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It's been 10 years since we jumped in to the online world with our antispam app, Mailwasher. Thank you to everyone for your support.
Back in 2000 I was working as a financial planner, and I didn't find it particularly interesting, but I did find computers and the internet interesting so I pretty much knew that was where I wanted to go. At the same time, I started receiving spam and couldn't understand why or how I was getting it. I just knew it was invasive and I didn't want it.
I had a look around the internet and couldn't really find anything which was satisfactory in helping me get rid of spam, but I had an idea to combine some of the ideas I came across and add a few of my own. Since I was involved in the financial world and not the programming world, I found a small bunch of guys who had just started up their own software development business. Simon, Roger and Glenn from Ecosm helped me write the spec late in 2000 for Mailwasher and a website. The cost was NZ$25,000 which was about US$10,000 at the time, so I thought about it for a while, then jumped in thinking that if no one else liked it, then I'd still use it. Risk taken.
Knowing that people liked free software, I wanted to make Mailwasher free, so I spent ages trying to work out how I'd make money from it. So I settled for the donation route as I could still call Mailwasher a free software product and hopefully some people would be kind enough to send me a donation.
I sweetened the offer by offering support, notification of updates and some extra info on managing spam. At the time I also had a ridiculous/cute picture of me and my cat Jean-Pierre with my donation plea in a scrolling marquee which would also be removed by sending in the donation. We actually launched Mailwasher on the 13th August 2001 after 6 months of development. It worked flawlessly for me (no bugs or crashes), therefore I assumed it must work well for everyone else. How complicated could it be? I sent out some press releases and uploaded Mailwasher to some download sites. A day later I got my first donation from a guy in Austria. I was actually surprised to get anything, and then I started getting more and thought this was pretty cool. I got the occasional bug report which we fixed.
Two weeks later Mailwasher was promoted as a free product on a couple of mailing lists with over 200,000 readers each. I got swamped and it never stopped. I was trying to work my day job, but I'd have to get up early, reply to support emails (so many bugs!) and then after work, come home and reply to support emails until bed time. Then I'd work all weekend replying to support emails. This went on for months and I finally hired my first guy, Mike, to do all the support emails.
By then donations were coming in at a reasonable pace, enough to be able to hire someone and continue development on Mailwasher. Interestingly the conversion rate from download to paid user for Mailwasher was around 2% which is the same for most shareware software. The amount of snail mail we received was quite staggering, many people at the time preferred to send in checks (much to the annoyance of my bank who had to deal with loads of foreign checks) and Jean-Pierre also received many gifts and emails. Some of the things people would send us were hilarious, from the offers from gay guys who thought I was gay because I had a cat, to the girl who sent us a picture of herself in her knickers because her boss asked her to send us a thank you note.
In 2002 Mailwasher started to get more mainstream coverage, and at one point in May we got on BBC World and got 1500 emails in two days. Mike handled them all, as I was away overseas but I knew we were going to have to get more support staff on. So I hired Chris (Rustic Dog in the forums) and then hired more people to handle the load. Chris eventually took over the managing of bugs and fixes otherwise it was going to be continued problems of people writing in with the same problems. Chris did a stellar job and Mailwasher became very stable and the support load dropped away (Except when we did that release around Christmas time on year - what a nightmare!). So, ups and downs all the way, but it's been fun and I wouldn't want to do anything else.
Anyway, 10 years later we're still going strong with great staff and some interesting projects on the go. I'm looking forward to bringing you all software which you'll find truly useful. A big thank you to all our past and present customers and staff, you've been very loyal and great help and support all along the way.