My entrepreneurial journey started in 1999. Back when names like AOL, Mindspring and Earthlink ruled the market for providing Internet service to consumers. Back when 56k dial-up modems were standard and ISDN was just for the geeks who could afford it. Back before the dot com bubble burst when any crazy with a half-baked business plan could get venture funding and spend money without any real plan to make any. If they could do it then I certainly could as well.
Unlike these other crazies though I had a plan – Improve on a niche space within the dial-up market, get millions of subscribers, sell the company for a ton of money and then make video games. This plan was so good that I was able to convince my brother, who was still a junior in college, to join me on this sure-fire, money making adventure. Had we seen the road sign that read, “School of Hard Knocks ahead” as we raced through writing a business plan and into fund raising our outlook may not have been so upbeat.
With $30,000 raised from family and friends SafeBrowse.com was launched to create a filtered Internet service that would allow families to enjoy all of the great things about the Internet without any of the “bad stuff”. We were not alone in this market niche, but we had a better idea. While everyone else was determining what “bad stuff” meant for their customers we were going to allow each customer to select from a list of categories what “bad stuff” they wanted blocked, and they could change it whenever they wanted. We called it “Flexible Filtering”.
On September 13, 1999 we opened our virtual doors and signed up our first customer. Our refurbished Dell servers held up well under the strain of signing up 75 customers over the next 11 months. I learned many lessons from the School of Hard Knocks over that first year but the first lesson was: