Looking Back, Maybe Timing Was Everything

Looking Back, Maybe Timing Was Everything

Published: March 24, 2005

In the Cards

After you sell a company that never produced a cent of revenue for a billion dollars, what do you do for an encore? You get yourself elected to the Colorado State Board of Education, start a couple of charter schools, create a chain of theaters for Spanish-language movies and take another company public, one that actually sells something people pay for Jared Polis is only 29, but he has surfed the Internet wave better than just about anyone else.


It was all because of free animated greeting cards that were once the rage online (before they became such a nuisance, which was before they became all but obsolete).

At the height of the dot-com craze, just as millions of people were experiencing the novelty of going online for the first time, bluemountainarts.com commanded the attention of myriad business suitors.

The site offered tens of millions of "eyeballs" (Internet-speak for visitors) to companies that saw traffic as the linchpin of success.

Excite@Home, the Web portal and provider of high-speed Internet service, made the winning offer with a swagger, and when the company failed, americangreetings.com bought up the remnants of the bluemountainarts.com domain. Now, bluemountainarts.com is but a blip in Internet history, and Mr. Polis is happily on to his other projects.

"We were very fortunate with the timing of the deal, the competitive landscape," Mr. Polis said. "I wouldn’t do anything differently. It gave me a 5- to 10-year jump-start to have this community involvement that I knew I wanted to have."

As for the company that inspired the Web site that made him rich, it still exists. Mr. Polis’s parents founded Blue Mountain Arts more than 30 years ago, and a Web site purveying the inspirational greeting cards and books they publish is now found at www.sps.com.

It’s Still Cool

Before anyone called them blogs, and before it became routine for anyone with an Internet connection to offer commentary on whatever topic they wished, Harry Knowles was making like Roger Ebert and Gene Shalit wrapped into one.

His site, aintitcoolnews.com, grew out of postings he made to early versions of the site that became the Drudge Report.

When Matt Drudge decided to concentrate on politics, Mr. Knowles, paralyzed after an injury and working from his bed in Austin, Tex., decided to tackle his greatest passion, film. More than politics, Mr. Knowles felt, film was the No. 1 water cooler topic.

So he started writing about it online, and soon other early online denizens – some of whom worked in the industry – flooded his in-box with insider tips about Hollywood. They were eager to dish, and to dis, and they loved the immediacy of the new medium.

That was in the mid-90’s, when there was little competition: mainstream publications were not in the habit of frequently updating their sites, if they maintained a Web presence at all.

Soon Mr. Knowles became known as a formidable pest the studios could not ignore. His site has grown; he said it has five full-time editors. "That allows me freedom to do other things," he said. "I wound up becoming a film producer." He is working on two projects.

But Ain’t It Cool News is still his true love: "When I die, the insurance goes to bury me and keep the Web site going," he said. "Nuclear wars will come and go, and I will still talk about film."

An Old-Media Turn

Back in the dot-com day, Aliza Sherman was the poster grrl for women on the Web. She preached the gospel of female empowerment through a group she founded, Webgrrls. At gatherings of Webgrrls chapters that sprouted around the globe, women shared information about the new medium and the skills needed to enter it, along with some good old-fashioned camaraderie.

From headquarters in New York City, Ms. Sherman was often quoted in stories about female entrepreneurs. She published several books.

Once the bubble burst, Ms. Sherman sold Webgrrls to her business partner and hit the road. "Was going to buy an old convertible, ended up with an R.V.," she said in an e-mail interview.

She wound up in Wyoming, where she worked in a state government job doing public relations and marketing for a few years, then started her own public relations and marketing firm. She fell in love with a man from Montana – "a wildlife biologist, novelist, photographer, artist type" – and married.

While she says she still maintains Web sites for fun, she has immersed herself in old media: television and radio. She produces segments for Wyoming Public Radio and is working on a series for Wyoming Public Television. And, she said, "I’m in preproduction for two independent documentary films, one about miscarriage and the other about the melting permafrost in Alaska."

She is about to move there for two years with her husband – about as far as you can get from New York during the new media frenzy.

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