16 April, 2010

The Romanticism of Internet Startups. My experiences, part I.

I wasn't sure what drove me to this point, that of writing about startups (of all things).  I believe it has much to do with the recent launch of the newest startup of which I am a founder as well as the Software Engineer behind the technology in said venture, Ecquire.  In the past months during which the project has progressed to our recent launch at the end of March, my own fascination with startups and my own experience in dealing with them came back into focus.

Back during the dot com boom in 2000, I was starting my 6th year as the lead developer for a manufacturing firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The realisation that I was growing rather weary at what I felt would become a dead end job well below my desires and capabilities would later come true for the individual(s) that came later to replace me once I'd left.  I recently found out via a visit, the software I had authored in the 20th century for said company is still being utilised during every one of their 6 production days a week, year round.  I figured authoring a critical application that as been running for over 10 years a full production environment without failure is one point of pride I happily take away from that point in my professional career.

Moving on, both with this post and what I was getting at after all of those years at what was becoming a job with no real future, unless I wanted a full frontal lobotomy.  I started to look around at my potential opportunities and having at the time been rather conservative in the kinds of companies in which I would  allow myself to envision employment, only one of which I was aware of it being a startup.  I had interviewed in a new industry as an attempt at something new with a company at the time located in a new office complex in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, called Health+Market+Science.  It was the epitome of dot com culture from the very casual attire, dual flat screens (15"-17"ers at the time) to the fully stocked kitchen with both Mountain Dew and Jolt colas and of course the obligatory ridiculous hours kept by the early twenty-somethings.

I ended up not taking that job as the hours just weren't conducive to me, having been married with a home to which I preferred to return to during daylight hours.  I did however find myself in an awkward situation as a friend happened to be working for a financial startup as a contractor and try as he may, they never offered him a salaried position.  After suggesting the position for which I interviewed to him, he found it a more compatible match both in terms of age range, distance from his rented home and preferred environment.  He gave appropriate notice at his soon-to-be-former contract and suggested to the CTO to have me in for an interview.  To make a really long story short, I interviewed and was offered a full time position at a considerable increase over my previous place of employ for the prior seven years.

The new environment was definitely a relief from the previous mid-size company dynamic, though it didn't come without its own oddities and personalities. The projects cam quickly and were fairly varied.  Our niche in the market and in terms of financial companies was breaking new ground in an area of the industry that was too new to have many established competitors or applications which could simply be purchased and utilised for daily goings on.  The environment code wise was simple, replace the existing PHP documents with something better, and at that time and in that case, perl was the solution.

I'm not going into the whole rundown of the years at the company and its daily goings on however I was state that true to its nature we worked some late evenings, the odd weekend and had a blast all the while. It ultimately changed as the company grew and due to certain situations with some of the legacy code's lack of efficiency with our increased activity (i.e. it wasn't scaling), my boss (the CTO) was removed and I took his place.  It would be several more years that I would be at this company which would end six months after the new owners completely destroyed the client relationships and staff morale.  I ended with the obligatory hire-a-thug escorting me from the facility (though I am a considerably larger individual and therefore felt no threat), and a decent severance package.  The new CEO hated me from day one because while promising to continue to provide the high quality of work my team and I output on a regular basis, I also made it clear that we were not 'yes men', nor would I or any of my team kiss anyones ass because of self-imposed importance via titles or roles.   You earned respect, you never gained it by your business card or past.  He was never understanding of that mindset and as such I was given a nice severance pay while other people were just thrown to the street.

Ultimately my first foray into an internet based startup was a fun adventure that definitely provided lots of learning opportunities and allowed me the environment to grow and expand my comfort zone.  All in all, I wasn't unemployed for more than thirty or so minutes as on my way away from the office on that fateful friday afternoon for the last time, I made a phone call and found myself employed starting the upcoming week... at another startup.  More about that in another post!