My Very First Business

I consider my first REAL business to be House Of Rave (link), but before that were a bunch of other hair brained ideas to make money.

Of one of the very first was selling custom CD’s in 9th grade. I’m taking a guess this was around 1997 or 1998 that me and my dad outfitted the family computer (a 33Mhz CPU with around 600 MB’s of storage) with a CD burner.
This was a relatively rare thing…at least not many of my friends had access to a CD burner back then.
Around the same time MP3’s had come on the scene. Most people didn’t know what they were, but Napster was starting to make headlines here and there as an “illegal” file sharing service. I was all over Napster, downloading as many songs as I could over my dial-up connection and making CD’s for my personal use.
Well it didn’t take long for friends to see I could get ANY song and make a CD with different songs on it. I had something they wanted and couldn’t get elsewhere, so the natural laws of supply and demand kicked in and I started selling custom made CD’s!
People would make me a list of 17-20 songs on a sheet of paper…usually I’d already have the popular songs downloaded or on a CD already. The songs I didn’t have I’d download on Napster (keep in mind…I was still using a dial-up at the time).
I would sell the CD’s for about $1 per song, but would charge a little more if I had to download a lot of the songs. Generally the CD would cost them about $20 or $25. Close friends got special deals.

Making a CD back then wasn’t especially hard, but there were a lot of constraints I had on my old family computer:
  1. It was slow, so everything was sluggish.
  2. I only had 400MB of free space, so I couldn’t make a full 720MB CD at once, I had to chop it up into sections.
  3. I couldn’t store all the songs on the computer, so I’d have to delete something to make space, insert a CD with the song, rip the song to the computer, then burn the ripped song to the custom CD, then delete that file again. Process varied depending on the song source.
  4. MP3’s were so new, so I had to manually convert the MP3’s to huge .WAV files for the burning software.
Making a single CD with all these swaps, changes, deletes, downloads etc. could sometimes take almost 2 hours or boring work. Remember, this was an old computer and stalls were common place. However it normally took me 30 min to 1 hour per CD. I did this all after school.
The next day at school I’d show up with the CD, they’d show up with the money and I’d make a 100% profit since I had no expenses (my parents paid for the computer, burner and CD’s…unknowing I was making money off it)!
Due to all the constraints my limit was about one custom CD per day….and $20 for a CD was a lot to me, so I was fine with it.
Then one day I got caught. I didn’t even realize I COULD get “caught” for what I was doing. It just didn’t seem wrong. I made a CD transaction in my English class, and the teacher saw it….no big deal, I traded all my CD’s in class.
The teacher yanked the CD and questioned me. She got really furious and said, “I read an article about these “M…P……..3’s?” and they’re ILLEGAL.” It sounded like I was selling drugs in her classroom! I remember it pretty vividly because she was a teacher that never raised her voice, but all of a sudden SNAPPED when it came to MP3’s!
She took me aside after class and sternly warned that she wasn’t going to report me…but if I EVER brought an “M…P…3” in school again she would.
I remember thinking, “report me for WHAT?” Since the recording industry was so behind on moving into digital downloads, a whole generation of kids like me never thought twice that downloading a song might be punishable.
So my side hobby of selling CD’s went on for a while (although not in the classrooms of course) until more and more people had access to CD burners, plus summer came and there was no school. Eventually everyone knew someone with a CD burner and the small technology advantage I had faded. I made my cash and I was happy to not have to sit in front of the computer watching a status bar!