Not An Ordinary Startup Story

Gom — A name born from a mistake

The worst Chinese New Year ever

3:09am, 10 February 2013, Sunday

Why am I such a failure?, I thought.

Sounds of a raucous commotion drifted into my room. I looked outside my window and spotted people talking, drinking and playing cards amidst all the Chinese New Year decorations in my neighbouring houses.

This has got to be the worst Chinese New Year ever, I told myself, not feeling a slightest bit of the festive mood.

It was the week after I had to shut down my first product, Spawt, an intelligent location discovery application, after 6 months of hard work.

I recalled the exact words I said to my former employees, “Spawt is gone. It pains me to say this, but I have to let you guys go. We couldn’t raise enough money for our product.”

I continued, “I truly don’t wish this to end, but I see no future prospect in what we are doing. Thanks for believing in me, but I am very sorry that I have let everyone down.”

How would you feel when someone tears a contract you took a day to compose? Now, multiply it by 180 times (6 months). That’s the pain I felt after closing down Spawt — all the time and effort down the drain.

Encountering walls everywhere I went

Walling myself in my room, I had been aimlessly surfing the Internet for days, trying to distract myself from wallowing about my failure to launch Spawt.

I attempted to access Youporn. Blocked. Redtube. Blocked.

Thanks for blocking websites, MDA!

I asked myself, Why should MDA block websites in the first place? What gives them the right to determine what we can or cannot see on the Internet?

MDA refers to Media Development Authority of Singapore, a statutory board that regulates the Singapore media sector.

Being a tech-savvy guy, I decided, I won’t let MDA stop me from visiting websites. A VPN should do the trick of circumventing the block.

VPN refers to Virtual Private Network, which can be used to gain access of websites that would normally not be available in one’s region.

I started searching online for a VPN to use, but alas, there were many issues with the VPNs I found online. One slowed my Internet to a crawl, another was very troublesome to use, requiring me to install their software to run it. Yet another constantly bombarded me with unwanted advertisements.

That stroke of ingenuity

That was when I had that Eureka moment! A thought suddenly formed in my mind, Why don’t I use my programming expertise to create a VPN that can be activated in a single click?

No, I didn’t have a lightbulb above my head at that time.

Feeling reinvigorated, I set about coding a VPN that would be extremely user-friendly. Pushing aside burning memories of my failure to launch Spawt, I was so focused that I completed a rudimentary skeleton of the VPN within 2 days.

I coded the VPN such that it was an extension in Internet browsers. In this way, there was no need to download an extra application just to use it.

The VPN was also coded such that it can be activated in a single click, on the right side of the address bar, which made it very easy to use.

It was then I faced a problem, a problem everyone faces when they finish creating a novel product: What should be the name and logo for my VPN?

Let the creative juices flow?

I was eager to launch my VPN quickly, so I did not spend too much time on the name and logo. My VPN would give people the freedom to access any websites they want, so I searched the word ‘freedom’ online and discovered a photo that inspired me.

Does this represent freedom?

I chanced upon this photo of a female jumping off a cliff and something inside me clicked. I just had to use this image as my logo! I created a silhouette of that image, which became the official logo of my VPN.

I was still hung up about MDA blocking websites so I decided to name my VPN “Go Away MDA”. However, I felt that the name was overly long, so I formed an acronym by taking the first letter of each word to form ‘Gam’.

It was here that I made a silly mistake and spelt the name as ‘Gom’ as I was worn out from coding for 2 straight days. At that time, I didn’t even realise the mistake I made!

It’s launch time!

I launched Gom at Chrome Web Store and shared it on Hardwarezone. It became viral and received overwhelming positive support, with 3000 users within the first day of launch.

The launch of Gom wasn’t as loud as this.

You might ask, Where did I host the servers for Gom? Well, I rented them from Amazon, which was very expensive at USD $30 a day.

It was only the next day when I realised my error in naming my VPN as ‘Gom’, not “Gam’. However, I thought, Since I already published my VPN as Gom, why don’t I simply keep its name as Gom? Moreover, ‘Gom’ sounds much better than ‘Gam’!

And that was how I named my VPN ‘Gom’, from an unintentional mistake.

And the rest, as they say, is history… or not?

Even with the sudden popularity of Gom, I treated it as a side project for a year. I thought the burst in popularity of Gom was just a hype, which would soon die down.

From then till 2014, I founded Unifide, a digital agency, and built Javelin Browser. Unfortunately, I fell out with a co-founder in Unifide and left the company; and I discontinued updates for Javelin Browser as I could not make money out of it.

Even though Gom was merely a side project at that time, I continuously maintained it. Surprisingly, not only was it constantly making money, the total number of Gom users kept growing and doubled in a year!

After discontinuing support for Javelin Browser, I realised, Why don’t I go full-time on improving Gom, since it seems to be a profitable software? And that was what I did, turning my focus and energy into developing Gom further.

Steven, Founder of Gom VPN

To Be Continued…

PS: Find out more here about how powerful and user-friendly Gom is!


Originally published at blog.getgom.com on February 24, 2016.