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Kaizen (改善): David Beroff's Journey

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Name:
David Beroff
Birthdate:
23 December 1964
Website:
External Services:
Schools:
I originally wrote this August 17, 2005, just after my wife and I took a long overdue "just us" two-day trip to Atlantic City, NJ, and then I spent a night sleeping under the stars at my son's Boy Scout camp near Hawk Mountain (New Ringgold, PA). Those things kinda underscore the work/family balance which is an ongoing theme in my life and I'm sure in many of yours. I'm much more satisfied with that balance now than I was a few years ago.

Another constant theme in my current life is my struggle with finances and taxes. An awkward question which seems to get raised a lot is, how can a guy who's grossing somewhere in the neighborhood of US$400k/year possibly be having any financial difficulties? The answer pretty much comes down to the fact that I'm still trying hard to pay off enormous debts incurred in earlier years when I was trying to get my business off the ground. Even when things did start to move in a positive direction, I spent more money trying to invest into my firm, rather than putting aside a cushion for when the Bubble inevitably burst.

 

So, let's see... what's relevant here? What has shaped me to be the person I am today? And why should you care? :-)

I'm 41; I was born in New York, NY in 1964. I was raised in Bridgewater, NJ, and started writing software when I was 11. I was graduated from high school at 15, and then bicycled to the local county college for a year. I then transferred to Rutgers University, moving to their campus in New Brunswick, NJ and majoring in computer science after a brief period of thinking I was cut out for medicine. By age 18, I was offered the opportunity to teach at Rutgers, and did so for a year while I was wrapping up my own studies. I was graduated in 1984, at the age of 19.

I married Alida Gibson (alidalg) in 1988. We soon moved to Jenkintown, PA and have been there ever since. We had Sara (sarabe) in '89 and Nate (_n_a_t_e_) in '93; they're now 15 and 12. We're all Jewish, and both kids were sent to private religious school because my wife and I weren't too happy with the educational plans or results of the local public school.

I'd always worked long hours, somehow equating that with a faster career path. In '92, I was offered a partnership in a firm, which I mistakenly assumed also meant that I'd have a voice in its management. My growing frustrations led me to start my own company on the side, incorporating a business to purchase promissory notes in '93. This was also the start of my using credit cards to finance my business, a debt which eventually grew to somewhere around US$83k... and that was just the visible cost in dollars. :-(

My extreme work hours still didn't make a difference, and I left the partnership in early '95 for a Fortune 500 firm, leaving me free to instead invest the crazy hours in my own side business. It was at my new employer that I first learned about Netscape 1.0 sometime around March, but I resisted at first, because I strongly suspected that once I started playing with this new Internet thing, I'd end up spending every waking moment with it, to the exclusion of absolutely everything else.

I was right.

 

By May, I'd registered my first domain, note.com. Back in '95, domains were free from the US Government, thank-you-very-much, as was registration. I got hosting for less than $5/mo., although at the time, I didn't realize that that meant it was physically living under a teenager's bed.

Though my initial goal was to promote the promissory note business, I started to see the value in offering free web-based services. In '96, I took some open source code and made available a free feedback form service for other website owners. This was the beginning of what would eventually become Freedback.com. I also started hosting and designing other firms' websites, with varying success.

There was also a gradual shift in my perspective, where I started to lose my love of software design, replacing it with my growing enthusiasm for online advertising and Internet business in general. I wanted a second career.

 

In mid-'97, I rented an apartment in Palmyra, NJ for the weekdays, so I could spend more time concentrating on my business and less time commuting. The idea was to see my family just on the weekends.

That lasted exactly one day.

The day after I moved in, I was (legally) crossing a street, and got hit by a car heading in the wrong direction, throwing me 40 feet into the air and shattering all four limbs.

During the year it took me to heal, my Fortune 500 employer continued to ignore this Internet thing, really hoping that it was just a passing fad. Y'see, that division was making about a quarter billion dollars a year performing a function in the equities market that was about to be replaced by the 'Net, and people almost preferred having all their heads planted firmly in the Jersey sand.

It became obvious that the best severance packages would be awarded to those laid off first, and so I proceeded to make myself as useless to them as humanly possible. :-) The strategy worked marvelously, and I somewhat nervously walked out the door of my very last employer in mid-'98.

 

By 2000, my own company had three full-time employees and about 20 part-time contractors. Our primary business model relied on the advertising income from the landing pages ("thank you" pages) which appear after people submit data using Freedback. Mid-year, we acquired our only real competitor, Response-O-Matic.com, and thus effectively cornered the entire free feedback form market.

The burst of the dot-com Bubble didn't affect us nearly as strongly as others, since our model didn't directly rely on, well, vapor, but the firm did have to tighten belts severely. Thankfully, I didn't have to let anyone go; everyone was able to move on without direct prodding. Since then, note.com LLC has hovered around a half dozen contractors and zero employees.

My own personal crash was to hit later that year.

Alida finally hit her limit with my crazy working hours, negative cashflow, bill collectors, the IRS, and my simply not being around while she took care of our two young kids, her ailing mother, and the house itself. She kicked me out of the house for what would become a 14-month separation.

Thankfully, I was able to take the hint and started to make some constructive changes in my life, including finding a therapist who could help me to ground myself in firm reality. I'd like to think that I have things a lot better balanced now, but there's always room for improvement, to be sure!

 

While many of our larger advertisers disappeared in '00, we realized that the landing page was still a very valuable space, and we started to carve it into thin horizontal strips, where each advertiser would specify about 200 characters of ad copy next to an unchecked checkbox. We usually already had the visitor's name and email address, so these could be prepopulated into fields at the form's bottom, and thus we had the beginning of an opt-in lead generation service which would ultimately become our primary business activity, LeadFactory.com.

As LeadFactory has grown, we found that the biggest challenge was not in attracting clients, but rather in our total ad delivery capacity. (In other words, my main job is to convince people to take my money.) We have around 4,000 publishers who carry our advertising, typically in a co-registration format, but it's still just never enough. I'm very happy to speak with any of you who have a high volume of interactive pages; you can learn more about this here.

Our latest adventure in growing our ad capacity was in our acquiring SuperTAF.com from Aaron Dragushan's Wondermill. If this bio wasn't already so garsh-darn long, I'd tell you exactly how I managed to do that for $0 cash. :-)

 

Oh, yeah... and I've been blogging since '00, long before it was either cool or profitable. I'm member #2,478 at LiveJournal, (they just hit #10,000,000 in April '06), and you're all welcome to follow along here (d4b). This is also available as an RSS feed.

Thanks for taking the time to read this! I'm looking forward to interacting with you and feeding to and from the collective energy!

 



 


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