Skystra’s early years, looked at through the lens of nostalgia, were some of the best years in my life. Hard work meant new customers, and new customers meant more budget, and more budget meant more service, which led back to new customers.
Of course, all of that is a total simplification of what actually happened. The stories that people love to hear about now are those first turbulent years. But at the time, none of us knew if the company would survive one week to the next. It’s not unheard of, almost every company that starts will have tons of challenges.
Skystra is no different. It had challenges, in many aspects. At the very beginning, the business itself didn’t cost much. There was no overhead and the technology itself was already mature for its time.
The first challenge we faced was lack of knowledge. The web services industry is still relatively new, even today. Back then, it was revolutionary. We knew how to work with servers and infrastructure, but we did not know how to provide the proper service with them. As a group of people who loved technology, we sorely lacked knowledge and experience in the service and support side of things.
We were very raw on the service side. We knew what to do with the technology, how to build it out, but then ran into “what does the customer use our service for?” problem.
Not only did we lack on the knowledge side, factors that a more experienced team would better handle came about all within a year of each other:
- The billing system we used was bought over by another company and shut down. This caused a lot of trickle-down financial issues, one of which we came within days of not being able to pay our bills.
- This was a period when Distributed Denial of Service attacks were novel. And extortion using those kinds of attacks were growing. We had our own fair share of those and the experiences those bring.
- Hiring and training new team members wasn’t going well. We didn’t know how to properly recruit and talk to candidates, screening them in the process. Bad apples caused a lot of problems.
- Outages at the datacenters we used. Sometimes hours-long. Not being able to do anything but wait it out along with our customers.
- Some hostile takeover offers created a lot of turmoil.
- And more…
At any of those times, as a group, we could have (and some would say should have) called it quits. Sold the business as it was back then, enjoy the spoils and move into the venture capital world. That was truly the most given advice we kept getting as a group. There were a ton of challenges, some notable failures, and the stress of being able to pay the bills every week was piling up. In the end, as a group, we decided to keep everything running. To double down on ourselves, bet on ourselves, to be better than we were.
It wasn’t perfect, not even close, but as we turned the corner on those challenges, we were much better off for it, and most importantly, we gained critical knowledge and business savvy, which helped us for years afterwards.
Those early years were not easy, however without them, and the challenges they posed, we would not be the team we are today.