Archive for April, 2010

Email Exchanges with Ariel Poler

April 28, 2010

Below is the majority of the email exchanges between Ariel Poler and me. Ariel’s company, Topica had put up a ‘coming soon’ web page in February, but didn’t end up going live until a year later, in February 1999. I met with Ariel a couple of times. He wanted to combine our companies, but he would never explain exactly what Topica was going to do. In the end, I decided to continue to go it alone.

Steve Jurvetson, a Venture Capitalist that I had been pestering to fund ONElist, referred Ariel to me, which is how we met.

Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 10:19:47 -0700
Subject: introduction
To: Mark Fletcher
From: Ariel Poler

Mark,

I got your name from Steve Jurvetson. I work at Topica Inc. We have not publicly announced what we are doing yet, but it is in a near by space to Onelist. I was hoping to meet you and explore the possibility of establishing a partnership between our companies. Would you be interested in getting together? If so, we would be glad to drop by your office at a time that is convenient for you. Thanks.

Cheers,

Ariel Poler
CEO, Topica Inc
199 Utah Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
ariel@topica.com

Date: Fri, 1 May 1998 10:33:01 -0700
Subject: Re: status check
To: Ariel Poler
From: Mark Fletcher

At 10:33 AM 5/1/98 -0700, you wrote:

Hello Ariel,
>
> Any more thoughts on your end? Just checking…
>

I’ve been meaning to email you. Honest! 😉

I’ve been really busy. Here’s where I stand currently. I met with Steve Jurvetson. I’ve met with another company who is interested in some sort of deal. And I’m meeting with some other people this afternoon who are interested in combining efforts.

Add that to the effort of maintaining ONElist…

My first choice is to get funding and do this myself. Should that not happen, I am interested in merging with someone.

So while I haven’t made any decisions yet, that’s what’s up. Should I not get funded, I will definitely be interested in talking more with you, as I think that we’d be a better fit together than most of the people I’ve talked with. My guess is that the funding question will be resolved within a week or two.

Thanks and have a good weekend,

Mark

To: Mark Fletcher
From: Ariel Poler
Subject: touching base
Date: Mon, 25 May 1998 20:39:47 -0700

Hi Mark,

Wondering where things stood with you. We are about to make a few important decisions that would be affected if we could work together…

Cheers,

Ariel.

From: Mark Fletcher
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 1998 9:28 PM
To: Ariel Poler
Subject: Re: touching base

Hello Ariel,

Busy busy busy. What I’m currently exploring is partnering with someone, although that’s a slow process. I need to do something fairly soon, if for nothing else than my own sanity.

We never really discussed this, but how do you think ONElist and Topica would mesh together? If we were to do something together, do you see ONElist going away completely? What would happen to my users/lists?

Thanks, and I apologize for the flakiness.

Mark

To: Mark Fletcher
From: Ariel Poler
Subject: RE: touching base
Date: Wed, 27 May 1998 01:31:56 -0700

Mark,

I was not thinking about ONElist going away. Definitely not in the short term. My guess is that we would jointly decide what made the most sense in terms of if and when to mesh things together (there are a few reason why I believe they should stay separate at least for a while). If/when we combined them, we would obviously take care of ONElist’s users & lists to make sure we didn’t leave anyone hanging.

Would you like to take the next steps in evaluating working together? We have a meeting in Palo Alto on Thursday morning. Maybe we could get together for lunch in your neighborhood? Please let me know. Thanks.

Ariel.

To: Mark Fletcher
From: Ariel Poler
Subject: next steps
Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 11:32:38 -0700

Mark,

Good seeing you yesterday. Thanks for sharing the information you did with us. I hope you also got a better sense about Topica. How about the following next steps:

1) We learn a bit more about one another through a few references.
2) If we all remain interested, you come to our office so that you can learn more about us & meet the rest of the team.

If this sounds reasonable, would you be comfortable providing us 3-4 references? Ideally people who know you well at a professional level. We would gladly give you some references for us as well. Please let us know. Thanks.

Cheers,

Ariel.

From: Mark Fletcher
Sent: Monday, June 01, 1998 9:18 AM
To: Ariel Poler
Subject: Re: next steps

Hi Ariel,

We can certainly trade references, when the time is appropriate. But I still don’t know what you guys are doing. I can guess, but I don’t like guessing, and it’s not fair to me. I’ve told you many things about ONElist. All I’m asking for is the same from you.

Thanks,

Mark

To: Mark Fletcher
From: Ariel Poler
Subject: RE: next steps
Date: Tue, 2 Jun 1998 12:15:36 -0700

Mark,

We were planning to give you a fairly detailed description when you came here, i.e., to “open our kimono”. Thus, we thought it would be worthwhile to spend a little bit of time ahead of time learning a bit more about one another to make sure the whole thing was worthwhile. However, I would be more than happy to take an intermediate step and tell you a little more about us. Would you like to do that over the telephone? If so, please let me know when/where I could call you, or, call me at any of the numbers below. OK?

I would like to stress that we are very excited by the prospect of working together. From what we can tell thus far, the synergies and fit would be great. We are just trying to be careful because we have gotten “burned” before…

Cheers,

Ariel Poler

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Email Exchanges with Steve Jurvetson

April 28, 2010

I had been pestering Steve Jurvetson, partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a local VC firm, with an email campaign. Each day, I would recite the day’s statistics about ONElist, and then I would talk about one aspect of the company. It finally worked. First up is ‘ONElist Update #9’.

It’s important to note that at this point in my email barrage of Steve, I knew that he was paying attention to my screeds, even though I had not yet received any direct acknowledgement from him. I knew this because I had been contacted by Ariel Polar, who Steve had referred to me.

Notice in this email how much of a punk I sound like. I wanted Steve to know that I was dedicated to the company. I guess sounding like a punk is one way of doing it… Also notice that I signed the email ‘ONElist Team’. I wanted it to sound like there were literally tons of people working at ONElist, when in fact it was just little old me.

From: Mark Fletcher
Subject: ONElist Update #9
To: Steve Jurvetson
Date: Sun, 19 Apr 1998 22:52:23 -0400 (EDT)

Steve,

ONElist update…

Number of users: 32,143
Number of emails sent in the last day: 212,033
Ad Impressions from Web Site, last 24 hours: 11,056
Number of lists: 3,897

I met with Ariel Poler this morning. I respect Ariel and think he’s a smart guy. I believe that he wants to acquire ONElist and have me work at Topica as their VP of Engineering. I think that Topica is developing something very similar to ONElist, and he is concerned because ONElist has a several month lead. We will certainly publicly announce ONElist before Topica is on-line. I am intrigued by the fact that they’ve had 5 engineers working on this for months, and don’t have anything yet.

I’ve worked very hard on ONElist and do not want to sell it, only to have it killed in favor of whatever Topica is developing. I’ve already beaten them on-line, and I will beat them in the marketplace. I need your help to do it.

In a previous email, I said I’d pester you until you saw the value in ONElist. I think you do now. Now I’m going to pester you until you invest in us and help me make ONElist the Hotmail of free mailing list services.

Thanks,

Mark Fletcher
markf@onelist.com
ONElist Team

Now here is Steve’s response. Yes!!!!!!!!!!

Date: 22 Apr 98 14:10:33 -0700
Subject: RE: ONElist Update #9
To: Mark Fletcher
CC: JB Fox, Warren Packard
From: Steve Jurvetson

Mark,

I have to give you credit; I have been reading your e-mail pitch campaign. I guess it takes 9 swings sometimes…

I would be happy to meet briefly to hear the pitch. JB Fox can set up a time on my calendar.

Steve

~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~
Steve Jurvetson
Draper Fisher Jurvetson

Check out http://www.DraperVC.com/New
~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`~

April, 1998 – People Take Notice

April 28, 2010

It soon became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to handle running ONElist by myself much longer. Answering customer support emails was starting to take a significant amount of time every day. In general, ONElist was starting to feel like it needed to be a real startup. To make it a real company, I needed to work on it full time. And I also needed help. To do all that, I needed money. One way to get money is from Venture Capital firms, or VCs. I didn’t know any, so I did the equivalent of a prolonged cold call to Steve Jurvetson, the VC backer of Hotmail. Every day I would send him an email, with the current statistics. I would also discuss one aspect of the company in each email. I was such a punk. After 9 emails, it worked.

A couple of things happened from my pestering of Mr. Jurvetson. He told Ariel Poler about me, who became the first person who wanted to buy ONElist, as detailed in our email conversations. Steve also granted a meeting with me.

I had never pitched a VC before, and was nervous as all hell. I didn’t have a presentation or anything. I took the day off from Sun and met with Steve and Warren Packard on Monday, April 27, 1998. It went about as well as you could expect. Which in hindsight was pretty bad. I didn’t hear from him again. Back to square one.

Around this time, Bert Fornaciari, CEO of Web21, also contacted me. His company was a collection of web sites, including 100Hot. He was looking to sell his company, and thought ONElist would make Web21 more attractive as an acquisition target. While he did eventually sell out to Go2Net in December 1998, it was without ONElist. It just seemed too early in the game to sell out. Or maybe I just hadn’t suffered enough yet.

April 14, 1998 – Hardware Upgrade

April 28, 2010

ONElist’s growth continued unabated. We quickly had to begin the never-ending cycle of hardware upgrades. The original ONElist box was a 166 MHz Pentium PC running Linux with 32 megabytes of memory. Laughable by today’s standards.

Here’s the announcement of our first hardware upgrade. With this downtime, we upgraded the memory to 64 megabytes.

From: admin@onelist.com
Date: Tue Apr 14, 1998 8:30am
Subject: Server Upgrade

Hello,

We will be upgrading some hardware on the ONElist server. The upgrade will occur tomorrow, Wednesday April 15, 1998, at 9AM Eastern Time and will last approximately 1 hour. A second upgrade will occur later that day, at Midnight Eastern Time, and will also last about an hour.

During these upgrades, the server will not be accessible. Any email will be queued up and sent when the server is back on-line.

Thanks,

The ONElist Team

March 1998 – Makelist Enters The Fray

April 28, 2010

So, to this point we have an interesting idea, a successful launch, and a growing Internet service. Of course, we couldn’t be the only ones doing this (Coollist doesn’t count) for long. Cue music. Enter Makelist. Da Dum!

Makelist actually started life as Findmail. Scott Hassan started Findmail about a year earlier (although I may be wrong about the date, I wasn’t there). Findmail was a service that archived mail lists. These lists were created and maintained on their own servers. Findmail would subscribe to these lists, like normal users, and archive the posts it received.

From Findmail, it’s not a difficult jump to Makelist, which provided mail list hosting services. Just like ONElist. Eventually, near the end of summer 1998, both Makelist and Findmail were morphed into eGroups. You’ll hear more about this later.

During the first year or so of Makelist/eGroups, we competed against them mainly on the basis of functionality. We had a few month head start and had a few more bells and whistles. After parity was reached, we competed more on customer support and quality of our hosted lists. And then a little later, we stopped competing altogether. But of course we’re getting ahead of ourselves again.

February 23, 1998 – USENET Posting

April 26, 2010

This was the first public announcement of ONElist to the comp.mail.list-admin.software newsgroup. ONElist had already been on-line for about a month, with growth coming strictly from word of mouth.

From: Mark Fletcher
Subject: ONElist | Free Mailing Lists
Newsgroups: comp.mail.list-admin.software
Date: 1998/02/23

Hello, We are proud to announce a new service, ONElist. ONElist is a free mailing list service where you can start and manage new mailing lists, subscribe to existing mailing lists and view archives of old list messages. During the first phase of our Beta test, almost 200 lists were created. ONElist is dedicated to providing reliable, easy to use mailing list services.

Please visit http://www.onelist.com for more information.

Thanks,

The ONElist Team

January 24, 1998 – Launch

April 26, 2010

By Saturday, January 24, 1998, things looked ready. The software was written and tested. I had leased a PC running Linux for $279 a month from a company in Virginia called Digital Nation. I had created a Limited Liability Corporation. I ran out of things to do. Silly me. I guess it was time.

I wanted to start things slowly, so I decided to try to get one person to start a list. I’d be able to shake out any remaining bugs and get feedback. So I did a search of USENET looking for people who wanted to start mailing lists but didn’t know how. I found one person, who happened to be in Norway, and spammed him about the service. Then I went to bed. Little did I know that this would be the last night of (non-alcohol induced) restful sleep for the next couple of years.

The next morning, I was hoping that there’d be one new list created. Or at least I hoped the guy from Norway didn’t complain about me spamming him. Instead, to my surprise, there were about 20 lists created. The guy from Norway had created his list and then told all his friends about it. And that’s how it grew. You create a list and of course you want subscribers. So you tell your friends. It snowballs. Viral marketing, the VCs call it.

So what was the first list? Discourse about Shakespearean influence in modern playwrights? Talk about rising tensions in the Middle East? In depth political discussion about globalization and free trade? No, no, no. It was about lizards. Not just any kind of lizard, but Anole lizards. From a guy in Norway. It’s still there, even: Discussion list for all Anole species. And most of the other new lists were lizard lists. I suddenly had visions in my head about our first press release. “Leaping lists of lizards!” it would shout. Herpetologists rejoice!

From that, there was little stopping it. I occasionally posted announcements to USENET groups about ONElist, but the growth really came from word of mouth. In hindsight, I guess it’s obvious that mailing lists are viral. But at the time, I had no idea. I just wanted to create a service that made finding and managing mailing lists easier.

So now, the story shifts from trying to get people to use the service, to keeping up with the growth. It was good that I had a restful night of sleep that night.

October 1997 – Naming The Beast

April 26, 2010

I worked on creating this new web site throughout the rest of 1997, mainly during nights and weekends. As it slowly took shape, I needed to come up with a name for it. One evening while having dinner at a local pub, my girlfriend, brother and I brainstormed company names. The two favorites from that evening were Commulist and Socialist. After I sobered up, being the no fun kind of guy that I am, I ditched those ideas. I thought the name should have list in it. And I liked the idea of the name expressing the fact that our service was the only one, or the best one. Singular in all its, umm, greatness. So, I settled on Monolist as the working name of the company. Ugh.

Luckily, I wasn’t terribly happy with Monolist. It had the right elements, but wasn’t quite there. With a couple of weeks of software development remaining, I tweaked the name a bit and ended up with ONElist. I registered the onelist.com domain on October 22, 1997. What I didn’t realize until a couple of years later is that I should have registered any alternative spellings of the domain. After we started getting popular, people registered 1list.com, one-list.com and other variances. Most of these domains went straight to porn sites. I love America.

Porn Aside #1

Speaking of porn, skipping ahead a year and a half or so, we had an interesting discussion on how to increase revenue from our service. Noticing that porn was popular, someone came up with the idea of ONElust, a separate porn mailing list service. We never really pursued the idea, however.

Porn Aside #2

Interestingly enough, and skipping ahead even more, it turns out that our main competition at the time, eGroups, also had similar thoughts. They registered eGrope.

Porn Aside #3

There is no third porn aside.

August 1997 – The Beginning

April 26, 2010

So here we are at the beginning of our tale. Introductions are in order. Howdy, I’m Mark. In interviews, I’d tell reporters that I am a “nerd by birth.” Joe Gillach, our first head of marketing, coined the phrase. I guess it fits.

In August 1997 I was working for Diba, a startup in Silicon Valley. We made set top boxes that let people surf the web from their televisions. Just like WebTV. That month, Sun Microsystems bought us. While this saved the company from going bankrupt, I was not looking forward to working for a large company. So I decided to start my own company. In that situation, how one jumps to that conclusion, especially while sober, I don’t know. But there you are.

I sat down and wrote out a list of several ideas for Internet companies. Unfortunately, that list is lost to time. But I have a sneaking suspicion that most of those ideas were, in hindsight, really bad. This is based on the fact that most of my ideas are bad. A recent example:

Meat flavored liquors. We’ve got peppermint schnapps, wintergreen schnapps, Jagermeister. But no beef schnapps. Why is this? You could come up with all sorts of interesting mixed drinks. Tuna Colada anyone? Beefsteak and coke on the rocks, please. Or the popular tuna and Mayo, straight up.

See what I mean? But I guess I had luck on my side that night. For one of the ideas that I thought up that night was a free mailing list service.

What the heck is a “mailing list”?

When you say “mailing list,” most people think of junk mail. As in the applications for credit cards you always receive in the mail. But this is the Internet, and in this instance, mailing lists are a way for groups of individuals to communicate easily through email. Create a list, have people subscribe to the list by adding their email address, and then by sending an email to a special email address, it’s automatically distributed to everyone who has subscribed. Mailing lists had been around for almost as long as email itself, but they were very difficult to set up and use. I thought that this would be a great application for the Web.

I did a quick search to see if anyone else was running a service like I envisioned. I came across one potential competitor, Coollist. My disappointment lasted only until I realized that they weren’t doing a very good job. In fact, if you believed all the complaints about them on USENET, they sucked. There was room for a better service. Or at least one that sucked less. And so, I began.

Introduction

April 26, 2010

As mentioned in the index, I originally wrote The ONElist File back in 2001/2002, and it has not been updated since then.

I am told that viruses, like Ebola, can flair up for awhile, infecting a large population for period of time, and then go dormant, infecting no one for years on end. There was a strange disease, perhaps a virus, going around in the late 1990s. It caused people to do weird and unnatural things, like start Internet companies. I believe this is a mutation of the virus that afflicted so many in the 1970s, the disco bug. As with disco, one day we will look back on this era in cringing wonderment. Actually, it already seems like another era. Somebody ought to work on a vaccine. At least our clothes were better this time.

Despite my best efforts, I somehow caught the malaise in August 1997 and was compelled to start ONElist. This is my attempt to document that time, from inception until acquisition by Yahoo in September 2000. It actually was an incredible adventure, and hopefully this compendium will provide a glimpse of it, through emails, press releases, and insider commentary. This is not a “dot bomb” story, far from it. ONElist was more successful than anyone could have guessed.

I have just started working on The ONElist File. Really. Most of the internal and other company documents that I have are here and linked by the Table of Contents. However, I’ve only just started writing the story that links all of this together. Beware the ugly formatting, broken links, misspelled words, etc. You have been warned.

Apologies to John Walker for the blatant rip-off of The Autodesk File. His work is much better than this.