I accidently launched a new startup and shut it down in two weeks



I launched a new startup called Ublock pronounced ‘Unblock’ that provided last mile internet service using private tunnels over a 2 week period. It grew to 33 customers specifically through word of mouth with Average Customer Value at US$15 or GH¢200.

The most interesting part of this experience is that I didn’t plan to start a new business, I found myself in a unique situation where a problem that I had solved for myself was worth something to my friends, colleagues, the person next to them and so on.

On the fateful evening of March 14, a far-reaching internet blackout across Africa had left me scrambling to attend a critical business call on zoom. Unable to access essential online resources or verify the extent of the internet outage, I was forced to resort to an expensive dial-up number to join the important meeting, which ultimately did not go as smoothly without the ability to properly present or share my screen.

After dealing with my initial frustration and pain, I knew I had to find a way out of this predicament, as I had no life outside the internet and never realised just how integral this technology was to my daily livelihood. I was particularly concerned about the timing, as I was in the midst of crucial research rather than working on an established project.

However, a glimmer of hope emerged when I discovered that changing my DNS to allowed me to access Google services, enabling me to set up a remote desktop on the Google Cloud platform. As I reconnected to the digital world, I was confronted with heartbreaking stories of the blackout’s devastating impact on young professionals across Africa, from missed job interviews to lost income and missed deadlines, underscoring the vital role stable internet access plays in modern livelihoods – a powerful lesson that fueled my determination to find a remedy.

Frida, a marketing consultant, had missed a critical interview for a senior role she was in the second stage of due to the outage. Eddie, a remote software engineer in Accra who was on probation with a startup in Germany, had lost a US$3,500 per month role because of his unreliable internet connection.

As part of a distributed remote organisation with teammates spread across the continent, I knew we were facing a critical blocker that required a solution to enable everyone to continue working effectively during the internet blackout.

While I had set up a remote desktop on Google Cloud to handle my own critical tasks, I recognized the need for a more affordable option that I could share with my colleagues. After grappling with a frustrating catch-22 around downloading the necessary software, I finally landed on WireGuard, an open-source tunnelling solution that proved user-friendly and effective at providing secure, private internet access through the DNS.

This breakthrough allowed our distributed team to overcome the debilitating effects of the blackout and maintain productivity. In fact, I even created a simple resource centre to streamline the onboarding process for friends and family, as this “Version One” implementation was designed to be a straightforward solution during the crisis.

I was minding my own business at the local coffee shop when Janni approached me with an unusual request. There was a customer outside, she explained, who was desperately in need of internet access and was essentially stranded due to her inability to access her accounts. I walked up to the lady and jokingly told her that internet access would cost her.

To my surprise, she said “no problem” and offered the only cash she had left, €10. I accepted her offer as a souvenir, and I performed an “internet miracle.” The woman was overjoyed and began calling her friends, excitedly telling them to come get internet access. Playfully, I suggested she tell them it would cost 15 euros, since she had received a special discount. Soon, the news spread like wildfire, and I found myself configuring internet access for an ever-growing circle of people.

To safeguard my personal information and prevent people from indiscriminately sharing my phone number, I knew I needed to streamline operations. As I set about creating a dedicated web presence for “ublock,” one of my top priorities was conversion – I needed people to commit the $15 fee upfront, before granting them access to my personal line.

I remember that when I had more than 10 configurations in my notes, I decided to streamline account management for each individual using a WireGuard client I had configured. Within 48 hours, I had purchased a domain, bootstrapped a website, and wrote a simple automation with a single database table to manage user accounts.

I was so hyped by the progress that I even designed a sleek logo for the venture. According to the news reports, this internet blackout could last up to three weeks, and while many couldn’t afford a Starlink device, they could certainly spare US$15 to get reconnected to the digital world. I knew this was a temporary problem, and the fix I had provided was only a stopgap solution.

However, working on Ublock opened my eyes to the true state of problems plaguing the African continent, and I realised that some of the most successful entrepreneurs on the continent are solving problems that simply don’t make sense outside of Africa.

The reality of doing business in Africa is vastly different, and I’ve always tended to operate on the more sensible end of the spectrum. But the epiphany that a very rudimentary hack/fix I had bundled together in just three days to solve a personal problem could serve as a lifeline for so many people who gained access to it, that epiphany sparked my problem-solving wandering brain cells.

Literally, the fact that simply providing Ublock, setting up the website to be hosted on Google Cloud so anyone could access it, download files, create an account, and set up a tunnel – meant that I was essentially saving lives. Assisting people like the individuals who rely on Jiji to sell their goods, the food vendors on Glovo, or even a stranded lady trying to extricate herself from a corporate scandal – that to me was easy-peasy. I was utterly motivated.

Read the full story here.

>>>the writer is a blockchain/product architect and an entrepreneur. He can be reached via [email protected] and or https://andrewmiracle.com

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