Colin, in one of his ventures, worked 10 years, and made no money when the company was exited. Subsequently, his perspective has evolved, and in this interview, he offers lessons on what to watch out for.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Colin Campbell: I’m actually a farmer from Canada. It was very tough work. Even though I worked on a farm, I still lived in the suburbs of Toronto. I was able to get the best of both environments. I went to the University of Toronto and graduated from there. As soon as I graduated, I went right back to working in the farm for about four to five months.
Then I started my first Internet company in 1993. It was relatively early. It was just at the beginning of the world wide web. Myself and my brother launched a company called Internet Direct. Very quickly, it began to expand. We took it public in 1998.
Sramana Mitra: Since you’re a serial entrepreneur, let’s talk a little bit about that particular journey. How did you get it off the ground? What was the premise of the business?
Colin Campbell: It came from my experience at the university when I had seen other people using the Internet. I just thought that there was a lot of interesting applications on the Internet. Before the web, there were ways to send emails and you were able to use some programs. It felt like it was an opportunity to get into something that seemed like growing. I guess I was lucky in that I was exposed to it when I was at the university. Although ironically, I never actually used the Internet then.
Early on, we tried to go to the bank to get a loan. They only gave us $5,000 because they didn’t understand what the Internet was. We really had to bootstrap that company. Every dollar we made, we invested in growth. We just had unlimited demands. We could not fulfil demands no matter how fast we grew. We could not build enough infrastructure. This was before the telecoms. It was in very high demand. That was the first lesson I learned. The faster your company grows, the more money you lose. It’s a very difficult proposition.
Sramana Mitra: You always have to balance in growth versus profits.
Colin Campbell: Eventually, we got a $100,000 loan from my mother a couple of years later. At that point, we looked for people around us to help support the business. It grew to a point where we took it public and sold it in 1999. In the middle of that, we actually did another company called Tucows, which was fairy popular. It was in PC magazine’s Top 100 Software Download site.
It also became a popular domain registrar. If you’re in the tech space in the 90s, you’d hear about Yahoo! and Tucows. It was a software download site. We sold that company, for all cash, in 1999 to a group out of Israel. At that time, it sold for $30 million. We actually retained 10% of the company following that.
Sramana Mitra: How much were you doing in revenues to get that off the ground?
Colin Campbell: $5 million.