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Net Success Interviews 

 

Interviews with 40 successful CEOs / Founders of Revolutionary Internet Companies

 

 

OpenDiary.com

 www.OpenDiary.com

 

 

Open Diary is the original diary / journaling community. They currently have 315,000 people keeping online diaries from 63 countries around the world.

 

We spoke to the founder Bruce Ableson to find out more.

 

 

Your name:                       Bruce Ableson

 

Position / title:
 

The DiaryMaster, founder of OpenDiary.com

 

Company name:

AbleSites, Inc. - publishers of Open Diary and Teen Open Diary

 

Websites:                     

 

www.opendiary.com 

www.teenopendiary.com

 

Your company / website vision statement / goal:

Our objective is to provide an easy to use platform for online diary writers and readers. We have created a community where hundreds of thousands of people write about their daily lives, and can read about the lives of other people around the world.

 

What you sell / services you offer (brief description of your company):

Open Diary offers an online diary service for people who want to keep their journals on the Internet.  

 

Our basic service is advertising-supported and free of charge to the user. We also offer a Plus service that is by subscription, costing $12 USD per six months.

There are currently 315,000 people keeping online diaries on our site, from 63 countries around the globe. We even have two diarists who write from a scientific station in Antarctica - making us the only diary community with writers on all seven continents.

When I started Open Diary in 1997, it was the first web site that brought online diary writers together into a community.  Since then, online journaling has grown exponentially - there are now nearly a hundred sites offering the same sort of service that we originated seven years ago.

 

Have you always wanted to run your own business? What were some of your previous jobs / companies?
 

My first job after college was as a systems administrator for a large pharmaceutical company. PCs were new to the business world then, and the company had a sales office with twelve PCs, and no idea what to do with them. The machines had been plugged in, and they had purchased some copies of WordStar on diskette, but that was all. There was a new spreadsheet program called Lotus 1-2-3, and they thought that they might be able to use it to track sales and make forecasts - but they didn't know how.

When I interviewed for the job, the office manager asked me if I knew how use a spreadsheet, and I said yes - even though I had never seen one before.


I figured if they had never used it, they wouldn't be able to tell if I knew what I was doing. Luckily, my new office had a door - so I could keep it closed while I read every PC, spreadsheet, and database manual I could get my hands on.  

I worked at that job for five years.  In the last year, I was part of a team that used PC software to analyze demographics by zip code across the country and realign the company's sales force territories to be more efficient. The project lasted six long months. When it was over, the company newspaper carried a story about how our team had created a new way of analyzing sales data and applying it in the field - and estimated that it would have a positive impact of millions of dollars on the company bottom line.

My annual performance review came two months later. My boss extolled the virtues of the work I had done that year, praised me for the many extra hours I had put in, and gave me the highest possible performance rating - "Exceeds Expectations".  Excited, I checked the charts that told employees what sort of raise the highest performers would receive - and found that Exceeding Expectations translated to a three percent increase in annual salary.  After all I had put into the company that year; my salary increase would be less than twenty dollars a week.

That experience cemented my belief that I needed to work for myself - if I was going to put in a superior effort, I wanted to earn a superior return.

Soon after, I left the corporation to work for a small consulting company. I worked with them for four years, writing software for Fortune 500 companies. It was intense, consuming work - as soon as one deadline was completed, there was always another deadline waiting to pounce on you.


Again, there were many extra hours, and a great deal of extra effort. The compensation was better, but I still knew that the company was taking 70 percent of everything I was billing. What I was left with was nice, but I wanted more.

I finally started my own consulting firm in 1985.  At last, I was working for myself. The downside was that I was still doing the same sort of work - writing software at large corporations, working for clients who still decided my fate (and my revenue) through regular performance reviews.  I did well, but I wanted out of the corporate world.

The Internet was just getting started, and once again (like when PCs were new), there was a business segment where I could know as much as anybody else working in the field.  I started to seek out web assignments for my consulting work, and started to teach myself web programming and HTML. By 1997, I was ready to start a new business.

 

Have you got any qualifications? Please tell us about yourself academically?

I earned a four-year degree from Michigan State University, majoring in Telecommunications.  My education was in television and radio production I even worked as a disk jockey at the college radio station.

My education really had nothing to do with the field I ended up in.  I had worked a little with computers during college, but mostly to help my girlfriend out with homework for her BASIC programming class.  I didn't take the class myself, but there was something about the construction of computer programs, the feel of building something useful from scratch, that appealed to me.  

When I graduated from college, I lucked into that first job - knowing little about computers, but working for people who knew even less.  After that, all of my computer skills were self-taught - I read manuals, I practiced programming at home, I participated in online discussions and users groups.


I did everything I could to improve my coding abilities, while still working my regular job.

 

How / when did the idea of your website / company come about?
 

I was working as a consultant for a large corporation in 1997, writing financial reporting software - not the most exciting thing in the world to be coding.  I was the project leader for a team of three very good programmers, and we were working on a six-week project that we completed in four.  As a result, we found ourselves with some extra time. Then as now, one of the benefits of working for a large corporate client was that they provided us with a broadband Internet connection in our offices.

It was only by accident that I was surfing the web one of those days, and came across the personal site of somebody who was keeping a journal on the Internet.  The author was an 18-year old from Alabama, who was traveling across the United States working odd jobs to support himself.  When I started reading, he was working on a cattle ranch in New Mexico.  I found reading the journal fascinating, because it was written about a way of life and a place that I was not familiar with.  I found myself coming back to his journal every day, to see if the author had written more.

With a little more searching, I found that there was a small group of writers - maybe a couple hundred - that were doing the same thing, writing about their daily lives on the web.  I read journals of people from Israel, from Russia, from the United Kingdom - all of them interesting because they detailed lives and lifestyles that I had no knowledge of.

It seemed to me that if I found these journals compelling - that if I wanted to come back and read them every day - that other people would feel the same way. However, it was hard to find them, and hard to keep track of them - if there was a central location where they could be gathered together in an easy-to-read and easy-to-search format, there could be a larger audience for them.

Also, it was hard back then to write an online diary - you had to have your own web space, and you had to know how to create pages and use HTML.  These were barriers that prevented the average Internet user from keeping a diary.


If this central journaling location could also provide a simple method for writers to post entries to their journals, without needing to know obscure codes and without needing to pay for server space, it could be a good thing.

I started Open Diary in October of that year, using money from my consulting business. On our first day, we had twelve visitors and three people actually started writing diaries.  One of our new writers was from Turkey - so right away, we were an international business.  Since then, the growth of the site has been amazing - we have several hundred new members join every day, but we still have people writing with us who have been here since 1997.

The most fulfilling part of the job is that we provide a place for people to let their feelings out - to meet other people, to put their emotions down on (digital) paper, and to learn about the daily lives of other humans, that they wouldn't normally interact with.  Many times, our users have told us that reading diaries has given them an understanding of others that they never would have had otherwise.  Building a community has been the best reward of all.

 

 

If you could give readers of this book one piece of advice what would it be?

 

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40 Companies Interviewed:

 

Ask.co.uk / AskJeeves.co.uk

 

SlashDot.org

 

Half.com

 

Figleaves.com

 

Firebox.com

 

Shockwave.com

 

Bravenet.com

 

Wikipedia.org

 

Cheapflights.co.uk     

 

TopTable.co.uk

 

WheresGeorge.com

 

PriceGrabber.com

 

MagicTricks.co.uk      

 

AllBrands.com        

 

Abebooks.com        

 

CollegeHumor.com    

 

Crash.Net

 

EscapeArtist.com        

 

FriendFinder.com      

 

Gurunet.com

 

PistonHeads.com        

 

Zappos.com

 

WorldNetDaily.com

 

TravelBlog.org

 

SharpMail.co.uk

 

GameHouse.com

 

ScreenSavers.com

 

OpenDiary.com

 

Peel.com

 

Jiwire.com

 

WhatIfSports.com

 

RefreshDaily.com

 

DinnerPoint.com

 

VRBO.com

 

Geek.com

 

PetFinder.com

 

Hattrick.org

 

SportsInjuryClinic.net

 

LowTax.net

 

Rackspace.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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