I started doing ‘web’ stuff in late '92 and working full time as a 'web developer’ probably in about '94 or so…but it wasn’t until about '97 that I actually built my first 'own thing’.
At that time, I was working full time for Corry Publishing. I had been hired to work on their web properties, but really I was 'the computer guy’ so I did everything from installing and debugging software, fixing printers, running network cables (and administrating the Novell network), as well as build, maintain, and evolve the web properties.
Looking back it was a very fun, educational, and rewarding process (and one of those situations where I was so young and in-experienced that I just sort of assumed everyone who was 'a computer guy’ just knew/did all that stuff).
Anyway - it was through that office that I was introduced to the concept of Fantasy Football. They had an office league that they had done for at least a few years before I arrived…it was all run by hand, on paper.
My first year in the league, we remained a completely on-paper, by hand league and I took 2nd place. I was hooked.
I wanted to play again, but I also felt bad for our league commish (one of the sales guys I think) because it took him so much time and work to get our results out each week (and I wanted my official scores faster!).
I thought that I could probably build something that automated a lot of the work for us (and gave me the extra advantage of really knowing who was available on the waiver wires each week).
So I started to build a 'league management’ system…I didn’t know that’s what it was, and I didn’t sit down and plan anything out…I just had an idea of how to solve the specific problem our league was suffering from using the tools I knew and understood.
At the same time, a few of my co-workers and friends decided that we would start our own 'not just the office’ league…and since I was building a system to manage our teams and scores, it would use this new system too. We called this new league “The Drinking Football League” (remember, we were all in our early 20s).
Even by '97 domain names like dfl.com were impossible to come by, so I settled on thedfl.com and got to building (note: I do not own that domain anymore).
The software was actually extremely clunky, and still heavily manual (we couldn’t afford a stats service, and honestly we didn’t even know they existed at that time – so scores were all still manually input into a simple web form each week at the end of games)…but overall it worked and the league was a big success (ie. we all had lots of fun).
Around this same time, I was recruited by a friend to go work for American Express down in NC…and thinking it was a great opp. to focus on just programming (and learn from much more experienced people at a large company), I decided to make the jump.
So I found myself in a new job, in a new state, working in new technology…largely disconnected from my old friends.
But we still had our fantasy league, and my software…and it still worked, and we all still had a great time using it.
To this point I hadn’t thought about doing anything with it other than building interesting and useful features for our own league…the entrepreneurial bug had not really bit me yet.
In fact it wasn’t until a number of the people in the league pushed and urged me to expand the system so they could support other leagues they were in - and to 'go commercial’ with it that I even thought “hey there might be some money in this thing”.
With that positive encouragement, and prodding, I finally started to think about turning the system into a potential side business…but by this time, I was starting to be smart and experienced enough to at least realize that I didn’t really know anything about how to make money from a side project.
So I knew it was going to be a long, difficult, but fun and hopefully very rewarding journey…and so with nothing more than some clunky web based software, one actual league using the system, and youthful energy/naivety - I dove in head first.
I just knew I was going to be rich (and probably famous)…I mean how could I fail?!
Well - long story short, turns out, there are actually millions of ways I could fail…and I’ve been discovering experiencing many of them ever since.
In the specific case of thedfl.com, I made a number of small mistakes, but probably the single biggest thing I could say looking back that I did wrong was to simply be so naive and young.
Now before you complain, I realize that probably seems a bit pretentious and egotistical – but I submit that’s only because it is (sadly I think that’s an important and common trait of most 'startup people’). If only I knew what I know now, and could be in that situation again, I would have made completely different mistakes :-)
Seriously though, I was in the market early, I actually had a much bigger tech. advantage than I realized (ie. a working system)…what I didn’t do was go big, go aggressive…and really that was because I didn’t go into it with a real plan or vision. I was (thankfully) pushed backwards into it…and that’s no way to go about building a business - and doubly worse if your young and naive!
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
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