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Boompa.com Launch Postmortem, Part 1: Research, Picking a Team, Office Space and Money

By boompa in Internet
Fri May 19, 2006 at 02:06:19 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

This is a story about how 2 enterprising web developers quit their jobs at CNET Networks and built an enterprise level community driven site (boompa.com) complete with all the modern "web 2.0" bells and whistles in almost exactly two months on the smallest possible budget with open source software. It covers the planning, technology, accounting and business decisions we made along the way and is meant to be an honest portrayal of the realities of opening up your own shop and what you will need to do.

While there are many documents on the web covering this subject, most are written after the fact of success and don't provide the "holy shit, we just quit our jobs" perspective that is going to be common with anyone who doesn't have the contacts to get involved with VCs. A year from now this story will either be a testament to our methodology or an embarrassing reminder of all the mistakes we made. Either way, the hope is that it avoids the polish of hindsight and will be not only inspirational, but methodically practical to someone considering quitting their job.


We are not businessmen by trade and we aren't the kind of web geeks you'd probably hope us to be. Think of it this way, we don't have a WordPress blog up telling you about the benefits of Ruby (yet). We used PHP because it's what we knew and were comfortable with and we'd seen it scale to enterprise levels before. The advice in this guide then isn't how to build the most pristine standards based site with 100% stability and geek factor (though we've got our fair share of chrome), it's more about how to plan a build cheap, fast and scalable.

First a Little Background

The two and only members of our team are myself (Dave Snider) and Ethan Lance. Ethan and I met in San Francisco at CNET Networks, and along with a couple other very fine people there were responsible for building both MP3.com and TV.com from concept to launch in just over a year. Ethan was one of the primary engineers on the "core team", building not only a large part of the display code for those sites, but also the backend that would eventually seamlessly manage them both. As for myself, I had the silly title of "Site Architect", which meant I was the guy with zero reports but was allowed to put together build teams on the fly for any large projects that popped up. Projects like launching TV.com, the redesign of MP3, whatever. After a product would launch I'd get shuffled to "the next big thing" and repeat the vicious cycle.

All in all it was a great gig for both of us and we affectionately refer to our time there as "CNET University". I highly recommend trying to get your foot in the building there, as there is no better place in the world to learn how to build products fast with small teams and great people. In the end though, after getting frustrated over the direction of the products we essentially gave birth to, we did what many other highly skilled workers at big companies do when they get frustrated. We quit.

Now we didn't quit at the same time. I left at the end of 2005 because I was essentially burnt out and having problems working for a company that had grown so fast around products I felt invested in. For me, after a year and a half of sleeping at the office the idea of launching site after site for CNET, while moderately profitable, wasn't the challenge it was when I walked in there green with inexperience and ambition. Because I'd done well on investments after selling my previous site, Guzzlefish.com (RIP), I was able to quit pretty spur of the moment though perfectly timed with the new year when our product cycle was pretty slow. I initially intended to move back to DC and possibly dump this whole Internet thing for something more stable, like possibly franchising a Quiznos. Ethan of course knew better of me and soon after I left he had his hooks into me about doing a start-up. Even with no money on the table I guess I was an easy sell, but you gotta know Ethan.

Ethan is a hacker. Not a hacker like we think of in movies, but a hacker in the Paul Graham "by any means necessary" way. He's the most aggressive, intimidating, and hardworking engineer I've ever met, and I know at least two other great ones. While most of the industry worships the guru-minded, Emacs-using, acronym savvy web developers out there, Ethan is the blue-collar grunt using Homesite who gets the job done because he treats the deadline clock like Kurt Russell would in a John Carpenter movie. He's also famous for scraping a weeks worth of work and rebuilding it in a day, scaring the bejesus out of me whenever I work with him. I've never known anyone to be less attached to their code and still so specific on its organization. In short, the guy is a bona-fide wrecking ball.

Like me, he's also insanely arrogant, which is a trait every entrepreneur needs. In any case, a guy with this personality is of course the guy that isn't going to let you move back to DC. He's ready to start something, right now. So after some quick talks and arranging a modest budget, I decided to stay in SF and he decided to quit CNET after tying up his current project (always try to leave on good terms). Thus begins the storming of the beach-head and our initial question... what kind of site should we launch?


Everything starts with an Idea

We of course had tons of ideas, just like I imagine you do. The funny thing is, a car site wasn't even on the radar when we started, but in the end, it was the one that made the most sense. The trick to picking the best one of your ideas is basically to do a large amount of research on the competitive market. My favorite method is to walk into your local bookstore, check the magazine rack, and take a tally of the number of magazines dedicated to certain genres. Then take those numbers and compare them to the number of decent websites doing the same. The site you should be building is the one with the largest magazine coverage to sucky website ratio. Why? Quite simply that the number of magazines for the most part represents the current interest (and number of advertisers) in a specific industry. Now this doesn't work for everything, obviously some hobbies are likely to cater to people who don't use computers, but to be honest, that day is slowly coming to pass.

Build a site that makes sense in the current market

Once you have your genre you need to figure out what kind of site you want to build. We knew we wanted to build a car site, but the question was, what kind of car site. Here is how we figured it out.

  • Fact 1: It seems there are not many good car sites on the web
  • Fact 2: Of the car sites that exist, almost all of them deal with car sales and listings and charge you for the service. Way too much established competition.
  • Fact 3: Since there were only two of us, it would need to be a community site, as neither of us had the time or want to write content.
  • Fact 4: The small competing community sites, despite having passionate followings, are poorly built and too narrow in scope.
  • Fact 5: The only popular free community portal, cardomain.com, was poorly designed and hard to use. Despite this, it has great traffic. It also is littered with ads. For some reason, it also doubles as a store? Um... ok?

Just like that we knew what to build. While every nerd who bought into Web 2.0 was going to try and reinvent Microsoft Office for the web (AJAX isn't there yet guys), we would build an easy to use car community site using good old-fashioned PHP that would focus on the passionate fanatics. Once we knew our audience, we knew what features to build. Fanatics like to tinker, that meant we needed a car part database, model specific boards, and an archival database robust enough to categorize anything we'd throw at it. Wouldn't it be cool to show our audience other users who are using the same car part? What about designing our vehicle pages as mini histories of the car in question comprised entirely of user rides. Imagine of all the above wrapped in a simple, but clean design. It might just work.

The best way to find out if your site has revenue potential

Sure we had a great idea, but because we were financing the project ourselves we wanted to make sure it would actually generate revenue. Traffic is one thing, we were confident we could build traffic over a year, but was there an actual advertising market for what we were gonna do? We knew there were lots of car ads on TV, but that was about it. How was online advertisting for auto sites doing? The only way to find out was to ask our soon to be competitors. Yes, you heard that right, you just politely ask them about their ad revenue. As unlikely as that sounds they'll bend over backwards to tell you if you ask the right way.

  1. Email or call any sites you think would be your competitors.
  2. Tell them you are going to be launching a website focused in that industry soon and have a marketing budget of $50,000.
  3. Better yet, tell them that $50,000 is going to be spread across a couple sites and you want to see what kind of specific packages they have to offer against their competitors.
  4. You will likely receive a PDF proposal in 3 days and with it know exactly how healthy their sales are.

Following that method I found out some hugely important things. One was that the auto market has insanely high CPM (cost per thousand impressions) rates. Another was that several of the sites actually had sold out inventory for a month in advance. Not only that, as icing on the cake one of them told me on the first in-page form-reply that they would be launching new sites in the summer to compensate. This meant not only was online advertising for car sites healthy, it was selling out. There was a market, not only a market, but one littered with crappy websites!

It's amazing what people will tell you over email.

Picking your Partners and Assigning Roles

Who's the better shot? Give them the gun.

Ethan and I came up with the "Zombie Team" test for figuring out whether or not someone is ready to work on an intense project, be it a start-up or otherwise. The test is this: If zombies suddenly sprung from the earth, could you trust the perspective team member to cover your back? Would they tell you if they got bit? Most importantly would you give them the team's only gun if you knew they were the better shot? If the answer is no to any of those questions you need to let them get eaten by the cubicle wasteland of corporate culture, because they aren't ready for this kind of work.

Be Selective

The best advice I ever got involving anything to do with our company was when I was just starting and a collegue said "just be selective" when I talked about who I'd love to work with. He gave me those spooky, believe me, I had a bad experience eyes and I really took his wisdom to heart. Not everyone has the guts or the drive to build at the crazy insane speeds necessary to have a chance on an two month build. When you've quit your job, put in your own money and grab loans from your parents, you simply can not afford to question anyones loyalty. It's why Ethan and I decided to work as a duo, even though we had enough money for more. The trust just wasn't there with anyone else. You can hire employees anytime, but you only get to pick your partners once.

Make sure any technology built is owned by the company, not the individuals

In tech companies it's important that the technology you produce is owned by the company and not the individual partners. You don't want someone who leaves the company to suddenly claim the rights to the exact code and tech you depend on. A lawyer can draw up a simple document to cover all your bases.

How to split up the company shares

Like us you will most likely hold off on this part of setting up a business until the last possible moment. It is an awkward conversation to have, especially when you're good friends with your partner(s). There's not much to say about how to handle it other then to say you need to base the split purely on how much risk each member is taking individually. Real early you'll find that some people will mistakenly think that leaving their job is a risk, or that them leaving a higher paying job then somebody else means they are taking more risk. It is not. Remember, you can always get another job, but you will never get that money back from the 401k you closed to fund a failed business. Just like Vegas it's all about how much you put on the table.

The actual method of assigning shares is something your lawyer can do for you when you set up your LLC (or whatever). It's just a document all the partners need to sign and agree to. Note that this doesn't mean you can't add more partners at a later time.

The minimum skills you'll need to get the job done

No matter what the size of your team is you need to clearly define the roles of each member and what they are expected to do. In any start-up people are going to need to take multiple roles and most likely, take on jobs they are way too experienced for. This is natural and if a member can't accept that, they shouldn't be in the group. You will need the minimum following technical roles covered by your team members to build a modern portal:

  1. Photoshop designer
  2. CSS/SMARTY Developer
  3. Data Entry / Database Populator Dude (scrapes are lame!)
  4. PHP/JSP/Ruby Developer
  5. JavaScript/AJAX developer
  6. SysAdmin / DBA
  7. QA/Product Management

There are also the following non-technical roles

  1. Guy who talks on the phone
  2. Guy who keeps the books and writes the checks
  3. Guy who cleans the toilet

Making sure you divy up those roles and make them clear from the start. I know it sounds silly to have a Product Manager in a two person start-up but Ethan and I work together so well because he never questioned how the site should work and I never questioned him in how it should be built. That's the type of Zombie Team trust you need to build a site of Boompa's size in 2 months.

Office Space

You really do need office space

Some people believe office space isn't necessary for a start-up but I really don't agree with that philosophy. Sure, you can work at home, but the questions is... do you really want to? Will you be as efficient there? Compared to the costs of hosting a large website, a small office is not going to cost you that much. While it will of course take a chunk out of your budget, it more then pays for it by providing a very real environment that makes your endeavour all the more tangible. Ethan and I walked into our office that first day and had a very cool realization. Not only were we building a website, we were building a real company, it even had walls!

Back to College?

The best place in my opinion to grab an office is in a big college town. We chose Berkeley because it's close to SF (and therefor the industry) and because to be honest, being around really hot, unattainable women just drives you to succeed even more. In any case, a college town will likely provide rent that is much lower then your average metropolitan area and is the home to a nest of cheap labor should you need it. They also have plenty of late night restuarants and futon shops, which is the kind of cheap bedding you will need at your office for those late nights. On average Ethan and I slept at our office twice a week after pulling 12-18 hour shifts.

Things to watch for in your lease

The only major differences between signing a lease on an office and one for a residential apartment is that the leases tend to last longer (2 years is normally the minimum) and the monthly rate is often negotiable. We trimmed 20% off the landlord's offer and only committed to a year by providing 6-months worth of rent up front. While some of you may be saying, wow, I don't have six months of rent, I reply, then you don't have enough to really start a business. Which brings me to my next point.


Find out how much you need first

You're dreading this part of the story aren't you? I sure did. Before you find out how to get money you'll first need to decide how much you need. I know this is gonna sound lame and I never thought I'd ever say something like this, but the best way to figure that out is to do a quickie business plan and pro-forma (your expected costs and expenses written out as separate months over a 12-month period). This is actually fairly easy and super helpful and should only take you a day or two unless you need to present it to a stickler. The most important thing to remember when writing one of these is that your product description should only be 10% of your document. The rest should go over how you plan to bring in revenue, the competition, your technology and why the site will succeed. It's a humbling experience. If you wrote a good one, it should make you reconsider starting a company, I had anxiety attacks after I wrote mine, no joke. Just like a good meal, let that document sit in your stomach for a couple hours. If you're still excited, it's time to try and find money.

Why we didn't try to find VC money

Now there are tons of articles out there on how to attract cash if you have an idea so I'm not going to go into it because we didn't go that route and to be honest all those articles seem like bullshit written by some 40 year old guy that thinks he's hip because he has a hosted blog. The only way you're gonna get money is if you know someone or if you have three months to play grab-ass. Amazingly you would have thought that two guys with pretty decent resumes like Ethan and I had at CNET would have been able to find investors but the reality is we are pretty nerdy dudes and not interested in playing the handshake game. Plus, while I can honestly make a statement like "I was the product and project lead on the launch of TV.com and the redesign of MP3.com", no one knew that outside of the CNET building. It's not like Ethan and I were in a press releases, we were just high level grunts making day to day decisions. That kind of limelight was for the guys that didn't sleep on the floor during builds.

So... we definitely didn't own any suits and the thought of talking to a VC somewhat scared us and seemed like it would take a long while to net results if we did try it. We rightfully believed at the time that there simply wasn't enough time to figure out how to schmooze, we had a site to build after all, dammit. The best thing to do then was to get going on it. That's not to say hooking up with a VC at a later stage isn't a good idea or that we won't do it at some point, we just didn't need to do it to get the site up.

If it's that good of an idea, don't be afraid to put your own money on the table

To be honest I will admit that we were fairly lucky with start up cash. I had previously sold a small site called Guzzlefish.com (a dvd, music and game collection engine built in 2002) and had wisely invested the money in Apple after a certain brilliant engineer introduced me to Macs. While the site was very small and sold right after the bubble buying spree, the resulting money would be enough to get two guys started. However, it wasn't enough to keep us going for 18 months (the bare minimum I figured any ad-revnue web-site should plan for). For that I would need a few more thousand dollars.

I ended up going to the only people I knew would give it to me without questions. My parents. Luckily with the sale of Guzzlefish I had a previous track record of paying them back, so after my Dad pretended to understand what we were actually trying to do, he and my mom wrote us a check and wished us well. This of course lead to my second panic attack, but it made sure we'd have the time we needed to build a business after we built the site.

How to set up your loans

Though I can't help you find money, I can tell you what you'll need to do if you plan on borrowing more then $10,000 like we did. Get a lawyer to draft up what's called a promissory note (basically just a statement of terms) from your organization to the loaner of the loot, which in my case, was my parents and myself as an individual. If your "Angel" is particularly angelic they will agree to the minimum interest rate on the loan (the IRS forces this, because otherwise it isn't a loan). Our rate was about 4.5% and we set it to mature (the time we'd have to actually start paying it back) at 6 months past the date we thought we'd break even on the site. While you can always just fill in the details differently on our promissory note and be good to go I highly suggest getting a lawyer to help you set up the business and paperwork.

What type of business entity to set up

You've got a lot of choices when deciding what kind of entity you want to become, but in the end only one of them made any sense to us: an LLC partnership. Why? Well, if you don't expect much or any revenue in the first year you'll want to be able to able to treat the business as if it was an extension of yourself since essentially... "you" aren't making any money. This means you'll be able to make withdrawals virtually tax free and without a payroll till you get some revenue flowing in. This means that your 80,000 engineering job will only need 50,000 company dollars to be equivalent, since you're not paying taxes on your withdrawals.

Ethan and I simply agreed upon a very meager amount to withdrawal and had the bank send us checks every couple weeks. All of this was logged and recorded so that we had the paperwork ready for when we would need to file. Starting an LLC can cost different amounts depending upon the state you're in. For us, the whole process ran us about $2,800 including our legal and state fees. While that sounds like a lot, it was off-set by having weeks of hassle free coding/designing while our lawyer handled all that confusing mess. Money well spent to us. We woulda just fucked it up anyway.


Believe it or not there is some some cool insurance you can set up to protect the individuals in the company from catastraphe. For example, we could have gotten some insurance in case either Ethan or I died during the first year of the business. It sounds funny, but if you're running a two man crew like we did, you will definitely have nightmares about this. Essentially, if Ethan had died, I would have been absolutely fucked and vice versa. We didn't buy any, but it's probably a smart move and you should at least look into it.

Preview of Part 2: Technology, Design, and our Build Schedule.

Tehnology we Used

Here's a brief rundown of the technology we used to construct the website. It consists entirely of open source software. Saying that makes me realize I lied at the beginning of this document. Boompa was not built by two guys, but by hundreds. We humbly thank anyone who worked on the following applications. If our company ever turns a profit we promise to donate some of it towards your work. We go into specifics more in part two.

PHP 5: We used PHP as mentioned because we had used it before on other large sites and had seen it scale to hundreds of thousands of users. We also knew it really well.

SMARTY: SMARTY is a templating engine that you can use to seperate your frontend documents cleanly from your main PHP. For the most part we don't understand why it isn't more used and to us is a MUST HAVE on any web build.

MySQL 5: This was our first time using MySQL 5 and didn't have any real problems with it.

Fedora 4: We went with Fedora as our Linux build because it's free and it's very stable and supported.

CSS: Used to style our pages, I don't believe boompa.com has any tables outside of a couple we have to use with Dojo.

Dojo AJAX Toolkit: Pretty much our home run king. We would not have been able to work AJAX into the site without dojo. You see it everywhere from our fades on the front door, to our WYSIWYG editor in the boards.

Pear: We used a lot of pear scripts and functions for things like pagination and sorting.

Memcached: We use memcached to speed the site up and prevent hits to the database where we can. Along with SMARTY caching, it keeps the site running relatively speedy.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Improvements we could make to the site
o Make it more open, Give me feeds! 11%
o Add Videos 5%
o Honestly, the site is just too slow 17%
o Get rid of the 2.0ishness 35%
o Add more vehicle types 11%
o Spend more time on the database and content 17%

Votes: 17
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o boompa.com
o CNET Networks
o MP3.com
o TV.com
o Paul Graham
o least
o two
o PHP 5
o MySQL 5
o Fedora 4
o Dojo AJAX Toolkit
o Pear
o Memcached
o Also by boompa

Display: Sort:
Boompa.com Launch Postmortem, Part 1: Research, Picking a Team, Office Space and Money | 86 comments (68 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
+1 (2.00 / 4) (#12)
by United Fools on Thu May 18, 2006 at 05:41:38 PM EST

Useful information for fools trying to start their businesses.

We are united, we are fools, and we are America!
I really liked this story..it was very (2.00 / 3) (#13)
by moondancer on Thu May 18, 2006 at 05:56:39 PM EST

interesting..I do not know much about computers, I can turn them on and off but what I liked about your story was the fact you went after your dream and looked into areas you need to do before starting your business. good luck with your business plans..
**We are simple and we are free.**United Fools
Thanks (none / 1) (#14)
by boompa on Thu May 18, 2006 at 06:03:32 PM EST

Yeah, it was a big risk. I was making a good deal of money just 6 months ago. 2 months of 6 day weeks and 15 hour days later I'm sitting on a site I think has potential, but still have no idea if it'll do well.

The big thing for me leaving a job like the one I had at TV.com is that I'd never know if I was a part of that sites success, or if it was simply the domain. At least with boompa and the sites I hope to launch later, I'll be able to say I gave it a shot and tried to answer that question.

[ Parent ]

enterprise level, community driven, blah blah blah (2.66 / 3) (#15)
by The Atomic Kung Fu Panda Bandit Inquisition on Thu May 18, 2006 at 06:34:33 PM EST

So many of these sites just seem like "hey look at all the free [frameworks|software] there [is|are] for building web shit, it would be pretty [easy|cheap] to throw something at the wall and see if it [sticks|gets ad revenue|gets aquired by [Google|Yahoo]]" to me. Does that actually work very often?

There are some sites that provide actual value or content that I would pay for (the car listing sites you mention), but more that just seem like chrome IT architechture for its own sake. It seems like you need a demographic that actually wants/needs some way to store/retrieve digital information (Flickr, Gmail) or is just obsessively social (MySpace, but most people outside the lemming teenager market use their own blog, often self-hosted) or bored (kuro5hin). Otherwise you have to provide your own content, in which case you care much more about the content and the kind of people who want that content (actual market research/knowlege!) than the IT/infrastructure side of things.

Possibly (none / 1) (#16)
by boompa on Thu May 18, 2006 at 06:46:29 PM EST

It's mostly about strength in numbers. If we don't get numbers, forget the business, the actual site won't be very fun. While part of it is just "hey put your ride up" the other part is... hey let's all get together and build an encycopedia about cars and car parts. Something like that really doesn't exist on the web. Anything close is extremely commericial and overly positive.

What I'd love to see happen is that together the DB will be the cool part and the reason come back, not just the picture posting. We also want to provide that database free to others so that they can build other cool projects.

I did something similar with a movie site years ago and the worst part about it was that we had to rely on a commericial, purchased dataset from a company called Muze. It sucked because every "review" they provided was positive, because they assumed websites were always going to be selling products.

Generally I think the web has grown up since then and user submission sites are going to stick.

But your right, a lot of it is up in the air, hence the risk even doing something like this at all.

[ Parent ]

myspace (none / 0) (#43)
by joshsisk on Fri May 19, 2006 at 04:16:53 PM EST

I don't think myspace really gets it's popularity from it's content - the blogs and music stuff is an afterthought. It's primarily a social interaction site, and a free replacement for dating sites, as well. If it was just the blogs, it never would have gotten popular since livejournal, blogger, etc all beat it to the punch.
logjamming.com : web hosting for weblogs, NOT gay lumberjack porn
[ Parent ]
Where to start. (2.00 / 3) (#17)
by /dev/trash on Thu May 18, 2006 at 07:31:35 PM EST

  1.  People with bad time management skills need to sleep at work.
  2.  Your parents are charging you FOUR and a HALF percent interest???
  3.  Ajax won't work without a framework?  Huh.  I better inform my code about this later.
  4.  If Kevin Rose can get VC funding, ANYONE can.

Updated 02/20/2004
New Site
Good luck ... (1.00 / 3) (#20)
by rpresser on Thu May 18, 2006 at 09:32:57 PM EST

... I hope your death is quick -- and soon.

"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty

Heh (2.33 / 3) (#23)
by BJH on Thu May 18, 2006 at 09:59:18 PM EST

"Product Manger" - is that where all the failures are kept?

Also, perspective -> prospective
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

Where are the ads? $ (none / 1) (#25)
by akostic on Thu May 18, 2006 at 10:58:28 PM EST

"After an indeterminate amount of time trading insane laughter with the retards, I grew curious and tapped on the window." - osm
"Enterprise" is not the word you want (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by r3u8rb on Fri May 19, 2006 at 12:02:57 AM EST

I know it sounds cool and all, but it doesn't mean what you think it means.

Join me on irc.slashnet.org #Kuro5hin.org - the official Kuro5hin IRC channel.
enterprise to me means scalable (none / 0) (#27)
by boompa on Fri May 19, 2006 at 12:31:35 AM EST

Questionable I know. Some people think of enterprise as something corporate or proffessionally supported. It sometimes takes on looser meanings within the web dev community where we simply mean it as "something that is built for traffic" or some technology that takes advantage of caching methods. Essentially a "proffessional product". But you're right, proffessional isn't 2 months and 2 guys so it's prolly a bit generous.

[ Parent ]
Also... (none / 0) (#62)
by BJH on Mon May 22, 2006 at 02:42:18 AM EST

...professional isn't spelled like that.
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
he wants "paradigm" (none / 1) (#28)
by circletimessquare on Fri May 19, 2006 at 01:44:19 AM EST

or "synergy"

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
+1 fp (3.00 / 5) (#29)
by circletimessquare on Fri May 19, 2006 at 01:48:05 AM EST

just because this made me laugh:

The minimum skills you'll need to get the job done

(7 technical job breakdowns)


  1. Guy who talks on the phone
  2. Guy who keeps the books and writes the checks
  3. Guy who cleans the toilet
just about sums up how me, or any other techie, thinks how the org chart of a modern company works

classic, honest, i LOLed

especially "Guy who talks on the phone": what an arcane inscrutable dark art. what's the purpose? who is he calling? why can't he write an email?

i'm not mocking you. i feel the same way

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

hehe...thanks (3.00 / 4) (#32)
by boompa on Fri May 19, 2006 at 02:49:40 AM EST

I always hated sales people and the middle managers. Basically anyone can talk on the phone and do a good job, the point is, most engineers don't want to do this. It's why they're engineers.

Paul Graham says great stuff about this if you ever get curious about REAL writers. Not some guy on his mac at 2am with an office behind a hot dog stand (seriously).

[ Parent ]

Some thoughts (none / 1) (#30)
by strlen on Fri May 19, 2006 at 02:10:34 AM EST

First of all, here's an atttempt at a technical/business metaphor. When I read that you had to explictly mention using a templating toolkit and memcached (or a homebrew equivalent), I first thought that "if someone needs to be told that a simple code-mixed-with-html-talking-directly-to-the-rdbms won't scale, they shouldn't be starting a business.". However, I wonder if there's any revelations equivalent to that from the business perspective that have been missed.

On another note, have you considered that the largest competitor to your site will likely be car forums and many (such as vwvortex.com, for instance) are indeed very succesful in cashing in on their visitors? What is your planned way of competing with car forums?

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.

As to car forums... (none / 1) (#31)
by boompa on Fri May 19, 2006 at 02:41:54 AM EST

To be honest with forums we just wanted to build a better board system. If you take a look at the site one of the things we do is abolish the idea of "boards" and simply make everything a subject. Want to talk about civics? Fine, do it at the civic page. Want to just rant? Fine, pick some forum category we made up "off topic".

The point is all of these posted topics flow to the same section regardless of where they came from. The thing is I don't think most people use boards to look for something specfic, they just want to see what people have to say. Removing a couple clicks of choosing a board I think helps in that purpose.

Does this answer your question? No, hah. To be honest I see forums like vwvortex as fairly closed communities and ones that honestly I doubt I'd ever chip away at. People like boards not because of how they are built, but because they've been talking to the same guys there for 5 years.

What I'd like to see happen though is that people start putting boompa.com links in their board signatures there. I think that would be considered a bigger success.

And to be quite frank, a board system built from scratch with brand new tech (dojo based ajax) isn't likely to scale well out of the gate, so I'll appreciate the months or even years it takes us to get to that size.

As to your business questions I can only say this. People need to realize they aren't just launching a site in a couple months, they are launching a business over more then a year. I think the common mistake that engineers make (and I made them with my last venture) is that we think just getting the site up and running that is the hard part. It is not. Paying for the site out of your pocket for 18 months is the hard part. If you can't pull the capital for that, then you're prolly in trouble. It's simple tenacity. If you're a good engineer and have 18 full months to work on a product, I don't care how bad you are at marketing your site, it'll succeed, cuz it'll be a great product.

But this of course assumes you can build a good product and eventually get traffic over those 18 months. I think every engineer has it in them.

Anyways, hope that helps.

[ Parent ]

Boards (3.00 / 3) (#33)
by Xptic on Fri May 19, 2006 at 07:54:45 AM EST

Something that I've noticed is that a lot of "board junkies" tend to frequent multiple boards.

Tech news people hit Slashdot and Digg.  It isn't like they are competing for eyeballs.  They are catering to the same group.

I'm into RC Planes and computer flight simulators.  I tend to hit about 20 boards every day.  Most of these are populated by the same people.  It isn't uncommon to see a post in one board answered by a link to another board.

So, it isn't so much competing as it is augmenting.

[ Parent ]

if you want people to put your site in their sigs (3.00 / 2) (#64)
by Zap Brannigan on Mon May 22, 2006 at 05:42:37 PM EST

you should have some sort of dynamic graphic showing their car stats and maybe a little aviator of their car (different every reload). Anything that lets them show off/add value - in a small space. Little bit like last.fm playlist images.

[ Parent ]
Tech Choices (none / 1) (#35)
by unknownlamer on Fri May 19, 2006 at 09:31:48 AM EST

Dojo is good, but why PHP/Smarty? Smarty is really slow and forces you to do all sorts of caching to get any kind of decent performance. Add to that that PHP is slow in the first place... (e.g. last.fm had huge growing pains a while ago because of PHP and Smarty).

At least you're using the stuff in PEAR. I have found that just knowing that PEAR exists gives me a huge advantage in contracting since I can deliver a project with a tenth of the lines of code in under half the time just by using the standard libraries. My two complaints against PEAR are that the documentation tends to suck and I have to read the source to figure out a lot of stuff, and that the really useful stuff like PageController aren't implemented very cleany (e.g. do override an action on the page every action has to reproduce the same code for verifying that the previous page was correct when the modal flag is set rather than there being a shared method to do that). Of course, it is PHP and the code is amazing for PHP (not that that says very much).

The Flexy template engine in PEAR is much faster and does all the things that I ever used Smarty for. Of course, I do try to avoid PHP and use Common Lisp (with CLSQL+postgresql, the UncommonWeb MVC framework, and TAL for templates) just because PHP is kind of evil and a huge hack.

I'm not really a fan of MySQL. Even version 5 is weak compared to the latest PostgreSQL. For simple "SELECT * WHERE ..." stuff where you don't ever use JOINs or the relational parts of SQL MySQL is great and fast, but once you start doing actual DB stuff it sucks.

Why Fedora for the distro? Be warned that upgrading will be a PITA. Debian is usually the best choice for everything simply because it is easy to maintain. I have a few Debian systems that have just been through the apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade since potato without issue, but I have yet to see a Fedora/Redhat machine that didn't have huge issues with upgrading between distro versions. The lack of security updates once the next FC version basically forces you to Upgrade or Else as well.

<vladl> I am reading the making of the atomic bong - modern science
Why we used SMARTY (3.00 / 3) (#36)
by boompa on Fri May 19, 2006 at 11:32:11 AM EST

First off, when part 2 of this article comes out the door we'll discuss this in depth but here's the quickie.

Well... the most obvious answer is that we were on a fixed budget and had told ourselves we needed to get the site up in two months. Learning new tech just wasn't going to be an option for us. If we had time we might have looked into ruby just to try it out (you're laughing at me now). But as I'd mentioned, we'd seem a LAMP combo with SMARTY scale before, to pretty impressive numbers. I think last.fm scaled poorly because they didn't have the money, not because of their code neccessarily. Or like everyone else they started reading the livejournal scaling tutorials a little to late.

For the most part I think the big thing with picking your code isn't necessarily always going to be performance, but how comfortable you are in it and how organized you can keep it. It's why I tend to laugh at all the articles on Digg saying one thing is better then the other. It's not what you use, it's what you build. Now that's probably me talking out my ass, because I haven't ventured much into other languages, but I've never really needed to.

Why I love SMARTY though is that I just think it keeps code very clean and makes your code accessible to noobs. One day we might have a budget to hire someone else and when that person comes in I don't want to have to tell them how the site is laid out, we just want them to look at the folder structure and go... oh, I get it.

Anyways that's the simple answer, I promise more for the next post.

[ Parent ]

Fedora, Debian, et. al (none / 0) (#45)
by strlen on Fri May 19, 2006 at 08:44:13 PM EST

First, you can do Debian-style updates on Fedora with yum (as well as apt-proper), although I'm sure you've heard of that. My own personal choice would be either FreeBSD or an RHEL-clone like CentOS. Why? Longer support lifecycles (i.e.: longer cycles where I can still install security updates), more stable release cycle.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
Dist upgrade is the difference. (none / 0) (#65)
by lowkey on Mon May 22, 2006 at 06:34:16 PM EST

Neither yum nor apt can handle a Fedora distribution level upgrade. And Fedora cycles pretty fast. We installed a bunch of servers at Core 2, and the getting them up to Core 4 required booting up from an installation disk, and then it still needed some manual fixes. Not such a simple task with ten remote servers. And by the time we were able to get them upgraded to Core 4, it was time to move on to Core 5. Debian really nailed package management. I've been doing remote upgrades for 6 years on one box without ever having a problem.

[ Parent ]
Yeah.. (none / 0) (#66)
by strlen on Mon May 22, 2006 at 07:38:57 PM EST

Well, for longer lifecycles CentOS would be the best idea, as it tracks RHEL. Way more stable. You can also use kickstart to boot machines up from a 'cd' remotely, I'm pretty sure you'd be able to do what you planned via that (or in the worst case, write your own update tools which work via pxeboot).

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]
Write your own update tools? (none / 0) (#78)
by v1z on Fri May 26, 2006 at 09:47:12 AM EST

I realize we're straying a bit from topic here, but:what?! While I can see many reasons for writing your own package management, not many of them fit with choosing a ready made distribution?

I know of 2 package systems that works well; debian+apt-get (from experience) and the *bsd source based package systems (from reputation).

While yum/apt for rpm based distros is nicer than having to manually figure out which rpms to download and install, it's nothing compared to apt on a properly tested distribution, with a properly tested upgrade path.

Even when apt breaks, it's usually fixable with some simple dpkg force-installing, and a couple of apt-get update && apt-get dist-uprgades. And that's usually just the welldeserved hassle you get when trying to part-upgrade a system running a handful of backports, with mixed testing/unstable packages.

Oh, and manually compiling from upstream sources works nicely, but if you call that a "package managment system", you're really using system in a wider sense (you're including the system administrator, the manual routines needed, the post-it note with compile time parameters -- all that stuff. It's not a wrong definiton, it's just different).

[ Parent ]

Not your own package management system (none / 0) (#79)
by strlen on Fri May 26, 2006 at 11:59:44 PM EST

Not your own package management system, i.e.: don't rewrite apt/dpkg, but write your own installer for your OS (as to be able to headless mass-reinstall/mass-upgrade thousands of machines via netboot, with no human interaction; though it isn't quite a problem yet with a small startup).

I do not advocate writing dpkg, rpm or even apt/yum, so you misread me. I do, advocate, re-writing redhat's (rather pathetic) kickstart with your own system from scratch -- and it isn't all that hard. I've implemented a Linux installer myself at a previous employer and my present employer implemented a system similar to that as well (although even more extensive).

As for manually compiling upstream sources, that obviously doesn't scale, other than for "compile once, then make rpm's/.deb's".

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]

I like this article (3.00 / 4) (#37)
by khallow on Fri May 19, 2006 at 11:39:09 AM EST

Despite the problems (spelling, incomplete title, "nullo", etc), there's a lot of juicy stuff here that I wouldn't want to risk losing. While sequels rarely can meet the expectations of the first part, if the second part to this article gets patched up well or just happens to be awesome in its own right, then I'll vote that part +1 FP as well.

I skimmed through the article, but I did focus on the business aspects of this story. The technical side I'll probably look at later. I've been away for a few years so I need to do some reading.

The "zombie team test" was interesting. My take is that it is incomplete. There really are people, that you'd trust with the only gun while fighting brain eating zombies, but whom you wouldn't trust with your money, your life's work, and/or your office supplies. And people you'd trust with your business (keeping an eye on them just to be sure), but who'd be lousy team members in a zombie-infested world. Still it's immediately followed by the "Be Selective" section, so it looks good to me.

You gave an interesting reason for locating in Berkeley. But it seems to me that a lot depends on what kind of worker you're trying to hire. Most seem to go after the recent college graduates. That just may be because that's where the labor for startups comes from, I don't really know. Certainly, it's a lot easier for everyone if you hire someone hungry and energetic, who already lives in the area. If you wish to attract an older sort of worker, you might want to relocate closer to the suburbs (Berkeley actually is well situated for that for what it's worth).

Your take on VC is IMHO spot on. I think I can add a few more reasons to avoid venture capital at this point. First, the only thing a VC can give you at this stage is money. As you point out, you already have that. In addition to the effort required to convince someone to give you money, you also have to relinquish some control. That can be a heavy cost especially now. And of course, the effort you spend to make your company viable now means you can attract higher quality (not greater quantity!) of VC in the future.

Instead, my take is that VC should be brought in when you need business expertise that you don't have and need (accounting, marketing, sales, perhaps) which the VC can provide. The money might be primary, but some VC's are well known for bringing other value to the table, and some will interfere with the business.

I also liked the description of how you delegated a lot of the details of setting up a business to other parties rather than waste your time doing the same thing.

Finally, I'm just a graduate student admiring a cool article rather than a bootlicking VC angling for new business. But I could see how someone might get confused.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Well, I know website names are supposed to be (2.75 / 4) (#38)
by zootropic on Fri May 19, 2006 at 11:40:25 AM EST

unique and memorable and have two os in them, but really, boompa? It's fucking retarded!

name of site threw me too (none / 1) (#40)
by loteck on Fri May 19, 2006 at 02:38:42 PM EST

auto mechanics and enthusiasts are not known for their admiration of cutesy names.
"You're in tune to the musical sound of loteck hi-fi, the musical sound that moves right round. Keep on moving ya'll." -Mylakovich

[ Parent ]
No no boys, (none / 0) (#41)
by dudelance on Fri May 19, 2006 at 03:41:32 PM EST

...there's 2 O's in Goose.

[ Parent ]
Watch your burn rate... (1.33 / 3) (#42)
by jo42 on Fri May 19, 2006 at 04:09:33 PM EST


Must have been the only PHP template engine you knew off, as others are smaller and faster. You can even do your own in about 1/10th the code and not have to bodge around limitations or bugs.

Such as? (n/t) (2.50 / 2) (#57)
by yem on Sun May 21, 2006 at 06:55:22 PM EST

[ Parent ]
...the part where you spare us further suspense.. (none / 0) (#73)
by sudog on Wed May 24, 2006 at 06:07:31 PM EST

Is now. :)

[ Parent ]
As someone who's been doing this for 5 years... (3.00 / 10) (#44)
by urdine on Fri May 19, 2006 at 05:12:05 PM EST

I have some disagreements and some further advice.  First disagreement is with focusing on specific technologies, it seems a little fragmented.  This guide is VERY targetted to a certain sort of web company.  Every new startup needs an AJAX guy?  Really?

Pretty much you need at least a "web tech guy" who can either learn what they need as they go (I do AJAX now, which wasn't really around when I started my co.) and a "business guy", who handles the "phones" as you say, but also can negotiating deals for everything, contact other companies or deal with keeping customers happy, managing finances, or anything else like that.  That's the cleanest way to break it down, and ideally with two people, you're both handling some of these tasks, if for no other reason than prevent the sort of stupidity you get when working solo on stuff.

What about design?  I work at a two person place, we have no designer.  We outsource it.  We outsource everything we can:  logos, web design, editing, writing, even some managing of other editors and writers.  Use Elance or Guru or RentaCoder to strengthen the areas where you're weak or it's not cost efficient to do it yourself.  You can get stuff done for very cheap, and to your specification over several rounds of edits.  My company couldn't work the way we are now without this.

If anyone is really interested in starting a company, why not read a presentation by someone with proven success, the guy who started ONEList (Yahoo Groups) and Bloglines:  http://www.niallkennedy.com/blog/archives/2006/05/mark-fletcher-bloglines- onelist.html

He spent $5000 total for his first 6 MONTHS, and I really think that's the better way to go.  You don't need an office... if you do, what you're saying is you need the motivation to work, since that's really the main thing an office provides at the startup stage.

I think it's much better to be manically cheap, cut every corner, because the goal is really SURVIVABILITY.  You might need to get profits in 6 months to succeed, but if you can stretch that to 8 months, you're in much better shape.

One last word of advice:  have an exit strategy, not meaning "IPO", but exit in case of cataclysmic failure, then STICK TO IT.  If your company fails, get a job.  You can work on it in off hours, and maybe come back to it, or reap minor profits from a defunct business after a couple of years if it inches along, but DON'T go into "extra debt" by doubling down on a losing venture.  This is why an office and all that stuff is dangerous, because it's much harder to reverse the flow when you've already gambled and spent so much on "infrastructure."

Successful startups that turn into successful businesses usually focus on gambling as little as possible, and taking VC money is one way to reduce that gamble (while reducing the upside as well).

You guys need to get out more (none / 0) (#46)
by nlscb on Fri May 19, 2006 at 09:41:55 PM EST

We chose Berkeley [scroll to the Cs]because it's close to SF (and therefor the industry) and because to be honest, being around really hot, unattainable women just drives you to succeed even more.

I just spent a year at Berkeley. I was accepted to Texas. Boy did I feel like an idiot. Austin is a lovely town in more ways than one. I even here they have a fledling IT industry - some quirky little startup called Dell.

Delighted to be back in DC.

Comment Search has returned - Like a beaten wife, I am pathetically grateful. - mr strange

No way (none / 0) (#49)
by frozenfruit on Fri May 19, 2006 at 10:58:31 PM EST

I'm sorry, but that Hot or Not list is clearly wrong. I lived in DC for 22 years and Scottsdale, AZ for 5. The difference is night and day. DC girls suck.

[ Parent ]
The numbers don't lie (none / 0) (#50)
by nlscb on Fri May 19, 2006 at 11:55:39 PM EST

But then again, I had to put up with spoiled Ontario and Danish girls for a good portion of my adolescence. Maybe they are cute (that's somewhat debatable), but they have access to the tallest men in the world. Good luck fighting that tide.

Washington DC has the highest proportion of women to men between the ages of 18 to 34 of any major metropolitain area in the US (damn you, Hurricaine Katrina). Plus, if he's tall and good looking, you'll always come out ahead betting $20 he's gay (San Fran has nothing on downtown DC).

I will happily concede the girls in Scottsdale are hotter. I spent 2 1/2 months in Seattle, and the girls were spectacular - they're just weren't enough to go around. The joy of DC girls is that they don't look bad and that they have to lower their standards ;)

Comment Search has returned - Like a beaten wife, I am pathetically grateful. - mr strange
[ Parent ]

How to Summarize Your Article In 30 Words Or Less (2.76 / 13) (#47)
by brettd on Fri May 19, 2006 at 10:18:10 PM EST

"Pick your partners carefully, write a business plan first, hire people to do the work you're not qualified to, incorporate, and don't use your basement."

Alternate: "Oh shit, we're not getting any hits and we're desperate for them so people will maybe offer to pay us for some ad space. Let's try spending 30 minutes writing up a submission for Kuro." (more than 30 words though.)

  • You've only got about 64 people with vehicles stored, and at least 5% look to be your own personal vehicles. I'd take a wild stab that another 20-30% are friends. Little bit of a slow start there?
  • Your site is so bloated with Javascript shit that it takes my Macbook about 10 seconds to chew on it. Please tell me that isn't just so you can do those retarded "Web 2.0" tabs, because I don't see anything else on the site that requires much of anything in the way of complex Javascript gee-gaws.
  • Images take forever to load (ie, your hosting company sucks. Maybe because they're based out of Canada.)
  • I don't think it was that you didn't want VC funding; I think it is that you presented to a VC or two via CNET ties, and they poked your business plan (of which I don't see even the vaguest description) full of more holes than a block of swiss cheese. For example, you assumed the market for ad space is like the supermarket (ie, you pay what they're asking, or you don't buy.) WRONG. They sent you a proposal, and you're supposed to then negotiate. If any of their customers are paying what the sales staff is proposing, either: a)it truly is a seller's market and they're not asking enough or b)their customers are complete idiots. By the way, a sales staff that doesn't play "hard to get"(ie "we're booked for most of this month") is a staff that needs to be fired. Oh, and by the way- if your business plan gives you anxiety attacks, you're not going to do a very good job selling it to others- and that's a great sign to cut out and run.

You sound... (none / 1) (#51)
by dudelance on Sat May 20, 2006 at 02:38:02 AM EST

...really upset.

[ Parent ]
Here's what you did wrong: (2.85 / 7) (#48)
by cbraga on Fri May 19, 2006 at 10:48:33 PM EST

When you start a business, you want to ask what does the customer want that nobody sells, or that I can do much better or much cheaper?

If you ever manage to answer that question you can be sure you have a winning business idea. However the question you guys seem to have answered is what can we do in two months that looks good and corrects some of our competitor's mistakes? That's hardly a guaranteed proposition.

NEVER base a business decision on what you can do. Decide first what's a good idea and only then figure out if you can pull it off.

I'm a business owner and I can tell you from my not so extensive experience that the MOST time you spend planning a venture must be spent throwing out bad ideas. Anything else are minor details.

You want to throw out a million ideas to stick with that one that beat a million ideas. You want something so great that if your actual sales are 20% of what you projected you'll still be in the green — and that is specially true of two guys investing their savings as opossed to CNet opening yet another site to see if it sticks.

Just some friendly advice in case you ever need it.

Good luck.

ESC[78;89;13p ESC[110;121;13p

Thanks (1.00 / 21) (#52)
by onserv on Sat May 20, 2006 at 01:59:43 PM EST

Nice post!

some thoughts (2.80 / 5) (#53)
by 1iarparad0x on Sat May 20, 2006 at 08:49:19 PM EST

Having worked in three well funded startups, that flopped, with increasing roles of responsibility, your article struck a chord with me.  I typed up a couple of comments and I wanted to start off by mentioning a couple of positives things I think you've done.

Some positives:
1. You actually rolled up your sleeves and got a working site up.
2. You didn't spend ridiculous amounts of money on staring up.  I don't know too many people who have positive things to say about venture capital.  VCs want to manage their money.  It's like a hedge fund.  They want a reasonable chance of they'll get a good return on their investment.  They will want a say in your business.  They will also want a detailed business plan.  They want suit and tie presentations.  MBAs go after VC.  Most everyone else shouldn't.  Small business loans are almost as bad.  Loans just add more pressure to your business.  The less you have to spend to start up the better off you'll be.
3. You found a niche that seems to have a demand.  Yeah, I could see a need for a solid community based site for gearheads.    
4. You did some research.  I've seen people start a business without doing any research.  You actually called your competitors.

Some negatives:
1. Technology is half the business!  You still need solid sales, content creation, and subject matter expertise.
2. Don't quit your day job.  Try atleast getting some work on the side.  Don't expect the company to give you full time work right away!  Yeah, I know that you want to spend every waking minute promoting your business.  However, a website with no e-commerce, just advertising, doesn't need a full-time commitment.  When you get a couple of customers and a little revenue, then go full-time.  There will be a lot less pressure and a greater air of legitimacy.  Heck, if it took you a year to get the site done, it wouldn't be a problem.
3. Don't use your own money (if you can) to start your own business, unless you're completely willing to throw it away.
4. How do you plan to attract users to your community based website?  Do you have how-to articles?  How about a forum for gearheads with slashdot like headlines?  If you're going to do this full time, you need to be developing some quality content.  Try recruiting a solid gearhead to help create some content.

Anyone else go to this year's startup school (none / 0) (#54)
by demi on Sun May 21, 2006 at 01:40:54 AM EST

@ Stanford? I saw Alex Krupp there, any other k5ggots besides him?

Postmortem == after the death (of) (none / 0) (#55)
by nietsch on Sun May 21, 2006 at 10:32:33 AM EST

You cannot do a postmortem if you are still alive. Maybe in your dictionary it just means an analysis with hindsight, but to the rest of the world of the world you have just proclaimed yourself dead.

And more on topic: the method you bring forward in selecting the topic of your website might work. But only if the website and the magazines are similar content-wise. I have never seen a paper analogy of a webforum in the stands. Picking a topic like 'for gearheads and autonuts' without being one is hypocritical IMHO.

Thirdly: percentage-wise nobody is going to care that your html/css is all singing and dancing standards compliant. You probably have seen the code of other very popular sites, and they have no troubles mixing table-tagsoup with css and (i)frames.

Post Partum.... (none / 0) (#56)
by dudelance on Sun May 21, 2006 at 04:35:42 PM EST

...is the word we want.

[ Parent ]
Post Office? [nt] (none / 1) (#61)
by BJH on Mon May 22, 2006 at 02:35:35 AM EST

Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
Office Space (2.00 / 3) (#58)
by benatkin on Sun May 21, 2006 at 07:16:16 PM EST

For the majority of startups, getting an office is a waste of money. If you have enough money to get an office, spend it on good ethnic food and good beer instead. There's no better place for the forming and exchanging of ideas than a nice restaurant.

awesome. (1.66 / 3) (#59)
by Comrade Wonderful on Sun May 21, 2006 at 09:22:47 PM EST

being around really hot, unattainable women just drives you to succeed even more.

This is a story about how 2 enterprising web developers

Like me, he's also insanely arrogant,

I can just imagine how picking up ladies with these guys goes ...

Er... (3.00 / 5) (#60)
by trhurler on Sun May 21, 2006 at 10:44:29 PM EST

1) If you have only two people and don't plan on hiring, and you have no VC money, you don't need office space. You need a basement.

2) VC money is usually a bad idea. If your idea is good enough that they're likely to fund you, they'll still take an unreasonable percentage of your profits and equity down the line in a business where you likely could have made it without them, and if it isn't, the VC is going to fuck you over down the line anyway. The only exception is if you have a business that has really high cash requirements up front - not usually the case with a web site. You think you'll make money in eighteen months and you're six months short and you'll burn $7500/month? Get a loan. Sure they'll make you liable for it. You're essentially liable to the VC too, and the loan won't take a controlling interest in your business if you succeed.

3) PHP is disgusting. I guarantee you that if competent individuals went through it, they'd find literally thousands of bugs, at least dozens of which would amount to glaring security holes. Sure it makes certain things easy - so does Visual Basic, but nobody with common sense uses that.

4) Good luck. Car websites mostly do suck, so a good one would be nice. What's with the name though? It sounds like a Japanese-fetish porn site.

5) Buy a fucking ad, you cheap bastard.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Re: Er... (none / 0) (#63)
by OnTheMoonWithSteve on Mon May 22, 2006 at 11:43:07 AM EST

3) PHP is disgusting. I guarantee you that if competent individuals went through it, they'd find literally thousands of bugs, at least dozens of which would amount to glaring security holes. Sure it makes certain things easy - so does Visual Basic, but nobody with common sense uses that. Where are you getting this from? PHP is used in huge websites like Yahoo, and they seem to be doing ok. What would you suggest?

[ Parent ]
Separate issues (none / 1) (#67)
by trhurler on Mon May 22, 2006 at 08:04:55 PM EST

There is more than one thing at work here:

1) PHP sucks. Yahoo uses it? Sure. So do lots of people. It is quite popular. So is Microsoft Windows. The fact that big names use something does not make it good. It just makes it popular. Don't confuse the two.

2) Yahoo "seems to be doing ok." Yes. Three days ago, Microsoft Word "seemed to be ok." Now it is known that if you open a word document with a certain "feature" in it, it can take control of your entire PC. Security is not like any other feature. You can't tell that something is secure simply by looking at whether it gets used or whether someone gets hacked when they use it. The security mindset is hard for a lot of people to get into, but it does matter.

3) Where am I getting this from? Two things. One, the history of PHP. Lots of discovered bugs, lots of discovered security holes. Some people conclude that "they found them and fixed them, so now it is safe." Smart people who understand programming and the realities thereof look at that and say "hmm, probably sloppy coding, and nobody has really audited it - they just fix the bugs people stumble across. That means there's at least an order of magnitude MORE bugs that nobody has found yet." The second place I get this from is, I've glanced through some PHP source code. I don't claim to be the world's best programmer, but I'm a pro with years of experience, and if you brought PHP to me for code review, it would fail. Every single element of it would fail. The quality is AWFUL.

3) Alternatives? I don't really know. I'd love to be more helpful here, but this isn't an area of software I normally work in a lot. I recommend you look for something written in a language other than C and C++, because there are only a handful of development teams in the world that can consistently produce code in those languages that isn't exploitable, and I don't know of any who spend their time on web app stuff. Being written in something else is no guarantee of security, but at least you know that nobody's Java or C#(without unsafe statements,) or Perl or whatever is going to contain buffer overflows, sprintf smashing, or other stupid trivial mistakes that almost every C and C++ programmer in the world makes routinely. If you must use C++ code, try to use stuff based on the STL and on references and NOT on char arrays, string.h, and handrolled data structures. You may still hit buggy code, but at least you can minimize your odds.

The problem with security is that it is like a fence. Even if you examine 99% of it and it is fine, if there's a big hole in the remaining 1%, you still lose, and just because nobody's gone through that hole YET doesn't mean someone won't do it. The weakest link DOES matter every time.

I personally won't run publicly exposed network services whose code hasn't been entirely audited by me or someone I trust unless they're sandboxed so that even if something bad happens, it is trivial to recover. You can have firewalls, IDS systems, summary traffic analysis, and every other form of network observation and protection known to man, and if the application has security bugs (otherwise known as "attacker features,") it doesn't matter - you still lose.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Rossi (none / 0) (#69)
by mdecarle on Tue May 23, 2006 at 03:26:50 AM EST

One, the history of PHP. Lots of discovered bugs, lots of discovered security holes.

Let me tell you something from the world of motorsports: in 1996 to 2000, Valentino Rossi fell of his bike in nearly half of the races. Today, he has been crowned World Champion 5 times in a row.

Why is he so good? Because he did learn to drive on the edge. While learning, he fell a lot; today, he is the best rider. Better, he won half the races he ever started at, despite the deficit he got earlier on. You could have seen his talent just 2 days ago in the Le Mans motogp race.

I'm not defending PHP, but to throw something out the window, you need better arguments.

[ Parent ]
Worst analogy ever. (none / 1) (#72)
by Spendocrat on Tue May 23, 2006 at 08:41:18 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Um... (none / 0) (#74)
by trhurler on Wed May 24, 2006 at 08:43:17 PM EST

No, you don't understand. In the one case, we have a guy who took risks and learned. In the other case, we have an unknown risk taken by people most of whom have nothing to learn whatsoever, which risk does not diminish with time but rather increases. The two situations are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Congratulations on failing it, where it is an analogy.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Not really (none / 0) (#71)
by ffrinch on Tue May 23, 2006 at 11:34:05 AM EST

What kind of security holes are you talking about? Googling for some examples I found this one:

A flaw was found in the PHP parse_str() function. If a PHP script passes only one argument to the parse_str() function, and the script can be forced to abort execution during operation (for example due to the memory_limit setting), the register_globals may be enabled even if it is disabled in the PHP configuration file.

i.e., if you happen to be using this specific function and the script is somehow forced to abort, this may enable an attack to which no well-designed PHP application is vulnerable. Oh My God.

Most severe vulnerabilities in PHP -- that is, in the interpreter -- only matter if untrusted users are running code on your servers. Important in shared hosting environments; anywhere else, not so much.

Normally, your applications are the only parts publicly-accessible, and then only through GET and POST requests. If the application is vulnerable -- i.e., because you're fool enough to throw unfiltered user input somewhere dangerous -- then it's your own damn fault. But bad design is possible in any language. It has nothing to do with PHP.

"I learned the hard way that rock music ... is a powerful demonic force controlled by Satan." — Jack Chick
[ Parent ]
Well, (none / 1) (#75)
by trhurler on Wed May 24, 2006 at 08:48:53 PM EST

What kind of security holes are you talking about?
Routine buffer overruns, memory allocation misuse, format string errors, off by one errors in memory calculations, and basically every other form of bug you audit code for, which the source code for PHP has not been audited for by anyone, let alone anyone with a track record of competence.
Most severe vulnerabilities in PHP
... which are known! That's the problem. In any large codebase with known serious vulnerabilities, short of months of auditing by large teams of top notch people who are hard to find and harder to keep, there are more problems unknown than known.
Normally, your applications are the only parts publicly-accessible, and then only through GET and POST requests.
Wrong. Your applications run in the PHP runtime, which means all of that runtime code is exposed too. Every code path that can be executed indirectly or directly caused by remote queries to the server has to be checked.
If the application is vulnerable -- i.e., because you're fool enough to throw unfiltered user input somewhere dangerous
The kind of programmers who are capable of consistently avoiding such errors tend to use other languages. That alone ought to tell you something.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
nice writeup (none / 1) (#68)
by Coram on Mon May 22, 2006 at 11:56:01 PM EST

I liked this article and i look forward to the next in the series. I don't agree with everything you have to say but it was a very interesting read. Good luck with your website.

judo ergo sum
Nice GXSR Ethan (none / 0) (#70)
by tehcyder on Tue May 23, 2006 at 09:59:22 AM EST

But does the site make money?

tv.com? (none / 1) (#76)
by Jah-Wren Ryel on Thu May 25, 2006 at 03:57:53 AM EST

Tv.com is nothing to be proud of.

That site has severe usability problems.  It is not the penultimate of form over function, but it is pretty damn close.   I really hate that all the useful, community-contributed, information has been wrapped up behind such a painful interface.

I had completely given up on the site until I stumbled across epguides.com - it isn't flashy, but it is orders of mangitude more functional than what CNET has done, it harkens back to the old tvtome.com interface - intuitive, unobtrusive and highly functional.

Fedora, for ****'s sake (none / 1) (#77)
by ConsoleCowboy on Fri May 26, 2006 at 12:37:37 AM EST

Fedora 4: We went with Fedora as our Linux build because it's free and it's very stable and supported.

I'm sure you guys are really hot web designer and dotcom entrepreneur but please, for the love of all that is holy, get a real sysadmin. Fedora on production servers ? How far where you removed from actual operation at CNET not to know any better than to use an OS with a six months life expectancy ?

Yeah... (none / 0) (#80)
by strlen on Sun May 28, 2006 at 08:22:50 PM EST

If they really want an RH look like, they should go with CentOS which has far longer support/update cycles. Running Fedora (or Ubuntu, or any other desktop distribution that's designed so that you can have the latest version of mplayer codecs and video card support) on a production system is a recipe for two things: constant downtime for updates (and things breaking due to upgrades to packages such as libc, gcc, etc...) or having a complete outdated and insecure system.

My guess is that they're also likely using Redhat's own yum repositories (rather than their own), thus leaving themselves completely open to having a totally broken system. My guess is their view system administration as simply typing "chmod" and "rpm -Uvh" -- including a sysadmin / production engineer amongst the founders or first ten employees is a must.

However, I'm guessing their goal is a) roll out a site really quick b) as soon as scaling/administration becomes an issue sell to GYM (Google Yahoo Microsoft) -- since there are enough customers to monetize, which however leaves out many other options (namely run the site yourselves, profit).

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
[ Parent ]

I was VP of Engineering.... (3.00 / 4) (#81)
by ckm on Mon May 29, 2006 at 03:00:01 AM EST

... at a car site that did what you are trying to do , except we had lots of money and an existing community with a lot of users in diverse areas.

Not only that, but we were started by a car nut VC, so we had access to plenty of $$$ (but we were not VC funded, nach).   It turned out that the business/revenue model was a lot harder than building the infrastructure, something which was mirrored by a later experience as VP of Eng. at a music start up with similar goals (and which was number six on the 'net in terms of agregated traffic at the time)....

With Google ads, you may be able to pull in enough $$$ to pay yourselfs, but there are already a lot of very specific, very popular car websites out there, so it's going to be a lot more difficult to get the high-$$$ ads that will really make you money.  Sites like AudiWorld, VWvortex and Rennlist, or even British Steel, to name a few.

Just my 2 cents worth, and, cool site, BTW.  Good luck.


"engineering". lol. nt. (none / 1) (#84)
by Comrade Wonderful on Tue Jul 11, 2006 at 02:24:47 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I will add something ... (none / 0) (#82)
by Aldebaran on Mon Jun 19, 2006 at 04:26:26 PM EST

The more important to start a company is to have customers. I have been waiting during 5 years to get the right variables : one yearly contract signed, some saving (around 15000$) and the company is breaking even after 6 months.

We will launch in one month hosting services but we get a partnership already established before even starting development for the web site.

Next phase, growth and hiring more people ...

uhm, why would anyone want to work for you (none / 1) (#83)
by manjal on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 02:32:52 PM EST

you sound like a coupla trust fund douchebags who enjoy the smell of your own farts.

eeyeah (none / 0) (#86)
by manjal on Thu Jul 19, 2007 at 04:45:25 PM EST

my shrink says i have anger issues. i told her to shut her fat ugly face! i have no @ @#$@#4 anger issues!

[ Parent ]
boompa? (none / 0) (#85)
by Frigax on Wed Jul 12, 2006 at 11:38:17 PM EST

One thing that I didn't see explained in your article (I haven't waded through the comments) is the name of your site. It reminds me of the Bamzu commercials I keep seeing on the Turner channels. What the heck is a Bamzu, and along the same line of questioning, what's a Boompa?

Looking back, would you rather have spent some of your startup capital on a domain that relates to your target audience?

In any event, thanks for one hell of an article!

Boompa.com Launch Postmortem, Part 1: Research, Picking a Team, Office Space and Money | 86 comments (68 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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