Victus Spiritus


How I lost my startup's first 90k client, and won my freedom

20 Aug 2010

*update* as of March 2011 I continue to work part time as a systems engineer at my old job. And I haven't given up on hacking side projects and learning more deeply about the web stack and consumer facing app design.

The journey began in late 2008 when I was unsure of what future I would strive for. At that time I knew only that it wasn't my old day job as a systems engineer. With a great desire to wed my lovely wife, and to remain independent with a roof over my head, I negotiated part time work at my old position a few months later after discovering blogging and the wonders of startups. Sometime in mid 2009 I set about searching for a high value area in the rapidly growing social web space to fuel a new business.

Victus Media 0.1

While I struggled with early php scripting and worked out the simplest of prototypes, I knew I wouldn't get very far without the aid of a talented hacker. If you tell your story enough times, someone will eventually listen, and fortunately for me that was Tyler Gillies, now the resident hacker for Read Write Web. He was able to construct a framework in Rails that I could contribute to, and build on without any prior Ruby knowledge. It was a great learning experience. I have fond memories of "creepy" migrations with models defined in separate files and loathing git merge conflicts before I had a basic grasp of how it worked*.

Our startup's biggest client was our day job salaries. Almost none of the development Victus Media did at night, weekends and days off was applicable to our only "paying" customers. We earned that pay through our hours of service^, but there was a huge disconnect in motivation alignment. All the while my primary customer was downsizing along with the financial troubles of the American economy.

I took full advantage of all the resources I could muster

My first inclination for a semantic contextual ad widget could find no takers. Tyler hacked out an alpha fast, and I helped glue some pieces together. The prototype was born at the end of 2009 in only six weeks, but it never caught on. In hindsight, I suspect it was too risky of a move for larger web properties, and inefficient for small bloggers. No one I met wanted to log in to an ad widget so it could offer them relevant content. I did learn more about constructing a marketing pipe. My marketing resources were blog posts, paid ad tests, and a crap ton of comments linking back to our product.

180 degree pivot

We worked furiously to construct an app that would attract users to try and salvage some of our work. While I was able to trick out an interesting user/list browser^, it never caught on after a hail storm of blog posts, paid ad tests, and thousands of comments.

Pivot 2, plus a Torso Twist for Battletech fans

Now we're working hard to refine as one instance of an event, location, and interest aware update service. Only folks interested in yard sales or antiques will subscribe, so time, space, and interest will all come together to bring unmatched relevance of information. Take that search!

I didn't forget to tell you how I lost my 90k client

This story has all lead up to the present. I got laid off by my day job yesterday, although I'm officially employed till end of September (gotta wrap up some work).

My long term goal is to build a healthy web based business, so any help refining my pitch to potential investors or customers is more than welcome. I will also gladly consider any startups or progressive tech companies that are in dire need of a fanatical developer with a deep desire to immerse himself in the web stack from top to bottom.

*= linux and meld made the problem evaporate

^= this reminds me, I need to update social image browser to use oauth only, basic auth breaks this month. Now folks have to log in to see it in action, bummer.