Tech News & Tips
Special Feature: In His Own Words
The story of how two little kids with one big idea changed the way America does the web.
From Day Care to Dot.Com
by Danny Welbrock
May 7, 2000
What would you say if I told you there was a web site out there where you could get not only the news and stock quotes you want instantly, but also experience personalized content, intuitive features and useful community message boards all delivered seamlessly to your desktop? Well, you'd probably call me a nut job; another oversexed, power-hungry Sillicon Valley up-and-dot-commer to throw his hat into the ring and promise America "The-Next-Big-Thing." And I suppose that's what you should say. I've earned a reputation in this industry over the past three weeks as being a domineering hard-ass, a "Steve Jobs without the 10 o'clock shadow," as Time Magazine recently dubbed me in an article on the ten most influential men in technology today. And do you know something? They're right. In this high-pressure industry, the CEO of a new start-up doesn't have time to drop acid at Berkley or talk COBOL over a game of poker at Harvard -- if he's going to survive swimming with the sharks, he has to demand the most out of himself and those around him. He has to help others see past the digital hype to how his particular piece of technology can change people's lives forever. So yes, Alice, The New Medium is all about demanding more out of your employees than they may know they can give, because in this economy, if you're napping during milk break, you're nothing but a wannabe or a poopy-head.
One particularly rainy morning in late 1999, I arrived at the place I considered my home-away from in home those days, Children's World Day Care Center, to find my then "cubby-buddy," Evan Guinness, excitedly tapping something into his Palm Pilot. I asked him what was so important that it couldn't wait till after his morning latté, which was sitting barely touched on the table in front of him, looking as though it had grown quite cold. Evan looked up from his PDA and asked me seriously, "Danny, what are the two most popular things people use the web for?"
I took a minute, both to think about it the question my friend had just posed, and also to drink in the uncharacteristic gravity in his voice as he posed it. Something seemed different about Evan today; he seemed more confident that usual, with a hint of nervous energy tickling at his movements. I licked once around my rapidly drying lips and coughed up the bluntest answer I could think of.
"News and pornography," I said finally, no hint hesitation in my voice. It was a fact that everyone at the time knew, but one that no one, at least not until just then, had ever dared say. Evan didn't say a word back to me, but he didn't have to, we both already knew we were on the same page.
So Evan whipped up a quick promotional web page and I got to work writing the copy, and then we sat down and drafted a tentative business model that very afternoon. Not wanting to waste a single clock tick, we managed to post SlapDash's teaser web site and its business plan to our newly registered domain just as our mothers arrived to take us home for the day. From home, I emailed the URL of our new site to several well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalists in my Dad's address book. Later that night I went to sleep, already counting the millions in my head. Perhaps it was a bit presumptuous, or perhaps it was a bit prophetic. The only thing I knew was that I liked the smell of all that green.
The next morning, as soon as Evan and I ditched our coats and what was left of our morning lattés into our shared cubby, we logged into our accounts and found there were more proposals from would-be investors for us in our inboxes than there were chain letters and unsolicited lolita pics combined. The reality that we were soon to be CEOs hit us both at once, and it was an indescribable rush. No hyperbole, it's better than when your sexy teenage babysitter lets you take a drag off her joint, even though she knows your parents would kill her if they found out.
After we calmed down and got the legal details ironed out, we set about putting the project in motion. We hired a crack team of Indians (the dot kind, not the Dances With Wolves kind) who knew ASP like their native tongue and were willing to program for nothing but a cot to sleep on at night and some bogus stock options. (Okay, they didn't know about the bogus part. But they would some day, Evan and I often chuckled over our morning lattés.)
At last, our Indians' early mornings and late nights and ridiculous forehead dots finally paid off. SlapDash.com went online, went public the following week, and is currently valued by the market at over 500 million dollars; second only to Amazon.com and AOL.com. In the intervening weeks, we've moved out of our original humble digs and into some trendy Silicon Valley office space in a high rise so exclusive that they don't let anyone inside without a dual retinal scan and an anal swab.
Oh sure, for two or three nights a week, Evan and I don't get to let our employees sleep, but that is what life in the New Media is all about. Pushing yourself beyond the limits of what you thought your body could take. Before we started SlapDash.com, no one thought it was possible to keep a whole division of employees alive on nothing but Altoids and Tampico; but forty years ago, no one thought man would ever piss on the moon, either.
Previous Tech News & Tips:
- November 15, 1999 - Yokitaki Sakamura makes setting up a web cam easy and fun.
- September 19, 1999 - Mike McCormick discusses whether it's the right time to upgrade to Windows 95.
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