Back in 1999, I was co-founder of an internet agency in New York City called Atomic Fridge. We were producing a lot of web sites and online games, which required hosting. We had an office in lower Manhattan, and several servers running that hosted our client work. We collected monthly bills from each customer, which helped pay for the high-speed ethernet cable that ran to an ISP that had their backbone next door.
After 9/11 happened, my business pretty much shut down. I had to move servers across town, and took the chance to move things into the cloud. By the early 2000s, there were hosting companies offering full service, and I had moved on to Linux by then anyway. The mantra of the day was "just put the site on some box running in a datacenter".
I thought this was an ideal way to think about hosting - it wasn't so much the provider's brand or the operating system that mattered. In the grand scheme of things, it didn't even matter if they offered customer support - automate the heck out of it - host it on multiple boxes and use DNS to switch over in case of failure.
Starting a Hosting Business
I had the idea to package up web sites as a collection of code and configuration, and push it to any number of racked hosting providers. If a better hosting plan came along, it was easy to migrate: database backups were automatically dumped, encrypted, and shipped to a remote disk somewhere.
This was how SOMEBOX was born: a hosting-as-a-service-for-any-provider business. I incorporated in 2002, invested months into configuration and scripts, and then migrated my existing clients over to the new concept.
Over the next year I worked my connections and focused on generating sales. By the end of 2003 I had around 25 customers, each paying between $10-$50 per month. Not exactly a unicorn, but I was still in R&D mode. I had big plans...
At least that was my dream, nearly 10 years before Docker, EC2 and Google Cloud were available. Despite a lot of time invested in automation, monitoring, control panels and documentation, I ran into time problems. Each time I won a new customer, I realized that every web app had completely different needs. Getting other people to bend to my idea of "standards" was hard, so I ended up having a lot of work to do with each onboarding.
Switching to E-Commerce
My first pivot was to specialize. I decided to focus on open source e-commerce, since several of my customers ran web stores. At the time we didn't have Shopify and Square Space - there were mostly just expensive commercial software suites that had to be installed and configured. OSCommerce was pretty new, but very promising at the time. In addition, Wordpress was heating up. So I worked to make it easy to bootstrap a new web store or blog or forum using open source.
As the customer needs grew, I started bringing on freelancers to help me grow. I hired a pair of system administrators in Bosnia who ran my servers and did the systems work. I was fortunate to have a couple of developer friends who didn't mind doing some side jobs as well, even though they were on the west coast (hello, remote teams in 2004!).
Eventually, the project work took precedence over the hosting - that was where the real fun for me was. I kept hosting sites until around 2006, when I finally sold the business and moved to Europe. When it sold, the company was profitable, but not growing. The buyer was more interested in having an acquisition and access to the market, rather than the model itself.
I still kept the name and domain. Its always a problem when someone asks for an email and you have to spell it out "No, not SUMBOX, or SOMEBUCKS.... it's SOME BOX. Somebox - like, you need some box to put things in." Ok then, right.
So today, it’s just a box where I can put my finished projects and share them 🙂