“An alien invasion brings humanity to the brink of extinction, you find refuge with a group of survivors in an underground government facility. But you quickly realize that this may not be the safe haven that you had hoped for. There is fear, chaos, and political conspiracy. Your choices will determine the fate of your bunker…”
Calm down, this did not happen in 2020 (yet!). This is the description of Hunt-A-Killer’s sci-fi mystery box. Hunt-A-Killer is a subscription-based immersive murder experience in a box. Each box is an episode with clues and props that will get the player closer to solving a new crime every month.
After multiplying its revenue of $100,000K in 2016 many times over to reach $27.3 million in 2019, Hunt a Killer has earned the No. 6 spot on this year’s Inc. 5000, making it one of the fastest-growing companies in America. Last year, it was named one of Fast Company‘s most innovative gaming businesses of 2019. And it is showing no signs of slowing down, with more than 100000 subscribers joining, new product lines being released, and revenue once again on track to double in 2020.
And this is just one of the success stories.
The immense growth in digital transformation during the pandemic has given businesses like Hunt-A-Killer a once in a lifetime opportunity to scale. Despite the uncertainties, the leaders who viewed the glass as ‘half full’ stand to share their success stories with a world wary of the next big wave of change. As part of our Champions of Change series, we decided to throw the spotlight on a few of the leaders who used this change to carve out opportunities to scale.
The few things they did were,
Strategic positioning & Identifying new opportunities
The perfect opportunity
What started as the solution to fight Eric Yuan’s woes of a long-distance relationship, is currently a household name across the globe. Zoom took off at a larger scale in 2020 with people being sheltered-at-home and it became an integral part of everyone’s lives.
For Eric, the focus has always been on building a loyal customer base and adding new features. “When you build any product, you’ve got to have a very loyal user base to service. If you cannot find a very loyal user community, it’s really hard.” Today, that focus has paid off, and Zoom has a vast and loyal customer base among SMBs, verticals like education and healthcare. More than 100,000 K-12 schools signed up to use the platform for free during the pandemic.
As teams of users within large organizations are increasingly starting to use Zoom, the company added 105,000 customers with more than 10 employees during Q2, taking the total count to 370,000 customers. “Organizations are shifting from addressing their immediate business continuity needs to supporting a future of working anywhere, learning anywhere, and connecting anywhere on Zoom’s video-first platform,” said Eric in the recent earnings release.
One notable thing to emphasize is Zoom’s back-end infrastructure, which a Zoom spokesperson said was “built to handle these growing levels of activity.” Yuan has said that the coronavirus experience has broadened his view on what it means to be a video communications technology provider in times of need. That attitude of learning from experiences teamed with a scalable infrastructure launched Zoom into its growth trajectory.
Creating the perfect opportunity
Not everyone was as lucky as Zoom to have an opportunity to land on their laps. Few of them strategically positioned themselves to benefit from the given circumstances.
Growing up in South America, Adrien Raider, CEO of Study.com, understood from a young age that education is the only way to overcome poverty and thrive in society. Study.com was thus created to address the rising cost of higher education and helped transfer industry credits into university courses. Study.com provides more than 4500 online courses at all levels including high school, college, adult education, and professional licensure.
For e-learning, the tipping point has been the global pandemic which shifted billions of students across schools and colleges to virtual classrooms overnight. However it was not just the students, millions of professionals are signing up for online classes to spruce up their skills set as they change jobs or careers.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Study.com wasn’t going to let go. So, they have positioned themselves to make learning exciting and accessible at lower rates and have expanded to over 18 countries across the US and Europe in 3 months. Today they are successfully helping more than 30 million students and schools conduct remote classes to shrink the learning gap. The payment infrastructure can get tangled while scaling and here is where Chargebee pitched in. It helped Study.com handle global payments, experiment with pricing, and tax compliance across these markets giving them the agility to respond to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Tim Beiser, VP, Partnership Operations of Study.com was quoted saying, “Chargebee has helped us acquire a more diverse set of customers. This includes a significant amount of international users who were unable to previously access the site.”
Creating the perfect opportunity for others
Another way in which companies have scaled significantly is by helping other companies grow. Even before the pandemic, Shopify was known for its simplicity in setting up to be an e-commerce platform. During the crisis, Shopify helped struggling mom-and-pop businesses capitalize on increasing e-commerce penetration. They helped these mom-and-pop stores recoup 94% of their sales as they went online with the help of Shopify this year.
For Shopify it was a repeat of 2008 when they doubled down on their mission to help entrepreneurs drive revenue, “None of our customers were going out of business because they had Shopify. It was a well designed, affordable online store. In fact, a lot of people ended up selling online to get a second income stream,” said Tobi Lütke, CEO and Founder, Shopify. “A major disruption, [like the ‘08 Recession or a global pandemic] is sort of like shaking a tree and seeing what fruit fall off.”
Shopify now wants to go beyond just offering an easy-to-use e-commerce platform but facilitate every process involved in shopping. Besides its platform, the company now offers a range of products from emailing and shipping to financial services. According to Shopify, its Shop Pay is used by 40M shoppers regularly and delivers a 1.72x higher sales conversion rate.
By capitalizing on e-commerce sales which are expected to reach $4.13 trillion in 2020, and by acting as an invisible partner that allows businesses to build their brand online, Shopify is well on its way to becoming the one-stop-shop for everything e-commerce.
Experiment with Pricing
The Covid-19 outbreak led to many event organizers to cancel or postpone several marquee events such as Mobile World Congress, Facebook, and Google’s annual developer conferences and music festivals including Coachella. Organizers also pulled the plug on several thousands of smaller events.
Hopin, a virtual event management platform launched in September 2019, a mix of Zoom, Twitch, and Chaatroulete started to offer discount pricing to organizers affected by the coronavirus.
Even before the crisis hit, Hopin struck a chord among investors who were betting that the company will create a new category and a new kind of behavior where people will start choosing the digital alternative over stuffy conference centers. “We are building a solution to what has been missing for so long: a platform people can use to build online events that match the dynamism of an interactive, in-person experience,” said, Johnny Boufarht, Founder, Hopin. Boufarht was the most sought after seed-stage founder in London who had investors knocking at his door with flowers and champagne.
For Hopin, COVID-19 has been an accelerator. As the pandemic spread, Hopin realized that companies were going to switch from in-person events to webinars. So, it made Hopin available, earlier, than planned. The “number of monthly attendees of events” hosted using its technology grew from 16,000 in March — when it came of its stealth mode — to 175,000 in May. Within a year after its launch, Hopin has seen nearly 1 million users attending events hosted by more than 16,000 organizations.
Now the company has more than 50,000 customers on the waitlist with more than 1,000 joining every day. Earlier this year Hopin raised $40 million to scale up its platform to expand its team to meet the surge in demand and onboard more customers.
Any actions from the extension of payment terms to providing discounts to attract new customers to have cash flow and accounting consequences. You first need to assess their financial situation and flexibility before addressing customer requests. We recently spoke with Karthik Srinivasan, senior director of finance at Chargebee to explore the different ways we were able to extend our runway and accommodate our customer requests. You can check it out here.
Personas, a tool that helps you create user personas in a few minutes has curated a repository of all SaaS companies offering discounts along with their expiry dates.
Certain industries are concentrated in a handful of cities because they go where the talent lives. The tech industry is a prime example of this. Even though Silicon Valley is synonymous with high labor and office costs, tech startups flock there to meet their hiring needs. But now with organizations going remote, they can detach themselves from geographic boundaries and even ensure diversity in hiring.
Shaun Fitzpatrick, CEO of PDFSimpli, a PDF conversion software, says that hiring has taken a new shape in this remote culture. It has even changed the business model in many organizations.
Github, a software development platform has 60% of its employees working remotely on any given day. Joel Califa, their senior product designer says, the unique quality of the remote teams is what makes them successful. She adds, “Your remote workforce can improve your organization if you learn to recognize what remote workers can do for you that on-site teams cannot.”
Joel Gascoigne, the CEO of Buffer and one of the founding fathers of remote working, says that remote working not only helps to attract the right talent but also helps with retention. He adds, “many people in today’s workforce who wouldn’t stay in the role they are in because they want more travel in their lives, or require more flexibility for their particular lifestyle.”
Boundaryless hiring has not only helped in talent acquisition and retention but has also given way to digital nomads setting shop in remote locations like Bali or the Caribbean.
Scaling for Success
Founded in 2016 as an annual-immersive thriller event at Camp Ramblewood, MD, childhood friends and founders of Hunt-A-Killer, Ryan Hogan and Derrick Smith realized that their dream of revolutionizing the entertainment industry wouldn’t come through an annual event. “It wasn’t scalable,” Ryan says, “but it made us realize there was a market for experiences that allow you to become a character within the story.”
Based on their learnings from the event and before that, a zombie-themed obstacle course, the founders decided to pivot their business model and launch a subscription mystery-box experience with some leftover props. “What I’ve learned is that entrepreneurship and business is a series of iterations and pivots for you to be able to scale the business,” says Ryan. Starting in 2016 with a modest 100k in revenue, Hunt a Killer is now expecting to double its revenue to around $50M this year after achieving its milestone of selling the two-millionth box!
When asked about seizing the day and grabbing the hyper-growth trajectory by its horns, Ryan highlighted the importance of business model changes within the organization. He said, “Scaling should be a natural evolution embedded in your technology. Ask yourself, what is the best product that you can give your customers and try to give it to them as soon as you can.” But scaling usually means ‘expand it, set it, forget it’, it wasn’t the same for Hunt-A-Killer. They understood that for their business to work they needed to own it. With Chargebee’s ability to build around their existing business model, they were able to dive into revenue and data points to take better day-to-day actions.
Shaun Fitzpatrick, CEO of PDFSimpli says that since their product leaned itself to supporting remote work, they had a massive increase in customers trying the product across the globe. Situations like this call for a billing intelligence that grows along with your customer requirements. Shaun says, “Suddenly we had to provide payment processing for all these new customers. With the help of Chargebee, we created a customized system to work with our payment processing partners and make them take the correct route. This led to tremendous growth and drop-in fee.
With companies going digital by default, it is even more important to accelerate your tech stack automation to support the needs of your customers. ActivTrak with its workforce productivity and analytics platform help companies understand how and what people do at work. ActivTrak was already on a fast-paced growth path clocking a year-on-year annual recurring revenue growth of 60% in 2019.
The sudden shift to remote working increased the need for visibility on how work was getting done, and that meant demand for ActivTrak’s offerings. ActivTrak had just adopted Chargebee for their billing automation before the lockdown started. In our conversations with their Head of Operations, Heidi Ferris says, “We figured that our old platform wouldn’t have survived this change. So just in the nick of time, we cut to Chargebee. We saw a big demand for our MSP (Managed service providers) channels since everyone has gone remote So we launched a mature MSP program – which grew 100% MoM.”
ActivTrak helps their MSP partners deliver best-in-class technologies that improve process optimization, prevents data loss, and identifies patterns that lead to remote work success. With the help of Chargebee’s parent-child relationship, they were able to set up an account hierarchy that allows creating an organizational structure for their customers by their line of business or geography or a chain of outlets. Being able to support flexible subscriptions and compliance better, ActivTrak recently launched a Global MSP program tailor-made to support the remote working culture. There are already 25 MSPs on the program across North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Planning with Gaps
“At Hunt-A-Killer, we have implemented a principle of, what is going to kill us next? Problem three or five doesn’t matter. The next problem that kills you is what matters,” Ryan, co-founder of Hunt-A-Killer
Ryan Hogan, the co-founder of Hunt-A-Killer has a catchy strategy to deal with a big change. He says, “At Hunt-A-Killer, we have implemented a principal of, what is going to kill us next? Problem three or five doesn’t matter. The next problem that kills you is what matters.” He also adds that setting and accomplishing short term goals is very important in times like these.
At Hunt-A-Killer, they do this by reducing redundancies and planning weekly/ monthly, and staying to targets. For instance, the company had stocked up their inventory in a couple of 53-foot trailers that can be taken anywhere across the country in case the government shuts down their warehouses amidst the escalating health crisis. “If our warehouses had to be shut down and if we didn’t have redundancies, we would go out of business overnight,” points out Ryan.
Shaun from PDFSimpli says to “Plan with gaps.” He says that they were able to stick to plans because they were flexible. He adds, “Planning out is great but leave that space for what’s going to happen,” and says this is their secret to making plans happen.
Derek Thomson from the Atlantic says that the plague is not an inventor but it is the time machine which has catapulted us into a future that was, perhaps, already on its way. This pandemic has made it clear that the businesses that had scaleable plans and which understood the growing impact of technology in our daily lives have come out in flying colors. This new age disruption has made big players bite the dust and given way to businesses that have a strong idea. If Darwin lived to see 2020, he’d probably have to rethink his idea on the survival of the fittest.
The Best VoIP Phone Services (In-Depth Review)
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The best VoIP phone services create exceptional customer experiences. And exceptional customer experiences work wonders for your bottom line.
Imagine this: a potential customer calls the sales number listed on your website. Six states away, a personal cell phone rings. Your sales person picks it up, answers a few questions, and closes the sale.
Within a matter of seconds, that potential customer turns into a paying customer rather than being transferred from employee to employee, wasting their time and testing their patience.
With the right VoIP service, you can streamline and automate the customer journey, resulting in more money for less work. Furthermore, these services are easy to set up, easy to use, and most of the leg work happens behind the scenes.
But choosing the right service feels like a daunting task. With countless options out there, how do you decide which one’s right for you?
If you’re not sure how to answer that question, you’re in the right place. In this article, I cover how to choose the right service for your needs, the different types of VoIP services, and my top recommendations.
Let’s dive in!
The top 6 options for VoIP phone service:
- Ooma – best for small businesses
- Nextiva – best for remote teams
- RingCentral – best for fast-growth
- Grasshopper – best for mobile teams
- Verizon – best for large businesses
- 8×8 – most affordable VoIP service
How to choose the best VoIP phone services for you
With countless VoIP service providers to choose from, finding the perfect solution for your business isn’t always easy. To make things easier, I want to share the criteria I considered when making this list and some must-haves regardless of the company you choose.
You can use these to help narrow things down as you go through the process.
Some VoIP phone services work with the hardware you already have, while others require proper installation. In some cases, you may need to buy an adapter or something else to enable the system.
But others are as simple as a mobile app you download on your phone.
So, carefully consider the amount of time and the level of support you have when making a decision. The simpler the system, the easier it is, and the less support you need to get things up and running.
The size of your business
Most VoIP phone service providers charge per user per month.
And while some offer discounts if you have a large team, those prices can quickly add up and get expensive.
So it’s essential to understand how many users you have and how to get the best deal with the features you need at a reasonable price point.
Phone call capabilities
It’s important to consider the phone call capabilities you need because each provider offers different capabilities at different price points.
Do you need automatic call rejection, call forwarding, or caller ID? What about voicemail, voicemail transcription, and hold music?
You may also want to consider other capabilities like:
- Call forwarding and routing
- Automatic attendants
- Phone number types
- Blocking and auto rejections
- Voicemail to text
- Call recording
- Call history
- Instant responding
- Custom greetings
Make a list of everything you need so you can choose the right provider and the right plan.
Other forms of communication
Most VoIP providers also offer other forms of communication like SMS messaging, document sharing, online faxing, and video conferencing.
However, they may not all be available on basic plans.
With that said, you may not need all of them, either. So, carefully consider the additional forms of communication you need your team to have.
Your internet, VoIP provider’s uptime, and power source affect the quality of your phone calls.
With reliable, high-speed internet, you probably won’t have any issues. But what happens if the power goes out?
If you use your mobile device, you’re probably fine.
But desk phones aren’t. However, some come with battery backups that may last up to a few hours. So, make sure this is an option if you rent or buy hardware from your VoIP service provider.
Furthermore, some VoIP providers offer network monitoring that lets them switch to wireless backups if wired data links fail. And you should also expect nothing less than 99.99% uptime, as well.
The different types of VoIP phone service
For this type of service, you need to buy an adapter from the service provider and connect it to an existing phone (or a phone they provide).
These services are desktop programs. Skype and Google Talk are two good examples. You have to install the program and connect to the internet to use them.
However, most providers offer cloud-hosted and software-based systems.
Cloud-hosted VoIP, or “virtual private-branch-exchange” (PBX), services are available as well. The only hardware you need is a networking router or switch and the provider handles the rest
This includes mobile VoIP services, too. These mobile apps run on Android and Apple devices through cellular internet or a local Wi-Fi network.
All of the options on this list are a combination of cloud-hosted and software-based, with most offering both types of systems.
#1 – Ooma Review — The best VoIP phone service for small businesses
If you’re a small business looking for a reliable, no-contract VoIP phone service, Ooma is a great choice. They provide everything you need (i.e. hardware, software, and know-how) so you can start using their services in as little as 15 minutes.
Everything is ready to go straight out of the box. And you can keep your existing phone number or swap it out for a new one — for free.
Ooma offers 35 powerful features, including:
- A mobile app
- Virtual receptionist
- SMS messaging
- Call blocking
- Voicemail and caller ID
- Unlimited calls in North America
- One complimentary toll-free number
- One direct-dial number per user
Furthermore, Ooma has an excellent customer service team ready to help you get up and running, navigate snags, and create a seamless experience for your customers.
However, the service is missing more advanced features. But it’s incredibly affordable and accessible for small businesses with a tight budget.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about complicated contracts. Ooma’s pricing is simple and straightforward with two business plans, including:
- Ooma Office — $19.95 per user per month
- Ooma Office Pro — $24.95 per user per month
Ooma Office is suitable for most users. But you can upgrade to the Pro plan if you need a desktop application, call recording, or higher usage limits.
#2 – Nextiva Review — The best VoIP phone service for remote teams
Remote teams face unique challenges. And they need a VoIP provider equipped with the tools and features required to conquer those challenges.
Nextiva is “made for business owners, not IT wizards” and built with remote teams of all sizes in mind. They offer solutions for small businesses, midsize businesses, and large enterprise companies alike.
Plus, their in-house customer service team is ready to help every step of the way.
Nextiva includes a wide variety of VoIP features, including:
- Android and iOS applications
- Unlimited text messaging
- Customizable hold music
- Multi-level auto attendant
- Unlimited calls in the US and Canada
- Free local OR toll-free number
- Video and audio meetings
- Internet faxing
Furthermore, you can make and receive business phone calls straight from your desktop, laptop, or mobile device. This service completely replaces an in-office phone system, empowering your remote team to stay connected.
Alternatively, you can use it in conjunction with your current phone system. So, it’s also a great fit for call centers and non-remote teams, as well.
Nextiva offers simple and affordable pricing. Their plans include:
- Essential — $19.95 per user per month
- Professional — $20.95 per user per month
- Enterprise — $27.95 per line per month
Nextiva boasts an “ultra-high uptime of 99.999%,” with around-the-clock network monitoring and zero outages in 2019. With relatively reliable service, various essential features, and reasonable prices, their service is among the best.
#3 – RingCentral Review — The best VoIP phone service for fast-growth businesses
RingCentral is an excellent option for fast-growth businesses. They’re the world’s #1 business communications platform with plans and features for business communications as well as customer support.
Plus, RingCentral offers discounts depending on the size of your team. So, as your team grows (regardless of how fast), your phone service affordably scales to match your needs.
They promise 99.99% uptime, and they maintain countless global data centers. This means you get excellent coverage and phone quality wherever you are on the globe.
Furthermore, installation and setup are a breeze, thanks to RingCentral’s step-by-step installation and intuitive admin panel.
You can set up new users from the admin panel, monitor service quality, and view your analytics all in one centralized place. Plus, you can even access it on the go.
Their services include features like:
- Unlimited calls in the US and Canada
- Voicemail to text
- Team messaging
- Document sharing
- Unlimited text messaging
- Unlimited faxing and conferencing
- Call recording
- Developer platform
- Custom integrations
RingCentral’s most affordable plan starts at $19.99 per user per month, making them a top contender for affordability.
Their paid plans include:
- Essentials — $19.99 per user per month
- Standard — $24.99 per user per month
- Premium — $34.99 per user per month
- Ultimate — $49.99 per user per month
While their basic plans are suitable for smaller teams, their Premium and Ultimate plans allow teams to create custom-fit solutions, regardless of how fast they grow.
#4 – Grasshopper Review — The best VoIP phone service for mobile teams
If your team works in the field, works from home, or works from anywhere in the world, Grasshopper is a smart choice.
It’s a mobile (or desktop) app that adds a business line and an integrated phone system to your employee’s phones. So, they don’t need to carry around two phones or be present in the office to message customers and accept business calls.
Plus, you can access and manage your entire phone system with mobile and desktop apps anywhere with an internet connection.
The best part is that Grasshopper integrates seamlessly with the phones you already have.
There’s no need to buy any fancy equipment or go through the hassle of messy and time-consuming installations. It’s as easy as picking a number and a plan, downloading the app, and configuring your settings.
Plus, with Grasshopper, you get access to intuitive, yet powerful, features like:
- Business text messaging
- Call forwarding
- Voicemail transcription
- Phone extensions
- Online faxing
- Custom greetings
- Instant responses
- Ruby Receptionist
And while Grasshopper doesn’t automatically enable VoIP calling, you can quickly turn it on for free using the mobile app if you have poor cell service or prefer internet calling instead.
Their paid plans include:
- Solo — $26/mo for one number and three extensions
- Partner — $44/mo for three numbers and six extensions
- Small Business — $80/mo for five numbers and unlimited extensions
Extensions can forward to any number you want. So, you can operate with three employees using Grasshopper’s solo plan.
This is a breath of fresh air instead of per-user pricing with the other services on this list.
#5 – Verizon Review — The best VoIP phone service for large businesses
Known for the stability of its network, Verizon provides VoIP business features for medium and large-scale businesses. However, it’s overkill for most small companies and very expensive compared to other options on this list.
Furthermore, it’s most suitable for businesses that need to be available for customer calls, route calls to the right teams/people, or respond quickly to customer requests.
Verizon’s VoIP phone service includes 45 features, including:
- Customized hold announcements/music
- A virtual receptionist
- Complete call history
- Administration web portal
- Make and receive calls on your phone
- Visual voicemail features
- Call transfers
- Do not disturb mode
- Inbound caller ID
- Selective call rejection
- Instant messaging
You can purchase or rent desk phones through Verizon or purchase a converter to continue using your current equipment.
Furthermore, you get free access to mobile and desktop apps to access or manage your phone system from anywhere in the world. However, Verizon’s services aren’t available everywhere, so you may not be able to use their services.
Verizon business phone plans start at $35 per user per month plus any additional fees, taxes, or equipment charges. However, their pricing is confusing when you start reading the fine print. And you have to commit to a two-year contract, as well.
So, keep that in mind as you’re making your final decisions.
#6 – 8×8 Review — The most affordable VoIP phone service
If you’re looking for a basic, affordable VoIP phone service, 8×8 is a smart choice.
Their 8×8 Express Business Phone System plan starts at $12 per user per month (with a free trial). This low pricing makes it the most affordable option on this list.
However, with that low price point comes limited features. The Express plan includes:
- Unlimited calling in the US and Canada
- Global and direct toll-free numbers
- Basic auto attendant
- Ring groups
- Call routing
- Business SMS
And to access their more advanced features, you have to pay between $25 – $45 per user per month. Which… is more expensive than some of the other options listed here.
So I don’t recommend it unless you go with the Express Plan.
My #1 recommendation for most small businesses is Ooma. It’s affordable, reliable, and easy to set up in about 15 minutes. However, if you’re looking for a large-scale solution, Verizon is your best bet.
If you’re on a tight budget, 8×8 is the cheapest VoIP phone service, starting at $12 per user per month. However, it’s features are limited.
Regardless of the route you go, don’t forget to consider your requirements, budget, and the criteria we talked about as you go through the process of choosing the best VoIP phone service for your business.
Have you used a VoIP service provider in the past? What was your experience like?
Best VPS Hosting Plans
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In a world filled with different web hosting options, VPS hosting has become a popular choice for websites in various categories.
Upgrading to a virtual private server (VPS for short) will drastically improve your site performance if you’re currently on a shared hosting plan.
For those of you who are starting a new site from scratch and expecting tons of traffic from the beginning, getting a VPS hosting plan out of the gate is a viable option as well.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of web hosting providers on the market today. That’s why finding the right web hosting plan for your site can be such a tough decision. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place—this guide will provide you with everything you need to know about VPS hosting.
The Top 5 Options For VPS Web Hosting
How to Choose the Best VPS Hosting Plan For You
As previously stated, the list of web hosting providers is seemingly a mile long. But in terms of actual contenders, there are a couple dozen at most. When it comes to VPS hosting, specifically, the list is even shorter.
But as you’re shopping around and evaluating different VPS hosting providers, these are the factors that you’ve got to take into consideration:
Site Performance Metrics
Site performance needs to be the top priority for everyone seeking a VPS plan. The term “performance” can be pretty subjective, but there are two metrics that matter the most:
Most people searching for a VPS are upgrading from a shared hosting plan that they’ve outgrown. Uptime and speed are the first two things to be affected when you’re sharing server resources with other sites.
You want to make sure that your VPS plan can accommodate your traffic needs. If performance is affected at scale, then you need to look elsewhere. Lots of web hosting providers will give you a guaranteed uptime rate. However, those offers typically come with some contingencies (like planned outages).
Some sites can’t afford any downtime or slow loading times. If you fall into that category, make sure you get a premium VPS plan. For those of you who would rather save some money, just know that your site performance might be affected.
Technically speaking, you’re still sharing server resources with other websites on a VPS hosting plan. However, the number of sites on the same main server is much lower compared to shared hosting. Plus, each virtual server will have its own dedicated resources.
As you’re evaluating plans, consider the following:
These resources will have a direct impact on your site speed and uptime (mentioned previously). If you’re maxing out your resources, you can’t expect your site to run at peak performance.
Optional Root Access
Not everyone needs root access. This feature only really matters if you’re a developer or need the ability to make custom changes to your virtual server at an advanced level.
If that’s the case, then you should be looking for a self-managed VPS plan. Most people will be better off with a fully managed plan (no need for root access here). It’s also worth noting that you can find fully managed VPS plans with optional root access, but that feature won’t really be utilized by the average user.
On the technical side, there are two main options for VPS hosting—Windows VPS and Linux VPS.
A Windows-based platform will provide you with access levels and performance that’s similar to a dedicated server. If you’re on a self-managed plan, you would be able to install common windows databases and applications like Microsoft SQL, ASP, SharePoint, and ASP.NET.
With a Linux VPS, your virtual servers will support web features like PHP, MySQL, and POP3. Since Linux is an open-source OS, these hosting plans are usually more cost-effective. You could eventually convert your Linux server into a Windows server, but doing the opposite would be much more complex.
Customer support piggybacks on our last point, especially true if you’re on a fully managed plan.
You want to make sure that your web hosting provider has your back. What happens if something goes wrong? Who do you contact if you have a problem or question? How do you resolve a time-sensitive issue?
If your site crashes at 10:00 PM on Friday night, waiting to contact a customer support representative at 9:00 AM Monday morning isn’t going to cut it. Look for a VPS provider with 24/7/365 support via phone and live chat.
Features like free migrations from another provider or hosting type to your new VPS plan would also fall into the support category. Some hosting providers are undoubtedly better than others when it comes to customer service.
The price for VPS web hosting varies significantly from provider to provider and plan to plan. We’ve seen VPS hosting plans starting as low as $6 per month. Other plans start at $250+ per month. Most of you will likely fall somewhere between these two extremes.
In many cases, you can expect to get what you pay for.
If you’re signing up for the cheapest VPS hosting plan that you can find, don’t expect to have extremely high uptime rates and fast page loading speeds. For those of you who want as many dedicated resources as possible, just know that they come at higher price points.
So you’ll have to weigh your performance and resource needs against your budget.
The Different Types of VPS Web Hosting
There are essentially two different types of VPS hosting—managed and unmanaged plans. I’ll explain the differences between these choices below, and I’ll also provide you with more information on alternative options for web hosting (to make sure a VPS plan is right for you).
If you’re not very technically inclined and don’t have a dedicated IT team, a managed VPS plan is definitely the best option for you. In short, you won’t have to really handle anything on your own. You’ll be able to just focus on running your website while the hosting provider takes care of the server behind the scenes.
Here are a handful of examples of what most VPS hosting providers will do for you on a fully managed plan:
- Set up the server from the start
- Install your control panel, applications, and OS
- Handle all application updates and OS updates
- Server monitoring and maintenance
- Automated backups
- Security patches
Some providers will offer a little more or maybe even a little less, but this is generally what you should expect if you choose this type of VPS plan.
An unmanaged, or self-managed VPS, is just the opposite of a managed plan. You’ll be completely on your own when it comes to installing your software, control panel, security, maintenance, updates, and everything else listed above.
If you experience a hardware failure or an outage, don’t expect a ton of support from your hosting provider either. This type of VPS plan is really intended for those of you who need complete customization at the server level.
Self-managed plans are usually cheaper as well since the hosting provider doesn’t have to do nearly as much.
Other Types of Web Hosting
VPS hosting isn’t for everyone. So if you’re new to the world of web hosting, I want to quickly take a moment to explain your other options.
- Shared Hosting — Shared web hosting is the best option for new websites that aren’t expecting a ton of traffic. You’ll be sharing resources with other sites on the same server. These plans are cheap, but performance can be an issue. If another site on your shared server has a traffic spike and uses up the shared resources, it can impact the uptime and loading speeds on your site.
- Cloud Hosting — Cloud hosting is pretty similar to VPS hosting. Think of this as a hybrid version of a virtual private server. Cloud plans come with several remote servers, each one with different responsibilities. If something goes wrong with one of those servers, the others will pick up the slack and keep your site running smoothly. Cloud hosting is generally cheaper than VPS hosting, and it’s easier to scale resources on-demand. However, customization is limited with cloud plans.
- Dedicated Hosting — Dedicated hosting is the top of the line in the world of web hosting. It’s designed for large sites with tons of traffic. As the name implies, you’ll have one server completely dedicated to your website. This also gives you ultimate control in terms of customizations at the server level. Dedicated hosting comes at a higher price point, but the performance is second to none.
With all of this in mind, let’s dive into the top VPS hosting plans on the market today:
#1 – HostGator Review — The Best For Reliable VPS Hosting
HostGator has been around for roughly two decades. The hosting provider powers 2+ million websites worldwide.
As one of the most trusted names in the web hosting industry, you really can’t go wrong with a HostGator VPS plan. Here’s a look at the different plans and price points:
The VPS hosting plans from HostGator come with full root access and dedicated resources. You’ll also benefit from features like:
- Complete customization and total control of your virtual server
- Free off-site backups of your server data every week
- Script installers, site templates, and development tools
- Unlimited domains, databases, email addresses, and FTP accounts
- Ability to scale CPUs, RAM, and disk space
- Exceptional customer support, 24/7/365
In addition to traditional web hosting, HostGator’s virtual private servers are commonly used for ecommerce sites, testing environments, gaming, and heavy application use.
All plans are backed by a 45-day money-back guarantee.
#2 – InMotion Review — Best VPS Plans For Ecommerce Sites
InMotion has a wide range of VPS hosting plans for you to choose from. They offer managed VPS hosting and self-managed cloud VPS hosting, both powered by Linux SSD servers.
Managed plans start at $29.99 per month, and the entry-level self-managed VPS starts at $5 per month.
Most of you will benefit from the managed plans, as these virtual servers are optimized for ecommerce out of the box. These plans are configured for speed and reliability with ecommerce platforms like WooCommerce, Magento, Prestashop, and more.
Other advantages of using InMotion for VPS hosting include:
- Free private SSLs and scheduled snapshots
- Update databases, email, and domain settings with cPanel
- Security updates and server management (with a managed plan)
- DDoS protection and secure SSH keys (with a self-managed plan)
- Fast and automatic software installs, like NGINX
Overall, InMotion’s virtual private servers are fast and reliable. Even the managed plans come with full root access. InMotion’s 90-day money-back guarantee is arguably the best in the hosting industry.
#3 – GoDaddy Review — Best Self-Managed VPS Hosting
GoDaddy is a name that’s usually synonymous with domain registration and controversial marketing strategies.
But if you’re in the market for a self-managed VPS plan, this will be a top option for you to consider.
Standard RAM VPS plans from GoDaddy start as low as $4.99 per month. The high RAM plans start at $9.99.
The self-managed plans are perfect for developers and system admins. Features and benefits of using GoDaddy’s virtual private servers include:
- Full root access with SSH keys
- Command line for complete power and flexibility
- Scalable performance options and a wide range of custom server configurations
- Unlimited hosting accounts with easy administration
- Easy monitoring and alert notifications
- DDoS protection and free SSL certificate
- Ability to choose your data center (North America, Asia-Pacific, EMEA)
- Backups and recovery console
These plans are great for testing environments, database servers, resource-heavy apps, email servers, and admins running multiple websites.
GoDaddy does have fully-managed VPS plans starting at $99.99, but the self-managed option is definitely the standout from this provider.
#4 – Media Temple Review — Best Managed VPS Hosting Plans
For businesses, ecommerce websites, agencies, and resellers, Media Temple is my top recommendation for managed VPS hosting.
The pros at Media Temple will handle all of the technical aspects of managing your server. So you can spend more time focusing on your website and business.
In addition to the best customer support team in the world of web hosting, your managed VPS plan comes with benefits like:
- Ability to choose your control panel (cPanel or Plesk) and version
- MySQL, PHP, Python, and Perl come pre-installed
- Customize your virtual server with any Linux-based app, software, or OS component
- Easily resell your hosting to clients with built-in reseller tools
- 99.99% uptime guaranteed
- Scale your server resources on-demand with just a few clicks
Media Temple’s servers are fast and reliable. These managed VPS hosting plans start as low as $55 per month.
#5 – InterServer Review — The Best Cheap VPS Hosting Plans
InterServer definitely isn’t the most well-recognized name in web hosting. But for those of you who want a cost-effective VPS plan, InterServer is worth taking a closer look at.
This hosting provider offers managed and unmanaged VPS hosting, starting at just $6 per month.
Let’s takes a closer look at some of the features, benefits, and highlights of using InterServer for VPS hosting:
- 450+ cloud apps supported with one-click installs
- No limits on accessing or updating data
- Full root access with total control of your OS and control panel
- Automatically redirect server issues to another node
- 99.9% uptime guarantee
- No fees for incoming or outgoing site transfers
- Remote backup service to keep data safe and secure
Unlike other hosting providers on the market today, InterServer doesn’t offer a free trial or any money-back guarantees. However, they do offer month-to-month pricing, so you can cancel at any time.
The performance of these servers won’t be as high as some of the other plans on our list. But when you’re paying rock bottom rates, top of the line performance probably isn’t your first priority.
VPS (virtual private server) hosting is an excellent option for sites that have outgrown a shared hosting plan.
Which VPS is the best? Naming just one as the top pick is a tough call. But you’ll be happy with any of the options on this list. Just make sure you follow the methodology described earlier in this guide for choosing the best VPS plan.
For self-managed and managed plans alike, there’s something for everyone on my list.
Best E-commerce Website Builders
Disclosure: This content is reader-supported, which means if you click on some of our links that we may earn a commission.
You need a good e-commerce website to sell online.
Building one might seem daunting though—especially if you don’t know how to code or design a website.
Fortunately, some of the best e-commerce website builders simplify the process of creating a website. This allows you to create an attractive website that’ll get you selling in no time.
These builders help you set up your product pages, shopping cart, payment methods, and customer service connections.
When you’re ready to put together an e-commerce website, finding the right platform is easy with our list of the six best e-commerce website builders.
The 6 Best E-commerce Website Builders to Consider:
- Wix – Best for beginners
- Shopify – Best for customization
- Squarespace – Best for social media integration
- BigCommerce – Best for scalability
- Weebly – Best for building any kind of website
- 3DCart – Best for those with site-building experience
#1 – Wix Review — Best for Beginners
Wix makes the process of building an e-commerce website dead simple. You can drag and drop your items into the Wix template, making it a breeze to create your product pages quickly.
It also gives you SEO friendly components, so you can begin driving traffic to your site immediately. Wix handles all of the aspects of hosting the site for you, along with advertising. And your sales are commission-free as well.
Be sure to take some time to choose the template you want to use. Once the site is up and running, you can’t switch to another template without rebuilding your pages. So your first choice needs to be a good one.
- Extremely easy to use
- Handles all the hosting work for you
- Includes SEO features to improve site performance
- Pricing tiers give you the ability to expand as you grow
- Switching templates isn’t possible once your site is live
- Basic: $23 per month
- Unlimited: $27 per month
- VIP: $49 per month
- Enterprise: Custom pricing
#2 – Shopify Review — Best For Customization
Best for Customization
Shopify is an easy builder to use, but it also gives you customization features to create the perfect online store for your business.
Shopify is one of the most popular e-commerce website builders—and for good reason.
It gives small businesses the ability to easily create an online store, all while customizing pages and services to match their unique needs.
When you want an end-to-end e-commerce solution, Shopify delivers. It hosts your site, provides marketing and advertising tools, and helps you with SEO. It also gives you customer analytics too.
Uploading photos can be a bit of a problem with Shopify, as it doesn’t automatically resize and crop your uploaded photos. So you may end up with some odd-looking images unless you do light editing before you upload to ensure consistency.
- Contains everything you need in one service
- Simplifies integrating your online store with Facebook
- Extremely easy to use drag-and-drop site builder
- Gives you more customization options than you may expect
- Uploading photos before using a photo editor can cause problems
- Basic Shopify: $29 per month
- Shopify: $79 per month
- Advanced Shopify: $299 per month
#3 – Squarespace Review — Best For Social Media Integration
Best for Social Media Integration
Simplify the process of marketing your online store to your customers through your social media platforms when you use Squarespace.
Selling products online involves more than just setting up a store and waiting for customers to show up. Marketing your store to customers is important, and Squarespace helps you with its builder.
It emphasizes social media integration tools for marketing your store.
The templates included for page building with Squarespace look great, giving your e-commerce website a modern appearance that’s sure to impress customers.
Squarespace handles your site’s construction from beginning to end. But its selling features lag a little behind some of the higher rated options.
- Great looking templates for page building
- Simplifies integrating social media into your site
- Delivers flexibility when building your pages
- Reasonable monthly prices
- Limited options for accepting payments
- Personal: $12 to $16 per month
- Business: $18 to $26 per month
- Basic Commerce: $26 to $30 per month
- Advanced Commerce: $40 to $46 per month
#4 – BigCommerce Review — Best For Scalability
Best for Scalability
BigCommerce is ready to handle your startup online store, but it’s also ready to grow with you as your business expands.
When you want an e-commerce website builder that has the ability to allow your site to grow alongside your expanding business, BigCommerce is a great choice.
This is the most scalable builder, containing a host of features that help you create a great site from the beginning of the process to the end.
You can sell across multiple channels, like Facebook and Pinterest, when using BigCommerce. You also can pick your own payment gateway, and you don’t have to deal with additional transaction fees, either.
Beginners may struggle with this builder, unfortunately, as you have to work through a number of selections to finish each page. So it may be better for bigger, more established businesses that have tech employees dedicated to operating the online store.
- Plenty of advanced features for customization
- Will grow with you as your business grows
- 0% transaction fee on all plans
- Allows you to sell any kind of product (including service-based products)
- Some features are difficult for beginners to use
- Not the best choice for a small store that’s just starting out
- Standard: $29.95 per month
- Plus: $79.95 per month
- Pro: $299.95 per month
- Enterprise: Custom pricing only
#5 – Weebly Review — Best For Building Any Kind of Website
Best for Building Any Kind of Website
When you need to build both an online store and an informational website, Weebly has the tools you need at a reasonable price.
If you are unsure of how to start an e-commerce website, you also may be unsure about creating an informational website for your business. That’s where Weebly enters the picture.
It gives you tools for both building e-commerce and informational websites.
For beginners, Weebly is a strong builder, as it puts multiple tools in your hands without complicating the process of building the kind of website you need.
With these tools, you can create SEO, advertising, and marketing campaigns, along with an online store.
Furthermore, Weebly has a reasonable starting price for new or small businesses. But it may not be the best choice for businesses with advanced needs or for those that sell complex products.
Modifying your store with precise personalization features is not as easy as with some others, either. Startups and small businesses are the best customers for Weebly.
- Very easy to use
- One of the lowest starting price points
- Works for both online stores and informational websites
- Helps with SEO and advertising
- May be too simplistic for some businesses
- Tech support response isn’t as fast as you may need
- Personal: $6 to $9 per month
- Professional: $12 to $16 per month
- Performance: $26 to $29 per month
#6 – 3DCart Review — Best For Those With Site Building Experience
Best for Those With Site Building Experience
3DCart gives those with some site building experience the ability to fully customize the online store to truly reflect the business.
If you’re a business owner that has some experience with coding and building websites, some of the beginner-level e-commerce website builders we’ve listed may be too simplistic for you.
Instead, consider 3DCart, which has plenty of features aimed at businesses that may already employ a developer.
This builder is not made for beginners, who are likely to become frustrated with the time required to build the overall site and individual pages.
But when you want extra control, like building custom templates, 3DCart gives you those options and more, all for one easy to understand price with no hidden fees.
It does have some themes you can use, but this site works well for those who want to fully build out their own e-commerce site to achieve a particular look and design.
3DCart also has some strong SEO tools you can easily deploy.
- Allows for precise customization
- No hidden fees
- Gives you the advanced features you may need
- Excellent SEO tools
- Too much for most beginners to handle
- Customer service responsiveness could be better
- Startup: $19 per month
- Basic: $29 per month
- Plus: $79 per month
- Power: $129 per month
- Pro: $229 per month
When it Makes Sense to Invest Into E-commerce Website Builders
As soon as you start your business, you may be eager to start selling items online. However, an e-commerce website is not always necessary to accomplish this.
Some businesses that have only a few dozen products or that don’t need to handle hundreds of customers may be able to create a site using something like WordPress with a plug-in that allows you to sell items.
However, when your business is ready to grow either its customer base or its product offerings — or maybe both — an ecommerce website builder is a very helpful tool. Here are some of the types of businesses that may be ready to make use of this type of product.
If you are just starting your business, meaning you have no online selling systems in place already, going with an e-commerce website builder will work nicely. The thought process is, you might as well start with the builder now, rather than using some other sort of system and having to migrate later.
Even if your new business has a brick and mortar component, having a strong web presence for e-commerce can help you both now and in the future, and the right builder can help with this.
As mentioned previously, businesses with only a few dozen products to sell, even new businesses, may not need a builder. But if you plan to grow your business and product catalog extensively in the near future, using a builder out of the gate is a good choice.
Ideally, you have an e-commerce component to your business up and running before you start becoming overwhelmed with customers. But if you don’t, and you suddenly find your customer base is demanding more options from your business, an e-commerce website builder is a good choice.
Most of these builders allow you to be up and running quickly, so you can match your expanding business without too much downtime, where you’d miss a chance on some sales.
If you find your brick and mortar store’s sales seem a little stagnant, the best e-commerce website builder can help jump start your company’s revenues. You’ll potentially be able to find some new customers, introducing them to your products through the online store.
As an added benefit, using the right builder can give your online store a sleek look that may entice customers to stay on the site longer and look for more products.
Methodology for Choosing the Best E-commerce Website Builders
As we constructed our list of the best e-commerce website builders, we tried to focus on the features that the majority of small businesses would be seeking in this type of tool, which are listed here. Figure out which of these features are most applicable to the type of online store that you want to have, and then search for a builder that emphasizes your must-have features.
For a small business, the expense of setting up an online store is a huge consideration. You want to grow the business, but you want to do so in a cost effective manner, so you aren’t left spending more on building your online store that you’ll make back in sales.
The majority of sites have pricing tiers, so you can add more features and functionality as the business’ sales grow, which is handy.
Understand that some sites have add-on costs that could add up quickly for a busy site, including:
- Commission fee per transaction amount
- Cost per unique visitor to the site
- Costs for adding selling platforms
- Costs for adding extra photos
- Domain hosting costs
- Tech support costs
Keep an eye out for introductory pricing from certain builders. The introductory price could expire after a few months or a year. Watch out for builders that require long term contracts too.
To run your online store effectively, you need to be able to see statistics on how customers are interacting with your site. Which pages draw the most interest? Which links do customers use just before they buy?
A website builder for e-commerce also should help you manage returned products, answer customer questions via email or chat, and market to customers between purchases.
Some builders may even help you create marketing campaigns to keep customers informed about your new products and your special sales.
For a typical small business, having a dedicated tech person or team to keep the online store running smoothly is not likely going to be available. Nor will you probably want to spend the time setting up the hardware and software needed to run the site.
Some e-commerce website builders handle all of these tasks for you. They will host the site on their servers, simplifying operation for you.
The downside is you will pay a bit extra for hosting services, and you won’t have control if something goes wrong with the site. But the convenience of having the builder also host the site can be a significant advantage for quite a few businesses.
Limits on Content
Depending on the builder you’ve chosen, you may run into limits on the number of products you can have stored on the site. You also may find a limit in the number of visits from customers you’re allowed each month (before extra fees kick in).
These limits may be fine when your online store is new, but you may find that they become restricting as your online store grows. With certain builders, you can raise the content limit for an additional fee as you grow without having to change how you manage the site, which is convenient.
Search and SEO Help
As a small business owner, you may not be well-versed in the concept of SEO (search engine optimization). But for your online store, you need to be able to draw traffic to your store by making its products and pages easy to find when customers are searching.
With SEO tools built into the e-commerce website builder service, you’ll be able to employ SEO concepts without having to become an expert in how search works.
Your e-commerce website needs to be easy to navigate, allowing customers to find the product and information they need within a few clicks.
The builder should allow you to set up categories and subcategories, organizing products in a manner that customers easily can use.
The site should have a consistent look from page to page as well, meaning customers will feel comfortable as they navigate the site. Haphazard page layouts and color schemes within your online store will only confuse customers, possibly leaving them leery of making a purchase.
If you run into problems either while building the site or after it’s up and running, does the builder have a good reputation for customer support? You want your downtime to be as limited as possible, so you aren’t missing out on potential sales, and a good tech support system from the builder helps with this.
Should you not have a lot of free time to create an online store, you’ll want your builder to automate quite a bit of the process, so you can have the site up and running in a hurry.
The majority of builders include templates that simplify the site building process. You want to be able to load your products quickly, all while making the site look as good as possible.
Building the Perfect E-commerce Website
When it comes to growing your business these days, you have to have an online presence.
Even traditional brick and mortar stores should have a way to answer customer questions, provide valuable business info, and give users the option to shop online.
Using one of the best e-commerce website builders, you can create a store that appeals to customers and shows off your product catalog, all with a design that’s easy to use.
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