What I learned doing a startup: part 2

This post comes from a series; read the series overview here.

As already mentioned Ground Control didn’t start as a SAAS business; it began out of my desire to have something resembling an agency. My attempts at actually building an agency had been somewhat faltering due to a lack of insight about how one actually gains business leads in that space. As such the promise of recurring revenue from a more modern style of software business seemed appealing. However a key thing to remember when starting a business is that if something seems too easy, it probably is.

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What I learned doing a startup: part 1

This post comes from a series; read the series overview here.

When I began Ground Control I had no idea I was starting a business. I had been hired to build something, and wanted to do a good job of building it. However once other people expressed interest in the same system, and realising my initial customer would allow the software to be licensed in this way, I got the idea that this could become a system that could be sold over and over again.

The first customers paid lump sum values to use the system, but I quickly realised that large one-off payments for software had disadvantages - they made the sales process harder (the customer is committing a lot up front) and they risk the business needing to keep selling to survive. This would be a problem for any business but skydiving is a small industry - one could feasibly run out of customers, or at least exhaust all potential leads.

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What I learned doing a startup

I’ve considered writing up some thoughts about my first business for some time now. There’s become a tradition in the startup world of publishing post-mortems when a company fails. In many cases these are published after the startup may only have been around for months, or a low number of years; they’re usually published once the business is wound up or does a dramatic pivot which essentially amounts to it becoming a new business. My case is somewhat different; Ground Control is a business I started in 2010 and exists to this day, but it shared a similar aspect as other “failed” startups in that it never got to the place I imagined it could be when I started.

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Handling environment variables in Lambda@Edge

I recently came across the issue of managing environment variables in Lambda functions when they are deployed @Edge, i.e. are made part of a cache behaviour for a CloudFront distribution. It turns out it is not possible to use environment variables when a function is used in this manner. Fortunately there is a workaround which may handle some common requirements, if you happen to be using Terraform.

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Zoom's security woes

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the Zoom video conferencing app into a household name, no longer just the preserve of business people who ask if they can “send you a calendar”. The sudden transformation of social life across much of the world (at least the western part anyway) into an online only activity places a much-loved tool into a tumultuous new market, where customers have different desires, expectations and understanding.

Needless to say it has not been a smooth ride for them.

There have been plenty of opinion pieces on the matter; I imagine I’ll not bring anything new to the table. But Zoom right now provides an interesting study into the mechanics of success for a technology startup, and shows how important assumptions are when building a product - especially when considering how the security posture of such a product interacts both with its development and with its adoption.

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