My first product sucked like a black hole

You’d think after 3 years of studying Internet marketing, learning e-commerce stuff such as web hosting, payment gateways, shopping carts, email autoresponders and the like, as well as reading tons of books on business, marketing, leadership, finance, and other entrepreneurial-related topics, that my first commercial online product would have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

It sucked. Big time.

I was also writing on this blog, biding my time if you will. I couldn’t think of a product I’d be proud to create and sell. I’ve bought some seriously sleazy Internet marketing products, and I don’t want mine to be like that. I know how to set up an online business, at least a simple one. I just needed a product to sell. As a Chinese saying goes (paraphrased from the Three Kingdoms):

10,000 things are ready. Just lack the East Wind.

The background of that saying was that preparations for a fire attack on a flotilla of enemy boats were done. Arrows were dipped in tar (or naptha or whatever fire accelerant used in the old days). The troops were massed. Instructions were passed down. Everything was ready. They just lacked the wind blowing from the east. The good guys were on the east side, so the wind would basically blow any fire towards the enemy side.

Where was I? Yes, my black hole product.

A Dungeons & Dragons character class

So I found some people who played Dungeons & Dragons. The way I play a pencil-and-paper (-ish) fantasy RPG with dice rolling, is to use my imagination. I pictured myself as a fire-wielding wizard, or sword-skilled knight, or raging barbarian.

Alas, I happened upon friends who played Dungeons & Dragons as a game of mathematical and statistical probabilities. You might think that’s funny, considering I’m a mathematician. I read fiction and play RPGs (role-playing games, see?) because they allow me to be someone I normally can’t in real life. They allow me to do stuff that can and usually defy the “real world” rules. Why would I want to reduce that to an analysis of statistical probabilities?

It turns out that a substantial group of players (not just for Dungeons & Dragons) prefer to play it that way. Why do you think there are so many multiplayer online games? Because computers can do statistical probabilities and calculations exceptionally well. They just can’t come up with unique storylines. That comes from humans.

And so, I got this idea, “Maybe I’ll create a character class for Dungeons & Dragons. But I want it to be more dramatic-focused, igniting flights of fantasy, with openings for awesome storytelling. Hey since I’m a mathematician, let’s make it unique by making it maths-based.”

And so I created Math Wizard.

The original idea was Math Sorcerer. The difference is a game mechanic of Dungeons & Dragons. Suffice to say, a wizard requires an implement (such as a magic wand) and can do spell rituals (performing magnificent feats but requiring preparation materials and time). I wanted a sorcerer because that class is more chaotic, as in “unpredictable”. I wanted to introduce chaos theory somehow into the magic spells or powers.

A friend, who’s been playing D&D for years, suggested I use the wizard instead. So I had to make a significant change to how I created the character class. At this point, you’re probably already bored by the gaming references, so I’m going to speed over this part.

Financial fiasco

If you didn’t know, RPG products tend to have amazing artwork. Players are predominantly male, and men are impressed most by visual cues.

So my first mistake was to hire an expensive graphics artist for the cover of my ebook product. That cost me over US$ 1000. I’m not sure if I can divulge the exact fee, so let’s leave it at that. Not only did it cost that much, part of the contract agreement was that I could only use that image for only 3 years. After that, I have to renew the license if I want to continue using the artwork. The artist only granted me World First Rights, meaning I’m the only one with the image in the world for the first 3 years. After that, she’s free to sell the image on her own site.

I read a boatload of information on copyright during that time.

Next, I got myself a new website. To do soft marketing, I decided to go with blogging. The idea was to write about the playing scenarios that I played with my friends. This will help with search engine optimisation (SEO) and promotional efforts and stuff.

I also hired a website/blog designer for US$ 850. You know, to give a suitably fantasy-feel to the blog, and to launch with my product. Oh Ego, thou art strong and irritating…

To help with my research, I also bought lots of game books related to D&D. Companion books to the core rule books, books with lists of weapons and accessories, books of related character classes (so I could model my character powers on them without undue imbalance of game play). I didn’t calculate it exactly, but I believe I bought a total of about US$ 200 worth of books.

The books weren’t just for my research. I bought them because I wanted to be a better gamemaster. Interesting quote from Wikipedia:

It was noted, in 1997, that those who favor their left-brain such as skilled code writers usually do not make it in the ethereal gamemaster world of storytelling and verse.

Nobody really wants to be the gamemaster and my friends actually welcomed the fact that I was open to be one for them. It turned out, my friends were divided on my gamemastering techniques. Half of them were happy they got practically unlimited freedom to express their inner character in my make-belief worlds. The other half couldn’t give a shiitake (one of them didn’t even make an effort to participate). Now I have US$ 200 of books I don’t want anymore. That is a lot of business books and fiction books I could’ve bought…

Audience apathy

The real mistake was that I didn’t understand my audience. Frankly speaking, most of those players do not want a story-centric character. Let alone one that has powers based on maths, with possibly complicated game mechanics.

The veteran players might have found my character class insufficiently powerful for them. “Too much fluff.” “Fluff” is the word used for anything story-based or description-based. It even sounds derogatory.

The amateur players might have found my character class too complicated. They can barely wrap their heads around rolling a die, figuring out whether they hit, and how to calculate the damage.

Few people cared that my character class has powers that are awesome when used in the infinite descriptive power of an imaginative mind. If a movie was made around my character class, it would have special effects and situations that made the powers look totally awesome. Have you ever noticed that the bad guys in movies never need to take a ton of hits the moment the hero(es) figure out the bad guys’ weaknesses? That’s because repetitive pummeling is boring. Those bad guys were basically defeated by awesomeness.

But, imaginative storytelling isn’t big with my role-playing gaming audience. They mostly just want to rack up damage. Who cares about hidden levers behind bookcases? Who cares if in the room, there are barrels and baskets, spikes and pikes, chandeliers and champagne glasses? Who cares if you can sling a fireball hanging upside down on a rope ladder? (“Would being upside down disadvantage me?” WHO CARES! IT LOOKS AWESOME!)

Point at enemy. Plan best statistically powerful skill to use. Pummel.

Pricing predicament

I priced the Math Wizard at US$ 7 (now $5 I think. I didn’t care to even check… *sigh*).

Here’s something you should know. Pricing sets expectations. Price is not the only thing a customer considers. And if you’re playing with only price as your competitive advantage, you’re screwed.

The Apple App Store has applications at $0.99. You can’t afford to go there, because you don’t have volume. And if you do have volume, what the hashbrown are you doing pricing so low? Create something worth much more!

The general pricing of RPG products tend to go from US$ 1 to US$ 50 (or even US$ 100), but the typical range is US$ 7 to US$ 20.

This was another mistake. My friends are content to sell products at $1 or $2. They still have day jobs, and they’re taking this as a hobby. I’m running a business. I can’t go that low. Even at $7, I would still need a lot of customers to have enough to eat.

And my target audience just didn’t want to pay my price for what I’m offering. They don’t want my product! This is the most fatal mistake I made.

Quitting and committing

It was around this period of time that I quit my job. Now I have no illusions that this RPG product of mine would rocket me into millionaire status. I quit because I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t growing (professionally, technically, career-ly) and I was eating lunch alone.

But my RPG product was to start off my online business, my foray into Internet marketing and basically where my actions and efforts have a direct impact on my ability to create wealth. So I committed myself to work at this.

So what’s the total damage? My first product cost me over US$ 2000, 2 months in writing the ebook, a few days in reading up copyright laws and regulations, a couple of weeks researching my gaming materials, months maintaining an RPG blog that I no longer have interest in maintaining.

I don’t think I made more than US$ 50 in sales.

And in early 2013, my right to use the beautifully created (and dearly priced) ebook cover image will expire. I don’t intend to renew it.

I learnt a bunch of stuff learning to manage an online business. I just didn’t earn enough to cover costs. Luckily I created another product. Luckily, that one didn’t suck like a black hole.

A song about Jennifer Something

This is a song written for a magazine reader who sent me a nice email. Disclaimer: I do not promise to write you a song if you send me a nice email. Read my magazine Singularity.

Here are the lyrics:

Jennifer Something [but it rhymes with “sea”]
You sent me an email, encouraging me
And my day got brighter just because of that
And the sky was bluer, right off the bat

Jennifer Something [but it rhymes with “sea”]
Your words give a boost like vitamin C
Your words crossed timezones without any lag
You support my work just reading my mag

And what’s this magazine,
With topics written on art and science?
I want to make a scene,
Creating a world more than colours and lines

Jennifer Something [but it rhymes with “sea”]
You’re an awesome person, that’s true as can be

“Startup founder” is not a career promotion for programmers

It’s a completely different career ladder.

In his book, “The E-Myth”, Michael Gerber identified 3 personas: the Technician, the Manager, and the Entrepreneur. Face it, you’re a Technician. And Michael identified a singularly fatal assumption:

If you understand the technical work of a business, you understand a business that does that technical work.

And that assumption is wrong. The technical side of a business is separate from the business itself.

And with many a technological startup that’s been popping up all over the place, and succeeding, it can be alluring to a programmer (I’m talking to you) to think that he can do the same.

And you can. But you must go into this knowing you’re running a business. Writing your killer web application may be fun, but it’s not your whole business.

Michael Gerber identified the Technician with bakers, chefs, hair stylists and other crafts people. People who do stuff. A subset of them are programmers. Our work, existing as software, can change within minutes (even seconds) of us changing source code and pushing the results out into the world.

A business can change almost as fast. But it’s a system that surrounds the software system. You need to know about the other parts that keep the business going.

Of the successful startups reported in big media blogs, there are also many more that failed into obscurity. Some of them created by single programmers. Maybe you.

Going the whole 9 yards with a startup can be your dream. Raising venture capital. Talking with VCs. Getting angels to invest in you. Raising funds in rounds 1 and 2 (or A and B or whatever they’re known as). Getting media blogs to notice you. Hiring code ninjas (just a thought: bad idea. Don’t hire if you can. And you don’t really need ninjas). Millions of users. Millions of dollars as an exit strategy. A life of cranking out code with [insert favourite brand of soda] and late nights.

Success or failure. From what I understand, a startup can go either way. There’s some control, but there’s still a fair amount of volatility. For all I know, a butterfly flapping its wings here in Singapore devastated a startup in Silicon Valley.

What you need is to understand at least the fundamentals of a business. The fastest way to learn is to start a business yourself. But you don’t have to start it with your precious web application. Your first business attempt is probably going to suck in an epic nuclear explosion. Don’t make it your precious web application.

I’m writing a guide to teach programmers how to start a small online business. It shouldn’t take you more than a month to start, and it shouldn’t take you more than a couple of hours a week to maintain it. This is what Tim Ferriss calls a “muse”. If you’re not too picky, my calculations put your total investment to be no more than US$ 200. And that pays for at least a year (mostly web hosting costs).

The fun part is that the knowledge you gain from running your own small online business, is that most of it can be scaled to larger businesses. Maybe that startup you’re thinking of.

The business guide will be ready in a couple more weeks. Maybe sooner. This is a heads up in case you’re interested. If you have questions, just contact me.

Success and failure business stories

I think people sometimes attach too much emotional importance to successes and failures, even with other people’s successes and failures. “I don’t want to hear about failure stories.” With the implicit suggestion that hearing about failures somehow attract failures into their lives. While true to some point, I feel for the most part, it borders on something called superstition.

So Andrew Warner of Mixergy started a series on interviewing founders and entrepreneurs about their failures. He already interviewed James Altucher and Scott Gerber. Andrew said his audience seemed to avoid or hate these types of interviews.

I don’t really have a distinct separate line dividing success and failure business stories. They’re just stories. “This happened, then that happened, then I learned something, then something failed epicly, then I learned something more, then something awesome happened, then I learned something…”

While there are general themes and lessons to be learned from success stories, there are also general themes and lessons to be learned (and mistakes to be avoided) from failure stories. I don’t propose that you will fail like those people in those interviews and stories. But there’s one important point that most people seem to forget.

You will never succeed in exactly the same way as those successful people either.

You read the success story of how Google became Google. You learn how Facebook started and became the social media giant it is now. You read a book on how Starbucks revolutionised the way coffee (a commodity) is consumed by people, and made it an experience.

When people say “that company will be the next Google”, they don’t mean literally that company will become the next Google. Because nobody else can be Google except Google. They mean that company having a similar success like Google.

And you will never have that particular success, because you will never have the kind of audience, products, problems, opportunities, founders at that particular point in time. That time has gone.

A failure story is more enlightening when it’s followed with a success story. An entrepreneur failed abysmally in one venture, and was left with practically nothing. Then he picked himself up and succeeded with another venture after that. What motivated him, drove him, gave him hope that he could still continue and succeed? That’s the real lesson.

From listening to the interviews of Y Combinator co-founders Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston, there are 3 qualities a startup’s founders have:

  • They’re smart
  • They’re determined
  • They can communicate with each other

From the way Y Combinator decide whether they should fund a startup, determination of the founders is the hardest quality to determine. How do you know if someone would be able to bounce back after a failure in just 10 minutes of a screening interview?

An entrepreneur with a failure-then-success story has shown that he’s capable of bouncing back. An entrepreneur with a success story just have a success. The latter can certainly still have worked hard for his success. I just respect the former more.

And I bring us back to unique successes because of the unique set of conditions of audience, products, problems and opportunities available to an entrepreneur or startup founders. I can’t remember where I heard this, nor the exact quote, but Bill Gates was giving a talk at a college. A student asked him what to do when starting a business or startup. Bill Gates said,

Oh for goodness sakes, don’t do what I did. That money’s already made by me.

6 weeks in a startup

I looked up the word “startup”. It means “fledgling company” or something to that effect. However, in our current times, the word “startup” has been mostly associated with high technology companies founded by college students who’ve yet to see their 25th year. In fact, Jessica Livingston (a co-founder of Y Combinator) said in a Mixergy interview that there was only 1 non-tech startup that they’ve funded (out of the 200+ startups at the point of interview).

So I worked at a startup before. It’s very different from the stories I’ve read. Ok, this was near the end of 2004. I think web apps were just starting to gain traction then.

Why I left my comfy corporate job

It was near the end of my contract (contracts were renewed on a yearly basis). Although I was told I had a high chance of being re-hired, I had other plans. I edited Unix shell scripts, fixed data corruption errors, created Crystal Reports objects and basically used Microsoft Excel more than I used Visual Studio.

I wanted to use C# but my team was deeply entrenched with VB.NET (mainly because the front end guys were more comfortable with VB.NET). My manager forgot my name when he introduced the team members to the users at a meeting. My manager also said anyone can do programming. (My manager eventually remembered my name, but it was a very long and awkward 3 seconds).

So I found a job listing at a startup. It promised the use of C# and “extreme programming“. I didn’t know what the latter was, but man did it sound awesome! I went for the interview, was told that I had to do lots of regular expressions, and I got the job. I was paid less there, but I thought it was worth it. I planned a holiday to New Zealand, and the new job would start the Monday just after I came back to Singapore.

If you’re interested, you can read about my trip here: Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9. The highlight was day 8, where I was broke and hungry in a foreign country. I took meticulous notes on my trip…

Now the story you’re about the read was taken from my memory, so the details will be fuzzy. But the chronological order is about correct…

Week 1

So I started my first day at the startup the very next day after I came back home from the New Zealand trip. I was refreshed and ready to start. And my first mistake happened way before I went for my holiday trip. At the interview, when asked what I saw myself in 5 years time (ever asked this question?), I said I’d be the team leader of a group of programmers.

And the founder (there was only one) gave me managerial tasks. I was to handle the administrative work and equipment. My first task was to fix the printer. I kid you not.

A bit of background at this point. The founder was a professor at National University of Singapore. He had a PhD in astrophysics if I recall, and degrees/PhDs in other disciplines. The startup work place was near the NUS campus. It was a small room, barely big enough for 4 people and their computer desks. If I understood it correctly, there was Employee #1 (E#1) and his wife, Employee #2. They were both Chinese from China. I bring up their nationality because they would do something later that might make sense if you knew this information now.

The product of the startup was a software program to search, collect and sort patents. It was a Windows executable program written in C#. I believe E#1 had worked on this for a couple of months already (at least). His wife handled the graphics, such as icons and images. And I was Employee #3. The founder also had 4 interns helping out in his other projects (not the startup), but the interns used any available room to do their work. I would also miss the interns tremendously because they made my life more bearable (see later).

Sometime in the middle of the week, Employee #4 arrived. I was still handling paperwork for the interns, for the startup, for E#4 and yes, fixing the printer.

The new computers for me and E#4 arrived. I was in charge of installing necessary software and basically getting the computers up to speed.

Week 2

The founder took me and E#4 to attend a lecture he was giving about patents. The 3 biggest websites for patents were United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), European Patent Office and the Japan Patent Office. I learned that the software we’re creating would, how should I put this, scrape the search results from these patent office websites.

What would happen if the HTML results from these patent office websites changed? I don’t know. Maybe the regex was robust enough to handle those changes.

And never mind Google’s patent search. We didn’t know anything back then. Google might have crushed the product already. I haven’t checked the product website, and frankly, I don’t care.

Where was I?

Did you know that a man filed for a patent about swinging a swing sideways? This meant that legally, you couldn’t invent anything that involved (in part or in full) a sideways swinging action on a swing. I learned about the patent language and phrasing such that you encompass the biggest range of parameters in your patent filing document. This is so that even though others can learn about your technique or invention (that’s the point of patents), they couldn’t replicate your results within the legal patent period (of 15 years I think). I also learned that Nintendo filed a lot of patents involving graphics rendering.

Still didn’t get to do coding. Still didn’t do regex. Did you know I studied up on regular expressions prior to my New Zealand trip? I bought a programming book on C# (with a chapter dedicated to regex). I wanted to be prepared.

I finally fixed that (dang) printer. I now moved to documenting the startup’s assets. You know computers and the like. E#1 and E#4 worked on the software product.

1 of the interns completed his internship at the end of the week. I could feel my life turning for the worse…

Week 3

I finally got to look at the code, and I was to document it. During my job interview, I was asked if I had done documentation before. Well, I’ve written parts of software specifications before. And I’ve tried my hand at this XML documentation (the triple slash of C#). I said yes. Well, I was then given the task of documenting the product, because E#1 was too busy cranking out code that nobody except him knew what the software code was doing. E#4 was to help me.

The interns were fun to hang out with. Lunch was my only reprieve, since they were fun people to have lunch with (and work with). They completed their internship that week. My life turned to hell.

Week 4

The founder found out that the product could be decompiled into source code. It’s written in C# on the .NET Framework. The founder was livid with rage. He threatened to sue Microsoft. He’s going to have words with Bill Gates.

I calmly suggested that we could use one of those code obfuscators out there. E#4 seconded that opinion. E#1 said nothing. I would have thought that after months of working on this, the founder (or even E#1) would have known about this.

E#4 also gave his 2 weeks notice. He found another job, while working in this job barely a month in. The founder was not happy. The founder said E#4 could leave at the end of the week.

The founder also told E#1 and me to come up with technical questions to ask in an interview. E#1 was especially proud of a question where the solution was to use a form (object) to call another form to do some task. He was pleased that I didn’t know how to answer his question. I didn’t give a damn.

Week 5

Without the interns, I dreaded having lunch with just E#1 and E#4. E#1 was aloof and haughty and kept to himself. I didn’t know how to communicate with him, especially since he had trouble speaking English, so I spoke with him only in Chinese whenever possible. E#4 was, well… bearable.

Now with the interns gone, and E#4 gone, I decided to have lunch alone. Eating alone was much more preferable than eating with E#1.

I still didn’t get to do any regex work. It turned out that the founder got a PhD student of his to help him with much of the regex already. That part was already embedded in the software, so I didn’t have to do anything.

I also got to see E#2 (wife of E#1) again. She came down to work on creating some icons. She only appeared when graphics work needed to be done.

Now I finally got to work on some new code. The framework was especially bad, if you could call it a framework. The database backend was a Microsoft Access file. And any time a new version or some core database table was changed, the template Access database had to be changed. The problem was how to push out the changes.

Since the product was a Windows executable, the Access database was bundled with it. If there was a version change, how would we push the core database file out to the customer, without damaging any search results the customer had done? I didn’t know how E#1 had designed something like this…

My fondest memory was database query functions. A typical function took 2 arguments: a string containing comma-delimited column names, and a string containing the where clause. I thought this was extremely inflexible. What if we needed return columns that weren’t just the column names? What if we needed a different sort-by clause (it was hardcoded in the function)? What if we didn’t need a where clause?

There were many overloaded functions.

E#1 also had this habit of sloshing water in his mouth. He would sip from his cup, and then swirl the water around in his mouth, making a gargle without the opening-mouth part. Every time I hear it, I had the impending thought he would spit the water out.

E#1 also called me a 4-eyed toad (in Chinese). That’s because I wore glasses. 2 eyes from me, and 2 “eyes” from the pair of glasses. It’s a common nickname used to tease anyone wearing glasses… when you’re 8 years old that is…

The founder wasn’t in the office most of the time, so I spent all my time cooped up with E#1 and E#2.

Here’s a side story. When I was getting a science degree in NUS (where the startup was situated nearby), I used to go to National University Hospital. The hospital was near my faculty, so I would go to the canteen and have food there (because it’s quieter and had less people than university canteens. No student really go there, just hospital staff and doctors and patients). Sometimes, I would go wander the halls of the hospital. You know, because I was an undergraduate, and was curious. I found the experience interesting and exciting and strangely calming.

Well, now I would have lunch alone, then go to the hospital (it’s still nearby) and wander the halls a bit. Just to recapture some of the calm feeling. I remembered there was this vending machine where I would buy a cup of hot chocolate. I would drink that, sigh deeply, and then go back to the small startup office. With E#1 there. The (memory of the) hot chocolate was the only thing that kept me sane during the afternoon.

The founder must have felt something because he called me in at the end of the week. He told me he could sense my unhappiness with working there. Now at this point, I want to tell you that even though I was unhappy, I didn’t think of quitting. The founder told me he’s ok if I wanted to leave.

“Are you letting me go?” I asked.

It’s a nice way of saying I was fired.

The founder also said that E#1 (and E#2) would be moving to Canada (Vancouver I believe) permanently in a couple of weeks time. He had also hired another programmer. This programmer was supposed to be much better. I mean, if E#1 was moving to Canada, that meant the source of my unhappiness (or mostly the source of) would be gone. So what the founder meant was, this new programmer would be better than E#1 AND ME! To rub salt into the wound, I was told that this new programmer would be paid more (than me).

The following week would be my last week.

Week 6

My last week at the startup would be to do as much documentation as possible. Have I mentioned that E#1 had no documentation at all? This would make it easier for E#5 (the new, higher-paid and better programmer) to get into the groove. E#1 and E#2 would still help in a remote manner from Canada.

I made sure the assets were correctly labelled. I made sure that those administrative tasks handled by me were completed (and documented). I shredded pieces of paper with confidential information (and at that point, useless. I was told to shred them by the founder! I wasn’t doing anything sneaky). I wrote documentation for the software product. I might have written a procedure for getting the printer to work. I’m not sure.

On my last day, I made sure I completely wiped all traces of me and my information from the computer I was using. First, it was polite to do so. Second, and most importantly, I didn’t want anyone there to have any information about me (email addresses and such) after I left. And I mean anyone.

For some reason, as Employee #3, I was given one of the only 2 sets of keys to the office. E#1 used to be the one holding it. The other set was kept by the founder. This meant I was always the first person to arrive at the office. Otherwise, no one could get in. I returned those keys to the founder.

That Friday, that last work day of mine, was 24 December 2004. It was Christmas eve. The founder invited me to go to a Christmas party he was holding at his place the next day. I declined.

I stayed half an hour past my working hours to make sure I’ve done all that I could. Then I bade farewell to the founder and E#1.

I walked out of the office, and went downstairs (it was on the second floor of a small building). I thought sadly back to the day when the interns didn’t show up anymore. And felt alive once more after 3 weeks.

Do you have a story to share?

Have you worked at a startup before? Or heard interesting stories about startups? Let me know in the comments. I truly want to believe my story is not the norm.

Singularity Magazine June 2011

Singularity magazine June 2011

The June 2011 issue marks the birthday (birthmonth?) of Singularity! This is the 13th issue, and I thank you for reading the magazine. Download this month’s issue (about 7MB).

Behind the scenes

So I found a solution to my cat ride problem. I negotiated heavily with my cat, and she decided (rather imperiously, I might add) that she shall have 1 back massage per month.

“I thought I give you back massages!”
“Oh yeah, I haven’t done that for a while…”
*swipe claws*
“AARRRHHH! Whaddya do that for?”
“Ok, fine.”

So now I have fairies as hired help, but I have to feed them and they are allowed cat rides. My cat shreds junk email and I persuaded her to give cat rides. In return, I have to give her back massages. What have I gotten myself into…