This is a wonderful story of a serial bootstrapper who has built a wonderful e-commerce business similar to Groupon, but with no outside money.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s got back to the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Jeremy Young: I was born in Spokane, Washington. My dad had ended up moving our family across the border to Idaho, which is about 45 minutes away. That’s where I grew up. I have six brothers and sisters—two older brothers and four younger sisters. I was raised in a middle lower class home. My dad worked the same job for 30 years. My oldest brother, Jeff, who is five years older than me ended up getting several jobs while he was in high school and got me interested in business and work in general. He’s a role model to me. He worked very hard and always had lots of money. He was able to buy cars, stereo equipments, and video games. I learned from him and really wanted to earn money as well.
I got started in Junior High. My father would come home from work and stop at a Costco that had opened up. He would buy Gummy Worms there and bring them home. I would put those in bags and stuff them in coat pockets, and take them to school. I was the undercover candy seller. I ended up earning a couple of thousand dollars by seventh and eight grade year, and I would buy computer equipment with the money I earned. I first bought a Commodore VIC20. The following year, I ended up buying a Commodore 64. I really enjoyed computers and programming. It was my passion. I loved the creativity of it. I loved seeing code come to life in terms of making my own video games back then on those two platforms. I just enjoyed technology in general. This was back in the 80s.
I ended up graduating from school. I spent a couple of years in Montreal doing some service and met some influential people there who continue to work with me. They really got me interested in the Internet back in the early 90s. CD-ROMs were just starting to become popular back then. The Internet was just coming on board. I don’t even know if there was a web browser at that time. The internet was focused on education. Some of the universities had it. I ended up going to university. I really wanted to get into the Internet and learn everything I could about it. I got Computer Science people to help me install the university’s Internet access system and got on the Internet.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking?
Jeremy Young: This was back in the 1992 to 1993 time frame.
Sramana Mitra: Internet was just starting.
Jeremy Young: Yes, the world wide web perhaps already existed but it was rudimentary.
Sramana Mitra: The browser was Mozilla at that time.
Jeremy Young: Mosaic was the first browser that took the Internet by storm. I started to learn HTML and wanted to figure out a way to make money with it. I was working for a telemarketing company at that time. The name of the company was Marketing Ally. I convinced the owner to let me create a side company and we would create websites and e-commerce platforms for companies we were doing inbound telemarketing for. We did US Robotics and they were the biggest motor manufacturer at that time. We did Proform Fitness. We had lots and lots of smaller clients as well. We really wanted to try to figure out another way of taking orders other than just call and catalog with sales. It ended up working pretty well.
Eventually, Tim took that company and sold it to about.com. I think it was a $22 million sale in the late 90s. During that time, I came to realize that if I wanted to make money for the company, I had to bill an hourly rate. It was sometimes difficult to get those hours in, but my web hosting provider that I was using would just bill our credit card every month. They had natural recurring revenue every single month while I was working hard trying to get these billable hours.