Incremental change is key – Part 1
In 1993, I was a Co-Founder/CTO of a company called FuturesNet, a network for the Futures and Options Industry. Bill Clinton was sworn in as the 42nd President, ATF raided the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, where 4 agents and 5 Davidians died. Rodney King testified at a federal trial that eventually led to Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell receiving a 30-month sentence for violating Rodney King’s civil rights (Black Lives Matter). Intel shipped the first Pentium chips, President Clinton announced his “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet. My, how times have changed - at least in the technology world.
At FuturesNet, we were engrossed in developing a 4-disk install set of software that allowed the Futures and Options industry to communicate via a bank of dial-up modems. In 1993, modem speeds just reached 9600bps; we thought we were flying. We created a platform of services from email to quick view attachments to a database of information on traders. Interestingly enough, the most utilized piece of the software was uploading a file to our server and allowing others to see the file from their computer.
In 1994, I attended the Comdex convention in Las Vegas attempting to identify the latest technologies that we could leverage in the FuturesNet platform. The Keynote speaker was Bill Gates. As he went through his speech about the future of technology (his philodox persona coming across strong and confident), he announced that the Internet would never amount to anything, and everyone should put everything they had into the Microsoft Network. Upon returning home, we discussed whether we should do this. Of course, this was Bill Gates - who better, at that time in history, to take advice from? I will say that, for a while, we thought long and hard about how we could utilize the Microsoft Network. Hindsight being 20/20, thank goodness we dragged our feet a bit, because one year later, never admitting that he was wrong or had miscalculated the power of the internet, Bill Gates stood on the same stage and told us that he was throwing his company, Microsoft, into supporting, enhancing, and profiting from the internet. He called the growing phenomenon “the internet tidal wave”. In 1995, we were still utilizing a 4-disk install set. We had three major Futures Exchanges (NY Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the London Financial Futures Exchange) along with Smith Barney and a series of boutique firms all utilizing the FuturesNet Network to communicate.
Side note, I told you a previous blog that my dad worked for me for 20 years after he retired. During the FutureNet time, he was the tester. Before we would release any updates, it had to get past dad. We used to say, if it could pass the Nick Test, it was solid to release. He had an uncanny ability to hit a series of keys or click on something randomly in the most unlikely order and crash the software. When I would ask him “What made you click and hit in that order,” he would reply, “I was just curious what would happen if I did?” Oh, to understand how the mind of a 65-year-old works? That’s a story for another time.
After some investigation of Bill Gates’s announcement and the internet tidal wave that was coming, along with a brief “pull the chute” moment, we decided to make a major change and put the FuturesNet Network on the internet. This was going to require a major overhaul of the platform while learning new development tools. We joined the Microsoft development team, and they were basically throwing things against the wall to see what stuck. Over the next year, we moved all our technology into this new and exciting platform called the internet and for a while after that, we were the darlings of the Futures and Options industry, speaking on panels, sharing our experiences, even consulting other companies that were thinking about jumping on the internet. But when you make hasty decisions that force you to build while driving 120 mph in a rainstorm, it’s hard to see what’s in front of you and soon you’re feeling every bump in the road because things are starting to fall apart. Suddenly you look up and you see the wall right in front of you, but it’s too late. We weren’t just trying to overcome the technology issues that arose from a new platform. The real problem we didn’t see coming was that this was 1997, and everyone thought the internet was free; they didn’t understand why they had to pay for our services, which is something we missed because we changed direction too far and too fast. Struggling through a painful year, we were forced to rethink things.
We would like to say that we had a vision on a mountain top, but the reality is that it was while sitting at a conference room table with a 6-pack that the idea hit us. As I mentioned earlier, the one piece of the FuturesNet platform that most were utilizing was the ability to upload a file from their PC to our servers and get to it from any PC with a web browser. We knew we needed something unique, so we decided to strip the file storage technology from the rest of the platform and just focus on that. Everyone thought the internet was free, so we decided to embrace that theory. We called the new venture FreeDrive. A free 20mb storage drive on the internet to store and share your files. FreeDrive.com was the forerunner, and we can claim that we were the founding fathers, of what we know today as web-based storage.
Watch for Part 2 where I talk about FreeDrive and how small changes in a simple idea changed the world we know today.
If you would like to know more about Pull the Chute, please feel free to reach out. You can email me at email@example.com or call my cell 615-572-9500, I look forward to hearing from you.
In the meantime, thank you for reading, stay safe, be healthy