Journey Without End

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Long-time readers know how much angst I have about holiday weekends. This time it’s worse. Much, much worse, for obvious reasons. If I could, I’d just beam right over to July 10th after recovering from a hellacious H1 2023. Yet my desire to retain readers, and my neurotic work ethic, forbids it. Thus, I’ve got to think of something decent to say. I’ve come up with a topic, but it won’t keep you satisfied for a week, although maybe long enough to allow me to catch my breath and dream up some other posts.

It has to do with Prophet, my former company and, in my life, what passes for the most successful thing I’ve ever done. I founded Prophet on July 1, 1992 and sold it on January 26, 2005. It was hardly an overnight success, but I’m very proud of what we accomplished, and it was the only real business I’ve ever created in my life. What I mean by that is that it had an office, employees, revenues, and – – gasp – – profits.

What is stunning for me to reflect upon is how our little website (with absolutely ZERO venture capital) was able to support so many families. It’s been a couple of decades since I was mixed up in this thing, but as I recall, Prophet’s full-time staff included:

  • A President (that would be your long-suffering narrator);
  • A VP of Marketing/Sales;
  • A secretary/receptionist;
  • Two technical support people;
  • A business licensing manager;
  • A salesman;
  • A dedicated database administrator;
  • A network engineer;
  • Four different Java engineers;
  • An all-purpose gopher;
  • An engineering manager

I’m sure I must be forgetting some people, because I think we had something like twenty people or so. Not only that, but we bought plenty of advertising and even had a nice booth at national trade shows!

It is jaw-dropping to me that was able to do all of this, and my bewilderment is borne of one basic fact: Slope of Hope does way, way more than ever did, and if both sites existed right now, I would never use Prophet. Slope has everything Prophet ever did, and much more.

Yet the business Slope of Hope doesn’t support a big office, trade shows, advertising, and a twenty person staff. It supports……………me. And not even that luxuriously, either, believe me! And my head is spinning from the fact that the business based on a vastly superior product essentially just hobbles along, gasping and wheezing, pleading for a new subscriber now and then, whereas Prophet was drowning in revenue. I have to ask myself: what changed?

A few big things, I suppose……….

  • There’s way, way, WAY more competition than back in the mid-1990s;
  • The cost of doing what Prophet did is a tiny sliver of what it was back then. If you wanted to compete with Prophet in the mid-1990s, you would need to really invest heavily in it. These days, one really sharp engineer could create a formidable competitor for Slope (although without the same skill at puns and dick jokes);
  • Technology is far more outsourced and “in the cloud” these days. There’s no reason a small business would ever hire a network engineer, for example. It’s completely superfluous.

I like working on my own and not dealing with the headaches of employees. I’ve got to say, though, I miss the chance at leadership. The day Prophet was sold, several people came up to me and uttered some variance of “I’d follow you anywhere.” That meant a tremendous amount to me, although it was wholly unexpected. I was never born to manage people (I can barely manage myself), but Prophet was a magical time in my life.

I sometimes wonder how Slope will ever end. Prophet had a clear terminus: to be sold to a bigger company and, eventually, evaporate. Slope, however, in its 19th year, has no such end game. From how 2023 is going, I really do have to ask myself how much longer I want to keep this up, but I know I won’t always feel that way. We’ve got one hell of a terrific site here, with a lot of fantastic tools and content. I’m just not sure where it’ll all wind up in the future. I’m not inclined to just turn the lights off. I’ve worked too hard for too long on it to do that.

Old chartists never die, I suppose. They just fade away.