Hanna makes juicy profits with A Small Orange

Senior Douglas Hanna is the CEO of his own website-hosting company—A Small Orange.
Senior Douglas Hanna is the CEO of his own website-hosting company—A Small Orange.

Senior Douglas Hanna is known as a good host—especially to the websites of his 28,000 customers around the world.

Hanna bought A Small Orange, a web hosting and site management company, with his business partner Brent Oxley in March 2010—the second semester of Hanna’s freshman year. Hanna, at 21 years old, is CEO of the company, which made $4 million in revenue in 2011 and is on track to make twice that this year. With a growing emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation at Duke, Hanna is in many ways ahead of the learning curve.

“I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurial things and a good opportunity presented itself,” Hanna said. “It’s cool when people get involved in entrepreneurial stuff on campus and in Durham.”

A Small Orange provides services to individuals desiring a web presence online. Hosting a website on a personal computer is difficult because the website goes down every time the computer is turned off or the Internet service experiences problems. Hosting companies like A Small Orange provide a reliable alternative.

This summer, Hanna, like many Duke students, is staying for summer session. The only difference is he works at the company full time. While classes are in session, Hanna, a sociology major, spends between 40 and 50 hours per week on his business.

“Usually if I’m not in class I’m here [in the office] or I’m working from home,” he said. “I run around a lot. I travel a lot [for meetings] too, because I have employees all over the country.”

Although Hanna’s coursework at Duke is unrelated to computers, he had experience in the industry before his position at A Small Orange. He worked for Oxley for two years as the customer service manager at web hosting company HostGator.com LLC, before the two bought A Small Orange.

Now, the day-to-day functioning of A Small Orange falls largely under Hanna’s purview. Oxley is an investor in A Small Orange but focuses more time on another company he owns, Hanna said.

The majority of A Small Orange’s 36 employees—most of whom work remotely—are Linux administrators who also help customers with problems and questions. The company also employs individuals in sales and marketing and even hires Duke students for internship and full-time positions. A Small Orange regularly appears at the Spring and Fall Career Fairs and sponsors the Duke Start-Up Challenge.

Although Hanna dedicates a large portion of his time to work, he does not think his business responsibilities seriously detract from his college experience. He still makes time for his friends and life outside of work. At times, though, being so busy can be tough—especially because Hanna often travels for business on weekends in order to avoid missing class.

“He does a good job separating down time and work,” said Duke Student Government President Alex Swain, a senior who has been close friends with Hanna since their freshman year. “He’s not like one of those people who when you’re with him, he’s emailing all the time…. He’s a perfect example of how [Duke students] strive to do great things and don’t see our age as a limit to that.”

Hanna focuses much of his time on his business, but he still manages to take advantage of opportunities at Duke, said senior Jeremy Ruch. a member of The Chronicle's independent editorial board, who has also been friends with Hanna since their freshman year.

“The list of freshman year college students I know who can take over a web hosting company while serving on the executive board of a major campus organization [Campus Council], while serving as their dorm’s president and managing an award-winning blog—and I think managing our freshman year tent rotation—is pretty thin,” Ruch said.

Hanna said his position at A Small Orange also gives him peace of mind about his post-graduation plans. He intends to work at his current job full-time after he graduates in December 2012.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Hanna will graduate in May 2013. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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