The Early Days
This one needed two titles. I’ve put my story out there a little bit and was encouraged to write post about it, so here it is. Coming out of college in 1991-1992 with an environmental engineering degree, I had started an environmental consulting firm. My focus was environmental due diligence for lending institutions and private investors, taking advantage of legislation that was passed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response and Liability Act (CERCLA). In layman’s terms, we complete environmental assessments of real estate used as collateral for bank loans or for new owners buying property, looking for potential environmental liabilities such as underground storage tanks, asbestos or storied histories of dry cleaning, gas stations or auto repairs facilities. (I still do it all these years later, and I’m never without work.)
Having carved out a niche with few players in the game, it wasn’t too long before my partner and I got real busy and I was over my head with work. As such, I hired my old college roommate, despite the fact he was a structural engineer, as well as several others. My roommate and I were already beginning to toy around with the Internet and e-mail (primarily as DeadHeads trading tapes of Grateful Dead shows with others who were online around the country) and it wasn’t long before he suggested that we should get a website up and running to market our business beyond our local area. Awesome idea and the second he said it, I knew it could grow our business and set us apart from my already established competitors! Why didn’t I think of that? We registered our company domain name through Network Solutions and it didn’t even cost us anything. Domain names were free at the time. Using the only provider in Rhode Island at that time, with an old noisy dial-up network and Netscape as a browser, we created our first website in 1993.
We were told that we literally had the ninth (9th!) website in the State of Rhode Island and we were very proud of it and told everybody that we could about it. It wasn’t easy to explain, as there were not many others online yet and there was really no way to show them, unless they were in our office or our house, as there were no portable devices yet. Despite the occasional funny looks at the local Chamber of Commerce networking events we would attend, we knew we were cutting edge, we knew we were way ahead of the game and we were having fun doing it. As the statute of limitations has long passed, I can admit that we made a picture collage that appeared on our Front Page (now called a Home Page because a Homepage referred to your your whole site back then). This picture was literally cut out of safety and engineering magazines and pasted on a piece of paper and then photographed with a historic Sony Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera) electronic still camera. (I still have the several of the first 3.5” floppy digital cameras that we used on our assessments back then, although those came later in the late 90s).
Anyway, the picture and our website depicted heavy duty excavators and equipment, a laboratory, various field personnel and all kinds of stuff that gave the perception that we were a pretty large company, even though we weren’t. Deceptive? Unethical? Perhaps, but I didn’t give a crap and I wasn’t verbally lying to anybody and knew the work we did and the relationships we had were professional and of the utmost quality. We felt big and we were starting to create some talk in our industry. Sometimes in the business world, perception goes a long way and our efforts were about to pay off.
It was 1994 before it happened…but it finally happened. One day we got a phone call from a company in California that was investing in East Coast real estate. One of the first things he said was that he came across our company on the Internet and I immediately jumped out of my seat, began jumping around and shaking my roommate vigorously. I was sure the guy on the other end of the phone sensed my quite celebration, although he kept talking. Next thing I knew, we landed a pretty good size property portfolio throughout New England, making the year a very profitable one and setting me up for future success and a very awesome career, if I do say so myself.
After our lengthy project, the very satisfied owner of that company turned me onto another company in Texas, which led to more work and more relationships. The Internet snowball was going downhill after a fresh sticky snow storm and we felt like real pioneers, knowing none of that work would have materialized without our website and the Internet! We always knew we were on the right path, but that got us thinking even more.
I remember very clearly a day in late December 1994 around Christmas and around my wedding (I got married on New Years Eve!), when we had a pretty slow week. Seemed like everybody was in vacation mode and the typical year end push was just not happening (although most had a successful LAST quarter and were kicking back a little). Anyway, we were having a brain storming session trying to think of new business development initiatives and other ways to make some money.
I remember saying to my roommate, why don’t we register some more domain names and try to sell them to companies, since we’ve had success with it. Funny thing is, he said to me, “why didn’t I think of that!” We then began inquiries to Network Solutions to purchase McDonalds.com, BurgerKing.com, Sears.com, CocaCola.com, Time.com (magazine), Life.com (magazine), Ford.com, Cadillac.com (registered the day before), and several others. They were all taken! We became very frustrated and went to lunch, by the time we got back, we had a fax on the machine awarding us another two projects from a local client, and we got back to work. If before lunch, I had only stubbed my toe on the table and typed that in. If I had only fell off my chair and typed that in. Man, if only I looked down and typed in paper or pens, or pencils or anything else that was in my vision at that moment! Typing in lunch, when my roommate suggested it, may have changed our lives forever, as every single one of these domain names was available that day, and we were fishing in the right pond, but for the wrong fish!
Oh well, no complaints or regrets here although thinking about it all again does make my toes curl a little! I’ve carved out a very successful career as an environmental engineer and twenty years later, I’m learning once again how to make money on the Internet on the side buying, selling and monetizing domain names. My roommate left the environmental field back in the late 1990’s to become the Internet and intranet guru for one of the world’s largest banks and is still there today. When I told him what I was up to lately, he almost fell off his chair. Something he should have done twenty years ago. Perhaps that would have inspired us to catch the right fish and not go to lunch that day, frustrated as we were!
You can see one of my early websites here on Archive dot org’s Wayback Machine http://web.archive.org/web/19990302050354/http://www.rikenyon.com/kei/
Although the picture I discussed earlier no longer shows up for some reason. You’ll notice the scrolling banner that says we’ve been on line since 1992, although it was a typo that should have been 1993, and an error that we never bothered to correct. The Internet allowed us to blur lines a little, but nobody ever questioned it, because we always delivered a professional product at a great price in a quick timeframe.
Stay tuned for some future articles about AvoidLines.com (my Amazon idea way before Amazon) and KineticCapital.com (my on-line banking idea before there was any), two other Internet ideas that just missed the boat because of my commitment to my ongoing environmental businesses at that time.