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31 Mar 2012 ~ 2 min read

Selling a Startup at Age 15

It didn’t start off as a big idea.

In April 2009, on my second trip to Mexico, I was freelancing and completing a data aggregator for Craigslist. I planned to simply transfer the project via scp to the client’s server and continue with my vacation. However, this was my first encounter with IIS, and I spent a good part of my holiday getting the Perl app to run on a Windows environment.

There’s got to be a better way, right? Before the PaaS boom, Heroku was the only service available, and it only supported Ruby. So, in the summer of 2010, I developed my own PaaS for Perl, which I named Phenona.

Over the next few months, I immersed myself in learning about network topologies, Redis, ØMQ, LXC, redundancy, and distributed systems. It was mid-development when I realized this could benefit others. I redesigned it with a wider audience in mind. By December, I launched a private beta, operating on a modest $20/month budget—my allowance.

The initial response was surprising. Despite a detailed registration form designed to understand the market better, we had sign-ups: first 10, then 50, then 100. Daily, I would check MailChimp for user feedback, amazed at the diverse applications users envisioned for Phenona. During this time, I also navigated the complexities of the CPAN build process and focused on enhancing the server-side technology.

An email from ActiveState marked a turning point. Known for ActivePerl, they were expanding into cloud services, and Phenona was a natural fit. I entered negotiations, learned about due diligence, indemnity, and more—navigating this as an emancipated minor in Washington state. ActiveState proved to be excellent partners.

June 14, 2011, was the announcement day. After publishing the blog post and managing social media updates, I headed to school. The initial media response was modest, but by the third day, my inbox was overflowing. The ensuing weeks were hectic: local news interviews, national features, and countless discussions with the press. It was overwhelming but profoundly rewarding.

Since then, I’ve been working on Stackato, an evolution of Phenona, and brainstorming my next venture. The entrepreneurial journey continues.

Join the discussion on Hacker News.

Headshot of Daniil Kulchenko

Hi, I'm Daniil. I'm a software engineer and entrepreneur based in Seattle. You can some of my work on GitHub, or read more about me on my website.