In Part 1, I penned some of the Ack! moments leading up to my discovery of the DotNetNuke web application framework.
My focus at the time was split; I was enrolled in a doctoral program at Acadia Divinity College where I had just completed my second masters degree in divinity (I wanted SO badly to get my Doctorate in Ministry (I liked the thought of studying the Bible and being a D.Min... ha ha)), I was siding a house and I was still putting in 40-50 hours at the day job counseling people suffering from mental health issues, plus preaching every Sunday night at West End Baptist church. My day started at 6am. I would drive an hour to the seminary, attend classes, drive ninety minutes back into the city and do a ten hour shift, then drive thirty minutes home. Satur...days were fixing up the house, nights preparing the sermon for Sunday night. Sunday mornings I would drive into the city for morning worship, afternoons I stayed in a little apartment the church provided where I'd polish my sermon for the evening. But I couldn't shake the possibility of starting my own web firm. I had been an entrepreneur before; once started a tutoring company, a raquet-stringing and tennis lesson company... I knew that stuff; but could I start a technology firm?
So, how did I do it? How did I make the jump? Two words: moral failure.
One particular evening a friend of mine dropped over and we had a few drinks. Not expecting company, I jumped into my car and quickly drove to the store. A deer ran out in front of my car, I swerved, and because I was quickly driving to the store, I severed a telephone pole and was knocked unconscious. When I woke up, I was escorted to a police car and given a test which I failed. In one momentary lapse of reason I lost my privilege to drive. The incident was report by the newspapers. The church where I attended and preached asked me to step down... and it was near impossible to make arrangements to get to the seminary and my day job. From a moral standpoint I was completely immobilized. How could I tell my parents? How would I tell my doctoral supervisor? How could I ever face the people to whom I once preached? I called my boss and told him I was taking an indefinite leave from work. Frigging ACK man... ack ack ack! I was phacked!!!
I was at an all time low. I knew I had to do something. So I took the opportunity to delve deeper into public transportation. I hopped on a bus and two hours later, talked to June and Mark, the folks who had suggested I start my own company offering web services and it was June who came up with the name "Web Fitters"... I put the "Atlantic" in front of it so it would show up first alphabetically... Ack! I registered the firm in Hants County and took the long bus ride home. I read, and thought, and prayed.
It was fall, winter came early in 2004. 5:30ams now consisted of a mile long walk in pitch black darkness to the bus stop. A two hour bus ride put me at the steps of Mumford B&B where June would have hot coffee and a muffin and a phone. I needed moral support... the four wheels of my life had fallen off; my job, my doctorate, my church, and my pride. All I had was a brand new Atlantic Webfitters, a CMS, a phone book and a promise, that if God got me out of this hole, I would repay Him. I made calls and set up appointments, until it was pitch black again. Then back on the bus for two hours and the long ride back to my still unfinished home. The nights before appointment days were spent carefully plotting my bus routes. My life was darkness. The only light was a pinpoint in what seemed to be an eternally long cave of blowing snow, freezing feet and winter snot that would drip and whip onto my face and into my hair. I cut my hair short, bought hankies and huge woolen long coats and trudged in ice and slush and made my pitches. Evenings were spent grooming my site; phrasing, wording, creating metadata, determining how I could be number one in a category I created, while listening to Tony Robbins and reading the biographies of great technology leaders. Sometimes I would email the biographers and writers and tell them that I too, was starting out in technology... and they would encourage me, one notable tech author was Kevin Maney, who wrote the biography of IBM founder Thomas Watson, Maverick and His Machine. People who believe in you... is a definite ACKnowledgement of vision.
At first glance, most people see DotNetNuke as a CMS. I, however, did not. I saw it first as a way out of the predicament of my own moral failure; I saw it secondly, as an intranet. As an intranet, I envisioned applications that would allow schools and businesses to run in a web-based environment, eliminating the need for in-house servers. I cashed out my vacation pay which had accumulated over the years working in mental health and bought two Dell Power Edge servers and shipped them to Sam (Shancer Inc.), the man who introduced me to DotNetNuke. The infrastructure would be housed in the basement of a house in Digby, Nova Scotia.
My first sale was the very university where I was still enrolled in seminary. The North American Benthological Society's Taxonomic Certification Program. They found me by conducting a search on Google for "Web-based application portals" (I had determined that "portal" could be the category that I would dominate on Google (and we're still on page one for Canadian Portal Software Developers)). I listened as the head of the department described the functionality they were seeking... frantically took notes until I had filled three pages; we set up an appointment for the following week; then hung up the phone. I looked at my notes and started to realize I couldn't make any sense of them. I panicked. I called up Sam and did my best to explain and he calmed me down... said the entire project was completely "doable". I was convinced that he could write the code... but I also became convinced that we needed a real CEO. So I started to head hunt. I was determined to have someone with grey hair representing Atlantic Webfitters at our first meeting.
Could I find a CEO? Find out in Part 3