Back in the nineties, web site authoring tools like Dreamweaver and simple hosting sites like Godaddy were but a distant dream, and to make a web site you had to learn HTML and open up Notepad. It took a decent amount of dedication and effort to set up a website, but once it went live, you joined an elite circle of people very much up to date with technology.
In 1999 I had just turned fifteen years old, and since my parents were often out of the country I decided to throw a few house parties. A group of excitable teenagers alone in a flat, experiencing freedom for the first time, was always going to be eventful, and we didn’t disappoint. Being at boarding school, we would take photos of these parties and stick them up on the walls of our rooms to give us something to look forward to in the holidays.
As the parties went on, I kept on thinking that with everyone now having internet access, it made no sense to get so many copies developed and passed around. The geek hidden not so deeply within me couldn’t resist, and soon I had set up ivansparty.com, and with some basic coding allowed people to post photos, and then comment on them. The site was a hit amongst our small circle – at the time there were no google analytics, but the basic counter on the bottom showed its popularity.
Throughout my childhood and my teenager years, my parents always thought that I was wasting time messing around on the computer. I would spend months learning to program in various languages, never to actually do it, or learning to use 3-D modelling software, only to make a basic space scene and leave it at that. And so, in my mind, it had never struck me that this website could be more than just a fleeting hobby. As we got older, the parties gave way to adult socializing, the site seemed childish, and I felt like I had no more time for putting photos up on the internet and leaving comments. I stopped updating it and the site slowly died. And six years later, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, and got a billion people posting their photos and leaving their comments.
Now I bet there are hundreds of such stories. I’m not trying to do a Winklevoss and suggest I came up with the idea – Facebook’s algorithms are ingenious in analysing human behaviour and providing the exact outlet for what we actually want to do in social networking. The guys behind Facebook are true entrepreneurs. However my site did have the basics of a social network years before the term was ever used, and if I had just had the faith to expand it to a platform that allowed all teenagers at all schools to post their photos, it may well have been a big hit.
So if I could go back and teach the teenage me a single lesson, it would be to listen to my intuition, to have faith in the instinctive feeling that computers and the internet were the future, and that since the ivansparty.com concept was exciting to me, it would be exciting to the rest of the world too.
Update – this blog post has been published as an article in the April 2012 issue of Entrepreneur Country Magazine