The History Of Vorb + Tama

Postby Tama on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:11am

Hello, my name is Tama Easton and this is the story of Vorb. It is also the story of me because as you will see our stories are intrinsically woven together.

Before Vorb
I was born in Christchurch during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, as a portent of things to come my parents lived on the route of the road cycling race and there were fears that my mother would go into labour during the race and be unable to reach the hospital. For the first and only time in my life I bet the racers and managed to come into the world a few days before.

Early on in my life we moved to Sussex, England long enough for me to pick up enough of an English accent to get singled out when we returned to New Zealand. In 1981 my family moved to Wellington and I got my first computer, a ZX81 with a whacking 1 kilobyte of memory. Not being able to afford the $16.95 needed to buy games for the ZX81 (on tapes of course) I started develop my own games. A computer geek was born.

My interest in computers and technology continued through the rest of my life. Yes I was online in 1989(1988 even?) at 2400 baud (2.4kbps) long before anyone had heard of the internet, yes I wrote really nerdy programmes involving fractals and simulations of the solar system. Thankfully I broke out in 1989 and became rabidly social or I could be running www.mandelbrot.org.nz

Having owned bikes for most of my life I didn't really embrace mountain biking until 1993. My first year at university had been interrupted by a nasty bout of Glandular Fever which led to an increasingly serious case of depression and anxiety. At my worst the “white noise” from my anxiety was so great I found it very difficult to talk let alone leave the house so I on the advice of health professionals I admitted myself to Ashburn Hall, a private psychiatric hospital in Dunedin. During my very productive 5 months at Ashburn I borrowed a fellow patients bike and took it for a very small (but at the time epic feeling) loop in the forest and paddocks behind the hospital and was hooked.

On returning to Wellington I was further encouraged by my best mate Jono who'd also just discovered mountain biking and some other close friends Tom and Anna. So I purchased a second-hand Healing Mountain Cat from a Trotskyite (this was the early 90s) and hit the hills. I quickly found myself in a flat filled with mountain bikers and between all day noise control BBQs and late night dance parties we rode and rode and rode.

The Mountain Cat was subjected to my own style of parts attrition as I proceeded to break almost every single component (including the frame). We also started road tripping around New Zealand in a variety of dodgy cars including a $50 Hillman Hunter that would never start and the infamous Falcon 500 with smiley face hub caps, flashing lights on the roof and a koala beer wearing dark glasses zip tied to the radiator.

My meagre income couldn't keep up with my parts breakage and I offered my services at a fairly new local mountain bike shop “Mud Cycles” in 1994. The owner Mudzy gave me some part-time work that turned into fulltime work and kept me in bike parts and new bikes for the next 5 years. I ended up doing a mixture of sales and wrenching taking particular interest in rebuilding and enhancing front suspension. I should probably mention I also built a shop website in 1996 in static HTML which was a gigantic exercise in pisstaking and became a small success.

By 1999 my passion with cycling was beginning to wane as the bike shop work had taken over my life meaning sunny Saturdays were spent inside fixing bikes and Sundays were spent running events. If I did get out for a ride I was invariably waved over by a customer wanting advice or trailside repairs.

Something had to give and it was the economy, in August 1999 I was made redundant from Mud Cycles and in October 1999 I started work at Victoria University of Wellington auditing computers destined for retirement. Luckily my skill with computers, ability to communicate with academics and natural enthusiasm saw a quick promotion to Library Computer Support in December 1999 and from then on the only way was up.

The Birth of Vorb
During 2000 my passion with mountain biking came back and after a number of amusing failures at organising rides I created an email list called “Vaguely Organised – Ride Bikes” in July 2008 and Vorb was born. Over the next few months we organised a number of rides and road trips including the 42nd Traverse, Kiriwhakapapa and the Queen Charlotte Walkway. In November 2000 on a complete whimsy I bought the domain name “www.vorb.org.nz” and setup a small static website on my free Paradise.Net hosting containing some stories and photos of our riding. It was never supposed to go public; it was never meant to be a commercial exercise, yes...

THIS IS ALL A COMPLETE ACCIDENT

But during 2001 I was encouraged by feedback on the website, got a real serving account with Webfarm and started to experiment and play with ideas such as forums. The second incarnation of Vorb has been saved for prosperity here (clicky clicky). Over winter 2001 I was flatting in a damp flat in Mt Vic and after flirting with Frontpage (kill me) I decided to do things properly and used an open source package called Iconboard to create some functional forums.

Along with the original Vorbii various random souls started to stumble across Vorb from links and word of mouth and the community grew. Being an enthusiastic lad I kept on adding various bits and pieces to the website and finally changed it to running on PHP-Nuke with phpBB bulletin boards. I also started writing for Spoke Magazine, my first contribution appearing in issue 2, October 2001.

During this time I had kept on getting myself promoted at the Victoria University of Wellington Library and 2004 saw me wearing the hat of “Library Systems Administrator” and working far too hard on trying to keep everything going. My day job was all consuming and I was waking up early/ staying up late to code bits of Vorb. The site had taken on a life of its own and was consuming my time and money to keep it running it was receiving 13,000 unique browsers a month (760 a day) and had just placed as a finalist in the 2004 Netguide Web Awards surely I could make a business out of it... surely...

So in December 2004 I left the Library to be self-employed and run Vorb full-time. This brings me to the myth of Sam Morgan, which I fervently believed in back then. The myth of Sam Morgan is that someone can have a smart idea, build a popular website from it, and sell it for millions. Now it's very true that Sam had a smart idea with Trademe but very early on in the piece his dad Gareth Morgan came in with a bunch of big investors because as I was about to learn the hard way – websites need capital to grow...

But I hadn't quite worked that out and just rewards for all my hard work seemed just around the corner. For added excitement I spent the first half of 2005 working with Fallline Productions on season 4 of the international mountain bike TV series “Drop In”. From the end of February to mid May I travelled 14,000 kilometres around New Zealand with the Drop In crew, including riding legends like Darren Berrecloth, Randy Spangler and Steve Romaniuk. While this seems like a mountain bikers dream come true by about week 6 of the trip I was starting to go quite mad and by the end of it I needed 4 weeks of sitting around going blibble blibble blibble to recover. Thank you Rockstar for GTA San Andreas.

After we finished filming Drop In I took up the editorship of Spoke Magazine, and turned my attention to realizing the Sam Morgan dream. For the next 2½ years Vorb grew exponentially and I struggled financially. I had naively gone into my self-employment paying myself $250 a week for working 50-60 hours on Vorb, the theory was that soon cash flow would grow and I would be able to give myself a pay rise to something more realistically manageable. Unfortunately it didn’t work out like that...

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; my strengths in Vorb are community development, content generation, blitzkrieg coding, and having a broad collection of IT skills and lots of enthusiasm. My weaknesses are paperwork and selling advertising, which is a bugger as it was the main way to make money. The problem was straightforward – it’s very hard to sell something you have put your heart and soul into (as rejection gets you right here) and I simply don’t possess the killer instinct needed to close a sale.

For added complications I was a bike nut and computer geek from Wellington and most of the advertising happens in Auckland. For added frustration the New Zealand advertising industry has been remarkably slow to embrace the internet – even though the eyeballs were already leaving mainstream media in droves. For example I am writing this in 2008, the latest survey I found that on average Kiwis spend 14 hours a week watching TV and 22 hours on the internet – now, guess which gets substantially more advertising money?

Still, I soldiered on with financial loans from my family, a growing personal debt and invaluable support from the Vorb Foundation. Various revenue generation options were explored like merchandising and online sales but it became apparent that Vorb was under-resourced and under-capitalised and needed investment of some sort to grow.

Luckily Vorb had the support from a core group of Vorbii who’ve leant their time, energy and resources to growing, moderating and feeding Vorb. Without their time, effort and Vorb Foundation subs we wouldn’t be here today. Vorb was also lucky to have some supporters come on board with advertising and sponsorship. I should also mention that Google Adsense was a great baseline for advertising revenue – if you’re reading this and wondering how to make money out of your website project get install Google Adsense right now.

In 2007 Vorb won “Best Sports and Recreation Site” at the People’s Choice Netguide Web Awards and had reached 50,000 unique browsers a month (3,000 a day) – surely it was time for the suitcase of money which Vorb and I so richly deserved?

This is where the Sam Morgan myth unravels; OK, say an investor came and offered me $50,000 for a stake in Vorb; I could then use that money to pay myself a living wage ($250 a week = $13,000 a year) at which point I’d still be overworked, but no longer underpaid. Or I could use that money to hire some help for the parts of running Vorb I sucked at (advertising and paperwork) but I would still be underpaid - just no longer overworked. For added trickiness either of these options would have someone else owning part of Vorb and wanting a substantial return from it.

So what about a big cheque for the website? Well that doesn’t quite work either – sure someone could of bought Vorb but they would of been left with a content management system that has been developed over 4 years by yours truly at strange hours of the day and night with various levels of caffeine in the bloodstream. It seems that I was inextricably attached to Vorb in a way that made it a very hard proposition to sell to anyone with business sense.

Fortunately there was another way. In August 2007 I met up with Chris Claridge, owner of ID Digital Media in Nelson. Chris and I hatched a plan that would see the continuation of Vorb and the end of my nail chewing every time my rent was due.

In October 2007 I moved to Christchurch with my partner Heather and our cat Sprocket and started work at ID Digital Media as the “Community Editor” – my role is a mixture of consultancy, analysis, project management and generally helping people develop content and communities on their websites.

In March 2008 Vorb entered into a joint venture with ID Digital Media where we pooled our resources to continue to grow and develop Vorb as New Zealand’s most popular outdoors lifestyle website. I still retain 100% ownership of Vorb but I now have the resources of ID behind it. From my side I bring my skills and experience to ID as it turns out having someone who is geekishly technical yet understands the relationships between community and content while communicating well with non-technical people is very worthwhile for an online publishing company. Woot – everyone wins.

In May 2008 Vorb won “Best Sports and Recreation Website” at the People’s Choice Web Awards for the second year running (we actually drew first equal with the All Blacks – but that’s pretty damn good too) and life was good.

So – what’s going on in the here and now? Well, over June 2008 Vorb received 74,000 unique browsers (3,900 a day) and we’re working on a whole new engine which the ID development team is building from the ground up. After 5 years of spaghetti coding the current Vorb engine has gone past its use by date and Spring 2008 should see a whole new way of generating, consuming and searching the 2 million and climbing pieces of cycle related content on Vorb.

Finally I’d like to thank you who’re reading this right now. If it wasn’t for people like you coming to Vorb then I wouldn’t have had a reason to throw all the time and money I have at this site which gives amusement and enjoyment to thousands of cyclists a day. So thank you for clicking, we love you all.

As mentioned above we’ve got some great things in the pipeline and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Tama Easton
3rd July 2008
Last edited by Tama on Thu 3/Jul/08 7:48pm, edited 4 times in total.
Tama
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"Come on Ruthie let's dance"
Member for: 12 years 8 months

Postby sham on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:15am

Hooray! I was just thinking last night... its about time i learned a little more aboutthe vorb history... now i shall read!
sham
Member for: 6 years 4 months

Postby pulsar on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:34am

Wunderbar! An awesome read and fantastic insight, at a time when I wasa thinking it might be quite cool to organise another WGTN vorbmob come drier weather.The last one was super cool and I met some great people and found some great tracks- anyone reading this flick me a PM if you are keen to jump on board come spring time.... :thumbsup:
pulsar
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Member for: 9 years 0 months

Postby sham on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:40am

Super awesome. Going to become part of the vorb foundation right now!

Can i suggest doubling checking some of the links Tama?

Thanks for all you hard work getting this wonderful beasty to where it is now.
sham
Member for: 6 years 4 months

Postby Tama on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:45am

sham wrote: Super awesome. Going to become part of the vorb foundation right now!

Can i suggest doubling checking some of the links Tama?

Thanks for all you hard work getting this wonderful beasty to where it is now.
Thanks!

www.mandelbrot.org.nz was a nerd joke so I've unlinkified it :p
Tama
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"Come on Ruthie let's dance"
Member for: 12 years 8 months

Postby Flyboy on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:47am

Wow...



Nice one bruv :thumbsup:
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"Destined for Disaster"
Member for: 9 years 3 months

Postby sham on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:48am

Tama wrote:
sham wrote: Super awesome. Going to become part of the vorb foundation right now!

Can i suggest doubling checking some of the links Tama?

Thanks for all you hard work getting this wonderful beasty to where it is now.
Thanks!

www.mandelbrot.org.nz was a nerd joke so I've unlinkified it :p


Right... went over my head. :blush:

the first flashback didnt do it for me either..
sham
Member for: 6 years 4 months

Postby Chickenman on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:50am

Excellent reading Tama, it reminds me somewhat of my article I sent to you for consideration for Spoke a while back :thumbsup:

Also keen for another WGT Vorbmob Pulsar PM sent.
Chickenman
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Member for: 12 years 2 months

Postby happybaboon on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:55am

Excellent...

.......But you neglected to mention your wacky cars! :cry:
happybaboon
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Member for: 12 years 6 months

Postby ClenchedTeeth on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:58am

Tama wrote:
sham wrote: Super awesome. Going to become part of the vorb foundation right now!

Can i suggest doubling checking some of the links Tama?

Thanks for all you hard work getting this wonderful beasty to where it is now.
Thanks!

www.mandelbrot.org.nz was a nerd joke so I've unlinkified it :p


Don't worry, the joke wasn't lost on this nerd.
Good article!
ClenchedTeeth
Member for: 7 years 6 months

Postby Butch on Thu 3/Jul/08 10:59am

Tama wrote:
sham wrote: Super awesome. Going to become part of the vorb foundation right now!

Can i suggest doubling checking some of the links Tama?

Thanks for all you hard work getting this wonderful beasty to where it is now.
Thanks!

www.mandelbrot.org.nz was a nerd joke so I've unlinkified it :p


Heh heh. My bro was into Mandelbrots. He's now a software engineer for bungie.

TEH NERDS ARE INHERITING TEH WORLD
Butch
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"Like a monkey, ready to be shot into space!"
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Postby VERT on Thu 3/Jul/08 11:17am

:love:
VERT
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Postby Oli on Thu 3/Jul/08 11:26am

Good to see your story recorded for posterity, seeing as how prosperity doesn't seem to be a big part of it. :p

Nice one, Tama. You have created something wonderful, which is more than most people will ever do. :)
Oli
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Member for: 9 years 1 month

Postby pissface on Thu 3/Jul/08 11:36am

Oli wrote: ... which is more than most people will ever do. :)
Tis true. And as a success you will of course continue to attract those whose only chance at being noticed is the attention gained from harassing and disrupting.

Its a variety of basking in your shadow.
pissface
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Postby Kloudbreak on Thu 3/Jul/08 12:05pm

Joined 2day & came accross this post. Awesome story Tama. Love those under dog stories!

Gr8 website my boy
Kloudbreak
Member for: 6 years 2 months

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