Running a start-up – Forget rest

Since I started fuelmyblog life has been a roller coaster of emotion.  I know people always compare things to a roller coaster but there really is not another comparison.  You have amazing highs and dreadful lows.  Sometimes you have zero emotion.

One thing that exaggerates emotion is the total and utter lack of rest.  When I say rest I mean, “tools down” rest.  The kind of rest you can only have when you are employed.  I remember that 5.30pm on a Friday, the last work day before a fortnight’s holiday.  That feeling of elation, recording your voicemail “I am now on vacation until..”, typing your out of office message for your emails.  When you have a start-up, this never happens.  Firstly, you are never away from the office (you’ll have a Blackberry, your laptop etc).  Secondly, you can never switch off your mind, welcome to the world of “always on”.

I remember planning Christmas last year with my wife, we were invited to spend it with my in-laws in Provence, the South of France.  Their large new apartment had just been built, they still lived in Paris and wanted to basically invite all the family to their new pad.  The first thing that crossed my mind “have they got wifi or internet?”.  The answer was no, we had to book into a hotel nearby with wifi, away from the family.  Of course the wifi didn’t work, apparently I was the first person ever to use the wifi, “people generally booking our hotel are here on holiday”.  I had to go into the Managers office, get on my hands and knees and fix the bloody wifi for them.

You see, when you have a start-up, more so an internet start-up, Christmas for you, is not a holiday, it is a time when users are away from work, a time when users are on the internet.   Granted, generally people are not using blogging networks on Christmas day, but picture this, on Christmas day in Europe, it is 26th December in Australia, Malaysia etc it is also Christmas Eve in the USA, Mexico etc..So you see, although there are days of rest, we are not all on the same day at the same time.

Having a day off means getting up at 6am, reviewing blogs, checking the servers, making sure the blog posts are up to date, checking the forums, answering 2-300 emails and then, at 10am, going out for the day.  Arriving back home late, the day off is over..time to review blogs, check the servers…

So if you want to enjoy the riches presented by having a start-up be prepared never to rest.  Ever.  But be prepared for the most amazing highs (and of course sometimes, big big lows).

But most of all, be prepared to meet the most incredible people on Earth, people like you.

Next post – time away from the family is part of the parcel.

Hiring a Good Programmer – always a gamble

When I started fuelmyblog, I had no programming skills (some would say still have none!).

None.

If I could change anything in my life it would be to have somehow learned to during my early non-children years.. At my school, nobody had a computer, the Head Master still caned the bad kids and the nearest we had to programming was to write hello on a calculator (try it now, tap in the number 0.7734 and turn the calculator upside down).

So when I bought a script online for $30 to test if my fuelmyblog idea worked, I walked into a whole new world.

After a couple of email exchanges, I received a ZIP file in my emails with the text “script attached”.. Great. a ZIP file with thousands of components..I followed the tiny help file and got this:-

Warning: mysql_select_db(): supplied argument is not a valid MySQL-Link resource in /home/kevind/public_html/header.php on line 12

Warning: mysql_query(): supplied argument is not a valid MySQL-Link resource in /home/kevind/public_html/header.php on line 14
Access denied for user ‘db_user’@’localhost’ (using password: YES)

Meant nothing to me at all..after two days of loading, deleting, loading…the time had come, I needed help and fast!

I seem to remember googling “I need a coder”, I found a site that allowed me to write my request for work and then within minutes, people were haggling over the price to do the job. Not one of them seemed legitimate but in fairness I was at the end of my patience, I needed to see if my idea would work. Eventually a guy called Kanhai Patel from GudApps offered to do it for the best price, shortly after agreeing the fee, he sent me an email that said “The next step is you send us the script and also make an advance payment of USD 45”.

Hmm…would you have?

UPDATE DECEMBER 2009 – Kanhai Patel has scammed me and various others out of money, do not use this guy if you want to see a result for your cash, no idea what happened but after his first job, I used him again, totally took my money and ran. So don’t use Kanhai or Gudapps.  The reason for this update is due to being contacted by others scammed by him and I don’t want to be blamed for recommending him as this post has/did.

What could go wrong, three things. 1. They steal my money, 2. They steal my script and 3. They steal my idea. The final idea scared me most. I had been thinking about starting this idea for three months, to have someone steal the idea was worrying me. Hugely.

I was desperate..

I sent the upfront “sweetener” and we connected via Skype, Kanhai in India, me in France…one of those take a deep breath and slowly exhale moments.

It turned out to be probably the smartest move I ever made. Kanhai is a classy coder, quick and dedicated beyond belief. We talked as he coded until I passed out at 4am..I rose up again the next day at 7am, there he was, still coding. Eventually after 48 hours, Fuelmyblog, the test site was born, it had cost me 4 days without sleep or seeing anyone and just $300. I have kept in touch with Kanhai since and would recommend this guy to anyone.

Anyone who tells you they need $millions to see if a site works is a liar, you need energy, no sleep and of course living costs. The days, weeks and months after are the only major losses, and the cost of that is time.

If you are prepared to work 18-22 hours per day every day 7 days a week, you might have a chance, I had some money saved in the bank and was willing to gamble every penny of it. Was I crazy?

Up next meeting Ian Green..virtually.

Why did I start an online community?

The truth is, I didn’t set out to. The site was originally started for personal use.

It all started with a seed, a seed of thought. At the beginning of 2006 we, my Wife and I, decided to take a huge gamble and move our family to France. The gamble wasn’t the language, my Wife is French and our kids were both fluent, it wasn’t the country, we knew France and loved it. The gamble was settling into a new community and leaving our comfort zone.

We put our house up for sale in April 2006 and by July 2006 were living out of boxes awaiting our Solicitor to tell us we had exchanged contracts and could move. We couldn’t buy a house in France as we had no idea when we’d complete the sale, we needed the equity in the house to buy and so the ever decreasing circle had started.

Eventually, we moved to France, deciding to rent a short term house in the centre of nowhere while searching for a great place to rent in the beautiful city called La Rochelle. This happened very quickly and we managed to move for the second time to our permanent rental home within two weeks!

So why did we start Fuelmyblog? It was during this particular time that we found the best resources of information came from blogs. Like most people, we didn’t always know that they were blogs, we assumed as do most people that the majority were websites offering advice and help.

Wrong.

The majority of the information and help we gleaned was found within blogs, the problem we had was finding the same blog again. For example, we’d search google for “what is the best car mechanic in La Rochelle” we’d be directed to a blog with some expat’s sharing their real experiences and tips, those tips are so important, Yellow pages doesn’t give true reviews, google offers sponsored results, we could only take advice from real experiences. Instead of writing the URL down, we’d do the same google search a few weeks later once ready to get the work done and not be able to find that blog again, information gone.. The seed had been sown.

After the above scenario had happened many times, it became apparent to me that there must be somewhere on the web that I could find a whole bunch of good, non spammy websites, easily, a place where that same blog would be in one months time. I found some “blog” communities existed but after 5 or 6 (seemingly endless) clicks I would finally end up at a blog selling timeshare on a house in Bulgaria even after calling itself an blog offering advice to English Speakers in France. I found myself simply swimming around communities of spam and well, not blogs as promised.

I still had no thoughts or desire to start a community, all I wanted to do was find good blogs easily. At around the same time, there was a lot of noise on the internet and TV about a site called milliondollarhomepage this was created by a young guy called Alex Tew, he wanted to pay his University fees and basically sold pixels for cash and displayed the advertisers all on one page. This to me sounded like a perfect way of displaying blogs, simple but effective, but I wanted to display things on a larger easier to view format..

I then spent the next three months furiously working on my day job, fixing up meetings with CEO’s of blue chip companies in the UK, my role was selling the idea that the company I worked for would (for no upfront fee) go in and save them at least 20% of their current IT and Telecoms spend. You would think everyone would listen to that kind of statement. Not in corporate heaven, in corporate heaven, executives are unable to see into the future. I had one proposal turned down where we proved to the largest Scottish Bank that we could guarantee to save the £100m of their current telecoms spend, and they would have to do nothing extra to achieve this. They were “too busy” to look. We guaranteed it.. Whilst this job paid well, it was hardly exciting nor a challenge and I kept going back to those damn blogs..

The next chapter of my life was about to start, I Googled “I need a coder”..