Friday, November 19, 2010

Flashback: The Level 5 Sessions

Craigslist 003

I had to pause for a bit and reflect on 2008 and 2009 a bit.  2008 in particular was one of the worst years of my life aside from 1987 (father passed away) and 1997 (mother passed away).  I experience my first time being laid off from a job.  I have never been fired from any job in my life, so getting laid off, and on very short notice was not only a shock, but, well, I'm sure some of you are well aware of how that feels when you have a family and are barely keeping up on bills.  That put us so far behind that I'm sure we can ever catch up, but who knows.

In 2007, a mutual friend got me in touch with Brian S. Tucker.  We had a few conversations about some ideas Brian had and what he was hoping I could do to help him make those ideas work.  Mind you, these were all his ideas, and I was only one of quite a few other players involved.  Brian had a crazy idea (at the time) to start a web site devoted to subscription-based training videos for various Microsoft platform products.  The first phase was a free upload site called but his ideas was to develop a premium service called the "Level 5" Guides, which would involve paid monthly subscriptions.

2008 wasn't all bad, at least not after April. When Brian heard I was unemployed and having a tough time finding another job, he got in touch with me and helped push me to produce more content and help promote his site and become a win-win situation.  The combination of having someone keeping me involved and working towards a goal, kept me away from depression and solitude.  Those may sound trivial, but when you're laid off during cold weather months, and all your friends are busy at their jobs, your life can be come very lonely and scarry. 

I can't stress enough how important it is to just stay busy.  Especially if you can get outdoors as well.  I did that while still hunting for another job. But early-2008 was not a good time to look for a job.  Every single place I went to had a freeze on hiring due to fears of how far the economy was going to sink.  Everyone kept trying to encourage me with things like "with your skills" or "with your background" … "you should have no problem finding another job".  But that actually made it worse because the more rejections I got (or stark silence) the more I began to doubt my skills and marketability.  Human nature: Easy to study, much more complicated to experience.

Brian put himself, and his family's future on the line, to finance and push to make the dream a reality.  They endured a ton of shit with banks, developers, business people and trying to market their idea to both content authors and potential subscribers.  It was a stretch to assume it could be successful, and there were times when it didn't appear it would work out, but they never gave up or let pessimism creep in.

This happened within a few weeks of being laid off, and I used that down-time to gear up, ramp up, and man up to producing 17 sessions on WSUS 3.0 and 18 sessions on Windows Server 2008.  The latter of which was just barely out of beta/CTP when I recorded those.  Looking back they were very basic and almost embarrassingly amateur, but at the time it was all I had.  I needed to pay the mortgage, feed the kids and keep the electricity and water turned on.  Brian came through, and when I needed it most.  He didn't hand me any crying towels or pat me on the back either.  He knew my predicament and still insisted on me doing my best, just like everyone else who participated.  That gave me back much-needed respect and at least a little self-confidence.

Together with Edwin Sarmiento, Abhishek Joshi, Andy Dominey, Dennis Rietvink and a few others (very few), we pushed into what was at that time uncharted territory.  But it worked.  I was humbled by the credentials of these other guys, and Brian himself.  I wasn't sure if I belonged in that group, but Brian convinced me to step up.  The margins paid to us from the subscription sales weren't a lot but they absolutely saved me and my family.  That picture above was my rig and recording "studio" in our garage during that time.  It truly is worth a thousand words to me.

As the site began to grow in popularity, and more subscribers came aboard, we were soon facing the dilemna of what to do next.  What topics should we focus on?  What features should we dive deeper into?  We emailed subscribers to get feedback, but hardly anyone replied.  At that point Brian had to take on additional consulting work (which he had already been doing for quite a few years) in order to fund the business to a higher level.  In mid-Summer 2009, he took a job in Washington, D.C. where soon after he suffered a heart attack, and was recovering in the hospital, when he took a turn for the worse and passed away in August 2009.

Since Brian's passing, the site was not being managed and spammers began to victimize it badly.  Subscribers were asking what to do about cancelling payments and what the future was.  Unfortunately, I had no answers, and neither did any of the other authors.  We were as confused as anyone else.  In any case, I miss Brian and will never forget how much he helped me and many others in his short life.  May he rest in peace.

In May of 2010, Mike Rood contacted me to begin the process of finding who was managing or owned the site.  He was able to negotiate the purchase of the site from Julie Tucker.  I haven't heard anything since August 2010.  I e-mailed Mike to find out what the latest news is, so I hope to have something good to report soon - finger's crossed.

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