Sramana: What was going on in your life parallel to your young entrepreneur activities?
Ryan Allis: I was a normal school kid living in Florida. I went to middle school and high school, and I worked when I could on the side. Throughout high school I did 40 or 50 websites and I started a company that did website design and Web marketing. I was reading a book about guerilla marketing, and one of the tips was to write a press release. It got picked up by the [Miami] Herald, and a guy named J.R. Rogers read the article and decided to contact me. He ran Activex America, and he brought me on as a marketing and website design guy.
Working for him for the following year was an influential experience. He was a mentor, and it was a formative experience. I learned how to start and grow a company. I was his first employee and I joined when he was doing $2,000 a month in sales.
Sramana: What did he sell?
Ryan Allis: He sold an arthritis product for senior citizens. He would sell them it health food stores. I came on to help him sell it over the Internet and directly to end consumers. It did very well and we got AltaVista, DogPile, and other search engine rankings. We created an e-mail marketing program as well as an affiliate program. We got the business to a couple of hundred thousand dollars a month in sales, which was an amazing experience for a 17-year-old.
Sramana: How long did you stay with him?
Ryan Allis: One year. At the end of my senior year of high school, I decided that I wanted to go to college. I packed everything up and decided to go to the University of North Carolina in August 2002. I live in Durham today.
Sramana: What did you study?
Ryan Allis: I studied economics and made it through two years before I dropped out.
Sramana: What was going on in your head when you decided to drop out?
Ryan Allis: I was studying accounting and calculus as well as chemistry and statistics. Accounting was probably relevant to what I wanted to do, but everything else seemed out of place.
Sramana: Why didn’t you study computer science?
Ryan Allis: I was not interested in computer science. I was interested in business, marketing, and economics. I was interested in global economics. I met someone who was studying computer science my second week of school. Aaron later became the co-founder of iContact with me. I was the product and marketing guy. My job was to get customers. He was the guy who wrote the product.
Sramana: Did you know that you were going to do iContact when you dropped out of Chapel Hill?
Ryan Allis: Yes. We started working on iContact two months into my freshman year. We incorporated in July 2003. Aaron was a senior when we met, so he made it through his last year.