Anyone who knows me knows that starting and running my own business has been a lifelong goal of mine. Since I was 12, I would routinely generate ideas for new ventures and play them out in my head. Inevitably, I found fatal flaws most of the time that would prohibit the idea from ever taking off. Then I’d revise the idea, reconsider it, and reject it again for a different reason. The goal was to whittle the initial idea down to a core product or service, or away to nothing. By the time I graduated college, I had the process down to a science, asking questions and shooting myself down sometimes in a matter of seconds. However a couple ideas have held up under long-term scrutiny and research. Fwd:Vault (say it “forward vault”) is one of my favorites. I got started in the solo realm doing freelance computer support work for friends and family, fixing internet connections, clearing virus infections, configuring home networks, etc. In that time, I learned that the vast, vast majority of “regular” people (as opposed to uber-geeks like me) have absolutely zero inclination to do anything with their computer outside their day-to-day routine. In other words, if it’s not of some direct benefit, it usually doesn’t get done. Writing documents, printing pictures, listening to music, and “surfing the web” are no problem, but anti-virus software, sharing printers, “a weird error message at startup,” and data backups all went by the wayside. I found the absence of backups to be the most common issue, and was always recommending the latest (and easiest) backup solutions available. First CD-R’s, then CD-RW’s, external hard drives, USB thumb drives, and finally, desktop software. Once software-based solutions hit the home market, I enthusiastically pushed my clients to try services like Mozy and Carbonite. No equipment, minimal software, and easy configuration. I thought, “Finally, I’ll be able to get users to start backing up without all the cajoling.” But as it turned out, user inertia (or fear, or ignorance, or in difference…) is strong enough for even this simplified formula, as I still have clients lacking any kind of backup. So I saw an opportunity, and applied my usual revise-reconsider-reject logic to the matter. I knew that the concept of backups is not the problem, but rather the hurdles a user must leap to create backups. Buying and configuring hardware is an obvious boundary, but buying, installing, and configuring software can be just as big an obstacle in some cases. I realized that the solution for the most basic users was to minimize or outright eliminate software from the equation. I also knew that even the simplest of users could effectively use email — most were introduced to the internet through this ubiquitous platform. Since they already had it and understood it, using it to create backups would be an easy concept to grasp. And thus Fwd:Vault was born. Send attachments to a special email address, and the system will automatically store the message and the files in a secure remote location. The files and messages can be retrieved later via email request or web interface. The current site placeholder also lists some additional features, like a versioning system, which keeps copies of the same file when you send it multiple times (think about the document that ping-pong’s between coworkers). The stars aligned for the forces dictating my life recently, and I’ve seized the opportunity to work on Fwd:Vault full-time. A beta test of the email storage process is in the works (within the next two weeks hopefully), and I’m shooting for a full service launch sometime in April. If you’re interested, there are a few ways you can stay abreast of my progress. First, there’s an email signup on the Fwd:Vault homepage. That list will be notified when beta tests and the actual launch occur. Second, I’ve set up a Twitter Feed for Fwd:Vault that details my daily progress; you can see me fix bugs, add features, even deal with legal issues. Finally, you can subscribe to my blog’s RSS; all the major news for Fwd:Vault will end up here as well. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to post here. Any business inquiries should send an e-mail. Wish me luck!
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