Category Archives: digital.forest

Stuff about digital.forest, a company I founded.

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On July 12, 1994, I registered forest.net, the domain for digital.forest.

You remember 1994, don’t you?

Kurt Cobain shot himself. O. J. Simpson led a good portion of the LAPD on a slow-speed auto chase. Yugoslavia was still having a messy, bloody civil war. Richard Nixon and John Candy died. George Foreman became the oldest man to win the world heavyweight boxing championship. Bill Clinton was President of the United States and Boris Yeltsin was President of Russia.

You know, back before most people knew there was the Internet and looked stuff up in physical books instead of Googling it?

In 2012, six thousand, four hundred, and thirteen days later the company sold, and I was relieved of being technical support and historical business archivist of last resort.

It finally found the exit.

Entrepreneurs and want-to-be-entreprenuers take note: I planned for digital.forest to be a five to seven year journey. I expected that it would either crater or take off in that time frame. Never did I expect it to grow like crazy, level off, raise some money, grow like crazy, plunge like a rock to the ground, and then almost, but not quite go out of business, then claw its way back to profitability but have growth hampered by capital costs that were beyond organic growth or lending capacity due to macroeconomic forces.

I also did not expect it to warp my brain the way it did. Cash flow management is now hard-wired into me. I have a deep appreciation for what can be done by a small cadre of motivated and engaged people. I am now even more unemployable and unmanageable. ūüėČ

While the financial remuneration I received was modest when amortized over those seventeen and a half years, the friendships and wisdom I accumulated are beyond priceless.

So I send a belated thank you to everyone who had anything at all to do with digital.forest over the years.

I am forever in your debt, and I look forward to the next adventure together.

Chris

A Few Months in the Life of a Newborn ISP – A Diary

(I kept a log of my daily activities as I was founding digital.forest. The first few months are a mix of getting a 56K digital circuit installed in my basement, cluelessly bootstrapping systems, trying to keep consulting clients happy, and working up to almost being sued by a bank that doesn’t exist any more because I registered their domain name without authorization. Those were the days. ūüėȬ†

ForestNet Log

February 27, 1995

  • Ordered AUI to 10T transceiver from Datacomm Warehouse for $38.00.
  • Ordered 5 phone lines for [redacted]th Ave. SE, Bothell. Asked for rollover lines. Spoke with Carolyn. B1 lines.
  • Called Chuck to let him know that thebon.com domain name was registered.
  • Called back Mary Ann [redacted]¬†at Cisco.
  • Called Laurie [redacted]¬†at Telebit about placing NetBlazer order. Contact at home office handling order is Maresa [redacted].
  • Called Michael [redacted]¬†about overdue bills, Internet connectivity and to touch base.
  • Called John [redacted]¬†about consulting. He would like me to reinstall system on LC; IIcx upgrade to new modem/fax softwrae broadcast fax. Sell him a new Global Village. Will fax quote on 2/28.
  • Called UUNet about getting free books not on their list. No go, will order duplicates and take back to bookstore.
  • Faxed PO to Telebit.
  • Faxed book order to UUNet.
  • Recieved Cisco 2501 router and ATL CSU/DSU.
  • Returned SBA book to OfficeMax.
  • Sue from GTE called to tell me the new phone numbers for the five lines: 483-1241, 483-8435, 485-0109, 485-1428, 485-2134. They are all hunt, and will be installed March 8.

February 28, 1995

  • Called Thom at Alternet to alert him that Cisco and CSU/DSU was received.
  • Re-faxed PO to Telebit adjusting cost of Netblazer manual up to $59.
  • Posted message on comp.dcomm.something asking about running the 56kb circuit over twisted pair. Answer was that it can be done.
  • Posted message in comp.protocols.tcp-ip.domains about seafirst.com domain.

March 1, 1995

  • Went to UW to do trademark search for ForestNet and Digital Forest. Did not find anybody who had trademarked those.
  • Michael at Westwind is working with Apple to secure a IIfx to run as a web server.
  • Worked on a document that describes the relationship between Digital Forest and Westwind.
  • Faxed cost of modem to John [redacted]. ($155)

March 2, 1995

  • Installed 32mb RAM in Sparc5 Oak. Total is now 48mb RAM.
  • Worked on getting Sparc on network.

March 3, 1995

  • Talked to Maresa at Telebit about shipping the Netblazer. They will ship on 3/10/95 via Federal Express.
  • Picked up wiring supplies at Westwind. Cat 5 cable, 2 punchdown blocks, and clips.
  • Purchased Global Village modem for John Browning at Westwind.
  • Received payment from J. Miller and Assoc. for invoices #1008 and 1009.
  • Ordered Punchdown tool w/66 and 110 block blades from Specialized Products from Glenn on People’s Bank Visa for $62.95.
  • Installed backboard in garage with punchdown block.

March 4, 1995

  • Drilled hole for conduit in side of house.
  • Pulled Cat 5 cable for phone and 56kb line from garage to under stairs.
  • Installed outlet and surge suppressor under stairs.
  • Installed punchdown block under stairs.

March 6, 1995

  • Received order confirmation fax from Telebit. Ship date was wrong, so called back for clarification.
  • Picked up UPS, hub and SCSI adaptor from Westwind. The battery pack for the UPS was damaged in shipping, so it’s going to have to go back. The modems were also at Westwind, but the wholesaler shipped internal PC card modems; not external units. Jodi is working on getting replacements and RMA’ing the battery pack.
  • Recieved transciver for Cisco.
  • Installed Cisco Univercd on Oak. Hopefully I can find the default password for the Cisco!
  • Set up new Asante Hub and SCSI adaptor. Can telnet into Cisco.
  • Defalut password for Cisco is supposed to be null. E-mailed Thom at Alternet to find out what it is.
  • Considering re-installing Solaris on Oak.
  • Re-installed Solaris 2.3 and patches on Oak.
  • Discovered install level that I did did not include man pages.

March 7, 1995

  • Received punchdown tool from Specialized products. Works OK.
  • Punched cable into 66 blocks.
  • Posted message on comp.unix.solaris looking for help installing man pages. Received answer that I should use swmtool to add package. Worked.
  • E-mailed Jack [redacted]¬†about getting together to discuss his network installation and potential customer.
  • Performed consulting for John Browing.
  • Returned UPS battery and Ethernet equipment on loan to Westwind.

March 8, 1995

  • Attempted to punch in silver satin flat for csu/dsu, but cable sucks so it didn’t happen. Now I’m going to have to have the phone company guys punch it in for me. Sigh.
  • Attempted to setup anonymous ftp on Sparc. Accidentally set chmod to 555 for most of the /usr/lib directory. Don’t know what effect that might have on operation, so I’m re-installing Solaris, again. I shouldn’t do these things when I’m tired.
  • Ordered 5 hardwarde handshaking male-male cables from Black Box @14.67 each with a $24.50 overnight charge for $97.85. These will be used from the modems to the Netblazer.
  • Installed patches.
  • Started baseline backup on Sparc with find / -print | cpio -ocv > /dev/rmt/0u at 2:10 pm.
  • Backup finished around 3pm.
  • Created user account for kilbo and created /etc/skel/fn.* profile files.
  • Set up anonymous FTP using man pages setup shell script.
  • Received DNS and Bind and The Whole Internet Catalog from UUNet.

March 9, 1995

  • GTE tech Mike here to install 5 phone lines. Order not complete, no dialtone.
  • Changed umask settings in /etc/skel/fn.* files to 077.
  • Picked up replacement battery for UPS, 3 US Robotics v.34 modems, and PowerChute software for UPS from Westwind.
  • Bought rj-45/11 crimper, 100′ silver satin and 100 rj-11 jack plugs from Radar Electric.
  • Bought 50 rj-45 jack plugs from Westlake electronics.
  • Called John [redacted]¬†back; helped with a couple of questions.
  • Chuck gave us preliminary numbers for business cards; about $365.
  • Set up modems under stairs.
  • Power went off for about three hours. UPS works just fine! I estimate that there is about 3 hours of runtime if only the Sparc is on it. I think that we should buy a separate one for the Netblazer, Cisco and modems, but Chris thinks that we should just plug it all into this one.
  • Received modem cables from Black Box.
  • Spent time reading Practical Unix Security.

March 10, 1995

  • Talked with Tom [redacted]¬†at Alternet. He has had the 56k installation ticket escalated with US West and internally. He has promised to call me back this afternoon with an update.
  • Called state senator Jeanie Long’s office to request text and summary of SB 5483 which she is co-sponsoring. It has something to do with Internet access.
  • Called GTE about phone line install problems. Spoke with Teri. She couldn’t reach a tech to find out, so she will try, and the tech may call me back.
  • Shari called from GTE about work order. It should be completed today, with dialtone occuring somewhere around the 15th. Maybe earlier.
  • Punched in new lines to punchdown block in garage and added bridging clips.
  • Looked at PowerChute sofware; it requires a kernel rebuild, and I’m not quite ready to do that yet, so I’ll get more information before attempting.
  • Mary Ann [redacted]¬†called from Cisco. Their training number is 800-553-6387; with 1, 5 being the voice mail options. In the future, Cisco will allow me to resell and I should call her back when I’m ready to do that.
  • Noticed some GTE tech wandering around outside and they turned out to be linesman who were pulling cable for the 56k and b1’s. (b1 is the fancy new phone-speak term I just learned from them which means ‘phone line’.)
  • Thom from Alternet called to tell me that USWest has assigned a circuit number, but is having difficulties with GTE. Big surprise. They will advise on Monday 3/13.
  • Received NetBlazer documentation.
  • Downloaded Pine and documentation from UW. UW programmers indicated that Solaris 2.2 compile for Pine will work fine under 2.3.
  • Downloaded ismap from UW. I think this is a POP server.
  • Moved archie client to Sun, pondering installation, but I think I’ll do a ufsdump level 0 backup first.

March 11,1995

  • Performed baseline level 0 backup with ufsdump of entire filesystem to DAT tape 2.
  • Re-performed backup with proper options. See SparcLog for details.

March 12, 1995

  • Installed Pine on Sparc. Seems to work fine. Bus NIS+ error messages are generated when trying to send mail.
  • Attempted to compile Archie client on Sparc. Didn’t happen. Fatal errors all the way. I think I’m missing some software somewhere.
  • Installed Sparc compilers, bundled libc package and system accounting modules from source media.

March 13, 1995

  • GTE called, and they will be out 3/15 to complete the phone install.
  • Called Dick [redacted]. He mentioned that I can e-mail to [redacted]@halcyon.com to release the name. Mark [redacted], Seafirst systems programmer releasing the seafirst.com domain name. Injuction, monetary damages were mentioned if I don’t follow through. He will send letter.
  • GTE here to install 56kb circuit. Who knows if it is going to get done.
  • Attempted to compile COPS. No go. See SparcLog.

March 14, 1995

  • Maressa from Telebit called and left a message. The Netblazer will ship on 3/16.
  • Downloaded cern httpd server and lynx client.
  • Requested quote from Westwind for John [redacted].
  • Installed and configured cern httpd server.
  • GTE here to install 5kb circuit.
  • Configured and tested ANMA web pages.

March 15, 1995

  • GTE here to get dialtone to dial-in phone lines. Dialtone one.
  • Tested dialtone to understairs punchdown block. Tests OK. Still need to test rollover hunt group.
  • 56k circuit still not in. Were here until 8 pm.
  • Met with Jack [redacted]. He gave me two potential clients, Tim [redacted], 329-4033 and a Hospice board Jack belongs to.
  • Did some basic Internet training for Westwind.

March 16, 1995

  • GTE here to fininsh up (maybe) the 56k circuit. They had a bad reapeater somewhere in their circuit which they had to replace last night. Randy is tech.
  • Punched in lines under stairs to cripmed rj-11 plugs and tested hunt. Seems to work OK. I reversed the plug wires on line 1 because I’m not sure right now which goes where.
  • Worked on business plan.

March 17, 1995

  • Thom [redacted]¬†from UUnet called to say that the 56k circuit has been trouble ticketed, and US West has verified the line all the way up to the demarc to GTE, so now it’s in GTE’s hands. Great.
  • Called John [redacted]¬†with price quote for memory and cable. Left message.
  • Called Tim [redacted]¬†of Jergens paint company. Left message.
  • Worked on business plan.
  • Randy from GTE here to troubleshoot 56k line (1:30). Additional tech, (Jeff) here at about 2:45 to help. No progress as of 3:10.
  • Called Maresa at Telebit; voice mail; did not leave message.
  • Called Wendy [redacted]¬†at Telebit; voice mail; did not leave message.
  • GTE back (Jeff), 5:20 pm. They are switching pairs to the line, and will re-test.
  • Jeff from GTE left at about 7:40 pm. Called it clean and ready to go. USWest was able to loop to the CSU/DSU. He did have some problems, but was able to connect with his General Datacomm CSU/DSU without any problems.
  • Called Thom at UUNet and left voice mail that it was ready to go.
  • Called Kay [redacted]¬†at Kibble and Prentence Insurance about business insurance.

March 18, 995

  • Thom called and left a message that no, it wasn’t ready to go at all. Back to telecom folks.
  • Worked on spreadsheets in business plan.

March 19, 1995

  • Elemer [redacted]¬†invested $5000.

March 20, 1995

  • Received Netblazer. Serial # 285090041.
  • Called Thom at UUNet, he will call ATL (manufacturer of CSU/DSU) tech support and call me back.
  • Kay called back from Kibble. A Carlene will call me back for quote information.
  • Went to Office Max to buy 2 surge suppressors, mailing envelopes and high density disks.
  • Went to bank and deposited $5100 into checking.
  • GTE here to re-check the link. Checked OK. Problem is between Seattle and Virginia. Maybe up tomorrow?
  • Attempted to configure NetBlazer. Documentation sucks, not up yet. Assigned it IP # of 204.252.106.11.

March 21, 1995

  • 12:00 noon. Thom [redacted]¬†called. INTERNET LINK UP!!! This shit is happening. USWest had line misconfigured. He will call back around 3 pm and we will attempt DNS.
  • Changed host kilbo’s IP# to 204.252.106.15.
  • Added default route (cisco) to oak.
  • Called John Browing back, left message.
  • Talked to Carlene at Kibble and Prentice Insurance about business insurance. She said it would be around $350/yr, but she will call back to get exact quote.
  • Downloaded USRobotics drives for the NetBlazer. The NetBlazer now recognizes two of them, but the third will not initialize properly. The only difference that I can see is that the third one has red dip switches. Differnet ROM? I was then able to dial in to one of the two working ones and get a login prompt.
  • Posted message on the Net about the make problem on the Sparc. Reccomendations are that I need to buy a compiler. ~$600 or so. Sigh.
  • Surfed the net.

March 22, 1995

  • Called John [redacted]¬†again; left message.
  • Called Tim [redacted]¬†of Jergins painting company, and set appointment for the 29th at 1pm to discuss using the Internet.
  • Carlene called back. Insurance will be $350 a year, with $25,000 computer equipment, $1000 office equipment and $1,000,000 liability limits. She will mail more information.
  • Called Telebit and left message with Kim [redacted]¬†about returning the extra set of NetBlazer manuals.
  • Had dinner party for Benjamin [redacted], Gordon [redacted]¬†and Michael and Debbie [redacted]¬†to talk about Westwind Computing/Digital Forest agreement and investment plans. Went well.

March 23, 1995

  • Mariesa [redacted]¬†from Telebit called about returning the extra manuals. She will call back with RMA number.
  • Set IP numbers for NetBlazer lines: line10 204.252.106.25, line11 204.252.106.26, line12 204.252.206.27, line13 204.252.106.28, line14 204.252.106.29.
  • Installed Supra modemcap file for NetBlazer; didn’t work very well. Posted message to NetBlazer mailing list, and received config file from Telebit. Installed, but still didn’t work on one modem. Re-initialized boot disk, and starting from scratch, thinking that I did some sort of funky configuration that I can’t purge.
  • Installed GNU’s gcc compliers on Sparc. Make still not working; now I’m getting pissed.

March 24, 1995

  • Tested the new, reset NetBlazer. Everything _seems_ to work OK now. Dialed in from the UW, but one line wouldn’t answer. Turns out that there is a permanent busy on 485-2134. I called GTE about this, talked to someone named Chuck at 10 am, and he said it would be fixed by 2:03 pm.
  • Tech came out; turned out to be bad punch on punchdown block.

March 26, 1995

  • Changed /etc/nsswitch.files with /etc/nsswitch.conf to remove NIS+ execution. Solved internal mail problem. Inbound mail only right now to user@oak.forest.net. DNS still needs work.
  • Set up kilbo account on NetBlazer and tested dialin. Seems to work.

March 27, 1995

  • Set up DNS using DNS and Bind book examples. Seems to work pretty good!
  • E-mail still not working properly.
  • Talked to Thom [redacted]¬†at UUNet. He sent me a configuration file for Sendmail. We will work on DNS tomorrow.
  • Installed Sendmail configuration file from UUNet.

March 28, 1995

  • Worked on compiling sendmail. Not working.

March 29, 1995

  • Worked on compiling sendmail. Not working.
  • Met with Tim [redacted]¬†of Jergens Painting Company to talk about Web pages. He said to check back in in about a year or so. Yeah, right.
  • Attempted compile on new untarred version of sendmail. Seemed to work! See SparcLog for details.

March 30, 1995

  • John [redacted]¬†called about more consulting.
  • Downloaded 4.8.3 of bind to try recompiling it now that I think I have most bugs worked out. Nope. Didn’t work.
  • Thom [redacted]¬†from UUnet called. He will call back around 3pm.
  • Internet link down!
  • Internet link up! Down for about 2 hours.
  • Thom called back, and we worked on sendmail. Looks like mail to/from oak.forest.net is working! However, mail to forest.net bounces.

March 31, 1995

  • Met with John [redacted]¬†to discuss web pages and new PowerMac system. Seattle’s Best Coffee is his client, and they are interested. He paid his last invoice today also.
  • Called Westwind for bid re: John [redacted]. Jody said she could have it done this afternoon.
  • Placed level0 dump of Oak filesystem in safety deposit box.
  • Received lead from Westwind about business that needs some Internet integration.

April 1, 1995

  • Set up Netblazer to automatically telnet to oak when users dial in.
  • Testing dial-in on 685-2134 phone number, and hunt does not work. Called GTE, talked to Debbie. Turns out that the lines are arranged in a linear hunt, and that the 2134 line is line5 on that. Sigh. I have to call the business office on Monday to get that adjusted.

April 3, 1995

  • Met with John [redacted]¬†about bid for PowerMac, and info about web server stuff. I will contact Westwind for bid.
  • Called Westwind, and asked Jodi for bid for John [redacted].

April 5, 1995

  • Called GTE about hunt group change. Talked to Angela. Changed hunt group to a circular one, with 485-2134 being #1, 483-1241 as #2, 483-8435 as #3, 485-0109 as #4, and 485-1428 as #5. This should be effective sometime on 4.6.95.
  • Installed sz, sx, etc. on Oak.

April 6, 1995

  • Fixed sendmail so mail appears as user@forest.net.

April 10, 1995

  • Dick [redacted]¬†from Seafirst called. I again rejected turning over the Domain Name.
  • Downloaded, compiled and installed lynx text-based WWW browser.
  • Called GTE about fucked up bill. Spoke with Vicki. She credited 7 days on the change order to reflect when the lines actually went in. The $22.00 charge for the delivery charge was for when they dispatched a technician out when I called about the permanent busy signal.
  • Installed Sun patch 101318-70 on oak. This was a big global patch.
  • Talked to Gary [redacted]¬†and set up account for him as big_kahuna. Address is: [redacted]th pl. Issaquah, 98027.

April 11, 1995

  • Printed revised invoice for John [redacted].
  • Faxed ZTerm instructions to John [redacted].
  • Christina called GTE for phone information.
  • Realized that the partition settings for the Sparc are all messed up. /var is chronically short, especially since that is where the mail for everyone hangs out. I’m looking at having mail delivered to everyone’s home directory. I’ve downloaded the source for Pine, and hopefully I can compile it to do that.

April 12, 1995

  • I’ve got UW C+C looking into the bouncing mail issue; it looks like a DNS issue at this point.
  • Placed order for Apple LaserWriter 320 with Westwind computing. I also asked Jodi how much a memory upgrade for the sucker would be.
  • Called Benjamin to see if he received the agreement; he has and will review it and call back tonight.
  • Called Doug [redacted]¬†about Web services. Not interested at this time.
  • Called Neil [redacted], Doug’s manager and left a message.
  • Called Steve [redacted]¬†about investment; he will come over on Tuesday to discuss it.
  • Received payment in full from Antioch for invoice #1014.

April 13, 1995

  • Wendy [redacted]¬†from Telebit called, and mentioned that I could get the version 3.0 software and manual set for the Netblazer. So…I called Rosie in customer service, and after a little song and dance, she is sending me the info via e-mail that I need to get this rolling.
  • Called Maressa [redacted]¬†at Telebit about getting an RMA number for the Netblazer manuals.
  • Called and left a message with Tom at UUNET about trying to get the mail problem solved.
  • Installed Patchs on oak. See SparcLog for details.
  • Maressa Reilly called back, RMA# is 32848. I also spoke with Robin [redacted]¬†in accounting; they will issue credit voucher for manuals.
  • Faxed Rosie at Telebit a copy of my invoice for the NetBlazer.
  • Sent NetBlazer manuals back.
  • E-mailed help@uu.net and cc’d Tom about continuing e-mail problems.
  • Performed reasearch on trademark law re: seafirst.com.

April 14, 1995

  • Went to UW law library to search for case law citations regarding trademark law and the Internet. Didn’t really find anything but a few articles about that lawyers should be prepared for it.
  • Called Dick [redacted]¬†at Seafirst at 4 pm. Left message on voice mail.
  • Called looking for additional quotes on business insurance. Left message, and one will call back.

April 16, 1995

  • Downloaded INN software for USENET news.

April 17, 1995

  • INN will need a newer version of sed, so downloaded GNU sed. Installed and compiled sed, (see SparcLog.) Attempting to compile INN.
  • Called Dick [redacted]¬†at Seafirst at 3:00 pm. Asked for compensation for registering the domain name seafirst.com, he refused, saying it was outside of his scope, and that it would be turned over to the legal team. The cheif council is unavailable until next week. I asked Dick if he was familiar with TCP/IP and DNS in particular, and he replied absolutely not. So it’s off to the lawyers now. He indicated that Seafirst would not be amenable to compensating me for my trouble.

April 18, 1995

  • Compiling INN. Compiled. Need to setup now.
  • Downloaded and installed sed.
  • Downloaded and installed perl.
  • Went to ANMA meeting at Westwind.

April 19, 1995

  • Compiling and setting up INN. Not going well.
  • Downloaded and attmepted to compile wu ftpd. Did not happen. I deleted it out of frustration.

April 20, 1995

  • Still banging on INN. Posted message in news.software.nntp.
  • Re-downloaded and attempted to compile wu ftpd.

April 21, 1995

  • Compiled and installed wu ftpd. Seems to be working OK; I’ve limited anonymous logins to 10 concurrent users. I still seem to be having the problem of ftp processes not dying when idle for some reason. I’ll have to go back and check the Solaris patch info stuff.

April 25, 1995

  • Configuring INN for newsfeeds; I think I almost have it.
  • Performed level0 dump before rebooting and checking everything prior to requesting official newsfeed.

May 4, 1995

  • News kinda working again.

May 5, 1995

  • Signed up the first real customer today! Dana [redacted]. Found our ad in the Yellow Pages.

May 6, 1995

  • Digital Forest open house! I think it went OK. We had about 35-40 people come through. Marlin seems like he will place a server here.

May 7, 1995

  • Met with Tony and Dan to talk about partnering for multimedia/web authoring services. Went well. Dan will be our contact for web stuff.

May 8, 1995

  • Removed big_kahuna’s account.
  • Removed demo accounts.
  • Received a call from Dana [redacted]’s friend who is setting up her account. He thought it was a SLIP account. Looks like we lost this customer.
  • Dave paid.

May 9, 1995

  • Called Jeff [redacted]¬†and Assoc. about overdue bills; Jeff claims check went into the mail this morning. Not ready to do any projects right now, but will contact me when ready.
  • Called John [redacted]¬†about services. Has a possible need, I will call him back on Friday.
  • Returned Dana [redacted]’s message about cancelling account. We will only bill her for half of the setup fee. Sent bill. Deleted account.
  • Deposited checks from Hagen and Struijk.

May 11, 1995

  • Requested quote from Alternet for ISDN, T-1 and upgrade to wholesale on existing 56k.

May 15, 1995

  • Posted ad in seattle.general about forest.net.
  • Called John [redacted]¬†about consulting. Called back, but he had gone home sick. Looking for information about his network, norton utils, IIcx tune-up, moving scanner and more RAM for new PowerMac.
  • Fixed ftpd open processes problem by applying patch. See SparcLog.

May 16, 1995

  • Called William [redacted]¬†at Seafirst, left message. 10 am.
  • William [redacted]¬†from Seafirst called back about 1 pm. We began a discussion about the domain name seafirst.com. He asked me what my plans were for it, and I responded that I did not have any. He remarked that there could be legal ramifications regarding my use of the domain name. I responded that I was not using it and that I would like to avoid that. He went on to say that he thought that I was trying to “jack us [Seafirst Bank] up over this.” I replied that I did not appeciate his comments, and that in my dealings with his organization, I had encountered quite a bit of hostility and ill-will directed towards me, and that I did not appecitate it. I also informed him that the domain name was available, that I registered it, and that I had no plans for it, but that if Seafirst Bank wanted it, I would be happy to delegate authority for it to him if I was compensated for the time I had spent registering it and in dealing with his organization which I estimate at approximately 8 hours at $80/hr. He indicated that I was trying to extort him. I replied that I did not appreciate that inferral. He then asked me how long it takes to register a domain name. I responded that depending upon the technical level of expertise, it can take anywhere from one to ten hours. Mr. [redacted] then asked my why I registered the domain name, and I replied that the domain name was unregistered, so I registered it. He then launched into a metaphysical discussion of economic theory of value and that the domain name had no intrisic value. I rejoined that argument that obviously the domain name had some value to his organization, hence his call me to to discuss it. At this point, I sensed that Mr. [redacted]¬†was becoming agitated, as he repeated his assertions of extortion, and informed me that he had made up his mind as to which course to pursue. He then ended the conversation.
  • Worked on business plan a bit.

If the USPS Stops Delivering, Will Your Business Survive?

Do you know how much of your cash flow arrives via checks delivered by the United States Postal Service? If you don’t, go find out NOW. The survival of your business could hinge on it.

Today’s news of the receipt of another suspicious letter¬†sent to elected officials immediately made me think of the 2001 anthrax mailings and how the resulting postal mail delivery slowdown nearly finished off my startup.

2001 was a rough year, and we were struggling to keep the doors open. The dot-com bubble was almost completely deflated, and it had simultaneously erased our lower-tier client base and caused our top-tier clients to cut back. Then came the September 11 attacks, which put even more downward pressure on business. While sad about broader events, me and my team were resolved that life and business would go on, even as we continued to juggle cash flow to keep the doors open.

But cash flow requires cash, and our accounts receivable split was roughly 75% checks delivered by the postal system and 25% by electronic credit card payments. As the postal system slowed down to clean up anthrax in sorting and delivery facilities, our daily mail volume decreased 90-95%. Our cash receipts tanked accordingly.

Ongoing conversations with vendors around our already late payments became even harder and meeting payroll was a real concern. Through heroic efforts on the part of Kris Bourne, we made payroll and kept the vendors from suing us for late payments. But it was close. At our lowest point, we had only a few weeks of cash on hand to fund operations.

As things returned to somewhat normal, we moved to ensure that another delivery interruption wouldn’t impact us as severely.

We shifted as many customers as possible to monthly, automatic credit card payments by offering discounts on service. For customers who wanted to continue to pay by check, we shifted many of them from monthly to quarterly payments. For new small accounts going forward, we required credit card payments.

Combined, these measures increased our average prepaid balances significantly, had the ancillary benefit of reducing our accounts receivable aging, and ensured that if the mail stopped flowing again, we would still have steady cash flow.

Are you prepared?

More Adventures in Fundraising

Fundraising is a funny thing.

If you’ve never done it, it appears to be a light-sucking black box. Magical things happen in there, and some people go into it and never come back out.

If you’ve done it, you know it’s really a fragile, transparent, little glass box, easily shattered. But then, HA! HA! the joke is on you! It’s a solid crystal that you accidentally drop on your foot, crushing a toe. Then it melts like an ice cube and you’re bailing out your sever room because somebody’s dishwasher two stories up and 100′ feet over, leaked aaaallllllllll across the supporting beam that sagged directly above same-said server room. And that turns out to be another one of those Mayberry-esque moments in ancient corporate history, happening way before you deposit close to a million dollars into the bank, (AND HOLY FUCK THAT TELLER DIDN’T EVEN BLINK WHEN I PUSHED THE DEPOSIT SLIP OVER. Was I on surveillance? Did I look like a drug lord with machine guns strapped over my back, rudely hidden under a way too clean duster that also made me look like I might wear a mechanical exoskeleton under it? Wonder what the bandwidth is looking like today…)

Wait, where was I?

Oh, that’s right.

Fundraising is standing in someone who thinks they’re very important’s office, and you are neither offered the courtesy of a seat, nor the acknowledgement of an introduction to a person sitting very far away on the other side of the person who thinks they’re very important’s office. And then they have the temerity to ask for a board seat with their investment.

And. They. Never. Send. In. Their. Fucking. Paperwork. Even. After. You. Call. And. Get. Promises. Because. They’re. A. Douchebag.

(I’m still amazed at how many people are absolutely incapable of saying no, especially myself!)

And then you visit a Zen temple inside of a converted church, begging for more money from another former Microsoft executive manager who did send in their paperwork, and they give you Zen homework:

“When you think you’ve cut to the bone, you haven’t. Look again.

No.”

And it’s a dismal, quiet drive home with the CFO and COO, because everyone is thinking the same thing.

Best Wishes, Digital Fortress!

In case you missed the news Friday, a new company was announced, Digital Fortress. Derek Pilling¬†and¬†GeekWire¬†have some good coverage of this new firm. My best wishes for the future¬†go out to everyone involved, and if you’re in the market for colocation space, give them a call.

I’d also like to give a hearty thanks to every digital.forest customer, employee, partner, and investor, past and present, that was a part of the seventeen and a half year journey. It was an incredible ride, and I will be forever grateful for your trust, toils, risk-taking, and support.

Adventures in Fundraising

My first “real” investor pitch for digital.forest was in the lobby of the Seattle Westin hotel in the fall of 1999. There were five of us all huddled around a small coffee table to the side of the hustle and bustle.

My gut was doing somersaults and I was having a severe case of stage fright. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it through this.

It was me, my friend Peter, who I had recruited to be a VP in the company, Michael, our advisor and lead investor who turned into a board member, and two prospective angel investors.

Michael had set up the meeting and had coached and worked with us to develop the pitch deck, which was a PowerPoint presentation that we had printed and handed out.

Taking a deep breath, Peter and I flipped through the presentation, stumbling and groping for purchase, trying to find the way to close an investment. We were sidetracked several times by flipping paper to answer questions. My stomach dropped even further.

Angel 1 was ebullient, loud, engaged, and asked many tough questions. Angel 2 was quiet, subdued, and seemed very distracted, like he wanted to be somewhere else. He didn’t ask many questions.

Angel 1 seemed very interested, but when we did the ask, he declined, saying he wasn’t sure we had our shit straight.

Deflated, and thinking we just crashed and burned, I turned to Angel 2 and timidly asked him. He chucked the presentation onto the table and then said, “Yeah, I’m in for a unit.”

My gut performed another somersault, but in a good way.

How to Motivate Executives, Part 2

Some executive hires will push for a fancy title, usually a step grade above what they were before.¬†If they care that much, you should consider that they may not be the right cultural fit for your company. But if you need their skills and they seem like a decent fit, give them just about any title they want because they’ll be happier, which will make them more invested in doing a good job.

But do bicker about it for a bit to appear like you care and that you’re weighing their qualifications.