After spending his first three years out of college in an entry-level position with Ask.com, Erhen was ready to move on to something with more responsibility. One day, he received a phone call from a company that wanted him to come in for an immediate interview.
The following day, Erhen arrived at the company’s place of business. It was a sports equipment supplier, operating out of a building that might have been built entirely out of asbestos. On the inside, there wasn’t a piece of furniture or decoration that had been built post-cold war.
“It’s great to have you here, Ehren!” a nice older gentlemen in his sixties said. He was the hiring manager. “We’ve been looking for a project manager for this huge job we have, and it looks like you’ve got the experience we want. Now you say that you’ve worked with the internet before?”
“Well, yes.” Erhen replied, a little put off by how vague the phrase ‘worked with the internet’ was. Technically, one could classify downloading porn as ‘working with the internet.’ Erhen elaborated, “I currently work for Ask.com.”
“I see…” he said. “And what do they do?”
Erhen wasn’t quite prepared for that question. While Ask is hardly a search engine juggernaut, they’re still fairly well known. And he had just assumed that the Ask.com name was the main reason they had interest in hiring him.
“They’re a search engine like Google.”
“Well, you’re going to enjoy the security of working for us,” the manager said. “We’re a ‘real’ company and probably bigger than anything you’ve got experience with. We’ve got almost 60 employees here. How many people work at Ask, 15? 20?”
“Ummm” Erhen paused, “they have a few thousand people working for them.”
“Really?” the sexagenarian questioned, “that doesn’t sound right. I thought most internet companies were run by college students in garages?”
“Well I think that’s how they started,” Erhen replied gently, “maybe, like, fifteen years ago. But they’re pretty big now. They have real offices and everything.”
“That’s great!” he said. “I’m looking for someone who understands the internet, because after voting down my suggestion that our company launch a website each of the past eight years, they’ve finally agreed to let me put one up!”
Erhen let that sink in for a moment. “Your business is supplying sports equipment to companies, schools, and individuals, right? How are you having customers fill out orders now?”
“Oh, we do everything by catalogue and mail,” he responded, “the board has let me try out having a website as a way of supplementing our current ordering system. But I have this hunch that we’ll be able to save money on printing and postage if we use the internet. The idea is to have people check our catalogue through the web, print out order forms, and then mail them in.”
Erhen checked his watch. Yes, it was still 2007 and there hadn’t been a time-warp.
“That’s where you come in,” the interviewer smiled, “we need someone to take this idea and run with it. The board has designated a budget of almost two thousand dollars. You’d be in charge of using those funds to build us a top-of-the-line website!”
He just stared in disbelief; by that point, Erhen was waiting for a candid camera crew to jump out and yell “surprise!”
“And” he added, leaning in. “I have this idea that’s kind of our ace-in-the-hole.”
Erhen blinked. It was the only response he could think of that wouldn’t convey his opinion of him, the board and the interview. He fully expected to hear the manager explain his invention of horseless carriages that would one day put the railroads out of business.
“I want our site not only to have an up-to-date catalogue of our products available for free, but I think that we could figure out a way to have people order products and pay for them online as well. Think about it: we could be the first sporting-equipment supplier in the world to offer this service.”
Erhen decided not to take that job.