As you know, I am deeply interested in personalization as it applies to e-commerce & Web 3.0. In this interview, Darren Hill and I discuss the subject at length, especially as it pertains to fashion e-commerce, another area of significant interest for me.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start with introducing our audience to yourself as well as WebLinc. Tell us what you do and what you’re focused on.
Darren Hill: I started WebLinc with my brother in 1994 when I was 18 and a freshman at college. Before we started WebLinc, we owned a small mail-order business, which was a traditional mail-order business for mailing out catalogs.
Sramana Mitra: Where were you in college?
Darren Hill: I was in Drexel. The importance of Drexel is pretty interesting in that Drexel is the first university in the world that required all of their students to have a personal computer. The year that I started, they were the first university to wire every dorm room to the Internet. It seems obvious now but that was groundbreaking at that time.
Sramana Mitra: Do you still work out of Philadelphia? Is that your operating base?
Darren Hill: Yes, we’re still headquartered in Philadelphia. We have three different buildings in Old City, Philadelphia which is the neighborhood where Benjamin Franklin and George Washington lived. We also have an office in New York and another office in Toronto.
Sramana Mitra: What was the premise of WebLinc at that point?
Darren Hill: At first, we were really just building any type of website for any type of business that wanted it. In 1994, there weren’t a lot of businesses that wanted it. We stuck on it on a part-time basis from 1994 to 1996. In 1996, the industry started changing. There was some venture capital money put into the dot-com industry and that bred a lot of different startups that we were able to work with and help them build the dreams that they had gotten funded through venture capital.
Sramana Mitra: What is the evolution of WebLinc? What kind of business did it become?
Darren Hill: In the late ’90s, it was a fantastic time when there was tons of venture capital in the market and lots of different companies building some really neat ideas. That all fell apart in 2001. WebLinc, at that point, lost at least half of our customers in a course of 60 days. It was pretty dramatic. We looked back at our customers who were still paying their bills and still excited about doing new projects. What we realized pretty quickly at that time was that the e-commerce companies that we were working with are the companies that were doing pretty well even though the dot-com boom had been busted.
What we decided to do was change the focus of our business from being a we-can-build-anything technology shop to focusing 100% on this e-commerce consultancy that we had developed on the side. That worked out pretty well from 2001 to 2003. We really implemented other people’s technologies. At that time, there weren’t many platforms to choose from and the technologies were pretty rudimentary and in the infantile stages. In 2003, we decided to build our own technology and platform and go to market with our own e-commerce system and actively sell that.
Sramana Mitra: What were you competing with at that point?
Darren Hill: At that point, there was IBM Websphere, ATG, which has now been purchased, and a bunch of companies that don’t exist anymore. Companies trying to move typically from some other type of technology system whether it was ERP or order management tool where they were trying to put a very simplistic bolt on to their system that allowed for e-commerce didn’t really work out.