The History of FanBox.com
Many people have asked how FanBox was started; by whom; and what are the motivations of the FanBox team.
Using this blog, I will do my best to bring you the FanBox story - by interviewing FanBox employees - both current and past employees.
If you work (or previously worked) at FanBox, please
send me your stories, photos or videos -- and I will do
my best to assemble them into their correct chapter.
As I progress, I will continually add more chapters over the coming weeks and months -- and go back to edit previous chapters -- until we have the full story of the Good, the Bad, and Everything In-Between.
FanBox was started here in a 3-bedroom condo (apartment #402) in San Diego, California:
It was started in a residential condo (instead of an office building) because the company had no money and wanted to keep the costs very, very low.
Everyone knew that if they wanted to eventually be able to give money back to the community users and their chosen charitable causes, they would need to keep the company private and out of the control of profit-seeking investors.
This condo was owned by one of the employees, so they didn't have to pay rent.
The company had no money, and could pay no salaries or give employees any benefits -- for years.
Here's Greg, who departed a company called mp3.com to take on the company's marketing responsibilities:
Amanda was one of the very first engineers, and quickly got a reputation as someone who could do technical magic:
Amanda, like the other FanBox engineers, was amazingly talented and intelligent.
FanBox was an extremely difficult place to work if you were not simply the best at what you did, because -- due to the lack of resources -- you had to figure out how to get a lot done each day -- usually as much as what 5 or even 10 "normal" engineers could accomplish in a day.
Every single person that lasted more than a short period of time at FanBox, had at least the following three (3) things in common:
1) They were extremely intelligent, and world-class excellent at their craft.
For example, Amanda had previously achieved a perfect SAT Score (ZERO wrong answers) -- it was discovered years into her employment at FanBox -- a fact that she had not volunteered up herself.
In another chapter, I will detail some of the technologies that these same people invented -- some of which are things that you are using today -- each and every day -- not just on FanBox but virtually everywhere on the Web.
When I get to writing that chapter, you will be amazed that you didn't already know that many of the things that you use every day (on Facebook, Yahoo, Google and other web sites) were actually invented by FanBox employees -- and to prove it, the United States Patent Office recently awarded a series of official patents to FanBox for these inventions.
I promise to add another chapter (post), titled "FanBox Inventions", soon.
2) They were extremely confident in their capabilities, and believed that they not only could but had a responsibility to do something really big with their lives.
To survive under those difficult conditions (for more than a short period of time) they simply had to be driven by a higher purpose. FanBox's mission provided them that exact purpose. I will detail that purpose for you in the next chapter (post) of this blog.
When you're going after a BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal), you are put to the test daily and you are constantly working under severe stress and pressure.
To add to that, your friends, family and loved ones are constantly and openly questioning your judgment -- for working double-long days -- for zero pay -- when you could easily be bringing home $100,000 or more per year.
So, one big part of the challenge was silencing "the noise from the naysayers", many of which went out of their way on a daily basis to remind you that this mission has never been accomplished before; that you were crazy for attempting it; and that the sooner you stopped wasting your life chasing this mission, the better off you would be.
To be able to stay focused and achieve the near-miracles that you needed to accomplish almost daily -- often needing to literally invent groundbreaking technologies seemingly out of thin-air to accomplish a task -- despite all the difficulties, mental obstacles, and challenges you faced -- you simply needed to be operating at a higher level of purpose than most people.
3) They were down-to-earth and humble.
At FanBox, there's simply no room for arrogance or self-promoting.
When your brain is focused fully on a big purpose and you see a path towards that purpose, you simply don't care about short-term gratification, flashiness, big talkers, showing off or being full of yourself.
Under those difficult conditions, they were simply trying to keep their minds focused on the positive and make it through to the next day -- without breaking an important piece of software or having a nervous breakdown themselves -- knowing that the other amazing people -- that were also making huge sacrifices like they were -- were counting on them to come through with their piece of the complex puzzle.
Arrogant people were humbled very quickly by the sheer weight of the challenges they faced starting on Day 1 of their employment, and after just a week or two at FanBox either became quite down-to-earth under the weight of their challenges --- or rapidly quit and/or disappeared.
The survivors - the ones that were still around for a year or more after they started -- all shared the same characteristics of being amongst the best in the industry at their profession and skills; were noticeably similar in their deep humility; and shared the same sense of purpose and belief that they were going to succeed in helping make the world a better place.
Little by little, word got out to the local community about FanBox and its mission.
Many people applied to work at the company -- ALL FOR NO PAY -- but for a chance to make a difference.
Here's one of the bedrooms at the condo:
The kitchen was in bad shape:
The bathroom was in bad shape too:
But somehow, people didn't seem to care.
People left Yahoo to work at FanBox. They left Microsoft, Qualcomm, Price Waterhouse, and Genentech. They left Creative Labs, College Club and Google.
People came from all over the state of California to work at "The Condo" -- leaving their $100,000 to $300,000 per year annual salaries -- knowing full well that there was no paycheck; the working space was cramped and tight; and that work days were very long:
The typical day started before 8am and didn't end until after Midnight -- six (6) and sometimes seven (7) days a week.
Every night, the engineers took turns making sure the web site stayed up during the night, so people often took a nap under their desks during the night:
Monitors on the kitchen shelf showed important stats and numbers; flashing when a computer or server went down or was having an issue:
Due to the lack of space, interviews only happened in the fire escape stairwell, so everyone hoped it didn't rain (but sometimes it rained and interviewees got wet):
Company meetings had to happen outside. When the weather was good, the beach made for a soft place to sit and a fun place to meet:
There was only enough room in the condo for 35 employees, so to bring on a new employee (with a desparetely-needed skill) someone had to be asked to leave.
This was particularly hard because everyone worked very hard, for long hours and no pay, so asking someone to leave the company was one of the most difficult things to do.
The 35th person had to put a piece of glass on the sink in the bathroom, and get his/her work done from there:
Eventually, the product began to come together, and the company started to generate revenues.
An important day:
Here's everyone showing off their very first "Paycheck" -- $100 for each employee. By now, many of the employees had been working for no pay and under these conditions for 2 or 3 years:
Those paychecks grew by $100 a month, until eventually everyone had a normal -- but small -- monthly paycheck.
One day, the city of San Diego discovered that the company was operating a business in this residential area, and put a "Cease and Desist" (order to vacate the premises) on the condo door -- ordering the business to leave in 24 hours.
The company would be forced to shut down, as it had no money to secure an office.
Coincidentally, that very same day -- only 3 hours after the notice from the city, the company received, in the mail, an unexpected check (for $20,000) from Sony Corporation -- paid in advance for advertising -- making it possible for the company to pay the deposit for an office ($19,975).
This coincidence continues to puzzle everyone, as the company had never made a penny from advertising before this, and had not served even one advertisement for Sony (or any other company, for that matter) and had only asked Sony (and been rejected) for an ad sale many months before.
The very next day, everyone stopped what they were doing and helped move desks, computers and everything else to the new office:
Notice the "SMS.ac" stickers and logo on the office door. SMS.ac is the official (corporate) name for FanBox. The company now had the office space it needed to grow beyond 35 employees:
And it grew quickly - even though paychecks were still at only a few hundred dollars per month per employee -- about 10% of their "market rates".
Here, the company is celebrating an important product launch:
In this photo, Pradeep Menon, the company's first head of product, is standing in the front with a white shirt and his hand crossing his chest.
Earlier this year (2011) "dEEp" -- as they all called him -- slipped and fell, banged his head, and passed away within a few hours -- at the young age of 31.
His funeral was a chance for everyone to get together to honor him and his accomplishments; and also remind each other of how short life is and how quickly it can be taken away; and how important relationships become between people that set out to do something challenging and difficult together.
As the company grew, it stayed focused on its mission, and although typical work hours still averaged around 16 hours a day, everyone often took the opportunity to have a laugh with their comrades.
Most people that have worked at FanBox can claim that some of their very best friends, to this day, are people that they met at FanBox and shared the same "brain-expanding, learning, goal-chasing, hard-working, fun, challenging, tiring, purpose-driven, emotional, difficult, exhilarating, scary, high-acheiving, growth-filled, sleep-deprived" experience.
Here's some of the FanBox staff taking a moment to have some fun at the holiday gift exchange party:
In the next chapter, let's explore what it was that motivated the employees of FanBox to take on those challenges -- and sacrifice as much as they did: The purpose and reason behind FanBox.
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