I’ve always been an idea man, ready to run my own business. From my early memories, I was running a magazine at the age of 13. Here is a brief online review of my personal business histyory. I invented all these ideas, and developed companies with partners. When they failed, I blamed somebody else.
NON-CENTS MAGAZINE A humour magazine created by hand, and distributed to readers on a “loan basis” to close friends and family. Ten issues (about 30 pages each) were created and one hardcover book. Styled like a Mad Magazine for the age 12-14 crowd. I still hold fond memories of Marvin, the simple mascot character of the magazine.
UNDERGROUND MAGAZINE As I grew older, my work matured. The Underground Magazaine was a more slick magazine with a new writing partner. Together, we created about 10 new originals, and lent them around friends at school. Styled like a Mad Magazine for the under 16 crowd.
No revenue from either, but a lot of fun, and I still have all the original issues.
CAULIFLOWER FILMS Made several short films back when film-making was silent, tedious and on real 8mm film. One 7 minute length of film was costly, and you waited a week or more for it to be sent to the city for developing. Cauliflower films was a partnership with the same friend who created Underground Magazine with me.
DOUBLE EXPOSURE A high school friend and I were on the high school yearbook club, and started this company to take photographs of anything and anyone, and then try to sell them. There was a full darkroom in my home at the time. We had limited sales success, but it was fun.
RCS. (Residential Courier Service) My first business idea as a young adult out of school was RCS. Working with new friends, we came up with a new business idea, and dumped some money into its start. The timing was good, as Canada Post had just announced that they’d no longer be delivering mail to new homes. We created Residential Courier Services, and paid for a nice artist created logo, and several lawyer approved legal forms. Essentially we were going to canvas the new sub-divisions and charge them $10 a month for home delivery of mail. Many new subdivisions were traveling MILES to the post office before Super Boxes were installed. When we did the math, we had great expectations, even with low acceptance rates of average 500 home sub divisions. Our plans were to hire uniformed delivery people. Phase two would include picking up mail, and maybe delivering other items, like milk, magazines etc. Legally, it was possible. We checked.
Timing and changing attitudes was chiefly responsible for the end of this company, before it got started. Because of delays and indecision, our initial canvas door-to-door with the contract took place in the spring, rather than during winter when walks to the corner are most irritating. As well, the issues with Canada Post Super Boxes had mostly been resolved and accepted. Our initial flyers and sales calls were a failure, and during the depression of this failure, we decided not to invest more for a REAL door-to-door closer. We quit.
To this day, I still think of renewing this business idea in new neighbourhoods where mail delivery often isn’t available during the construction phase of new subdivisions for several months. One of the strong benefits is that the idea can be created and run on ANY scale; big or small… Even 100 houses is $1000 a month and a nice walk.
DIRCON BBS I bought the resale rights to the Toronto written DIRCON BBS software for the Commodore 64. It was an powerful BBS program which ran using a 1541 disk drive. At the time, the more famous BBS64 (Steve Punter’s software) required costly IEEE disk drives. Sadly, we had some difficulties with the copy protection, and couldn’t produce a stable enough version to sell.
Amex Mods. When I ran a BBS at home (called the Amex Remote Access System), fellow sysop Dean Gaudet and I programmed some amazing modifications to the BBS64 software. We added tons of features and cosmetic changes. The BBS software had sold well, but I didn’t market the mods except by word of mouth, so we sold about 10 copies.
Workable Concepts Inc. With partner Nick Alexopoulos, we created a new incorporated company. Nick was a smart work-a-holic and was looking for something computer oriented to focus on. At the time, he was a restaurant owner. We formed this company to market some other people’s programs. The first was Dialogue 128. The best (bar none) terminal modem program for the Commodore 128 written by Gary Farmaner. Its competition Bob’s Term Pro was a big seller, and Dialogue was better. We had hoped to do well with it. I wrote the manual. D128 sold about 40 copies and made Gary some cash… but he and I disagreed on its future, and I gave it back to him. It is still seen on the net if you do a search on Gary Farmaner or Dialogue 128 on google.
Our second big project was to pay Steve Punter to write a PC version of his BBS64. It was hard dealing with Steve at times because he was the programmer, and I was just some punky kid paying him. He thought I was paying him to write his program, and I wanted him to write my program (like AmexMods). We disagreed continually, and every time I asked for a feature, he’d write something else. PCPN sold about 120 copies… all without Zmodem, which was the standard at the time. Scott MacLean wrote a mod we included. I wrote the manual.
PCPN’s marketing concept was to retail the product in stores. I knew all the info because of my full time job, but Steve and I never got what we considered a competed finished product, so the manual and the program didn’t match well enough to market.
We got mad, and eventually stopped. Nick lost almost $20,000 on the business. I lost only about $5000, and Nick isn’t speaking to me anymore.
My friend Gareth Patterson wanted to do something on his own, and he had some ideas he discussed with me one day. Although he lived in the US at the time, the plan was to move back to Canada and start a company with me, creating a new fax technology on the early Internet. As usual, the idea was amazing, and the outlook and dreams of success were strong. We were going to make millions – even at low expectations. This time, I was less optimistic than Gareth. It was my 6th failure and he had yet to have one success.
When Gareth moved to Canada, he surprised me by moving to Halifax Nova Scotia instead of Toronto, so right away our partnership suffered. Gareth expected me to be able to do all sorts of Toronto based things, but alone, I failed at most. Meanwhile, he hired Scott MacLean and new wife Janine to help run a development team for NetBound’s fax system. Gareth was new to self employment, and visions of success eventually turned to long term financial loss. I don’t know exactly, but I would estimate NetBound’s loss at over $60,000… mostly Gareth’s personal money. I still owe him $5000, on a personal loan he helped me out with. Since NetBound finished, Gareth and I have not been anywhere near as close as we once were. That was my loss. He now lives in Califonia and has not ventured into self employment again.
Interlog On-Site I had been performing home visit technical support as part of my full time Computer retail job for years, and when I left that job, my first full-time self employment carrier took over those tasks.
I am proud of my contributions to Interlog. I created a whole new division of their business in Toronto, and offered IN-HOME or IN-OFFICE technical support and training for new customers. They were the only ISP at the time that would set you up and train you as part of your membership. The success of which helped Interlog to become a huge success in the very early days of the Internet.
This business was a success, but stopped abruptly without warning when Interlog said they didn’t want to out-source their on-sites anymore. My four employees started working for Interlog instead.
During this time, I also developed and taught a series of Internet, Web Design Computer Basics seminars at Interlog, and NTS.
Medwin.com With a newly introduced friend, we were going to create a web server for Organon Canada., and get paid $2000 a month to host their site and create it. Medwin was a marketing firm doing most of Organon’s print media at the time. After a year of false starts and poor contracts, Organon didn’t come through on the original plan. Instead of stopping, Medwin started a small hosting business in their basement on ISDN lines. After a short while, it upgraded to the offices of NTS. I had previously been teaching classes for NTS, and had worked up a friendly relationship. They gave us a great deal to co-locate the sevrer in their offices.
With no initial support from Organon as expected, Medwin seemed to lose actual interest in the project early. After about a year, this apathy was effecting the company. I was supporting the clients with Scott MacLean’s help, and Medwin’s main job was accounting, and it wasn’t being done. To expand, it needed a server overhaul to support multiple clients, but Medwin.com hadn’t made a penny towards the loan of the initial equipment. After 1.5 years and no profit, it was ready to shut down.
Frogstar and Frogstar.com/STUFF With a new loan, Frogstar took over the Medwin customer base and bought a totally new server. It runs today with over 100 internet email and web hosting customers. Frogstar makes some income monthly, but not enough to pay back the initial loan yet. It doesn’t lose money however, and the server itself is quite stable for a few years I suspect. Scott Maclean does almost all the technical configuration support, and I do customer support and web assistance. Dave Berman does the paperwork and invoicing.
Frogstar is actually five different divisions, all a current success.
(1) The /STUFF side of frogstar.com is my personal web site, which slowly evolved into what is now the worlds largest Internet humour site not supported by advertising. Viewership increases monthly, and is now displayed to over 8000 visitors a day. No revenue stream at all, but a fun hobby with the potential for revenue, or a marketing tool. Frogstar.com pages are very well placed in the search engines and is $1 with several key words. The hiccup cure is world famous.
(2) Web hosting, servicing a small base of clients all well supported. We grow and shrink new clients at acceptable levels. Growth is intentionally slow to allow support to remain good. We do not promote new business, and gain new clients based on referrals and good word of mouth.
(3) On-site support / consultation both for our existing and new customers. On site services include Virus control, Spyware removal, hardware installation and general troubleshooting. Our $45 an hour price has remained the same for over 10 years.
(4) Web design. Frogstar has recently expanded our web design business to include several associate programmers and artists as needed, but most coding is still created and maintained in-house. Our style of fast loading, highly compatible pages with bold colours and straight lines appeals to many.
(5) Webmastering – a number of clients retain my services on a monthly basis to keep their web site up to date and make corrections as needed. This is an area we’re always looking to expand.
In 2009, this new version of Frogstar.com was reborn with a whole new look and feel – using new technology CMS database driven software to support a far more interactive comment based membership submission site.