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Archive for January, 2008

When I started fuelmyblog, I had no programming skills (some would say still have none!).

None.

If I could change anything in my life it would be to have somehow learned to during my early non-children years.. At my school, nobody had a computer, the Head Master still caned the bad kids and the nearest we had to programming was to write hello on a calculator (try it now, tap in the number 0.7734 and turn the calculator upside down).

So when I bought a script online for $30 to test if my fuelmyblog idea worked, I walked into a whole new world.

After a couple of email exchanges, I received a ZIP file in my emails with the text “script attached”.. Great. a ZIP file with thousands of components..I followed the tiny help file and got this:-

Warning: mysql_select_db(): supplied argument is not a valid MySQL-Link resource in /home/kevind/public_html/header.php on line 12

Warning: mysql_query(): supplied argument is not a valid MySQL-Link resource in /home/kevind/public_html/header.php on line 14
Access denied for user ‘db_user’@’localhost’ (using password: YES)

Meant nothing to me at all..after two days of loading, deleting, loading…the time had come, I needed help and fast!

I seem to remember googling “I need a coder”, I found a site that allowed me to write my request for work and then within minutes, people were haggling over the price to do the job. Not one of them seemed legitimate but in fairness I was at the end of my patience, I needed to see if my idea would work. Eventually a guy called Kanhai Patel from GudApps offered to do it for the best price, shortly after agreeing the fee, he sent me an email that said “The next step is you send us the script and also make an advance payment of USD 45”.

Hmm…would you have?

What could go wrong, three things. 1. They steal my money, 2. They steal my script and 3. They steal my idea. The final idea scared me most. I had been thinking about starting this idea for three months, to have someone steal the idea was worrying me. Hugely.

I was desperate..

I sent the upfront “sweetener” and we connected via Skype, Kanhai in India, me in France…one of those take a deep breath and slowly exhale moments.

It turned out to be probably the smartest move I ever made. Kanhai is a classy coder, quick and dedicated beyond belief. We talked as he coded until I passed out at 4am..I rose up again the next day at 7am, there he was, still coding. Eventually after 48 hours, Fuelmyblog, the test site was born, it had cost me 4 days without sleep or seeing anyone and just $300. I have kept in touch with Kanhai since and would recommend this guy to anyone.

Anyone who tells you they need $millions to see if a site works is a liar, you need energy, no sleep and of course living costs. The days, weeks and months after are the only major losses, and the cost of that is time.

If you are prepared to work 18-22 hours per day every day 7 days a week, you might have a chance, I had some money saved in the bank and was willing to gamble every penny of it. Was I crazy?

Up next meeting Ian Green..virtually.

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Today I wanted again to post about meeting and finding my first coder but something just came up.  Something really exciting for Fuelmyblog and I would love some feedback.

We have been approached and have now accepted a sponsored weekly blog competition, the company (can’t reveal today, sorry) provide books, we have never worked with them before and have over the past few weeks established a really good relationship with them.  My idea is below, please do leave comments on whether you see it working or not, I’d appreciate ideas as we plan to go live on the 7th Feb 08.  I have listed each part as a bullet point to make it easier!

  • We shall, every Thursday, host a new random macro (very very close up photo) image.  We will be asking the bloggers what they think it is.
  • We will give one blog in fuelmyblog a clue to display
  • After a couple of hours, we’ll link on the fuel blog to the one with the clue.
  • The sponsor will answer questions to the clue through vote comments only.
  • After a couple of hours, the sponsor should have a lot of votes and be easy to find on the fuel front page!
  • Answers should be left via a comment on the fuelmyblog blog or via a vote for fuel (keeping the answers secret)
  • The people that guess this correctly will have their names put into a “hat” and we’ll host a live draw via an online video host on the Friday.
  • The winner gets either their blog printed as a book or a choice from the sponsors website.

Questions

  • Should the winner get to host the image next week?
  • Should the blogs taking part host the photo too, to get more help from their readers?
  • Should we make answers only via a fuel comment vote, ensuring just one entry per user?
  • Is it all too confusing so far?!

If the above makes sense, great!   We have 25 weeks of competition lined up so it should be great fun and bloggers can win more than once.
If it makes no sense, please voice your opinion below 🙂

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This blog is not going to read like a diary of events from day one of founding Fuelmyblog, that would make a great book!

I want to write about other experiences and findings that I feel either help the community or all of us in day to day life. My post today was going to be all about the first coder I found for Fuelmyblog. I’ll put that off until next time.

Right now I am sitting on a train at 10pm UK time traveling down from Wakefield back into London. Wakefield is in the North of England, you can see on the map below, the journey back to Hertfordshire (near London).   It takes around 2 and a half hours, and it is now 10pm.

map of Uk

What is so incredible for me is that now, I find myself working at 10pm (in fact I find myself working at 3am lots too!). In previous “real jobs” when I finished work at 5.30pm, I would now be collapsed in front of the TV, trying to put to bed the fears and disruptions the next day would bring.

Not now, I am traveling on a National Express train and have to say, it is really great. I feel compelled to write about them and their service. The coaches are clean, comfortable and “silent”, people are asked to turn mobile/cell phones to silent and respect others when they answer the phone. It is pleasant and the only sounds are the gentle tapping of laptop keys.  Right now, I have a vicar sitting beside me reading what looks like a bible, and another guy sleeping in front of me. The overall ambience is of total relaxation and strangely calming.

From time to time, a buffet cart passes by with the server quietly and respectfully asking if you would like anything. I missed my first train this morning due to a total lack of parking, instead of paying over £100 for a new ticket, the guy on the service desk managed to play with things and found me a way of only charging me £30.  Expensive but in fairness a good saving and something they didn’t have to do.  When you are miles away from home (right now, over a thousand) it is nice to feel relaxed and in control, National Express Trains seem to have created this.

Oh and the Wifi is free of charge..Yes, I am writing this using good solid Wifi at over 100 miles per hour, my ears are popping from time to time but the web is constant! I would totally recommend anyone visiting the UK to take these trains, you will not find a more pleasant mode of transport in the UK, by booking online you can make huge savings, I paid £30 return today, this can be found for as little as £18 return, which from London to Scotland could be a great deal.  If you book your train tickets on the day of travel this could cost over £200 each way..be very careful!  The site can be found here

Technology has enabled us to connect with one and other in ways it would never have been possible just ten years ago. I am glad that services such as trains are embracing technology and helping us stay connected, without the wifi, I couldn’t have said goodnight to the kids via webcam on Skype, had a chat with a friend in LA on twitter and emailed a guy in Australia.

This is not a sponsored post!  I just write about great service and things that I feel everyone should know about, if a service is bad, should I write about it or forget about it and never use them again? So please help me here, should I write about the odd product or service that is bad? Do you/Would you?

Next up..Kanhai, the coder from India..

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The truth is, I didn’t set out to. The site was originally started for personal use.

It all started with a seed, a seed of thought. At the beginning of 2006 we, my Wife and I, decided to take a huge gamble and move our family to France. The gamble wasn’t the language, my Wife is French and our kids were both fluent, it wasn’t the country, we knew France and loved it. The gamble was settling into a new community and leaving our comfort zone.

We put our house up for sale in April 2006 and by July 2006 were living out of boxes awaiting our Solicitor to tell us we had exchanged contracts and could move. We couldn’t buy a house in France as we had no idea when we’d complete the sale, we needed the equity in the house to buy and so the ever decreasing circle had started.

Eventually, we moved to France, deciding to rent a short term house in the centre of nowhere while searching for a great place to rent in the beautiful city called La Rochelle. This happened very quickly and we managed to move for the second time to our permanent rental home within two weeks!

So why did we start Fuelmyblog? It was during this particular time that we found the best resources of information came from blogs. Like most people, we didn’t always know that they were blogs, we assumed as do most people that the majority were websites offering advice and help.

Wrong.

The majority of the information and help we gleaned was found within blogs, the problem we had was finding the same blog again. For example, we’d search google for “what is the best car mechanic in La Rochelle” we’d be directed to a blog with some expat’s sharing their real experiences and tips, those tips are so important, Yellow pages doesn’t give true reviews, google offers sponsored results, we could only take advice from real experiences. Instead of writing the URL down, we’d do the same google search a few weeks later once ready to get the work done and not be able to find that blog again, information gone.. The seed had been sown.

After the above scenario had happened many times, it became apparent to me that there must be somewhere on the web that I could find a whole bunch of good, non spammy websites, easily, a place where that same blog would be in one months time. I found some “blog” communities existed but after 5 or 6 (seemingly endless) clicks I would finally end up at a blog selling timeshare on a house in Bulgaria even after calling itself an blog offering advice to English Speakers in France. I found myself simply swimming around communities of spam and well, not blogs as promised.

I still had no thoughts or desire to start a community, all I wanted to do was find good blogs easily. At around the same time, there was a lot of noise on the internet and TV about a site called milliondollarhomepage this was created by a young guy called Alex Tew, he wanted to pay his University fees and basically sold pixels for cash and displayed the advertisers all on one page. This to me sounded like a perfect way of displaying blogs, simple but effective, but I wanted to display things on a larger easier to view format..

I then spent the next three months furiously working on my day job, fixing up meetings with CEO’s of blue chip companies in the UK, my role was selling the idea that the company I worked for would (for no upfront fee) go in and save them at least 20% of their current IT and Telecoms spend. You would think everyone would listen to that kind of statement. Not in corporate heaven, in corporate heaven, executives are unable to see into the future. I had one proposal turned down where we proved to the largest Scottish Bank that we could guarantee to save the £100m of their current telecoms spend, and they would have to do nothing extra to achieve this. They were “too busy” to look. We guaranteed it.. Whilst this job paid well, it was hardly exciting nor a challenge and I kept going back to those damn blogs..

The next chapter of my life was about to start, I Googled “I need a coder”..

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This blog is going to provide a useful insight towards starting an online community from behind the scenes. In January 2007 I started a blog community called Fuelmyblog. Since then, many things have changed and I have spoken to a huge number of good people from diverse backgrounds.

My work and career background is in sales. I was the Sales Manager of a very profitable computer reseller called Vitesse Plc for seven years, we were based in London, during my final year at this company, I implemented and introduced an online ordering system, we turned over £500k of sales in the first year online, which amounted to 5% of our overall sales that year. Prior to that role I worked in a bank, sold cars to businesses and was a Private Investigator for one year. Every role I have ever taken has taught me many lessons. None, however, more than running an online start-up.

I had zero experience of how to market a website nor did I have any experience of the players in the internet, two key success factors. I have simply applied all the skills I learned from selling to private individuals and businesses and the aftercare and service that is required to keep customers happy, becoming an expert takes time, keeping people happy takes care and attention.

From an outsiders view, working on the internet is fun, easy and can be very very profitable. The truth..? The truth is that I am writing this post on a Saturday afternoon. I worked on Christmas day and have not had one day off in just over one year, no bank holidays, no weekends. Nothing. Do I regret anything? Not at all.

Why blog it? There is no better way of telling a story or communicating than blogging, blogging is no longer the future, it is here, now and should be embraced by everyone.

I will try to post regularly on this blog, it will be a mixture of experiences, lessons learned and people and sites discovered.

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