Hooray! We're Number One! Wait....Really?
My early months at Telalink consumed me. I worked day and night, seven days a week. I lived in Tim’s parent’s guesthouse in Bellevue. Tim’s dad went to work very early and when his Range Rover drove by the guesthouse, that was my alarm to get up and start my day. I drove in by 8:30 am and usually didn’t go home until 8 or 9 o’clock at night. My TV hardly picked up a signal so there was really nothing to do but go home, feed the cat, go to bed and start the whole process over again the next day. I remember pulling out the scales one day a few months after I started working at Telalink. I had lost almost 10 lbs. Working. Hardly eating. It was easy to skip dinner back then.
The Telalink office was open almost all the time because Tim and Tommy still lived there and epic games of Battle Arena Toshinden on the Sony PlayStation (a new video game console for which Tim and Tommy camped outside the store so they could be the first to own one) were known to be played most any time of the day. Telalink was a local hangout for the budding geek community and so I never felt that alone when I was there. I could usually work at my computer and be serenaded down the hall by the screams and shouts of gamers when Fo would start dancing on this big transparent globe and use his Edward Scissoresque hands to totally whack Rungo Iron’s pitifully slow ass. Or, perhaps the matchup was between Duke Rambert who would speak in his French accent, “You fought well!” after he just finished off Ellis (whose phrase was “I never give up!”) or Sofia (“Anytime! Anywhere!”).
As I dug deeper into the Telalink “accounting,” it was pretty clear that I needed to reconstruct things from the beginning. Bless Bill and Tim’s hearts. They DID account for everything and their logic made total sense. You had to appreciate their honesty too. I mean, not too many people would actually use the word “bail” in the memo line for legal expenses. My favorite was the asset line item for “automobile” which, every month, would go up by $50 or so. By the time I got to that account, it was around $400 or so but it had been $350 the month before. I THOUGHT that Bill had transferred ownership of his Dodge Reliant K car to the company and maybe he was letting the company pay him on installment so they would add to the value of the car every month. Not exactly how an accountant would do it but it was my best guess. Well, my hunch was way off. Basically, anytime they put gasoline in the newly leased 1995 Toyota Avalon, they charged the expense to “auto.” That’s just how it was in the early days.
But there was a bigger issue for me and that was, “How do we know how we should be doing?” When I was in college, I learned all about studying the comparative data that Robert Morris Associates (RMA) provided for industries so you could “common size” your financials to see how you faired among the industry averages. Thing was....there was no comparative data on Internet Service Providers. No one knew anything about performance metrics in the mid-90’s about ISP’s. So, I had no idea how we were doing among our peers and I guess it really didn’t matter as long as I could find a way to keep the cash flowing and the business growing.
Our relevance to Nashville was starting to catch on. The Nashville Scene, thanks to Joel Moses (no relation to Tim) was covering everything we did. The Tennesseean even published a photo of me standing at my “desk” (a folding table in suite 6) while Tim was connecting my computer with a caption that said something like “Telalink Expands.” Channel Four ran our 15 second ad and the national scene was going insane. Netscape had gone public in the summer of 1995. Amazon.com and EBay were founded that same year. Anybody could get email through hotmail, a website from Geocities ( I always pronounced it as one would say “atrocities”) and ICQ was all the rage for instant messaging. The times were changing and fast.
One day, as Bill sat next to me in our office (what had been his bedroom in the not-too-distant past) he received a phone call unlike the ones I was used to hearing. Usually, he was on the phone telling the BellSouth/ATT the same thing, “Let me speak to your supervisor. Let me speak to your supervisor. Stop talking and let me speak to your supervisor,” Yeah, they loved him and he loved them over at Bellsouth. No, this phone call was from the editor of Business Nashville magazine. While still on the phone, Bill shook me, started waving his hands and mouthed “We’re number ONE!” That’s right. In 1996, Telalink Corporation was named the fastest growing company in Nashville by Business Nashville. They took a photograph of us and wrote something about how they had never featured an Internet company before. How fitting was it that all of this Internet rage was going on in the world and a little company like Telalink was introducing a whole new industry to Nashville.
So, the truth is, we were only asked to turn in percentages. Sure, if you earn $10 in one year and you earn $1,000 the next, that’s 100 times growth, right? Anyone can grow fast when they grow from nothing. I’m sure it wasn’t exactly that warped but we were hardly pulling in big numbers by the time we were recognized for being the fastest growing company in Nashville. No matter. There was something very validating about actually being able to turn in something that was factual. No more growing car assets. No more guessing. We were a serious player in the market and we were figuring it out before anyone else was. A bigger challenge would be if we could be the fastest growing company (using Nashville Business‘ criteria) in 1997, two years in a row. In fact, we could and we were!
AUTHOR: Thomas Conner
Thomas Conner is the co-founder, president and chief financial officer of Sitemason, a hosted, supported alternative to Wordpress and Drupal, built for agencies, freelance designers and developers.