We are giving gamers their own private place online to invite their friends, family, or total internet strangers to play the games they love the most. Nodecraft makes it easy for players to create their own private game servers in just a few minutes, no matter how tech savvy you are.
Rather than tell you about what I do at Nodecraft (because I wear far too many hats still), I'd rather tell you ours story, which paints a better picture of who I am and what my role has become.
Why we founded Nodecraft:
Back in 2010, my co-founder James Ross (who is our CTO today) and I met and collaborated on the gaming community "SammyServers" that he owned. We operated dozens of game servers ranging from games Garry's Mod, Minecraft, Counter Strike, and OTHERGAMEICANTREMEMBER which was visited by well over 100,000 unique players in the lifetime of the project. In our brief time together on this project we uncovered a highly symbiotic balance between technology, business, strategy, and computer science focus which we would continue to leverage through the lifespan of Nodecraft.
One constant problem we ran into through this gaming community we ran into was the complete lack of reliable tooling to simply restart, operate, setup, or backup the technical layer of the game servers we operated. We relied on a few custom-written scripts to manage and operate the servers, the server's power status via IPMI — all from the servers that James had purchased from New York City, shipped, and racked in a database in Chicago remotely from the United Kingdom (where he's located). The shoestring setup we had built was a requirement because of the complete lack of a company we knew would have the gamer's best interest in heart. In fact to this day many companys completely lack their own product, systems, datacenter, or other aspects to their businesses, but rather operate as resellers of server space with a pretty brand. As a gamer this was a problem we realized it was up to us to solve.
Nodecraft in the early days
In May of 2012 we embarked on the life changing journey to found Nodecraft Hosting LLC, despite over 3,000 miles separating James, based in the United Kingdom, and myself in the United Kingdom. Leveraging the relationships I had spent the last 5 years building with web-hosting focused server providers we rented a few servers, purchased a license to Multicraft, and got to work building a very different brand to how Nodecraft looks, speaks, or feels, but shares the same perspective for gamers. Our timing was perfect as the industry demand for Minecraft servers would peak in just 2 years, which was the only game we offered customers.
Launching service with a pre-built solution
I don't want to sound like a hypocrite when we regularly bash other companies that don't build the full stack for their product. For those who don't know what I'm talking about there are a ton of "off-the-shelf" products that let anyone who is able to follow basic technical instructions to start a game server hosting company. Combined with other off-the-shelf billing and support projects many companies frankenstein their customer experience together, forcing their customers to have multiple logins to the billing, support, and game server portals. Compared to other companies in the space this means your product had almost no differentiation other than the amount of product you get per dollar spent, resulting in a market racing to the bottom.
We started Nodecraft using these systems. James and I knew we had a lot to learn in scaling the business, learning more about what the customer needs actually, hiring a staff, and building the relationships with vendors first. Without that early launch we wouldn't have the astounding product our team continues to iterate on today. We highly customized the product to immediately fit user needs, such as one-click-installers for modpacks all while working towards our own unified customer experience: Nodepanel.
Learning how to be "The Boss"
While we had an amazingly small, but talented team: we didn't hire contractors or employees successfully for years. We had a lot of hard lessons to learn. I plan to focus these into more blog articles later, but in a few words we operated from externalized fear of failure, poorly described (but highly held) expectations, and almost no process. The result was an obvious disaster that I can see with painstaking detail today. We were lucky to have a contractor at the time who was highly capable, available, and wanted the experience to grow with the company. Despite his own capacties I've always felt like we unintentionally built a toxic environment which pushed him out over a couple of years. Despite this we created amazing customer experiences with James and myself working on building Nodepanel, providing live customer support, and holding part time day jobs all at the same time.
Thankfully I had the consult of a close friend of mine who started his own HR consultancy the same time we were ready to graduate from relying on contractors and wanted fully vested employees. This HR consultant radically focused and helped us build the vision we knew we wanted for the future of Nodecraft: a job you were excited to get out of bed to go to, with high expectations to deliver, and a boss who cared about your personal & professional growth. The transition between the fear based mindset again will be the subject of many blog articles to come. To summarize it took us years to learn how to be vulnerable with the amazing people we rely on to uphold the Nodecraft experience customers get today.
Becoming a "real" startup
By 2018 we had developed and launching 2 completely rewritten versions of Nodepanel, the product Nodecraft customers have grown to love. We had multiple employees and were on the path to becoming a great place to work. Despite all this success we were stuck. It felt like we had plateaued from every angle of the company other than product development. In hindsight the problem was the lack of any processes in the company, advisors, and capital. Enter Stitchcrew, a local startup accelerator who challenged and transformed my role at Nodecraft, our perspective of what we thought was possible, and helped us completely rebuild the business side of the company.
This is a work in progress. I'll get back to this section of my website soon!