“I Quit” 1 Year Anniversary

It has been a year since I quit my job and decided to go independent.  I didn’t know what I was going to do, the economic outlook wasn’t good, I had two rental properties and a condo that I didn’t know how I was going to pay for.  I was armed with only hope, ambition, credit cards and my fiancé’s love & support.
The first three months, I toyed around with different and random ideas, I read lots of technical books and online material.  I learned a ton of stuff and in the process I launched an open source project called Yonkly that was written using Microsoft’s newest web framework – asp.net mvc.
Yonkly was initially a Twitter clone, it was free and it was open source.  Feedback was positive for the most part and I kept getting requests for customization and installation.  One of my first clients was isweat.com which was a custom version of Yonkly.  This was a good deal because I was getting paid to add more features to Yonkly as well as have a good reference client.  I was also lucky to have a great client Ryan Lee – who is just an all around great guy and pays on time – actually ahead of time.
I kept getting more praises on Yonkly and more requests for customization.  That’s when I thought to myself that there seem to be a market for this things.  It looks like people want to create their own Twitter-like website for whatever reason.  Some wanted to cultivate a community around a niche topic, some wanted to generate money with ads, some wanted to communicate/collaborate within a group/team/company.  Regardless of the reason, there seemed to be enough demand to take this to the next level.
I was confused (and still am) on which direction to go.  There was the WordPress direction – offer a free, open source, extensible platform à la wordpress.org with an accompanying free hosted version à la wordpress.com.  There was the Ning direction – offer a hosted, subscription-based product à la Ning that lets anyone create their own microblog with zero-friction.  I kept going back and forth and finally settled on a hybrid model that leans more to the ning model.  I still kept the open source version out there (albeit it is outdated).  I chose a subscription-based model because I was tired of all these eyeball-centered business models with ads as their only revenue.  I wanted to create a sustainable business that will generate predictable recurring revenue.  The result was the birth of the hosted version of Yonkly – currently at yonkly.com.
Similar to ning, Yonkly allows you to easily create a microblog by simply selecting a name and a url.  You can create soccermoms.yonkly.com and voila, you got yourself a Twitter-like website focused around soccer moms.  If this is a small community then you can set it up for free.  My first release had 3 plans priced at 25, 50 and 100, I quickly realized that these were ridiculously high prices.  I also realized that people like, no LOVE free stuff.  I quickly adapted by introducing a free plan and changing the prices to 5, 15 and 25 with even reduced prices for annual subscriptions.
The cool thing about Yonkly is its approach to white-labeling.  If you are a premium subscriber, you can create a site with your own domain, your own look and feel and with no mention of Yonkly anywhere.  Good examples of that is isweat.com and blogpei.com.  Yonkly has come a long way and now has thousands of users and over 1600 networks hosted on it.  It is also profitable.  I know that is hard to believe in this day and age.  I am not rich off Yonkly (yet) and it won’t pay my mortgage BUT it pays for itself and then some.  I have some really big plans for Yonkly which I will discuss in a future post.
So that was the story of Yonkly thus far; about 3  or 4 months after I quit my job, I accidently :) signed a book deal with Wiley Wrox on ASP.NET MVC and Test Driven Development (TDD).  It has always been a dream of mine to write a book, so I was really excited.  I won’t get rich of the book but I think it is an excellent learning experience and a great résumé filler.  It forced me to get better about the book’s subject and to get better at writing in general.  It also made me appreciate the amount of work that goes into each book.
I thought it was going to be an easy task, I mean, all I have to do is write.  Right?  Wrong, that was so far from the truth.  I was cranking out an average of 3 pages a day – a mind numbingly slow rate.  It wasn’t consistent either.  Sometimes, I will write 15 pages in 3 hours and then spend 2 weeks writing the next 15.  Sometimes I also feel that I can talk about a specific topic for 20 pages and then 2 paragraphs in, I realize that I got nothing else to say.  It has been an interesting experience.  The good news is that I am pretty much done with the book now and it should be published by May.
In conclusion, a year after I quit my job here are the end results:
Bad:
  • Huge credit card debt
  • Possibility of foreclosure on rental properties
  • Zero financial security
  • No stable income
  • Unpredictable outcome
Good:
  • Yonkly launched – officially my first web 2.0 service built from scratch
  • Wrote a book – to be published soon by Wiley Wrox
  • Proposed to my girlfriend (Laura) – she said yes
  • Adopted a puppy.  His name is Mac, we also considered naming him Dot com, Google, C# and Web.

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Overall, I am glad I quit my job.  Other than the fact that I am broke, I learned and accomplished a lot and ready to take Yonkly to the next level.
You can follow me on twitter at twitter.com/eibrahim for more updates and to track the progress of Yonkly, check out the blog at blog.yonkly.com or follow it at twitter.com/yonkly.

Yonkly in Top 25 Social Networks?

There is a blog post on compete.com’s blog about the top 25 social networks.  As expected, Facebook is on top spot and Twitter has climbed to 3rd.  What is interesting to me though is the fact that Ning is number 12.  That validates Yonkly’s business model and direction and as Twitter’s popularity (and microblogs in general) grow, so will Yonkly.

Yonkly offers a white-label platform that enables anyone and everyone to create a twitter-clone/microblog network for anything.  The same way Ning allows you to create a Facebook-clone/social network.  Just like Ning, Yonkly offers a hosted solution that is fully customizable.  For as little as 5 bucks a month, you have your own Twitter-clone that you don’t have to install, maintain or upgrade.  It just works.

You can have your own look and feel (christtr.com).

You can have your own domain (isweat.com).

You can target any niche market (photographersjournal.com).

You can even run your own advertising if you want and make some money (writezoo.com).

You can create private networks for your company, team, group or anything.

You can integrate with Flickr, Picasa and Twitter (more integration points coming soon).

There are ton more features, check out the tour over here.

It is very possible that one day Yonkly will be in the top 25 list.  In the meantime, why don’t you go create a free account and try it out at yonkly.com

PS: Don’t want a hosted solution?  Prefer to host your own?  No problem, we are selling the source code, click here for more info.

Services Worth Paying For as a Startup

[Update: added crowdsound]

If you have been reading my blog or following me on Twitter then you already know that I quit my job almost a year ago and launched my first startup (Yonkly) a few months ago.

The economy sucks, we are bootstrapped and doing whatever it takes to survive – I hope that kid I stole the sandwich from will understand.  As a startup, we need to cut the fat (not that there is any) and make sure we only pay for things we need (and no, you don’t need a subscription to Playboy).

I thought, I would come up with a list of online (and offline services) that are worth paying for.  Feel free to leave a comment with links to services that you use and think are worth the money.

FreshBooks: A great way to track your time and invoice your clients (until your startup takes off).  I am currently using their free plan but they have plans starting at $14/month

Basecamp: Really easy project management on the web.  They have a free version and plans start at $12/month

DreamHost: A very affordable way to host your blogs and websites I must have over 30 websites hosted with them for a ridiculously low fee.  It is so low, I want to pay extra with my bill (but I won’t).

WooThemes: Impress your customers with a killer WordPress theme.  These are some of the best themes I have seen anywhere.  We are currently using it on the Yonkly blog.

Animoto: So you have decided to raise some money and want to create an interesting video to put on your homepage.  Unfortunately you are as artistically talented as box of donuts (no offense Krispy Kream).  This is a killer way to create a video, go and try it out, you can create a 30 second video for free.  Here is the video I created for Yonkly, it took me less than 30 minutes.

 

Angelsoft.net: Speaking of raising money, try this site.  I signed up and paid $250 to have my application submitted to thousands of potential investors and investor groups.  Warning: It has only been 3 days since I subscribed to it, so I don’t know how effective it is.  I personally like the fact that I can reach so many investors very quickly it’s like monster.com for entrepreneurs/investors.  But don’t get your hopes too high, only 5% get funded.  Here are some stats http://angelsoft.net/industry/index.seam

StreamSend: Now that you have 15 thousand people signed up to receive your newsletter announcing the grand opening (or closing) of your startup, you need a way to send bulk email.  StreamSend is the cheapest I could find.  Not that best, but the cheapest.

Remember The Milk (RTM): Stay organized and productive with Remember The Milk.  They are everywhere: on the web, on your iphone, in your gmail inbox, in your gmail calendar on your windows and mac desktop, in your iGoogle start page and even integrates with QuickSilver on the mac and Launchy on the pc.  It’s free but I pay $25/year to use their iPhone app (that’s 25 a YEAR).  One drawback: it doesn’t sync withOutlook  

Amazon Prime: If you are going to buy a ton of book to tell you how to market/sell/buy/start/ a business or how to work 4 hours a week and live your dream then you should subscribe to Amazon Prime.  It gives you free shipping on pretty much everything at Amazon for $75 a year.

Amazon Web Services: The best way to reduce your bandwidth and online storage.  I use S3, CloudFront, Elastic Compute Cloud and SimpleDB.  I even created a SimpleDB manager, which you should buy a copy of.  Legend has it that for every copy sold a terrorist is captured.  You don’t believe?  I sold a copy the day John Walker (the terrorist not the drink) was captured.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Joe’s Goals: Set some goals, track them and celebrate your achievements (or cry yourself to sleep, loser).  It’s free, but you can pay $12/year to have the ads removed.  I will take my ads now, please.

CrowdSound: A great way to collect user feedback.  They have a free plan and plans starting at $10/month.  Definitely worth the money.

And of course, the myriad of Google tools and services out there: Docs, Calendar, Mail, Analytics, Reader.  They are all free but you have to give up your soul to Google.  But don’t worry, they will “do no evil”.  Worst case, they will sell ads on your soul with SoulSense (still in beta).

Please share with everyone services that you use and think are worth the money.

Hacker News users are stubborn and insist on commenting there.  I can’t seem to convince them, so here is a link to their comments http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=456422

Disclaimer: I am sure you noticed that most of the links have a referral code.  Don’t worry, that didn’t affect my recommendations or integrity (what is that?).  I actually use all the services mentioned above.  Plus we are bootstrapped and the economy is in the crapper so give me a break and use these links.

Startup: Next Steps

Yonkly has been out for a couple of months now and is doing very well.  We have 1000+ networks already created in every category imaginable from law to physical training to photography to religion – even an adult network.

We have subscription plans and currently offering a discounted annual subscription* to celebrate the new year.  For the technically-savvy, we even have the source code up for sale .

What Next?

We have been contemplating the next step in our startup and want to hear your take on it.

Should we look for funding?  Angel investors? VCs? Friends and Family?

If yes, then how much and in return for what?

If no, then why and what are the other options?

Do we sell?  How much? How and to who?

The Dream

We are a dedicated and highly motivated team of entrepreneurs that want to achieve a 4HWW lifestyle and not work ourselves to the grave.  With that in mind is getting investors a good idea?

Exit: A Good Outcome

We think the best outcome for us is having enough paid subscribers to pay our bills and more.  A second best outcome is to sell the company and use the money to fund our next idea – we have a ton of ideas and lots of talent (that sounds conceited).  Third outcome is to get funding so we can aggressively develop, market and grow the company.

What do you think and why?

* Discounted annual subscriptions of up to 33% off.  Create your network, go to the admin control panel and click subscriptions.   This is a limited-time offer, so if you don’t see it there, it probably expired.