Back in the fall of 1997, I was fed up with working in the magazine circulation game. So I answered an NY Times Help Wanted ad for a company called Medsite.
They were a start-up that was looking for a marketing guy, and I was looking for a way to become a marketing guy.
I had learned HTML and was messing around as an Amazon affiliate with my horrible looking first shot at a site. Amazingly, that helped get me the job.
Basically, I was running the affiliate program (using a homemade tracking system) and a bunch of other marketing tasks. The main product for Medsite was a large inventory of medical books via their MedBookStore.com site.
My target affiliates were pre-med and med-school students that had Web sites. It was a grind back then to find affiliates, but it was a fun challenge.
Fast forward to Monday, February 8, 1999 – I was taking the NJ Transit train for my daily commute into New York City for my job at Medsite.
As I was paging through the Newark Star-Ledger, I hit the business section. On the front page, the main article was “Temporary Gig: Harvard grad uses his media company as a steppingstone to nirvana.”
The article was all about James Marciano, who had founded the first affiliate program directory, Refer-it.com, to help fund another project of his.
At the end of 1997, revenue-sharing programs were becoming popular among Web merchants. In those programs, a retailer, like Amazon.com, the pioneer of so-called “affiliate” programs, allows anyone with a Web site to set up an online store – an “affiliate” – and receive a commission on sales. A cat lover can set up a site to sell cat-related books. Or established organizations, from magazines to nonprofits, cam set up stores to sell anything from clothes to CDs.
Marciano knew about affiliate programs firsthand. In search of revenue, he would scour indsutry publications for details on affiliate programs. The information wasn’t always easy to find. What was needed was a search engine for affiliate programs, with ratings and details.
With the money he had left, he decided to build such a search engine, calling it Refer-it.com. “There was no business plan,” he admits. “I just felt it was a good idea.”
Now, a year later, Refer-it.com has become a popular stop for Web entrepreneurs interested in revenue-sharing programs. The site lists 420 programs, rates, them, and offers a “top 10” list. – Star-Ledger
I was ecstatic to see that there was somebody else into affiliate marketing, because I had never heard anybody else talking about it at that point.
So I shot James an email and we made plans for me to meet him at his office. When I got there, he asked me for my resume. I didn’t want to look like a clown and say I just wanted to meet him and talk about affiliate stuff. So I printed out a copy of my resume that I had on my Web site.
We went on talking, and by the end of the conversation, I was shocked to have a job offer. Unfortunately, at the time, Refer-it was a very boot-strapped start-up, and the salary was peanuts. No go.
The next month, Refer-it was throwing the first affiliate marketing conference, Affiliate Solutions NYC 1999, on March 26, 1999. I was wishing I’d taken his offer. All of the players in the industry were getting together for the first time.
After the conference received great press, and skyrocketing ad revenue from affiliate programs trying to recruit affiliates, Alan Meckler, then CEO of internet.com, took notice.
Soon after, Refer-it was acquired by internet.com. With the influx of cash, I touched base again, and a couple weeks later, I was working at Refer-it.