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Do Over
by Kent Lewis

  Just the other day, I was having lunch with a friend. Inevitably, the "work" topic came up once the breadbasket was emptied. After comparing dental benefits, she dropped the big career question, "If you could do it again, what would you do differently?"

It's not like I've never been asked the question before. Perhaps it was the timing that caused uncharacteristic hesitation on my part. Perhaps it was the gazpacho appetizer. Whatever the case, I had to think a bit harder than usual before coming up with an answer I thought appropriate.

"Nothing actually," I replied with a full mouth. I hoped I didn't come off like a jackass because I was relatively happy with my career. As I finished off the sandwich and started in on the French fries, I started thinking about past decisions I've regretted.

1. Selling my Star Wars collection at a 1985 family garage sale for $15
2. Asking Kim out in the 8th grade in front of my friends (I was forcefully rejected)
3. Letting Anvil die, twice

Then it hit me, I killed the email newsletter/ezine I had so painstakingly created in late 1996. Why should that bother me so much now? Not so much because it was a labor of love, as much as a huge career opportunity lost. I decided to keep this to myself.

I have three industry friends, all three have Web sites or newsletters, and all have received substantial acquisition offers due to quality and value of the community they've created. When I say substantial, I mean the kind of money that you put into a few technology stocks and retire three years later and purchase your first sports franchise. What exactly did they do that I didn't? They made a commitment to their community and stuck with it.

It all started when I was eight years old and I first saw Star Wars. Wait, wrong story. The Anvil story started in mid 1996 when I came on as Marketing Manager at a Portland Web developer. While I was a business major, I wasn't all that familiar with the Internet or how to leverage it for communications. I spent the first six months on the job surfing the Web and looking for news, research and information regarding online marketing.

After a few weeks of intense research, I was compiling a huge amount of information, and realized that sharing it with coworkers and clients would be beneficial. My first step was working with the internal designers and programmers to get a Web site and listserv configured. My next step was putting together a mission statement: Anvil provides insight into online industry news, issues and trends in easy to swallow caplets. I decided to aggregate and organize the information in relation to our business: design, hosting, marketing and top Web picks.
The first issue was sent out October 18th, 1996 in a self-contained text email. I sent it to all employees, clients and friends with an email address. It was received so favorably I decided to open it up to a larger audience of peers. I used my PR experience to promote the newsletter to publications, discussion lists, search engines and directories. Subscribers went from 20 to 300 in less than two weeks.

I made only slight modifications to format over the next thirty-two issues, before I left to start an online PR and site promotion group within a full service agency. Naturally, I was excited to move on to an agency that understood the need for Internet marketing, and I was all too ready to take a break and leave Anvil with my former employer. In eight months, Anvil brought in new business, retained customers, built relationships with partners and press as well as branded my former employer as cutting edge developers. In the end, not even surprisingly positive feedback from disappointed but well-wishing subscribers could change my mind.

My hiatus from Anvil lasted less than six months. Once I realized I had the interest and support from 120 talented coworkers, I jumped on the opportunity to take over the Anvil domain (my former employer had closed its doors two months previous). This time around, I decided email would be a support medium designed to drive traffic back to the Web site, were articles and interactive experiments awaited.

Over six months, we put out five issues, covering topics like Internet marketing, security, privacy and Y2K. Tapping the minds of intelligent and humorous coworkers led to informative and entertaining content. It wasn't easy, however. So difficult, as a matter of fact, that I had to let it go once again. My "day" job was taking up my time, and I didn't have the motivation to make the extra effort. Bad judgment perhaps.

It's a new millennium, and another chance to pick up where I left off. No more bad judgment for this guy, save for that time last fall when I wore white pants two weeks after Labor Day. I have an incredible collection of talent to tap into, and a renewed drive to inform, educate and entertain (wow, a new mission statement!). The content won't be as rigidly structured as prior efforts, but it will tie into relevant categories like Internet marketing, communications, technology and business.

So sit back, subscribe and enjoy. If you're not informed, educated or entertained, you'll get your money back. The only thing left to do is find the guy I sold my Star Wars figures to and tell Kim she missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

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