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Jewish World ReviewNov. 3, 1999 /22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Sam Schulman

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Econophone

The inside story of my Internet success

As told to Joseph Nocera and rejected by Fortune.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
NOW THAT THE QUIET PERIOD is over, I can finally reveal the story behind my Internet success.

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 filed.

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.

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©1999, Sam Schulman