Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 Beta Now Available
Microsoft Corp. today announced the immediate, worldwide availability of Microsoft® Internet Explorer version 3.0 beta software, the next generation of its popular World Wide Web browser . . . For users, Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 provides a dynamic browsing experience for viewing content created in
Microsoft Press Release
May 29, 1996
Our survival would depend on how efficiently we could get our message out to a diverse and potentially hostile audience. While we had great advocates using our software, we weren’t certain how openly we would be welcomed by healthcare equipment suppliers...
Usually when a group of customers gets together in the form of a professional society, they adamantly shield their members from suppliers. They support themselves by doling out bits of customer information in exchange for the sponsorship of society events.
We planned to take this time-honored concept and project it into the digital world. We would gather together a group of architects and healthcare providers who shared a similar need for information to improve their ability to expand and build hospitals. We’d provide them with software tools, such as shielding calculations, room templates and product information, which met their needs.
We would get suppliers that shared the same customers to help us build those tools. They would sponsor the tools by paying us to include detailed product listings and images among a sea of unenhanced listings. Since we put this information in front of their targeted customers very early in the product decision process, this product placement was very valuable indeed. We had offerings varying from a couple of thousand dollars to tens of thousands. We justified these rates by comparing our service to the high cost and low return of traditional media.
We would give these tools away, charging only for the more advanced versions. It was kind of like shareware. We’d get a little money from the buyers and more from the sellers. Everyone would benefit. This process was far less expensive and more predictable than traditional customer aggregation. So, we had to get the message out to suppliers quickly. We had some initial success cold-calling suppliers, but we needed scale and speed to keep the doors open. We decided to send a brochure to a large number of carefully targeted suppliers.
This seemed like an old-fashioned way to start a grand wave of technology, but we knew that this was a very conservative industry. The business of healthcare was very serious indeed. Our official introduction as a company would need to be familiar and professional. It would also be very expensive for us. We would only have enough money for one shot.
Seeing the first brochure at the printer was a breathtaking experience. Its two folds opened outward, exposing a rich view of the world we were trying to create. It was conservative in layout with striking colors, expensive-looking, professional, exuberant, and beautifully eye-catching. At least it was as exciting as a brochure primarily about radiation shielding and medical room layouts could be. To top it off, our new logo — a diagonal spiral — looked great on the cover. This was the first visual representation of our company. Our business was getting more real every day.
Our families got together that weekend to stuff thousands of envelopes with the brochures. We addressed them to thousands of manufacturers. The stacks of mail went out the doors on Monday. And, we waited.
We knew it would probably be several days before anyone actually received the brochures, but that did not make the fact that we received no calls from new customers on Tuesday any less disappointing.
Wednesday was a different story. Several manufacturer representatives who knew us called us to say some variation of, “Wow! You guys are really serious about this thing!” We also received some calls from companies that we had not spoken with before. Some part of me relaxed, just a bit.
We also needed to establish a presence on this new thing called the Internet. For the most part, I had only used the Internet for email and technical support for assorted computer devices, but I had seen enough to know that our products would rely heavily on it someday. If we wanted to project a vision of the future, we had to be on the Web from the start.
So, as we were producing the brochure, I called around, asking for a referral to someone who built websites. I knew a great deal about computers, but I knew very little about the Internet. I didn’t understand how it worked or what software was used to make things work or even what the computers that ran things looked like. I didn’t know why there was a “www” prefix in front of so many Web addresses.
What I did know was that this medium had the potential to solve many of the problems and reduce the costs associated with traditional media distribution. I asked people I knew who seemed to know more about this stuff than I did where to go for website construction. Nobody could give me recommendations.
It seemed that everyone was a novice at this. I was left with no resource other than the phone book. There were only a few listings under “Internet”. Galatia was the first number I called where someone actually answered the phone. They only had six employees, but were poised to grow. They could do anything we needed. Now and in the future. Sounded good to me.
At first, our website was mostly a distraction for me. It was something I had to keep updated, but that was about it. My focus was on the CD product. However, the quick expansion of our products required us to change our information very often. So, with increasing frequency, we directed our supplier and buyer customers to the website for new information.
The problem was, the Internet was so new that we spent an incredible amount of time painstakingly explaining to manufacturers how to use a browser.
The good news was that, once they understood what we were doing, they embraced our ideas with vigor and started asking us if we could add this feature or that. One of their most frequent questions was: Is there any way to keep our own product information up-to-date using the Internet? Well, I assumed that this was possible, but I had to verify that it was practical.
We had been receiving more and more product literature from suppliers to scan and convert for use on our CDs. It was becoming a bottleneck for us. We had to input everything into the computers, then send it out to be reviewed by the suppliers. Additional changes were made by us, and then reviewed with the customer again. It certainly would make sense for us to put the editing control into the hands of the suppliers themselves.
I asked Linda at Galatia how much it would cost to create a secure interface on the website that would allow the suppliers to maintain their own information. The price was high, but easily justified. Since the master database I had written was resident on our own computer server, Galatia would have to track all changes made to their copy of the database. I would need to write the interface to capture this data and merge it with ours on a regular basis.
Within a couple of months, we were up and running. We now had a real, interactive application running on the Internet.
The customers loved the idea of this. A few even used it. What we found, however, was that we ended up using the Web interface quite often. It was simple to use and a very convenient way for us to change supplier product information while at trade shows, which had just now begun to have Internet terminals. The suppliers were very impressed when they saw their products immediately appear on our website.
My interaction with Galatia became a daily, then hourly occurrence. Our list of features to add to the Web interface grew rapidly. Since we had all of this supplier information on the Web, we thought that we might as well make it visible to those few Internet-savvy people who might prefer to get this information via the Web rather than a dated CD.
It turned out that there were quite a few people who liked the idea of getting this information via the Web. Our traffic started at a trickle and would slowly, steadily, become a torrent. Although our business model didn’t change much, the medium of delivery sure did. We started to realize that, at the rate we were going, the CD might soon disappear.
The Web projects quickly became more complex. The Web development bills grew larger. Much larger. As I paid each bill, my demands increased too. I needed more, faster.
I still worked my day job at Varian. I had to establish a routine that allowed me to be at home in the morning to help get my two young sons ready for and off to school. Also, it was important to me to be home and attentive during dinner, until the kids’ bedtime. From what was left, I had to carve out enough time to allow me to keep up with an increasing workload at Neoforma.
I ended up with a routine that worked. I would get up at between four-thirty and five each morning, take a quick shower and get in an hour or so of work before the kids awoke. Each evening, I would begin work immediately after the kids were in bed, at around eight, until my mind slowed down — usually between eleven and two, sometimes later. For the first time, coffee became a critical part of my mornings.
With my hour-and-a-half lunch, this schedule allowed me to put almost eight hours a day into Neoforma on weekdays, plus Saturdays. Because of this schedule, I would often send messages to Galatia at one or two in the morning and then again at five.
Once I had maintained this pattern long enough, I tended to forget that not everyone kept the same schedule. As my pressure on Galatia increased, Linda remarked that it was unreasonable to be expected to keep up with the demands of someone who never seemed to sleep.
The pressure had increased not only because of our increasing demand for new features, but because the nature of what we were doing with the Web was so unique that it stretched Galatia’s software and hardware beyond their boundaries.
We were doing things that hadn’t been done before. Or, more accurately, we were hitting these new website features with a volume of traffic that hadn’t tested before.
Under the weight of increasing interactivity, data and traffic, the site began to crash. Often. I grew terribly frustrated. In the middle of the night, perpetually short on sleep, these unpleasant discoveries would occasionally drive me to rage. And my messages would fly: Why can’t you just keep this thing running!!?? Why do I have to find these problems myself!!?? I have a business to run. This is supposed to be your expertise!
Over time, I became a demanding and impatient client. We had clearly outgrown Galatia, but I still held onto the idea that they should be growing in pace with us. And they were growing, but not at our pace. I couldn’t understand why.
The fact was that they had decided, long before I’d interrupted their peaceful existence, to pursue a more restrained and more human pace. The very characteristic I had selected them for was the one that forced us to leave them behind.
Eventually, we couldn’t avoid reality any longer. We decided that we had to bring our Web development inside the company. By late 1998, controlling our website would become much too critical to our future to leave to an outside party.
By that time we had a rapidly growing equity value. We considered buying Galatia. This would be a great way to quickly acquire a trained staff. But almost as quickly as we thought of this course we dismissed it, knowing that the cultural gap between Neoforma and Galatia would be too great, even if they became part of our company. So, we had to hire our own programmers. Galatia graciously helped us transition our website services to inside Neoforma. And that was that.
We were a rapidly growing company that had simply left behind what didn’t fit. They had watched us grow from a company with one employee and no Internet experience to a company with nearly forty employees that was becoming a major player in the hastening Internet race. While I did not slow down enough to adequately thank them, I hope they felt, as they watched us disappear into the distance, some pride over their contribution to our success. They were pioneers too. They had simply chosen not to run quite as wildly as we had.