138 Words on Idols

On the morning of my 35th birthday, I woke up and read a few pages of a biography.  As I read with admiration for the author, I found myself wondering… when will I stop idolizing – for a lack of a better word – others and start being my own person, or seek inspiration from somewhere else?  I am being naïve?  Do we forever follow? Did my Dad, at age 55, still idolize Jack Nicholson in his 70s?   Does someone massive like Bono still idolize someone like Lou Reed, or does that feeling or need go away at some point? When I was 10 years old, my walls were covered in posters of rock stars.  At 35, I read the books and blogs of the creative and successful people I look up to – the grown-up, modern day equivalent.   What’s next?

The Beginning: Online Performance

http://www.robbywells.com/images/online-performance-site.jpg

Ah… the origins! Growing up, I was always an entrepreneurial-type kid. My friend Peter and I had a stellar little lawn mowing company called ‘2 Mow Crew’, inspired by the name of the controversial rap group 2 Live Crew who was hot at the time. We took our work very seriously. I pushed the mower and he edged it all up. You could say we were delivered a premium service, because we kept our client-base small and focused.. We were not the guys to call if you had a jungle of bullshit in your front yard. We are the guys Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid would’ve called if he needed some yard guys. I still remember the feeling of accomplishment after doing a yard up right. It was similar to the feeling we’d both get after detailing a Porsche or Ferrari at our next gig: Car Wash On Wheels.

I think I still technically work at Car Wash On Wheels. Once you work there, you never stop working there. It is a lifestyle. Just about every friend that I have from high school stepped in the Car Wash on Wheels van at some point in time. And working for the owner was a such a big part of many of our lives that I would bet more than a few of us still kinda feel like we work there. Like we could roll up, and wash cars tomorrow if we wanted. It was the closest thing to stripper money for a guy. You would come home feeling worn out, dirty as hell, sweaty as hell, with a fat wad of cash. Just a like a stripper, right? We always had fat stacks of cash from washing cars. I think my younger brother was rolling with a Sky Pager and Motorola 5000 in 7th grade.

Later, my other good friend Fabian and I tried to invent things. That was fun and a great learning experience. I remember being a an 18-year-old kid sitting in some slick attorney’s office high in the Galleria Towers, as he laid out what the process would be. Very cool experience, but made no dough.

Then while reading some entrepreneurial magazine – I think it was called Success – I read about a guy that was selling wine over the internet. Being young, slightly insecure and ultra naive, I thought to myself… who would ever buy something from a 19-year-old kid? But this internet thing… Nobody would have to know that I was only 19 years old. I could fool them and maybe they would buy something.

Enter Online Performance. At the time, all my friends were buying and fixing up Honda Civics and Acura Integras and the like. I would go with them to these super shady retailers where they would buy their parts and just hang out. Then I got the idea… If these shady bastards were able to open the wholesaler accounts to purchase inventory, maybe I could too. Except I would never have a store… I would just sell through a website. Not having a computer and not having ever surfed the web in my life, I started working on a plan. I also found a partner – Fabian. I also drew the logo by hand, seen above. That logo would later adorn the hood of every tricked out Honda in Carrollton, Texas :-)

I went to this super smart kid that was still in high school to build my site. His home office was where I first surfed the web (first site: Yahoo. first search: Seal, the musician). The first Online Performance site was basically one huge animated gif (think 800 x 600) that almost killed every poor dial up modem it encountered. We had that site for while, strangely with minimal complaints. Our second was the one pictured above, and is still available to view via the Wayback Machine:

View it here. The messageboard – wrongly labeled a ‘chat’ by me back in the day is also available to view.

I really had no heart in the car parts business, but I did enjoy promoting my business and some of the design stuff.  We had absolutely no competition online for the first year, so we owned the search engines for every imaginable relevant search term.   I would answer 175 product inquiry emails a day (pre- affordable e-commerce) and would sell products to people on almost every continent.  One customer would call me at 11AM from Guam, when he was returning from a night home at the illegal street races.

One day, when seeking a new host for my website, I stumbled upon Lori Barber at Netsuccess in 1997 and the rest is my ‘career’.

Oh yeah… one of the most fun things we did with Online Performance was make t-shirts… ourselves. I wish I still had one!

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