With about two and a half weeks to go in their fundraiser, Xanga is just a tad over halfway to their goal. 51.8% of the way there, at the moment of this writing. Things are looking bleak for those clowns.
Way back in the 1990’s when the internet snowball was still near the top of the hill, it was enough just to be among the first of those offering a product or service that people would like. They were heady days for those of us who were in the business before the boom came and turned the internet into a high tech boomtown.
Every one of my clients from before the year 2000 was successful and it didn’t really matter all that much what they were selling. In those days I still marketed my SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services, and being the analytical turd that I am I had Alta Vista (Googod’s predecessor) completely figured out. I wrote some software that mimicked theirs to the extent necessary for my purposes, and it enabled me to essentially pick the keywords and the ranking I wanted and then take them. I had great fun amusing and amazing clients by telling them which terms their existing web pages were actually optimized for and where in the rankings they would land, all while we chatted for a few minutes on the phone.
My keystone client came along in 1998, wanting to sell textiles. The founder was a salesdroid who had worked a very good deal with a manufacturer, and for some screwball reason that he’d later come to regret he brought a couple of his college buddies along for the ride. It’s a common mistake. I told him then that if he wanted to keep his business he’d not bring his friends into it, and if he wanted to keep his friends he’d not do business with them. No one ever listens. Anyway, I wrote a bunch of software to dynamically generate what was a huge web site for its day, and then designed the web site, and SEO’d it — but in the meantime, the founder got to shooting his mouth off.
Two weeks before the scheduled deployment date, the manufacturer exercised an escape clause in the contract. They’d just build their own damn web site and keep all of the profit, thank you very much, have a nice day, don’t call us we’ll call you. When Mister Founder called to tell me about it I explained that I wasn’t a party to that contract and he still owed me what he’d agreed to pay whether the web site got deployed or not. With a big fire under his ass and the salesdroid’s skills of deception, he went off to some other manufacturers and landed some even better contracts. Another of the partners did some serious data massaging to make the new stuff fit the old format, and we deployed on time. I made the site live at around 10PM and immediately ran around doing the new site submission to the day’s relevant search engines. When I arose the next morning I gave a look at Alta Vista and found the new site perched at number two for the most important search terms. I’d never seen them move so fast.
My client was not fully prepared for all of the sales that came flooding in, but they managed them and worked the kinks out of their procedures just as fast as they could. About two weeks into it, one of the partners couldn’t contain his joy any longer and wrote an email to the other two, and to me, in which he exclaimed, “Who are all of these people? Where are they coming from? Why are they throwing so much money at us? Never mind. I don’t want to know. I have no reason to care. Thanks, Heathen, for making this happen!”. Later that same week the original manufacturer deployed their own web site which settled in on page three of the search results. They might just as well have thrown the development money into the ocean. It wasn’t very long before they came back around to my client and offered them a sweeter deal than the original, which my client rejected saying it wasn’t good enough to be worth their while. The manufacturer was duly humbled, and gave my client the deal my client demanded. It was that or continue watching their sales dwindle.
By the end of 1998 when the various manufacturers’ numbers were compiled, my client was the number four retailer of their products worldwide, and number one on the internet by a wide margin. The manufacturers’ own web sites couldn’t compete — no one could. A couple of other vendors were vying for the search engine rankings and doing a good job of keeping me on my toes, but their web sites were clunky and left people going back to the search engines to try again and because of it their sales suffered. It did make a difference to my client’s sales whether their site was number one or number four, enough of a difference they were willing to pay me to keep it on top, but their primary motivation was competition and winning. Being new millionaires was fun, but taking that blue ribbon was exhilarating. They wanted to be number one worldwide without qualification, not just on the internet.
Having done both, I’d rather be stalked by a psycho killer than have business partners. Managing their success was two full time jobs, but by mid-1999 it fell entirely to the founder. His partners were content to just rake off their shares while doing as little as possible to support the business. The “third partner”, as far as I know, hadn’t done anything at all to contribute to the business by that point. The founder, exhausted and exasperated, issued an ultimatum essentially stating that if neither of them would step up, he’d step aside and be quite happy to toast marshmallows over the flaming wreckage. Number Two stepped up, and not so much later quit his day job to focus on the business. It made sense, as the business was making for each of them far more than their “primary” careers.
Eventually Number Two became exhausted and exasperated and reissued the ultimatum. Number Three stepped up this time. At various times I suggested to each of them that working together they’d accomplish a helluva lot more than by taking turns working alone… but no one ever listens. The partnership was soured, and each of the three of them was freelancing rather than bringing his ideas and plans to the partnership. I know what they were all up to because I built their web sites for their hush-hush freelance gigs. They couldn’t keep their mouths shut, though, and by telling their partners what they were up to all they accomplished was the breeding of resentment. Their freelance gigs all flopped.
Their original business officially became what Number Two was after all along: A cash cow. When it got too near death they’d get highly motivated for a while, but once it was breathing on its own they’d neglect it again. Eventually they put it on the market just to get rid of the stress it brought them — it had made them all millionaires, but they hated it with a passion. The problem was that by the time they put it up for sale no one wanted it. The last redesign was done in 1999 and it showed. Moore’s Law had brought so much more horsepower to the internet that web sites that were impossibly resource hungry in 1999 were not only doable, they were commonplace.
Finally, Partner Three, The Silent One, bought the thing for his wife. They’d been looking at an emissions testing franchise but she couldn’t see herself running such a thing. She liked the idea of the home office, working in her jammies, and taking leisurely lunches with the girls during which she would very importantly take very important calls on her cell phone. She placed her first very important call to me, and stated that she recognized that the bulk of the company’s success was my doing rather than theirs. I thanked her, genuinely, for her kind words. I suggested that with the software still being adequate though suboptimal due to design decisions forced upon me by Partner Two, the first most important order of business was to strip and refinish the facade to get a more modern look. She said that that was a fine idea but first they had to bank some profits to pay for it.
I told her that those who cannot afford to stay in business don’t. That it was regrettable that when the money was flying down the wires of the internets it was all siphoned off so there was none spent on keeping the site updated, but that regrets are useful only when they prevent your making the same mistakes that gave birth to them. She agreed but said that first they had to bank some profits to pay for the updates.
No one ever listens.
She was in fact spending money on software and other business infrastructure, but all of it for her very cool home office. She initially had some trouble getting her new laptop and cell phone working with the server I administered, but we worked through it. She told me about how disappointed she was that she’d got burned by a fellow church goer whom she’d paid serious money to build some custom dining room furniture for her, and how she’d finally come around to my way of thinking about the world and the environment and bought a new Prius. The full-size SUV would be for reserved for long trips and hauling cargo. And so on.
We did though add a new product line to the site, and I worked some serious FM (magic) into the software to make it really easy for the customers to get precisely what they needed. What about that redesign, I asked. First we have to bank some profits, she said.
Finally, finally, she hired a very talented graphics designer to develop a new look for the site. It was very pretty but it had no space for words. Can’t do SEO without words. Still, I’m sure I’ve got some magic that I’m not yet aware of, and it’s a sexy bitch of a design, so let’s do this. How much? Oh, about this much. That’s too much. Can I do it cheaper?
Get the fuck off of my phone.
It actually took several more months before I said essentially that to her. She was taking up at least two hours of every day but paying for none of them, apparently believing that consulting should be free for such a good client who’s been with me for more than ten years. Good client? “What, in your opinion, makes you a good client?”, I asked. They’ve been with me for more than ten years and spent thousands and thousands of dollars, she said. I pointed out that since she and her husband bought the company, it had been less than two years, and in the final analysis I was making about 10% of my billing rate for every hour actually devoted to them and that number was on a steep downward trend. Oh, but there will be lots of money available for upgrades and things once this new site is deployed and sales pick back up again…
Get the fuck off of my phone. I didn’t quite put it that way, but I made it clear five years ago that I was tired of her sucking my business dry like some kind of yuppie vampire.
Five years later, finally, there’s a new site there. The old site was there two weeks ago when I used it as an example of how not to do things, but now there’s a new one. It’s not the sexy bitch, but it’s cute. Like the sexy bitch design, it’s not suitable for SEO — Googod agrees and has ranked it at #107 for the most coveted search terms that brought in the great majority of their customers. But the poor ranking isn’t hurting their sales at all because their shopping cart does not work.
The 1999 site was still at #8 in Googod’s estimation two weeks ago. That’s quite the fall from page one to page ten. They might as well have just thrown that money for the redesign into the ocean. It’s a short walk to the Pacific from the owner’s house — she can see the beach from her bathroom window, she often said. The salt air was a constant challenge for her husband who didn’t want his Porsche to rust.
I’m guessing that The Xanga Team can see Central Park from their bathroom window, and they’ve got nice laptops and cell phones, too. There’s just got to be a Prius in the mix somewhere. It’s regrettable that the money that might have financed the vital upgrades was siphoned off when it was just gushing through the doors, but regrets are only good for something if they keep you from repeating the mistakes that created them.