startup bridge founders series - sees opportunities
I have still both browsers and those 50 tabs open from last night's adventure.
Before I go into it let me give you some background.
 
A good friend of mine has just opened up his own restaurant and advertised it to his friends via facebook. He asked open questions like "What mistakes should I prevent from the beginning etc.", and I answered with "Do as much as you can yourself, focus to get customers and keep investments low as much as possible". I then approached him regarding his website and that I want to manage all of it for him. After guiding him through the basics of what he'd need and several further discussions on what his business plan is for now and into the future, so I could incorporate all that into the site as well, or plan for it. As he wants to be able to create content himself, which is a good approach to do, I set the CMS as Wordpress and not Drupal 7 (maybe with 8.0).
 
I have been in the web-presence or online-presence area for many many years, I used many of the big players for infrastructure and software. Hosting, Domains, Email, DNS, CMS, SEO, Database, Marketing... anything about and around this topic. With any one of those corps I used, I was always between a rock and a hard place. Was it service, security, functionality, privacy, availability, somehow up to a certain point always disappointing, if not always disappointing. The only one thing they could be good at was the price, that's how they lure you in, but disappointments came to light very soon or years later after some global revelations. No trust, no Business!
 
So here's the opportunity ideas/thoughts, just from looking into my friends business venture:
  • As everyone is connected these days and he's a modern connected guy too, his customers would want to interact with what he's doing in his restaurant.... I am not talking here about simple customer feedback via FB or his site, I am having thoughts around "What information would his customers share that could improve his service over time?"..... Opportunity or Idea? I spent about a combined day around this and see it as both, because restaurants in the future would want to build on customer relations with the help of non-intrusive technology!
  • A web-presence is sort of a standard these days and lots of corps are in that business landscape, some sharks, some whales, elephants and some ants. I count myself to the ants just for the infrastructure, but a whale for service:-), which the big ones cannot compete with. But with the abundance of those sharks, if you know how to play them, you'd use the "new kids on the block", also called "disrupters" and combine several infrastructure services into a product those sharks could not do themselves. You can also ride on the Whales or Elephants back and grow your services around it. So I went out and had a look into that ocean of web-presence, knowing that if ants group together and find the opportunity they can swallow any big whale or shark in small bits and pieces OR ants can take the ride on the back of them.
 
So what do you do if you want quality and service on a high level? If you cannot do it yourself, you go out and find the new kids on the block, maybe they have built what you want yourself and what you could offer to your customers with a calm mind of trust.
 
Now as for Online Presence, there's several areas "points of failure, security and performance", where you want it to be separate. The big ones give you usually a combination of those and a graphical interface to manage. 
  • Domain
  • Hosting
  • Email
  • DNS
  • Database
Domains, I have used and still am using a few of the big ones like Godaddy, 1and1, Namehost and a few others. They usually give you some sort of extras, but limited in value. Most big ones make the money from hosting, so it is more a door opener for them. Recently, I moved my Domain management to Gandhi, where I get free SSL, 5 email accounts (1000GB) and DNS management, which the others somehow provide as well, but their main focus is Domains and no bullshit (as they say), and I believe them....so far. I believe, there main advantage is the vast majority of domain extensions available for purchase, the free privacy settings for the whois domain owner info and a simple and no thrills approach to everything they do. 
 
Hosting, is where the good ones emerge themselves very quickly and the bad ones show what their infrastructure and support is made of. Have you had your hosting servers down for a while OR just by accident heard that the servers were down for days and no one single notification has been sent to you? Imagine that for forums or high traffic sites? Or for your domain? Now any of those big ones failed me more than once on that only. Which is why I started being a grasshopper to seek out new and amazing new "disrupter's" landscapes, so I thought.
A few weeks ago I signed up for a geeky hosting account with site-ground, as the features and reviews were promising, so I took that account and looked into all features, functions and add-on services they offer. I moved one of my domains from godaddy to them just by using the cloudflare free service they offer you within the hosting account with one click and the domain was moved within 10 seconds after setting the DNS nameserver to point to sitegrounds'. Not bad so far, I thought, grass-hopping just got a lot easier.......At a second look it is more a "Anycast DNS" where cloudflare is a global leader and siteground used it as a partner to offer you the free and paid services. Their paid service is cheaper, but doesn't tell you what you are getting if you signup for it, and you are blocked from within the cloudflare interface to make any changes, as is controlled by siteground. OK, we could probably live with that, but here's what the breaking point was for me.
SSL, you get a free one with that hosting account, no worries there, but if you want to use external SLL certificates a once off charge of $60 US is payable for a dedicated IP (that is fine) and to opening up that functionality, to then handing over your SSL certificate to their admins to install it for you.....as that functionality is not enabled in the CPANEL interface at all not even after that payment.
 
Now let me repeat that, you have to hand over your SSL certificates to admins!
What is that for a business model, that has not learned from the revelations in the past, and to not support the use of freely available SSL communication for my customers' websites and applications?
Yeah, I am aware that even if that functionality would be open to do it yourself, admins would still have access to your files and data, but making it hard for me and my customers to use free SSL on our websites, is for me a big NO NO, and a game breaker. There's more to this whole discussion, but I will leave it as is for now. You can bet what I am going to do next...
 
Then, I had a look at self-hosting solutions through getting a service from two "disrupter's" in the VPS cloud hosting segment. I picked digital ocean with the "droplet10" coupon which gave me $10 to work with. I brought up a Linux server and setup Wordpress in no time, just to prove myself a point, that I am not that bad in Lunix :-). So for a $5 p/m server, a high performing website is not a bad thing. Linode is the other contender.
All from the command line and with open source software, but would I go out and use it as a production server or offer it for my customers? No, not yet. I'd need some services from the Linux pro's for this to go Live, but can already see where there is some interesting opportunities just sitting there to be picked up. The big ones give you graphical tools to do all this, but you give up security, performance, service, privacy and your data, just to buy a product from them that is never going to do and offer all the important stuff you and I, and my and your customers really need. Therefore, a door opener is most of the time only a door opener and not the reall thing!
 
Email, has the major global players marketing hard to lure you in, as email is again just a door opener for them, as office products and other comms apps is where they make the big bucks with, hence why you get for $50 - 80 p/year a whole lot of storage, email, office sofware, free chat and so on and on..... Google and Microsoft, is the example. The Edward Snowden revelations are still deeply concerning! We humans are really bad with memory, sometimes at least. Our data and privacy, has to stay where it belongs, WITH US, as is the same for our customers, which we need to find new ways to protect them, as they often do not know!
Again, email is a contender for open source use and the root of any proper email service would come from that background in one way or another, so I went out to look for suitable candidates. There are several email management products I had a high level view at, namely, Iredmail, Openchange, SOGO, which all are having the approach of simplifying the email server administration or giving you the functionalities a modern user wants. Honestly, I would not dare to give any judgment to the open source community, without going into the lower levels and not even then, but what I can say for now is: "A non-tech user, has to find it appealing (modern design) and the user interface has to be more intuitive", then there's always the big marketing gap, which I believe open source had its issues with, naturally. How can we make email, the open source way and still be great at marketing?
All the other tools, and I am still talking about open-source, groupware tools and applications a have tested had always some outdated look and feel, even though knowing that the back-end had more capabilities, then many other commercial products did lack of. Still, the commercial products have more uptake.......Do not get me wrong here, I am aware of the improvements open source brought into everyone's technology and into our real life's through awareness, but somehow it has stood away from the average user out there, which is the majority and the geeks alone do not make up the market. Much more to say about this, as from my heart I am open source and wish I could do more in that space!... And there is the opportunity!
 
As for DNS, as I said before I had a look into the CDN service from Clouflare, which gives you access to their "Anycast DNS" infrastructure even with the free service. If you want to us https (SSL) on your site and want to still use the CDN, you have to pay $20 p/m for it.That is for one domain, and any additional domain $5 added to that price. Dyn is the other big whale in this space, commercial whale that is. Now as for the opportunity in this space......Where is open-source in the DNS space and in Anycast DNS as well? Is it really not possible or am I missing something here? I would pay for a proper opensource implementation, and am certain others would too! Is anyone seeing the opportunity here?
Take out the complexity for me, show me you're trust-able and consistent, give me the infrastructure and the services around CDN, DNS and Security, proper support and I am your next customer! This is something only opensource is capable of doing.
 
Database is used by all shitty or great apps these days and the majority has opensource on its label. Hardware is not the issue here, as SSD drives are stupidly cheap and everything else lives in da Cloud too. Security and data ownership combined with trust and customer support is the issues here. I took up some of those cloud-based DB services and trust was where I always had the issue with, well maybe it is just me. Anyhow, database is not only used by applications like CMS', it is also used for email storage. Usually not well performing apps has todo with the connection to or performance off the database itself. Security is essential here, sure trust as well, because if all data is stored in the DB you want to make sure it's safe and performs well too. Now there are several design approaches in database systems, clustering, high availability, encryption and public - private networking setups. Every child can install a database on Linux in 30 seconds, but setting up the before mentioned DB designs and maintaining a secure and performing systems is a whole different ball game. The location, of hosting, email servers and the underlining DB's is also an issue, as if I have a VPS with say digital ocean I'd be more or less forced to have a separate server on the same location with them to install MariaDB or MySql. The DEV Server I setup with them had the DB on the same server, but you would not want that in a Production environment....
So again, where is the opportunity in this? Can you see it?
Give us a "Anycast" like infrastructure for DB's, where security and performance is ever existent, you are trust-able and consistent and I can put trust in you with my and my customers data.......
 
Hey, perhaps I am in a transition and therefore want to change or at least doubt the existing business models out there, but is it wrong to expect more, isn't it what moves us forward is to strive for something better?
It got a bit technical too, which wasn't intended, but as the post is still about the founder seeing opportunities, just let me get back to it.
Opportunities are everywhere, the question is are we open to see them? I could just have accepted the status quo and moved along with the work I have on my different list, but I didn't.... I can tell you there's a shitload to-do on my lists, but hey I am committed to my journey and then to write about it, so for you as well.
 
Going back to what I want for my customers, in the example of my friend, and let me make it clear, my business is not web-presence, it is about support for startups, mine, my customers and yours.
As for my friend, I want him to have the best products and services, I know I will beat the big sharks with my service and quality, and I will support him with the future and all the tech stuff he will have to deal with sooner or later.
The opportunity I see for a new approach to customer feedback is in breading mode, so not ripe to talk about, but the web-presence stuff I talked about is really very annoying, and ripe for change. Don't you think too?
 
I am glad it is my friend I can advise, and honestly our customers should have that same treatment like we do with our friends... we want to give them more, a little here and a little there...and sometimes I will tell him to shut up and listen :-)
 
The open source landscape is similar as with my friend, we walked for a while the same path, split up, went on our own ways, and suddenly we met again, we are just a bit older and perhaps a bit wiser, and suddenly our paths cross again.
Just buy accident or is there more?
 
OK, fellow startup, this was the opportunity post and I can only say one thing.......Keep going and make the best of all those new situations, look for the opportunities ripe for a change or shakeup!
 
Jim @ startupbridge 

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