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My DNN "ACK!" Story (Part 1)

Well, Peter Donker has inspired me to write... again, so I thought I would pen a chronology of some of my ack (ah-HA!) moments and perhaps inspire some of you, dear readers to do the same.

My dad bought me a TRS-80 from Radio Shack in 1980 when I was eleven. ACK!  I started coding in Basic... games first, then scripts that allowed my father to keep a record of his lobster catches (I saved them on cassette tape).

But I started out building websites in 1996. My first site was for a new start-up ( in Oxford, where I finished my first masters degree at Regent's Park College.  My studies were biblical in nature, technology only a hobby.  While studying, I made a point of visiting the haunts of the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among them The Randolph Hotel, The Eagle and Child, but it was at the Po Na Na Souk Bar where I met Nick Hawker, an Oxford graduate and began my foray into Tiger Economies. Hawker was adamant in how he was going to run, finance and grow his new company. And those same principles would be applied when I started my own firm a decade later.

It was quite by chance that I started a tech firm.  After completing my first masters in religious education in '96, my don, Dr. Budd Smith (who mentored under Leroy Ford), suggested I spend ten years doing front lines work, so I embarked on a career documenting the behaviors of people suffering from schizophrenia. I enjoyed helping folks, especially folks who were certainly less fortunate and that included fellow staff and my supervisors. I took it upon myself to introduce technology in the work place, building spreadsheets that merged with Word documents and automating many of the very many repetitive tasks involved with the job.  I even designed the first Murphy desk for the office, a desk that folded up into the wall and could be locked. I kept up with my religious studies and continued building websites for friends and family.  All the websites were originally done in HTML, but I advanced and soon began using editors until finally settling on Netscape Composer. Word began to spread and so I took on more volunteer work... focused mainly on showcasing the work of Nova Scotia artists, folks who specifically created original fine art. Soon, with over a million dollars in fine art, the artists started asking for more and more changes on their sites... so I developed a system (I was not aware of Content Management Systems at the time) that involved building two versions of each site.  One version was for the public to view, the other version was accessible via an administrative login. My clients could easily login, and go to sections of the site they wanted to change, click "edit text" and the hyperlink would open up an email addressed to me, with the URL as the subject heading. All they needed to do was put the new text into the body of the email.  I would receive the email and copy and paste the text into Composer, and then upload the new HTML file via FTP. I thought I was pretty clever! ACK!

My next ACK! moment was developing a 3.5" floppy disk with a photo of a Bed and Breakfast and a URL. (I would copy HTML files to the diskette so B&B proprietors could hand out the disks to their guests (back then it was very rare to throw away a floppy diskette), so this was really my first attempt at monetizing services.  I phoned up all the B&Bs in Nova Scotia and asked them if they would be interested in purchasing a number of diskettes.  One of those phone calls led to a meeting with a couple of Brits (June and Mark Spindloe), owners of Mumford Bed and Breakfast.  Super friendly and inviting I thought I might have my first sale :)  When I arrived, I was offered coffee and scones, and we sat down and talked about technology for a bit.  Then this little guy came downstairs, a little disheveled and yawning, asked what we were talking about, poured himself a cup of coffee and joined us.  I told him about my years developing HTML sites, using Composer and how I had developed a "system" for easier editing.  He laughed and laughed and said that he himself was a web developer, had trained in England and had also developed a Microsoft Access database system for managing storefronts.  I asked him to show me his system and my brain went, ACK!  Rob Place was his name, and I was blown away by his design work and database achievements and so right then and there I asked him if he would allow me to contact some local firms, offering them the opportunity update their own inventory websites.  He agreed and during the next few month I made sale after sale until he he couldn't keep up with the work.  My next ACK! moment would be right around the next corner.  I started phoning up every website design company in Nova Scotia, looking specifically for a CMS.  Many said that they could indeed build one, but that they would not be willing to give me the code, or if they were willing to give up the code, the costs would be outrageous.  I continued to seek, until I came across a website that looked horrible to the eye, but I noticed a few unusual items on the home page.  "Register" and "Login" tokens, "Privacy" and "Terms" tokens... I picked up the phone and talked to a guy named Sam MacDonald. ACK!  He sent me a text document, outlining the pane layouts and token placements for DotNetNuke, and said that the database was Microsoft SQL.  We went back and forth a few times until I became convinced that DNN could serve us very well.  I talked to June and Rob about the possibilities and they both suggested that I get formal about offering web services.

"Start a company! We'll help you pick a name!!"

I was just starting my doctorate... I had just bought a house, a fixer-upper, and I was a full time mental health counselor.

Could I really start a company? 

(Part 2)


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