Saturday, March 18, 2006

Micro Applications… Reborn. . .

So, when I got home that afternoon after leaving APA, I sat around the house wondering.

Wondering; what I was going to tell my wife, what I was going to do next, why I had gotten myself into another bad situation, and on, and on.

After a few hours, I’d decided to just ‘go it on my own’, explain to my wife that APA just wasn’t right for me, and by doing it on my own, no one else would be in my way, except me.

We had the space where the original kitchen had been, it was plenty big enough for an office, and we’d been trying to decide how to utilize it, so, I went to work. During the day, I’d write code, answer the phone and work on building the business. In the evenings, I thrashed on the rennovations for my "new office".

Things actually progressed pretty well and fairly quickly. I was starting to get close to the money I’d been earning at Omnifax, and the phone was beginning to ring pretty regularly. I’d taken my Novell certification, signed up for an SBT dealership, and started selling a little hardware and I was picking up about one new client a month. In fact, it was beginning to get difficult to get everything I needed to get done, done.

About that same time, I wrote a project specification for a small company in East Syracuse to automate their accounting office (being a former Accounting instructor helps in these situations) and they’d accepted the proposal.

There was just one problem… I’d specified an operating system (OS) called ‘Xenix’, from the SCO Company. It’s a Unix variant, but SBT, utilizing FoxBase+ would run on it, and, it would save about 50% on the hardware portion of the system. Xenix utilized terminals, instead of PC’s for the desktops and it had the added bonus of providing one central repository for the company’s data, making it difficult for employees to ‘walk away’ with proprietary company information

The problem was, I had no, (none, nada, zilch) experience with this OS, installing it, maintaining it or doing anything else with it. I was fairly well known locally as a Novell guru back then… this Zenix stuff was an entirely new world. But, my ‘bravado was still intact and like everything else, I had no doubt as to my ability to figure things out as I went.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t have to. The day after the company accepted and signed off on my proposal, I got a phone call from a fellow named ‘Rich Jeran’. How he’d gotten my name escapes me at the moment, (maybe he’ll Google himself, see this and remind me) but while I hadn’t been even considering hiring anyone, here’s this guy, with exactly the background I need calling me out of the blue. We agreed to me the following day at a Denny’s near Carrier Circle in Syracuse.

I remember that, at the time, I was on crutches, in a leg cast with a broken ankle. You see I’d been helping the North Bay VFD put a new roof on the Fire Barn and landed wrong as I hopped off the back of a flat bed. Not very glamorous I know, but I remember telling him I’d probably be the only 6”2 guy on crutches, with a leg cast and a full beard!

We met and went over the proposal. He spotted a couple problems with my configuration, made some suggestions for better (more reliable) equipment that would cost about the same as what I’d spec’d, and, in short, convinced me that he was exactly the guy I needed to help me with this project.

Rich and I went on to do not only that project, but several more. However, after the first project, he became an employee, instead of a sub-contractor. We added a Xenix server to the office, in addition to the Novell server, another desktop or two and kept adding clients, both Novell and Xenix at the rate of about 2 a month.

Soon, we’d all but out grown that ‘old kitchen’ space and I started pondering renting office space, or adding space to the house.

I knew from previous experience that in order to work out of the house, and not have work take over my life (as it was doing at the moment) I had to create some separation between myself and the ‘work environment”.

I had, and still have, a problem walking away from unfinished ‘work’. If it’s just in the next room, it sort of ‘calls’ to me, I’ll have a thought, and instead of holding on to it, or writing it down, I’ll just walk into that next room and try it out. “Just for a few minutes”, becomes my battle cry and before I know it, it’s 2:30am I’ve missed enjoying the evening with my wife, and I’ll be running on empty the next day.

To create that space, I decided to turn the basement into my office. I had all the cabinets I’d taken out of the original kitchen and decided I could turn that into the ‘coffee/break’ area, and I could turn the space below our living room into a large office, complete with a fireplace. The guy who’d built the house had actually built a working basement fireplace into the masonry for the upstairs fireplace and the furnace.

Once again I began working days in the old kitchen, and nights in the ‘old kitchen’ area. I say *I but in reality, it was *we many nights… if we finished the important stuff early, Rich and I would head downstairs and hit the renovations until he had to leave, some days that was between 5 and 6pm… other nights it would be well past 9:30 or 10:00pm before he’d take off.

In fairly short order we were moving everything downstairs into “dBASEment” as I liked to call it. We added a phone line, got some multi-line phones and set out to ramp up even further. I also hired a ‘runner’ who worked part time and would answer phones, pick up broken PC’s, printers etc.. and bring them back so Rich and I could fix them. He’d then deliver them back to the customers. Rich and I attempted to do as much configuration as possible before we ever left the office.

I felt the time we spent traveling was ‘lost’ time, it was virtually unbillable and every hour I couldn’t bill of his, or my time was money out of my pocket. Oh the fun we could have had, had there been an internet, and broadband access back then!!

Well things were progressing, the company was doing a little better every month, I was always able to pay Rich, and slowly, I was also getting to the point where I was able to pay myself again too. I was a long way from what I’d been making when I hired him, but, I was seeing everything moving in the right direction and in a nice steady manner as well.

I should probably mention here, that at this point, I’d never lost a customer. Every client I had, even the ones I picked up from Omnifax, had all stayed with me. So by picking up a couple of new clients every month, we kept up the volume with new installations, and our residuals continued to grow as well. Things were, in short, going about as well as I had hoped.

I’d inked a deal with the “Sears Business Centers”, Omnifax, Syracuse Computer Store and several other operations locally, we were doing all of their Unix/Zenix work, as well as a large portion of their Novell work. They’d sell the hardware, we’d provide software, installation and ongoing maintenance, it was a great deal and, the business continued to grow.

Speaking of Omnifax… One of my customers was a woman who ran her small business on Apple Macintosh’s. I’d install the SBT accounting system and had it running on FoxBASE MAC. All was fine until her hard drive began to act up, when I determined the problem, I suggested she take it back to Omnifax and let their crew get it right. She did just that. A week or so later, she called me and asked if I knew what was going on with Omnifax, which had become CSC after the sale, as when she’d gone by to check on her Mac, the place wasn’t open.

I got on the phone, no one answered, no message, very strange. I had to meet that afternoon with a client less than a mile from the place, so I decided to stop by. Imagine my surprise, not only was the place not open, the doors were chained and padlocked!! No note in the window, and, when I peered inside, the place was totally empty!! I mean empty… everything, except the walls and carpet was gone.

Over the course of the next several days, I heard from some of the old crew and discovered that CSC had emptied the place out, in the middle of the night. The employees arrived for work to find the place locked and empty, not even a notice of any sort!

Somewhere, back in that place they call the ‘reptilian’ brain, I suddenly felt justified in splitting when I did, that it was all somehow “in the plan”. You see, it had only been six, maybe eight, months ago that I had left.

Most of the folks from Omnifax landed at the other stores, and continued to call us. Things were definitely on the right track.

Until the day that Bruce Goguen called. You, my loyal, long term readers, will remember my post about that period. If you haven’t read it, or you’ve forgotten, a good part of my days as a “Madman” are posted here. I’ve got some additional memories to add to that, and I hope to have those posted tomorrow!

Feel free to drop me a comment, let me know what you’re thinking. Honestly, reading your words helps me, find mine!

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2 comments:

Firehawk said...

Bill,

The saga continues...a great story, and it makes me wish I had been in the industry at that time, when everything was wide open. Of course, I would have been breaking child labor laws, but...

Bill said...

Firehawk - I was thinking as I read your post, *these* are the good old days I'll be talking about in another 10 years!

I don't know that things aren't still wide open... they didn't seem as wide open then, as they do now... *I* on the other hand was flat out, pedal down, full throttle and on the Nitrous... all the time back then!

There are always opportunities, it's the price we're willign to pay to chase them that changes! :)