How I remade my failed 1999 startup in 1.5 days using the Slack API

My first startup was in 1999. Well, it actually wasn’t even mine. I wasn’t even a co-founder. I was the 1st employee alright — some would title me a founding-employee — but I did have stock options and I did consider it mine and gave my life and my soul to it.

Well, actually not my life, rather 2+ years of my life. It was called KSphere (i.e. Knowledge Sphere) and was dubbed “The Knowledge Messenger”. The idea was to let organizations let their employees use an IM tool for inter org Q&A. Unlike other products, our edge was that instead of matching queries with documents, we rather found (or at least intended to) who was the most likely person within the organization to be able to answer the query. It was based on a noble idea — still valid if you ask me — that a lot of knowledge resides in the heads of people and not in digital format in some document or manual or website. And when you have a question, you better off find someone that can help you rather than a dumb piece of text that may or may not explain how to solve your problem.

That was the abstract. In practice we had to develop it. I spent more than two years of my life developing it. We started off with native Java, then switched to Oracle Application Server and also started using Oracle i8 which then had glorified text indexing abilities. Later on we did a complete rewrite using JBoss (then still called EJBoss) and J2EE. We also had to develop a stand alone client for Windows, and a website to enable taking the IM to the browser. And we were five people working two years on this, raised VC funds, even managed to get POC installations at various reputable clients. And then the dotcom bubble burst and eventually it had to shut down.

I don’t know why, but a conversation with the real founder of KSphere the other day made me think about it again. And how I still think it may be a useful tool. The Knowledge Messenger… a tool that organizations let their employees to intercommunicate… and gain knowledge… hey! Wait a minute! Isn’t that sort of what Slack is doing? Well, or at least enables?

Thinking about it, it sounded pretty much like a Slack app if you’re thinking about it in today’s terms. And Slack apps are fast to develop and launch. How fast can I make it happen? Let’s start.

It didn’t take more than a day and a half before I had the new KSphere ready. It’s essentially a Slack command now. You type /whoknows blah blah blah and it uses the Slack search API to find the relevant people who may help you. It then offers you to create a channel or a private group and invite those relevant people into it so you can discuss your problem and find a solution. And of course the more engaged people are and the more knowledge flows into the system, it gets better.

And that’s about it.

So this is how two years of development by a team of 5 people turned into 1.5 days of development by the single me 17 years later. Gosh how times changed!

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