Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Friction Free Capitalism in HTML?

I recently submitted the following article to the Northwest Venture Voice Blogsite: It is the first official Athena Chiefs blog article, and I hope to continue to post more in the months ahead...Tom.

“I’m not sure if this Internet thing is ever going to be big enough to care about”.

In 1995, I proposed that we build a call center help system using new web internet technologies to an Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) Partner, and this quote above was what I heard in response. It was several weeks before the Netscape IPO, and to me, it was the last time I remember hearing the Internet being “under-hyped” for many, many years.

In the months and years that followed, we heard much about the internet being the catalyst for “friction-free capitalism”, the entity that would break down cultural and economic barriers, and the perfect place to buy dog toys of all types. As it turned out, the American media might have “over-hyped” the internet a bit. Imagine that. Naturally, a backlash against the internet occurred, complete with dot-bomb failures of all types, and it was not that long ago that a British business colleague was giving me his views on my fellow “silly Americans and your mad internet ideas.”

So it was with some pleasant surprise that I found some pretty cool internet tools that made starting up my new business easier, and that I actually found delivering much of the promise of the late ‘90’s hype of the internet. I’m chronicling some of what I found here for others that are looking for help in getting many of the basic marketing materials of a brand new business in place for a low cost. I also think many of you who are just looking for a few new cool ideas might find my experiences interesting.

I started a company in April to provide interim and project-based management to early stage and fast growth companies. I named it “Athena Chiefs” after the Greek goddess Athena, primarily to make my Mom, a full-blooded Greek, a happy lady. I started thinking I needed to hire someone to create a logo, business cards and a website for me, and figured I’d spend a few thousand dollars doing so with some local artists and web folks. It was then that one of the smartest people in the world I know, Mike Moskowitz of Jetstream Software, suggested checking out a website called Design Outpost.

Design Outpost is basically a community of graphic artists all over the world that have, ahem, “extra time” on their hands to help clients with needs for various graphic designs. You can get just about anything designed for you there by running “contests” and letting the various graphic artists duke it out. So I decided to start with a $100 contest for my new logo, and see if I could get any good ideas. I paid the $100 and a 10% fee via PayPal, and then wrote a few things about my company (and what I knew of the goddess Athena) on a message-board site that I now had access to. I set the contest up for seven days, told them what I could (including mentioning my mom), and then sat back and waited for results. The whole process took 10 minutes at $110.

The next seven days were a great combination of 1. Entertaining, and 2. Productive! There were owl logos. There were helmet logos. There were colors and fonts of every combination, and from every continent on the planet. The artists encourage your comments, which were easy for me to make, and we gradually all zeroed in on a design. Because it was a public site, I was able to get friends, and yes, even my mom, to make comments on which designs they did and didn’t like. It was the epitome of a creative process, as minds from all over the world were on the problem. It was, in a word…”fun”. OK, a second word comes to mind, “cheap”. Well, OK, maybe I should just some it up as…”good”. I digress.

In any case, perhaps because it was suspiciously close to the release of the movie “Troy”, a Spartan war helmet won out, I contacted the winning artist in Venezuela to make the final touches, and I had two logo alternatives in all possible graphic format. We were instant-messaging as we refined the design, and I asked about business cards. “Uh, how about 50 American dollars?” was his reply, and given that I’d spent over $1000 for a logo and card design at my last company, I quickly agreed. More instant messages followed, and I had my business card design delivered to Kinko’s that night, and my cards when I woke up the next day.

I should also mention that, during the creative process with my Venezuelan artist Alex, we both had our internet cameras on and could see each other (we even tried Voice over IP for a while, but preferred text). I found out why he had fled his native country of Russia - “as it turns out, Russia is not a very nice country to Jewish people”, Alex remarked (and I dropped the subject). I asked why he had moved to Venezuela of all countries, and then realized it was a dumb question. For those of you who don’t know, men move to different places for one of three reasons: 1% of the time to get away from their fathers, 1% of the time to take a fantastic job, and 98% of the time because of a girl. A few seconds went by and then Alex replied “it was because of a girl”. Silly me. In any case Design Outpost (and, yes, the internet) not only gave Alex a chance to make a living near his love-life, it also introduced me to a very interesting person from two different countries.

A few days later, I decided to take a weekend and hammer out a website. Armed with the book “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies”, Microsoft FrontPage, and Alex’s IM address, I went to work. Alex asked that I use another very cool internet tool,, to wire him the couple of hundred dollars he would charge me to build my web template. I did that with a credit card, paid a $5 fee, iKobo converted the dollars to Bolivars, and Alex then picked up the cash a few minutes later from an ATM machine near his house! As Homer Simpson might say: “Mmmm…Global Economomee.”

The result? Less than $400 total spent and the following website (with similar business cards) to show for it: If you don’t like the site, it’s probably because of my crass and un-imaginative writing, not the cool and dynamic graphics. The only real argument Alex and I had was that he thought he needed to illustrate the various people rather than use pictures, proving that the Jerry Seinfeld “only 4%-6% of the population is actually attractive” rule is alive and well in the other hemispheres of our world, not just our own.

Feel free to contact me at if you ever want additional details, Alex’s IM address, or just to comment on my crass and un-imaginative writing. Feel free to contact Mike Moskowitz at if you want other smart ideas, or some of the best .Net developers on the planet (I’ve used them too – you don’t always have to go overseas!). Finally, feel free to look up “Friction-free Capitalism” on one of the internet’s many translation websites. I’ve found that it translates into, among other things, Venezuelan, Russian, and, finally, HTML.

Here is the Design Outpost site if you'd like to use it yourself:


At 11:04 AM, Blogger Joey G said...

I love stories like this. Technology being used to link up resources is so much more fruitful than technology being used to solve the problem. In the end, I believe the power is in people's heads and in good ol' fashioned skill. Just ask the US men's hoops team. Finding the right resources and forming productive teams is where it's at, expecially for business startups. Traditional methods often lead to clunky, expensive solutions. You see it everywhere, from attorneys, to doctors, to contractors. I think Athena is an interesting, efficient approach to teaming. Now if only they looked like Greek goddesses...

At 5:38 PM, Blogger John Browne (Workpump) said...

Tom, thanks for this great story. After the bubble burst, the entire graphics arts industry imploded. A convergence of over capacity, plummeting demand, and better, user-friendly tools left many professionals in both design and web development with no steady employment. Those that still had it found it harder and harder to justify $1000s for design and production work that others would do for $100s.

One of the interesting aspects of this that we've found (and successfully utilized) at Workpump is templates. You can buy cheap templates for web sites, newsletters, brochures, company identity stuff, you name it. Many of them are quite good, and are dirt cheap. Ditto for stock photography: the need for custom photography (spelled expen$ive) grows less and less each day.

We saw this in the 80s with typesetting, as word processing programs and desktop publishing tools like Pagemaker put technology into the hands of everybody. Typesetters complained bitterly about the poor quality of desktop publishing projects, but they were yelling at the unhearing march of progress.

Now the Internet, global banking and payments systems, video conferencing and cheap (free?) VoIP long distance will break down the geographic walls even further. The future is here, and in some ways it's even more than it was cracked up to be.

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great article! I'll be checking back for others in the future. Keep up the great sense of humor.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You go, girl!!

At 6:13 AM, Blogger Joe Muka said...

Hi, Saw your site late night. Some of your ideas I may use for my site about free voip It's kind of a boring topic...I liked some of your info.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Barney said...

Very cool blog you got! I just added you to my bookmarks!

I have a great article resource you might want to check out.


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