If you live in Finland and want to deploy a reliable website for yourself or your company, what hosting service will you choose? Wepardi is a family-owned local company that began hosting websites more than twenty-five years ago. Their gung-ho team stay on top of complex problems of technology and cyber-crime smartly and efficiently, and also listen to the needs and suggestions of their customers in a friendly, personalized way.

Who founded this unique jewel of a company? What are the challenges, pains and joys of operating it? What is it like to fight endlessly against cyber-crime to protect their clients’ valuable data? Christina Daous, current CEO and daughter of Wepardi’s founder, tells us (almost) everything about it.

Hello, Christina! Do tell a bit about yourself.

Hello! I was born in Turku. My father is from Finland and my mother from Soviet Kazakhstan (her parents were born in Ukraine). There’s Polish, German, and Ukrainian ancestry, so we’re very family-oriented, we often travel and do stuff together; childhood traditions that keep going. So today I’m kinda the leader of our family, and of our company.

Christina Daous, CEO and daughter of Wepardi's founder

Who created Wepardi?

My father, Jack Daous. He’s one of those mad genius types, you know? He reads everything. Whenever there’s a new technology he tests it out; I think he has six pairs of VR goggles at home. Anything new comes out, he has to try it, then fail at it, then try again. I guess that’s where I get my optimism from. He’s endlessly excited about opportunities, something new to learn, to find.

Professionally he used to be a welder, he was building ships. And in ’98 he went and set up the first servers at home. A part of my house belonged to the company, so I grew up with all that. I like to joke that the company is like a little brother to me, because it was often “nobody touch the TV, the phone, anything! We’re doing something extremely important and we don’t know what may break it!” But even though I grew up surrounded by computers and technology, I really still appreciate nature. So that’s how it started, with one server, then another. A couple of other companies were established roughly at the same time, and they mostly know each other (it’s a small country after all) but my father was among the first people in Finland to get into this stuff.

One of the things my dad did differently from the start was to consider the community first: how can Internet service people? How can we be something more than a company that sells stuff. He was the first person in Finland to upload the bus timetables, for example. He literally wrote them down by hand, from the newspaper, then he updated them online, for free. And do you remember page-counters? In those times it was difficult to find how many visitors came to your website, so he gave our clients page-counters, and a lot of other useful information. Even after Google appeared, on the Finnish side you couldn’t find a lot of resources, so he was a pioneer when it comes to thinking about the Internet as a means of serving the community.

You’ve got a maverick for a dad.

Yeah! But he’s very modest about it, he’s a very approachable guy.

What kind of services were you offering back then?

In the beginning we offered dial-up Internet access, remember those times? “Mom, get off the phone, I’m on the internet!!!” We lived through all that. But our thing has always been web hosting. Our mission was to give everyone the capability to have their own website, their own email address.

Why would Finns choose you instead of cheap American mastodons like GoDaddy, for example?

I think the whole thing has been about being human. They could see us, talk to us. Back in the day it was word-of-mouth. We didn’t even do marketing until 2010, maybe? And it’s all because everybody knew who my dad was. In the city, those who had worked with him would say “yeah, he’s the Internet guy, if you need something just ask him!” And it wasn’t just about selling hosting, he was also advising on a lot of other stuff, which we still do today.

What about dissatisfied customers? It’s not roses all the time.

No, it isn’t. I myself have received death threats from customers.

Wait, what?

Yeah, a few years back. People get really frustrated if something goes wrong. They immediately want to attack somebody instead of asking questions, and it gets ugly. I mean, if you had asked me to give an interview six, seven years ago, I would have said no, to protect our family and our employees.

I guess it’s human nature to hold others responsible for our misery.

Yes, and I didn’t understand that back in the day. I personally received many phone calls. I remember one specifically, where I could tell it was a guy in his fifties, possibly drunk. He found my number online somehow, called me in the middle of the night and yelled at me at the top of his lungs. He told me what a terrible person I was because his website was down, and that I did this to him personally, and that he would come to kill me, my family, and our dogs.

Good heavens.

At that point I thought well, it’s just a crazy person. But through the years I had to build a wall around me. We talked about it with my dad, and he said yeah, I get those all the time, it’s even funny how many there are. But after some time I started to think of involving the police, because threatening to kill someone is not a light matter. So over the years we have built an attitude as a team, where we can truthfully say that we did everything we could, but sometimes things go wrong. And that we’re very sorry and this is what we did to fix it, and this is what we will try to do in the future.

Technology is always developing, and new things pop up all the time, and today our clients are much nicer. I think people’s relationship with computers has evolved a lot and clients understand that, if something doesn’t work okay with the service, it’s not necessarily our fault. There could be many reasons, both accidental and malicious. And they have learned to contact us for answers and coordination. We’re not a faceless corporation like Apple or Nokia, we’re easy to reach. Our clients have become more forgiving, they have more knowledge and understand more what we’re doing.

I have a tremendous respect for elder people who dare to use computers.

We have taught our grandma to use Whatsapp and FaceTime, so we’re really proud of that! But when it comes to tech and development, something people forget is that criminals are always many steps ahead. In fact, they are one of the reasons why tech develops so fast. Because criminal activities are such that we can only react to what THEY do. Most of the time you have no idea you are being hit, you don’t understand what’s coming at you, it’s not even evident. Sometimes you just get a piece to analyze, do research. Even if you’re on top of everything, you still get into situations in which you go “What? They can do THIS now? We didn’t even know it was possible!” The only technology that doesn’t have any issues, maybe, is Morse Code. Everything else can be hacked.

It must be really tiring.

Yeah. I don’t get to sleep a lot.

Christina, current CEO and Jack, the founder

Is your father still active?

He has done it for a long time and he’s getting older, so he doesn’t want to participate in everyday stuff. But he’s still there, he’s my personal support.

What about you? How did you start and what do you do today?

I started when I was fifteen! I have done customer service, invoicing… Then, when I was eighteen or so I started some marketing, basic stuff, collecting leads, creating the social media accounts. Over the years I’ve been in different roles, on the sidelines mostly, and in the board, aware of what was going on. We wanted to give the team a certain independence, because we believe we have the best people, I’m really grateful we have them. Then I got a degree from a University of Applied Sciences and had jobs at different companies, which was also valuable for me because I wanted to see how everybody else was doing, how the big guys operate. I worked for the City of Helsinki, for example, just to learn. And then I became the new CEO, and the team was very welcoming. It’s nice when all the people you have known for such a long time tell you “Welcome aboard! Nice to have you, let’s do this!”

Is hosting the main service still today?

Yes. But it has evolved beyond having a website space and an email address. Today clients are telling us they need information, they want to understand. So we spend a lot of our time explaining how things work and, because hosting means a lot of different things, we offer a multitude of options. You can have a lot of space, or a lot a speed, or a lot of traffic. If we talk about cars, what needs do you have? Do you drive in the city, in long distance travels, or in a rally? Different needs and configurations. We help the people sort out their needs, and get what actually fits them best.

You’re equally happy to talk both about people and technology.

I enjoy explaining in simple terms concepts which are supposedly “hard”. People usually think they don’t understand much about technology, but the problem is nobody ever explains it in ways they can relate to. So I go “this is how it works, and how it’s actually built, because so and so,” and they go “oh, now I understand! It’s not so hard!” I love it every time.

Finland is connected to mainland Europe via an underwater cable, but the Wepardi servers are physically located in Turku, yes?

Yes. Our servers are connected to a network provider here in Finland. But we are slowly moving onto cloud networking. When you operate your own servers you are much more vulnerable to physical events, like a blackout, for example. We could build a completely secure electrical network in our server rooms, but that would last for a few hours. After that there’s nothing we could do, because we don’t generate our own electricity!

What are Cloud Networks?

Cloud systems are basically a cluster server of different computers distributed in different geographic locations. So even if one of those locations blacks out, it’s highly unlikely that all of them will go down. They’re connected to each other and combine their resources to be always available when something goes wrong. Most of them are located in areas that are somehow important to the infrastructure, like the government. We secure ourselves by attaching to somebody who’s already secure, and securing our clients in turn. Cloud-based systems spread your information across different areas in the world, which means a website may be hosted in Finland, but tiny pieces of it are all around. If one piece goes missing, somebody else has it and can provide it. It also speeds things up because, let’s say your website is visited by somebody in Indonesia; it can take a long time for a physical server in Turku to deliver the data to your visitor, but through the cloud your content is delivered as fast as possible, fetched from multiple locations at the same time.

Are there local providers of Cloud Networks?

Yes, the cloud network providers are also from Finland. We look for Finnish operators first, and then European. We have some in Estonia, and in the future we’ll probably be working with Germany. For us, downsizing hardware means we have more resources available for other tasks. Imagine handling 18 servers with 7.000 clients in them. It takes a lot of time, a lot of monitoring, of alerts coming into my phone, making sure everything is up and running.

You’re the CEO and you personally receive tech alerts on your phone?

Yeah. It’s because I want to see where my team struggles. As I said, we have excellent colleagues, really good at what they do. But sometimes they’re not completely honest with me: they want to succeed, they want everything to be as smooth as possible, and they OVERwork. So if I see patterns I can step in and allocate more resources into that specific area. It’s easy to get stuck when you working with something, but I see the alerts from afar. I get them, I see them, I don’t act on them, but I see what happens. I take it as a responsibility. And if something really goes down I want to be alerted, because maybe somebody’s away for a moment and there’s no response. I’m not the most tech-savvy person in our team, definitely not, but I can be there to help.

Besides technical problems, are there cyber-attacks?

Oh, all the time, it’s a common thing. For example there’s the Christmas hack: every year somebody attacks one of our servers, always on Christmas. We don’t know if it’s the same guy, maybe it’s the Grinch or something. DDoS (Denial of Service) are the most basic of attacks and they happen a lot. They try to get through ports which are supposedly open, or exploit vulnerabilities that any software system may have. Then, if we don’t get the Christmas hack that year, we get the New Year’s Hack. Usually January consists of clients complaining because they’ve lost their website. So we try to minimize that.

Is this the work of individuals, or are there countries behind this?

I don’t have evidence, and I can’t make assumptions. It’s up to the Finnish government to make that call, based on their monitoring, which is very good. If we’re being targeted it’s usually part of a bigger thing. We usually have one client per week losing their website because they themselves leaked info like passwords, personal information, or contacts, so that’s very common. We are constantly reminding everybody to change their passwords, keep them safe.

What are criminals after?

Often it’s valuable to gain access to somebody’s e-mails. That’s something that many sophisticated criminals want. Hacking into a company e-mail can let you send invoices from that account to the company’s clients, changing only the bank details, to receive money from unsuspecting companies. This is not an automated process, it’s a very dedicated person somewhere physically doing this. Or the content can be sensitive, like company secrets, or personal information that can be used to blackmail somebody, or used against them. And then you can just send basic spam, which for some reason, works. People actually buy stuff they’re offered in spam e-mail.

Even if nothing has happened to you, it’s a good idea to change passwords because somebody may already have access to your account without you even knowing. But if you change it every once in a while, you lock them out. For example, let’s say a leak has happened in 2016, but the only criminal activity happened in 2020. It’s hard to link it back to the older leak.

When it comes to technical security in general, the weakest point is always human beings, that’s what we notice. The easiest way to break into a system is “phishing” or basically sending an email impersonating someone else, trying to get that info directly. Somehow people keep falling for these “bank” scams, give us your login info, confirm this, click on this link… We don’t want to make people pessimistic, but we want them to QUESTION. Why would anybody ask you to login from a link? Think! Finland is a society based on trust. We aren’t afraid of the police or the army; we are not afraid of going to work today because of riots in front of the house or the company. But this bliss also makes us lazy in questioning WHY. Even we ask our clients to question us, that’s the power of community as well: having other human beings looking at you and asking why are you doing things this way, there is a better way! And you not having an ego and saying “good point, let me look into that!” For us, the best way to develop is to pay attention to what the customers ask us.

Any mistakes made along the way?

Of course. And I’m very grateful we still have all those clients, including yourself, after all these years and the mistakes we have made. At some point we were trying hard not to increase prices, even though everybody else was doing it. So to cut costs we made mistakes, choices that we thought would save us money but ended up giving us trouble and costed us more. So it’s one of those things today we don’t even want to think about. We do cut costs as a normal company does, but not at the expense of necessary things. Once we found something that works, we don’t touch it.

Finland being so small, do you have a lot of competition?

Yes, a lot! We are competing against all the big operators like Elisa, Sonera, Telia… Telia bought Nebula, our main competitor, a few years back. There’s Louhi, Hosting Palvelut, Internet Planeeta. We are actually one of the last independent ones remaining. Everybody else now belongs to corporations, and we have been approached as well, which is great. But for now we have decided to keep it a family thing and continue being the underdogs.

Something really interesting is to meet people who were our competitors at some point, people from companies which have been bought by bigger ones. We started at the same time as rivals, and now we call them friends. They are our support, which is amazing. We tell them “hey, congrats, you made a big sell from your business!” And they tell us “what projects are you working on, can we help?” We still feel their passion.

Why is it interesting for big companies to buy you?

It’s the only way to grow, that’s how they think. In a big corporation, under the pressure of shareholders, money matters and you’re expected to grow. They need to find ways to keep expanding. Also, bigger companies are not as capable of doing good R&D. They follow the same patterns, and salaried employees don’t have much room or passion for innovation, so it’s easier to buy somebody who already has the client base, and is more agile.

Our company has been very stable for the past ten years or more and we’re not going anywhere, we’re still here standing, solid, and aiming to make it better. We are quick to respond and adapt to the needs of Finnish customers, and we never undervalue them. You can always go to GoDaddy or GatorHost, but good luck getting a reply when you need help! At our meetings we talk about how we do things so they don’t affect even the client who pays the smallest amount. If we are ever taken down by big companies, we know at least we did it the right way. When I go to bed, I don’t need anything extra to worry me. I need to be sure we do everything ethically.

And I believe competition is great, not only for the clients, but for yourself. It keeps you on your toes, your ideas and the flow going. If you get too comfy, might as well stop. Grow does not necessarily mean money-wise or client-wise. You can grow in so many different ways. Our country, our world, could benefit so much from growth which goes beyond money.

A friend of mine, he works in investments, said that if a company doesn’t think about sustainability, big investors don’t invest in them. Even if you have an excellent product and huge profit expectations but you don’t think about sustainability, the investors are going to bail out because you don’t care or understand about the future. Maybe growth is making the world a safer place, understanding more what’s important to people, and being more human?

You can find Wepardi on Instagram, Facebook, and this is their website.