The Tyler Plack Treatise on Life

Also known as the musings of a court jester.

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About Me


I am a college student who spends his free time working as an Internet entrepreneur. I'm currently learning French cooking. I enjoy journalism, play water polo, swim, and I enjoy reading classics occasionally.

VPS Node Set Up Checklist

It is surprising how many people will install SolusVM on their VPS node and say, “All right, everything is set up and ready for clients”. These people are inexperienced, because as soon as they receive an influx of clients, they will see that there is a lot of set up that isn’t necessarily as simple as an out of the box installation of SolusVM. This is a bare minimum of steps, and it is likely that there are a lot that I have forgotten.

Absolutely Required

There are a lot of things that are absolutely required, or else you will be getting support tickets left and right asking for these things to be set up:

  • TUN/TAP Enabling & Installation – This allows your customers to use TUN/TAP technologies so that they can run VPN services off of their VPS server. Enabling TUN/TAP on the host node. Remember, customers need to individually enable it for their VPS, if it is already enabled on the host node.
  • Reverse DNS Manager – This is a bit more complicated of a set up, but it allows customers to run their own rDNS without submitting a ticket to have it done manually. PowerDNS Manager. This needs to be done on host and master nodes, as well as have a server for managing the DNS queries.
  • Synchronize Templates – Using SolusVM’s media sync, you need to synchronize the templates between all servers. Without it, VPS will not create properly.
  • Node Watch – This tool helps manage and suspend VPS that use too many resources. You may need to tweak the settings, notably the conntrack sessions, but this tool is invaluable. NodeWatch VPS Anti Abuse.
  • Disable direct root log in – Set up another username and require them to “su” for root permissions. This is pretty basic security, but a lot of people do not do it.
  • Install Fail2Ban – Locks out brute forcers. 

I implore you to create a test VPS and ensure that you are able to successfully ping it, log in, and ping external websites from the test VPS. Bonus points if you do this for every template you offer, and additional bonus points if you design a script to do this for you.

Highly Recommended, But Not Required

These highly recommended steps take the form of anti-spam and firewall rules. By setting up a good firewall, you can eliminate a lot of simple spam.

Chocolate Orange Townie Recipe – Cross Between a Brownie & Tarte

This is a recipe that has been adapted from SortedFood’s chocolate orange townie. I’ve decided to adapt it to imperial measurements so we Americans can more easily enjoy this recipe.

The word “townie” refers to a cross between a tarte and a brownie. In essence, it is a brownie in a tarte case, topped with a thin layer of chocolate ganache. I made this for a small gathering of friends, and it was quite a hit, especially the candied orange.

2016-01-10 10.42.46

Ingredients & Measurements

Tarte Case (adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 Tb granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
5 1/2 tb butter
2 tb cold water
Zest of one orange

Brownie filling
5oz plain chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 orange
2/3 cup self-raising flour

Ganache
0.5 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp corn syrup
3.5 oz plain chocolate

Candied Orange
1 orange
1/2c granulated sugar
1/2c water
1/2c granulated sugar, reserved

Technique

Step 1 – Create the tarte case
Begin by combining all the ingredients in a large metal bowl. Work the ingredients with your hands for 2-3 minutes until it resembles breadcrumbs. From there, empty the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface and continue working for 2-3 more minutes until you have a dough. For best results, chill the dough for about 20 minutes and roll it to approximately 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured work surface. Blind bake at 375 for 12 minutes. Continue to step 2 while baking.

Step 2 – Create the brownie
Begin by melting the chocolate and butter together over a double boiler. As they are beginning to melt, add the brown sugar. Allow to cool, then add the eggs, followed by the orange zest, and finally the flour. If you cannot find self-raising flour, you can make your own. Pour batter into tarte case and bake the brownie for 20 minutes at 350.

Step 3 – Candy the orange
Over high heat, place the water and sugar into a pot and bring to a boil. Peel the orange using a vegetable peeler (yes–you can do this, even though oranges are fruits) and julienne the peel to 1/8 inch strips. Place in the boiling water for 5-7 minutes or until the bitterness subsides. Remove from the simple syrup solution, then allow them to cool, and dredge in sugar. Reserve them for now, and use as a topping.

Step 4 – Create the ganache
The ganache is as simple as combining all of the ingredients in a pan and melting over low heat. Allow to cool down, and pour over the finished brownie. Then place candied orange over the ganache and allow to cool for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Cooling it allows for the ganache to set (otherwise it would be too melty to eat).

2016-01-10 10.43.06

I quite like how it came out and I was proud of the result. It was time consuming, taking about an hour and a half, but no part of it was particularly difficult. Additionally, I adapted some items from SortedFood as others didn’t have American equivalents. I also didn’t like the tarte case that SortedFood made, as I found its American equivalent to be difficult to work with.

How to Run Your Own Web Hosting Business: Part Two

Welcome back to the second iteration of my mini-series, “How to Run Your Own Web Hosting Business”. For those who haven’t read the first post, I’m linking it, since this is one of those things that is probably best read serially (although, referencing after reading is most certainly encouraged!).

Part Two: Almost Everything About Selling

Estimated working time: 24-48 hours. Estimated waiting time: 14-28 days.

In the last post, we talked about a lot of the things that you should do before you open your doors to sell. This post is going to hone in on some of the sales aspects. In terms of working time, this will take the longest, as you should continually be tweaking your site to improve it. This post will consider the content of the website (which is hugely important and often overlooked), the content of your forum offers, and tie up a few bits of miscellany.

This post is tremendously important. In the timespan that this post covers, you’ll go from your first customer, to your first ten, to perhaps even your first fifty.

Website Content

Without exception, every website for small web hosts needs to have several pages designed to make the company identity clear to readers, create a meaningful value proposition, and to encourage leads into sales.

  • Homepage
    • The homepage should contain a mix of all the elements in other pages. It should give the company identity, show the variety of products offered, and have clear places for customers to contact you. It should have everything, but it needs to look organized.
    • A note on sliders. Many hosting companies are using large slider images as part of a recent trend. Sliders can be an effective way to feature products, but sliders are often left out of date (i.e. showcasing a sale that has passed) or broken by unknowing webmasters.
  • About page
    • The about page should showcase the company’s past, present, and allude to the future. If it doesn’t have much of a past, explain the founders’ past experiences in related fields and how he or she just exudes passion for the industry. Future plans can be vague but should not rely on meaningless buzz words like “cloud”.
  • Contact page
    • The contact page should show a contact form to capture an email address. If it is possible, having information for the corporate phone number, email, and also a live chat, acts as an important way to show brand authenticity.
  • Product pages
    • Your product pages should not be generic. In other words, your product page for “web hosting” and “reseller hosting” shouldn’t just be exactly the same but with different packages. Part of the value proposition is showing the differentiation between the packages. For instance, reseller accounts allow users to tap into their entrepreneurial spirits, while shared accounts allow users to play around with cPanel. Furthermore, when you come to offering VPS and dedicated servers, these pages should have an altogether different layout.
  • Blog
    • Blogs are a great way to show that you know your industry, but they’re only good if they can be updated periodically. If blogging less than once a month is not doable, then I would recommend not doing it at all. Remember that WordPress does have a scheduling utility, so you can write the posts in advance and they can always be sent out later (much like this very post!).
  • Legal Info
    • Every company needs to have legal information in place about its services. Particularly two main documents come in handy: a terms of service and a privacy policy. A terms of service sets out the rules (and penalties for breaking the rules) that come along with your service. A privacy policy governs what is done with customer information. Both of these documents are to be followed at all times.

An excellent design and content on the website are fundamental aspects for turning leads into sales. One without the other is useless.

Offers & Strategies

You should begin posting offers on the forums as soon as you can. The offers should be no more than 40% off of retail price (anything more, or a 40% off sale that is run regularly, looks desperate, and lowers perceived value).

An offer is not a mere listing of your products and services but rather is a mini-website (thereby providing information about the company, about the sale itself, and about the products).

A Few Bits of Miscellany

Your first few weeks will be some of the slowest. As such, it is important to invest that time doing things that will come in handy in the future, but won’t be immediately necessary. I wouldn’t have known that these tasks would be so useful if I hadn’t have wished I had done them earlier.

  • Test your billing system to ensure it handles suspensions and terminations properly. This can be a big pain if it does not work properly, as you may need to manually delete hundreds of accounts and fix it later.
  • Start writing documentation for new workers. Yes, the company is small at this point. In the future, it won’t be. Let future workers know your vision by writing it down. Let them know about how they should interact with customers. Let them know about any specific procedures (i.e. is there a specific template or troubleshooting guide that they should use?).

Your Homework

Continue to post on forums and interact with people in the industry. Even though hosting is all about servers, it is an industry that is quite personal and it is important to ensure that you hold a good reputation.

The next part will chronicle the decision to move from a reseller account to a VPS, or to a dedicated server. This is a decision that has been covered many times, but we are going to look at it in terms of how the technology affects the numbers and sales information, rather than the technology itself. Additionally, the next part will consider when it is time to offer other web services, like VPS and dedicated servers.

How to Run Your Own Web Hosting Business: A 5-Part Series

To those of you reading this, welcome! This is going to be a short series on how to run your own web hosting business. I ran my own hosting business using the methods written in this guide, and I started with just $100 (for inspiration, see Starting with $100 & Where It Took Me). This is the informal addendum to the post, and my goal here is to explain painstakingly exactly what I did (and, what I wish I did differently).

To add a little bit of background, I ran HostMyBytes for a little over a year. Revenue was approximated at $55,000/yr when I sold it, and the brand had over 1,000 clients. I am explaining what I did, and how I did it.

I am spending a lot of time writing out this guide, so if you could take 5 minutes to share it with a friend (or potential business partner), let me know if you have a question, or just say hello in the comments section, it would mean the world to me.

Part One: Before You Start Selling

Estimated working time: 10-14 hours. Estimated waiting time: 1-2 days.

It’s going to take you a little bit of time before you start selling your product. In this part, we will take the preliminary steps to selling: beginning to establish brand credibility, choosing places to resell, setting up products, and setting up workflows. Remember that we want to keep everything as well-documented and orderly as possible, so we can allow our team to do the work as efficiently as possible with minimal questions.

The preliminaries:

  • Register a domain name. If you want to find a used domain name (recommended!), you can check GoDaddy auctions for expiring domain names. A used domain name will already be aged, meaning that your WHOIS information won’t show that it was recently registered and look like the “new kid on the block” when you bring the website online. You can use filters at the GoDaddy expiring auctions for domains that include the tag “host” or “hosting” and just read them from there.
  • Have a good logo made. You can spend $5 on Fiverr for a pretty good logo in some cases (always check reviews and portfolios though!), but just be prepared to wait a while. This is why it is one of the first things that you should do.
  • Have some sort of brand identity. Many companies fail at defining and differentiating themselves. It’s common advice, and “What makes your company different?” is a common question, but people almost always fail to give solid answers to the question. “Good support” and “great uptime” aren’t real answers. Your website should articulate what value your company adds. Once you move on from a small reseller account, you will be able to put in more specific and more useful value-adds.
  • Register on some common hosting forums. By representing your business on forums in your industry, you are providing yourself with credibility and experience. A few good ones to register for: WebHostingTalk, VPSBoard, and LowEndTalk.
    • It will prove useful to find other specific niche and targeted communities not about hosting but where you can be the “go-to” hosting presence (e.g. WarriorForum, WebsiteBabble, DigitalPoint — these forums are primarily for webmasters–but all webmasters need good web hosting).
    • Make a few good posts on each these forums. Introduce yourself. Always comport yourself in a way that is civil, professional, and demonstrates your mastery of the subject matter at hand. A good post isn’t one-line long, either, but it doesn’t need to be 500 words. Somewhere between 3 sentences and a paragraph with substantive information is enough.
  • Find a website design. Don’t spend too much money on this, because you’ll be able to get a different web design that represents your brand and value adds better. I would highly recommend AKDesigner’s template shop. Sohaib is extremely polite, and I have purchased multiple designs from him, all of which convert very well. Did I mention he has freebies, too?

It’s true, the first steps take a lot of time to get started on. There’s a fair bit of monotony, too, but remember that a bit of monotony is always better than crisis.

Now let’s look at some potential companies whose services we can resell. I provide this list of companies because I have worked with each of them, and I know they provide end-user support, which will provide you a significant leg-up on the competition by having a staff available to answer support queries 24/7 right off the bat. This meaning you don’t need to answer customer questions or solve technical problems–these companies do it for you.

  • InnoHosting (personal favorite) – InnoHosting is an excellent company and I am very fond of their service and support quality. One downfall is that they do not offer master reseller access, so you cannot sell reseller accounts off the bat. You can only sell individual cPanel accounts. Their end user support always answers within 1 hour.
  • EZPZ Hosting (second favorite) – EZPZHosting is a good company and I am fond of their owner, Dan. One pitfall is that their servers can sometimes be overloaded, but I believe that they have made strides in the past years. You can sell entire reseller accounts, and this allows a lot more potential for profit this way. Their end user support is a bit less reliable, however, and they sometimes miss tickets entirely, so following up directly can be necessary.
  • ThePrimeHost (neutral) – ThePrimeHost’s owner Darryl is an excellent resource, but their staff seems mainly outsourced. Their end user support answers within an hour, but they can take up to an additional hour to investigate a ticket.

Personally I like to use InnoHosting as they have a “quality over quantity” approach to business which I align with, but not being able to sell reseller accounts can be a pain. If you have more time to invest, you can work with EZPZ, but they may require a bit more following up in order for your customers to have the perfect experience.

Now let’s set up some packages. Being 2016, storage (even flash storage) is very cheap, as is bandwidth. As such, it is important that the packages that you offer align with reasonable expectations for the time.

Shared
Tier I: 5G S, 100G BW, 1 A – $2.55/m
Tier II: 15G S, 250 G BW, 5 A – $4.55/m
Tier III: 50G S, 500 G BW, Unlimited A – $6.55/m

Key: S – storage; BW – bandwidth; A – addon domains

Reseller
Tier I: 10G S, 250G BW, 30 Accts, Overselling – $4.65/m
Tier II: 25G S, 1000 G BW, 50 Accts, Overselling – $7.65/m
Tier III: 65G S, 1500G BW, Unlimited Accts, Overselling – $11.65/m

Key: S – storage; BW – bandwidth; Accts – number of sub-accounts

Package prices can be adjusted, and we will be running promotions to get those first customers in the door. By setting the retail value higher, you are taking advantage of value based pricing — by charging more, you are able to make customers think that they are getting more, after a discount.

There have been countless tutorials on how to get hosting accounts to create automatically with WHMCS, so I am not going to attempt to re-write one. By the time you read the next post, you will be expected to have set up WHMCS for ordering and set up your end user support, as well as have tested both of these.

Disclaimer: Market conditions can change. This is a guide that I am providing for free, for those who have interest in the business; no results are guaranteed. The steps here worked for me: the variable here is YOU. Maybe you can turn it into a business, or maybe you just want to keep it as a small hobby. It’s your choice. Remember, using this exact method, I built my largest hosting company of over 1,000 customers and sold it.

Peach Tarte Tatin – A Technique & Recipe

Peach Tarte Tatin was my very first Tarte Tatin, which is a layer of caramel under a layer of fruit, under a layer of puff pastry. This is all done upside down and turned out of the pan at the very end. Like a lot of French food, the ingredients required are quite simple, but the the techniques are a bit more complicated.

I was not able to find any recipes for peach tart tatin. This has been done with apple before, but peaches are a bit different (higher water content), so I’m writing this partially for my own reference and to share a recipe. It is a delicious cross between an apple tarte tatin and a peach cake.

Ingredients

6-7 large cooking peaches
1/2 roll puff pastry
4 tbsp butter
3/4 cup sugar

Procedure

1) Preheat oven to 400 F or 200 C

2) Make the Caramel
Caramels are usually made with sugar and water, but for this recipe, you will want to use butter. I went for 4 tablespoons butter and 3/4 cup of sugar. I find that this is easiest to make in the pan, directly over the heat. Be careful, as the pan will heat up (use a tea towel to hold it). The caramel will take 3-5 minutes over medium heat, and be sure not to overcook it. After removing it from the heat, it will continue to cook, so remove it a bit prematurely. Overcooked caramel develops a bitter taste that will ruin the tarte, so exercise caution.

3) Slice and place the peaches. Cook for 30 minutes
I cut the peaches into small slices, cutting each peach in half, removing the core, and then cutting it 4 times to reveal smaller slices. When placing the peaches, you can create a pattern. Be sure that there is no empty space in the pan, as the peaches will shrink during the cooking process.

4) Drain peaches into saucepan and reserve
Peaches naturally carry a lot of juices, so we want to drain most of the juices from the peaches. This will allow the tarte to form and for the puff pastry to cook and become crispy, rather than doughy. The best way to drain the peaches is to use another pan of a similar size and press down firmly but cautiously. About half a cup of juices will flow out.

5) Return to oven for 15 minutes

6) Drain peaches into saucepan again and reserve
Using the same technique mentioned in step 4, drain the peaches again. About a quarter cup of juices will flow out this time.

7) Add puff pastry and cook 18-22 minutes until golden brown. Reduce peach juices to a glaze.
When adding the puff pastry, make sure that it gets deep in the sides of the pan (using a soft spatula for this is a good technique). This will help the tarte hold its shape.

8) Reduce the juices while the puff pastry cooks.
While the puff pastry cooks, reduce the juices from the peaches down by about half. You will want to form a glaze that will be used on top of the tarte tatin once it has been put upside down.

9) Remove the tart onto a plate
Take a plate and place it over the pan. Then flip both the plate and the pan. I like to tap on the pan and knock to ensure that anything left will come off cleanly, but it should come off cleanly even without the traditional knock.

 

 

 

2015-07-20 16.24.39

My final product, with no touching up. I was quite proud as I expected it not to come cleanly out of the pan.

 

 

Starting with $100 & Where It Took Me: Part 1

Author’s note: I’m writing this post/article/rambling to take a short break from studying for my final exams. At this point, I’m a bit mentally drained, but I’ve been looking to outline this experience for a while. Just to give a better timeline, this post is written retrospectively. The events that are described here actually took place about 8 months ago.

As far as I’m concerned, one good, fundamental concept has come from the Silicon Valley’s bubbling world of start-ups. That one good thing is the idea of bootstrapping. Bootstraping is a term that refers to starting a project — whether it be a business or just a proof of concept — on a shoestring budget. It’s all about not wasting capital where you don’t have to. It’s about not spending money when it isn’t necessary.

Being seventeen, it is difficult to come upon great sums of money to start a project. That specifically is what makes bootstrapping such an attractive approach for people of my age (although, for what my endeavors were, I didn’t need thousands of dollars). The concept is in no way original. I acknowledge that; the business was a way for me to make money online, not an exercise in creativity.

I opened up a hosting company on a hundred dollar budget. I’ve worked on projects with budgets of over 50 times this much; I decided to set my budget so low in order to get back to my roots. I wanted to handle everything myself. I was really happy with the outcome of this because it allowed me to keep much better tabs on my finances.

I signed up for a reseller hosting account with a special feature known as “end user support”. Just for those who are reading now, the company that provided me with this account is still in existence, but they operate at about a tenth of the alacrity that they once did. This feature meant that the company would handle technical inquiries for me. I didn’t rely solely on it (I answered tickets when necessary), but it was nice when I was away from the computer. This was critical, though, because end user support gave me someone else to take care of my clients; I didn’t have to be awake 24/7 to do it.

There was nothing special about the reseller account. It had most of the industry-standard features, and it got the job done. There were occasionally server issues, but for the most part, it worked. It was smooth sailing. The reseller account retailed for about $20 per month, and I used a coupon code that I found online to bring the price down to a recurring $15 invoice each month. I then spent the next few months marketing the business using free and paid advertisements with mixed success.

Over time, the issues on this server began to become more common and prolonged. After about three or four months since the conception of the company, I decided to go ahead and upgrade from the reseller account that I used to host my clients. Just to give perspective, at this point in time, the business was making money–at a rate of about $120 each month. I’m rather proud to say that I was able to do all this off a $15/month reseller account where I provided minimal direct support to my clients.

In the next post, I’m going to outline my decision to upgrade from the reseller account, what it brought, and how I kept myself from becoming tethered to my computer. Also, for those interested in the name of the company, I am not going to provide it. This is about my story, not about promoting my business.