Tech Notes

My thoughts on Information Technology as is!


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The Real Value of $100 for a Bootstrapped Startup


When you think of 100, it is a digit we are all familiar with, but the unit attached to it can make it orders of magnitude larger than it is without. $100 going through a burea de change will translate into thousands of Naira, so what is the real value of $100 to your bootstrapped startup?

In the past few months I have come across a number of tools that we could have used to improve productivity while working on server side and client side development for our apps, tools such as a CDN like Cloudinary, which we started with, emailer like Mailgun, or a cloud host like AppFog, which I had used to host php apps free for 2 years. As our little experiment grew, we soon hit the imaging limits of Cloudinary and had to upgrade to the paid plan of $50 monthly, but even this would have been inadequate in a few short months and we would have been forced to pay even higher. We needed a cost effective solution which tapped into all $0 of our funding. We contemplated rolling out a custom CDN on our existing cloud host, AppFog, but the cheapest paid plan of $20 would not suffice with the limit placed on the max number of concurrent connections, the size limit of the mysql database and other restrictions placed on the shared cloud host. We would have paid over $100 to have a decent number of max connections allowed, surely this will never suffice as a CDN, we had to find an alternative solution quickly as we had a deadline to either pay up for Cloudinary or migrate and we weren’t ready to cough up for the overpriced offering.

After lots of googling and comparing CDN’s, reading about POPs, the idea to host our CDN came to me, Digital Ocean machines are cheap, so this seemed like an economical choice. I also found out that modern web servers had solved the C10K problem, meaning in theory they can handle more than 10K concurrent connections (there are other bottlenecks in architecture that can make this limit purely theoretical). The DO server also allows a transfer threshold of 4TB which is more than enough for our needs. If we ended up paying for Cloudinary and AppFog, we would have spent over $200 and still not gotten the same power from a scrummy $20 DO server.

Now came the hard part, actually configuring the server. I have a little background in linux so it was very familiar, just needed to switch from Fedora to Ubuntu, since the Ubuntu 12.04 seemed to be the industry standard for linux servers. After reading lots of tutorials by DO, I managed to setup all necessary component on the server and we were up and running, we also found a great pull CDN host to use, Fastly, which helped us avoid building a CDN right away. Amazon’s push CDN I think is BS IMHO. Fastly has been tremendous for us, and we have grown to serving millions of images using it. We have gotten past the free limits now and are being forced to make the choice we made previously, either create a custom solution or fork up the cash to pay for the higher plans.

I did some research about the best stack to build a potentially scalable CDN on and concluded with a stack that runs Nginx front facing for load balancing and Node.js as the web server with either Nginx or Apache behind to resolve php, using Redis for an in memory cache and MongoDB+GridFS for the CDN caching to persistent storage. You may also want to put a Varnish Cache in there if it isn’t too confusing.

As an engineer, I love playing with these things, but the business demands more from me than playing with technology, so for now we may have to fork over the cash to Fastly while we build out our custom CDN to handle both images and potentially videos as well over time. Nowadays whenever I see a SaaS companies like Kiss Metrics, Parse, New Relic, Mailgun, Heroku etc I first go to the pricing tab because those free limits may seem big at first but as time goes on and you hit the limits, if the paid plans aren’t affordable you might be stuck between a rock and a hard place. You will undoubtedly have to incur technical debt while building out your infrastructure, so how far can you stretch $100 for your startup?


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What are you working on?

With all the buzz about startups, it is easy to forget what really matters. Changing the lives of people. Altering their daily habits and infusing your product into their minds on a daily basis, preferably.

People don’t use your product because you decided to make it, they do because it meets them at a point of need and touches their life. With this I want to ask, what are you working on, or aptly how are you touching the lives of others with your work?

It is really easy to get sidetracked by the miniscule details of software, hardware, design, marketing etc, but it is always about the bigger picture. One which is subjective, more like a collage of subjective gestures, fused together to create a master piece fit for the Tate Modern or The Louvre.

Your part in this collage is nothing more than a few brush strokes. It may have emanated from you, but if it ends with you then it wasn’t much to begin with. To keep having the opportunity to add to this master piece, you need it to give you and itself life to keep on going.

So what are you working on, and how does it alter the lives of those it passes through? You need to be paying attention cause only this will truly help complete your masterpiece.


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Hemorrhaging Value

All the talk about data, analytics, lean startup, business model canvas, etc are all aimed at one thing, plugging the leaks and doing it fast. As a would be entreprenuer, I am just understanding what these things really mean, even though I have known about them for a while. The focus has been on writting apps, but most of the low hanging fruit is going slowly, but surely, for you to hit a bulls eye with what is left, you have to stop hemorrhaging value.

The mobile app craze hit us a bit late, and many were ill equipped to cash in on the global fad in its hay day, it is getting more cut throat than ever with each passing day. The global app love fest has hit a rocky path for would be entrepreneurs looking to all in with this strategy alone. Out of possibly millions of developers published in the app stores, only a few thousands are making the big bucks, after tax of course.

The tech based business on the other hand is where daring entrepreneurs can try their hands. Talk of app downloads gets replaced by daily active users, and you want to know what each user is costing you, and how much you are making off them. This is the long game and local is a big selling point in this game. No need for the high horse bullshit innovation talk, clones are allowed in this game. The saying, go hard or go home could not be more applicable than in this game. Customers are the holy grail and revenue is the only winner in this game.

Are you still playing the mobile app game or have transitioned to the tech based business? Stop hemorrhaging value and plug the leaks fast!


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The Danfo Mentality


A phenomenon which I have encountered in the past few years riding danfo buses has been a bit mind boggling, and i am calling it, unintuitively, the danfo mentality. If you have ever been in a commercial bus in Nigeria, aside from the many wrongs that have become the norms with danfos, something really tops the madness. If you are unlucky enough to enter a half empty bus, you will notice the driver will stop at the drop of a dime just to pick up a new passenger with total disregard for vehicles and lorries coming behind! Unfortunately I see this every week. Something even more interesting is that the passengers that they endangered everyone’s life to pick up, once inside the bus, becomes a part of the next everyone that will be put at risk. By simple deduction, passengers become less valuable once they are in the vehicle and even disposable, almost, once money has changed hands. This is the danfo mentality.

What does this have to do with tech? It is the same dilema with old vs new business. New business is exciting, while old business has lost its lustre. You can probably give an arm and a leg to acquire new clients, but after the job is done, the danfo mentality may set in if we are not extra careful, and we end up being hypocritical, deriding the danfo drivers while we are practicing their dogma.

What is a remedy for this mentality? The Taxi mentality. A passenger negotiates with the taxi driver from the start, a price is agreed and you sit in the comfort of the taxi throughout the journey from end to end, the only thing is the price tag. In both scenarios, you are the driver, and the passengers are your clients. It is important to identify if you want to run a taxi service or a danfo and be cognizant of the pro’s and cons of both. Not knowing what kind of service you are runing from the jump could be a real killer. Dont charge taxi prices in a danfo, and dont give danfo service in a taxi.

This could be a hard lesson that you may have to learn by experience, but it is always better to avoid the pitfalls. So what kind of driver are you, danfo, taxi? There is always okada or my car, but thats a story for another day :).


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The Fear of Failure

"The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure." - John C. Maxwell (Failing Forward)

People are afraid of failing, it sucks. I don’t play chess because I am afraid of losing! I play other games, and yes of course I have lost my fare share of them, but the point is fear inhibits potential. How many people are being held back by the fear of not trying?

In our society, it is not ok to fail. Maybe we need to change this mentality to; it is ok to fail as long as you succeed in the end.

Typically I write blog posts and let them sit for weeks, even months at times, before pulling the trigger on them. Why is this? The fear of failure, this affects me at work also. If you only fought in battles you could win, then you would be a very local champion. I typically want conditions to be “perfect” before embarking on some things, but as we know, perfection never quite comes around. A nudge from someone is always useful in these situations to get you over the hump.

How is your fear of failure inhibiting your progress physically, mentally, professionally, and emotionally, etc? I can’t say that I cracked the fear code, but as is often said, knowing what the problem is means it is 50% solved. Let’s hope the remaining 50% doesn’t take forever to figure out.

In the words of JD Houston:

If you want something in your life you’ve never had, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done. - JD Houston

Filed under fear failure ambition success finish complete