Ten Years of RedFlagDeals.com and My Goodbye
(The following is the story of my 10 years with RedFlagDeals.com. If you want to skip to my goodbye, go to the last post, but you'll be missing some funny stories and details.)
Often there are myths around the creation and success of websites and businesses, but Derek was never one for myths and the story we had to tell was pretty good on it’s own. I have unique perspective on the story since I’ve been friends with Derek since we were five years old in Kindergarten. We grew up in Oakville; one of the richest cities in Canada, but we were anything but. Our high school was better known for drug busts and there weren’t any beemers in the parking lot.
The first website Derek and I worked on wasn’t RedFlagDeals.com. When we were 15, we started a gaming website: Game-Interviews.com. We had some mild success. We interviewed famous game developers like John Romero and Dave Perry. Later we flew to Los Angeles --with Derek’s dad in tow-- and after talking our way past a few skeptical security guards, snuck into E3, the largest video game trade show in the world. The site never had that many visitors and didn’t make any money, but we did learn something important: on the Internet no one knows that you’re 15 and if you act professionally and get things done, no one cares.
It’s cliche to say, but Derek is a born entrepreneur and shortly after we folded Game-Interviews.com he was looking for a new opportunity. Not all of his ideas were good ones, for example, he wanted to start a pay phone business at one point. Then during our last year in high school he recognized an opportunity to start a business around one of his other passions. For the entire 23 years I’ve known Derek, there has been one character trait that has stayed constant, never wavered or changed: Derek is a cheap bastard. It was only natural then that he start a website around saving money. It wasn’t an original idea; deal websites existed in the USA and Derek visited them often, but there wasn’t much of anything going on in Canada. So on November 25th, 2000 Derek sent me a message via ICQ that said simply “Check this out” and had a link to RedFlagDeals.com. When I clicked on the link I was taken to a terrible looking site, but the content was great. It was an idea that made immediate sense to anyone he explained it to and by the time he graduated high school, there were even a few teachers who were actually half seriously about investing in it.
The site started out with Derek posting just a few deals a day. It was for all intents and purposes a blog, but nobody used that word then. Shortly after the site launched, Derek added a forum, but it was a ghost town. It was so under used that eventually it was just closed. When the site had been running for six months, he decided to try adding forums again. This time it took root. There weren’t that many users, but they were just as passionate about saving money as he was.
It wasn’t coordinated, but Derek and I both ended up going to Queen’s University in Kingston. He was studying Commerce and I was working on an English Literature degree. We didn’t see all that much of each other during the first year, but we kept in touch via ICQ; I moderated the forums and offered suggestions where I could.
The summer between our first and second year of university, it became clear to Derek that the site was growing to the point where it was difficult to expand on his own. So he brought myself and another high school friend, Marc, on to post deals. Those were exciting days. Traffic was growing every week and even though I was making less than minimum wage, I became more and more involved in the running of the site. I worked nights at the Queen’s Alumni office soliciting for donations, spent the days in class, and what time there was in between, working on RFD. Derek and I would meet at least once a week at Stooley’s Cafe to eat burgers (I recommend the western burger) and discuss plans for RFD.