On Tekpub

It was announced this week that TekPub was bought by Pluralsight - an awesome outcome for Rob and the company. I was one of the founders of TekPub but stepped away in 2011 as I wanted to focus my time on Adzerk. I thought it would be interesting to talk about the beginning of TekPub, how it progressed, and why I decided to step away.

I spoke at the first Ignite Raleigh event. It was in the Lincoln Theater and I had a good time talking about bootstrapping a business. You can see a video of the event on youtube. After the event we went to my favorite Raleigh bar, the place that Obama went to when he came to town in 2008, The Raleigh Times. I was in that bar, drinking with friends, when my phone rang with a Hawaii number.

I had been thinking about starting a .NET focused screencast company for at least six months. I saw what Geoffrey was doing with PeepCode and I knew there was a market for it in .NET. At the time I was running The Lounge (later sold to The Code Project) and knew most of the big names in the .NET industry. The idea was to work with some of those big names, build out screencasts, and market them on the networks I was running. One of the first people I talked to was Oren Eini (aka Ayende Rahien). Around the same time I spoke to him Rob spoke to him about the same thing and he told us both that "you guys should talk".

So I ended up outside of The Raleigh Times, a couple of beers and scotches into the night, talking to Rob Conery on the phone. At the time Rob was part of The Lounge and we had met a couple times, but now we were hatching a crazy plan to start a new venture together.

Shortly after was my 30th birthday. Rob and I had decided to work together and he was working on the first screencast (Mastering Git if I remember correctly) and I was working on getting things setup (putting $500 into the bank account so we could open it) and getting our credit card processor setup. For my 30th birthday I invited my entire family to stay at the beach in a big 8 bedroom house. Rob and I were trying to come up with what the name for this new venture should be. We decided to call the company Groovemob - but we knew we wanted something else for the site. It was actually my Mom's boyfriend who suggested TekPub. Rob instantly loved it because of his love of beer and brewing. TekPub was born.

In the fall of 2009 I went to San Francisco for 6 weeks with my wife and our 18 month old daughter. Rob and I were about ready to launch TekPub. I remember sitting in a Napa Valley hotel room chatting with Rob about the final touches on the site while my wife was ready to head out for the day.

We launched shortly after and I remember how amazed I was at the immediate reaction. We made enough in the first month that we saw immediately it could be a good business. There was no slow beginning - we did over 20k in sales in the first couple of days of the site being open. Rob's work in the community (and mine to a lesser extent) was paying off. We did zero marketing and just threw it out on Twitter and the sales rolled in.

The next year went by quickly in my mind. Rob continued to crank out amazing series. I focused on adding third party authors like Dave Ward and Justin Etheredge. My wife and I spent many nights printing labels, attaching them to cards, and mailing them off to user groups all over the world to promote TekPub.

In many ways it was a perfect partnership between Rob and I. He was the talent and I was the business side of things. It was also a good partnership because when I was worried about "if" we could do something - he would just push on and do it. Other times I would be talking Rob out of something we definitely shouldn't do. He did have to switch to a crunchy cereal though since I would always call him at like 9am Hawaii time and he was trying to finish breakfast (and it would get soggy if it's wasn't a good crunchy cereal).

The downside was that I knew I wanted more - much more. I saw potential in TekPub but as a content business I always felt like we were limited by how much content we could produce. We had to grow, possibly raise money, and start hiring to handle that growth.

Around the fall of 2010 StackOverflow decided to take a chance on Adzerk. Adzerk was the software I wrote to run The Lounge and Ruby Row ad networks. With that I saw the potential of turning Adzerk into a real venture - it was scalable in a way I didn't feel like TekPub was scalable. (Pluralsight is proving me wrong on that).

I sold the ad networks at the end of 2010 and put that money into Adzerk. I hired my first engineer and got an office in the American Underground in Durham. In February I spoke at the Launch Conference (the official launch of Adzerk) and that same day spoke to Rob. He knew I wanted to focus more on Adzerk so we talked about me stepping away from TekPub. We had always agreed if either of us wanted to step away we would give the rest to the other - so I turned over almost all of my equity in TePub to Rob for him to run.

Over the next 2 1/2 years he did awesome things with TekPub. He worked on amazing new series and ran things by himself. Sometimes I wonder what we would have accomplished if we had stuck together, but I don't regret my choices since I have learned and accomplished so much with Adzerk.

I was incredibly pleased to see Pluralsight buy TekPub, it's an awesome outcome for Rob and provides closure for me. I made a little bit of money from the sale, enough to feel good about what I did, but not enough to stop me from wondering what could have been.

I have now sold two companies (ZerkMedia and TekPub) - but neither was the kind of outcome I was hoping for when I started them. The verdict on Adzerk and if I made the right decision is still to be decided.

-James (@averyj)