Maybe you can relate. Whenever you have an idea for something that you feel would benefit your business and help your customers, you start researching the existing marketplace. Does your idea or concept already exist, is there a genuine need, will it have purpose and what is it going to take to get there.
Today's businesses are completely dependent on their electronic devices - Computers, Phones, Servers etc. All these components collect data, and that information is your most important asset. We all know that technology is challenged every day from internet attacks to equipment failure yet, close to 75% of businesses still don't have a policy in place to ensure their data is safe. Through our years of providing backup and data protection we have seen our share of businesses that lost everything.
Do you recall the day the lights went out in Ontario August 14th, 2003, at 4:10 pm? Where were you? Did you have a full tank of gas? Did you have money with you or useless debit and credit cards? Was your freezer with the new freezer order in it at risk? If you owned a business back then and your server crashed after the power went out, did it come back? Were you one of the fortunate ones that did not lose data?
If you were in Barrie on Friday, May 31, 1985, you bore witness to a tornado that flipped transports, cut a path into the forest up the mountain above the racetrack on highway 400. There were businesses and farms that lost power, machines and unbelievably the raceway lost a computer.
We do have disasters in Ontario. They do not happen every day. They can be a huge problem when you least expect it.
How would you feel about ...?
Downtime, your employees sitting around because your system has failed.
Losing sales worth thousands because your system was crippled by viruses.
Losing years of critical information when you knew there was an inexpensive solution available that could have prevented it.
Having your personal information compromised and published on the net.
The average business spends over $100 per month on coffee and donuts but you may not realize that spending as little as $20 per month will protect their Data.
There is a way out of this!
After weeks of research and consultation with our customer base and industry experts, I realized there was a real need for a local, affordable Disaster Recovery Device.
I first started looking for existing products (why reinvent the wheel), I wasn't surprised to find out that several products were available that initially provided automatic scheduled backups and the ability to act as a standby computer/server in case of downtime. I signed up with a major US company that provided a great product, but after spending thousands to become a reseller and setting up the equipment in our data centre we quickly found a very troubling hidden agenda. We wanted to provide our 300 plus resellers with this product line, but they wouldn't provide a reasonable discount making it unaffordable to our target market of small to medium sized businesses. Then we lost a large reseller in the US that was given a discount 3 times what we were offered. That was the end of that relationship.
Now what? I was still determined more than ever to find a solution. Enter COVID and Andy David. What has covid got to do with my journey? We were in lock down and that gave all of us, like every small business time to think, pivot and try to keep our heads above water. Andy is a long-time friend and customer that called one day and asked how I was doing, so I pitched the idea, and he didn't even hesitate, "I'm in", so we began a new leg of my journey with a fresh set of eyes on the project.
Fortunately, I have experience creating and marketing innovative products in the past, so I started out on the usual path. How can we create a device that is not only functional but is cost effective? We decided to purchase an off the shelve Network Access Storage Device that we could modify based on the manufacturer's description. After weeks of trying to adapt the basic model, we determined that the process to convert the unit to anything other than a backup device would involve a 51-step process and a lot of time to recover a system in the event of a disaster. We then decided to try and build it ourselves. We had the knowledge, and the expertise.
That opened a whole host of hurdles to overcome. Sourcing hardware and equipment, choosing the software side of the equation that would accommodate our specifications, marketing materials etc. After many failures and attempts and many hundreds of hours we finally had a working model. Now we had to put it into real world scenarios and run it beyond its normal limits to see if it would stand up to our very stringent specs.
While we were developing the unit we needed a unique looking PC case, one that would stand out and set us apart from all the PC cases that were readily available on the market. It needed to be upgradeable, versatile to accommodate many different environments, easily serviced and most of all it had to have superior cooling. Heat build-up in the IT world causes most of the failures.
We tried a few cases in the price range we had budgeted for, but they couldn’t handle the heat problem. Then I found a manufacturer in Sweden that had an unusual design, one that could accommodate a large amount of storage, superior cooling and was versatile enough to meet the rapidly changing consumer demands. With this design we would be able to build our standard model but also be able to offer an unprecedented amount of Data Storage, Ram, and Card slots. This was game changer. We not only accomplished the original goal, but we soon realized the incredible potential this case offered. We finally had a huge advantage in the market palace while still maintaining our price points. This brought even more enthusiasm to the project. We sourced a CPU, a motherboard, ram, network cards, a power supply, and an enterprise level hard drive.
So far so good. Now the hard part. What operating system would we need to make this a reality?
Windows was the obvious choice, but the licensing costs quickly escalated and pushed the unit out of our target market. I then suggested Linux (which was free) but Andy didn’t have the same experience with it as he had with Microsoft, but he said he would download a copy and play with it for few days to see if it would work for us. About a week later, success on a couple levels but it still needed a lot more work to provide the security, speed, and versatility we were dreaming of.
Many frustrating long days and nights that turned into weeks.
In the meantime, I was working on the marketing and trying to create a brand around the box. I had created a video from the manufacturer's website that animated the box and I included it in our existing websites. I thought up an advertising piece that explained the importance of having a product that could save you thousands in downtime and protect your data.
Our original idea of a local backup device that would be able to recover your system in the event of a failure was quickly morphing into a completely different product. During our testing phase (which was almost every day) we soon discovered some things that caused it to crash and simply not function, but again, after many attempts and failures it finally worked.
Then one day Andy called me all excited, "this thing is incredible he said, I know I said. No, I mean it’s unbelievable, OK?, remember when I installed virtualbox to run windows inside on the Linux? Yes. Well, I found out that a commercial grade firewall pfSense runs on VirtualBox! OK. It means that we can include a firewall / router with the box. Wow! If we can also include a multi-port Network Interface Card along with the box so now, we also have a working switch".
The pfSense allows for Enterprise functionality with regards to protocols like DNS, DHCP and DMZ configurations all the while allowing for the original concept of having an onsite Network access storage unit.
It’s the Swiss Army Knife of Computers!
Now we were able to call some of our existing customers and see if they were interested, they were, in fact we sold a box in the first couple weeks. We were also speaking with a lawyer about forming a corporation and partnership to handle the purchasing of parts and assembly so that we wouldn’t impact our existing businesses. When we explained the product and the vision to our lawyer, he said we should look at a trying to apply for a patent. I said, "it’s just a box full of parts" and I didn’t think we would get to first base with a patent trademark lawyer, so he said, "no harm in trying" and give us a name of someone he trusted. We set up an appointment, did a presentation a week later. Then stared the process of submitting the documentation. It was given back to us twice. The third time it was accepted by the lawyer and the application was submitted to the US and Canadian Patent office. Two weeks later we received word that our product was “patent pending”
That was incredible. We were finally on our way, we gained credibility by a recognized institution, and it wasn’t just a project by a “couple of guys messing around in the basement or garage”