Go Beyond

Only read if you don't mind being offended.

Thoughts on Competition

When I started SporeStack back in January of 2017, I knew I was ahead of the rest of the market. Hosting without having to sign up is the future. Especially compared to those awful cart-style VPS hosts that let you get one server at a time. I think they're still in the Dark Ages, relatively speaking.

Recently, I found out about a second competitor. I talked about the first one a while back. It was a pretty sad knock off of SporeStack called Faceless Cloud. What upset me the most was that the guy had the nerve to advertize it on one of my Youtube videos about SporeStack in a comment, acting like he didn't make it and just found it. What didn't upset me about it is that the CLI didn't work (I opened a bug report) and the English on the website was horrible. It's actually quite a bit better now and I'm not sure if the CLI was fixed or not. I never did hear back on that bug report. It was mostly a copy of SporeStack v1. Now my open source code is released into the public domain, so anyone is free to take it and compete with it if they like. But still, I think it was pretty lame to not even contact me about it.

Now this second competitor is much less of a knock off in terms of code. I can't tell in the API that any of it is mine. Certainly probably inspired in parts, and the language on the website is, but it isn't like a rebranded SporeStack. Now, I think it has a lot more potential. It's cheaper than SporeStack and the web interface is maybe a bit easier.

I have to admit that I was pretty upset when I first saw it. But later realized I had kind of authorized it. A few month back, I heard from the owner of the bitvps.com domain on Reddit. We exchanged a few PMs. He asked if I would sell SporeStack or rent out some backend. I was interested in doing some kind of affiliate system, but still haven't for a number of reasons (and yes, one of them is just not taking the time to do it). I offered some exorbitant amount for SporeStack and told him I wasn't even sure if I'd sell it then. We didn't come to an agreement. He did ask if SporeStack was open source and if he could use it. I pointed him to the code and said he could. So really, I got upset over something that I was at least somewhat okay with back then. I shouldn't be changing my mind over this kind of stuff. I guess I felt pretty bitter as it actually looked like it had potential. And I am, maybe legitimately a bit upset that I wasn't let know when it went live. We're talking about a market (accountless VPS hosting) that has (to my knowledge) three companies in it and mine was the first. Is it really that hard not to say hi?

Now, this got me thinking. Two of my favorite companies are Backblaze and Go Ruck. The reason I like both of them is because they are honest and open. Go Ruck tells you how they make their backpacks, why they started using "batwings" where the strap attaches at the bottom, and so forth. I find it fascinating and I know in reading their blog that they are serious about their backpacks and are actually trying to make something that is meant to hold up through just about anything. I did buy one of their ridiculously expensive backpacks for $400 and do not regret it at all, for the record. Now Backblaze, I've never used. But going through their blog, it's like an engineering treasure chest of data. They have data on drive statistics, their enclosures are open source, and they talk about how they do just about everything. I like those companies. And I probably haven't been running SporeStack as openly as I should. I guess, maybe it has been open, but what it is lacking (from news posts and such) is actually going into detail and telling a story. I just write obnoxious ad-like news posts. Maybe because when I'm writing one of those, I spent a few solid days on a feature and just want to get it out there.

So looking at BitVPS, their interface is better and their pricing is cheaper. Why would anyone use SporeStack?

I could just lower my prices to match but I don't want to. I think SporeStack is better because I made it. SporeStack is not your typical consumer project. It is an engineering experiment that has never been done before. Before SporeStack, have you ever heard of a service that replaced its own API nodes automatically? It is the pinacle of dogfooding, which I encourage everyone to do if they offer a product.

When I write features, I am often paralyzed considering all kinds of possibilities. While there are some hacks, I would say I take very few shortcuts. There's no external Javascript on the launcher, unless you enable MoneyButton (when paying with Bitcoin SV). It's designed to be extensible, to be redundant, and to scale. And I'm not going to say it will scale overnight, but I know how to scale services. And what I don't know, I will figure out.

After reading that ego trip, what does it mean for you? Possibly nothing. Nothing at all. You may not care about how many 9's of uptime your Bitcoin VPS API has. You probably just want a VPS server for cheap and without giving up any info. And you probably want the interface to not give you a migraine while using it. This is what I have to conclude. Most people don't care about ephemeral hosting. They just want easy and maybe anonymous. Almost the whole time I made SporeStack, I've been slaving away working on things that most people will never care about. This is the sad truth. I'm very good at systems/backend. My frontend sucks, and it's what people care more about. It took me two years to release a web launcher and it's still not all that easy to use.

For all I think I know, there's a lot I don't know. And it may well be that BitVPS or Faceless Cloud are better hosts for you. Or maybe, you don't care about anonymity and you can provide a credit card number to put on file. In that case, go host with Vultr. They accept Bitcoin and for most people it's just going to be better than SporeStack. For reference, at the moment a typical 1GiB memory/1vCPU/25 GiB disk/1TiB transfer VM will run you $5 on Vultr, $7.50 on BitVPS, and $9 on SporeStack a month. And actually, SporeStack is slightly higher yet because that's not for a month, but 28 days.

Last year I got really lucky and had one huge customer where I peaked out at 2,600 servers. And yes, that was a ton of money and I was making a killing. It didn't last long. You want to know how many servers I have right now? I'll tell you. I have 17 on Digital Ocean. I have 3 on a laptop for Hidden Hosting because my one Hidden Hosting server crashed (which is fatal, by design). And 2 on the new replacement host. (The laptop is set to drain now and no customer builds went there.)

To make matters worse, how many of those servers are customer's? All of the hidden ones are mine (I know because I have 5 hidden servers right now) and about half of the ones on Digital Ocean are mine. It's not enough to live off at all. So I don't know, maybe it will stay that way, maybe it won't. And while it's pretty humiliating to spend so much time on something like this and to have so few customers, I don't want to give up, either. SporeStack is my baby, whether it shines or not. I have worked my butt off to get it to where it is today and there's still tons to do. Knowing what I do now, I could have written BitVPS in a week. But I didn't. I made SporeStack. And for most people, it's completely irrelevant. Maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot by telling you the truth, but so be it.

I don't want to hide from anyone who they're paying. I'm so politically incorrect that I think many places would never want to hire me. But when it comes down to it, I have a really hard time wanting anything other than free speech and a free market. My main philosophy is that I don't want to be told what to do. I'd like to be a free man, especially if that means living in the mountains and living by the skin of my teeth. Now regardless of that, I want you to know so that you're not sending your money off to some faceless corporation that's donating money behind your back to things you find vile. You know pretty darn well what I'm up to and what I do. If it isn't for you, that's fine. If it is, that's great.

So how do I differentiate SporeStack? I don't really know. I still think the API is the best out there if you want that. I'd even be open to providing managed services if people really wanted that. If you're a SporeStack customer now, thank you. If there's another host that's better for you, you should go there. But if I can take care of you, please send an email and let me know what you need if it isn't obvious already (which, it probably isn't).

I'd like to give one last shoutout to CockBox. I'd call it gross for most, hilarious, and authentic. Not the same thing as SporeStack as you have to login, but it's cool. I like to see someone, or some people, making something that isn't just another product made solely for the market with no personal touch.

Hosting can become a utility very quickly. One thing I learned from working at Rackspace is that people will pay double or way over that if you actually connect with them, care about their lives and their business. We had possibly the best customer support in the market. Our products were out of date and way, way, overpriced. But when something broke, you called in and got someone wearing cargo shorts, riding around in gokarts on off hours, covering up the light sensors so the lights would finally go out on second shift, and put everything aside if you actually had a problem. You knew when you called in that you were going to be taken care of. If you ever didn't get that impression, you weren't talking to a Racker. Unfortunately, I think Rackspace hasn't been that way in years, but I am proud to have worked there for a while when it was the case. My first boss told me to make the customer happy and gave me no further instructions. That, to me, is a job.

Now SporeStack isn't currently a managed service. It's just some guy who eats potatoes and travels around. But it is pretty reliable, can scale if needed to, and actually has an API and a library to go with it. Maybe you don't want to hand off your hosting to the lowest bidder. Maybe, for a moment, you might think there's value in the unknown. I mean, maybe SporeStack is like the Flat Earth of hosting. Maybe you just have to believe, even if it's retarded. Or maybe you really do need to have your own customers pay for their servers, you configure them, and take a profit. Automatically. And you want them to pay in Monero over a hidden service. And not some old fashioned V2 hidden service, a V3 because it's new and cool. And when all is said and done, and it all breaks, you get to send in an email to some crazy guy who might be getting eaten by a grizzly bear in Idaho while your servers burn in flames. Or maybe, if you're lucky, you'll hear back and get things fixed.

Too many people give too many fucks. SporeStack doesn't give a fuck.


Teran McKinney