My previous life as a programmer/entrepreneur - Part 5: Getting fucked over, but still making a profit
This is part 5 of a series of articles. If you missed the previous articles, you should start at the beginning.
Previously, I discussed my website iTopsites (a remotely hosted version of my Aardvark Topsites PHP software). The software running iTopsites was quite unique at the time (and possibly still is today), so naturally there were people who wanted to license my software to make clones of iTopsites. My most notable customer was TopSiteLists.com.
TopSiteLists.com started in the late 90s or early 00s as a service similar to iTopsites, but with fewer features. Yet because it got such a head start by launching so early, it became a quite popular website. At its peak, it was far more popular than any website I ever made. At some point, it was bought by a fellow named John Jarvis, who was... well, let's just say he and his associates didn't have a good reputation for competently running websites. Thus, predictably, he ran TopSiteLists.com into the ground to the point where the website wasn't even functional anymore.
So Jarvis saw iTopsites and gave me a call some time in early 2006. Even though his website wasn't working, he still had his database containing all the information needed to restore it. But rather than restoring its original functionality, Jarvis realized that I had surpassed his previous website in functionality, and he wanted to bring the features of iTopsites to TopSiteLists.com. In return, he promised me 25% of the sale value of TopSiteLists.com, and he also claimed to have a buyer on the hook for $500,000 if I was able to get the site in a working state.
Based on what I knew about John Jarvis, I assumed he was bullshitting me. But... 25% of $500k for a 20 year old kid sounds incredibly enticing, even if it's probably never going to happen. And Jarvis sweetened the deal. He said I could run my own ads (like Google AdSense) on TopSiteLists.com until the final deal went down. As I said, TopSiteLists.com was very popular back then, even after all the years of neglect by Jarvis. I figured I could compensate myself for the time I put into the project through ads. I ended up having my ads up for about 6 weeks, before the whole operation imploded, and in that time I made $4000. $4000 is far from 25% of $500k, but it was enough to at least reasonably cover the time I spent on this project.
So what happened after those 6 weeks? Remember, those were 6 weeks after I had met my obligation by getting TopSiteLists.com up and running with my software and the old TopSiteLists.com data. Jarvis spent most of those 6 weeks lying to me about the status of the $500k deal. He also tried to get me involved in some of his other ridiculous schemes. For instance, he actually bought a list of what he thought was every cell phone number in the world, and he actually thought that a good business plan would be to text bogus stock tips to all those cell phones and reap the profits. And he wanted me to implement that highly illegal and highly stupid idea! I passed.
Then one day, I noticed my password for the website didn't work. Jarvis stopped answering my emails and calls. With TopSiteLists.com back in the trusty hands of Jarvis and his crew, it of course quickly fell into disrepair and went offline. In retrospect, I'm sure that the $500k buyer didn't exist anywhere except possibly in John Jarvis's imagination. However, it's still unfortunate that we couldn't have kept the site online and kept making a couple thousand dollars in passive income every month.
But for some people, incompetence is a big hill to climb. I had no desire to dwell on past relations with such people, so I quickly moved on to other things (stay tuned for the next article!) rather than trying to salvage some value out of my work with TopSiteLists.com.
As an amusing postscript to this story, last month I got an email:
we are looking to enquire Aardvark Topsites PHP how much are you looking for it. we want to pickup development on it and also start a remote Topsites hosting service.
The unprofessional style, poor spelling, and inconsistent capitalization reminded me so much of Jarvis and his associates that I looked into who was sending it to me. It turns out that the email came from southwestcom.us, a company ran by one of Jarvis's notoriously incompetent former underlings. Seems he couldn't even remember how their previous remote topsites hosting service came into existence, and why it fell apart after they kicked the only competent developer off of the project...
Want to keep reading? Go to Part 6 of the series!