tldr; warning.
I started writing and ended up with probably my longest post ever on social media.
Apologies to those not interested in reading a little ‘history of the internet’ post.
Today happens to be 25 years(!) since my first day at my first real job, back in Columbus, Ohio working for a natural gas utility that was called Columbia Gas at the time.
I remember I was excited because I could start work on a Monday and get paid for Independence Day just a few days later. My first ever paid holiday! haha I’d just turned 22 and now, somehow, I’ve just turned 47.
June 30, 1997 – my first day of work at my first ever “real job”.
I had just left Miami University after 4 years, not as a graduate but after being infatuated by this relatively new thing called the internet. I had long since decided that I wanted to do that for a living.
I’d built the first website at Miami for Goggin Ice Arena back in 1995 using the classic code editor known as Notepad, and I self-taught as much as possible after that, getting my hands on everything I could.
There were no classes available to take, and certainly no degrees. So staying at Miami made no sense for me, with my partially completed Political Science degree that I had no intention of using.
Plus, I wasn’t all that into classes that weren’t related to my future endeavors. So yea, a big old ‘F’ in Art History (and a few other classes) didn’t exactly emit confidence from others in how this whole ‘career thing’ was going to turn out for me.
Because of my grades, I probably owe Y2K to getting my foot in the door.
Companies were hiring any warm body they could to save the world from imminent doom, and when I found a company that agreed to let me split my time between Cobol Y2K programming (they would train me) and working on their internet/intranet project, I jumped at the opportunity.
Over those years, I watched both the industry and myself grow up. At a time when there were no videos online because bandwidth couldn’t handle it, and we would routinely watch the screen paint top to bottom as the webpage loaded for what seemed like an eternity, today’s level of technology and bandwidth and smartphones was just a pipe dream.
I was coming off an internship with Apple where we were offered stock as a payment option but declined because there were serious doubts the company was even going to be around much longer.
Besides, Steve Jobs had just sold 1.5 million shares of Apple stock at $15/each, taking the stock to an 11-year low.
He would soon turn down the offer to return to the company, as he decided to stay at Pixar.
That September he became interim CEO until they could find someone permanent. This was shortened to iCEO, which was Apple’s – and Jobs’ – first i release.
Before the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. True story.
And… after all the stock splits over the years since then, 1 share of that stock would now be 112 of them, and worth over $15,000 today.
Netflix was still a couple months away from opening, and as such, sending DVDs in the mail to customers.
It would be 10 more years before they started streaming video content.
13-year-old Mark Zuckerburg was still 6 years away from creating Facemash, er…, er…
Jeff Bezos had just written a legendary letter to shareholders, calling it ‘Day 1 of the internet’, despite Amazon growing to over 600 employees and $147 million in sales.
In that letter was advice for any business, that is just as timely now as it was then – “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers.”
Still a great letter for anyone, if you’ve never read it.
Netscape Navigator was the marketshare leader of browsers, with Internet Explorer second at only like 15%.
I still remember having to code for older versions of browsers, because people had to manually upgrade them and that was a big investment of time and energy and trust.
So backwards compatibility was a huge matter.
In the internet world, we didn’t know which search engine was the most important one to optimize for, Yahoo! Excite, Altavista, AskJeeves, others?
The answer was one that didn’t even exist yet.
Google was still more than a year away from opening and launching a search engine that evolved into so much more.
The entire process or ranking being an absurd amount of activities ranging from keyword text on pages to meta keyword stuffing to all kinds of white text on white background nonsense… whatever it took to get an edge back then.
Domain names cost $70 for two years, and you could only buy them from one place – Network Solutions.
In the ecommerce world, we were building out ways for people to see their bills online, then print out a payment form, write a credit card number on it, and fax it back to us – because people didn’t trust entering their credit card online.
SSL was new and not widely adopted and there were no standard payment processors.
Paypal didn’t exist for another year.
Ebay was still called AuctionWeb, but was blowing up largely due to the Beanie Baby craze that was sweeping the nation (they made up 6% of all AuctionWeb sales in 1997). didn’t launch until a little over a year later, and the dot com bubble that it helped ignite caused its liquidation two years later.
Paid digital marketing consisted of banner ads only as Google pay-per-click ads didn’t come around for 3 more years.
I got really good at SEO, which a few years later helped me compete against those with bigger budgets who could afford the unsustainable expenses of 5 and 10 cents per click for traffic.
It was 10 years before my first big speaking gig, at Search Engine Strategies 2007 in Chicago, where I ironically discussed those very pay-per-click strategies and Google.
I’ve worked with some amazing people over the years and have made some really great friends along the way.
I’ve been a part of some great projects over the years with some really awesome brand names that everyone knows, launching a couple of them from scratch.
It’s safe to say that probably most people in the U.S. have shopped on a site that I had something to do with at one point or another, and probably on more than one.
Had lots of challenges over the years too, personally and professionally.
It’s definitely not been all upward and onward for 25 years.
Got married, got divorced.
I’ve been hired, I’ve been fired.
I’ve gained weight, I’ve lost weight.
Made lots of money, lost lots of money.
Had employers wiggle their way out of six-figure performance bonuses that I had already earned.
Had companies promise lots of stock to come on board and then drag their feet until I decided to leave because they kept moving the goalline.
I learned to always get things in writing.
Learned to appreciate friends.
Learned not to go into business with friends.
I even had one boss in the early days who told me I was wasting my time on this internet stuff, because it was a passing fad that wouldn’t last.
Not sure where you are today, Jerry, but I think it’s going to stick.
Anyway… today was a day to reflect on a lot of things over the last 25 years.
And no way do I expect anyone to actually read this, but I wrote it for me so that’s ok.
Sometimes you have to take a minute and look back and think… ‘you know what, self? you’ve done ok.’
Though I also know I have a lot still to do.
Right or wrong, this whole internet and eCommerce thing has become a big part of my identity, right up there with being a dad.
Now I’m trying to build a new digital marketing and eCommerce consulting agency, called Launch Studios.
It is humbling, taking 25 years of experience launching and building some of the biggest brands on the planet, and starting with a new agency in the stage of growth where your ideal client is one that pays you.
As part of that business, we’ve built out a production studio here in Austin, because luckily in 2022, video seems to work out ok on the internet.
And it helps us make great ads, engaging content and deliver a premium customer experience for our clients.
Want to be a big fish in a small pond and work with some incredibly talented and experienced people with a new agency? Let me know.
We’re hungry to show off our capabilities and we want your testimonial after we deliver results for you.
The only thing I can promise is that we will focus relentlessly on our customers.
Because in 25 years, some things never change. Hell, it worked for Amazon and this Jeff Bezos guy.
Anyway, it’s been a pretty great 25 years. Can’t wait to see what the next 25 will bring.
oh, and I’ll wrap up with this little nugget that took me back a bit and may do the same for you if you’re an OG in this space…
If you want a taste of things way back in 1997, enjoy this video on YouTube – The Kids Guide to the Internet –