Why I Started FeatherShark

In my last company, I had a “do-it-yourself” IT setup for most of the 15 years of the company. We had racks of servers in a closet in our office.

We had the usual outages. From time to time, something would just go sideways. A hard drive would fail. A server would stop responding and need to be rebooted. The Exchange server would stop delivering mail.

This last one seemed to happen a few times a year. Maybe it was just us, but over several Exchange servers throughout the years, we would periodically say, “hey, I haven’t gotten any new mail since 4:00pm yesterday, is something wrong with the server?”

We tried different things to manage our servers. In the very early days, I did it myself. We ran FreeBSD (that’ll take you back!), and Windows NT server. Later, as we grew, I hired an internal network administrator who provided desktop, network and server support. He wound up leaving the company, and I tried outsourcing to a local network support company for a while. For a monthly fee, they managed our network. It was ok, not great.

Then they went out of business, and we wound up hiring another internal person. Things were ok for a while, but whenever he was on vacation we were scrambling if something happened. After a few years he left.

We were lucky to have an experienced technical staff, we were a development shop after all. So for a while we just ran without any admin. Whenever something broke, one of our developers would fix it.

Two things happened there. On the one hand a billable person was being pulled off to support the network, having an immediate and measurable effect in revenue. And over time, we realized that only the absolute critical items were being done. Very little non-urgent maintenance was being done – nobody had tested the backups, the UPS battery was flashing that it needed to be replaced, log files were filling up the disk.

Not ideal.

We again tried to outsource, this time to a better firm. Things were definitely better, but after a while they tapered off. Plus, we were still spending a ton of money on IT support.

We had moved a few services “to the cloud” over the last few years, although of course they weren’t calling it the cloud yet. We were using web software as a service applications. For example, we used Basecamp for project management.

It was over the Christmas holiday when I finally made a major move away from my do-it-yourself setup. Email was down again. “Hey, I haven’t had a new mail since yesterday.” Plus, I was tired of getting so much damn spam.

Our network support people probably wouldn’t be able to get to the issue for a few days.

So in a fit of anger I set up a Google Apps for Business account and over the course of the weekend, moved the entire company’s email. By myself. Admittedly, I’m more technical than your average entrepreneur, but my technical skills are extremely rusty. My transition to the “dark side” and away from hands on technical work was complete nearly a decade ago at this point.

We never looked back. Almost at once,the flow of spam stopped. I went from 70-80 messages in my inbox every morning to 10. Amazing. I sent out an email, basically copying the instructions from Google on how to migrate your mailbox, to the team, and within a few days everyone had moved their old Exchange mailboxes to GMail.

It worked so well I decided to look for other opportunities. Within a few months, nearly everything was out of house. Our development servers were at a managed provider. Our project server was replaced with a professional services management system – online. Our file server was replaced with Dropbox.

I was thrilled. I felt like I had better systems, and way less hassles than I’d had before. I was so thrilled, in fact, that I started talking to all my entrepreneur friends and telling them about what I’d done. They all said, “WOW! that’s really cool. I’m going to do that too.”

And then an interesting thing happened. Every single one of them went back to their offices, and did what non-technical business owners do. They called their IT guy, whether that person was in house employee or a managed service provider.

And every single one of them threw up both hands like they were pushing them away and said, “whoa! you don’t want to do that! what about (fill in the blank)?”

The fill in the blank was predictable:

What about security?
What if the internet is down?
Gmail has outages?
Gmail got hacked?
and so on.

The typical IT guy reaction. You tell them what you want to do for the business, and all they do is tell you the 58 reasons why you can’t do it.

In short, they threw up enough FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that the conversation stopped dead in its tracks, conveniently securing their own positions. Now am I saying that everyone should move everything to the cloud? No. It’s not for everyone – yet. (Although within not so many years I believe that almost everything will be on line).

But are you telling me that out of a dozen businesses, there isn’t a single thing that could move online and not be better? Unlikely.

That’s when I knew there was an opportunity. The cloud is going to completely revolutionize the way we get our IT services, not to mention drive a ton of the cost out of it. And entrepreneurs can’t get good information about it because the people who are traditionally their trusted advisors on technology have a huge self-interest blocking it.

I knew the cloud had worked for me, and I wanted to tell as many other entrepreneurs as I could. So FeatherShark was born.