This entry will be about my company Haschek Solutions and the crazy ride that lead to this 10'th anniversary.
How it began before it began (2004-2005)
I was always a geek with crazy ideas for projects. In technical college my first project was Education Bash (a website where people could send in fun conversations that happened in schools) which I created for an Easter competition in my class. The topic was "Create an awesome website" and my team (Philipp Hana and me) won this contest. We then got a small team who helped administrate EduBash and even bought competitive sites and merged the databases. Money was never made with it since I didn't want ads on any of my sites (and still don't).
This image was taken in 2005 on an Education Bash meeting at the IBM Client Center in Vienna:
I can't quite remember when or how we met but around 2005 I talked a lot with Thomas Schranz about business ideas and just stuff you can do without needing external people. This sparked a flame in me and I knew that I would want to start my own company as soon as possible. There were many possibilities for a business and my first idea was webhosting but more on that later
The birth of ZERODOX - wait.. what? (2005)
On November 15th 2005, at age 18, I went to the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber with my co-founder Robert Navasartian (whom I had met in college) and each of us founded a business in the field "IT services". We then made a contract and this was the birth of our company "Zerodox". I'm not quite sure how we got to that name, I think it was a mixture from a random name generator on the internet and a result of a heavy brainstorming session but we agreed the name sounded good (enough) so we went with it.
What the hell did two 18 year old guys need a company for?
Founding a business was the only way to profit from a project legally. We didn't make much money at first and therefore didn't have to pay a lot of taxes we were excluded from the very expensive social security payments.
What exactly did we do to make money?
We sold webspace
In theory selling webspace is awesome:
- You create an account for a client
- They can log on to the server and put their stuff on it
Selling webspace reselling accounts sounds even more awesome:
- You sell someone a webspace reselling account for 30€ / month
- They can create up to 10 clients
- They look for clients themselves and control their own prices
- It doesn't matter if they don't find any customers since you get the 30€ / month if they're successful or not
But what we didn't know at the time was that we were too late in the webspace game and since users shop around for cheap webspaces, we had to go as low as 10 cents a month for small webspace accounts to still be competitive.
So we didn't make much money...
For obvious reasons we couldn't afford to put servers in a datacenter so we reused old laptops that had problems and were given away for free. We started with two IBM ThinkPads T21. One with a broken display and one with a broken frame:
At home I had a very fast internet connection and 5 external IP addresses which I used to host the servers while they were running from under my bed. The performance of these devices was pretty good since for most web servers the bottle neck is the internet connection.
I remember dedicating a whole shelf to laptop servers. They were neatly stacked like books in those shelves and it felt like managing a series of blade servers. Sadly I never took pictures of it.
Because I still lived with my parents back then I had zero costs for internet & power and since almost all of our laptop-servers had some defects, we didn't have to pay for them either. So every cent we earned went right into our pockets (since we made so little money we were under the taxable amounts).
Later I got my hands on some old servers:
They were loud as hell but had much more power than my ThinkPads. I slept with 3 running servers in my room for over a year. Still don't know how I could sleep at all.
Experimenting with other services (2006)
At school I realized that there are other services that users like to pay for: Game and Voice servers.
So I set up another broken laptop I had (ThinkPad 770z) and installed a Counter-Strike 1.6 game server on it and rented it to my classmates. At this time I learned that you can push the price for hardware just so far; at some point your hardware is too old or too bad for something. My class mates weren't happy with the performance of the server and didn't want to rent it again.
Proxies were the new game servers (2007)
At some time in 2007 my college installed a web filter that couldn't be fooled by using a different DNS. Classmates were angry that they couldn't go to Facebook (or at the time StudiVZ).
I saw a market grow under my nose, so I sold 5€/month proxy server accounts which were so easy to use that soon people from other classes would ask me for one. In other classes they tried to compete with openVPN servers but most people didn't even know how to configure their openVPN clients so they came back to me.
The time Thomas Schranz and I almost invented Dropbox
In December 2007 Thomas and I came up with the idea of a kind-of-NAS that could sync your data over the internet or LAN automatically and if you added more than one of these devices they'd distribute the files on them so you'd have a fast and secure way to store your data. We called it the NanoBox
This is the actual folder we sent out to potential clients in 2007: NanoBox.pdf (German)
The hardware we used was a Linkstation Live NAS that we had flashed to run a full debian with ZFS for versioning and data integrity. It was a really awesome device since it was an affordable and energy efficient way to add your hard drive to the network. The software we wrote did work quite similar to the way Dropbox is working and we wanted the software to be usable on other Linux devices, not just the NanoBox.
I even briefly renamed my company to "Nano Solutions" for this project.
I don't know why the thing never took off since one potential customer was the social security institution in Vienna which was looking for a better way to do offsite backups than with tape drives and a guy with a briefcase transporting it to a different location. Unfortunately we were ahead of the time and the product had little to no appeal for private persons so sadly, the project died some time later.
After military service things got serious and scary for me (2011)
I graduated in 2010 and after the mandatory military service in January 2011 I was looking for a direction for my company and my life in general. The money I was making from webhosting was under 100€ a year and after my graduation word about my proxy service was lost and I had no clients.
This was me in the military:
Should I keep trying to find something my company can do that makes actual money or should I drop my company and look for work in other companies? This question was on my mind for a few months until I got a sign that would show me the way.
"The sign" and foundation of Haschek Solutions
My dad (IT guy himself - he was with IBM for 30 years) was contacted by a person involved in a school and they said they were very unhappy with the state of their IT. They did have an external company that managed IT but they weren't happy with them because they were expensive and the results were not satisfying (enough) so they asked me if I could help out.
This lead to my first contract as a sysadmin. Since this was kind of a fresh start for me, I renamed my company to Haschek Solutions and I was hired to look after their infastructure and keep things running. Everything went so smoothly that they recommended me to another school and then to another.
The awesome thing was (and still is actually) that the schools don't lose any of their own money when they hire me since the ministry of education gives some extra money to schools to pay external companies like mine but if they don't have an external company they don't get the money. My contracts with schools were always fixed to the sums the ministry was giving to the schools, so they had a 24/7 sysadmin at no cost for them.
I still love every aspect of being a sysadmin. I love my free time when my systems are stable, I love that I can be called, drive somewhere to fix a problem and leave happy customers, I love working behind the scenes and yes, I even love splicing cables on weekends at 10 PM.
Business was blooming and I was making real money for a change. Since I was always on call there were days when I wasn't called at all so I started doing side projects and added them to the Haschek Solutions Portfolio.
This was also when I started teaching 4 classes a week in an academic highschool in Vienna.
In this "spare time" I created some of my most successful projects
- Socialcube and Socialcube LITE
- PictShare the open source image hosting solution
- W.E.G.A Web filter
- Proxy Checker
- 0xf.at hackits
- http2pic, open source website rendering solution
During an interview with the german TV station RTL:
Business is where you find it
While working as a sysadmin I found out that there are almost no affordable web filter solutions so I created my own and gave it to my customers for free. This was a benefit for the school because they got a web filtering solution for free and it was a great way for me to test a new product without the stress that you get when you sell a product that's not perfect yet. This web filter (W.E.G.A) is now one of my best selling products.
Back to reality
I love what my company has become, I love that I have enough time to have side projects and in short I just love my job.
I don't know what the future will hold for me and my company but you can be damn sure I'll keep working on improving and scaling Haschek Solutions as long as possible.
It has been a crazy ride and I'm very happy about how things turned out. Thanks to everyone who was by my side along the way.
Zerodox Nano solutions
- Haschek Solutions