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.

Celebrating Success in London

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Inspired by a London Free Press moderated roundtable that included several people I have a huge amount of respect for, like Jodi Simpson, Kevin Van Lierop and Chantelle Diachina, I want to spent some time talking about some of the tech-related companies and individuals in London that are doing good things in and for the community, but are also striving in London’s highly underrated tech scene.

  • rTraction - a highly skilled, well-respected web development and online marketing firm that services many non-profits in the city
  • Echidna Solutions – another great web development firm who has donated a lot of their time to efforts like Emerging Leaders
  • Info-Tech Research Group – one of the top 10 IT research firms in the world, rated as the best IT research firm by Outsell (full disclosure: I work at ITRG)
  • Resolution Interactive Media – a very talented group of web developers best known for their online training site built for LHSC, and highly interactive websites for several Ontario colleges
  • Big Blue Bubble – a local video game development company, probably best known for Burn The Rope right now
  • Antic Entertainment – local video game development company that has won awards for their game Junk Battles
  • Start Communications – an Internet service provider, with their own network around downtown London, that customers have been raving about ever since the UBB debate flared up earlier this year
  • Aaron McGowan – a well-respected, and very talented, freelance programmer that specializes in mobile apps and mobile websites
  • Digital Extremes – a large video game developer that’s produced several blockbuster titles like BioShock, Unreal Tournament, Homefront and Dark Sector

And there are lots of others, most of which can be seen on TechAlliance’s Member Directory. For instance, I bet you didn’t know that DirectDial.com is owned by EK3 Technologies, which is based in London. I’m not going to sit here and boast about my company, Orpheum Hosting Solutions, but I do believe Orpheum’s providing a much needed service to freelancers and small business owners!

So really, I won’t sit here and listen to people complain about the lack of a tech industry in London. No, we’re not Santa Clara, California (in the heart of Silicon Valley). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an industry to break into, or a need that’s going unserved. In fact, if you’re feeling frustrated with your attempts to find a job as a developer or networking professional, London has enough small businesses that the right business plan and marketing will get you the opportunity to do plenty of work. I used to freelance and got the opportunity to build computer networks from scratch for several businesses, and I knew a lot less then than I do now.

Here’s the video.