Personal History: North Hollywood Days

The front door to the old office, right around the corner from my apartment.

The front door to the old office, right around the corner from my apartment.

In June of 2000, I traveled cross-country by car, with a cat and all the belongings I could bring, to arrive at my new life in North Hollywood. Just before my wife’s Jeopardy appearance, we arrived there again, this time with a rented Nissan having flown for 5-hours.

We hopped on the 405, drove by a lot of familiar sights like the Getty Museum, then jumped onto the 101 and made the slow drive to my old home.

We made our way to the intersection of Magnolia and Lankershim in North Hollywood, which was the center of my universe during my entire time in southern California. The buildings all looked the same, but the names had changed. What had been my former and employer is now a health clinic. I peered through the windows to see where my old desk was, and all I saw were cubes where people were screened for health problems. The building across from my old employer was still there. It had formerly been ABC, and now is The Africa Channel. The Emmy Academy and my old apartment complex, Academy Village, were still there and looked unchanged. There was still a Starbucks across the street, which was where we had a lot of employee meetings, and sometimes we went there just because. I bought a lot of coffee that year.

That's where I sat, and yes, that's me in the reflection too.

That’s where I sat, and yes, that’s me in the reflection too.

Even though I had gained some age and experience, I was still young and naive. That’s a recurring theme in this entire saga, making a poor decision but working hard enough to make it a success, while relying on a little luck as well.

Even though I had negotiated what was a good salary for Atlanta, it wasn’t as good for California. Nevertheless, I went for the nice apartment at the Academy Village. It was conveniently almost directly upstairs from my employer. What I spent on coffee, I saved on gas money. This was right outside where they held the Emmy awards. I remember one year looking out of my balcony and seeing The Sopranos all standing outside in suits.

The apartment complex of the Emmy's.

The apartment complex of the Emmys.

My new employers also made some poor decisions. Unlike the other properties they purchased, they were mostly interested in my content to essentially build the same thing on their home site. From almost day one, they redirected traffic from my old site to theirs, and lost a lot of it in the process. Previously people had reached our network from deep links such as tutorials or product reviews. They redirected all of that to the home page, and people gave up. We also had stopped producing new content during the prior two months or so during this transition, so the traffic had diminished by the time the site was redirected.

My title was Content Manager, and I was given a staff of about five employees. They were mostly writers that had a little bit of a web background. They were good for me since I came from a different background. I spoke the language of the web and had become a decent writer, but I had no formal training whatsoever. I remember the first day a guy with an English Master’s degree playfully making fun of my writing. I learned as much (if not more) from them as they did from me.

Together we moved all of my old content to this new company’s website. We built it from scratch and divided it into different content areas. We also incorporated some of my friend Michael’s search engine and marketing content, and he helped write some things for us. This gave the company some credibility, and they then licensed the content out to numerous affiliate sites. In an instant, me and my staff were everywhere on the web.

For awhile, the company was successful. They were technically a startup, but had been funded from deep pockets and were in their second round of funding, which is what they used to buy me. After I had been there a number of months, the company had achieved profitability. That’s rare and not expected for a startup by that point. Their business plan was to get the third round of funding and then become profitable, so it was just a bonus that they made it to that level so much earlier. They made good decisions with their acquisitions. Some of the advertising sites and affiliate programs they had purchased had turned immediate profits, while ours was more of a slow build as we essentially re-built a webmaster’s network.

After the properties were built and had a regular content cycle, they decided to promote me to Development Project Manager. This was another mistake on their end. I was completely a fish out of water, and I told them that. They had people that were programming in languages and databases that were entirely Greek to me. Instead of doing what I was comfortable with, which was more design-oriented and editorial, I was running a department that handled the backend.

I remember when I first started in the position, I had to interview every developer to find out what they did. To be honest, I had no idea what they were telling me. I tried to listen as much as I could and make it seem like I understood, but I didn’t. The good thing is I didn’t manage to do much damage. I probably didn’t help them much either. Still, I knew that long-term, this was not the right avenue for me.

This is where they hold the Emmy awards.

This is where they hold the Emmy awards.

Around this time I had heard murmurs of the market turning for technology. The 90s had been booming, with people like me (but not me) becoming rich overnight from insane IPO valuations. It was not sustainable, and eventually it caved in on itself. The dot-com bubble is legendary now, but aside from hearing the fear in people’s voices occasionally, we were mostly oblivious to what was happening. Mostly.

I saw the writing on the wall, and I was in a job position that was not suited well for me. Adding to that, I wasn’t happy there. Sure, I loved Southern California and had some wonderful times, memories that I’ll never forget, but I did not have much aside from the job and my apartment. I had money, but not enough to live the lavish California lifestyle, and that wasn’t my speed anyway. I had left behind my social network, and while I had made new friends like Michael, most of the people in the new company were not too outgoing. I grew bored.

After a year, I decided enough was enough. I spoke with my employers and asked them to reinstate me as Content Manager. I would move back to Atlanta and perform the job remotely. They weren’t thrilled, but I had an employment contract built into my acquisition, so they had to go along with it.

I moved back to Atlanta, got an apartment, and did the job to the best of my ability. It wasn’t easy because communication technology wasn’t quite as sophisticated, and we were in different time zones. I may have helped a little bit, but the team mostly did the work by themselves.

Their company was affected by the bubble bursting, and the deep pockets dried up. There would be no third round of funding, and they started trying to get out of the employment contracts. They fired one guy who sued and was able to keep his job. They got rid of a couple others. When they made the call to me, I knew it was coming, and I was fine with it. I did not put up a fight. I had another opportunity lurking (a book deal), some cash from the acquisition in the bank, and a lot of experience. I didn’t expect many headwinds in my future. We parted ways and they went out of business within the year. They sold their assets to a web hosting company. My stock became worthless, and that was fine too.

Remember Paul and Amanda, my partners in crime? What was interesting is right about the time I was getting acquired, I was contacted to develop a site for the alternate band Weezer, who were still pretty popular at the time. Of course I couldn’t take the project, so I gave it to Amanda. She later got a job maintaining and has been loosely tied to the industry ever since. We are still in touch, and my wife and her have connected on Facebook through their love of cats. The last I heard was that Paul works an IT job in Ohio. He’s absent on social media, so we really haven’t reconnected. Paul, if you’re out there, give me a shout.

Thanks for enduring this diversion from the cycling and Jeopardy stories. I didn’t expect to write so much, but I did enjoy it. This chapter of my life was pretty interesting, although maybe (hopefully?) not as interesting as cycling to the top of the tallest mountains.

Now, back to Jeopardy. My wife will appear a week from next Monday, but the show is in the can. I was out there, in pain, and have some more stories to tell.

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