New Dream Network >
What a strange, medium-lengthed, trip it's been! I can't believe it's approaching five years since Michael Rodriguez, Dallas Bethune, and I founded New Dream Network while undergraduates at Harvey Mudd College (http://www.hmc.edu/) in Claremont, CA. Before we knew it we had strapping young Freshman Sage Weil in our fold as well. He joined us less than a year later as an equal partner and brought the youthful vigor of an 18 year old to our group (whose average age before his arrival had been a senile 20).
NDN was founded without a business plan and without funding. Although that doesn't mean one doesn't have any money or know what they're doing, in this case we didn't. Basically, the three of us were all pretty fascinated with the world wide web, and had each separately picked up a very small design clientele. We thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to join together, pool our resources and our clients, and play company?" It sure would be! Soon we had business cards and post-it notes to rival any of the Fortune 500 companies.
From these 3 clients we raked in big bucks. Being forward-looking young studs, we plowed all our proceeds (about $1000) back into the company. That was just enough to purchase destro, a Pentium 100 minitower on which we installed this free server operating system called Linux which was just starting to get stable enough to use on production machines such as ours. The network infrastructure was provided by one of Dallas' friend who worked in an office with an unsaturated T1 line. Destro sat unnoticed under the friend's desk for a time.
So at this point we had a little bit of a plan and a little bit of money. Well, no money still, but a server all paid for at least. Our plan was to become an internet design company! What a clever plan! But we did have a little bit of a new twist, you've got to give us some credit. The twist was that we would create a network of independent designers (like we were!) who would share resources with each other. If you were too overwhelmed with work to take on a new client, you could refer them to us (the New Dream NETWORK see?) and we'd find somebody else who wanted to do it. We'd maybe take a 10% cut or something ourselves, and also get our own design clients that way too. Early on we added a bunch of "members" as we called them to our network, plenty of whom are still with us and are either our friends or employees (or both?).
But it was hard making money on design! Especially for these piddling clients we had! We needed the big clients! We needed the Baker Tanks and Gulfstreams of the world! Unfortunately, when you're a small group of full-time Computer Science majors in college, you just don't get these sorts of clients. Which is why it was a good thing web hosting sort of fell into our lap. See those first three clients needed a server to host their web sites on after we designed them. But there weren't really any big name hosting outfits back then, and we'd just dropped a fat wad on that shiny new server. Heck, WE were computer scientists, hosting people's websites should be cake! In fact, it was (relative to designing sites), and best of all, they paid you EVERY SINGLE MONTH whether you did any work or not. Suffice to say we dropped the design thing pretty darn fast.
But again, we weren't hosting the McDonald's or Sheratons. We were hosting the puncture.coms and nagc.coms. And in order to build a company hosting the little folks, you need to have a lot of them. But the big question was, "How do we get the word out about our hosting services?" We kinda got lucky with that too. There never really was a marketing plan at all. We got a lot of our hosting through referrals from those members I talked about before, especially through swanky.org, which we hosted for free for a while. It was this swanky design site thing I never really understood. But it got us a fair amount of publicity! Nothing compared to the support we got from Sage and his Webring though.
Webring was something Sage Weil (our fourth partner, remember?) thunk up and started while in High School, before coming to Mudd. It was a pretty cool thing where people could create a virtual "ring" of related sites that all link to each other, and the webmasters didn't need to update their HTML when a new site was added to the ring. It was and still is really popular and grew to have hundreds of thousands of rings and millions of sites. Sage was barely supporting it with advertising revenue, and we were helping him maintain it and design it and the like. We put ads for our hosting and links to New Dream Network on it which helped build our traffic.
During that time Sage wrote another web-based system called Dreambook, a free web-based guestbook service which we also linked to from Webring. Now it's got about 500,000 members, and we mostly show ads for our hosting service on it as well. Later, Sage sold Webring to Starseed which was bought by Geocities who was soon aquired by Yahoo. But fortunately we already had a steady flow of traffic and Sage got a steady flow of income.
Well I'm getting a little lost here with the time frame of all this, but I know that in September of 1997 is when we named our hosting service DreamHost (ala Dreambook and New Dream Network) and really started getting serious about it. That summer I was actually in Taiwan learning Chinese and handling tech support from the Language Institute's Computer Lab or the Train Station which had a free Internet Demo set up during the seven weeks I was there. When I graduated in May of 1998 we had just enough income from DreamHost to pay me to work full time on the company. Dallas had been working for a year at iXL because when he graduated in 1997 we couldn't no how afford to pay for his extravagent lifestyle of Del Taco at least three times a week. Michael and Sage were still in school.
Near the end of 1998 we had enough money from hosting for Dallas to quit his job, and in December 1998 we hired our first employee, Andrew. He was a member and he worked remotely from Canada. Not too much later we hired another member, Jeff, who worked remotely from Washington State. Things were getting a little bit too far strung though (I had moved to St. Louis myself because my girlfriend was a senior at Wash U.) and so we started looking for some actual physical office space of our own in the Spring of 1999.
Dallas found a place in Huntington Park, a suburb in East L.A. that was 14,000 square feet for only $1800/month. In the summer of 1999, when our first big hiring spree began (about when Yahoo bought Geocities), we all lived there and it was a pretty crazy place. If you want to see the building, just rent She's Out of Control (unless you own it) with Tony Danza. Our building is the radio station he works at in the movie. In fact, the stairs still have the piano key carpet from the movie on them!
Nowadays we've got 32 employees (not counting the four honchos) and only Dallas and Jason still live in the building. That's pretty respectable, only two people actually living in the office! We've even got another office in Boston now, with two employees and myself. (I moved to Boston in the fall of 1999 when my girlfriend went to grad school here). Our big money maker is still DreamHost, which now boasts over 10,000 active hosting customers, but we're branching out into a bunch of other stuff. See, despite how easily we took to web hosting, and despite never really having a plan for NDN, we always imagined ourselves as more than just another web host. That's why we're adding things like dedicated servers (dreamservers.com!) and domain registration! But really, that's pretty much web-hosting too. Which is why we're starting other cool non-web-host things like vibeflow.com and design-l.newdream.net, to get back to our artsy roots. There's plenty more to come from us, you wait and see. And if you don't wait and see, I promise you'll miss it. And it will be something you've missed by not waiting.
Last updated: Jan 24, 2001.
User Post (2006-01-04 22:50:17 by danaan) "Yanno... I've been watching this little group's progress since the summer of 1997! It's been one long strange trip the whole way, so far." -- She says from the audience.
User Post (2005-09-24 17:39:08 by cspotkill) I think it needs another update ;)
User Post (2003-05-30 21:22:00 by jane44079) what about blather?
User Post (2001-05-23 18:11:29 by ewebs) All I can say is "Well done guys".