Jewish World ReviewNov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
The inside story of my Internet success
As told to Joseph Nocera and rejected by Fortune.
NOW THAT THE QUIET PERIOD is over, I can finally reveal the story behind my
One day last December I was walking back to my apartment in Yorkville, the
old Mittel-European neighborhood on the Upper East Side, and I passed one of
the few remaining Hungarian butchers, on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 81st.
A hand-lettered sign hung in the window: "We Grind Poppy Seeds-Only Place in
NYC." By the time I had walked another two avenues, I had the business plan
blocked out in my head. While I waited for the elevator in my lobby, I put
in a few calls to venture capitalists. The signed non-disclosures were
waiting on my fax by the time I got the Medeco open. When the delivery man
rang my bell with the kreplach, I was already on the phone to Madras, getting
the programming started.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. My forehead-slapping moment was this: If
you can't get your poppy seeds ground anywhere else in all of New York City
than this one little butcher shop on 2nd Avenue, there was an opportunity: if
you will, a disconnect between buyers and sellers. And this disconnect I
recognized immediately as a commerce bottleneck that demanded an e-commerce
solution. This was a textbook problem for the New Economy to solve.
So as soon as I reached my computer, I reserved the Internet addresses
GrindMyPoppySeeds.com, and, just in case, EPoppyMill.com. The whole system
was coming together in my head. Using "safe brainstorming" techniques
developed at Palo Alto, my girlfriend Monica and I (since the launch of
GrindMyPoppySeeds.com we have been married, and then divorced, as told to
Gully Wells in Wired) worked out the system in detail.
It's patented, but to the layperson it looks like this: You go to
GrindMyPoppySeeds.com before 5 o'clock on a Monday, you tell us you want your
seeds ground, and Fed Ex picks up your seeds. They're ground in our
state-of-the-art central Poppy Seed Mill in Bellingham, WA, on Tuesday. And
Fed Ex brings them back on Wednesday, in time to do - whatever it is you do
with ground poppy seeds on a Wednesday. If Wednesday isn't soon
enough-you're out of luck. We devoted some of the proceeds of our initial
funding round to buying that last authentic little Hungarian butcher shop in
Yorkville and bulldozing it to bare earth.
As of this week GrindMyPoppySeeds.com is up and running. Don't have poppy
seeds? No problem. We'll sell 'em to you! (GrindMyPoppySeeds.com gets a
rich commission on these sales.) Have a poppy seed mill of your own? We'll
make you an Associate E-Miller of GrindMyPoppySeeds.com, and you can grind as
much (or as little!) seed as you like! Friends having a birthday or
anniversary? Send them one of our cute "e-mill" messages.
GrindMyPoppySeeds.com has links to other sites, like NetGoulash.com,
Paprika.org, and the site we've since acquired in a stock swap, MyMagyar.com.
And we've built a "chat room" for our community of ground poppyseed-users.
It's modeled after the once-ubiquitous "Karmazins," the cosy waiting rooms
once to be found in every poppy seed mill in pre-war Hungary, where seed
merchants gathered around the stove and gossiped about Countess Sophie
Chotek's painful lack of chic, and the ideas of the Vienna Linguistic Circle.
Our investors have several ways to achieve their desired ROI. There are the
eyeballs we gather from people arranging to have their poppy seeds ground-and
the "e-poppymill wannabes," those folks who intend to have their poppy seeds
ground but for who-let's face it-it ain't gonna happen. There's the commerce
opportunities on the little sacks in which we send the ground poppy seeds
back, on which we offer second mortgages and uncut diamonds for sale. And,
most important of all, there are the further rounds of financing.
Of course, that's in the future. Monica and Peter; Kevin and I, have built
our two separate but adjacent dream houses on the shores of Lake Washington,
and we're working now on giving something back to the community. It's a
revolutionary way to do good, and I'll tell you about it as soon as the
patent apps are safely
Sam Schulman Archives
JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York
Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at
Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.
©1999, Sam Schulman