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My DNN "ACK!" Story. (Part 3)

In Part 1, I talked about the years leading up to my discovery of DNN.  Part 2 outlined the one bad decision that led to the formation of Atlantic Webfitters (AWF), my first appointment and my fears about running a technology firm.

How the frig was I going to pull this off?  I had a meeting coming up with the North American Benthological Society (NABS) and while I was okay with who I was (a person who could offer AWF services), I certainly didn't feel (based on the biographies of early founding tech CEOs; IBM, HP, Oracle, Netscape, Microsoft) qualified to properly run a software company.  So I frantically started to wonder... who could?  I checked my email one morning and noticed an invitation to join the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and attend one of their upcoming events and it hit me... Ack!  I would head-hunt at the event.

The Chamber event was the full blown annual event, so I knew a lot of people would be there... entrepreneurs, CEOs, business owners and the like.

I reckon most people feel most comfortable when they are in their pajamas... not me, I've always been most comfortable in a three piece suit; and after reading a few Rockefeller biographies, I was determined to don a classic, timeless look. And I did.  I looked oddly out of place on the public buses.  I had to keep telling myself, "I CHOOSE to ride the bus, this IS my choice" or I'd find myself getting discouraged, feeling trapped or copping tremendous condescension.  For the most part... I kept my head down, insulated myself from those around me and took the long-hours-opportunities to read more biographies (I had never taken a computer class and had no idea how to run a tech firm).

It was a huge ball room packed with perfectly dressed strangers.  I was thirty-five.  I found a spot where I could people-watch.  I knew exactly the type of person I was looking for.  I was looking for Tony Soprano... I was looking for Arthur Fonzarelli... I was looking for a mob boss, the quintessential CEO to champion my little startup in the boardroom.  An Ack! man.

Then I saw him.  Dressed to kill, he was James Bond in his mannerisms, about mid-fifties in age. I studied the way he engaged others, the easy way he smiled and how that smile turned to furrowed brow as the conversation turned from greeting talk to business talk.  I rubbed my hands together, reached into my pocket, pulled out my business card and casually strolled over so I could get within earshot of his conversations.  The event was too formal for name tags, so it took awhile for me to catch his name.  I realized I had nothing to offer... no pay or salary, no benefits or parachute package, just an idea that led to a meeting I wasn't comfortable leading.  I froze in place... what was I doing?  Ugh, just a few months ago I had a union job, a nice car and a doctorate program to keep me cozy and smug.  I was now here WAY out of my element.  I felt like I had been shanghaied, conscripted, kidnapped and for some reason dropped behind enemy lines to complete a mission, a mission that I could not complete... now here I was... about to talk Mr. GQ Mob Boss into completing the mission for me.  He would be dead within three years.  Ack!

My opportunity came, so I walked over into his space and made myself unavoidable.  I put my business card out and said, "Don't shake my hand until I finish what I'm about to say."  He laughed, took my card and said, "okay go".  I explained I had recently started a tech firm offering portal solutions, and that I had an upcoming meeting with one of the department heads at Acadia University and needed someone older, wiser and business-like to conduct that meeting.  He didn't say a word until I was done.  Then he explained that he had just gone independent, recently left his job in financial securities and was embarking on a marketing and sales career and that he'd love to be there for me.  Tears were welling up in my eyes.  We shook hands firmed up the time and location for the meeting and I left...  to catch a bus.

Relief washed over me as I rode the bus home that night and the meeting took place with Bernie Murphy as the CEO of Atlantic Web Fitters.  He wrote the proposal, a twenty-five page document and after we presented it, we were given our first installment cheque.  Someone took a photo of us shaking hands... both holding the cheque.  Ack!

The next couple of years, I set up the appointments, Bernie wrote the proposals and Sam coded modules for back end office business applications.  The cheques were big, but they weren't big enough.  The business model was inherently flawed.  We learned a twenty-thousand dollar cheque isn't very much when split three ways and involved months of coding.  Relationships soured within AWF and the last time I saw Bernie, he was getting ready to fly to Doha, Qatar to take a job in the oil industry there.  I heard from a mutual friend he suffered a heart-attack and died on the dance floor at a gala event.  He was fifty-seven.

I was back in the CEO seat and things were grim.  It didn't seem to matter what I did, I still lived from job to job... and the bigger the job, the more stress I felt.  I felt like my ship was sinking.  I considered throwing in the towel.  We were still getting gigs, I was busier than ever, but I just couldn't seem to keep from treading water financially.  I wracked my brain trying to think of how to restructure AWF.  I missed Bernie, his eternal optimism, his unfailing willingness to point out that I was only consistent in one thing... selling myself short.

The next Ack! moment would come from the founder of the DotNetNuke community, Shaun Walker himself by way of the only email he ever sent to me.  Up until that time, I never told anyone that I was using DNN unless they were willing to sign an non-disclosure agreement (NDA).  I went to a lot of appointments where I would pull out the NDA, the potential client would be unwilling to sign and I would walk out without saying another word.  Peter Hickey, co-founder of Oris4, couldn't believe his eyes and later contacted me after one of my famous "failure-to-launch" meetings and I still laugh about the covert way I offered DNN.  It was a secret to me, you see.  I did NOT want my competitors to take away my open-source advantage.

Gifford is the architect behind bringing the principals of Atlantic Web Fitters together and brings a highly informed background in business flow technology, web services and human relations.

Gifford’s strengths include his personal communication skills and capacity to evaluate business processes in order to educate potential clients on the value of DotNetNuke web services to their businesses.

Gifford is a DotNetNuke MVP and speaks at Day of DotNetNuke events, spoke at the first DoDNN event in the United States; founded the Nova Scotia DotNetNuke User Group and hosted the first DoDNN event in Canada.

Speaking engagements:

April 2007 Halifax, Nova Scotia - CIPS Annual Dinner 
June 2009 Tampa, Florida - 1st Day of DotNetNuke 
March 2011 Orlando, Florida - Day of DotNetNuke/Orlando Code Camp 
June 2011 Halifax, Nova Scotia - 1st Canadian Day of DotNetNuke 
November, 2011, Walt Disney World - DotNetNuke World 
January, 2012, Podcamp Halifax, Nova Scotia 
April, 2012, SDN Amsterdam, Zeist, The Netherlands 
June 2012, Charlotte, North Carolina, Day of DotNetNuke 
April 2013, Charlotte, North Carolina, Day of DotNetNuke 

Testimonials via LinkedIn 

“Gifford is one of the most unusual people I've met in technology -- in a good way. Here is a guy who grew up a Nova Scotia lobsterman (he's shared lobster recipes with me) and was educated as a minister...and without shedding either of those identities built a serious tech company about as far geographically from Silicon Valley as you can get. He's won the attention of Microsoft and the U.S. Military. And he's always been willing to share his expertise with me. All in all, Giff is a great story.” June 10, 2011 ~Kevin Maney, Columnist, Tech Columnist, Tech Writer, Cover Stories Editor, USA TODAY 

“Gifford is a tireless supporter of DotNetNuke in Canada. He has many clients that are extremely happy with their sites created with DotNetNuke. Gifford has worked hard evangelizing DotNetNuke in his area and started a user group to support others who use the product. Gifford gave up his time to come to Tampa in June of 2009 to speak at the Day of DNN. He is a likeable person and will bend over backwards to support your needs.” November 19, 2009 ~Brian Scarbeau, Founder, Orlando DotNetNuke User Group 

“As founder of the DotNetNuke User Support Group in Halifax Gifford Watkins is furthering what I would describe as the single most democratic movement in the business world since the advent of the computer! Understanding how to manipulate today's advances in technology and delivering a superior product at a fraction of the cost is what Gifford is doing. It is a new day in web based communications. The smallest of companies can now put together a fully functional Content Management System. Thanks Gifford for helping me do just that. Jim Davis” March 23, 2009 ~Jim Davis hired Gifford more than once 

“Gifford's passion for helping your business exceed, and his genuine interest in you and your business is second to none. I've witnessed it first hand while working with him on various projects, and would not hesitate to work with him again.” February 26, 2009 ~Nick Phillips, Owner, Consulting 

“Gifford is a clear-thinking, deep-planning, involved individual with whom you will be able to easily communicate. His Dot Net Nuke-based hosting solution is simple and powerful. Look at the results !!” February 23, 2009 ~Richard Burr, Network Technician / Analyst, VMC Consulting 

“Gifford is truly passionate about DotNetNuke. He has supported and promoted the product for years. Few people have the work ethic and dedication to helping clients take control of their information like Gifford. I will continue to work with Gifford and am confident his capabilities will continue to add value to my company. Peter Hickey” February 22, 2009 ~Peter Hickey hired Gifford as a IT Consultant in 2006, and hired Gifford more than once 

“Gifford has had the foresight and strict committment to the DotNetNuke World and has created a vibrant company that is not only a service but also a forum for small to medium sized businesses giving them care and control of their own web presence. This is clearly evident in the breadth of Gifford portfolio of clients. For those who get what is offered, it is usually a monetary and time savings and a true open environment giving the ability to shape and use graphics and design possibilities once reserved for the webmaster only.” February 22, 2009 ~Greg Brown, Consultant, ONE Management Consulting 

“Gifford knows DNN functionality like the back of his hand. If you are looking for DNN expertise, hosting and the migration and customization services that go along with it, Gifford's company, Atlantic Web Fitters, is a great place to go. Just let Giff find out about your business, and help you understand where DNN functionality can help you, and you're good to go!” February 22, 2009 ~Mike Frenette hired Gifford as a Web Portal Provider in 2007


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