It’s hard to keep up with the amount of ValeVPN pledges on Kickstarter. With the goal set at $5,000, now it’s over $200,000.
Eric Menzel, the founder of the company, tells us about the uniqueness of the product and the journey to success.
Ever wondered how ValeVPN secured its mass support shortly after its release?
Users fighting for bandwidth
Every great story starts with travel. I traveled the world for business and pleasure. That’s when I realized a problem exists with current VPN providers, especially in places like China, Eastern Europe, and South America.
Existing solutions were unreliable, provided unstable connections, and were slow and constantly blocked. The situation was so bad I couldn’t get even limited access to content in those regions.
So I thought, “Why can’t users have their own private server with one press of a button?” That’s when ValeVPN was born.
So at that time, Robin (Robin Dutson, Sales & Marketing at ValeVPN) and I would manually start our own servers running on Amazon AWS.
We would go to places like Egypt, Columbia, and Peru and test our personal VPN servers in the middle of the jungle. They worked well, so we thought we should make this available to everybody.
The biggest problem with most VPNs is that they have a cost-first model, and they all want their users to use a single server. Think about a hundred thousand users trying to get into a single server.
The reason why it’s organized this way is to save money. And it’s a bad user experience because it’s always like a competition.
Imagine an arena with 10,000 other users on one server, fighting for bandwidth, trying to win priority access.
How do we differ? ValeVPN isn’t a traditional VPN that sends 10,000 users to one server. We’re closer to what they call a VPS, a virtual private server provider.
Users can start their own private server with one click in the major clouds of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle.
A VPN for programmers? There’s more to it
ValeVPN offers some in-depth server customization. It allows people to fully configure and launch their own private servers on their phones, a power that no users had before.
That includes changing ports, changing protocols, changing the cloud providers, changing the DNS, and changing the individual settings.
Doing it manually is very complicated, and you’d have to be a programmer.
But I wanted to make it easy for everyone to get information from places like Iran or China with the touch of a couple of buttons.
That’s the power of what we’re doing—making server management, configuration, and launching accessible for people with no programming skills.
This is high security and high availability with the push of a button.
The Kickstarter campaign
People coming to support our project this early is an important part of our team. We want to treat them like family.
They’re going to come into this with no guarantees that we’re going to succeed, but they’re going to support us with money and are testing the product in ways we can’t imagine.
The reason we treat them like family is that they’re the ones that are going to make ValeVPN successful. I want to convey that to the whole community.
Kickstarter is not where you come and milk cows; that’s not what it’s for, and the users shouldn’t be treated like that. This is a community that you have to nurture and work with.
And they’ve been very supportive and have already helped us tremendously.
Moreover, they’ve been very forgiving. Some think that paying for a product that’s not finished makes no sense.
And I talk to them and say,
“The purpose of being here is not to use a finished product; to get a finished product, you go to a store and buy it. But if you’re supporting us on Kickstarter, you see the value of what ValeVPN does, and you want to help and support the project. So come work with us to make this the best product possible.”
Of course, we want to show our gratitude to those people. That’s why we introduced a lifetime subscription which is not a revenue model.
A lifetime subscription is a liability, meaning we are responsible for taking care of subscribers for the rest of their lives.
They will cost us money, their help can’t be overstated, it will make our product amazing.
They’re trading instability, testing, and effort to access the early product and be with us for a lifetime of service.
It’s like opening a buffet restaurant where you say the first hundred guests can pay one small fee and eat everything.
Now you could have a hundred greedy people come in and eat all your food, then you’re in trouble. But maybe not. Maybe you have hundred people that appreciate the restaurant and want it to succeed.
They come, pay the fee, have one or two plates of food, and make much-needed recommendations for improving the restaurant.
Then they can go out into the world and tell all their friends to eat at your restaurant. That is what we’re doing.
The development journey
When I first came up with the concept of ValeVPN, I recruited two people to start with us, who were both Ukrainians. Andrew Shkira was from Dnipro, and Sergei Borodkin from Odesa.
Andrew was a programmer, and Sergey was a DevOps engineer. Therefore, Andrew built all the applications: iOS, Android, desktop applications, and full-stack servers.
Sergey did all the scripting of the launching and was the DevOps engineer of the cloud servers. Andrew was one of the most brilliant men that I’ve ever met in my life.
Tragically, he passed away in October 2021, after we had worked together for almost two years.
I attended his funeral in Dnipro, and near that time, I met Julia (Julia Yashchuk, Business Analyst at Anadea).
It’s Julia who connected me to the app development company Anadea.
We reviewed our application development progress – maybe 60–70 percent working applications, which we needed to be 100 percent ready for launch.
When I met the team for initial discussions and proposals, they weren’t trying to push me into a more expensive route.
Almost every company I talked to would say the same thing—rebuild the product from scratch—but Anadea adapted to our investment and situation.
They agreed to complete the build based on what we already had, although it could not be the most convenient or financially beneficial way for them.
The first time Anadea stepped into a code base, they had a lot of work. With Andrew, one man wrote all the applications, so you can imagine how one man’s knowledge of everything shaped the code base.
The code was not excellent—but he made it work. And it’s always difficult to step into another person’s code.
Ultimately, because of their attention, love, and care for the product, ValeVPN is a hundred and ten percent better and could go to market.
We couldn’t have done it without Anadea, but it took four people to replace Andrew; he was that incredible.
I’m a technology executive. It’s my responsibility to understand the technology from top to bottom.
I need to understand the full stack from a very high level— but I also need to understand the developers and their needs.
I won’t write the code (at least, I try not to.).
It keeps developers honest and focused because, ultimately, I know what is possible or can work to find a way to make it possible by bringing the technologies around each other.
One of the challenges to being somebody who understands technology is going the extra mile. I never take no for an answer, and I hate to hear the words, “I can’t do it.”
You know, there’s always a way to make things work. When I first proposed that we do this VPN with one press of a button to launch, I was told it was impossible.
Whenever I hear a developer say, “That’s impossible,” I say, “Okay, let’s figure out how it’s possible.” And we always find a way.
Henry Ford came up with the idea of casting a V8 engine. And every engineer who saw the design said it was impossible to do. But Ford wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and now it’s the reason we got the V8 engine.
Same with Elon Musk and landing rockets back on earth. Sometimes you just have to do the impossible.
Where it’s going
The target metrics we’re looking to are one million downloads in each app store and 55,000 active users in the next twelve months. Currently, we have approximately 2,000 users.
They have all come from Kickstarter—we have done no marketing. And we still have a lot of work to do by January–February, when we hope to release v2 of the application.
Then we will start marketing it to the general public and businesses worldwide. We will increase the extent to which an individual user can control their VPS.
There will also be some advanced features, which I can’t discuss just yet.
Ultimately, there is a consumer product that is now available and being improved on, and there is an enterprise product for business customers.
Consumers value privacy, speed, and security, and enterprises value security. And we aim to give it to them both.
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