Where I Started

Written by Chris Ivey on May 17th, 2011. Posted in Lessons Learned

I hate spam. I mean, everybody hates spam as an intrusion and a minor inconvenience, but I hate it with a passion that can only come from knowing way more about it than anyone rightfully should. This is because I had worked in network support jobs that put me on the front lines in dealing with spam, and I later had to address it in my own small business as an IT consultant.

The economics of spam are interesting. Spammers tend at their best to be completely indifferent to the consequences of the damage they inflict, and at their worst to share in the qualities of narcissistic sociopathy common to professional cons and fraudsters. They are obsessed with outsmarting their opposition, and will be invest tremendous effort in pursuing a relatively tiny profit. They don’t care how marginal their business is provided they “win” by breaking the safeguards set up to stop them. The more damage they do, the happier they are.

Take the case of Montreal’s own super spammer Adam Guerbez, who plastered Facebook with nearly five million spam messages. He made only a few thousand dollars, but he positively revelled in the fact that a superior court ruling awarded nearly a billion dollars in damages against him. The fact that he cost Facebook hundreds of millions of dollars was more of a reward to him than the money he made. When confronted with the court ruling, he flipped Facebook the proverbial bird, declared bankruptcy, and made an offer to appear in the movie if anyone made a sequel to The Social Network.

I could go on at length about the disproportionate damage done by spammers, (in fact, I think I will in another post). What’s worse is that they don’t operate in a vacuum, but share tools and technology with relative impunity. For example, for just over a hundred dollars, you can buy a product called Facebook Blaster, (in version 7.6 at the time of writing), with includes a suite of tools tailored to spamming social media users, including a neat utility to circumvent Google’s reCAPTCHA anti-spam technology, and tools tailored to spamming social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

This is the central fact of spam: spammers will do a tremendous amount of work to make a surprisingly small amount of money. For them, the win – outsmarting a system put in place to prevent spam is what matters. They don’t care how little money they generate. This is what makes them so destructive. Even more dangerous than spammers are the fraudsters and scammers who use similar tools and tactics to defraud people. The two camps share technology and often include some of the same individuals.

I had been working since 2003 on patents and technology to address the problem of email spam. In the fall of 2009, I was laid off from my job as a software developer at a game studio, and so I decided that the time was right to “launch out into the deep”, and try to build a company to create my own product.

I had already started and operated service businesses as a commercial photographer, an IT consultant, and a multimedia development contractor, so I figured that I would be able to adapt easily to running a product company. It was at this point that I learned my first lesson in launching an E-Business: products companies are more difficult to build than service companies.

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Chris Ivey

Christopher Ivey is the CEO of ShareThink Ltd., a technology innovation company located in Almonte, ON, just outside Ottawa.

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