A long time ago in a lifetime far far away, I started my first "real" job as the very first employee of a brand new dot.com. It was called "nvst.com" and was a matchmaking service for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs as well as a resource for people in mergers & acquisitions and investing. I got the job through Seattle Webgrrls, a mailing list of hundreds of women in the Puget Sound area who were interested in computers and the Internet. The founders of nvst.com, Lori and Sam, were Webgrrls and hired me after my plead to the list for a job, any job, in a dot.com. I was hired to answer the phones but they didn’t have a phone yet so I sat myself down at the end of the founder Lori King’s desk in the company she was still working at (Business Exchange Center). My first job was to transfer print business journals like Venture Capital Journal and Business Valuation Update from Quark into HTML by hand so we could sell online subscriptions. I knew a little HTML (we wrote it in Notepad in those days!) and had never used Photoshop before, but quickly caught on. I never did answer the phones for the company; I became the "webmaster" instead. Sam (the other founder) did the complex back end work and I did the front end. Looking back on it I’m almost embarrassed at some of the designs I created but all of my first sites were simple and usable which I think is more important than sophisticated visuals. And then again, it’s all relative – the site was full of exclamation points and marbled graphics before I started redesigning it 😉
I loved being a part of creating a company from scratch. It was exciting when they hired each new employee (and we were all women for the first year), and I loved buying used office furniture and creating a fun environment to work in. I had a gigantic red formica desk that was totally obnoxious but I loved, and we would listen to AC/DC and Paula Cole all day on the CD changer. We even played badminton in the empty part of the office space every day after lunch. The first year was great – full of making our creative ideas a reality and champagne toasts at our successes.
In the second year, Lori and Sam hired a few more people who actually had a lot of industry experience. It was kind of like the principal coming in to observe a class who realizes that the teachers are not quite up to snuff even though the kids really like them. There were many struggles and before long the company wasn’t that fun to work at anymore. By the time the second year was over, we had moved into our third office which was much more office-like, and we had many more employees, some of which I didn’t even know their names. The party was over and the original employees didn’t last much longer.
I have a lot of good memories of working there in the beginning – being written up in Fast Company,The Industry Standard, and even The Wall Street Journal, Lori and Sam serving as expert panelists at various seminars, and one of the most memorable travelling adventures of my life when Lori and I went to NYC for an internet conference. Lori and I had great relationship – she was a great evangelist who got everyone really excited about what we were doing. I learned not only about the web but also about business and investing. And she didn’t just teach me a lot – she encouraged me to grow in my career.
What really happened at nvst after I left will probably remain a mystery to me. Bankruptcy, lawsuits, lots of rumors. I have heard a number of different versions from different people and I’m not sure who to believe (though I guess the press stories are probably accurate, though superficial). Nvst’s bankruptcy was the end of my dreams of getting rich during the dot-com bubble but I got something more valuable – the beginning of a great career.