25 Years on the Web

1995 – First on the Web – A little history

In the mid-summer of 1995 the Supreme Court said, “Hey guys, it is OK for commercial companies to do business on the web.” By late November of that same year I had a “Web Page”. At the same time a company called AOL.com came into being. Later we would see eBay and Amazon. I was probably one of the first 53,000 companies online at that time and I felt like I was being left behind. I had to put a little information slip in my mailers explaining the difference between an email and a website. There were very few companies who had websites. Locally the colleges had them of course and the Salt Lake County Library, but I had a website before any news organizations, large companies, any media outlets and pretty much everyone. PBS had their website before I did.

I had a long conversation with a local TV Chef who would spend two or three hours everyday faxing recipes to his viewers. I said, “Just convert them into a PDF and give the viewers directions to your website,” but he was very closed minded to this idea. My dad though it was a passing fad like the CB radio. There were no books on the subject so I went to Barnes & Noble (who also did not have a website yet) and bought all the computer books they had including one about Unix. I was extremely confused about the term “User” because anyone who was a user was someone who took advantage of someone. I hated the girls who used me, so trying to use that definition in the world of computers was weird to me.

Because I was one of the first companies on the web I would often be criticized for exploiting it. This faded with time. Since that time there has been two distinct personalities on the web. The people who share freely and those who make money.* My goal was always to dedicate about half of my website to useful information instead of sales alone. After about a year on the web people started saying they found me on Google. Up to that time Yahoo was the great big search engine, but they made a very serious strategic mistake. They tried to be a big index like a yellow pages. Nobody used that. People just used the search engine to see what came up.

Another interesting thing was my online customer base was excellent. Basically anyone who could afford a computer had some class and some money. At that time a typical business computer setup cost about $10,000. It was really a pleasure doing business with people in those days because they were smart, had money to spare and were naturally grateful.

Back then you had a great website if you got a lot of “hits”. People didn't understand that downloading a page would generate many hits. Today we use the words “Page views” and “Unique Visitors”. People also connected via the telephone. My ISP had local phone numbers we could use. The best time to browse was in the middle of the night and we all surfed with “Images off”, which meant we didn't want to waste bandwidth on pesky art and photos. Pages would show up as pages of text and if we wanted to see a photograph we would just click on it. Yesssss things were slowwwww.

I watched in horror at the so called dot-com boom came and went. Kids (inexperienced and cocky individuals in their early twenties) would put up a website to sell anything. Reporters kept talking about these business models and business plans and to me it was clear that the kids didn't know anything about business. They had no business plans or models. They just raised a ton of money and put out a website. My favorite failure was pets.com. Who buys a pet via a website? Anyway, they were so proud of their marketing prowess. Everybody knew who they were, but they spent a fortune on advertising. I think in the end for every dollar of revenue they brought in they spent $1.89. It would have been cheaper to just send every dog owner a check for $25 with a little note that said, "Please don't do business with us we can't afford to process your order."

Of course things have changed a lot since those days. My little makeup and molding supply store did more than $300,000 a year which is pretty good considering I was just a tiny shop with six part-time employees. We survived a couple of recessions and O.J. Simpson. We survived 9-11 but it dramatically changed our product lines. 9-11 suddenly put haunted houses in the dark. That is when we discontinued making pneumatic prop movers. Today I am semi-retired. I take care of my longtime customers and my dear sweet mother Evelyn who is an invalid.

Officially we opened for business on April 1, 1993 so we've been around for more than 30 years. Still the best job I've ever had and I've done some interesting things.

Thanks for reading this.

Sincerely, Steve Biggs


* Of course there is the third group of criminals and hackers.