Friday, May 19, 2006

GTXC Vype and a little History

A recent comment about Skype's new windows based Voice AND Video player (see comment on post GTXC GTX Global nee Gatelinx Time for a Re-cap) caused me to think about history.
In late 2004, as David and Annette were stiffing suppliers, vendors and employees... even going so far as to take leased equipment for their ill-fated Cary call center (David would go and visit his girlfriend in nearby Raleigh) .. anyway, take the leased PC's, telco equipment and... SELL IT. Oh, but as juicy as that is.. I digress
David Brady, a local player in and around Southern Pines, was first going to invest in Gatelinx.. then decided that (after Rick Stefanik was fired) the technology could be a winner (remember folks, this is now almost 2 years ago, before VVoIP was even on the radar for most folks) so he was going to buy the technology assets.
Brady took the developers (at a 20% reduced pay rate.. and Rick Stefanik) and created.. are you ready? VYPE... Yep.. Skype, but Video... hence.. Vype. For about 8 weeks or so, as the deal went back and forth, and the charges and counter charges flew.. Brady spent about $100K+ on payroll for the developers to re-skin and rebrand the Gatelinx Communicator as the Vype product. (This by the way was done with the SDK's published by Gatelinx and some additional UI work, A/V module efforts, the app share module and the transport layer). Brady's plan was to do a mass e-mailing offering free VVoIP players with ad's paying for it. Interesting concept, and one that Brady (who has been the subject of legal action for e-mail spamming) has some knowledge about. Wouldn't have worked.. but interesting strategy.
Then, as Brady discovered that the code was "beta" level, at best, and pulled the plug on Vype, leaving Hagen in the lurch... the mess that was Gatelinx started to unravel. 5 deals offered and turned down.. some would have netted Hagen upwards of $5m in cash, and earn out potential of $20M+. But NOOOOO, Brecher, Woltz, Kos (Bryan Kos' ChangZ entity had been sniffing around and had some negotiated LOI's in 2004) offer riches beyond Hagen's wildest dreams. The stock scam was born.
Interesting recent development... and here's where this post is going...After Brady has won court case after court case against Hagen (and loves to torment David by pulling up to the ole Gatelinx homestead and sitting in his car outside Hagen's office.. pssst, Hagen is a pussy and scared to death of Brady).. after win after win.. and after Stefanik wins one against Hagen (see earlier post's and tracking here in this blog).. WELL, Stefanik now is suing Brady.
No one knows what Stefanik (24yo former wunderkind) is suing Brady for. He (Stefanik) was fired from Gatelinx after the technology was unraveled as being a lot of duct tape and bailing wire holding it together, and got no wage claim ation.. Brady offered him a job. Now, unless there was a side deal for the whole Vype mess (and it was a mess), it's fun to watch enemies of Hagen now turn on each other.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really amazes me that they can delude themselves that there is any value left in this business. Or that they think they can delude others into buying it. Skype has video now, there has been more and more consolidation in the VoIP market and VVoIP has become a hot ticket in other areas. Also, the standards based videoconferencing has improved by leaps and bounds from where it was in 2002 when all this started.

Yes, that's right... 2002. Not 199x like they were claiming for a while. While Hagen was running around showing demos prior to that, but the real development on the solution they are marketing didn't start until Jan of 2002. What Hagen was showing off was a solution developed by another company (forget the name) that didn't work well at all for extended converstations.

This is a great overview, and I know myself and the other members of the devlopment staff really appreciate the job you are doing. But, I just have a few little nits to pick about your overview of Brady's involvement.

I think your assesment of the technology is way too harsh. I will agree that the code had issues, specifically that the developers were not given sufficient time to shake out the bugs, the QA dep. was VASTLY understaffed/underfunded, and no public beta was done.

Someday, I hope the Hagen's beat their legal swords to ploughshares, stopping their litigations and legal threats against anyone and everyone. If that happens, I'm going to write a book on how NOT to write software. And Gatelinx will be the prime example.

However, in my opinion, calling "duct tape and bailing wire" is unfair. The system was actually quite well designed and capable of a great deal more than anyone outside of the development team realized. There were issues, some of them major but the system basically worked most of the time.

Howerver, the developers were not given sufficient information about the business model, so the made the system a peer-to-peer swiss army knife. Any time they went to Stefanik or the Hagens with "Do you want to do X or Y", the answer was invariably "both." This vastly increased the complexity of the system, making the it quite difficult to do a proper shakedown in the time and with the resources the Hagen's alloted. (And the number of times that the developers got pressed into squeezing in a major new feature on the same day as a release did not help either!)

However, the Hagens got greedy and/or broke and decided it needed to go to market long before it was ready. (Or, they knew that things were getting hot in SP for them and wanted to blow town with their money.....)

Of course, since they did get greedy, they've gotten themselves into so much legal red-tape that the market has passed them by. Now, the work of all those devleopers, the marketing staff, etc. is now all worthless.

From what Brady told the development staff at the time, he understood the condition of the code pretty well. He told us that he would be making needed development and staffing changes. And he also claimed when things started to fall apart in October that it was the Hagens pulling the plug, not him. However, given everthing that happened later, I don't know how much of what he said was what he really thought. He finally pulled the plug on the development team right after Thanksgiving of 2004, with no notice. (He'd promised several of us at least 30 days notice.) And he said we would all get 1 more paycheck, which none of us got.

(While I'm glad he won his court case against the Hagens, Brady is hardly my hero in this.)

Finally, you make it sound as if the SDK's were designed for Brady's venture. (At least that is how it reads to me.) The SDK's and re-branding code (that let the UI be switched out) were designed and implemented in late 2003/early 2004. Brady asked for some refinements in the SDK as well as some non-trivial UI changes.

3:26 AM  
Blogger ex-GTX said...

Thanks for the note. The SDK's were published (by Gatelinx) back in 2004. My point in pointing that out was that GTXC has claims of publishing SDK's for VizTalk (or whatever they're trying to call the Gatelinx Communicator today).I pointed this out in an earlier post in this blog.

As for the product...trust me, the code was far less "stable" than you inferred. "Most of the time" wasn't good enough, nor shouod it have ever been good enough. Good enough is an amateur term, and well, given the Hagen's I guess amateur is about all anyone could expect.

The why, though, is interetsing. The reasons are many...The developers were kept in silos of development without knowing what each was doing, or supposed to do (Stefanik viewed this as important to him and his "value" to Gatelinx, not because it was efficacious).

Add to that the changing nature of what was to be developed, Stefanik and Hagen looking for "what else" rather than making work what was "right now" and you've got the foundation for a debacle.. and lookie here, that's what happened.

I have no dog in the game (to mix metaphors) vis a vis Brady, Hagen.. I only report the facts and the factual history.

Your comments and thoughts are appreciated. Stay tuned, and feel free to comment further.

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the product...trust me, the code was far less "stable" than you inferred. "Most of the time" wasn't good enough, nor should it have ever been good enough. Good enough is an amateur term, and well, given the Hagen's I guess amateur is about all anyone could expect.

I think we may need to agree to disagree, here. Although, I think it is mostly a semantic difference between us. I absolutely agree that the code was and remains in no way even close to ready for prime-time. I say this as someone who worked with and contributed to the code on a daily basis for quite some time. Although, I will refrain from saying the specifics to keep my anonymity. My only objection is to the use of the phrase "bailing twine and duct tape" which makes it sound as if (from a technical perspective) there was never anything good about the code. There was a lot of really good ideas and design in the code, but due to the factors you sited, the developers were not able to make it work flawlessly.

I think that you lay out some of the reasons why there were such major issues. Although I think the ultimate cause, on the technical side, boils down to the management being over their heads. Stefanik had never done any development that scale, and that frequently showed. (Although, I do think he was a bright guy he shouldn't have been a manager.) The Hagens had never overseen a commerical software project before, and were absolutely clueless about how such a project should work and the resources needed.

When people with more experience than them in the fields made suggestions to improve the process, or tried to explain that they were spending to much on hardware/network connectivity for a start-up, they were invariably shot down in flames.

In fact one of the core developers almost got fired in (IIRC) 2003 for pointing out how bad the process was. It was only after it became clear that the entire development team agreed with him that his job was spared. And still none of his suggestions were acted on. (Depending on who you are, you might recall this.)

I think that time has shown, not only were the Hagens in over their heads, but they didn't want to listen to more experienced voices because it really didn't matter to them if the product was successful...only if the scam were successful.

By the way, I'd forgotten about Rick's Chinese Walls... Despite his bets attempts, the developers talked and overheard. Its inevitable if you put all of your developers in a crowded, overheated room that they will pick up how things work at a project like this. Also, it's simply not possible to design something this complex without some communication between the developers. Frankly, I'd be surprised if there was more than one developer who couldn't describe the overall architecture in at least broad terms.

Of course a lot of that complexity would have been spared if the powers that were had followed your advice on concentrating on "what works" rather than "what else'. I know that several of the developers expressed that same opinion both privately and directly to the management. Of course, that fell on deaf ears.

I have no dog in the game (to mix metaphors) vis a vis Brady, Hagen.. I only report the facts and the factual history.

I just needed to vent on that point. :) That whole three month period was very scary and very painful. And his last minute announcement (a month before Christmas) that he wouldn't pay us any more left a great deal of bitterness. No where near the level of bitterness I have toward the Hagens....but still a great deal.

Your comments and thoughts are appreciated. Stay tuned, and feel free to comment further.

Definitely will be staying tuned, although I may tone down on the commenting. Deliberately trying to write in a different style, obfuscating my exact position and avoiding anything might identify myself is getting tiring.

Keep up the great work, and if you know what's happened to any of the honest staff (those of us who were not in on the scam, which was probably most of the employees) since they left, I think most of your readers would love to hear it.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to comment on the technical condition of the software. For background, I'm yet another former developer.

What happened with the product is we'd reach a 'beta' level of stability, and then a new requirement would come down from management. Usually, this new requirement made us rewrite large sections of the product, re-introducing instability. We never got a chance to really test and debug the code because there was always something new to shoehorn in.

If anybody reading this manages a software project, this is exactly what NOT to do. Let your developers know what exactly you want for 1.0. Don't give them a moving target because they will never hit it and you will never ship anything. If you forgot something in your 1.0 spec, then it goes in 1.1.

(I've worked at a lot of startups, and virtually all of them had this problem. It's not a peculiarity of the "Hagens").

And as anonymous said, Brady knew what he was getting into with the code, and that debugging time was a large part of his plan. At least, that's what we were told.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous carl said...

The plethora of anonymous users is getting confusing. I'm the first poster on this story. I think I'll start identifying posts since I seem to post so much, so from now on, just call me "Carl".

I just wanted to comment on this:
(I've worked at a lot of startups, and virtually all of them had this problem. It's not a peculiarity of the "Hagens").

Absolutely true, many if not most start ups do have that issue, although I don't think I've ever worked at one that had it to the same extent. This is why I'd love to use Gatelinx as fodder for a book, to me, they are an exaggeration of all the issues of every start-up I've been at.

Looking back, some of the things that happened and some of the stuff we tolerated seem almost unreal. (Think of a certain demo for Microsoft that went poorly!)

One of the great things about working there was that almost all the developers were veterans of multiple start-ups. The "war story" sessions among the developers were always immensely entertaining.

Whoever you are, Mr or Ms New-Anonymous, I hope things are going well for you. For me, getting out of that situation (even thought I was forced out) really ended up being a blessing. I'm at a new start up now, but the hours are more manageable and the work is significantly different, but more fun.

@@@
Carl
GTXC-Free and Proud!

6:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for Gatelinx and answered to Rick Stefanik late in 2004 as an interactive creative. The entire company was shady to say the least. In one room we had a bunch of telemarketers selling "Direct TV" subscriptions and then their was a room of interactive creatives and developers (of which I was on staff) building some ridiculous avatar/kiosk system to sell "Direct TV" in shopping centers. In the room next to us was the programming team and we were not even allowed to walk in that room or to speak to any of the programmers. I was let go just before Christmas of 2004 and yes I got stiffed out of a final paycheck and my vacation.
As far as Rick Stefanik, I can say I never met a more smug sack of ...I figured out very quickly that Rick and the rest of the management at Gatelinx were a bunch of hacks and the fact that now they are dragging each other through endless rounds of litigation is poetic. It couldn't have happened to a better group.

9:47 AM  

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