The Saga of Dreamcatcher.net
As the Dreamcatcher.net web app comes to a close, it feels meaningful to reflect back on the origins, the credits, and the story which lead to both it’s rise and it’s fall.
Dreamcatcher.net is a web app basically created as a social dream journal, founded by myself and my business partner at the time, Josh Shore. The vision was spawned in 2008 originally as the ‘Illuminated Dream Journal’, part of the Illuminated project, and then spun off in order to create it’s own brand clout. The intention of the website was both to inspire a new generation of dreamers, as well as create publicity, story mythos, and raise money to fund the Illuminated animated film production.
The alpha launch of the site was developed between 2009-2010 by myself in concert with Doktor J (backend development), Geoff Jensen and Ephraim Peniston (UI coding), with significant art and inspirational contributions from Andrew Jones. During this time, the site was built from the ground up, developed over the course of hundreds of hours and ongoing months of work, to create something which was steeped in originality, from the high concept down to the source code. The inspiration and sense of purpose in the team is still memorable.
After the alpha launch, the site began to gain a little traction, as a small yet slowly growing group of dreamers started to share the contents of their dreams through the website. This was exciting for the team to see, and this proof of concept led us to an investment of $250K from a private investor in exchange for 12.5% of the company stock, at a market valuation of $2M.
Now with some capital, the growing team of coders (Duke, Geoff, Ephraim, Scott), artists (Geo, Xavi) and organizers consolidated from various locations up and down the north american west coast, to setup shop in Emeryville, California in a modern tech warehouse operated by Flowtoys. Here the team experienced a blossoming of creative potential, and thousands of collective work hours invested in creating concepts, art, designs and of course tons of code, to develop and deployment of the ‘theta phase’ of the app, which was rebuilt in Ruby on Rails. Theta phase included automatic dream dictionary referencing based on dream contents, as well a Dream Stream, which made it easy to browse and rank all the content being generated on the site in realtime.
After 3 months of production in this capacity, funds from the investment began to run low, and with no immediate sign of another investment soon, the team temporarily moved up to BC, Canada to take refuge at the Dreamberry Studios in Roberts Creek, to continue developing the project while we waited for another investment. Meeting with investors, and developing next level concepts, and executing new feature-sets was the regular routine. The next investment seemed right around the corner, and inspiration was still running high.
Week after week, month after month, with no new investments, the team members began to eat into their personal savings while continuing to work hard, in order to keep supporting the project. The high inspiration and fantastic moral of the team slowly began to wear thin, as organizers and artists had to be let go, as the team narrowed itself down to a very tight knit group of several highly dedicated people who were the technical life blood of the project. This included Duke, Geoff, Ephraim, and Doktor J. With so much on the line, the core team began to ask some very serious deep questions about their equity in the project.
Since Josh and I were very foolish not to create very clear expectations for what kind of equity each member of the team would receive, the visions between the upper management (Josh) and the dedicated team, began to come out of alignment, with me square in the middle. The team demanded much more project equity in exchange for their hard work than what Josh was willing to sacrifice. After trying to strike a balance between the two views, I ended up siding with the team and supporting their increased equity, and at this point the trust between myself and Josh, the founders of the project, began to wear thin.
While Josh was trying to groom me to be the project visionary, with the majority / equal share in the project as him, I tended to support the team to the point of suggesting that part of my equity be spit amongst them. Josh wasn’t aligned with this vision, and so things began to go sidelong. Meanwhile we were discussing setting up a studio in Bali in order to reduce production costs to relieve some of the financial pressure.
As this new complexity was brewing, a new investment came in through Josh’s efforts, for an additional $250K – much needed water in a long drought. I booked a future flight to Bali to scout out studios where the team could move to.
There began to arise conflicting views on how the new investment should be spent. Though the budget laid out was clear, Josh wanted to dangle the money like a carrot to keep the team working hard, and slowly release it to them over the future work phase. I tended to want to pay the outstanding stack of invoices received over the months of unpaid work from the team, whom I was living with, to fulfill my promises to pay them fairly once the next investment was in.
In an action that I thought would be a balance between the two views, I arranged and agreed with the team to prepay them for their future work. This was the only way to preserve the dignity of the team, as they continued to be degraded by Josh in the low amount of equity he was willing to assign them. I issued the payments without consulting Josh on these matters, since I thought he might not approve of it, as he went on the record threatening to replace the team and use the money to hire new people if we don’t perform on our deadlines.
So to maintain team moral and forward motion of the project with a broke and exhausted team, I transferred the sums assigned to each member of the team in the budget for the current phase, immediately, prepaying each member for the work about to be done. In addition to this, I continued to honour the invoices issued to Dreamcatcher, which were still owed, and outlined a plan to pay them back over time.
Had this prepayment not been done, the team members could have also easily filed small claims suits against the company, and effectively brought in a lengthy and costly legal procedures into why we hadn’t paid our invoices with them, and the entire team would quickly undergo a mutiny, myself included.
So as an alternative, I proceeded to pre-pay the team for the future work, without consulting or even notifying Josh. By this action, my trust with Josh was effectively broken, as I clearly sided with the team, rather than him in the upper management, staging basically what seemed to be perceived by him as a mutiny anyways. At this same time, I decided to not have any phone interactions with Josh, and simply perform all communications by email, so that there was a record of all our interactions, and not get caught up in lengthy fruitless angry arguments on the phone.
At this point, I issued a set of ‘options’ which I was willing to pursue in order to redeem the situation. The options I proposed are copy/pasted directly here:
• I park my rights with Dreamcatcher, relinquish position of Company Director
• Josh takes over
Option 1A – Hire New Team
Option 1B – Or continue working with Duke/Geoff (if they want), give them more shares
– Optionally, hire Phong on short-term contracts for production & concepting / receive dividends
• Josh parks rights with Dreamcatcher, relinquish position of Company Director
• Phong takes over
– Continue working with Duke/Geoff (if they want), give them more shares
– Optionally, hire Josh for strategy, Josh gets finders fees / receive dividends
• We decide to dissolve everything or sell the IP
• Use funds to pay off all invoices, and returns to investors
• The End
The options were basically, I take over the project, or he takes over the project and we play nicely together (at a distance), as I wasn’t prepared to continue working closely with him on the project, since we weren’t seeing eye to eye.
Josh soon after hired a mediator to oversee interactions between us, as though the mediator was somehow going to bring me to justice. The mediator ended up agreeing with my ethics in prepaying the team, and then his time was up as the company could no longer afford to hire the mediator.
Josh continued to ignore the viable options to repair the project, and started uttering legal threats to the team who worked so hard to make it a reality. At this point I perceived the situation as irreparable, and formally resigned as director of the company around September 20, 2011. This came after writing my recommendations to Josh about how to repair the situation if he chose, involving distributing my equity to the team. Shortly after this, I boarded the flight to Bali, which was booked weeks earlier, in order to look for a studio space for the team to work. Obviously at this point I was no longer looking for a studio space, as I had already resigned, though didn’t want to waste the non-refundable flight.
In the face of repeated threats from Josh to sue me and the team who had just worked for as long as 9 months without pay on the project, and constant psychological coercion towards myself and members of the team – he continued to propagated the myth that I had simply ‘stolen all the money and left to Bali.’
Over the course of the next 6 weeks, I took a hiatus in Asia, and negotiated the terms to basically sign off my role and rights in the project in exchange for 5% equity. By time I signed the project off formally it was November 11, 2011.
Since then, I’ve been mostly out of the loop on what’s been happening behind the scenes of the project. I heard rumours of a battle for control of the source code, server issues, a team in India preparing to take over, and now I hear the website and company is going to be closed down in the coming months.
Whatever the outcome is, I take responsibility that the project had no endorsements from any Native American elders, while using the ancient Native American Dreamcatcher symbol as a brand to ultimately survive by creating business profits by subscription services, and data mining people’s dreams in order to advertise to them. My mistake was only clear to me after I described the concept of the website to a native grandmother hereditary chief matriarch, who laughed at the idea of the website and said to me – “Don’t you know, the Dreamcatcher is only supposed to catch the bad dreams.” It turns out that the power of the dreamcatcher medicine stops all those dreams with greed, ignorance and inequality. And so, the project has been destroyed.
I am thankful to everybody who saw the positive vision of the project, and was involved in building it into a reality. I’m also thankful to everybody who used the website while it was up and brought the creation to life.
I sincerely apologize for all mistakes I made along the path that lead to any members of the team encountering needless suffering. It has been a learning experience that I will never forget, and beyond the co-opted name and the business plans, I still recall the spirit of inspiration that brought the energy together to create the project, and the call from beyond which combined all the great elements for a short time, to create something truly inspired by the magic world of dreams.