Why I Sold Orpheum

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Two years ago I founded a web hosting company, Orpheum Hosting Solutions. I set out to build a web hosting company that could compete with the likes of MediaTemple on infrastructure, and HostGator on price. As time went on I added more plans, did a wholesale move from a cloud server infrastructure to big, dedicated servers, and even switched backend client management systems to make things easier for everyone.

A few months in, I started to think, “Orpheum should be a business services company. A one-stop shop for small businesses to get their website, web-based applications, and even phone lines, or a phone system all from the same place without having to call Rogers, or worse yet Bell.” So, over the course of the next 36 months, Orpheum began to expand into managed servers, hosted PBX, SIP trunks, and eventually virtual private servers via the acquisition of AeroVPS.

Orpheum was doing well. It was not, however, doing well enough to pay anyone a full-time salary. Two years in Orpheum had acquired several high profile, lucrative customers worth over $1,000 a year. Unfortunately, due to a mix of issues with billing systems, and user interface challenges, onboarding these customers was time consuming. Too time consuming when you factor in that I still had a full-time job, and a young, growing family. Too time consuming when, through my own fault, each VoIP customer required several hours of assistance to get online.

So what happened? Orpheum expanded too quickly. I felt like I spent a lot of time finding the right solutions, and partnering with the right vendors. However I don’t feel like I spent enough time ensuring everything worked properly, that I really understood the technology behind the service and what Orpheum’s customers saw on a daily basis (with the exception of the web hosting and VPS services), and ensuring that customers were onboarded properly. I started to fix this a few months ago, but again… the things I *needed* to be doing had to come first, and the things I *wanted* to do came second, or even third or fourth. Orpheum’s customers suffered.

I brought on a team of people to assist with tech support. They provided level 1 support for the web hosting service, but they were not as familiar with the control panel I used as they were with other, more popular solutions. But it still took a lot of weight off my shoulders, and let me focus on supporting the VPS and VoIP customers. It wasn’t quite enough help though.

And then I really bunged things up when I spent several months, and a good amount of my capital, attempting to build a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (like Amazon AWS, or Rackspace Cloud) offering. My vendors were not forthcoming enough with pertinent information, over promised, and then under delivered. I blew $1,000 to find out I couldn’t do something the way someone told me I could.

So, I made a very difficult decision to sell Orpheum Hosting Solutions. However, despite the disgruntled customers and accusations otherwise, I did not sell to the highest bidder. I had multiple bidders put offers in over five digits, but I chose to sell to a company/owner that I knew was going to leverage the existing services offered, regardless of whether they kept the brand intact or not. Those other high bidders wanted to dismantle the company, separate off the VoIP customers, perform wholesale moves off of the existing clustered hosting infrastructure onto more traditional, single-box solutions. I said “No” to those bidders.

At the end of the day, this was a lesson in growing too fast, without enough resources. You can build a business yourself, part-time, but it isn’t easy. You need razor sharp focus in the first few years… something I’ve read about time and time again, but once again I make myself learn it the hard way. I will be trying again… it’s in my blood, I can’t help it. But next time the messaging, the onboarding process, the support… everything will be polished, ready for customers on day one. And I’m going to focus hard on the core services people want and need out of the company.

Transportation On Patrol

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I have a bone to pick with the “Transportation On Patrol” initiative that Aboutown entered into with London Police Services last year. I don’t know why I haven’t written about this until now, but I just saw an Aboutown taxi van with a sticker promoting the initiative across the top of the windshield, so it just reminded me of how misguided I feel this initiative is.

The ultimate irony of this program is that, when it comes to road safety, I feel taxi drivers are the biggest offenders. Everyday, during my commute across the city (the entire east-west length of the city), I see cab drivers violate several traffic laws:

  • Speed (sometimes more than 20km/h over the limit)
  • Run yellow lights
  • Run red lights (not everyday, thankfully)
  • Make illegal turns
  • Make rolling stops

If the program is only intended to get Aboutown drivers to report things like theft, arson, etc. then I suppose it’s a worthy initiative. I’m certainly not accusing them of doing anything but violating many road safety laws we’re all expected of adhering to. On the other hand, if LPS has the audacity to expect Aboutown drivers to report traffic law violations, then I would like to see one massive crackdown on cab drivers across all companies licensed to operate in London.

And, unfortunately, there is very little information currently easily accessible about the program. And I cannot think of one good reason as to why any cab driver would need to violate multiple traffic laws in one day. If anything, since they are so highly visible, they ought to be setting an example for the rest of us, gaining our trust, and inevitably our business.

The Best Advice Eric Schmidt Ever Got

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“Find a way to say yes to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids.” – Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google

How to Protect Yourself from Facebook's Open Graph

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Don’t kid yourself – Facebook cares very much about your data! They care about how much they can get their hands on, how easily they can index it, and then how much easier it becomes for them to target ads based on information you have on your profile and apps you use.

In fact, the defaults for Facebook’s privacy settings completely expose your profile not only to everyone on Facebook, but to the entire public including non-Facebook users. Meaning your current and potential employers, people you like and have pissed off, your parents – everyone – can see your Facebook profile. For a visual representation of Facebook’s expanding public defaults, click here. Continue reading

Change London – A new initiative

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one london evening

Photo by see phar

Several acquaintances/friends of mine and I have had the opportunity to speak to a few City of London councilors and employees at various local events over the last year like AgendaCamp and SMarts London. We’re also encouraging them to attend this year’s PodCamp. I find myself usually running into Nancy Branscombe; while I don’t always agree with her (mostly about the cartoons), I know that I and several others appreciate the effort she makes to get involved in community/grassroots events.

People like Shawn Adamsson, Bill Deys, Titus Ferguson and I have all taken those opportunities to speak to Nancy, voicing our concerns for the city; some of these concerns have to do with the lack of an open data initiative for London, how the city’s engaging citizens (or rather, how it’s not), and more recently Bill Wittur has been talking about making London a “digital destination.” It looks like our concerns have been heard, because Nancy decided it would be a good idea to let engaged folks speak to some City councilors and staff. Last week we¬†had a 90 minute meeting with several higher-ups from the City. Continue reading