer the same Asmallorange. They don’t care about customers or service and are banking on the good reputation from the past to bring in (and retain) customers. Wow.

    Thanks again for an informative article. Very helpful, and explains so much!

    Reply
    1. avatarKevin Ohashi Post author

      You’re welcome Megan, it was really sad seeing the decline. I know it took a human toll too since they gutted a lot of the employees that made it such a great company.

      Reply
  20. avatarDonny Ferris

    I wish I’d seen this months ago. Their server was apparently hacked again recently (they say it was just my account, but I don’t think so) and all my sites were taken offline. (Every php file became zero bytes.) They submitted me for “site restoration”. It’s been a week and I’ve heard NOTHING from them. A WEEK! Unbelievable. I thought I was backing up my sites (using some sort of automatic WordPress backup plugin) but that failed me. Now I’m stuck waiting for them to get off their asses and restore my files before I can switch to another host.

    Reply
  21. avatarSulfen

    The company seems to be playing the long game. Most people never figure out why their hosting suddenly went from great to bad and they make the mistake to stay anyway. EIG is counting on people’s ignorance to acquire enough companies to churn a profit in the future.

    Reply
  22. avatarJohny Burns

    Wow, if I knew i would have left asmallorange in a heartbeat. Recently they pooped on me so bad, and they were 2 major failures in a spam of a week. 1st my e-mail server went down, and after that the server itself shut down for 2 hours in the most critical time for my business. I had massive failure under Arvixe as well. Lost of service for the whole day, very stressful and business damaging. Overall was happy with site5, but the hosting access was laggy, it seems those servers were on HDD. I will be moving soon to fastcomet. It is amazing how accurately this article covers my overall experience.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: Endurance International Group 2016 Financials | Review Signal Blog

  24. avatarDorian

    Kevin, what an excellent article.
    I am an ASO client. Their infrastructure is decent, and haven’t had too many downtimes with them. I have two shared accounts with them.
    Since the acquisition their support sucks. They refuse to offer support for any plugin related problems, period. Even if you prove them it’s a hosting problem. Their support tanked after the switch, and I didn’t move because in the past I was able to persuade them into offering the help I needed. This time is different, they don’t even answer my emails anymore. I think is just a matter of time until the speed metrics will start to decline. Moving on…

    Reply
  25. avatarASO customer

    I’ve been an ASO customer for nearly 20 years….. Services today are absolutely ABYSMAL compared to just 5 years ago. I wish transferring to a new provider after so many years was an easier process.

    Reply
  26. avatarAso ex customer

    You can not run fast enough. I think they want it to fail. I have moved my site to new hosting today. It is sad they were really awesome for so long and now they are really the worst thing out there. I think they actually don’t care. Best advise is to never use a small orange.

    Reply
  27. avatartiny orange

    Update: I never got CPanel working but I was able to access my files via WinSCP and save them. One reason that multiple means of access was important to me! I’ll keep the account until renewal time in a couple months, if I can last that long, but recommendations are welcome. Thanks again.

    Reply
  28. avatartiny orange

    Hey, I saw my update post in moderation but I don’t see my original post that I was updating. I was a Tiny Orange paying $25/year since about 2006. I just used it to park domains, occasionally blog, and make pages for my own use. I logged in for the first time in months, and suddenly CPanel never loads, the help ph# disappeared, Live Chat is a blank page, and the Twitter account suggests I use another browser (didn’t work). So now I’m looking for a host with a similar cheap plan, and so far no luck.

    My contact at old ASO suggested A2 Hosting; said lot of their team went to A2.

    But the reason I’m back here is I went through Wayback Machine to find my original plan, and noticed ASO offered a lifetime plan for a limited time, to raise money for more servers. https://web.archive.org/web/20060103161537/http://forums.asmallorange.com:80/index.php?showtopic=5348

    I wonder how many of those accounts are still active, and being honored by the new team, basically for free, forever! And if the accounts even want to stay with the new company.

    Reply
  29. avatarCarl Seiler

    Just curious if anyone has any info to confirm that A Small Orange is still owned by EIG. It is not listed on their page as “our brands.” When I spoke with someone in April, 2017, the customer service person said that they didn’t think they were owned by any outside company. Either they just didn’t know or they were misleading me. I have been hosted at ASO since the late 2000s, and while service has been generally good (I rarely need help), and I did have a few instances a couple of years ago where they weren’t as responsive as before, they’ve always been good to me. The person on chat has been plenty friendly and helpful

    Reply
  30. avatarWalter

    I stuck with A Small Orange even after the horrible decline in service in the last year and a half, as I have a reseller account and migrating all my sites is going to be a heck of a lot of work. However, they have just pushed me to far by raising my rates with no advance notice other than hiding it in the monthly invoice which they know nobody ever checks on a recurring billing. Their customer service response was basically, I understand your frustration but too bad. Time to find better hosting.

    Reply
  31. avatarCarl Seiler

    Thanks. Interestingly, this paragraph: “If subscribers, as well as our third-party referral marketing, distribution and reseller partners, do not perceive our existing solutions to be reliable and of high quality, if we introduce new services or enter into new business ventures that are not favorably received by such parties, or if our brands become associated with any fraudulent or deceptive conduct on the part of our subscribers, the value of our brands could be diminished, thereby decreasing the attractiveness of our solutions to such parties. As a result, our operating results may be adversely affected by decreased brand recognition and harm to our reputation.”

    Reply
  32. avatarMike Bommarito

    I totally get it now. I used to love ASO and had all my clients on there and still do but not only has their customer service become some of the worst I have ever experienced their downtime has increased considerably and last year I believe at the beginning of the year there was a 3-7 day outage I believe…..ever heard of redundancy!!!! Anyways chat agents used to be so good and could accomplish difficult tasks now they can’t do shit and they open a ticket and tickets do not get answered for days if not weeks it is egregious. I need to move all my clients and they have lost me business as it is hard to explain to someone that something is out of my control. This is a sad story of a great company going bad because of an acquisition from a company who cares less about the customers and more about making money. They suck now. Now I just troll them on twitter because they suck so bad.

    Reply
  33. Pingback: A Small Orange vs. SiteGround: customer service FIGHT! – Leif & Thorn

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