Inventing the web

When a product introduces something that transforms an industry, it has a massive first-mover advantage. It takes a deep level of analysis, thinking and foresight to look for and find the gaps that need to be filled.

This is something I bring to every project I get involved with and it’s what has kept me excited about software for over 30 years. There is nearly always the opportunity to invent something new.

I have helped to move the Internet forward and to democratize it, putting the power of web apps into the hands of everyday people:

PHP and Web Apps

In 1993 or so, when there was around 1,500 websites in the world, I noticed the University of Toronto’s website had to be database-driven. That was new, and with a background in databases, I drove to the University and met their webmaster, Rasmus Lerdorf.

At the time, Rasmus was an academic, who didn’t see the value in what he created. I did, and I offered to buy it right there. Instead, he gave me a copy of an early prototype of what would become PHP. I immediately started the world’s first PHP web development and hosting company.

When everyone else in the world was building static websites, I put together a team to create the first web apps the Internet saw. Nearly every site we created was database-driven and interactive, and a bunch of 24 year olds were easily getting clients with International mega-companies.

An article written about us in 1997 – four years in.

First PHP Shopping Cart

Our first client was The Olde Hide House, a well known leather furniture store. For them, we created for the first PHP online store, which I personally developed. Since this had never been done before, it took quite a lot of research and development, and convincing banks to play nice. There was no PayPal or Stripe, or any other software or services to help. It all had do be done from scratch.

I put that store online for a few thousand dollars around the same time Amazon was going online with $8MM in funding. My work showed that online shopping could be achieved by anyone and inspired a number of other stores to go online, starting the wave of online commerce.

The First Content Management System:

With clients ranging from Mom-and-Pop stores to massive companies, we found ourselves getting bogged down in requests to update sites.

Preferring to be in the inventing business and with so much to invent still, I created the first content management system for web sites in 1995. This was similar in scope to an early WordPress, ten years before WordPress was released. It had the equivalent of blog posts, repeated structured content, multi-user admin, etc.

I gave this away to our hosting clients. I tried to make it available to everyone, but there wasn’t any way to learn about Internet marketing at that time!

The First PHP Affiliate System

Affiliate software attributes sales to referring partners so they can be credited for their work. We created affiliate software for our clients shortly after Amazon introduced the concept, being the first to bring this sales channel to every day organizations.

Later, I also invented several other techniques and technologies to gamify affiliate marketing, which I talk about in more depth in this article on Gamification and Growth Hacking.

Clever Link Redirects

Link redirects were probably invented by TinyURL.com in 2002, but there was no business in it until I released a link analytics service in 2006. This was two years before Bit.ly started.

Before, link redirect software and services were all free. Internet marketers often threw in link redirect scripts as bonuses if you bought their courses.

My software introduced a number of marketing techniques that could be accomplished with links, which nobody had ever thought of before. In the years to follow, many other companies copied many of these techniques, and most of them are now ubiquitous.

When the competition was offering their products for free, I was able to sell my solution for $150 to $250. I did $295k of sales in the first week, and $850k in the first year, without any further promotion after the first week. Clients still use that software today, 13 years later.

A later version required inventing several other new technologies to make it work. It was released in 2009, and clients who signed up then are still paying today, because nobody else has been able to duplicate its functionality. I wrote more about it in this portfolio post.

Web-based Server-to-server Installs

When I released the link redirect software, it was too difficult to install, which was a significant barrier to entry. So I spent a year developing technology to turn a half-hour install for a webmaster into a two minute install nearly anyone who owned a website could do.

Instead of downloading a .zip file, unzipping it, using an FTP program to upload it, and then editing config files and updating file permissions, our installer did all that in seconds, with no downloads. At the time, it also set up databases automatically.

I wrote more about this in this post on Overcoming Barriers to Entry.

What do you think?