For the first several months the site served as a place where I would post what I learned on the job. I started to build some traffic and watched intently as the numbers climbed to what I considered to be an impressive 300 visitors per day. I started to see more and more technical questions surface, but I was the only one providing answers for about the first year. Then a couple of people started answering questions, links from other discussion forums started to pull in those that wanted to discuss deployment. It took about a year, but the site had finally become a place to discuss deployment and share tips. There were relatively few people engaged, but there was a small community now and that was my first goal.
One of the first offers I got as a direct result of AppDeploy was a couple years after its launch. In 2002, I was asked to speak at a user group in Chicago which didn’t pay but did include travel/expenses and was my first trip to get in front of a crowd with “founder of AppDeploy” as a title. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip even though nobody raised their hands when I asked if they had heard of the site (a self-serving question I love asking these days).
Soon after I was coincidentally flown out to Chicago once again, this time by a company that claimed to be interested in buying AppDeploy. The company was Spirian Technologies and they were largely a consulting group specializing in deployment. It made sense, but it turned out that they were interested in doing “something” with the domain name and adding a deployment specialists to their ranks which was not what I was looking for. Still, the experience was fun and I got a couple of fun stories to tell out of it (which I’ll save for another day). Sprian is no more, but in doing a bit of research here I discovered a bit more about what happened to them: the company was acquired by SecureInfo in 2003 and it turns out that things seem to have ended baldy for them so in retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t take that path.
I decided I was spending way too much time building static web pages when a couple of work friends turned me on to ASP which was (is) basically VBScript and HTML. I was just getting into scripting with Batch and KiXtart so it was relatively easy to pick up. Soon I had a site where I could add new products and information in just a couple of minutes as opposed to the half hour or so it was taking me to do so manually. This let me grow the content on the site much more quickly and with that content naturally came more and more relevant visitors from the search engines. Much of that original code is still in place today and despite some suffering a couple of SQL injection attacks in 2007 it has proven itself reliable.
With the dream of having the site become my full time job, I needed to find a way to make some money with it while not pushing people away from the site. A simple banner seemed logical and I got interest from smaller deployment products early on. I didn’t know what to charge, and as a niche site the pay per click model just didn’t make sense. I decided I would offer statistics to anyone who asked, but would go with a flat monthly rate. At one point the site had a top, left and bottom banner as well as a top and bottom newsletter placement. There were months I had only a couple of clients, and other times I was full up. In order to collect money I needed to make it official and establish a real business so I created RWK Systems (based on my initials– I know, very original). I opened a bank account and remember one of my very first deposits was from InstallShield who purchased a top header banner for twelve hundred bucks. This was for one full year, but the banners were set up as such that I could have a few different clients rotating in the position. So with no guarantee as to traffic, any given month could see anywhere from one hundred percent of the traffic to one fourth based on the number of clients that month.
Google Adwords were very effective the first year it was available. Then I found that I was competing with myself because perspective clients could target my site via Adwords instead of advertising with me directly. Selling was never my thing though, and while there have been dozens of advertising clients over the years, it is really due to the niche area on which the site is focused and not my efforts to secure advertisers. With so few specialized locations online where one could target systems deployment specialists, every one of the advertisers the site has seen has approached me through the site directly and I never had to make a sales call to pitch the offering. My list of past advertisers reads mostly like a list of tech companies that have either vanished or been acquired away: Altiris, ActiveInstall, Camwood, Chicago-Soft, Cognet, EPiCON, INOSOFT, InstallShield, Intel, InsysTek, Lanovation, NetSupport, Network America, New Boundary, Pantaray Research, Pocket Soft, Previo, StorageSoft Solutions, Symantec, SmartDesk, Swan International and Wise Solutions.
Rod Trent ran the SMS area of the Swynk website– a hot community at the time which focused on Microsoft Backoffice Products. I guess he liked the idea of a deployment focused website and started mentioning the site as a resource at Swynk and in talks he would give at the Computing Edge/Altiris SMS conferences (which has since evolved into the Microsoft Management Summit). Rod had made a name for himself helping lots of people with SMS projects in running the site, writing and speaking on the topic. The SMS section of the Swynk site he was operating represented the bulk of that communities traffic and was pulling some impressive numbers. Having dealt with him a handful of times over the years, I can say Rod is a genuinely good guy. My first encounter with him was when he reached out and helped raise awareness of AppDeploy despite the fact that someone else might have seen it as a competitive site. I too never saw it as competitive as his site focused on SMS and operations and AppDeploy focused primarily on application deployment tasks. He broke away from Swynk and started a new community site that runs successfully today as myITforum. I think it was originally owned by Altiris, then he got it, then it was acquired and finally he reclaimed once again. I wouldn’t mind reading that site origin story 😉