The mask-man had left. Forever.
It was over. He would never return. Back-home was bad. He was an outsider.
"I believe there's a hero in all of us."
It was disastrous. Naivety led him. It would rule him; ruin him. It was a trap. It broke him.
‘Twas another web.
He saw it early. The web was again. He loved it. He swung at it. It was his moment.
Spiderz was it.
The story thus far.
Nov 13, 2018
It has been 16 years and some months as I write this piece. Spiderz was born off a small concept: spiders spin webs in real life. So ‘spiders’ must spin webs online too. Who could do it better? The idea of using an ‘s’ was just too literal, so I had chosen ‘z’ instead. “What’s a web not spun by a spider?” I thought to myself.
2000, the idea of starting a business in Dubai was remote to me and out of reach financially on my own. I had a modest job working as the online service coordinator at one of the local cooperative societies with one sole mission: we had to take our entire 80,000 plus SKUs online and introduce e-commerce.
The first 17 days were amazing, the rest were punishing. We were onto something and were going places, then everything came to a stop. The developers contracted had folded their business. I was technically redundant and the new Marketing Coordinator. We never went online. Forces beyond nature took over.
There was one man, a father-figure, a gentleman of an Emarati and my uncle, who I had stayed on because of, at the company – he had earlier introduced me to the then British general manager, who hired me for the online project. As fate would have it, early 2002, my uncle invited me to start a new business in partnership with him and asked me to write a plan.
March 2002 I recall, the plan was ready, I had found the name, chosen a business that had plenty of buzz at the time, sound profit margins (or so I thought) and had two designs ready for our brand. I still have both and they aren’t what the present Spiderz branding looks like. I’d give you this much, one was a light decent blue gradient based S and the second was the entire ‘spiderz’ text in red scray movie typography. We had chosen blue.
On March 30, 2002 someone booked spiderz.com. It wasn’t me. When I found out, it was too late. I cringed.
June 2002, first week, we were in business. The Dubai Department of Economic Development had issued us our license and I had opted for an office at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers – fully leased ServCorp office space, at the 41st floor, with a 12-month contract with ServCorp that gave us a 50% discount on the first 6 months’ lease. There wasn’t another prestigious address in the entire United Arab Emirates at the time. High-speed Internet came free (our connection was a ‘whooping’ 1 MBps with unlimited use) and the place was absolutely stunning. I loved the ServCorp experience – they were absolutely professional, with handy staff, out-of-office-hours access cards (that felt absolutely Mission Impossible crazy at the time) and a pantry with some of the sweetest apples I’ve eaten from New Zealand. As for coffee that everyone seems to love, there was plenty of that too. I loved tea.
I recall the first day when the office was handed over to us and my uncle had visited for a short meeting. ‘It’s your baby’, he said looking at me with an expression of confidence. He had left moments later and, I was at my beautiful desk, in a furnished, Emirates Towers office, staring at Dubai’s vast open desert, and a question on my mind, “Where do I start?”
I was 25, I had a workable idea of our main product – web development – and I had never run a business, seen one being run or been mentored to run one. I had one knack though. I was a genius at computing. I had been at it from when I was 12.
The years between 2002 and 2008 were nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Dubai’s best years in history and historical growth came and went during these six years. We made quick and good business and we did some of it wrong. Spiderz was seen as a new, yet solid company anchored in the famous Emirates Towers – the tallest towers in the region at the time. I hired and let go some 11 people during this period and we piled up development work from companies big and small. A major portion of our business was from Real Estate brokerages and we had some excellent customers. Word of mouth complicated our problems, we sold fast, most times at discount, and we shipped projects late. However, we did two profound things during this time: 1. we made enough money to pay expenses and equity, 2. we bought the spiderz.com domain from the original registrant. Yeah!
2008 choked every business in Dubai. Some of our best clients went out of business. Some stayed and closed down later. 50% of our real estate customers vanished in a matter of months and so did our cash flow. New web development projects came from clients abroad and that helped us stay in business. The same year around August my uncle hand over the business to me. Few moments are as profound as this – my mentorship was over.
2011 saw many things come – we aimed and achieved 100% ownership by moving to one of the best and most flexible free zones at the time. Our original customer base stayed with us and one major product helped keep us going – hosting and domains. Though a side entrée offered with our web development services, every year had added more clients to our customer-base who were happily hosting their servers with us and would rely on our hosting service for running their day to day business. Web hosting as Knight in Shining Armour fought our best and worst battles.
The years from 2011 onwards were major re-education for our team. Discovering Jason Calacanis’ podcast and later adopting almost all of the principles from the 37Signals’ Signal v. Noise blog and their books, we reshaped Spiderz as a remote business that ran frugal, 100% online, paperless and aced at selecting new work. We chose to say No often, took few meetings and leveraged our knowledge in web development by actively hiring super-skilled remote workers around the globe.
Our early experience had taught us that outsourcing to a company or a larger team was a slow affair. You would be sold to by someone skilled and then handed over to a junior who’d have poor communication skills or get stuff done just the way they knew how! Outsourcing to large teams was riskier too – they could hurt our clientele.
The solution came in the form of rapid iteration. We chose to break down projects into much smaller components and assign each to a remote resource. Since workflows across most projects are predictable, we knew exactly when to hire someone or have them at hand, at some future date. We managed to hire active (read online), super-skilled (read proficient), remote workers (read freelancers with repute). It worked for us.
A web design would be done in Romania in Photoshop with PSDs and JPGs flown over to Thailand where it would be convered to HTML and CSS thereafter programmed in Pakistan and Russia. This was amazing! It took us less time shipping projects this way compared to when we used to hire our own team of developers locally in Dubai (lesser skilled and trapped in a 9-5 work cycle UAE Standard Time! Not to mention the shebang of onboarding costs and issues faced in dealing with humans and their lives).
2014 and we were masters at it. Web development is a smoothie of things and we made smoothies real proud. The winning points namely, choosing a versatile toolset, rapid development and finding capable hands when we needed them most. The only problem we faced were two, the few times when we had nothing to do, or when we had something to do that was taking longer than usual to get done. Stakeholders slowed us down affecting our ability to ship projects and acquire new business. We weren’t building run-off-the-mill websites either (it’s way simpler if you’re doing that, you can grow your team faster) – we were building PHP and MySQL based systems that had particular requirements from our clients. If a client would pause a project, we’d have to pause with them. Almost as if you were parked on a speeding highway, in the middle of the road. We needed Stopgap revenue.
2015 was the year of experiments. We built new projects and services – Probase (our property management system for brokerage houses), SpamVest (a spam protection service based on our licensing agreement with SpamExperts; who we are a channel partner of), SitePress (a web design service for WordPress powered websites), Spiderz AE (a web hosting service aimed at the .AE domain and affordable hosting in the UAE), Spiderz IO (a ‘build-and-code’ service that would help us market web development solutions; minus-design) and ymasood’s (an online store on JadoPado.com, now Noon.com, retailing: Everything but the gadget!).
Spiderz AE and ymasood were fresh and rewarding surprises. We learned a few things in their success: 1. not every idea is worth pursuing, 2. core services should grow vertically, not horizontally, and that UAE based businesses sell far and wide, online. Spider AE, aided with Google Adwords sold our domains and hosting services at a faster rate than we had seen any growth at the time, while our ymasood’s store on JadoPado.com (now Noon.com) sold as far away from the Island of Srilanka to the seas of Morocco. The experiments had worked.
2017 magically, it all started coming into one. Our hosting revenue off-shot our web development revenue. We were essentially a web hosting company, yet one that had never been designed to run so from inception. Our web hosting acumen, training and expertise had grown over the years, yet we had miles to go in running mainstream hosting services.
2018 we chose to consolidate all our web services under the Spiderz brand name. A new plan was on, we begun training our core team at cPanel University. Our hosting workload was moved over to Amazon Web Service (AWS) and by mid-June 2018 the infrastructure was fully managed in-house. We deployed servers in the Ireland, Singapore and Canada Regions, thereby aiming to service International clients and taking our brand global. With AWS we could upscale at moments’ notice, horizontally, or vertically and run snapshots and backups like never before, ensuring our AWS workloads stayed close to 100 uptime month after another. To automate ordering and fulfillment of services, we tested two popular billing systems and chose one based on customer familiarily, abundance of features and cross-platform integration. Streamlining all these mini-projects besides managing our web development projects and day-to-day running of the business was a tall order, so it took us months instead of weeks to get production ready. We got there, albeit missing a website.
October we took off from client work. The plan was simple. We wouldn’t be able to develop and launch our new services working part time. There were just too many bells and whistles. We had to work four weeks back-to-back designing and copywriting the new 2018 spiderz.com website (the one you’re browsing now). We let our development clients know. We were busy internally.
The new Spiderz presence took shape in close to three weeks with fantastic branding, a new product line, automated billing and order fulfillment, a brand new help centre, and new upcoming content. Transformation seemed a hard, gruesome and debilitating process. The question we chose to ask was whether we wanted it today, or in distant future. And it worked.
PS: Very few ‘about’ pages are written this way – candidly. I chose to write our story with two points in mind: 1. nothing is valued more than a true story, and 2. we’re blessed to have one.
If you liked reading the Story of Spiderz, chances are you’ll like hosting with Spiderz! Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or simply head to the home page for more information.