I have interviewed many entrepreneurs, yet few interviews have been as interesting (or entertaining) as Scott Wainner’s. His first company, SysOpt.com, emerged from his childhood hobby of PC performance optimization (founded when Scott was 15). By the time he started college he had a thriving business and a six-figure income. He has gone on to amass a collection of web properties, including ResellerRatings.com, PhotoPost.com, and All Enthusiast, Inc.
SM: I would like to start by asking about your background. Where are you from, what is your upbringing?
SW: I was born in Florida and grew up in Dallas. I was raised by my mom. In 1994 I started experimenting with BBS and early pre-Internet places. At the same time I started hearing about this Internet thing and I really found it interesting.
SM: How old were you then?
SM: Who told you about Internet bulletin boards?
SW: There were free newspapers that had all of the bulletin board numbers in them; you would just dial them up directly with a modem. There were sheets and sheets of numbers. They were good for utilities and things like that. In one of these publications there were ads for ISPs, and I thought that I should figure out this Internet thing.
I had an AOL account for 30 days. I then got my own dial-up account and used Netscape. I just started fooling around and it was not long before I wanted to make my own site. I was big into aviation, so I played a lot of flight simulators. I did not have any money and I did not come from a family that had a lot of money, so I did not have a good computer. I would play these simulators and the frame rate would be really choppy and unrealistic. I was really big on trying to tweak the performance of my computer, so I started SysOpt.com as a way to reach out to other people to get their help tweaking my computer. That was in 1994.
SM: This was a community were people who were interested in speeding up their computers were engaging with each other?
SW: Yes, it was a very early forum. I would write articles and ask for advice from people. The main draw of the site was that everyone would post their performance benchmark ratings for their computers. We would compare and compete. We also were big into overclocking. Intel would set their computer chip at 200mhz and we would run it at 266mhz. The community had good resources for overclocking as well. That was the beginning of SysOpt.
SM: How did the site get known?
SW: Just word of mouth. I ran it as a hobby. I never put money into marketing it, and SEO was not even a thing. Google was not even around yet.
SM: How many people were on the site with you?
SW: By 1999 it had grown to several million page views a month. There were probably 500,000 unique users. It grew rapidly. There were people who came seeking overclocking advice and to obtain benchmarks. This was before AdSense, so there was no ad network organized. I went out to individual companies and got some simple advertising. I sold my first banner ad for $25 a month. From the time I launched it until 1999 the site was making about $100,000 a year in ad revenue.